Motivations

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While we know why female concentration camp guards may have begun working in the camps, we must still investigate what led them to subscribe to the Nazi doctrine of violence and brutality.  Being a guard was an opportunity for women to gain power, be promoted, gain independence, earn money, and improve their social standing.  At first, women volunteered for positions, but later they were conscripted for work due to a shortage of guards and had to oblige or face imprisonment (Sarti, 3).  While this explains why women started working in the camps in the first place, why they actually committed violent crimes is more difficult to ascertain.

Socioeconomics or background didn’t seem to play a role, as the women came from all walks of life and demonstrated that anyone can be capable of violence and murder (Sarti, 62).  However, for those who came from poor backgrounds or had been living with their families, finally having power and freedom may have increased their drive to succeed at their job by being brutal and violent, because those who were cruel “stood out and were rewarded,” (Sarti, 62).

Nazi propaganda and peer pressure might also be a partial explanation for some women’s actions.  Group norms became ingrained in the minds of the guards, and both the group and individuals adapted new codes of behaviors. Anyone who opposed the Nazi ideology could become an outsider, and this was a time when outsiders very easily disappeared (Sarti, 62).  Partee says that “failing to follow through with expected norms often led to ostracism and exclusion,” (6).

Beating

The Nazis created a generation of people infused with hate through film, posters, speeches, and more that could have led women to become violent against the Jewish prisoners.  Female concentration camp guards may have actually experienced a psychological indoctrination in which their apprehension against the Jewish people may have “manifest[ed] itself into a collective desire to inflict harm on to those weaker than themselves and who could not fight back,” (Sarti, 63). The women experienced grueling training, which may have manifested itself in a desire to take out their frustrations on prisoners, and thus “violence was dispensed through the ranks, and as it transferred from the higher administration to guard to prisoner, brutality grew and intensified, both in nature and scope,” (Partee, 4).   In the face of this pressure, power, and terror, Sarti says, “Countless women who became involved with the Nazi party simply, more likely willingly, lost sight of what was right and what was wrong,” (69).  Survivor testimonies describe the Aufseherinnen of Ravensbruck as “automatons, performing their job without thought or feeling.  They hit or beat without provocation or passion,” (Partee, 6).  The women became part of a doctrine where violence, peer pressure, and terror were “constructed, enforced, and awarded by the Nazi regime,” (Partee, 6).