Kinder, Küche, Kirche: The Role of Women in Nazi Germany

by Helena Morgan

Adolf Hitler’s program for women in Nazi Society mirrored his misogynist and authoritarian ideologies. Hitler envisaged women incorporating a valuable yet limited role in Nazi society; confined to devout motherhood and exercising their natural maternal abilities through domesticity. The Nazi regime perceived German women as the mothers of the Aryan Race and deemed their sole contribution as sacrificing their bodies to the Fatherland through childbearing. Certain Nazi state policies and programs projected this ideal of desirable motherhood. Fervent propaganda reinforced Hitler’s ideal version of motherhood and the sexual hegemony innate in Nazi ideology influenced the Nazi regime’s subjugation of women. German women both accepted and resisted Hitler’s program. 

Hitler envisaged women occupying a minimal yet invaluable role in Nazi society through motherhood and domesticity. Hitler asserted  that devout motherhood would sustain the longevity of the Reich through increasing the birth rate of Aryan children. Various Nazi state programs projected Hitler’s ideal version of motherhood. Hitler encouraged German women to ‘bring Nazism home’ to the family. Mothers in Nazi society were responsible for indoctrinating their children with dogmatic anti-semitism, racial superiority and volkisch national pride. This responsibility, endowed to mothers, possessed contradictions. Hitler discouraged women from exhibiting political astuteness, yet forced them to instil Nazism into their children. The principles of kinder, kuche and kirche also anchored German women to the public sphere. The principles, translating to children, kitchen and church, respectively, limited women to caring for the family structure, attending church and raising the next Aryan generation. The Nazi Party also employed a top-down approach to governance and propaganda to ensure the successful indoctrination of women. The Nazi Party’s monopolisation of women’s bodies exemplifies what Waxman describes as a genocidal patriarchy, defined as patriarchal oppression with the intent to influence the procreation of a new generation. The Nazi Party also governed women’s bodies by making abortion and contraceptives illegal as women were now tasked with producing and raising future Aryans.  

Furthermore, in 1931 the Nazi Party further solidified a generation of compliant women through establishing the Frauenschauft, also known as the National Socialist Women’s League. The Frauenschaft involved activities such as rallies, parades, marching exercises and flag-raising ceremonies to further glorify the Reich. In 1936, compulsory membership of the girl’s wing of the Hitler Youth enabled greater involvement of young girls in Hitler’s programs. In 1934, the establishment of the Nazi Mother Service further entrenched the Nazi regime into the lives of women, culminating in the development of the Woman’s Labour Service under the wider Reich Labour Service. Additionally, the Nazi Party sought to increase ‘Germanness’ throughout the empire by deploying women to rural occupied communities to teach German language and customs. Following the invasion of Poland, such Nazi occupation policies were widely used to further impose Nazism onto the occupied nation. Following Hitler’s Chancellorship in 1933, the enshrining of the Encouragement of Marriage Law highlighted the phenomenon of ‘Motherly Politics’. This law stipulated all Aryan married couples were to receive a loan of one thousand marks. Couples also had the chance to retain two hundred and fifty marks for every pure Aryan child they had. This legislation revealed Hitler’s dependence on Social Darwinism in producing his volkisch state, an ideology pioneered by Herbert Spencer and others, which explained why certain races thrive in society in terms of hereditary fitness.  Additionally, the Marriage Health Law required engaged couples to substantiate they possessed the ‘hereditary fitness’ needed to conceive pure Aryan children. In 1943, the wartime labour service conscripted women to assist with the war effort. However, mothers still adhered to their domestic role regardless of  the entry of women into the public sphere. Moreover, these innately misogynistic programs for women exemplify how Hitler envisaged women occupying an oppressed yet valuable role in Nazi society through loyalty to motherhood and domesticity.

Mobilisational propaganda which advocated for the ‘Cult of Motherhood’ reinforced Hitler’s role for women in Nazi society. Nazi state propagandists, particularly the Minister for Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, utilised propaganda to further illuminate the distinction between the sexes in Nazi society. Hitler perceived Joseph’s wife – Magda Goebbels – as the ideal German woman due to her fanatic Nazism and loyalty to motherhood, and through her example affirmed that women could contribute to the war effort through devotion to the ‘Cult of Motherhood’ on the home front. Propaganda such as Figure 1, depicting a woman breast-feeding a child,  illustrates the self-sacrifice and fulfilment Hitler endowed to motherhood. The Nazi Party established this organisation in 1934 to ensure the German birth rate increased by offering support for German mothers. The visual elements of both Figure 1 and 2 are characteristic of the common politicisation of the female body in Nazi propaganda. Additionally, as women sacrificed themselves to the Fatherland through child-bearing, their bodies were now akin to a public site. This politicisation of the female body in propaganda also widened sexual polarity. Women symbolised maternal strength yet compliance through motherhood, while men’s representation in the armed forces established their overt masculinity and dominance. Figure 2 also highlighted the segregation of the sexes. The command for ‘women to wait’ demonstrated how women were confined to the private sphere whereas men could function in the public sphere. The mother’s positioning in the forefront and her husband’s stance over her reinforced male supremacy. Propaganda representations of women’s inferiority justified their devotion to the Reich through motherhood. The Nazi regime confirmed women were socially inferior through predominantly confining their role to the private sphere through motherhood. However, Hitler still valued the role of women in the Frauenschaft and Labor Service. This subordination of women further established sexual segregation and highlighted the male supremacy inherent in Nazism. Figure 1 also featured the recurring theme inherent in Nazi propaganda of Aryan women emitting a sense of fertility and harmony. This is evident through the soft pastel colours and beacon of light over the mother in Figure 1. The Nazi regime constantly represented mothers as loving and harmonious in propaganda, while insidiously eliminating the freedoms associated with marriage and motherhood that enabled that loving and harmony.

