Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields

Finalist, National Book Awards 2013 for Nonfiction

Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower, book cover, 2013
ISBN 978-0547863382
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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Wendy Lower’s stunning account of the role of German women on the World War II Nazi eastern front powerfully revises history, proving that we have ignored the reality of women’s participation in the Holocaust, including as brutal killers. The long-held picture of German women holding down the home front during the war, as loyal wives and cheerleaders for the Führer, pales in comparison to Lower’s incisive case for the massive complicity, and worse, of the 500,000 young German women she places, for the first time, directly in the killing fields of the expanding Reich.

Hitler’s Furies builds a fascinating and convincing picture of a morally “lost generation” of young women, born into a defeated, tumultuous post–World War I Germany, and then swept up in the nationalistic fervor of the Nazi movement—a twisted political awakening that turned to genocide. These young women—nurses, teachers, secretaries, wives, and mistresses—saw the emerging Nazi empire as a kind of “wild east” of career and matrimonial opportunity, and yet could not have imagined what they would witness and do there. Lower, drawing on twenty years of archival and field work on the Holocaust, access to post-Soviet documents, and interviews with German witnesses, presents overwhelming evidence that these women were more than “desk murderers” or comforters of murderous German men: that they went on “shopping sprees” for Jewish-owned goods and also brutalized Jews in the ghettos of Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus; that they were present at killing-field picnics, not only providing refreshment but also taking their turn at the mass shooting. And Lower uncovers the stories, perhaps most horrific, of SS wives with children of their own, whose female brutality is as chilling as any in history.

Hitler’s Furies will challenge our deepest beliefs: genocide is women’s business too, and the evidence can be hidden for seventy years.

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The savagery of the Nazi empire has been described in hundreds of books since the end of World War II. But never before have the roles of German women in the killing fields been revealed in such intimate detail. Based on extensive research in archives that had been closed for decades, Wendy Lower’s chilling account of female brutality provides a powerful and unavoidable look at the nature of evil, an unforgettable revision of our understanding of modern history.

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