Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Book Review: Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower

From Goodreads:
Wendy Lower's stunning account of the role of German women on the World War II Nazi eastern front powerfully revises history, proving that we have ignored the reality of women's participation in the Holocaust, including as brutal killers. The long-held picture of German women holding down the home front during the war, as loyal wives and cheerleaders for the F├╝hrer, pales in comparison to Lower's incisive case for the massive complicity, and worse, of the 500,000 young German women she places, for the first time, directly in the killing fields of the expanding Reich...

Hitler's Furies will challenge our deepest beliefs: genocide is women's business too, and the evidence can be hidden for seventy years.
First of all, Lower does an amazing job of researching and providing citations and appropriate direction for further research.  She has done an extensive amount of research on the subject of German teachers, nurses, secretaries, and wives of officers during World War II and her research shows.  I appreciated the quite lengthy notes regarding research that are included at the end of the book.

The book was nominated for a National Book Award, and I think the honor of the nomination is certainly appropriate.  The book is engaging and understandable, but also contains well-documented research and analysis.  Readers should note that the book provides case studies of thirteen women specifically rather than documentation on a larger scale.  Some reviewers have found this problematic, but I wasn't bothered by the focus on particular accounts and didn't find it to hurt the author's premise, which is that women who were not Nazi officials or prison guards - women who were average citizens - also committed atrocities during World War II.

Entertainment Value
As difficult as it is to say a book about Nazism is "entertaining", this one is certainly easy to read and accessible to most readers who have an interest in the subject.  I do wish that the book could have been longer and contained more information.  I understand that the brevity is intended to make the book more appealing to a wide audience, but I thought 188 pages of actual text was quite short (there are approximately 100 additional pages of research citations and notes).

In her closing remarks the author brings up the way that history, the media, and popular culture depicts the women who participated in the genocide of Nazi German as sexual deviants.  Rather than portraying them as the common Volk of German swept up in the anti-semitism and violence of their nation, they are overwhelmingly portrayed as vampish Jezebels, often with twisted, vaguely erotic motivations.  I would have been fascinated to see that examined in more detail, rather than as a passing remark in the epilogue and at only 188 pages, I think the book could have certainly have encompassed more detailed information without becoming over-long.

The author does a fine job of bringing these thirteen case studies to light and introducing readers to a new way of seeing women who participated in genocidal atrocities committed by the Nazi party outside of the concentration camps.  Her research is well-done and documented in a way that is easy for the reader to follow.  I wish she had spent more time really delving into analysis of the behavior, rather than just providing a bare bones narrative of what these thirteen women did.  Read with caution, knowing that this book contains descriptions of the Holocaust and atrocities committed during the Nazi regime.

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