German History: Women in War

Germany, as a nation, epitomizes European power, in reference to political, cultural, socio-economic, and even religious aspects. As recorded in history, it was its Chancellor, Otto Von Bismarck, who initiated the process of colonization as a step towards ensuring not only continuous supply or the raw materials, but also market arenas for the finished products, enhanced by the way of the European Industrial Revolution. As such, the entity’s quest for greater power (militarily, politically, and economically) throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, resulted in the two world wars, of which, unfortunately, the state-entity was the core actor/initiator. Therefore, warfare necessitates the greater role-play of all available labor/personnel within a given legal entity critical towards ensuring a greater functionality and, hence, success of its war machine.

Termed as the antagonist in both wars, Germany was faced with great challenges, especially as the wars commenced, necessitating greater cooperation between the various nations. As such, participation in warfare was not an option, but a priority, with various means utilized towards ensuring greater cooperation. Germany, indeed, as a military and economic powerhouse, was able to utilized effectively both soft (diplomatic) and hard (coercive/ militarized) power towards achieving its various goals, especially with respect to its role-play in both world wars. The role and participation of women, as shall be delved into throughout the paper, was crucial in enabling Germany to sustain its famed longevity with respect to prolonged, effective, and efficient warfare (Cook, 2006).

German History: Warfare

As aforementioned, the entity representing the European Union, as its major powerhouse, majorly owes its position to the previous historical contexts, which proved being advantageous to its overall growth and advancement. As such, it aptly utilized both soft and hard power towards achieving this, with the latter responsible for the two world wars, which resultantly occurred. The Third Reich, responsible for Germany’s greater role in the two global wars, had initiated various programs, where women played a vital role in extending its war efforts. As majorly volunteer uniformed auxiliaries, with regard to the state’s armed forces (Wehrmacht), women provided critical roles requisite in providing greater complementary interaction, communication, and chain of command order.

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Role Separation: The Effects of War

In order to better understand the role of women, especially with reference to their contributions to the war effort, it is necessary to focus on the place of women in German history. Both in pre-Nazi and Nazi-era Germany women had very specific roles to play. As Adolf Hitler hinted, women as such were majorly supposed to be homemakers, who as mothers brought up their children in addition to performing other chores/roles in the home. Conversely, their male counterparts were required to work; hence, provided for their families as the breadwinners. Consequently, Hitler saw no reason for women working, except in very certain/specific task-roles or fields. For greater accomplishment of this form of socialization, the education system present taught young girls from their childhood that this was the preferred lifestyle they should lead.

Thus, young girls were taught that all good, law-abiding German womenfolk, married when still young, to proper (pure-Germans, with reference to Hitler’s ideal Aryan race) men, with their core task encompassing the keeping of a decent homestead. Additionally was the primary core of procreation, where Hitler encouraged increased childbearing, especially in the contexts of expanding the greater role, functionality, and contributions of this pure Aryan race. As a result, the 1933 – Law for the Encouragement of Marriage – one of the earliest passed by Hitler, upon his ascent to power (1933), was critical in shaping gender roles in the nation. It, as such, stated that all couples, newly married, would be able to receive government loans of up to 1000 German marks, the equivalent of 9 months’ wages (Campbell, 1993).

Grand Objective: Nationalist Ideal

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Adding to that was the aspect that this loan did not necessarily need to be repaid back, as provisions were provided, which exempted the couples, who went ahead and provided national service by the way of pro-creation. One child born out of pure-breed German stock (Aryan race) meant that 25% of the loan did not have to be serviced, with two, three, and four children subsequently reducing the same from 75%, to 50%, to 25% and finally the whole of it was cleared. This law’s core aim was quite simple: the encouragement of the newlywed couples to have as many offspring as possible. A more long-term and quite sinister aspect to the above rationality, was based on the Hitler’s dream of expanding Nazi Germany to the rest of Europe, towards the achievement of Project Lebensraum.

