Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt  2013


Nominated as a finalist for the prestigious National Book Award and the National Jewish Book Award, Hitler’s Furies is essential reading on a virtually ignored aspect of the Holocaust. Focusing on the role of German women in the Nazi genocide, Wendy Lower, the John K. Roth Professor of History at Claremont College, draws on years of archival research, interviews, and fieldwork across Europe, the US, and Israel to demolish the myth of German women holding down the home front as Germany embarked on their ideological objective of conquering the Slavic peoples of the east and the murder of its Jews. Lower notes that more than a half million German women witnessed and contributed to the genocidal war in the east as the Wehrmacht and the murderous Einsatzgruppen death squads hunted down and murdered Jewish men, women, and children in their determination to fulfill Hitler’s prophecy of annihilating European Jewry. 

Dividing her chapters to describe the role of female witnesses, accomplices, and perpetrators of the Holocaust, Lower provides case studies of nurses, who murdered children through lethal injections; secretaries, who compiled lists of Jews targeted for murder; perpetrators, who joined their male counterparts in the destruction process by euthanizing the disabled, resettling abducted children, and plundering Jewish property, and the wives of SS officers, who looted and shot Jews in the ghettos of Ukraine and used whips to brutalize helpless Jews. In Lublin, for example, secretaries to SS Major General Odilo Globocnik, in charge of the gassing operations in Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka, although not direct perpetrators of the Holocaust were, nevertheless, accomplices to mass murder as they took dictation and typed up the orders facilitating the theft, deportation, and mass murder of Jews, fully aware that their duties contributed to the total goal of the extermination of the Jewish people. Although Lower cannot provide an exact number of how many of the half-million of these women actually participated in mass murder, they did run into the hundreds if not thousands. Like their male counterparts, Hitler’s Furies were mostly young women who came from diverse backgrounds: working class, the well-to-do, Catholics and Protestants, the educated and uneducated, and to varying degrees they all seemed to share the qualities of greed, anti-Semitism, racism, and arrogance. Lower concludes that despite their role in the Holocaust, after the war most of them escaped punishment for their crimes.

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