Depiction of Women with a Help of Nazi Propaganda

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This investigation will investigate the question: How did Nazi propaganda impact German women’s role in society? The years 1933 to 1945 will be the focal point of this exploration, to permit an investigation of the treatment of women under the Third Reich. This issue is very significant due to the stark differences between the policies of the Nazi party and those of other countries during the same period of time.

The image “Mutter mit Kindern” is a primary source, published in February of 1943 in the SS-Leitheft. The SS-Leitheft was a Nazi periodical that published from 1934 until 1945. In the present day, the image can be found in the German Federal Archive, the National Archives of Germany. The origin of this source is valuable because the SS-Leitheft was published by the SS-Hauptamt, one of the central command offices of the Schutzstaffel in Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Since the source was published directly by the Schutzstaffel, it provides an insight into the views held by the organization regarding the role of women in society. Additionally, the image was originally published in February 1943, during the middle portion of the Second World War. The fact that the image was published during the war is valuable because it allows for an understanding of the way in which women were viewed in society in addition to the treatment they received. It is also valuable because it reflected the National Socialist German Workers' Party’s (NSDAP) current views on women which maintain a higher degree of reliability than if the source had been published after the war looking back on the situation.

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The purpose of the source is to portray to the German people the image of a “perfect” woman. The image was created as a means of propaganda for the NSDAP and is, therefore, limited. It reflects the NSDAP’s familial and societal values of a woman that stays in the home and raises as many children as possible rather than having a career. Propaganda in and of itself is meant to promote a certain point of view, often through highly biased information. Therefore, the ulterior motives of this source must be taken into consideration when conducting an investigation.

The journal article “Women, Class, and Mobilization in Nazi Germany,” is a secondary source, published in 1979 in Science & Society by Leila J. Rupp. The origin of this source is valuable because the author is an Interim Dean of Social Sciences and professor of Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has written extensively on women's movements and comparative and transnational women's history, indicating that she has a great deal of knowledge on this topic. The date of this source, 1979 is valuable because it is a great deal of time after the end of the Second World War. This enables the author to benefit from the variety of sources including interviews, statistics, and government documents that had been released since the end of the war. However, the origin of this source is limited because the author’s research does not specifically focus on Germany or Nazi Germany for that matter, leaving some room for uncertainty concerning this period of history.

The purpose of the journal article is to analyze the trends in German women’s employment and the need to mobilize women during a wartime economy combated with “Hitler’s staunch belief in ‘women’s place’”. This is valuable because it provides a more holistic view of the difficulties that the NSDAP faced in stimulating their economy while also trying to maintain their conservative family values. However, it is also a limitation because it limits the authors focus on the specific actions taken by the NSDAP to limit women’s role in society.

A personal limitation while conducting this investigation may be a struggle to reach an acceptable conclusion given all of the data I am provided. Since there are no absolute truths in the area of knowledge of history, much of history is left to interpretation. Nevertheless, not all perspectives are valid for it must be based upon facts for it to be acceptable, and it is my job to sort through these various perspectives.

“Propaganda works on the general public from the standpoint of an idea and makes them ripe for the victory of this idea.” wrote Adolf Hitler in his book, Mein Kampf (Stephenson, 1981). Hitler was a strong advocate for the use of propaganda to spread the ideals of National Socialism. On 14 March 1933, following the Nazi seizure of power, Hitler established the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda (Rupp, 52). Joseph Goebbels was appointed the head of the ministry whose purpose was to spread the Nazi message through various mediums such as newspapers, movies, magazines, radio programs and television shows.

Throughout his tenure, Goebbels was highly successful in creating campaigns to gain widespread support for the Nazi Party. The party spent an extravagant amount promoting national propaganda. The radio was one of the most important tools of Nazi propaganda and many historians argue that the Nazis pioneered the use of this technology (Rossy, 70). One of Goebbels highly prosperous initiatives was to make cheap radios called the ‘People’s Receivers’ or the Volksempfänger that guaranteed that every household could own a radio (Rossy, 71). Only German and Austrian stations were marked on the radios and listening to overseas broadcasts was made a treasonable offense (Rossy, 71). They discussed the Nazi ideals of patriotism, Aryan pride, and obeying the wishes of the Fuhrer. For women, these radio programs offered advice on homemaking and tips on becoming the ‘ideal woman’ (Rossy, 72). They penetrated the ‘private sphere’ of everyday life and became the average housewife’s form of entertainment and validation of their role within society.

Images were also a very vital form of propaganda, encompassing poster campaigns, leaflets, and newspapers. The ‘picture perfect’ image of an ideal woman was depicted as a blond mother surrounded by her family, including numerous children (Stephenson, 1981). These images were so commonplace in everyday society that they gave off the impression that a mother was a women’s only worthwhile role in life. The images that Joseph Goebbels authorized, further highlighted the role of women in the ‘New Order’ (Stephenson, 1981). The main goal was to spread the influence of Nazi ideals and create a generation full of ‘mothers of the country’ (Stephenson, 1975).