Figure 1: Mother and Child, 1935

Figure 2: Women Wait, 1937

The patriarchal hegemony innate in Nazi ideology influenced the Nazi regime’s programs for women. The Nazi regime established traditional gender roles in German society through condescendingly endowing domesticity with significance and identifying the public sphere as patriarchal. Therefore, policies such as the Mother and Child organisation and the Frauenschaft sought to restore pre-Weimar Age home structures. Hitler’s speech to the National Socialist Women’s League on 8 September 1934 revealed his vision for women to contribute to Nazi society through exclusively motherhood and domesticity. Hitler identified the world of women as ‘her husband, her family and her home’. However, Hitler stressed the significance of ‘small women’s work’ to the larger world of the Nazi regime. He postulated ‘where would the big world be if no one wanted to look after the small world?’ Propaganda and state policies convinced German women devout motherhood and self-sacrifice guaranteed the successive Aryan generation.

Hitler galvanised female support for the Nazi regime through propaganda and programs such as the National Socialist Women’s League. Hitler’s labelling of motherhood as significant and crucial also enabled women’s compliance with Nazism’s programs. Hitler recognised women as the future of the Aryan race. Therefore, he encouraged the development of a faithful ‘cult of motherhood’. Hitler emphasised motherhood and domesticity to assure women their role as mothers of the Reich was crucial to the longevity of the Aryan race. Hitler executed this redefinition through skilfully identifying women as honourable ‘mothers of the nation’ to compensate for the misogyny of Nazism. Hitler’s appraisal of motherhood is evident in his 1935 Party Day Speech to the Frauenschaft. Hitler proclaimed ‘there is nothing degrading about being a mother…it is a woman’s greatest honour’. Joseph Goebbels also emphasised the significance of mothers in the private sphere in his 18 March 1933 speech at the opening of a women’s exhibition in Berlin. Goebbels declared ‘the most suitable place for women is in the family…her most glorious duty is to give children to her nation’. German women appreciated Hitler’s appraisal of dutiful maternalism. Hitler deemed motherhood a state function. German women also complied with Hitler’s program as it offered security and defined roles. Nazi propaganda enticed women to embrace their domestic duties instead of desiring relief from such tasks. Propaganda also manifested the transformation of submissive German women into compliant devotees of the Reich. This is evident in the overtaking of women’s votes to men’s in two major Protestant cities between 1930 and 1933. Moreover, women also complied with Hitler’s program for childbearing.  Paula Siber, a prominent female Nazi, supported these efforts. In 1933 Siber argued ‘the calling of the Nazi woman is motherhood…she is the biological conservation of the Aryan race’. Ultimately, Hitler’s endowing of domesticity and motherhood with importance attracted German women to Nazism. 

There were occasions of female resistance on religious grounds among Catholics, Socialists and Communists through their refusal to adhere to the selective breeding scheme. Moreover, the League of Jewish Women accommodated Jewish people preparing to emigrate. The League also resisted Nazism through continuing Jewish religious and social practices. Historian Sarah Helm researched the journey of Polish resistance fighter Maria Bielicka who delivered underground newspapers. Bleilicka was arrested and sent to Ravensbruck, a women’s concentration camp. Bleikicka revealed feminist empowerment encouraged her to believe resistance was also a role for women’Additionally, Frau Margarete Fischer and Frau Maria von Lingen listened to foreign broadcasts during the war to secretly defy Nazism. Some women also rejected the kinder, kuche and kirche doctrine through refusing to have children and taking birth control. These acts of small resistance culminated to a defiance of Nazi ideology. Additionally, in the 1926 Beobachter magazine, Doctor Emma Hadlich revealed her aversion to the initial development of Nazism’s sexual hegemony. Hadlich argued against the misogyny inherent in Nazism by attesting women could contribute to society in other ways than just motherhood. The most compelling female resistance figure is Sophie Scholl. Scholl was twenty years old when – whilst studying at Munich University – she began speculating Nazi ideology. Alongside her brother Hans Scholl, Sophie joined the White Rose, an anti-Nazism student group. In February 1943, Hans and Sophie were arrested following their distribution of anti-Nazism leaflets around the Munich Campus. Sophie refused to reveal wider information on the White Rose, therefore she was sentenced to death via guillotine. Sophie declared in her testimony she would make ‘no bargain with the Nazis…how can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is no one who will give themselves to a righteous cause? Historiography neglects women’s resistance efforts regardless of their admirable involvement. However, it is clear that compliance indisputably outweighed that of rebellion due to Hitler’s enforced motherhood and domesticity. Nonetheless, the historiography surrounding German women in the Reich is fragmented as it tends to both pity German women as victims of Nazism yet also vilify their perpetration of Nazi crimes. 

