Hitler’s Female Accomplices

When one thinks of the Nazi killing machine one tends to imagine armies of jackbooted soldiers marching inexorably from one torched and plundered village to the next, herding people together for transportation to the camps or, perhaps, to be hastily murdered in freshly dug pits.

There was another section of Nazi society just as culpable, though to this day they have somehow evaded the cold scrutiny that their actions deserve. To put it mildly, the women of the Third Reich have a lot to answer for.

naziposter Thirteen million of them were actively engaged in work for the Nazi party. Half a million of them went eastwards, to Poland and the Ukraine, in the wake of the German advance and they went in many guises

They were secretaries who typed orders to kill, nurses who euthanised patients or aborted unborn children with ‘defects’. They were wives and mothers, willing to ensure the Nazi ideal was promulgated to its nth degree, and they were camp guards who tortured and murdered for pleasure.

The novel, The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink explored these issues through the tale of one young man’s infatuation with a former Nazi camp guard.  It presented us with a simple woman who helped to do monstrous things. It showed us evil in its most ordinary form and asked ‘why’.

A fascinating book by Professor Wendy Lower, called Hitler’s Furies: German Women In The Nazi Killing Fields, explores the very same subject to devastating effect. Lower cites case after case of how members of the fair sex were just as depraved as some of their male companions. The evil that they did was hideous.

The few ever called to account were notorious concentration camp guards —such as Irma Grese and Ilse Koch. Now, though, others are being probed by German prosecutors for their wartime roles.

A little old lady by the name of Gertru Elli Schmid (now 92) is one such suspect.  She was once an SS guard at Majdanek where an estimated 235,000 people were murdered during the war. After service there she was sent to Auschwitz, where over a million people were exterminated.

Another woman, Charlotte S. (now 94), was a guard at Ravensbrueck concentration camp, where she was remembered for beating prisoners and using her Alsatian dog to attack them.

Such women are the exception in that they may well be punished for their ancient crimes.  Most of the following, though, got away with murder.

Pauline Kneissler worked at Grafeneck Castle, a euthanasia ‘hospital’ in southern Germany, and toured mental institutions selecting 70 ‘patients’ a day to be gassed.

Lisolotte Meirer

Lisolotte Meirer

Liselotte Meier, an administrator in Belarus, would accompany her SS officer boss on shooting parties to hunt and kill Jews for ‘fun’. She also coordinated arrangements for massacres and decided who lived or died.

Erna Petri followed her husband to Poland where she lived in a mansion and managed a huge slave estate for the SS . On one occasion she found six starving children who had somehow managed to escape. She took them home gave them something warm to drink then led them out to the garden where she shot all six in the head.

Lisel Willhaus, the wife of an SS camp commandant, used to sit on the balcony of their house and take pot shots at Jewish prisoners with her rifle.

Johanner Altvater

Johanner Altvater

Johanna Altvater worked in the Ukraine as a secretary for a regional Nazi leader.  During the liquidation of a Jewish ghetto, Fräulein Hanna as she was known marched through the children’s ward of a makeshift hospital. She stopped, picked a child up, took it to the balcony and threw the child to the pavement three floors below. She did the same with other children.

Altvater is said to have often lured children with sweets, shooting them in the mouth when they opened wide to receive their treat. On another occasion she grabbed a child by the ankles and swung her through the air, smashing her head against a wall before depositing her lifeless form at the feet of her horrified father.

There are many more examples of crimes by these and other vile women, but I can’t write them anymore. Apart from Petri, who served over 30 years in prison, all the others escaped punishment.

Of course, not all women of the time were so evil, but they were far from being simple pawns either. They bought into the Nazi ideal wholeheartedly and were placed on a pedestal by its ringleaders.

Simply put, a woman’s role in Nazi Germany was considered sacred – they were the breeding ground for the master race. Special pre-marriage courses were even set up to ensure they became the perfect partner for SS soldiers.

Gertrud Scholtz-Klink

Gertrud Scholtz-Klink

The six-week training programme was run by Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, chief of the Nazi bride schools. The courses, which were run under the close supervision of SS chief Heinrich Himmler, ensured women learned how to become ‘good wives’, but they would also ‘acquire special knowledge of race and genetics’, according to a bridal rulebook of the time.

Females with Jewish or gypsy blood, mental illness or physcial deformity were barred from attending the schools.

