- Das SS-Helferinnenkorps: Ausbildung, Einsatz und Entnazifizierung der weiblichen Angehörigen der Waffen-SS 1942–1949 by Jutta Mühlenberg
Jutta Mühlenberg’s excellent book constitutes a significant contribution to recent research on women’s complicity in the Nazi war and genocide. Much like Die Frau an seiner Seite: Die Ehefrauen in der SS-Sippengemeinschaft, Gudrun Schwarz’s groundbreaking book on SS wives; Die Stellung halten: Kriegserfahrungen und Lebensgeschichten von Wehrmachtshelferinnen, Franka Maubauch’s study of the 500,000 female auxiliaries in the armed forces; Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields, Wendy Lower’s investigation of women’s involvement on the Eastern Front; and Women and the Nazi East: Agents and Witnesses of Germanization, Elizabeth Harvey’sstudy of women’s roles in the Nazi colonization of the East, Mühlenberg offers insights into the female contributions to the Nazi state and killing machine. Here is the first detailed study of the SS-Helferinnenkorps, the female auxiliaries of the SS, who so far have received almost no attention in historical research.
The greatest strength of Mühlenberg’s work consists in its diligent use of archival material, in particular the SS Women’s Collection and the NSDAP Hauptkartei. Drawing on these, she distills information about the roughly 3,000 auxiliaries, who, unlike the 8,000 female civilian employees of the SS, were considered members of the SS community. Although 190 auxiliaries worked in Auschwitz—the first arrived in August 1943—they differed from the 4,000 female guards. Mühlenberg analyzes their application forms, NSDAP personnel files, materials of their training school, and their denazification records.
The war drastically increased the demand for civilian staff, and recruitment agents called upon young women to free men for the front. This need also drove hopes of creating a corps of SS auxiliaries modeled on the Finnish “Lotta Svärd,” but more ambitious in scope. Mühlenberg shows that the Helferinnenkorps was conceived as both the female elite of the Nazi state and a preapproved dating pool for SS men (90 percent of all applicants were single). In spite of this need, the contradictory mores of the SS produced conflicting approaches. On the one hand, the SS encouraged the birth of children whether legitimate or not; on the other, SS auxiliaries were expected to guard their reputations. Access to the auxiliaries’ dormitories was strictly regulated, for example, but pregnant auxiliaries did not have to return to civilian life and had the option of continuing to work while putting their children into an SS home.
The women were intended to serve as role models, but since their number continued to disappoint, the Party could not sustain its original selectivity and gradually lowered the standards. Initially, applicants had to be between the ages of seventeen and thirty, and at least 165 cm. tall; later, the upper age was extended to thirty-four and the height lowered to 158 cm. Mühlenberg’s statistical analysis confirmed some expectations and defied others. It is hardly surprising that many applicants were the [End Page 144] daughters, sisters, fiancées, wives, and widows of SS-men. Similarly, it was to be expected that many applicants (85 percent to be precise) had been in the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls) or that a majority (64 percent) had been members of other Nazi organizations. Their educational level proved surprising. Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader popularized an image of female camp guards as semi-literates. Mühlenberg proves this untrue for the SS auxiliaries, who tended to have a better than average education and higher class status—15 percent came from the upper middle class (itself only 3 percent of the general population). Likewise, the number of white-collar employees among the applicant pool was disproportionately high, and many of the women could be described as social climbers even before they joined.
Hoping for committed volunteers, Himmler forbade recruitment through mass advertising (not all of his subordinates followed his directive), and most volunteers...