The Nazi regime dictated women should incorporate a limited yet invaluable role in Nazi society through exercising their natural maternal abilities as the Mothers of the Aryan Race. The sexual superiority inherent in Nazism anchored the regime’s program for women. The Nazi regime dictated women were to contribute to Nazi society exclusively through motherhood and domesticity. Propaganda reinforced the vision that motherhood should be the desire of all women. The misogyny inherent in Nazism influenced the regime’s program for women. There were instances of both compliance and resistance to Hitler’s program for women. However, due to the success of mobilisational propaganda and indoctrination under a totalitarian state, instances of women’s resistance to Nazism are minimal. 

It is often hazardous for a historian to get personal when studying atrocities and brutalities. Get in, get your study done, remain detached and get out of there is a phrase I often hear. I can’t even begin to imagine the equal parts of strength and fear the women in Nazi Germany possessed. Our attempts to empathise are futile. I was however enthralled by Sophie Scholl’s story. I am the same age Sophie was when she was executed. This definitely defies the unwritten ‘don’t get personal’ rule, but Sophie is a worthy exception. If I can offer any sort of advice from a very naive, inexperienced and unsolicited perspective, I believe if our generation can recognise the atrocities that preceded us, we may learn to extend more empathy and understanding and realise how fortunate we are. Sophie captures this best, “Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.” 

 Choose your own way to burn, no matter how small this act may be. 

Bibliography 

Primary Sources 

Fig.1, Support the assistance program for Mother and Child, 1935 retrieved from Elizabeth McNeill, “Visual Propaganda and the Aryan Family: The Difficulties of De-Emancipating Women of the Third Reich,” The University of Florida Scholars Program Press, Accessed October 28, 2019. http://sites.clas.ufl.edu/history/files/2013/11/URS-Poster.pdf.     

Fig.2, Women Wait, Frauen Warte Magazine, issue 20, 1937/38, retrieved from Elizabeth McNeill, “Visual Propaganda and the Aryan Family: The Difficulties of De-Emancipating Women of the Third Reich,” The University of Florida Scholars Program Press, Accessed October 28, 2019. http://sites.clas.ufl.edu/history/files/2013/11/URS-Poster.pdf.     

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Adolf Hitler, speech to the National Socialist Women’s Organisation, Nuremberg Party Rally, 8 September 1934 in Tim Mason, “Women in Germany, 1925-1940: Family, Welfare and Work. Part I,” Oxford University Press no.1 (Spring 1976) : 87-96.

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Paula Siber (1933) Die Frauenfrage und ihre Lösung durch den Nationalsozialismus [The Woman Question and its solution through National Socialism], in Manuela Von Papen, “Opportunities and Limitations: The New Woman in Third Reich Cinema” Women’s History Review, 8, no.4, (1999) : 695-728, doi: 10.1080/09612029900200225

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Murphy, Maria. “Becoming Evil: The Shaping of a Nazi Female Consciousness from Weimar through the Third Reich.” The University of Southern Mississippi Aquila Digital Community, 5 (May 2018) 

Schuring, Samantha. “Mothers of the Nation: The Ambiguous Role of Nazi Women in Third Reich.” Lake Forest College Publications (April 2014) : 1-82

Wales, Jillian. “Women’s Resistance Efforts in Nazi Germany 1939–45: HerStory.” The ANU Undergraduate Research Journal, 5 (2013) : 234-242

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Boak, Helen. “ “Our Last Hope”; Women’s Votes for Hitler: A Reappraisal.” German Studies Review, 12, no. 2 (1989): 289-310, doi:10.2307/1430096.

Joshi, Vandana. “Changing Perspectives on the Role of Women in Nazi Germany: The Case of Women Denouncers.” Studies in History, 18. no.2 (2002)

Loroff, Nicole. “Gender and Sexuality in Nazi Germany.” Constellations: University of Alberta Press 3, no. 1 (2011) https://doi.org/10.29173/cons16286

Mason, Tim. “Women in Germany, 1925-1940: Family, Welfare and Work. Part I.” Oxford University Press no.1 (Spring 1976) : 73-114. 

Rupp, J, Leila. “Mother of the “Volk”: The Image of Women in Nazi Ideology.” Signs: The University of Chicago Press 3, no. 2 (December 1977) 362-79.

Sharman,  Fiona. “How has the historical representation of women in Nazi Germany changed since 1933?” Macquarie University History Initiates, 2 no.2 (October 2014) 47-57

Von Papen, Manuela. “Opportunities and Limitations: The New Woman in Third Reich Cinema.” Women’s History Review, 8, no.4, (1999) : 693-728, doi: 10.1080/09612029900200225 

Yourman,  Julius. “Propaganda Techniques within Nazi Germany.” The Journal of Educational Sociology, 13, no. 3 (1939) : 148-163, doi:10.2307/2262307.

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