As they worked to create the “national community,” Nazi leaders envisioned a special role for women. During World War I and in the Weimar years, women’s traditional roles had been transformed by the wartime economy and by an expansion of women’s rights in the Weimar Constitution (see reading, Women in the Weimar Republic in Chapter 4). In the Nazi worldview, which rejected these changes, women had a special status and responsibility for the Volksgemeinschaft, or “national community,” but their importance would be demonstrated through their traditional roles as wives and mothers. The National Socialist Women’s League was created in 1931. After the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, it issued a list of “Principles and Organizational Guidelines” for the league. The guidelines began with these three points:
- We want an awakening, a renewal, and a reeducation of women to equip them for the task as guardians of the nation’s source of life: sexual life, marriage, motherhood and family, blood and race, and youth and nationhood. A woman’s entire education, development, vocational pursuit, and position within Volk and state must be directed toward the physical and spiritual task of motherhood.
- We recognize that the great transformational process of women’s lives over the last fifty years, due to the machine age, has brought about a certain necessity, and we accept the education and official integration of the female workforce in the interest of the nation, unless this prohibits them from performing their duty within the Volk, in terms of marriage, family and motherhood.
- We reject the misguided direction of the democratic-liberalistic-international women’s movement because they have not discovered new paths based on God and nationhood, and which are rooted in women’s souls; instead they represent the point of view that women are competitive with [or equal to] men, and in the demands they have raised they have elevated temporary stopgap measures to the position of a fundamental principle. This has resulted in the creation of a womanhood that has misplaced its energies and that has not understood its task in Germany’s time of need . . .1
Many women welcomed the Nazis’ ideas. In 1936, Emilie Müller-Zadow, a member of the National Socialist Women’s League, wrote:
There is a growing recognition that mothers carry the destiny of their people in their hands and that the success or ruin of the nation depends on their attitude toward the vocation of motherhood.
Nation and race are facts of creation, which we, too, are called upon to share in forming and preserving. Therefore a national leadership that respects and honors its mothers is on a sound and healthy path . . .
. . . The place that Adolf Hitler assigns to woman in the Third Reich corresponds to her natural and divine destiny. Limits are being set for her, which earlier she had frequently violated in a barren desire to adopt masculine traits. The value and sanctity of goals now being set for her have been unrecognized and forgotten for a long time; and due respect is now being offered to her vocation as mother of the people, in which she can and should develop her rich emotions and spiritual strengths according to eternal laws. This wake-up call of National Socialism to women is one more indication that in Germany today it is not arbitrary laws that are being issued, but rather a nation is returning to essential, eternal rules of order.
It is therefore not at all surprising that the state and party claim the education of mothers as exclusively their task and insist that all training be carried out only by National Socialists and according to the principles of National Socialism. For the way a mother sees her child, how she cares for, teaches, and forms him, the principles that she instills in him, the attitude that she demands of him, all of this is crucial for the national health, for a German morality, and for the unified overall mind-set of the future nation.2
While many women did continue to work outside the home and the birthrate never rose as high as Hitler hoped it would, the Nazis continued to promote their ideas about the national and racial significance of women. In 1938, they created the German Mother’s Cross, a prize annually bestowed on mothers who had had four or more children. Those with four children received a bronze cross, those with six received a silver cross, and those with eight or more received a gold cross. These prizes were awarded in local ceremonies on the second Sunday in May, which became a national Mother’s Day holiday in 1934. One newspaper printed the speech given at such a ceremony in Eutin, a German city:
Our mothers will always be our guiding stars. Just as a man risks his life in battle, so too does the mother bravely and faithfully offer her life for the nation when she fulfills her sacred duty. . . . The mother is ready to give children to the Führer in the numbers our people need for survival. To offer herself for the sake of the nation so that the nation might have eternity, that is the life purpose of the German mother, and that is why we must return to the eternal laws of blood and race.3
- 1 : “The National Socialist Women’s League,” in Benjamin Sax and Dieter Kuntz, eds., Inside Hitler’s Germany: A Documentary History of Life in the Third Reich (Toronto: D. C. Heath, 1992), 264–65.
- 2 : Emilie Müller-Zadow, “Mothers Who Give Us the Future” (1936), trans. Sally Winkle, in Roderick Stackelberg and Sally A. Winkle, eds., The Nazi Germany Sourcebook: An Anthology of Texts (New York: Routledge, 2002), 185.
- 3 : "Mothering Sunday,” in Sax and Kuntz, eds., Inside Hitler’s Germany, 265–67.