The only thing more sickening than a Nazi, was a Nazi woman…every bit as evil as the men and twice as cunning
- Chilling new book has unearthered thousands of complicit German women
- At least half a million witnessed and contributed to Hitler’s terror
- Have been dubbed the ‘primary witnesses of the Holocaust’
- Secretaries typed the orders to kill and filed the details of massacres
- Only a small number of women were called to account for their crimes
Blonde German housewife Erna Petri was returning home after a shopping trip in town when something caught her eye: six small, nearly naked boys huddled in terror by the side of the country road.
Married to a senior SS officer, the 23-year-old knew instantly who they were.
They must be the Jews she’d heard about — the ones who’d escaped from a train taking them to an extermination camp.
But she was a mother herself, with two children of her own. So she humanely took the starving, whimpering youngsters home, calmed them down and gave them food to eat.
Then she led the six of them — the youngest aged six, the oldest 12 — into the woods, lined them up on the edge of a pit and shot them methodically one by one with a pistol in the back of the neck.
This schizophrenic combination of warm-hearted mother one minute and cold-blooded killer the next is an enigma and one that — now revealed in a new book based on years of trawling through remote archives — puts a crueller than ever spin on the Third Reich.
Because Erna was by no means an aberration. In a book she tellingly calls ‘Hitler’s Furies’, Holocaust historian Professor Wendy Lower has unearthed the complicity of tens of thousands of German women — many more than previously imagined — in the sort of mass, monstrous, murderous activities that we would like to think the so-called gentler sex were incapable of.
The Holocaust has generally been seen as a crime perpetrated by men. The vast majority of those accused at Nuremberg and other war crimes trials were men.
The few women ever called to account were notorious concentration camp guards — the likes of Irma Grese and Ilse Koch — whose evil was so extreme they could be explained away as freaks and beasts, not really ‘women’ at all.
Ultra-macho Nazi Germany was a man’s world. The vast majority of women had, on Hitler’s orders, confined their activities to Kinder, Küche, Kirche — children, kitchen and church. Thus, when it came to responsibility for the Holocaust and other evils of the Third Reich, they were off the hook.
But that, argues Lower, is simplistic nonsense. Women were drawn into the morally bankrupt conspiracy that was Hitler’s Germany as thoroughly as men were — at a lower level, in most cases, when it came to direct action but guilty just the same.
Ironically, it was the professional carers who were the first to be caught in this evil web. From the moment the Nazis came to power and imposed policies of Aryan racial purity, countless nurses, their aprons filled with morphine vials and needles, routinely slaughtered the physically disabled and mentally defective.
Pauline Kneissler worked at Grafeneck Castle, a euthanasia ‘hospital’ in southern Germany, and toured mental institutions selecting 70 ‘patients’ a day. At the castle they were gassed, which she decided was not that bad because ‘death by gas doesn’t hurt’.
Meanwhile, midwives were betraying a whole generation of German women by reporting defects in unborns and newborns and recommending abortions and euthanasia, as well as sterilisation of mothers.
From the outset, Lower concludes, ‘women made cruel life-and-death decisions, eroding moral sensibilities’. A line had been crossed. It was no big step when the racial purification process turned to the Final Solution of exterminating millions of Jews.
That Jews were the enemy and their annihilation the answer was taken for granted by millions of women who would later deny knowing what
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