In this blogpost, I want us to consider how Hitler thought of women, women who were Jews and who were observant Jews. Hitler's letter is revealing. To its readers, the letter shows what he was thinking. That's important. I'm going to ask that we also "read between the lines," that we also try to get at how Hitler thought what he thought. Let me just assert this as a bit of a start: how Hitler reasoned about religious Jewish women was not at all based on "mosaische Glaube" or "Mosaic faith," a phrase that he writes earlier in the letter. No. Hitler's clear logic and his constructed rhetoric about females of the Jewish religion and race was based in and derived from something else, some other ideal authority. We'll come back, in a bit, to how he thought. So we will come back to that letter typed and signed by this man on September 16, 1919.
But let's fast-forward from that date to see what Hitler, the Führer or "Leader," and his followers in Nazi Germany actually thought about Jews, who were women, women who believed in G-d. What the Nazis reasoned is that they should work toward "the irrevocable removal of" the women. (Hitler's actual, original words in September 1919 were: "Sein letztes Ziel aber muß unverrückbar die Entfernung der Juden überhaupt sein" or "The ultimate objective must, however, be the irrevocable removal of the Jews in general." This is what he wrote and what he and his eventual followers thought.) What Hitler and his Nazi followers did with what they thought was to put the religious Jewish women in concentration camps in order to murder them all. This is actually what the Nazis and Hitler, their Leader, intended to do with "the Jews in general."
But the Jewish women in the concentration camps who were religious were a real problem for Hitler.
To be sure, Jewish women "in general" were a real problem for him. What Hitler wrote in September 1919 was that Jewish women were the cause of "tausendjährige Innzucht, häufig vorgenommen in engstem Kreise" or "thousands of years of the closest kind of inbreeding." And if we fast forward again, what Hitler and his Nazi followers reasoned about women "in general," even German women, especially Aryan women, especially the mothers of the Nazis, is that they should breed purely. Much of this is very well documented in history.
Virginia Woolf, for example, wrote the following in June 1938:
The nature of manhood and the nature of womanhood are frequently defined both by Italian and German dictators. Both repeatedly insist that it is the nature of man and indeed the essence of manhood to fight. [Adolf] Hitler, for example, draws a distinction between "a nation of pacifists and a nation of men." Both repeatedly insist that it is the nature of womanhood to heal the wounds of the fighter.Nearly four years earlier, in September 1934, Hitler had made clear in a speech to the NS-Frauenschaft, or the Nazi Women's Organization, just what he thought: that a German woman's “world is her husband, her family, her children, and her home.” Historian Martin Kitchen explains what those following Hitler did with what he thought:
The National Socialist ideal was for women to be confined to their homes as dutiful wives and mothers of racially pure children, in the interests of eugenics, racial politics, and preparation for war. The Führer called upon women to provide him with the racially sound human capital he needed to achieve his ambitious goals. To this end Mother's Day ... was celebrated with great pomp, ceremony, and sentimentality as the annual celebration of the Nazi fertility cult. In 1934, it was made an official holiday, held on the third Sunday in May. Further to encourage fecundity, Hitler instituted German Mother's Honor Medal in December 1938. There were three levels: bronze for women with four to five children, silver for those with six to seven, and gold for eight or more. The parents had to be of "German blood" and "sound heredity." The mother had to be "genetically healthy," "decent," and "morally irreproachable." Only live births counted. The medals were first awarded on Mother's Day 1939 to 3 million women by the local Nazi party leader, attended by uniformed representatives of the League of German Maidens. The award could be withdrawn were "racial ideological deficiency" detected -- a nebulous and flexible misdemeanor against which there was no appeal.... Motherhood was no longer seen as a private affair but as a public service to improve the racial stock in order to build a genuine "racial community."If what Hitler and his male Nazi followers thought of German women was bad -- "that they were constitutively 'unable to think logically or reason objectively'" -- then what these German men thought of Jewish women was even worse -- that they were the mothers of "thousands of years of the closest kind of inbreeding." Again, this is what Hitler originally wrote in 1919, and it is what was still the logic in the latest years of the Third Reich.
