Women In Society: Nazi Germany and Communist Russia

The role of women in society has been a hotly debated issue for millennia. Different cultures have chosen to address the issue in many ways, and the Nazi and Socialist regimes had to deal with the issue within their respective regimes.  Theoretically, the Nazi ideologies could not appear more different from those of Soviet Russia, but in practice the two regimes shared striking similarities that were increasingly brought to light.

Under Nazi ideology propagated by Hitler himself, women in German society belonged in the home, not the workforce, and their primary and principle responsibility was to continue to bear and raise German, Aryan children.[1]  Ideal German society rested on the two separate and immutable spheres – the domain of men which was outside the home with the state, and the domain of women, which was limited to the household and child-rearing.[2]  Hitler blamed the women’s liberation movement on Jews as propaganda to keep good, decent German women away from her duty of continuing the Aryan race in a ploy to try to destroy the German people.[3]  This is further exemplified in the address of Gertrud Scholtz-Klink in her rousing and impassioned plea to other Nazi women, extolling the underlying core value of German strength.  For Scholtz-Klink, the word German was synonymous with strength, regardless of a person’s place in society or gender.  While she clearly saw all “proper” Germans as equal under the regime, she emphasized the need for each to “first accomplish the tasks that are appropriate to his or her nature” – and for women, this of course meant bearing and caring for their children.[4]  To desire any other calling or place in society other than that of a mother or caregiver was, in essence, to be selfish and to ignore natural laws and divine mandate.[5]  To be clear, however, the only women that should be breeding were those that were “pure” or “racially fit”.[6]  Many who did not fit those criteria were forcibly sterilized or forced to have abortions should they become pregnant, including Jews, Gypsies, and many with genetic disorders or handicaps.[7]  While Nazi ideology was clear about the respective roles of women and men in society, putting these ideas into practice at a time of total war was more difficult.  As World War II dragged on, the domestic sphere of women was replaced with the desperate need for a bigger workforce and support structures to bolster the position of the Third Reich, and women were conscripted into the workforce and even into the German military.[8]

The Communist ideology in Russia in the same period stood in stark contrast to the Nazi’s Socialist ideals – at least in theory. Under Lenin’s perspective, the disparity and inequality between the sexes must be ended, and the only way for women to be granted true equality was under the communist system that he wanted to impose.[9]  Communism in Soviet Russia sought to implement a true equality between genders, and established laws in the Soviet constitution that enabled equality for all citizens despite gender or nationality.[10]  A speech delivered by Clara Zetkin in 1922 highlights these ideals, demonstrating the need for women to take an active role in not only economic and social growth, but in political growth as well.[11]  By highlighting the need for devotion to the party above the individual, which was described as Capitalist hypocrisy, Soviet ideology understood the needs of the collective and the party to outweigh an individual’s duty or devotion to themselves or even their family.[12]   Unfortunately, while equality was truly achieved in terms of employment opportunities, Lenin’s ideals were never fully implemented in terms of advancement.[13]   Women were included into all aspects of the workforce, but were often passed over for higher ranked positions, and gained almost no traction within party leadership itself.[14]  Instead, they were relegated to more manual labor – in the mines, factories and in lower-ranked positions within academia well into the 1970s.[15]

In understanding the ideologies between these two regimes, it becomes clear that – while they appear to be taking two different tactics and come from opposite directions – these two systems gained similarities on the way their ideologies were put into practice. Theory versus practice came into play, and while women gained more freedom in Nazi Germany than Hitler’s ideology would have liked, women in Soviet Russia gained equality on paper but not in practice, placing them on near equal footing with their German counterparts during the period of WWII.

[1] Adolph Hitler, “Hitler’s Speech to the National Socialist Women’s League”, German History Documents, Internet, available from http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/sub_document.cfm?document_id=1557, accessed 14 November 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, “To Be German Is to Be Strong,” Calvin college, Internet, available from http://research.calvin.edu/german-propaganda-archive/scholtz-klink2.htm, accessed 14 November 2016.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Charu Gupta, “Politics of Gender: Women in Nazi Germany,” Economic and Political Weekly 26, no. 17 (1991): WS40-WS48.


[8] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Women in the Third Reich,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, Internet, available from https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article/php?ModuleId=10005205, accessed 14 November 2016.

[9] Alice Schuster, “Women’s Role in the Soviet Union: Ideology and Reality,” The Russian Review 30, no. 3 (1971): 260-267

[10] Ibid.

[11] Clara Zetkin, “Organizing Working Women,” Marxists.org, Internet, available from https://www.marxists.org/archive/zetkin/1922/ci/women.htm, accessed 14 November 2016.

[12] I. Masing-Delic, From Symbolism to Socialist Realism: A Reader (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2012), 160-172.

[13] Schuster.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.


