Feminism in Post-War Europe

The reality of life during WWII enabled women, even in societies like Germany who wanted women to remain in the home, to venture out into the workforce by necessity.  Postwar Europe began to reflect this shift in attitudes towards females in society, allowing women to accept positions outside of the home in larger numbers, but the situation did not necessitate equality.

Although in most European countries women were granted the right to vote either before the war or soon after, there was a huge press towards progress in both social and economic positions once the war had ended.[1]  Women who gained the right to vote in a lot of European countries tended to vote more conservatively, which accounted for the stagnation of social and economic equality that many of the more radical members of the feminism movement desired.[2]  Across Europe, however, women were no longer confined to the home, expected to bear and raise children and to stay out of the workforce.  The life expectancy of women increased while the birth rate decreased in many of Europe’s nations, encouraging migration for work and birth control in the form of the pill became more readily available despite influence against it from the Church.[3]

Women in the workforce, however, did not have wage equality with their male counterparts, and the jobs available to them were typically female industries such as teaching, typing, nursing and sewing.[4]  While more and more jobs were available to women who desired to work outside the home, there was little opportunity for advancement, and opportunities were limited.[5]  Women who did choose to work outside of the home were still expected in large part to come home and take care of the household, and in many areas men still failed to contribute to chores and household responsibilities.[6]

It took until the late 1970s and beyond for women to gain a place in European politics, most notably Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1979.[7]  Encouraged by the women’s liberation movement in the United States, European women began to push for more social and economic equality in the 60s and 70s, asserting that women across Europe were oppressed by their male counterparts whether or not they chose to acknowledge it.[8]  The push included abortion rights and more control over their own bodies, refusing to accept the idea that the woman’s true place was either at home or in bed.[9]

While huge strides have been made worldwide for gender equality in social, economic and political aspects, there is still a lot of work to be done before the gender wage gap and societal equality and recognition are truly reached, and the world is facing various setbacks by various religious and political groups.  Great progress has been made, and it’s advancing rapidly, but in order to achieve true equality the work needs to continue.

[1] Felix Gilbert and David Clay Large, The End of the European Era 1890 to the Present sixth edition, (New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 2009) 451-455.


[3] Ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.


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 Rise of Nationalism and Militarism in the Belle Époque


Jules Chéret [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



While history looks back at the period in European history between 1890 and 1914 as the ‘beautiful era’, those living in it across Europe most likely wouldn’t have seen it that way. Today, we have the benefit of hindsight, allowing us to see with full clarity the horrors that both WWI and WWII would bring to the European continent.  The Belle Époque, however, was a time of peace between European nations, but was marked with internal political and social turmoil as the second Industrial Revolution began to spread across the continent.  The rise of national fervor and its related militarism can easily be observed in the writings of the time.

In Friedrich Von Bernhardi’s “Germany and the Next War”, the general bemoans the misguided policy of perpetual peace, declaring war as a “biological necessity of the first importance as a regulative element in the life of mankind which cannot be dispensed with, since without it an unhealthy development will follow, which excludes every advancement of the race, and therefore all real civilization”.[1]  Von Bernhardi claims that peace is the presence of nations and leaders by which they can promote and enforce their own political aims, to the detriment of those opposed to them.[2]  This ‘perpetual peace’ has caused stagnation throughout society, and has allowed the weak and tiered to prevail over those who are stronger.[3]  War, Von Bernhardi claims, is vital because without it, weaker nations would smother stronger ones, preventing growth and causing great difficulty for the advancement of the societies in and around it.[4]  Because, however, there is no power that resides over states that can impartially decide debates and disagreements, it becomes vital for the State to protect the rights of its citizens, and that includes protection by force against foreign elements – not just to defend against external pressure, but to go on the offensive and attack as well, otherwise the way of life within the State becomes perilous and can easily topple.[5]

Russia shared in its own version of nationalistic (and therefore militaristic) ideals. Russia, a huge territory with a massive population lagged behind the rest of Europe in terms of industrialization, but they had no shortage of national pride or sentiments, seeing themselves as leaders of the East by inheritance and right if not by technological advantage.[6]  While the rest of Europe scrambled in a colonial land-grab across Africa and much of Asia, Russia’s plan was to quietly grown her strength, unnoticed in preparation for a conflict that they were sure was soon coming.[7]  By the European encroachment, Prince Ukhtomskii believed that China and Asia in general would see Russia more favorably, with a deep history of its own in preparation of the coming conflict.[8]  Russia saw itself as superior to the other European powers in that it did not have to leave its own borders to find resources and wealth and work for its citizens – that everything the people needed could be found within Russia’s massive borders itself, and saw the Russian autocratic system as superior to the politics and pandering of other nations.[9]  This view, however, is not without its own irony as the Russian revolution was just around the corner, poised to topple Russia’s last Czar and plunge the country into socialism which would shape the interaction between Eastern and Western Europe for generations to come.



[1] General Friedrich Von Bernhardi, Germany and the Next War (Stuttgart und Berlin: J.G. Cotta, 1912).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Prince Ukhtomskii, “Russia’s Imperial Destiny, 1891,” Internet History Sourcebook, Fordham University, November 1998, accessed October 17, 2016.  http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1891ukhtomskii.asp

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.