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

Wendy Low­er
  • Review
By – December 23, 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.

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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