How far did the role of women transform in Nazi Germany?

Under the Weimar Republic, women enjoyed new freedoms in Germany. Women became more prevalent in politics, and a higher proportion had entered the workplace than ever before. What was life like for women under the Nazi regime? Was it a complete transformation from the Weimar era?

You can download the worksheet for this lesson here. If you are unable to download the worksheet, please complete the tasks as outlined in the yellow boxes below.

Ideology = a system of political, economic and social ideas.

Look at the two images below. The one on the left is a picture of women in the Weimar Republic. The one on the right is a picture of women in Nazi Germany. You can use the slider to assess both images.

How do their lives look different? What does this suggest about the change that occurred under the Nazis?

TASK ONE: What was the Nazi view on a woman’s place in society?

Read the following information on ‘Nazism and women’ below. In a few sentences, explain what an ‘ideal woman’ would have looked like in Nazi Germany. Try to comment on what they would or would not do in politics, the workplace and in their social lives.

Nazism and its Beliefs on Women

Under the Weimar Republic, women had enjoyed a level of social progress that bettered their position in society. This occurred in politics, the workplace and in their personal lives:

These changes were in direct contrast to Nazi ideology. As far as they were concerned, women and men should exist in two separate spheres: women should exist in the feminine sphere, whilst men should exist in the masculine sphere. Goebbels summarised this belief in a speech in 1929:

‘The mission of women is to be beautiful and to bring children in to the world. The female bird… hatches eggs for him. In exchange, the male takes care of gathering the food and stands guard and wards off the enemy.

Joseph Goebbles describing the role of men and women in 1929.

The feminine sphere therefore involved traditional roles such as having children and raising a large family. Alongside this, women would undertake the work in the private household, such as cooking and cleaning, whilst men would take care of public work, such as working or becoming politicians.

For this reason it was not expected for women to enter the workplace. It was especially important that women did not enter ‘hard’ jobs such as medicine or law that would distract them from their family duties.

Women were also expected to dress plainly. They were expected to wear pleated hair and long skirts to maintain a feminine purity. It was outrageous that women had previously worn revealing clothing to go out drinking and smoking with friends rather than staying focused on starting a family.

TASK TWO: How did the Nazis try to change the behaviour of women in Germany?

Read the information below on the policies the Nazis passed that affected the lives of women in Germany. For each of the following headings, write a short answer to explain how the lives of women changed, and why the policies the Nazis put in place were effective in helping bring about this change.

1) Marriage and family
2) Nazi organisations for women
3) Women in the workplace
4) Women in concentration camps

What policies did the Nazis put in place that affected women?

Marriage and family

The birth-rate had steadily fallen throughout the time of the Weimar Republic, mostly due to the fact that a higher proportion of women had prioritised their career over having a family. This alarmed Hitler, who wanted to have a large population who could fight for Germany for him. It was clear that the Nazis needed to encourage women to have more children to rectify this issue. A series of policies would help them achieve this.

In 1933, the Law for the Encouragement of Marriage was passed. This gave couples a 1,000 mark loan (the equivalent of eight-months wages) if they married. However the loan would only be received if the woman gave up work when she married. It was expected for couples to pay back this loan over time; however for every child the couple had, the loan would have a quarter written off of it. If the couple had four children, therefore, the loan was written off completely.

This law was followed up with the 1933 Sterilisation Law, which resulted in 320,000 women becoming sterlised by the state so that they could not have children. The state explained that this was on the grounds of ‘mental deficiency’ of the mother. Following this, the 1935 Marriage Health Law stressed that couples should only get married if they were ‘racially pure’. These laws show that the intentions of the state were to only help ‘desirable’ women, and not women that the Nazis considered to be genetically unwanted.

Although marriage was seen as an importance to the Nazis, they actually made it easier to get a divorce. The 1938 Divorce Laws allowed men to divorce their wives if their wife could not, or refused to, have a child. This allowed them to remarry with a woman who would give them children.

Alongside marriage, having children was rewarded by the state. The Mother’s Cross was awarded to women based on the number of children they had: bronze for four children, silver for six and gold for eight children. The Hitler Youth were ordered to salute women they saw with a gold cross in the street. Other awards were given to women with large families every year on Hitler’s birthday (12 August).

The Mother’s Cross was often worn with pride by mothers in Nazi Germany.

Yet the issue of being ‘desirable’ ran along this policy as always. The Lebensborn Programme (of the Fountain of Life Programme) was introduced in 1935, and encouraged single women to breed with SS men. This was introduced for the simple fact that the Nazi state wanted to create ‘genetically pure’ children. One Lebensborn home helped more than 540 mothers give birth to children between 1938 and 1941.

Nazi Organisations for Women

In 1934, the Nazis appointed Gertrud Scholz-Klink to look over Nazi policies towards women. She was put in charge of a new Nazi organisation for women called the German Women’s Enterprise (DWF) which took control of all women’s groups in Germany. This meant that the DWF had six million members, and set up enterprises that covered all ages:

This meant that the Nazis could successfully spread their message to a high number of women across Germany.