Thirteen million women provided idealogical and practical support to one of the world’s most evil social programmes. Not all of them were innocent bystanders to what took place.

Hitler's FuriesYet, when Hitler’s forces were finally defeated, these same women returned to their lives and never really had to deal with the consequences of their actions. Lower’s book is important because it addresses this oversight and finally calls them to account.

Hitler’s Furies, by Wendy Lower http://goo.gl/ahzrsF

About historywithatwist

I am an Associate Editor with a national newspaper. I have a keen interest in history and in writing. I have published one novel, Tan, and am currently working on a sequel
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30 Responses to Hitler’s Female Accomplices

  1. DJ Kelly says:

    My goodness. I’d heard of a couple of these women but had no idea of the others. I’ll definitely have to acquire a copy of this book.

  2. This level of evil and perversion is sickening. As I read your post I kept thinking that the world you were describing was something a writer of fiction had imagined. What possessed these people to abandon all notions of civil society, all values, all religious teachings, all human kindness? And yet, just a day or two ago, I saw a picture in the newspaper of a bunch of men wielding sticks against one other man who dared to have a different political opinion. I’m shaking my head.

    • I saw the same picture, I think – in Bangladesh? The really terrible thing about these stories is that they are not so rare as people imagine. Such sickening behaviour is not a relic of history, it is a daily occurrence in some parts of the world.

  3. This makes me sick, David. I’m aware that any of us – ANY of us (studies have shown) – could sink to unimaginable depths given the right circumstances, but it is such a horror to read the details that actually happened.

    • Yes, it’s stomach churning. So many of these things are lost to statistics and dry analyisis. It is only when you read the harsh truth like this that it strikes home how evil these people truly were

  4. John L. Monk says:

    Man, this stuff turns my stomach. I sort of wish I could “un-know” it.

    On behalf of you readers: we the freeloading beneficiaries of your giant brain demand a more lighthearted history lesson next time!

  5. John L. Monk says:

    Reblogged this on John L. Monk and commented:
    If you feel like being really pissed off this morning, go read this :)

  6. David .. absolutely fascinating.

    A woman who may belong on this list (you are a better historian than I am) is Magda Goebbels who — if we are to believe the story in the film “Downfall”– murdered her own children to make sure they did not have to live under a “western” regime. The power of the film was that we knew Hitler and Goebbels and Magda were utterly wrong … but it was impossible to ignore Madga Goebbels’ pain at what she thought would be the future suffering of her children.

    I listened to the news on South Sudan today … unbelievable cruelty is not an historical artifact.

  7. Pingback: The Year of Change — Sarah Ettritch

  8. Bob Summer says:

    I come back here frequently as I find all your posts interesting, if horrific.

  9. rhchatlien says:

    Another fascinating post, David. Reminds me of a Solzhenitsyn quote I have long admired:

    “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

  10. P. C. Zick says:

    Chilling, David. What a crime these women haven’t been brought to the public’s attention and to justice. Thank you for writing this post.

  11. It is shocking alright, Patricia. Prof Lower deserves the credit, not me

  12. asdf says:

    The Nazi’s were really popular with women, in fact among protestants I think a higher % of women voted for the Nazi’s then men. There was definitely a sexual vitalism to them. We forget how easily women get attracted to power, even when its ruthless and evil.

    • The statistic on Protestants is interesting. I think, in general, people are attracted to those who wield power, whether it’s merely fascination or a real sexual attraction, I don’t know for sure…

      • asdf says:

        The Catholic part of the country had its own separate regional/religious party that women were loyal to, so I don’t think its a huge protestant/catholic difference of opinion on the Nazis so much as the Catholic women were mostly out of play in those elections.

        The Nazi’s did a lot to infiltrate the churches in the early part of the regime, you can find books on the subject. Sad how many people sold out. Of course their goal was to eventually make Christianity completely illegal.

      • The pressure to conform must have been immense. Only a few brave souls, like Sophie Scholl, seemed capable of withstanding the Nazi bullies, and she, of course, paid the ulitmate price.

  13. Pingback: Hitler’s Female Accomplices | carolkean

  14. Hayley says:

    I have read this book for my dissertation and I agree it is incredibly horrific what these women have done throughout the Nazi era. I was wondering if you know any other academic books that are similar which could further my argument? Thank you.

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