The research question which this paper focuses on is “To what extent did propaganda effect the involvement of women in the labor force for Germany from 1939-1945?” This is an appropriate question because women’s efforts are often overlooked in studies regarding World War 2. The different propaganda techniques employed by the Germans to recruit men and women to join the war effort fits into the context of World War 2. The effect of propaganda on women was important because even though women were not given much importance or were not heads of households, they did have a significant influence over the decisions of their sons: Sons which would grow up and possibly go to war with their fathers. While the men were out fighting in the war, the women were not only substituting the men in factories, shops, and hospitals, but they were also working both as the mother and father of the families, raising the children. Women had their hands full working overtime and raising children as a single parent while worrying about their husbands fighting in the war and their sons who were soon to come of age and be drafted. The influence of women in Germany during the men’s absence grants them enough significance to further investigate.
Before diving into the investigation, the first section has background information to provide context for the reader. Then the following section includes the German ideology and how it played a role in women’s involvement in the war. The third section depicts the usage of wide range of propaganda techniques to lure its women to join the cause. This section includes the analysis of primary sources such as films, poster, and influential speeches. We will explore the man Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda in Germany in this time period, and his tactics to recruit women for the war (Weber). This paper will explore if propaganda prompted the women of Germany to sacrifice their comfort for the good of the nation, or if the propaganda was simply not enough, and to what extent.
Before going into the propaganda and women of Germany, first, we have to explore what was going on in the world in this time period. The years 1939-1945 were very chaotic, characterized as “the largest armed conflict in human history. Ranging over six continents and all the world’s oceans, [causing] an estimated 50 million military and civilian deaths, including those of 6 million Jews,” but they also helped shape the world into what it is today. The Axis, Germany, Italy, and Japan, were involved in World War 2 against the Allies, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States (Brick). Although all these countries were involved, the scope of this research paper only involves the actions of Germany. Adolf Hitler, powerful and influential Chancellor of Germany, led the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, a political group that promoted German nationalism and anti-Semitism, from 1933 to 1945 with his speeches that captivated his audience and greatly influenced them into doing what he willed. Germany’s actions sparked World War 2 with the invasion of Poland and the fight to expand the Nazi Empire; however, after the element of surprise faded, Germany found itself in the defense, fighting not to expand anymore, but to survive (Weber).
Merriam Webster defines a soldier as “one engaged in military service and especially in the army”(“soldier”). With so many casualties during the war, it can be deduced that both the Allies and the Axis were in constant search for more man power in the form of combatant soldiers. Therefore, we can conclude that Germany, a member of the Axis, was doing everything in its power to acquire more men to use as soldiers be it through propaganda or drafts; however, the most versatile soldier of the time was being overlooked. Women were not being drafted into the army or forced to do any form of labor (Rupp 4). That is because Germany needed some adults to stay in Germany and work not only keeping Germany’s economy alive, but also to produce goods for the men that were fighting in the war, and raise the future leaders of Germany, but this didn’t mean that women were not allowed to fight; this only meant that women were not forced to join the army. Some women did not believe their place was at home working in a factory or raising their children, so they joined the army. Although women did go off to fight in the war, they were not being used to their full potential. Women would be serving the cause much better by staying at home, taking care of the children, and working in factories or farms.
Under normal circumstances the men would work in the factories and the women would raise the children; however, when the men began leaving to fight in the war, more was expected of the woman. It was thought that “If the prevailing public image precludes the employment of women in the fields previously defined as masculine, then the image will have to adjust to the needs of the economy in time of war.”(Rupp 4). This means that originally, men did the work in the factories and shop, while the women would tend to the house, but with the war pulling men from their homes and into the battlefield, this belief that women would only work in the house had to change to fit the needs of Germany. The men and women had a complementary relationship; the women would work for money to raise their children producing food and arms for the men in the war, while the men would fight in the fronts to defend the women and children back home; however, for this relationship to work, Germany needed to mobilize women to take the jobs. We know that “propaganda looms large in studying mobilization of women,” so in order to see how these women were mobilized, we must take a look at the propaganda set in place to push for mobilization (Rupp 4). The mobilization of women was essential to the Hitler’s grand plan because “When the men leave their jobs to enter the armed forces, replacements must come from somewhere, and industry soon looks to the housekeeping women not already employed”(Rupp 4). When the men left, someone had to stay and keep Germany afloat economically, and that is when everyone turned to the women of Germany to do their part and join the cause(Rupp 4).
