Mother of the "Volk": The Image of Women in Nazi Ideology

Leila J. Rupp.

The complex image of women that evolved from divergent strands of National Socialist ideology has largely been ignored by historians. The simple and limited role for women that Hitler and other male party leaders conceptualized has too often been accepted as the definitive National Socialist view of women. Certainly Hitler's ideas cannot be dismissed, but recent recognition that he did not exercise dictatorial control over a monolithic party and state has been coupled with the realization that Nazi ideology before 1933 evolved in a dynamic process of exchange. (…)

Frauen warte

The Bund deutscher Mädel (BDM), or League of German Girls, the female section of the Hitler Youth, was especially concerned with creating a new image for the German woman. Rejecting the images of the schoolgirl, the flapper, the dutiful daughter, and the career woman, one writer turned to the heroic woman in wartime who could take on a man's work in an emergency and write a courageous letter to her husband at the front without knowing from where her next meal would come. The Women's Labor Service and the BDM propagated an ideal of the young athlete and worker which changed little during the Third Reich. While it held out the promise of a vigorous and committed life to enthusiastic and idealistic young National Socialist women, this ideal embraced much that was traditional. The young athlete or agricultural worker was, after all, primarily a future mother. The young woman in the BDM or Labor Service contributed her energies to the betterment of the community of the people, while her mother served the nation as the cornerstone of the family, the "mother of the Volk." Either way, the ideal Nazi woman would serve her people and her country, making whatever sacrifices were demanded of her. Nazi ideology on women was, then, like Nazi ideology in general, a strange mixture of traditional conservative ideas, vague longings for a mythical past, and acceptance of the needs of a modern economy. Of course, what Nazi ideology proclaimed was not necessarily so. But public images of women can exert a powerful appeal, and the mainstream Nazi view had the potential to attract conservative or traditional women who sought confirmation of their worth as wives and mothers in a world in which feminism challenged traditional sex roles, as well as younger restless women, also from conservative and nationalist backgrounds, who longed for an active role and rejected the staid bourgeois life of the "older generation." It is not difficult to understand how nazism might have appealed to such ostensibly different groups of women. Whether it delivered or not, Nazi ideology promised women security and meaning in what was, from a conservative and nationalist point of view, a world gone mad.

Leila J. Rupp, Mother of the "Volk": The Image of Women in Nazi Ideology. In Signs, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Winter, 1977), pp. 362-379
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
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