Nazi propaganda was not only used within Germany, it was also utilized as a means to spread their ideals worldwide. The party wanted to garner sympathy and support from people around the world. Propaganda was broadcasted in both occupied territories and enemy states. Through this initiative, the words of Hitler were heard all over the world.

The policies under Nazism were very different from those of the Weimar Republic which had made large progress for female equality. Under Nazism, women lived under a regime that limited them to being a wife and mother and did not allow them to participate in the academic and political world. Adolf Hitler’s rise to power marked a major setback for the women of Germany. He claimed that the “granting of so-called equal rights to women... constitutes the deprivation of rights since they draw women into a zone where they can only be inferior.” (Koonz, 1987). Equal rights were viewed as being incompatible with the nature of reproduction. Since a large birthrate was necessary to better Germany, it only made sense to limit women from seeking their full potential.

The term Volksgemeinschaft became very important for the Nazi Party when trying to unify Germany based on the principles written by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf (Koonz, 1987). Directly translated, Volksgemeinschaft means ‘people's’ community’ (Koonz, 1987). It was used to unite Germany under one common goal, winning the first world war. The concept of recreating the image of a woman and a family is one of the ways in which the Nazi leaders furthered their “perfect” society and ultimately achieved Volksgemeinschaft.

At the start of the Third Reich, Hitler clearly outlined the role women within Nazi Germany’s society. An ideal woman was to give up employment once married, and care for her children, her husband, and the home. In order to enforce these ideals, a 10% cap was placed upon the proportion of women attending university and propaganda was used as a means to convince women to follow the life set in place for them (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2011). This intricate system of propaganda also aided in gaining female support for the Nazis. Within an organization where women were considered second-class citizens, it was necessary for the Nazi party to convince women that the Reich was working in their favor.

However, regardless of their inferior status, women were far from being innocent bystanders. They played a large role in the horrific crimes that took place during the Second World War. Due to the growing amount of political prisoners, women began to work as nurses, guards, or secretaries at Nazi concentration camps (Koonz, 1987). Women also directly benefited from Nazi policies which promised to support them financially as long as they maintained a high birth rate. Through Hitler’s 1933 Law for the Encouragement of Marriage, all newly married couples received a government loan of 1000 marks (Stephenson, 1981). However, if they were to have four children they did not have to pay it back (Stephenson, 1981). In addition, a lot of women were proven to be accomplices to the horrors that took place. By the end of the Second World War, the majority of German women were contributing to the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps.

The view that women were second class citizens was prevalent in other countries however, the Nazi’s approach to the issue was very different. Nowhere else in the world were there efforts made to support a female breeding program and convince women that they were fundamentally less valuable than men. The Nazis believed that the division of the sexes would ultimately lead to the unity of their country by providing everyone with a role in society. The Nazi leader’s view of women as inferior was made apparent through art, radio, and photographs used as propaganda. As a result, propaganda had a large effect on women’s role within Nazi Germany’s society. This attitude towards women was meant to promote the notion of Volksgemeinschaft, a community where every person has an essential role that helps their society. Propaganda was the vehicle through which the Nazi leaders expressed their views and it did not lead to unification as they had hoped. The Nazi leader’s failure to realize that their views on women and their policies were socially and economically detrimental and ultimately lead to their downfall.

This investigation enabled me to learn about the various methods that historians use and the challenges they face when performing a historical investigation. I have had the opportunity to hone my historical analysis skills. This includes analyzing an assortment of sources, exploring a mixture of viewpoints, and eventually reaching a final conclusion based on a fusion of what I have learned. Throughout this process, I read a multitude of books and journals by renowned historians, read government documents, analyzed photographs and artwork, and listened to radio broadcasts from the Second World War. These are all methods that true historians use in their investigations.

While sorting through a myriad of evidence and perspectives, I gained a deeper insight into the hardships that historians must face. I was initially surprised by how different the conclusions were for each source. For example, in Leila Rupp’s academic journal “Women, Class, and Mobilization in Nazi Germany”, she argued that the Nazi’s never implemented a conscription for women because Adolf Hitler was ideologically against female employment. Meanwhile, in Jill Stephenson’s book The Nazi Organisation of Women, she alleged that rather than an ideological reason, it was logistical since a conscription would decrease the birth rate.

One of a historian’s most important jobs is to decide which narrative is the most acceptable given the facts provided. This is a long process that involves assessing the values and limitations of each source that is used and deciding which ones are the most truthful. This aspect of the investigation was particularly hard for me. Nonetheless, by evaluating the value and limitations of my sources, I was able to formulate my conclusion. For example, I considered the arguments that Katherine Rossy made in her academic journal "Politicizing Pronatalism: Exploring The Nazi Ideology of Women Through The Lens Of Visual Propaganda, 1933-1939" more valuable than that of Charu Gupta’s "Politics of Gender: Women in Nazi Germany". I considered the arguments more valid because it was through the lens of visual propaganda rather than the general lens of women in Nazi Germany. As a result, I more often agreed with Rossy’s viewpoint because I felt that it was more specific to my research and better researched than Gupta’s.

This historical investigation has equipped me with a valuable appreciation for the efforts that historians undergo and the problems they face. It has also helped me understand the significance of evaluating the value of historical sources when establishing a perspective.

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