Gender roles and ideology in Nazi Germany - a heady mix

If you were young, German and female in 1939 you were at the poorer end of the gender scale. Unable to hold professional posts, ill-educated, your role was defined politically, ideologically and socially as a servant, assistant, mother. You’d taken part in political youth activities, but had no outlet for personal develop and no chance of a career.

By early 1945, you were very likely manning an anti-aircraft gun in a cold field all night, wearing a thick serge Luftwaffe uniform, or working a signals link in a military unit under bombardment, and serving alongside male soldiers, praying it would all end soon.

So how did the ideological and gender norms change so radically in Nazi Germany? Why were young women, the future mothers of the nation, in uniform, under fire and playing a crucial role in their nation’s war efforts. And why have they had to bury such experience, fearing to be seen as part of a criminal regime? Now in their 80s and 90s, many former Helferinnen are speaking out.

500,000 young women worked in the German armed forces by the end of the Second World War. Uniformed, under military discipline, posted to every corner of the German Reich and occupied territories, could they still be regarded as civilians or were they truly military?

Military or Civilians? The curious anomaly of the German Women’s Auxiliary Services during the Second World War is available as an ebook on (link below in box),,


Alison Morton is also the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, and PERFIDITAS. Third in series, SUCCESSIO, is out early summer 2014.

10 comments to Gender roles and ideology in Nazi Germany – a heady mix

  • Liz Harris

    It sounds an interesting book, Alison. Totally off the point, I loved the film Cabaret.

    Liz X

  • Alison

    It was fascinating to research, Liz. Even more so as it was an ‘undiscovered country’. We only hear about the sensational barbarities of camp guards, or the SS, but little is known about ordinary young women who joined the equivalent of our ATS/WRNS/WRAF.

    I wonder what else there is out there that we don’t know about?

  • This is absolutely fascinating, Alison, all those untold stories. I love the book cover too. So young, and such a perfect image of the time.

  • Alison

    That’s exactly it. They were young and lived in a different world, a separate sphere, historians call it. I liked the ambiguity of innocence and military in the photo.

    They weren’t the stereotypes seen in films and on TV; they were young women trying to make sense of their world often with mixed motives and little understanding. Some were competent and ambitious, others no more than schoolchildren.

  • Cat

    Some of our German migrants must have been involved but they almost never mention their wartime experiences – and, of course, they are now getting very old. It’s important that people have a chance to tell these things!

  • Alison

    Indeed it is important. That’s what made the study so interesting. And the fact that 500,000 women were involved.

    Although some were Party members, the majority were pretty much like their equivalents in the Allied forces.

  • Gosh, this really is a forgotten – or untold – story. It sounds fascinating, and so interesting to get beyond the stereotypes too.

  • Alison

    I was fascinated as I’d been in uniform myself plus it was virtually unknown. And I still can’t find much in English about the Helferinnen six years after I wrote the original dissertation.

    It’s even weirder, given our ongoing relationship with Germany, even ‘down to the third generation’. But perhaps women’s history does not attract the same interest…

  • Wow that was quick or had you been working on it before you mentioned the secret project.I shall put it on my kindle later though not really reading again as yet. What a fabulous topic.

  • Alison

    Thanks, Carol. Well, it’s basically the dissertation plus a bit of editing. Since I’ve been on courses and written three novels, my writing skills have improved, even in respect of the formal style required for academic work. But I didn’t have to change that much which was a relief.

    I think the most challenging thing was sorting out references as hyperlinks. Not desperately difficult, just a slog.

    I have had so many nice comments and good support for my new FB author page from friends in the writing community as well as ‘civilians’.