Gertrud Scholtz-Klink was put in charge of the DWF to oversee Nazi women’s groups.

Women in the workplace

The Nazis mostly attempted to control the number of women in employment through its propaganda methods. Large amounts of propaganda celebrated women as mothers, upholding the “three K’s”: Kinder, Kuche, Kirche (children, kitchen and the church).

Family in Front of Eagle, Nazi Party (NSDAP) Political Poster, Germany, 1936

A number of policies ran alongside this message of the three K’s to ensure women followed the Nazi expectation. From 1933, women were banned from professional jobs and could not longer work as teachers, doctors or in politics. This was extended in 1936 when women were banned from working as judges or lawyers.

Grammar schools that prepared girls for university were shut down. Instead, girls were to be taught housework in their schooling to prepare them for motherhood. As a result, the number of women entering university education dropped rapidly from 1932 to 1939.

Yet this proved to be a short-term change. From 1937, the Nazis had to reverse these policies. Germany began to rearm and men were joining the army. The Nazi regime therefore needed more women to go out to work. They abolished the marriage loans and introduced a compulsory ‘duty year’ for all women entering employment. This usually meant helping on a farm or in a family home in return for bed and board but no pay. The number of women working increased from 11.6 million in 1933 to 14.6 million in 1939.

Women in Concentration Camps

Although Nazi policies impacted a high number of women, there was also a sizable number of women who did not change their behaviour in line with these new laws, programmes and organisation.

In October 1933, the Nazis opened their first concentration camp for women at Moringen. Those sent to Moringen included communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, breakers of the Nuremburg Laws, abortionists, those who had made derogatory remarks about the Nazi regime, and Jews. Ravensbruck camp was opened in 1939 to take the Moringen prisoners. By the end of 1939, there were more than two thousand prisoners at Revensbruck and this included some 400 Gypsies.

Were the Nazi policies towards women effective?

The Nazi policies aimed at women had mixed success. Propaganda proved to be effective, and a high number of women left their jobs to take loans from the state and start families. Less women attended university, and the birth rate began to increase.

Yet not every woman changed their behaviour in the way the Nazis would have wanted. A number of women, particularly middle-class women who had enjoyed new freedom under the Weimar Republic, continued to refuse to start a family. In addition, the outbreak of the Second World War put a greater demand on female workers. It seems as though the Nazi policies towards women in work was an overall failure.

TASK THREE: How useful are sources A and B for an enquiry into Nazi policies towards women from 1933-1945? [8 marks]

For this task, analyse the sources below and attempt to answer the eight mark question. I have done Source A for you, so you just need to follow this up with Source B. Make sure you follow the structure and discuss the content, provenance and context of this source.

Source A: A cartoon from a German magazine in the late 1930s. The caption reads “Introducing Frau Muller who up to now has brought 12 children into the World”.

Source B: From the memoirs of Marianne Gartner, a member of the League of German Girls. Here she remembers one of its meetings in 1936.

“… At one meeting the team leader raised her voice. ‘There is no greater honour for a German Woman than to bear children for the Fuhrer and for the Fatherland! The Fuhrer has ruled that no family will be complete without at least four children. A German woman does not use make up! A German woman does not smoke! She has a duty to keep herself fit and healthy! Any questions?’ ‘Why isn’t the Fuhrer married and a father himself?’ I asked”.


From Source A I can infer that women were celebrated for their commitment to producing and maintaining large families in Germany. This is demonstrated by the fact that a German mother and her children are presented on a stage at a formal Nazi event. In addition to this, I can also infer that many people took motherhood seriously in Germany. The detail that shows me this is that there is a large room of people focused on the mother and child, and they look appreciative of her. The content of this source is therefore very helpful as it suggests that Nazi policies successfully changed women’s behaviour between the period 1933-1945.

Source A is a cartoon from a German magazine from the late 1930s, and this can limit its usefulness. As the press was under Nazi control, it is unclear if this image is authentic, and could have been made up by the Nazis for propaganda purposes. However it can also be seen as useful for the enquriy because it shows us that the Nazis tried to influence women’s thinking in a number of different ways. The provenance should therefore be handled with caution, but is still useful nonetheless.

Source A is also useful to the enquiry as it is consistent with my knowledge. The use of the Mother’s Cross by the Nazi state awarded mothers with high numbers of children: the Hilter Youth were even made to salute women who wore the gold cross, meaning that they had eight children. In addition, the Law for the Encouragament of Marriage encouraged women to leave work when getting married to have children. This would have financial benefits for the woman, allowing her to make 1000 marks for free if she had four children in the marriage. This makes source A extremely useful, therefore, as it is a typical representation of the Nazi policies towards women from 1933-45.

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