A new book pulls back the veil on the widespread involvement of women in the Third Reich’s most murderous and brutal activities. An exclusive excerpt from Wendy Lower’s Hitler’s Furies.
The history of female killers—Hitler’s furies—during the Third Reich has been suppressed, overlooked, and under-researched. Given the ideological indoctrination of the young cohort of men and women who came of age in the Third Reich, their mass mobilization in the eastern campaign, and the culture of genocidal violence embedded in Nazi conquest and colonization, I deduced—as a historian, not a prosecutor—that there were plenty of women who killed Jews and other “enemies” of the Reich, more than had been documented during the war or prosecuted afterward. Though the documented cases of direct killing are not numerous, they must be taken very seriously and not dismissed as anomalies. Hitler’s Furies were not marginal sociopaths. They believed that their violent deeds were justified acts of revenge meted out to enemies of the Reich; such deeds were, in their minds, expressions of loyalty.
As self-proclaimed superior rulers, German women in the Nazi East wielded unprecedented power over those designated “subhuman”; they were given a license to abuse and even kill those who were perceived, as one secretary near Minsk said after the war, as the scum of society. These women had proximity to power in the massive state-run machinery of destruction. They also had proximity to the crime scenes; there was no great distance between the settings of small towns, where women went about their daily routines, and the horrors of ghettos, camps, and mass executions. There was no divide between the home front and the battlefront. Women could decide on the spot to join the orgy of violence.