Review: Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields ~ Wendy Lower

Hitler's FuriesHitler’s Furies builds a fascinating and convincing picture of a morally “lost generation” of young women, born into a defeated, tumultuous post-World War I Germany, and then swept up in the nationalistic fervor of the Nazi movement-a twisted political awakening that turned to genocide. These young women-nurses, teachers, secretaries, wives, and mistresses-saw the emerging Nazi empire as a kind of “wild east” of career and matrimonial opportunity, and yet could not have imagined what they would witness and do there. Lower, drawing on twenty years of archival and field work on the Holocaust, access to post-Soviet documents, and interviews with German witnesses, presents overwhelming evidence that these women were more than “desk murderers” or comforters of murderous German men: that they went on “shopping sprees” for Jewish-owned goods and also brutalized Jews in the ghettos of Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus; that they were present at killing-field picnics, not only providing refreshment but also taking their turn at the mass shooting. And Lower uncovers the stories, perhaps most horrific, of SS wives with children of their own, whose female brutality is as chilling as any in history.

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This book has taken me a tremendously long amount of time to finish; not because it is badly written or long-winded, but because it overwhelms the reader’s emotions to such a point that you need to put it down and walk away.  This book is definitely not for the faint of heart, and can only be digested in small, not so easily swallowed mouthfuls.

In writing this book the Author pulls on her twenty years experience as an archival researcher and also things she learnt whilst out doing field work; it shows in the way the book is put together that she felt this was a part of history that needed to be told, warts and all, and covers a part of Nazi Germany that has remained untold.

Through a series of detailed biographies, the Author introduces the reader to each of the “Furies” in the title; we see their simple and ordinary backgrounds, which are all relatively diverse, but all had one reason to go to the Eastern front and this was also simple; money, duty to the Reich, keeping the family together and social or political connections.  Once there, however, their stories take on lives of their own and, in some cases these are very chilling and hard to comprehend in today’s society.  These women came from areas of their society as diverse as nurses, secretaries and teachers, but each of the women mentioned in this book all had one thing in common, they became a part of the “Final Solution”.

The Author carefully and skilfully separates the women in the book according to their level of participation in these events, whether it is as witnesses to events, indifference at what was happening or, as the reader finds in some cases, just acceptance. By direct or indirect participation, these women could, by no means, be all ‘lumped together’, as each had their own motivations for doing what they did, as chilling as they may have been.  Also brought to light is the fact that while many of their male counterparts were the subject of aggressive manhunts that spanned the globe, these women were left untouched and allowed to escape any accountability for their actions by claiming ignorance.  I’m not sure if they could be said to have gone on to lead ‘normal’ lives, but the latter part of this provocative and highly emotional read looks into theories that try to explain their participation in such atrocities.  The banality of evil was a phrase that came to mind every time I picked up this book and read a little more of their actions.  After reading this book, I felt that I am going to need some time away from my much-loved books, both fiction and non-fiction, that cover this period of our history it affected me so much.

I would cautiously recommend this book to all that are interested in this period of history, but if you are going to read it you need to be aware it will move you in ways you never imagined.


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