Regime Changes After WWI: The Appeal of Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini

From the readings of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Stalin’s exhortation to business executives and Mussolini’s definition of fascism, it’s clear that all three of these leaders that they had incredible charisma and were capable of rallying the public behind them as leaders as well as behind their movements. Hitler’s charisma is undeniable, as he draws the people together after the ravages that Germany faced after the loss of WWI (although Hitler as well as a majority of German people would proclaim that the war was not lost as their army was never defeated and that the coming of WWII would be a continued fight against the injustices Germany suffered under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles) and gave them a common enemy in the Jewish people.  Hitler aligned the Jewish people of Europe with Marxism, repeatedly called them liars and proclaimed that their victory would mean the destruction of mankind if they were allowed to continue unchecked.[1]  He blames the growing Jewish influence on the fact that common people are more susceptible to emotion and that their simplicity is allowing an enemy into the German state and undermining its core values and principles.    He calls for a resistance to the Jewish threat, accusing the Jews of being the overall aggressors who see enemies not only in the people who attack them, but in those that resist their advances as well.[2]  He accuses the Jews also of attempting to undermine the “superior” German race by blood – by stealing away young women and thereby removing her from her true people.[3]  That the “Jewish propaganda” is working is blamed on the fact that the common “good” people are too simple to understand the true threat, and accuses those who accept the propaganda of laziness and conceit.[4]

Any leader who desires a radical outcome must have the support of the people. Stalin did it through fear.  Hitler, by contrast, instituted fear as well but also united the people behind him by pointing out the problems that he found eminent in German society and rallying the people against a common enemy.  By providing a target against which to vent the collective German rage, Hitler was able to rise to power.

Stalin does something similar in his manifesto to Bolshevik business executives, extoling the virtues of the Communist system and pointing the Russian people towards a common goal – and a common enemy in the form of Western Capitalism. By decrying the values of the Communist system over the Capitalist corruption, Stalin continually reminds his audience that Russia is advancing, and that their production must be increased to meet the demand in order to strengthen Russia and to clearly demonstrate her superiority over the democratic capitalistic societies that she competed with.[5]

Mussolini, like Hitler, finds Marxist Socialism to be the enemy, proclaiming that fascism is a far superior system of totalitarian government. Repudiating the notion of perpetual peace, Mussolini advocates war as a symbol of courage and nobility, while pacifism is a display of a weakness of character.[6]   According to Mussolini, democracy is weak by putting the power into the hands of the people and decries the value of universal suffrage, demeaning the value of equality or happiness of the common people.[7]  Rather firm authority is necessary for the progression of society, and that authority can be found in the form of fascism which Mussolini believes to be higher than any other proposed form of governance.  By instituting discipline, maintaining order, a coordinated effort at expansion and severe measures to be taken against those who would oppose the fascist regime, fascism can gain ground and become a living doctrine to promote and enhance the faithful people who follow it.

Each of these three extreme movements was unsurprisingly popular following WWI for a wide variety of reasons. As we’ve seen after the recent elections here in the US, time of change is also cause for upheaval.  The people of Europe after the tragedies that marked WWI were ready for change.  Some embraced revolution, as in the Russian overthrow of autocracy in favor of Socialism and Communism.  Germany, who was displeased with the way they were treated after the war, needed to rebound, rebuild their economy and set their sights on not only economic competition, but a desire to revenge the honor of the German people, and found common enemies and a loud, charismatic voice in Adolph Hitler.  The people of Italy, unhappy with the territory they were granted at the end of WWI by agreements made with previous allies, desired to become a European power and take their place among the other powers of the continent.  To do that and see their goals realized, they granted support for Mussolini and his growing fascist regime.  In all three of these countries, change was desired – and the person/movement with the loudest voice and most willing followers ultimately won out in the struggle for control.

[1] Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf, Jewish Virtual Library, internet, accessed 14 November 2016, available from https://www.jewishvirtual library.org/jsource/Holocaust/kampf.html

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] J. V. Stalin, The Tasks of Business Executives, Marxists.org, Internet, accessed 14 November 2016, available from https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1931/02/04.htm

[6] Benito Mussolini, What is Fascism, Modern History Sourcebook, Internet, accessed 14 November 2016, available from http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/mussolini-fascism.asp

[7] Ibid.

Europe’s Attempted Lasting Peace – The Treaty of Versailles

As the Great War drew to a close, the victorious allies sought a lasting peace that would end the horrors of World War I and ideally limit the possibility that such a total war could ever be repeated. The question of what to do about the aggressor nations, however, remained and agreement over peace terms and settlements proved difficult.  The Treaty of Versailles carried the hopes and dreams of a peaceful European continent but in two decades it failed, leading to the next great conflict and horrors yet unimagined by the victors of WWI.  Although the Treaty signed at Versailles did succeed in granting relative peace in Europe for two decades, the peace was a tenuous one – the terms of the treaty imposed on the defeated Germany bred lasting resentments that would grow into the conflict that would become World War II.