The German ideal of the women was limited; they saw the woman as a working mother, and that’s it. Germans knew the influence of the women on the war, and aimed propaganda campaigns at them; however, historians seem to neglect this, and fail to mention it. It was thought that women had to serve the state before anything else because they had to put “the common good before the individual good”(Rupp 15). In another book Browning says, “Woman’s proper sphere is the family. There she is sovereign queen” (Browning 9). Browning underlined how women were meant to be mothers and nothing more; they should not venture out and seek to be something they are not (Rupp).
A widely used source for these sections is a book called Mobilizing Women for War: German and American Propaganda. Leila Rupp is the author of the book, and she is a professor of Feminist studies at University of California, Santa Barbara. The purpose of this book is to point out the forms of propaganda used to mobilize women in World War 2 because it is a topic not talked about as much. It’s valuable because it talks about reasons and methods of mobilizing women for war in World War 2, and propaganda directed at women from 1939-1945; however, it could be limited by the fact that the author is a woman or that the author is American, and the book compares the US and Germany, so it could be biased; however, this book utilizes multiple primary sources that establish a good base of credibility when making its arguments.
Bund Deutscher Mädel
When the war started, the view of women changed, and the need for women to take up war jobs increased; however, although the German government urged women to take up these jobs, they did not launch an intensive propaganda campaign directed at war jobs. The German government aimed their propaganda more at making mothers out of women. Training to be a mother started at a young age. Lets direct our attention to the BDM or the Bund Deutscher Mädel, an organization for the female youth of germany. This group was put in place to teach the young girls the ideals of the nazi women: Most important of these was motherhood. For example, in the guidelines for the BDM program on the month of December time is spent teaching how “At the family Christmas, we experience the reflection and joyous love at the birth of new life” (Crawford). This group at first was very short in numbers, but then almost all girls were expected to join. This group was important to the Nazi development because the goal of it was to increase birth rates. If birth rates increased, there would be an increase in labor force and also an increase in the number of soldiers in the army. The labor force was important to Germany because they had a shortage of laborers when World War 2 started and all the men left to the war. The number of soldiers also mattered a great deal because near the end of the war Germany was lacking a great number of soldiers. If the BDM would have worked, maybe Germany would have had a better economy, increased production in factories, more laborers, and more soldiers that could have fought in the war (Crawford).
However, the BDM was not enough to fully brainwash the women of Germany, and the German government began looking for other outlets of propaganda. The magazine was a versatile, and effective propaganda tool so it only makes sense that the German government use it to shape the ideals of women in the beginning of World War 2. For example, Germany was producing a magazine called Das deutsche Mädel which clearly gives the girls of the youth organization the ideals and standards that they should live up to. The magazine suggests taking quiet strolls, and preparing for raising children. The purpose of this magazine was to encourage women at a young age to have many children and raise them with the German ethics that the government thought were best to help win the war (Bytwerk).
When the girls of the BDM grew up, they were released; eventually they set up the National Socialist Women’s League with the main goal to mobilize women for motherhood and convey their ideology on women. The National Socialist Women’s League would publish the Frauen Warte magazine which mainly served as the main propaganda tool to promote the women’s place socially and politically as mothers. This magazine had articles underlining the women’s role in Germany; however, the most influential element of these magazines was the front cover. The following is an image printed on the front of the 1st May issue 1939, for mother’s day (Bytwerk). The picture depicts the woman surrounded by her three children, emphasizing the nazi ideal that women should strive to birth plentiful children for Germany. Germans were pushing this magazine to women so much that “By 1939 the magazine circulation across Germany alone was over 1.9 million copies every two weeks“(Bytwerk). That means that 1.9 million women were reading this magazine at the beginning of World War 2. Women were beginning to become weekly readers of government propaganda.
Another example from an issue from the same magazine exemplifies perfectly the nazi ideals for the man and woman. The picture chosen for the front page is below; it depicts the woman holding her child, being protected by the man. This relationship is a metaphor for the relationship the man and the woman have regarding the war. The man protects the woman and child, fighting on the fronts; meanwhile, the woman is at home tending to the children. I would also like to point out how the man is also doing the labor in the background. This was a good opportunity for this magazine to show a woman working in the fields to push for women to take up jobs. This just shows how Germany was focusing more on women being mothers than workers. By placing more women in working jobs, the magazine could influence women to take more jobs.
In another article of one of the issues of the Wir Frauen it talks about the role of women. It says that “The task of the woman is to replace the spirit of money and of self-interest with the spirit of the mother and the farmer. With this spirit, we women will be able to spread warmth and depth anywhere that our jobs may place us” (Gunter 507). The magazine author is talking more about self sacrifice. The woman is suppose to sacrifice her self-interest in order to serve Germany. Self-sacrifice is an important moral that Germany wanted to implant into woman during this period because the German propaganda ministry did not want women to choose their dreams over motherhood. Germany thought little of women, but tried
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