As such, while Germany grew, both in military, political, and socio-economic might, there was a need for more mothers (child bearers) and men (as soldiers); hence, the need for a booming populace. There was an increasing sense of urgency, not only in Nazi Germany, but also on the larger European Continent, with respect to a dwindling population; hence, the encouragement of increased child bearing. A case example would be France, where a law was passed banning both the utility of contraception and abortion. While the boys were to be groomed for future military roles, the young girls were socialized on the need to becoming young mothers. Hitler’s aim was to have a huge, strong, and purely Aryan race to fill-up the regions (space in Europe) gained because of his future war efforts (Karen, 2011).

Such was the grand desire of fulfilling the aforementioned, that a law was majorly discussed during 1943, towards making it mandatory for all women, whether married or not, to have four children, from “racially pure” (Aryan) fathers. This was further compounded to be inclusive of the distinct case scenarios, as proposed, where a pure Aryan male, having already fathered the aforementioned requisite number of children, could be released from such a marriage, to provide further national service by procreating. This, however, was not implemented, as future potential creation of social anarchy was foreseen. However, the above measures provide a vivid example of the extent, to which the ideal of exponential population increase was encouraged, with the SS chief, Heinrich Himmler, particularly keen on the latter (proposed ideal).

Change of Perspective: Prevailing Contexts

As aforementioned, women’s core roles were in giving birth, nurturing children, and home making. As such, this was the case in post-Weimar Germany, where professional women had exceeded 110,000, with musicians (13000), doctors (3000), and teachers (100000) amongst others. Upon Hitler’s ascent, many female civil servants and doctors were sacked with lawyers and teachers following suit. By the advent of the Second World War, only a few of Germany’s women populace was in fulltime, career jobs/professions. This, however, was to be reversed, as the aforementioned move has inadvertently affected the nation’s skills pool; hence, necessitating the passage of a law (1937) requiring the compulsory contribution of women by the way of a “Duty Year” program.

This, as such, meant that all women would work patriotically in factories, amongst other crucial sectors, towards realizing the greater goal of a large, unified Nazi Germany Empire. Pertinent towards realizing the above was the greater contribution of women towards aiding Germany to realize its Nazi’s Economic Miracle. As mothers and homemakers, German women’s lives were rigidly controlled, i.e. only flat shoes were allowed, no trousers or make-up, as well as perms or the dyeing of hair. Adding on to that was the fact that they were discouraged from being slim, as this was considered inappropriate for the German ideal of increased birth giving. Additionally was the dissuasion from smoking, as such effects could negatively impact on pregnancies, as well as the fact that it was Un-German to do so.

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So as to showcase the huge importance of the above need for pro-creation, on every August 12th, the day of birth of Hitler’s mother, the Motherhood Cross, a coveted award, went to the women, who had provided national service by the way of births. The golden cross went to the mothers of eight children, silver for six births, while bronze went for the encouraged four children ratio. Additionally was the open government sanctioned, encouragement of unmarried women having children. To this effect, specific buildings, Lebensborns, where such women would go and consequently get pregnant by a “racially pure” SS German male, were set up in all major German cities (Karen, 2011).

Women’s Role in German Warfare

While the above was true, with regard to women’s role-play, the aspect of warfare has considerably changed these ideals with special considerations placed on enhancing production capacities and provision of pertinent auxiliary services amongst other critical roles. During the two wars, with specific focus on the Second World War, women assumed various positions previously held by their male counterparts. As such, the Trummmerfrauen (women of the rubble) after the war provided crucial services by the way of tending to the wounded, salvaging belongings, and burying the dead, in addition to beginning the grueling task of rebuilding their war-torn nation through clearing away the large-scale rubble present.

In contrast to the Soviet Union, which firmly entrenched women units in its armed forces, providing not only auxiliary services, but also actively participating in warfare, Nazi Germany, in both world wars, instead utilized its womenfolk towards enhancing its industrial capacity. This was primarily focused on enhancing military hardware production through their input in the existing munitions’ industries, with over 700,000 reported to have been in service by the end of the war. Additionally, there was the input of women as civilian employees affiliated to the military jobs such as manual labor, clerical services, and medical assistants/nurses, with the latter training of signal corps officials having not been deployed during the war itself.

