During the period of the Weimar Republic (1919-32), women in German society were treated as equals. They were given the right to vote, and could become members of the Reichstag. However, when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, women were forced back into traditional roles as mothers and wives. Nazi Germany encouraged marriage and more births, through a range of financial incentives and laws that were passed. Various forms propaganda were used to promote motherhood and to enforce the role of women in society. Despite being of unequal status in the Nazi state, women remained strong supporters of Hitler and his policies. Nevertheless, there was still discontent among women in Germany due to the evident discrimination. The Nazis had clear and fixed ideas about women in society. They believed that their place was at home as child bearers and supporters of their husbands. In one of Hitler’s speeches, he claimed that, ‘...The woman’s is a smaller world. For her world is her husband, her family, her children, and her home,’1 According to Joseph Goebbels, one of Hitler’s closest associates, ‘The best place for the woman to serve her people is in her marriage, in the family, in motherhood.’2 Women were expected to devote themselves to breeding racially pure Germans, as displayed in Figure 1, to guarantee German supremacy. Eventually, women were dismissed from certain professions such as medicine, teaching and civil service.3 University admissions for women were drastically reduced, from over 18,000 in 1933 to 5,000 by 1939.4 Hitler claimed that political and military occupations rested in the hands of women would only amount to them being unable to ‘think logically or reason objectively’ since they are ‘ruled only by emotion.’5 The Nazis thoroughly believed that the place for a woman, was in the home, bearing children and looking after their husbands.
As a result of the Great Depression, Germans were apprehensive towards having children as they could no longer provide for their family. This caused the birth rates in Germany to decrease at an alarming rate, as shown in Figure 2.6 Hitler feared that the population of Germany was growing too slowly as he wanted to reform the military to its previous glory. To encourage marriage and families to have more children, the Nazis introduced numerous policies. In July 1933, the Law for the Encouragement of Marriage was passed which granted couples a loan of up to 1,000 Reichsmarks.7 The repayment of the loan was reduced by a quarter if the couple had a child. Consequently, after four children the loan was cleared. Every year, the Honour Cross of German Motherhood was awarded to the mothers who had the most children, as shown in Figure 3. The gold medal, along with a certificate (Figure 4) was presented to mothers with eight or more children.8 Many women were motivated by this medal as it was supposedly awarded to ‘genetically fit, politically reliable and socially worth German mothers.‘9 Laws against abortion were strictly enforced as well as the prohibition of birth-control clinics.10 Although these strategies resulted in a sharp rise in the birth rate, the overall amount remained below the level recorded during previous years.11
From a young age, women were exposed to propaganda that advocated the importance of child bearing and male superiority. There were multiple Nazi organisations for women such as ‘The League of German Maidens‘ which encouraged them to dedicate themselves to physical fitness for motherhood.12 Girls were also