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Journal of Women's History 18.1 (2006) 212-218
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The Role of Gender in Racial Colonization and in Displacement
Laura J. Hilton
Elizabeth Harvey, senior lecturer at the University of Liverpool, breaks new ground with Women in the Nazi East in explaining the role of women in the process of racial colonization in both the western third of Poland, annexed directly by the Reich in 1939, and in the General Government (the area of Poland occupied, but not annexed, by Germany following its invasion in 1939) as well as territories occupied after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Women and the Nazi East examines the roles played by female teachers (including kindergarten), Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM, League of German Girls) leadership, and other German women's organizations in the Reich's drive to Germanize the newly claimed (or reclaimed) lands in the East and to provide social services for newly resettled ethnic Germans. It also tackles the issues of what these women knew about the treatment of non-Germans, including Polish Jews, in these areas and whether or not they should be seen as collaborators in the persecution and eradication of non-Germans. In addition, it delves into the complex topic of the reliability of oral history and the questions oral history raises as decades intervene between events and retelling.
Her theoretical framework considers the importance of spreading the German way of life, and thereby German identity, to strengthen racial purity in accordance with the future plans of the Thousand Year Reich. Within this process, women played a key role, since the characteristics of Germanness included the crucial components of home, family, and domesticity, all aspects of life normally delegated to women. In exploring the "civilizing process" that these women undertook in the East, she utilizes the linguistic tools and methodology of imperialist scholars, particularly of European–African and European–Asian contact and perceptions. However, she draws a clear distinction between earlier efforts to assimilate people [End Page 212] overseas to a so-called more civilized way of life and the emphasis placed in the Third Reich on the exclusion, removal, and/or extermination of those considered racially impure within the "borderlands." She also addresses the tension that existed during Weimar Germany and the Third Reich of the "proper" role to be played by women, particularly middle-class women. Her research illustrates the conundrum of encouraging women to play traditional roles of teachers, experts in hygiene and efficiency in the household, and bearers of culture and tradition, but also expecting them to become community leaders and thereby operate in the public sphere with considerable authority, particularly in areas where most adult men were absent due to mobilization into the armed forces. Since this was such an important aspect of racial colonization, women had the opportunity to play central roles in both the shaping of German identity and in the protection of German racial purity. In addition, she clearly demonstrates how German women posited Poles as the Other, referring to them as weak, decadent, and sexualized, characteristics certainly not part of the German identity constructed at this time.
Geographically, Harvey's work focuses specifically on the Warthegau and the districts of Lublin and Galicia. This is due, in part, to the availability of necessary sources, and in part to the key importance placed on these areas by the Third Reich itself. Many of the relevant document records which could have shed light on these topics were destroyed in the rush to reach Germany in front of Soviet forces in 1944 and 1945. However, her source base for these specific regions is both broad and deep, including materials...