- Reviewed by Ken Weiler
When one thinks about the Holocaust committed by the Nazis before and during World War II, what comes to mind of the perpetrators are images of thuggish jackbooted SS camp guards, immaculate SS officers of the Sicherheitsdienst (the SS security service) or the striped uniform-wearing inmates with their color-coded triangles used by the Nazis to identify and supervise the unfortunate inmates of the various camps.That has been the historical picture of the management of the Nazi gulag of concentration and extermination camps throughout the German Reich and the occupied nations, until now.
Wendy Lower’s diligent research in “Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 288 pages, $26.00) has added new information, faces and occupations to the genocidal history of the war and what makes this history significant and different, as all of them are women.
Lower adds a new cast to the Aryan oppressors in the extermination of the Jews and other untermensch or subhuman “waste eaters” undesirables: teachers, nurses, secretaries, wives and lovers of Nazi SS and Ordnungspolizei or Order Police that ran the camps and field extermination sites in the eastern occupied nations.Instead of recounting a laundry list of atrocities, places and numbers killed, the author selected eight women of different backgrounds; rural, urban, modest means and well off, socially respectable and politically savvy and introduces us to how they were seduced, selected and then indoctrinated by the National Socialist machinery into efficient, unquestioning and at times, unthinking instruments of Nazi national policy in aiding and abetting the state program of ridding Germany of its undesirable humans and to clear the lebensraum or living space in the east for their new owners: resettled German farmers, soldiers and industries.
In addition, the author adds texture and depth to the history of the war in the east by explaining the history and cultural allure that the German-occupied eastern regions had and the opportunities that beckoned those seeking escape from the strictures of German society, families, and pasts they preferred to kept hidden and especially the new National Socialist attitudes of women’s roles that offered new opportunities for advancement, romance and the power of a new and exciting career in settling Germany’s wild west in the east.
Lower spends much time examining the emotional and psychological states of these women and attempts, successfully I might add, to explain how these mostly young (most under 30), naive, occasionally well educated women could participate in the mass murder; personally and actively participating in the execution of the helpless prisoners, even to the unthinkable shooting of children, by a few of these women who were themselves mothers.
The concluding chapters of “Hitler’s Furies” are a postwar follow-up on the fates of these eight women by the justice systems of the victorious Allies as well as that of the new nations of West and East Germany. If one believes that justice is blind or fair, one will be disappointed in the outcomes of the trials of these women and their husbands and lovers, especially in the anti-communist confrontation nation of West Germany.
What is ironic to this sad tale of the dark side of human nature is the efforts of Eastern Germany were far more active in identifying, tracking down and prosecuting these murders with lengthy prison sentences compared to the far more lenient results of the West German courts and many of these women truly did get away with murder.
About the Author
Wendy Lower, Ph.D., is the John K. Roth Chair of History at Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, CA, and research associate of the Ludwig Maximillians Universitat in Munich. A historical consultant for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, she has conducted archival research and field work on the Holocaust for twenty years. She earned her B.A. in 1987 from Hamilton College, Clinton, NY and her doctorate in 1999 from American University, Washington, DC.
About the Reviewer
Ken Weiler, a former Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army with the Department of Engineering and Military Science at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia was also the Legislative liaison NCOIC with the Army’s SAFEGUARD anti-ballistic missile program at the Department of Defense at Arlington, Virginia. He has written several learned articles on historical preservation and identification, is a member of the Hanover Historical Society (PA) as well as Co-Chairman of its Museum Committee. He is also a Trustee of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Society in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania as well as a volunteer curator at the Eisenhower National Historic Site, also in Gettysburg. He holds degrees from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He currently resides with his wife in Hanover, Pennsylvania. For David M. Kinchen’s 2012 review of his “Operation Bagration,” click: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/42160 For Kinchen’s review of his 2013 book, “The European Theater Anthology of World War II,” click: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/73677