We don't hear much about the role that women played in the Holocaust, but Isabel Kersnher in the New York Times writes a fascinating article on the subject. Here's a snippet:
The Nazi killing machine was undoubtedly a male-dominated affair. But according to new research, the participation of German women in the genocide, as perpetrators, accomplices or passive witnesses, was far greater than previously thought.
The researcher, Wendy Lower, an American historian now living in Munich, has drawn attention to the number of seemingly ordinary German women who willingly went out to the Nazi-occupied eastern territories as part of the war effort, to areas where genocide was openly occurring.
(image: Bettmann/Corbis. Female guards, like these with the SS at Bergen-Belsen in 1945, constituted up to 10 percent of concentration camps' personnel.)
“Thousands would be a conservative estimate,” Ms. Lower said in an interview in Jerusalem last week.
While most did not bloody their own hands, the acts of those who did seemed all the more perverse because they operated outside the concentration camp system, on their own initiative. [snip]
There were up to 5,000 female guards in the concentration camps, making up about 10 percent of the personnel.
The article goes on to name individual women, their connections, what they did, and whether they were tried and what their punishment was. What struck me was that while we think of women as protectors and nurturers of children, in many cases these women actually killed children in brutal ways.
They don't appear to be forced to commit these acts, some acting on their own, others working with the Nazis their employers, others wanting to support their husbands. It's a truly dark part of history for women. Go read it all.