The Ordinary Women Who Committed Nazi Atrocities

Wendy Lower Tells of Everyday Crimes of 'Hitler's Furies'


By Laura Moser

Published October 17, 2013, issue of October 25, 2013.
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In all cases, they bore responsibility — almost always unpunished — for Nazi atrocities, either by euthanizing those deemed mentally or physically unfit or by deciding from behind a desk which Jews should die that day. Some of Lower’s furies also killed Jews directly — not because they were ordered to, but because they wanted to.

“Hitler’s Furies,” which is a finalist for the National Book Award, has its share of breathtaking brutality — most memorably for this reader, the woman who snatched a toddler from his mother and proceeded to smash the child’s head against a wall for sport — but Lower cautions against focusing on the more sensational episodes. “There’s been such a rush to relay those really horrific stories,” she said, “but my intention wasn’t to shock and horrify. I wanted to try to explain how ordinary women could commit such atrocities, and how they were transformed and instrumentalized in this way. I wanted to put the women in the machinery.

“There are disconnects in the historiography, and I hope my book will start to pull the story together. There’s a general consensus that the Third Reich was a modern state bureaucracy in the making. All these agencies were created and expanded exponentially to wage this total war. This story of the expanding Nazi state has been accepted, but what about its culture? Who are the people backing it? The women, the clerical personnel, are key operatives. It wasn’t just Eichmann.”

Laura Moser writes frequently about the arts for the Forward.


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