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.

[7]Ibid.

[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.

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