When Woodrow Wilson drafted his Fourteen Points as a suggestion for the armistice between Germany and the Allied Nations at the end of WWI, it is doubtful that he could have imagined the end result that the Treaty of Versailles became.  The Prime Ministers of France, Great Britain, Italy and President Wilson were the “Big Four” of the Paris Peace conference, between these powers existed a great divergence of opinion on what should be done about the defeated Germany and what cost Germany’s aggression would have on its future.  While President Wilson desired a lasting peace based on reconciliation as explained in his Fourteen Points, France seemed to desire lasting peace by crippling Germany through vengeance and reparations.[1][2]  While President Wilson explicitly stated in his Fourteen Points that (the United States) “does not wish to injure her (Germany) or block in any way her legitimate influence or power” through either continued armed conflict or hostile trade arrangement, rather that Germany be afforded “a place of equality among the peoples of the world”.[3]   Wilson went on to state that “it is the principle of justice to all peoples and nationalities, and their right to live on equal terms…whether they be strong or weak”.[4]  Unfortunately for Germany, however, being viewed with equality was hardly what the terms dictated by the Treaty of Versailles afforded them.

The Treaty of Versailles, in stark contrast to the ideals and vision of President Wilson, in many ways still viewed Germany as a dangerous, hostile enemy.  Germany was forced, by the terms of the treaty, to accept full responsibility for WWI, and retribution in the form of reparations was demanded.[5]  Germany, who assumed that the eventually treaty would be based on Wilson’s Fourteen Points, was understandably resentful at the end result they ultimately received.[6]  Not only was the treaty presented to them with virtually no discussion or diplomatic negotiation, the German delegation was kept isolated behind barbed wire – effectively dehumanizing them and making the victors appear superior to the vanquished.[7]  With the threat of increased hostilities looming over the heads of the German delegates, the treaty was signed by virtual threat of force rather than willing diplomatic measures, ensuring increased resentment of the German leadership and their people, and increasing the sense of nationalism and outrage over the perceived injustice in the way they were treated.[8]

By denying the German request for an independent inquiry into war crimes of all involved nations it demanded that Germany “accept the responsibility for causing all the loss and damage” throughout the war. It also imposed enormous sums of reparations, military disarmament and territorial annexations – none of which were properly enforced in the inter-war period.  The Treaty of Versailles virtually assured another armed conflict.[9][10]  As noted by Marshal Foch, a French politician at the signing of the treaty “This is not peace; it is an armistice for 20 years.”[11]  Although the Treaty of Versailles could undoubtedly have been harsher, the measures to which Germany was forced to agree under threat of resumed hostilities gave the delegates little choice but to comply, but that compliance came at a horrific cost in 1939 as Germany began WWII in many ways seen as an attempt to renegotiate the treaty by force of arms in retribution for the way they felt they were treated at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.


[1] Woodrow Wilson, President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, World War I Document Archive, web, available from http://www.gwpda.org/1918/14points.html, accessed 26 October 2016.

[2] James J Atkinson, Europe Between the Wars, University of Notre Dame, web, available from http:/jimmyatkinson.com/papers/the-treaty-of-versailles-and-its-consequences/, accessed 3 November 2016.

[3] Wilson

[4] Ibid.

[5] Felix Gilbert and David Clay Large. The End of the European Era (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009), pp. 162.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, pp. 161.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Peace Treaty of Versailles: Articles 231-247 and Annexes, Reparations, The World War I Document Archive, web, accessible by http://www.gwpda.org/versa/versa7.html, accessed 26 October 2016.

[10] Catherine Lu, “Justice and Moral Regeneration: Lessons from the Treaty of Versailles,” International studies Review, Volume 4. No. 3. (2002): 3-25.

[11] Ruth Henig, Versailles and After: 1919-1933 (London: Routledge, 1995.

Emotional Dichotomy in the Interwar Years

It is little wonder that the years between WWI and WWII were full of mixed emotions and a prevailing dichotomy of fear and uncertainty on the one hand and excitement and almost euphoria on the other.  The European continent had undergone a huge shift from a time of relative peace to one of total war, and its little wonder that the recovery from WWI’s aftermath would have opposing emotional reactions.  As Europe sought to rebuild, a sense of elation at the hope of possibility was present.  On the other hand, remembering WWI and all of its horrors, along with the fear and uncertainty of what the future would bring often triggered anxieties that were all-too-real.  Understandably, each European nation faced the interwar years a little bit differently, and each of them had real concerns that deserved attention, whether it was Germany with its rebuilding and reparation payments demanded under the Versailles treaty, Britain as it tried to reestablish its economy and workforce, or France who was struggling to rebuild and regain stability, the interwar period is one of happiness and sorrow combined.[1]  Great Britain’s head-start in the post-war years allowed them to rebuild, focus on social and political changes quickly and although the process was far from smooth, they emerged as a leader once more faster than their allies did.[2]  France, who had seen battle on her soil, took longer and endured setbacks in natural resources and national debt.[3]

