Complex women in Nazi propaganda?: Femininity in Das Deutsche Mädel magazine
Claudia Koonz questions in her book, Mothers in the Fatherland, why girls accepted the ‘misogyny endemic in’ the Nazi party. Koonz does not provide an answer to this, but the question is often on my mind as I am doing research on post-war life narratives of the Hitler Youth generation. Looking at the Das Deutsche Mädel magazine (written from 1935 to 1944), a dichotomy of what it meant to be a young woman emerges. Essentially, the image of German women presented in Nazi propaganda is more complex than we might actually realise or even expect.
The Nazi girls’ magazine, Das Deutsche Mädel, is a prime example of Nazi propaganda. The magazine catered for girls as part of the Bund Deutscher Mädel (The League of German Girls – known as BDM, which involved girls aged 14 to 18) and Jungmädel (Young Girls, from ages 10 to 14). The magazine presents Germany as the Fatherland, the pride and joy of all German girls. However, even though the magazine itself was propaganda, it was also a consumable good that youths had to buy. Indeed, to keep selling, the magazine had to know what its audience was and what it liked to read.
Whilst there are articles on German women as nurses, and articles about how to make children’s dolls, we get other images of femininity as well. Although this correlates with the known traditionalism of the Nazi party, the more controversial images — of women working in factories and their achievements within the part — may helps us understand girls’ attitudes towards the Nazi party and how the women of the Nazi party attempted to mould and shape girls.
Indeed, the leaders of the Bund Deutscher Mädel, Trude Mohr (1902-1989) and Jutta Rudiger, were both highly educated women in their own right. Rudiger was from a well-off family, and she studied psychology. Whilst both women had to navigate the ranks of the Hitler Youth and the Nazi elite, they seem, at least to some extent, to have been able to influence the content and direction of Das Deutsche Mädel magazine. Rüdiger, often featured in the first article of each issue, writes with nationalistic fervor about the achievements of BDM girls and of their duties to the nation. Whilst the message is filled with the usual Nazi rhetoric, girls are still ‘fighters’ in their own right.
“We want to produce girls who are proud that they are fighters in a community bound together by fate.” – Jutta Rüdiger, “Die Aufgaben des BDM. im Arbeitsjahr 1938,” Das Deutsche Mädel, January 1938,1-3.
Taking a further look the layout of the magazine itself offers us with a different point of view. Each issue from 1935 to early 1939 provided a two-page story on a famous woman, usually of German origin near the front of the 35-page issue. For example, there were articles on Elsbeth Schragmüller, Lisel Bach, and Maria Kahle. And in 1939, Madame Curie was featured. These stories were often on pages eight to nine of the issue, showing these women as valuable role models. The earlier section included writings by girls who had been to Nazi party events, devoted to responses and recounting of events. Every issue would have a section entitled ‘Mädel im Werktag’ (Working day of a girl), which featured young women doing various jobs—from working in a science lab with microscopes (1939/1, pp. 2-3) to factory workers (1935/6, p. 5) and nurses. The propaganda image of the German woman is more complicated than presented in research on women in Nazi Germany.
During the war years, these articles disappeared for the most part. A few exceptions arise, such as the article in a May 1941 issue on Hanna Reitsch, who was honored for her work as a ‘Flugkapitän’. Whilst the article was on page 10, halfway through the issue, the article is given a full A4 sized photograph, which makes it stand out from the other articles which cover the war.
Klein said she stood there among us, petite and fragile, with her funny little red jacket and large blue tracksuit pants. She started telling us about her life in her sweet and lively manner. She had always wanted to be a pilot. By the time she had obtained her high school diploma, even her parents could no longer stop her. She learned about the basics of gliding from Wolf Hirth as school girl in Gruenau. She found it easy ‘I was very lucky’, she told us. But it probably wasn’t just luck. Courage, energy and skill definitely also played a role. (1941/5 p.11-12)
The article showcases further her career and achievements, the tone of the piece is peculiar — it contrasts the outward appearance of Klein in ‘her funny little red jacket and large blue tracksuit pants’ with her skill as a gilder.
We should look at such sources more critically, in my view, because they may help us understand the way the Hitler Youth organization attempted to deal with issues of gender through propaganda. Furthermore, the magazine illustrates that the women leaders of the BDM had certain ideas of femininity and so did the Nazi party—and the magazine may have been one of the battlegrounds for this. Indeed, it is rather startling that once the war begins in September 1939, there are few to no articles on women’s work and achievements outside of the traditional sense (nursing and feeding soldiers) until late 1941.
As I read through life narratives written in the immediate postwar as a part of my research, the question of gender is never discussed explicitly, but is always in the background. One girl writes in 1948, “Recently I almost believed that I was the only one who suffered from the events [of World War Two], and the more I inwardly detached myself from my former ideals, the more violently I accused those who had then freed me from the one-sidedness and fanaticism.” (Report 31, Haß 1950) Reading of her struggles as a young nurse helping suffering soldiers does not answer the question of accepting misogyny, but should make us be critical of the propaganda we are assessing and the effect it had the Hitler Youth generation. The larger question unanswered question is what influence did the traditional ideals and patterns of the Third Reich have on their choices and later lives?