WOMEN IN THE THIRD REICH
Women played a vital role in Adolf Hitler’s plan to create an ideal German Community (Volksgemeinschaft). Hitler believed a larger, racially purer population would enhance Germany’s military strength and provide settlers to colonize conquered territory in eastern Europe. The Third Reich’s aggressive population policy encouraged “racially pure” women to bear as many “Aryan” children as possible.
This policy took its most radical form in 1936 when SS leaders created the state-directed program known as Lebensborn (Fount of Life). In an extension of the SS Marriage Order of 1932, the 1936 Lebensborn ordinance prescribed that every SS member should father four children, in or out of wedlock. Lebensborn homes sheltered illegitimate offspring and their mothers, provided birth documents and financial support, and recruited adoptive parents for the children.
In the end, however, the Lebensborn program was never promoted aggressively. Instead, Nazi population policy concentrated on the family and marriage. The state encouraged matrimony through marriage loans, dispensed family income supplements for each new child, publicly honored “child-rich” families, bestowed the Cross of Honor of the German Mother on women bearing four or more babies, and increased punishments for abortion.
The National Socialist Women’s Union and German Women’s Agency used Nazi propaganda to encourage women to focus on their roles as wives and mothers. Besides increasing the population, the regime also sought to enhance its “racial purity” through “species upgrading,” notably by promulgating laws prohibiting marriage between “Aryans” and “non-Aryans” while preventing those with handicaps and certain diseases from marrying at all.
Girls were taught to embrace the role of mother and obedient wife in school and through compulsory membership in the Nazi League of German Girls. However, rearmament followed by total war obliged the Nazis to abandon the domestic ideal for women. The need for labor prompted the state to prod women into the workforce (for example, through the Duty Year, the compulsory-service plan for all women) and even into the military itself (the number of female auxiliaries in the German armed forces approached 500,000 by 1945).