The above differentiation, between the two competing nations, USSR and Nazi Germany, where the former included women in active combat duty, unlike the latter, may be traceable to the aforementioned Nazi ideology of promoting social role-play on gender division. This, as such, was a gender ideology, which proved being less conducive to the resultant protracted German participation in the wars. While included, as the protracted war waged on, their inputs/contributions were negated to service provision in military bases, industrial complexes, and hospitals amongst other pertinent sectors of a warring nation. However, they were neither deployed into the combat zones, nor scripted into the active duties (German, 2013).

The Effects of Role-Play in War Outcome

As the war progressed on, the labor needs were created, especially when the nation found itself controlling and administering a huge regional arena (gained from victorious conquests), necessitated the creation of a women’s Signal Auxiliary units of telephone and radio operators. This was as such, the revival of the underused women’s signal corps units of World War 1. By the second half of the war, about 8,000 women participated, with a Staff Auxiliary allowing an estimated 12,000 women-folk, to dispense vital higher-level clerical jobs. This was about a third of all higher-level jobs, especially with reference to rear-end support throughout conquered and consequently Nazi Germany-occupied and controlled areas. The nation’s air force is said to have utilized extensively women in an Auxiliary role, with 100,000 said to have been in service by the war’s finality.

A majority of these performed communications and weather-related and clerical services/tasks with a sizeable chunk working in the existing and widely spread anti-aircraft units. To be noted is that they only worked at staffing searchlight batteries spread out over occupied Europe, and not with guns (live engagement in combat). Fifteen thousand of them ran 350 batteries (units) in addition to other similar roles. The reason behind the above considerations was on utilizing women extensively to free up more male soldiers crucial for the war-front roles, while, at the same time, rigidly and effectively separating their womenfolk from the direct combat.

While the above provides a clue as to the extensive utility of women, especially during wartime case scenarios, women, even those in auxiliaries, who provided crucial services, (even when in uniform, with varying ranks, and under military chain of command/ discipline) were not allowed to use arms, under any conditions, leave alone trained in their utility. This was even in the case scenarios, where the utility of arms was the last resort towards preventing capture. The above is informed by the fact that due to their lack of official soldier-status, they could be susceptible to execution, under the pretense of having acted as guerillas. This, as such, was acceptable then, under the then-existent international law, if they were captured while fighting (Carreiras, 2006).

Influence on Future Gender Role-Play

With the gradual and timely collapse of Nazi Germany, as the Allied forces proceeded victoriously towards Berlin, the social role-play of women was to change again. While Hitler’s Nazi Germany embarked on a greater reversal of both the socio-economic and political gains made by women as exemplified in the relatively liberal Weimar Republic, after the war, these roles were to later change. This is as influenced by the existing circumstances/ social contexts, with the post-war case scenario providing for the increased agitation for greater equality, inclusion, and acceptance of women’s role-play, aside from their traditionally inspired duties.

Due to the experience they had, working in job-roles previously reserved only for men, German womenfolk were able to advance their calls for greater inclusion in the various facets of society, with the aim of having greater say in the running of state affairs. This endeavor was further aided by their attainment of universal suffrage, by the way of acquiring voting rights. This provided them with an avenue of contributing to the politics of the state; hence, a greater contribution to future courses of actions. By embarking on the various career paths, in addition to education, they, hence, challenged the existent traditional stereotypes of women’s roles (German, 2013).


Concluding would be to say that throughout German history women had a vital role to play with reference to the state-building and traditional/ cultural dispensation. With the varying circumstances/ contexts they found themselves in, there was often the challenging aspect of restriction, as exemplified by Hitler’s Nazi Germany, which, as such, reversed fundamentally the gains made during the era of the Weimar Republic. After the war pegged on various circumstances/ contexts such as the Feminist Movement amongst other pertinent stakeholders, women’s roles reversed once more towards greater inclusivity into the state affairs. Their role in warfare was crucial and cannot at any time be dismissed, especially under the strain the German army underwent during the protracted two world wars.

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