Sigmund Freud exemplifies the dichotomy between stress and exhilaration as he explains the function and traits of the id, the ego and the super-ego.  While the ego is forced to endure anxiety, the id is consistently hyper-excited, hopeful and full of desire.[4]  Given his map of the unconscious processes of the mind, it is little wonder that in this break between the two great wars the human mind would develop these competing and opposing emotional responses, regardless of what country the individual was in. Ortega y Gasset seems to take Freud’s map of the unconscious and apply it to the masses – the people who have ideas and culture who are not seemingly represented properly by the government – but without an authority to regulate them, they descend into barbarism.[5]  This precludes the problem of fascism – where a person does not want to present their views or discuss their merits, but simply be “right” by virtue of having the idea and imposing them at will.[6]

The shell shock that swept the soldiers in the heat of battle on the front lines was slowly settling over the rest of the European population in the post-war years.  But there was also a rooting, competing sense of optimism for peace that the world’s leaders hoped was lasting.  These polar opposite emotions seem natural to us, with the perfect vision of hindsight.

[1][1] Gilbert, Felix and David Clay Large, The End of the European Era sixth edition (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009) , 179-228.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Sigmund Freud, The Structure of the Unconcious, Sigmund Freud, web, accessed 10 November 2016, available from http://anupamm.tripod.com/freudst.html.

[5] Ortega y Gasset, Revolt of the Masses, The History Guide, web, accessed 10 November 2016, available from https://web.archive.org/web/20121019190503/http://historyguide.org/europe/gasset.html

[6] Ibid.

The Reality of Trench Warfare in Literature – WWI

Wikipedia CommonsPrior to WWI, warfare was little different than it was in the Medieval and Renaissance period. Armies would meet on the field of battle, and a series of charges, defensive maneuvers and tactical strategies would take place until one side or the other conceded.  With the advancement of technology brought on by the first and second industrial revolutions, however, all that began to change.  It was no longer feasible for two lines of battle to stand on opposite sides of a field firing at each other, especially with the introduction of rapidly firing weapons like machine guns and artillery.  Armies would have (and did) get chewed up and the carnage introduced with this level of modern warfare was unparalleled.  While carnage and horror has always been a part of warfare since the invention of weapons of any kind, it was entirely possible that no one – from the leadership down to the common infantryman – could have foreseen the kind of fighting that became a staple of World War 1.

While on the Homefront, propaganda about the war lingered with tales of heroism from the allies and their soldiers and the enemy was painted as evil that had to be utterly destroyed, the reality of the front lines, especially on the Western front were far more grim. Those realities, and not the propaganda generated by the governments, is what lingers when thinking about WWI and its horrors and it is reflected in literature.  While prior poetry and artistry reflected death on a battlefield as a high honor as we saw in last week’s reading, Expressionism really took a foothold during the war and in its remembrance.  Writers struggled to capture the nature of the reality of war, and did so by describing in detail the feel of the battlefield, the life and death struggle that the soldiers endured and the grim realities they faced between charges attempting to gain the upper hand, artillery fire aimed at the trenches, sniper fire from the enemy camps, poison gas and explosives and so on.[1]  In the poems provided for this week’s reading specifically, the soldiers who are risking life and limb on the battlefield are described as cattle, standing helpless in front of deadly technology designed to tear them apart.[2]

While being an average soldier in any kind of battle has to be psychologically traumatic even for the bravest of people, I can only imagine that being stuck in a hole that was dug in the ground, watching your friends die around you, waiting for an order to charge towards certain death and wondering if the next shell, bullet or gas was going to take your life must have been much more difficult than a single decisive battle where death was possible but you may get lucky and survive.  Psychological issues like Shell Shock rose from this period, and many soldiers were tried and/or executed for desertion or acts of cowardice.  Some even injured themselves to be able to escape the realities of the trenches.[3]  I cannot imagine a reality so terrifying that I would be willing to risk shooting off a finger or worse as my last recourse in hopes of escape – only to risk execution if I was found out.

[1] Felix Gilbert and David Clay Large, The End of the European Era 1890 to the Present: 6th edition (New York: W.W. Norton & company, 2009), pg. 136-137.

[2] Wilfred Owen, Anthem for a Doomed Youth, Modern History Sourcebook: WWI Poetry, web, accessed 2 November 2016, http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/1914warpoets.html

[3] Michael Duffy, Self-Inflicted Wounds, FirstWorldWar.com, web, accessed 2 November 2016, http://www.firstworldwar.com/atoz/siw.htm