The number of women workers increased sharply, particularly in low-paid and unskilled positions, and this in spite of generous loans offered to married women who left the workforce. In agriculture 65 percent of workers were female. Things were very different at the top of social scale. Women with university degrees were forced to quit their jobs, and strict limits were imposed on the number of women admitted to institutions of higher learning. In 1933 there had been 20,000 female university students, but by 1939 their number had fallen to 5,500. Married women were dismissed from the civil service. They were forbidden to practice law or medicine and were barred from senior teaching positions. In 1936 they were no longer called for jury duty on the grounds that they were constitutively "unable to think logically or reason objectively."
[A History of Modern Germany: 1800 to the Present,
page 269, 2nd edition, May 3, 2011]
But the Jewish women in the concentration camps who were religious were a real problem for Hitler.
These women based their lived experience on "mosaische Glaube" or "Mosaic faith." And this faith for many of the religious Jewish women was motherly.
For example, in her chapter "A Mother/God in Auschwitz" in her book The Female Face of God in Auschwitz: A Jewish Feminist Theology of the Holocaust, Melissa Raphael notes the following:
In her commentary on an interview she conducted with the survivor Itka Frajman Zygmuntowicz, Sara Horowitz notes that Zygmuntowicz's spiritual inheritance is intertwined with and preserved by her memories of her mother and grandmother.... Zygmuntowicz's mother, like so many others, urged her to 'retain her self -- neither to imitate the Nazis nor to absorb the image they project of her'. Most significantly, for Zygmuntowicz and other women whose mothers perished, 'their spiritual legacy passes to them along a chain of women. A sense of continuity with the Jewish past and with Jewish meaning is embedded in their memories of mothers, and often grandmothers, [in lived, relational, maternal experience] rather than articulated abstractly.....Raphael is hoping to show how Jews, who are female, who are religious, view God as their mother. I'm trying to show what a problem this was for Hitler, who considers women mainly for breeding but Jewish women as inbreeders and God as not at all related to the Mosaic faith. Raphael goes on:
Theologians cannot simply rule out women's relational perspective on the Holocaust a priori, as if it were not a properly Jewish place to start. To be faithful to the actual and particular suffering of all persons during the Holocaust and to the convenantal presence of God in the midst of that suffering, Jewish theology must reflect on the gendered variety of Jewish experience before or instead of its resolution of a set of formal (theo)logical problems whose framing is itself gendered. [page 109]
Yet where the metaphor of a Mother-God represents not merely an aspect of God, but a function of God that reconfigures the entire concept of God, then a pregnant woman in Auschwitz assumes a particular theological poignancy. For more Jewish feminists, 'The Holy One is Gaol-tanu, Ima-ha-olam, our Redeemer, Mother of the World. She is Ha raham-aima Compassionate Giver of Life. She is Makor hahaiim, Source of Life. She is our neighbourly spirit, the Shekhinah.' In Jewish feminist liturgy,What Hitler thought about feminists in the world is very clear. He expanded on his anti-feminism in that September 8, 1934 speech he made to the NS-Frauenschaft, or the Nazi Women's Organization. Hitler said:
Blessed is She who in the beginning, gave birth . . .Auschwitz was above all a crime against what women and men had made from their bodily love and had nurtured to maturity form the bodily labour. these labours are both symbol and medium of divine presence; of how God is carried into the world and how God carries the world in God. The suggest a theology which is biblical as well as feminist. [page 111]
Blessed is She whose womb covers the earth.
Blessed is She whose womb protects all creatures.
The slogan 'Emancipation of Women' was invented by Jewish intellectuals. If the man's world is said to be the state, his struggle, his readiness to devote his powers to the service of the community, then it may perhaps be said that the woman's is a smaller world. For her world is her husband, her family, her children, and her home.That he would blame a movement to emancipate women on Jews suggests that Hitler hated Jewish women, especially intellectual Jewish women, and that he wanted German women to be nothing like intellectual feminists or feminist intellectuals.
