The VolksgemeinschaftAll too often the Nazi ideology is dismissed as ‘window dressing’, designed to cover up the intentions of political and military power. Nazi ideology included Hitler’s cult of personality; the effort to reshape Germany into a world power and racial theory that glorified the Aryan race and described Jews, among others, as parasites. Although the Nazi leaders had these elements in mind, they were not constantly working towards implementing them in reality. Other less negative and destructive aspects formed the basis for their ideology: strengthening community ties, gaining control over industrialisation and creating a national culture that would transcend class differences. Nazism claimed to be a revolutionary doctrine but it called for a return to a simpler way of life. The Nazis invoked traditional values and the pastoral lifestyle of the past. They wanted to turn Germany into a world power, in which the industrialised world would be secondary to the agrarian countryside.
Nazism claimed to be a revolutionary doctrine but it called for a return to a simpler way of life. The Nazis invoked traditional values and the pastoral lifestyle of the past. They wanted to turn Germany into a world power, in which the industrialised world would be secondary to the agrarian countryside.
The key to National Socialism was the Volksgemeinschaft that was to replace the industrialised nation. It was a mass society in which equal participation from all individuals within the society replaced the earlier divisions on the basis of class. The National Socialist ideology longed for a total cultural transformation of German politics and society which would result in the community controlling every aspect of the individual’s life. The slogan "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer" is based on this idea. The Nazi's wanted one people within a larger empire under Adolf Hitler's leadership. The goal of National Socialism was to penetrate the lives of individuals by creating a society in which everything and everyone was ‘coordinated’ by the guardian of the Volksgemeinschaft, the Nazi Party.
Women in the Volksgemeinschaft
Women played a vital role as mothers and partners but also as a potential source of labour. The Nazi attitude towards women was reactionary. They were strongly opposed to the emancipation of women. They emphasised that men and women had different roles in society, based on biological differences. Women were not inferior but 'different' and should concentrate on their natural role as housewives and mothers. Politics was a man’s job so women were banned from the highest positions within the Nazi party, except within their own organisations such as the League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Mädel). In a speech for a gathering of the National Socialist Women’s League on 8th September 1934, Hitler dismissed the emancipation of women as a Jewish intellectual invention. In the golden ages of German life, women had no need for emancipation. The world of the male was that of the state and the struggle and effort for the community. The woman’s world was smaller. Her world revolved around her husband, her family, her children and her home. The wider masculine world was built upon the foundations of the feminine world. His world could only survive if hers was stable. Therefore, Hitler thought it was wrong for women to invade the man's sphere. The two worlds should remain separate. This shows another contradiction in Nazi ideology since the Nazi society wanted to remove all inequalities and class differences (between Aryans). However, because of their views on men and women, a new division was created.
Motherhood was the most important role for women. As in almost all European countries, Germany was confronted with falling birth rates in the 1920s. The Nazi’s were worried that if the birth rate would continue to decrease, Germany would be unsuccessful in taking its place as a world power. There were several measures to stop the trend. A ban on abortion was more strongly enforced and there were monetary incentives to have children. The most original idea was the ‘marriage loan’. Marriage was encouraged by giving married couples the opportunity to lend money more easily and cheaply (without interest). Another measure was the improvement of facilities for pregnant women. The umbrella women’s organisation, the Deutsches Frauenwerk (DFW), organised ‘mother schools' where lessons were given about housekeeping and the skills of motherhood. The number of marriages rose: from 516,000 in 1932 to 740,200 in 1934, but the number of children did not increase proportionally. Many couples chose to have one or two children because they were worried that the extra costs of additional children would outweigh the financial benefits.
It is uncertain what impact the measures had on birth rates. The number of births only rose after 1933 but was still below the level of the period between 1922-1926. The increase was partially influenced by a rising faith in the future as a result of the improved economic situation. Also, more younger people married during the interbellum which meant that there were more married couples who could have children over a longer period of time. What can be ascertained is that couples that married after the Nazi seize of power had fewer children than couples during the 1920s. Nazi propaganda had very little direct effect on the birth rate but indirectly they were responsible for breaking the trend of falling birth rates by turning the economy around. This restored the Germans’ trust in the future and offered them a better quality of life.
The Nazi regime paid much attention to the physical and psychological health of babies. To guarantee the 'racial purity of the Aryans’, a law was declared in 1933 that prescribed forced sterilisation to men and women who were ‘inferior’ in the eyes of the Nazis, due to real or alleged hereditary illnesses. This law formed the basis of National Socialist racial hygiene, aimed at ‘regeneration of the race’ or in other words ‘the hygienic purification of the race'. In August 1935, marriages and sexual relations between Germans and Jews were officially banned. "The community has the right to prevent people from reproducing if one knows that their children will be physically, mentally and spiritually inferior," declared Dr. Steche.
This sterilisation practice expounds the traditional ideas of the role of women in Nazi Germany. The National Socialist Women’s League and the employees of women’s magazines encouraged women to accept the sterilisation policy and to report possible candidates. To this end, they had to go against the traditional views of motherhood and the role of women as mothers. It was made clear to readers that not so much the birthing of children but the regeneration of the state was the new goal. "A woman’s motherly sentiments could have dangerous consequences" because "just like every form of egotism, it conflicts with the interests of the race".
Still, the Nazi ideology was orientated towards the woman's role as a housewife and mother. The regime relied on two women’s organisations, the Deutsches Frauenwerk (DFW) and the National Socialist Women’s League (Nationalsozialistische Frauenschaft, NSF). The Deutsches Frauenwerk, founded in October 1933, dominated the other women’s organisations. In May 1934, it began the Reichsmütterdienst (RMD). This organisation offered a course (Mütterschulung) to convince mothers of their important duties in raising children. By March 1939, 1.7 million women had attended almost 100,000 lessons by the RMD. The DFW also successfully began a service for housewives that offered lessons in learning to cope with the scarcity of resources and food. The DFW mostly had members in the middle class and attracted few working class women. While the DFW was aimed at teaching practical matters to the masses, the NSF was a more elite organisation. Its task was to indoctrinate German women into National Socialism but its achievements were meagre. Both the NSF and the DFW united many women but this was a sleeping majority that contributed little to the realisation of Nazi ideals.