In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Female Sexual Desire and Male Honor: German Women’s Illicit Love Affairs with Prisoners of War during the Second World War
  • Cornelie Usborne (bio)

In April 1941 Josef Bartl wrote to his young wife, Andrea, who was remanded in custody awaiting trial for repeated “forbidden contacts with a prisoner of war”:

There is not much else to say since you will know yourself that you can never again be part of my life after your shameful behavior. I wanted to do everything to make you happy but you deceived me horribly. You made me a broken man. . . . We will divorce and then you can carry on with your dissolute life. As a German soldier I cannot belong to a wife who has given herself to prisoners. I hope that the court will find you alone guilty for our divorce and you, shameless woman, will not receive a penny from me. . . . I want you to stop your stupid letters, it is only all lies.1

Andrea and Josef lived in a village in Upper Bavaria and had only just married after a long engagement. On their return from their honeymoon her life took a dramatic turn: she was accused, detained, and finally found guilty by the Nazi Special Court in Munich of having “grossly offended the sound popular instinct of the German people” by having an illicit affair with a French POW. She was convicted and given a sentence of one year and three months penal servitude, a punishment that was usually reserved for the most serious crimes and that prescribed solitary confinement with [End Page 454] hard labor. Moreover, Andrea had to pay the costs of the trial, and she lost her civil rights for two years. Thus, in the space of a few days she had lost her lover, her job, and her freedom; and as the letter above makes clear, she would also lose her new husband, because he had rejected her as soon as he heard of her infidelity.

This is just one of 126 similar cases from Bavaria I examined in detail from the collection in the Munich state archives. They bear testimony, in often vivid detail, of the fate of young women who had fallen foul of the Nazi wartime ban on intimate contacts with foreign prisoners. In this article I will closely analyze a sample of such case studies to discover why and how so many young German women like Andrea had defied propaganda and threats and risked the kind of severe punishment she suffered at the hands of an authoritarian regime to enter into sexual relations with POWs. Using the methodology of the history of emotions, I am keen to learn more about male reactions to women’s infidelity and how women thought and talked about romantic love and sexual desire. What light does this throw on changing attitudes toward female sexuality, marriage, gender roles, and the espousal or rejection of Nazi ideology?

In line with the title of this special issue, this article is concerned with both transgressive sex, as defined by the regime, and female desire and romantic love in consensual relationships, as seen from women’s own (and more rarely from their husbands’ or boyfriends’) point of view. In this respect, this article differs from some of the contributions in this collection and also recent historiography that has often focused on women as victims of violence.2 A number of important studies of war-time social relations between civilians and foreigners forcibly brought to the Reich have informed my work, although they primarily discussed systematic Nazi terror or the inhuman treatment of foreign workers.3 The topic of [End Page 455] “illicit contacts” has recently received attention, particularly in various local studies.4 Jill Stephenson analyzed the motives for the often benign treatment of foreign laborers and POWs by the German population, including sexual relations between them in rural and small-town Württemberg. Birthe Kundrus examined various persecution practices of forbidden associations between Germans and foreigners according to different racial, gender, and nationalist precepts.5 The most recent and comprehensive study by Silke Schneider scrutinizes the motives behind and the various strategies to criminalize forbidden...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 454-488
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.