So it might be even more helpful to us to consider what the scholar Melissa Raphael has recovered with respect to Jewish feminist theology before, during, and after Hitler's thinking. Raphael stresses:
But the point I want to make here is that God as 'the Commanding Voice of Auschwitz' [of the likes of Emil Fackenheim] brings the theological project [he outlines] into dangerous proximity to that of [Adolf] Hitler. Here, God's command is not only prior to Hitler's command, it is also a countermand subsequent to and in competition with Hitler's command. That is, Fackenheim's God is one who, as 'The Commanding Voice of Auschwitz' has not been deposed by history and has not been robbed of his monarchal prerogative because his command, though good, can match the form and type of oppressive commands. Fackenheim's position typifies the patriarchal refusal of divine abjection and its affirmation of a God whose expectation of Jewish obedience to his beneficent will refuses Auschwitz as the imposition of another powerful, but evil, masculine will. In being subject to God's will, Israel could be subject ot no other and was, in that sense free.Raphael's observations here brings us back to what Hitler thought of observant Jews of the Mosaic faith who were women. He wanted to confine them, to command them, and to irrevocably remove them forever.
Yet if we are considering the mode and possibility of divine presence in Auschwitz from a relational [experiential, womanly] perspective, did its inmates want, and do we now want, to hear another commanding voice in or from Auschwitz, where women and men were continuously berated, shouted and sworn at by their Kommandant and those who did his bidding? Does a Jew want to feel that she is still under orders, subject to another overbearing masculine will? Fackenheim styles his God the 'Commanding Voice of Auschwitz', but the Jewish people were surely subject to enough raucous commands in that place. The commanding voices of its atrocious hierarchy were infinitely more than enough. A German Kommandant who knew and watched suffering and did nothing to stop it bears too close a resemblance for comfort to a God who commands Jewry to remain Jewish but does not command Germany to call a halt to the agonies it has commanded. [page 30]
For more of the what, before you read the letter in German in person with the witness of your very own eyes, you might want to read the clear English translation by Richard S. Levy. You might even want to read a copy of the letter in German or to read some of the history around it in the German periodical Der Speigel. Do check out the press release by the Simon Wiesenthal Center that came out this week, and the New York Times article that came out last week. Watch the Sydney Morning Herald's video, "How Holocaust seeds were sown," and read the related article.
How did Hitler come to think what he thought about these Jewish women of faith? Well, if we read between the lines of his letter we begin to see his emphasis on logic vs. the Mosaic faith of these Jews, these women. If we fast-forward to his Mein Kampf, then we see more clearly his how. Hitler appropriates the ancient Greek male emphasis, in the Gymnasium, both on strong, pure-bred bodies and on reason that would hypothesize a Nature that puts one race over another, one sex over the lesser one, and one way of thinking over a Glaube, an other's faith.
How Hitler rationalized his view of women who were observant Jews was altogether different from how those women, in their lives that Hitler would try to take, saw G-d. And so, again, Melissa Raphael observes [page 9]:
When a woman [confined in Auschwitz] saw or looked into the face of the suffering other (and that other's filthy, beaten, vacated face, was not easy to see and to look upon) the divine humanity of that face could be traced through the thick scale of its physical and spiritual profanation. Because what has been traced has appeared it also becomes knowable. What could be seen, but may not have been recognized, also becomes knowable. What could be seen, but may not have been recognized, was God as Shekhinah - the presence of God among us in our exile. While God is never a visible material form she is figurable in experience.
There are more recent comments on this post, prompted by an Anonymous commenter, who self-identifies as German and as a collector of military artifacts. This commenter disputes whether the Gemlich letter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center is authentically Hitler's, because he surely didn't have typewriter and because there are grammar and spelling mistakes. There are several facts about the letter, in contrast, that seem to confirm that indeed it is the very one that Hitler signed and that it may be one that Hitler himself either dictated for a secretary to type or could have typed himself. In one comment, I quote historian and documentarian Timothy W. Ryback, as he describes Hitler as appearing -- from the evidence of his writings -- to be "a half-educated man who has mastered neither basic spelling nor common grammar." Ryback notes: "His raw texts are riddled with lexical and syntactical errors." And Ryback describes how awfully Hitler typed. The reason for this update is to show another page typed by Hitler, the page that Ryback includes on page 73 of his book, Hitler's Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life: