How were women treated in Nazi Germany?

How were women treated in Nazi Germany? What were Hitler’s policies towards women?

The Nazi slogan ‘Kinder, Küche, Kirche’, meaning Children, Kitchen, Church, summarises the Nazis ambitions towards women.

They were expected to stay at home, like good housewives, and have many Children, because the Nazis wanted to build a strong Aryan population to build their military.

• Increasing births / Role of mother

The Nazis wanted a return to traditional values and encouraged women to become "The Light of the Home". Hence, the Nazis began to impose conservative values, such as wearing long skirts, not smoking cigarettes and not wearing makeup.

The reasons for all the policies towards women was that they wanted to revive the Aryan population following the First World War as they had suffered 1,773,000 deaths in World War One, and that they wanted to revive the birth rate, due to the fact that while there had been 2 million new births in 1900, as compared to just 1 million in 1933.

In order to encourage women to have children, the Nazis introduced a number of measures.

  • Financial incentives – such as marriage loans and birth grants would encourage Aryan couples to reproduce children and keep reproducing children, as the more children they bore, the better benefits they would receive.

  • Excellent maternity services were provided to mothers as an incentive.

  • Using propaganda to promote having children.

  • The Mother’s Cross award – used to raise the status and self-esteem of mothers and housewives – was believed to help increase the pride and prestige of being a mother and housewife as the award would give women a goal to strive towards, in terms of the number of children they had.

  • Penalties towards childless citizens involved higher taxes on childless couples, tightened penalties for abortions, restricted information on contraception and measures for the compulsory sterilisation of ‘undesirables’. These numerous measures would help discourage women from aborting children or being childless, while also discriminating and persecuting those who did not fit into the Volksgemeinschaft and aims of the Nazi regime.

  • The Lebensborn programme was extended from 1939 to 1945, and the Nazis began to encourage having births outside marriage, due to the ongoing war and men being sent away to fight.

Overall, regarding policies of increasing the birth rate, the Nazis were not very successful.

  • Although the birthrate initially rose in the mid-1930s, it began to slowly decline. The initial increase can be put down more to the economic recovery, rather than to Nazi policy and measures. Although the birth rate did rise when compared to during the Great Depression; it never got back to the levels of early Weimar Germany— partly due to the Nazi's eugenic policies towards minorities and those with disabilities, which reduced the potential population numbers.

Increasing marriages / Marriage laws

In terms of aims, the Nazis also aimed to increase suitable marriages and reduce the number of marriages among ‘inferior’ races. This is because more marriages meant more children, and Germany wanted more births.

  • Marriages loans of 600 Reichmarks were provided to couples from 1933 if the woman was unemployed. This was paid off by the taxes on childless citizens the more children that the married couple had. Later in 1937, as this policy produced less significant outcomes than hoped, the marriage loans were extended to women who were in work.

  • A Marriage Law was introduced in 1935 requiring a certificate of ‘fitness to marry’ before the marriage licence was issued. This was determined by race and genetics, so as to reduce the population of non-desirables.

  • The Blood Protection Law was introduced in October 1935, forbidding Aryans from marrying Jews, Blacks or Gypsies.

  • A new Marriage Law, introduced in 1938, extended the grounds for divorce. This was to help national objectives regarding birth rate as it would allow men to divorce their infertile wives and vice-versa.

Was this policy successful overall?

  • In 1932 there were 516,000 marriages and in 1934, there were 740,000 marriages.

  • Also, divorces increased after 1938.

    • However, these increases may have been due more to economic optimism than a result of government policies, whilst the average size of families did fall during the 1930s.

Childcare / Role of caretaker

The Nazis aimed at making sure German women were excellent caretakers in order to develop healthy Germans.

  • The National Socialist Women’s League was set up to work to achieve this goal and 6 million out of 30 million female adults – equating to a ⅕ of all women – became members.

  • There was a vast expansion of health offices during the period of 1933 to 1939, especially in rural areas. Sanitation, medicine, genetics and racial care were improved. From 1939 to 1945, the Nazis also improved childcare facilities, especially for mothers who were working to sustain the country during the Second World War.

Supposedly as a result of Nazi policy, the infant mortality rate in Germany dropped from 7.7% in 1933 to 6.6% in 1936.

Education / Restrictions on education

In terms of education for women, the Nazis aimed to prepare women for their proper role of 'Children, Kitchen and Church', so they began to restrict opportunities for women. For example, they limited university enrolment of women to 10%, leading to a drop in the number of women at universities. That is until World War Two when restrictions were dropped, owing to the great demand for well-educated workers as men were off fighting the War.

Hence, during the rule of the Nazis, restrictions towards women in education increased and then were increasingly relaxed as women were needed in the workforce since the demand for workers and soldiers had grown since the Nazis came to power.

Employment / Restrictions on employment

The Nazis aimed to achieve a traditional Germany where men work and women act as housewives, mothers and caregivers. This is because they wanted women to focus on the Lebensborn programme. Men were expected to make the money to sustain the family, and women were expected to look after and provide care for the family.

  • Employment opportunities were reduced amongst the female population in order to force them to focus on home life.

  • In 1933, women in top civil service and medical jobs were dismissed

  • In 1936, women were banned from being judges and lawyers.

However, when the war came around, the Nazi German government realised they did not have enough workers.

  • Compulsory agricultural labour service was implemented from 1939 for unmarried women under the age of 25.

  • Women were trained in Lichtenberg to help the SS in concentration camps from 1938 in order to contribute to the war and ideological effort. They took up minor jobs as guards, secretaries and nurses.

  • Women aged 17 to 45 were told to register for work, although there were many exceptions, such as women with children.

    • Due to Hitler's reluctance, it was only in 1942 that this policy was implemented.

    • As a result, women were less mobilised in Germany than they were in the UK and USA during the wartime period.

Public life / Role in the Nazi party

With regards to public life and female involvement in the Nazi party, Hitler wished that women were organised and incorporated into the Nazi Volksgemeinschaft.

  • Before the war, women were banned from being members of the Reichstag.

  • The Nazis did set up the NSF (standing for National Socialist Women’s League) and the DFW (Deutsches Frauenwerk), leading to increased female participation in Nazi bodies and activities.

  • During the Second World War, female organisations helped to support the war effort through the collection of clothes to help support the Russian front.

In many ways, although they were excluded from decision-making, the Nazis increased opportunities for middle class women especially, to become involved in public life and Nazi party activities.