Thursday, July 22, 2010

women's role in holocaust significant

NYTimes | The Nazi killing machine was undoubtedly a male-dominated affair. But according to new research, the participation of German women in the genocide, as perpetrators, accomplices or passive witnesses, was far greater than previously thought.

The researcher, Wendy Lower, an American historian now living in Munich, has drawn attention to the number of seemingly ordinary German women who willingly went out to the Nazi-occupied eastern territories as part of the war effort, to areas where genocide was openly occurring.

“Thousands would be a conservative estimate,” Ms. Lower said in an interview in Jerusalem last week.

While most did not bloody their own hands, the acts of those who did seemed all the more perverse because they operated outside the concentration camp system, on their own initiative.

Ms. Lower’s findings shed new light on the Holocaust from a gender perspective, according to experts, and have further underlined the importance of the role of the lower echelons in the Nazi killing apparatus.

“In the dominant literature on perpetrators, you won’t find women mentioned,” said Dan Michman, the chief historian at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem.

Ms. Lower, 45, presented her work for the first time at this summer’s workshop at Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research. She has been trying to decipher what motivated these women to commit such crimes.

“They challenge so deeply our notion” of what constitutes normal female behavior, she said. But the Nazi system, she added, “turned everything on its head.”