In the Third Reich, the role of women was shaped by Nazi ideology and politics in order to ﬁt the needs of the government and nation as a whole. It is important to recognize that the Nazis did not have only the best interest of women in mind, but they acted very much in their own interest.
The Ideal Woman
The Nazis portrayed the ideal woman as the epitome of womanhood that every Aryan woman should aspire to. The ideal woman was Aryan and should embody the natural role of her gender as a mother and a wife. Aryan women were seen as the gatekeepers of their race, meaning that they were the ones who had the power and ability to reproduce, grow and strengthen the Aryan race; therefore they were held to high standards in order to maintain this pure, Aryan race. The Nazis encouraged women to comply with their vision by emphasizing the family structure and the importance of raising fit Aryan children through various different techniques of propaganda. Women were encouraged to have as many children as possible. The more pure, Aryan children that you provided for the Nazi regime, the more you were revered as the ideal archetype of womanhood.
“Nazi propaganda typically sought to appeal to women by inducing them to celebrate their ‘natural’ domestic role as housewives and mothers, leaving the ‘harsh’ world of politics and work to men” (Stibbe, 40).
The Nazi’s methods of indoctrination of the women in Germany focused heavily on propaganda in popular media such as magazines, newspapers, even movies, television shows and radio programs. These radio programs would discuss recipes and other homemaking advice and skills that would be beneficial to mothers and wives and contribute to their becoming the “ideal woman.” They were effective in influencing women as they were broadcasted into their homes, penetrating the “private sphere”. Additionally, all other radio programs were banned except the Nazi party’s run station. Neighbors were to turn in anyone who listened to foreign stations. These women were alone and bored in their homes. They turned to the radio for entertainment and found reassurance and validation of their womanly roles. Through this form of propaganda, women were also fed Nazi policy regarding the treatment of Jews and where they should focus their consumer spending in order to best benefit the nation.
The image of the ideal woman was enforced through depictions of beautiful blond mothers caring for their babies, or surrounded by their families of multiple children. The propaganda committee of the Nazi party, headed by the minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels, produced dozens of images which made up a significant portion of the party budget.
Posters portraying women in such ways were often accompanied by phases encouraging women to become mothers of the Reich, and films presented women in their proper role having children, taking care of the house, and providing a comfortable and loving home for their husbands. This constant influx of images gave the impression that this was the only way of life for women; the best way for them to help the country and indeed the only way they could live their lives in a satisfying way was to fulfill their “natural roles” as mothers and wives.
The campaign for a higher birthrate in Germany was extremely important to Hitler and the Nazi party during World War II because it had dropped drastically in the previous years. On top of the propaganda that promoted the “perfect woman”, there were many incentives for women to have children; most importantly, pure, Aryan children.
Two of the incentives were monetary and were designed for mostly newly married couples encouraging them to have children. The first was a raised tax rate on couples that didn’t have any children; this affected younger couples if they were still childless as it encouraged them to have children soon. Another type of monetary incentive was the marriage loan. This loan was of 1,000 Reichsmarks in the form of vouchers for both furniture and household items. The woman was also required to give up her job in order to devote all of her time to being a mother and wife. These loans were interest free and for every child the couple had one quarter of the loan did not need to be repaid. This incentive was particularly effective and became very popular; in 1933, 122 women from the same company voluntarily gave up their jobs and were married in a mass ceremony, they were put on display as an example for all women. The loans were at their peak in 1934, the first full year of the system, at 224,619 loan-assisted families; that number then fell to 156,788 then to 171,391 in 1936, this was about one third of all married couples in the country. This kind of incentive system encouraged women to have numerous children and to have them quickly, exactly what Hitler and the Nazi party wanted and needed.
Another incentive that was developed to encourage childbirth was concerned with raising the status of mothers by honoring motherhood publicly. In 1930 Mother’s Honor Crosses began being awarded to women; different numbers of children merited different levels of honor and type of cross. Women with four to five children were awarded a bronze cross, six to seven children a silver cross, and women with eight or more children were awarded the gold cross. Mothers that had the honor of the gold cross had it presented to them by Hitler himself and all were given the title Mother of the Reich, these women also had certain privileges granted to them, all Hitler Youth members were required to salute at the honorees and these mothers could jump lines in shops, apply for extra ration cards, etc. In the first year the crosses were instated about three million were given to German women; most of these were older mothers with many children. This kind of incentive worked very well at the time because it gave women the sense that they were truly helping their country and were being recognized for their work and contribution, especially effective because of the de-emphasis of women’s importance throughout the public sphere. Motherhood was honored within the Third Reich with these kind of incentives as well as the emphasis placed on Mother’s Day; this was named a national holiday for the first time in Germany during the Nazi Party’s reign. Workers were given the day off so as to spend time with their wives and mothers, and the honor of motherhood was enforced in speeches and popular media on the day.
These incentives for women worked extremely well alongside propaganda in achieving the Nazi’s goal of increasing the birthrate; the combination of money and honor based incentives worked to include women of all socioeconomic backgrounds in the campaign for the ideal woman.