Handmaidens of Genocide

tags: World War II, Holocaust, women, genocide



Konrad H. Jarausch is a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Reading Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields is a shocking experience. The author, Wendy Lower, describes Wehrmacht secretaries typing out death orders, SS wives shooting innocent children, and Nazi women shooting at Jews from the balconies of their estates for target practice. These graphic descriptions truly turn one's stomach.

Lower is a respected specialist in Holocaust studies and a professor of history at Claremont McKenna College. She has written an original study of Nazi empire-building and the Holocaust in Ukraine, edited the diary of a Holocaust victim in Galicia, co-edited a volume of essays on the Shoah in Ukraine, and worked at the National Holocaust Memorial Museum. Lower scoured German, Austrian, Ukrainian, Israeli, and American archives for evidence of women serving in the Nazi eastern front, and has examined postwar court records, collected memoirs, and conducted interviews for this book. Hitler's Furies breaks new ground in showing that "hundreds of thousands of German women went to the Nazi East ... and were indeed integral parts of Hitler's machinery of destruction."

In order to determine the degree and manner of female involvement, Lower looks at the teachers, nurses, secretaries, and Nazi wives who moved eastward for reasons of adventure, careerism, and ideology. One of the particular strengths of her approach is the focus on the "lost generation" of young German women—those who were brought up in the Third Reich, served in occupied Eastern Europe, and then repressed their gruesome memories after the war in order to escape prosecution....



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