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Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields
FINALIST FOR THE US NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD 'Hitler’s Furies will be experienced and remembered as a turning point in both women’s studies and Holocaust studies' Timothy Snyder, author of Bloodlands
History has it that the role of women in Nazi Germany was to be the perfect Hausfrau, produce the next Aryan generation and be a loyal cheerleader for the Führer. Then they became the Trümmerfrauen, or Rubble Women, as they cleared and tidied their ruined country to get it back on its feet. They were Germany’s heroines. The few women tried and convicted after the war were simply the evil aberrations – the camp guards, the female Nazi elite – that proved this rule.
However, Wendy Lower’s research into the very ordinary women who went out to the Nazi Eastern Front reveals an altogether different story. For ambitious young women, the emerging Nazi empire represented a kind of Wild East of career and matrimonial opportunity. Over half a million of them set off for these new lands, where most of the worst crimes of the Reich would occur.
Through the interwoven biographies of thirteen women, the reader follows the transformation of young nurses, teachers, secretaries and wives who start out in Weimar and Nazi Germany as ambitious idealists and end up as witnesses, accomplices and perpetrators of the genocide in Ukraine, Poland and Belarus. Hitler’s Furies presents overwhelming evidence that the women in these territories actively participated in the mass murder – and some became killers. In the case of women like Erna Petri, who brought her family to her husband’s impressive Polish SS estate, we find brutality as chilling as any in history.
Hitler’s Furies is indelible proof that we have not known what we need to know about the role of women in the Nazi killing fields – or about how it could have been hidden for seventy years. It shows that genocide is women’s business as well as men’s and that, in ignoring women’s culpability, we have ignored the reality of the Holocaust.
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Hitler’s Furies will be experienced and remembered as a turning point in both women’s studies and Holocaust studies - Timothy Snyder, author of Bloodlands
As pioneering as it is readable - Literary Review
She writes engagingly, wears her considerable erudition lightly…never allowing her analysis to outweigh the fundamental humanity of the stories - New Statesman
As gripping and eye-opening as it is chilling - People
Hitler's Furies turns on its head the idea that women are innately more nurturing, kind and moral than men... While the accepted wisdom on female participation in the Holocaust singles out the sadistic behaviour of a few women guards in the concentration camps, such behaviour is usually contrasted with the myth of German female ignorance of the horrors. A veil has largely been drawn over the actions of the rest. Not any more - Sunday Times (News Review)
Disquieting... Earlier books about the Holocaust have offered up poster girls of brutality and atrocity... Ms Lower's revisionist insight is to track more mundane lives, and to argue for a vastly wider complicity - New York Times
Through a combination of archive material and interviews, the historian Wendy Lower has unearthed evidence of women who witnessed and even perpetrated atrocities in the Third Reich's eastern-most territories, where most of the murders took place... her stark, often harrowing book is a valuable addition to Holocaust studies - Sunday Times
Until now it has been imagined that the Holocaust was perpetrated mainly by men and that female involvement was marginal. However, Ms Lower's research contradicts this. - Jewish Chronicle
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 - Daily Mail Ireland
Wendy Lower's book interweaves the experiences of 13 ordinary women who went to work in the East... for some of these women, violence and murder became part of a rich brew of new-found power... Lower argues, they collectively show the role of women in the Holocaust has been underplayed; obscured by their later stereotypes as heroic 'rubble women' clearing up the mess of Germany's past, victims of Red Army rapists, or flirtatious dolls who entertaned American GIs - Observer (New Review)
The Nazi regime is synonymous with men. The horrors of the Holocaust were, in the main, perpetrated by males. But there were tens of thousands of German women who took part in the Nazis' monstrous and murderous activities on the Eastern Front. The stories are told in Wendy Lower's new book - Jewish Telegraph
builds a picture of a morally lost generation of young women, born into a defeated, post-WW1 Germany, and swept up in the fervour of the Nazi movement - Sunday Telegraph
Lower shifts away from the narrow focus on the few thousand female concentration camp guards who have been at the center of previous studies of female culpability in Nazi crimes and identifies the cluster of professions—nurses, social workers, teachers, office workers—that in addition to family connections brought nearly one-half million women to the German East and into close proximity with pervasive Nazi atrocities. Through the lives of carefully researched individuals, she captures a spectrum of career trajectories and behavior. This is a book that artfully combines the study of gender with the illumination of individual experience. - Christopher R. Browning, author of Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland
Hitler’s Furies is a long overdue and superb addition to the history of the Holocaust. The role of women perpetrators during the Final Solution has been too much glossed over. Wendy Lower’s book provides an important and stunning corrective. It is a significant addition to our understanding of the role of ordinary Germans in the Reich’s genocide. - Deborah Lipstadt, author of The Eichmann Trial
Hitler's Furies is the first book to follow the biographical trajectories of individual women whose youthful exuberance, loyalty to the Führer, ambition, and racism took them to the deadliest sites in German-occupied Europe. Drawing on immensely rich source material, Wendy Lower integrates women perpetrators and accomplices into the social history of the Third Reich, and illuminates them indelibly as a part of post-war East and West German memory that has been, until this book, unmined - Claudia Koonz, author of Mothers in the Fatherland
Stomach-churning - West End Extra
Compelling... Lower's careful research proves that the capacity for indifferent cruelty is not reserved for men – it exists in all of us - Washington Post
Lower’s impressive analysis is a painful but transfixing read - Independent
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About the Author
Wendy Lower is the John K. Roth Chair of History at Claremont McKenna College and former research associate of the Ludwig-Maximillians-Universitat in Munich. A historical consultant for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, she has conducted archival research and field work on the Holocaust for twenty years. She lives with her family in Los Angeles, CA, and Munich, Germany.