Friday, January 03, 2014

Book 1: Hitler's Furies

The idea behind this book was to explore the role of women in Nazi Germany, and how they participated or collaborated with the regime, only to be mostly ignored in the post war time years, while instead the myth of the German martyr women, victims of rape and air attacks on the home front took hold. While I liked the book and thought Lower made an interesting argument, it felt all too brief, more like this is the beginning of an area of study.  For example, she does not focus on the female camp guards who have already been documented, but instead chooses to look specifically at the women that had were in the know, and some cases had the power and authority to effect things and how they handled themselves.  She looks at the secretaries that signed and typed the orders, the nurses that adminstered the euthanasia, the wives that supported their husbands.
Her argument is that more women participated in the killing than previously thought, and most certainly more people knew more about what was going on.  While many of them may not have been in a position to stop things, they could certainly decide how to react, and whether to visit the ghettoes of East Europe or profit from seized and stolen goods.  In fact some women who were outside the system even chose to take actions that would never have been expected of them, such as wives killing Jews alongside their husbands.
The biggest problem is that while her stories are compelling, she focuses on such a small group of women.  It certainly makes sense that there were more like them but she still does not entirely have the statistics she needs to prove her argument rather than simply make a case.  There are so many points that are touched on briefly in this book that I wish would have been elaborated on further.  For example, she begins to talk about the teachers sent to the East and how they collaborated and helped a system that allowed the Nazis to kill parents and take children that looked "racially promising."  She touches on the nurses, and how they felt they were doing the humane thing by relieving the suffering of the disabled.  She talks about how the women were raised and came of age in an authoritative community and with Hitler's rise to power.  She also briefly discusses some aspects of society that were particularly interesting from a gender studies perspective: while the Nazis worshipped mothers and talked about how they were the most important people in the Reich (after all, how else would one breed more little Aryans), women also had unprecedented professional opportunities as a result of the regime.  The same regime that encouraged women to return to traditional, conservative values also gave them power.
Additionally, when women were actually were charged with crimes, they could use tears and say that it was their husbands' influence to protect themselves for significant punishment.  I think there is certainly more to be explored within this area, but unfortunately this book wasn't as comprehensive as I would have liked, focusing on a rather narrow number of women.  Still, it joins other books that show just how extensive collaboration was, and how much everyone needed to do their assigned parts to make the system work.  Additionally, like Children of the Flames, it demonstrates just how much people got away with and how few were actually held accountable for the mass murders of anyone considered undesirable and attempted genocide of a people.


Kelly of said...

I agree the book felt brief, but it was dense. I think the reason Lower focused on such a small group of women was because she wanted to do a few close case studies and use them to form larger conclusion. Also, if you look at her footnotes, she did a huge amount of research. For that reason alone she couldn't extend herself too much. I reviewed this one too if you'd like to look it up on my blog.

Jen K said...

I saw all the research - I just wish she'd used more of it in her book. I also get the case study but the thing is she argues that these women are representative of German women but also argues that they stood out to the German men because they were unwomanly, at least the wives - that's why I would have enjoyed a few more facts and citations to show that these weren't exceptions. I've read Ordinary Men, one of the books she cites, and I think it did a good job of balancing case study with enough facts for it to seem representative if that makes sense. Basically I think she had a ton of knowledge but wish even more of it had been in the book.

Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll) said...

I hopped over from the Nonfiction Challenge reviews page. What an interesting topic!