Gentleness, kindheartedness and love embody women and mothers. But this might not be the case for the Nazi women who were as cold-hearted and bloodthirsty as their Nazi male counterparts.
Holocaust historian, professor and author Wendy Lower’s new book Hitler’s Furies reveals the grotesque deeds these women did and worse, only a few were convicted of their crimes.
Blond 23-year-old Erna Petri, wife to a German senior SS officer, was heading home after her shopping trip in town when she chanced upon six nearly naked boys nestled together at the side of the country road she was travelling with fear very evident in their eyes. She knew right then that the children were among those who have escaped the train taking them to an extermination camp.
Her motherly instincts kicked in. After all, she had two children of her own. She took the hungry, weeping boys home, assured them and fed them. However, the next thing she did was inconceivable.
She led them – the youngest of the boys was six and the oldest twelve – in the wooded area near her home, lined them up against a pit and specifically shot them one by one at the back of the neck with a hand pistol.
This bizarre combination of motherly love-cold murder actions in a number of Nazi women remains an enigma but has been shown to the light in Lower’s book.
The author had poured on the many resources found in remote archives in the process letting the world see a new cruel face of Germany’s Third Reich.
Erna Petri is just one of the vast Nazi female population who were accountable for doing horrid acts against Jews during the Holocaust – the acts that we think the gentler sex are incapable of doing.
Holocaust may be seen as a crime done by men but based on Professor Lower’s extensive research, many Nazi women did the deed, too.
However, after WWII, only few of these women were held accountable for their crimes – the ones like notorious Irma Grese and Ilse Kroch, concentration camp guards. The others got away unscathed after just a few interrogations.
Exposing the Truth
Germany during Hitler’s reign had an ultra-macho image with women, on Hitler’s orders, bound to Kinder, Kϋche and Kirche or children, kitchen and church. Using this simple analogy, women were off the hook for the Holocaust crimes as well as the other crimes committed by the Third Reich.
However, Professor Lower questions this analysis calling it “simplistic nonsense”. Nazi women were drawn same as the Nazi men to the morally bankrupt conspiracy so rampant in Hitler’s Germany albeit at a lower level but guilty of the same shame.
Ludicrously, it was women involved in the professional care industry that were the first ones to be ensnared into the Nazi’s concept of Aryan racial purity. Many nurses had filled their apron pockets with vials of deadly morphine and fell into a routine slaughter of the physically and the mentally defected.
One example is Pauline Kneissler who worked in Grafeneck Castle, a hospital located in southern Germany wholly devoted to mercy killing. Kneissler toured various mental facilities over the country and selected 70 patients everyday to be gassed at the castle. In her own reasoning, gassing the mentally ill individuals is not at all bad as ‘death by gas doesn’t hurt’.
On another plane, midwives were exterminating whole generation of German women by announcing the the unborn fetuses as well as newborn babies were carrying defects and recommending euthanasia, abortion and even sterilization of the mothers. The Holocaust historian, therefore, concluded that through these “killing sprees”, the transition between the racial purification process and the extermination of millions of Jews was, then, not a big step to the women.
Most of the worst Holocaust outrages happened in Hitler’s freshly acquired properties through military conquest – Polish territories as well as Ukraine and other parts of Russia. Over half-a-million young Nazi women took part in the colonization process becoming genocide accomplices in the process.
Death in a Woman’s Hands
There was the mass group of secretaries for example. these women typed killing orders and also filed every massacre’s details. Because of the nature of their work, they were placed at the center of the Nazi’s murder machinery but most chose to turn a blind eye on every crime and some even participated in them. These women were also the prime beneficiaries of the loots taken from the Jews who were sent to extermination and concentration camps.
More active accomplices in the killing of the “inferior” race were the wives of SS officers like Erna Petri. Lisel Wilhaus, wife of a camp commandant, used to kill Jews for recreation – sitting at the balcony of her house and doing pot shots on the hapless victims using her own rifle.
Another Fräulein, known as Hanna (Johanna Altvater), played a more sadistic role in the massacre often targeting young children by dropping them off from balconies or smashing their heads against walls, doing so without qualms.
One incident that took Lower’s interest was of her killing a toddler with the father just a few feet away after which she threw the child’s lifeless body at his feet.
‘Such sadism from a woman I have never seen. I will never forget this,’ the father testified later.
These and other exploits are permanent marks in the Holocaust history. However, most of the women guilty of murder went away tried but were just acquitted, some just questioned and released. Their defense when brought in for interrogation was to play the “helpless face”.
“I was just a secretary,” Johanna Altvater had pleaded.
Millions of Nazi women even went on with their lives post-Hitler era as if nothing happened, as if it was just a nightmare that could be forgotten and put away as everybody had woken up.
However, the stains they left remained. For a fact, thirteen million women were active Nazi members. Surely not all of them could be considered innocent spectators.
-Article is based on Professor Wendy Lower’s book Hitler’s Furies: German Women In The Nazi Killing Fields featured in Daily Mail