Men were not the only ones expected to serve their country in World War II. As a service to Germany, women were also persuaded to fulfill their role as the perfect “German woman.”
“Küche, Kinder, Kirche” (Kitchen, Children, Church). This old German phrase summarizing the three Ks of womanhood became the basis for women’s duties as members of the Third Reich. According to Hitler himself, a woman’s duties were simple: be attractive and bear children for the Führer.
As soon as it was understood what exactly made a woman attractive, as decided by the Third Reich, women began to try and make themselves identical to that perfect ideal. The proper German woman was young enough to bear children, had wide hips, and her blond hair would be tied at the nape of her neck or braided on top of her head. And she definitely never, never, never wore makeup. Makeup was “un-German” and those women found wearing it were mocked ruthlessly as tramps and traitors. The same cruelty was shown to women who were slim, as it was assumed they weren’t able to have many children.
The first and most important duty of a woman was to have as many children as possible; Aryan children, of course. Since these were a woman’s “natural” tasks – being able to bear and raise children – they were expected to focus on only those duties. Abortion was forbidden for healthy Aryan women. After all, what does the existence of more children born of racially acceptable parents mean for Germany? Heinrich Himmler summed up the major purpose: “We will be able to have 200 more German regiments every year on the march. Another 500,000 or 600,000 people could produce millions of marks for the economy. The strength of these soldiers and workers will build the greater Germany.”
The Day of the German Mother was established on August 12, the birthday of Hitler’s own mother. This day included a public ceremony during which mothers of large families were given medals to award them for their service to the Führer: bronze for four to six children, silver for six to eight children, and a gold medal to those mothers who had eight children or more. These women were given the same distinction honored to front-line soldiers, the official view being that both had risked similar dangers to life and health for their country.
One of the several controversial steps taken to help the growth of a perfect Germany and to counter the high abortion rate was the introduction of the Lebensborn homes. One of the myths about these homes was that women were forced to breed with officers to create a superior generation. This was not true, but SS officers were encouraged to father as many children as they could, whether married or not. The women needed somewhere to go, somewhere to have their children and raise them in peace. Some mothers came to escape the social stigma of carrying an illegitimate German baby. Some came because they needed the support and services of the homes.
Any woman wishing to come to Lebensborn, though, had to prove that both she and the father of the child were racially valuable. If the women wished to give up the children, the program provided orphanages and adoption services, where proper Aryan couples could take a child and raise him up with values befitting the Third Reich. The Lebensborn homes were also used to raise and adopt out children that were kidnapped from Poland and other occupied countries. By the end of the program, over 8,000 children were born in the German Lebensborn homes alone.
There is so much more to learn about the women of WWII. Read on about propaganda, rules, and women in the workforce, and read the stories of the prominent German women who stood by the sides of military leaders on the Women of the Third Reich page, created by bgill. Or, learn more about the Lebensborn program here.