Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 2 Dec 2015
Europe suffered unimaginable injustices at the hands of the Germans during the WW2 era. After the war, most of those held responsible for it were men. The few women who were brought to court saw their trials being sensationalized, making them appear to be monsters rather than humans. With about 40% of Gestapo offices in Berlin and Vienna staffed by women, with so many wives accompanying their SS official husbands in occupied Eastern Europe, and with so many female nurses working at at forced euthanasia facilities, author Wendy Lower wondered what she might find if she explored what their experiences were during the war. The results of her research, published under the title Hitler's Furies, was chilling. She documented women who thought little of the paperwork that passed through their desks calling for the round up of Jews. While in our age we imagine wives of well-to-do households doing shopping at upscale boutiques, Lower wrote about those who selected from furs taken from recently deported Jews. Nurses, whose noble training taught them to heal, instead assisted in human experimentation. Lower looked into the post-war trial of a SS wife who mercilessly executed, with bullets to the back of the neck, six Jewish children who had just escaped from a transport train. Last but not least, she wrote of a woman who was accused of killing a Jewish child by holding him by his legs and swinging his head into a wall. While this book was not by any means comprehensive, it shed light into a topic not often written about, reminding us that the inhuman Nazi behavior were not limited to men. The fervor of ultra-nationalism and anti-Semitism brainwashed a generation of German women as well.
Lower struck home with a particular observation: While many defendants of post-war trials attempted (but mostly failed) to shed responsibility by claiming they were law-abiding and responsible individuals who were simply following orders, the many women profiled in Lower's book could not attempt to do so as none of them were official members of the military nor the government. All of them committed their crimes entirely on their own free will.
I had reviewed this title in its audio book format. Suzanne Toren performed the reading admirably.
Hitler's Furies had its weak points, but being one of the few books on the topic of women's involvement in the Holocaust, and certainly the first book for me, I felt that it offered a great deal. It was not an easy read, for it dealt with the ugly side of humanity, and worst of all such ugliness was conducted by women, the very same group of the German population who were portrayed in Nazi propaganda as loving and nurturing. However, as I finished this book, I felt that some of the powerful descriptions on these pages would remain with me for some time to come, reminding me that times of war could bring out the worst in humankind, both men and women.
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945