Motherhood in Nazi Germany: History Paper

Motherhood in Nazi Germany:
The Propaganda, The Programs, The Prevarications

From the years 1933 to 1945, Germany was ruled by a harsh totalitarian regime, led by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Promises of prosperity and a bright future delighted the bankrupt nation, still angry and bitter over its World War I losses. However, Hitler’s plans for success were far more sinister than anyone had imagined; the Nazi party desired control over all aspects of life in an attempt to create social purity. Racial hygiene became a “cornerstone of state policy…with the introduction of legislation designed to improve not only the quantity but also the quality of the Germany population” (Pine 11). This meant exterminating anyone whom the Party deemed inferior: Jews, Gypsies, the mentally and physically disabled, homosexuals, and other minorities. Hitler sought a superior Aryan race, with development of strong characteristics beginning at birth. In order to enhance those deemed suitable, the Nazi party emphasized the family and gave instructions as to how to raise fit children. They also instituted a number of programs aimed at mothers, and gave incentives for having as many children as possible. The Nazi party created political programs and initiatives that molded women into their ideal mother archetype, in order to achieve their quest of attaining a pure Aryan race in Germany.

One of the Nazis’ first tasks was to encourage families to produce as many children as possible. With a greater population, Nazi Germany could flourish as a strong and pure nation. In the time before Hitler took power, the Weimar era, the birth rate was steadily dropping “from 36 births per thousand inhabitants in 1901, to 14.7 births per thousand inhabitants in 1933” (Pine 10). In an effort to change this, the Nazis encouraged motherhood through propaganda in order to sway public opinion. Mothers were esteemed as heroes, and this idea was instilled in children through books and radio programs. One story portrayed a mother’s many tasks when taking care of her children; though her work is difficult at times, she is happy because she is serving her nation. A children’s play also centered on that same idea, but when the children want to give their mother a break, she claims that she does not want to be relieved of her duties because it proves her patriotism (Pine 64-65). Children’s textbooks also included illustrations of perfect families, with both parents present and as many as ten to twelve children around them. With this propaganda, Nazis hoped to instill their prenatal ideology in children at early ages.

Propaganda also came in other forms, which was aimed at mothers and families directly. In order to encourage the births of more “valuable” children, the Nazis created the idea that creating a large family was a sign of prosperity and nationalism. One such way was in the terminology; an example of this is the word ‘kinderreich.’ This word was used during the previous eras in Germany simply to describe a family with many children. However, the Nazi regime claimed that this was a falsehood; the honor of being a kinderreich family not only denoted size, but further described a family that matched the pure Aryan racial and social standards. Thus, only valuable families were deemed kinderreich (Pine 88).

The Mother’s Cross was another important tool used by the Nazis to encourage childbirth. This was an award given to women depending on the number of children they had: bronze for four or five, silver for six or seven and gold for eight or more. According to Wilhemine Haferkamp, a mother who lived during the Third Reich, the Mother’s Cross was a valued award, which she was very proud to receive. When she gave birth to her ninth child, she attained the gold cross. She recalled the festive parties held for recipient mothers: “I was proud. When I got the gold, also when I got the silver, there was a big celebration in a school, where the mothers were all invited for coffee and cake” (Owings 24). By rewarding mothers in these ways, the Nazis gave incentives to create as many children as possible for the nation.

An example of Nazi propaganda,
aimed at mothers. (Source)

The Nazi party also enacted legislative measures to insure that the birth rate would rise. All forms of birth control were outlawed, and harsh penalties in the form of fines or death were in store for suppliers. In January 1941, Heinrich Himmler’s Police Ordinance even went as far as to shutting down contraceptive production in Germany (Pine 19). Abortion was outlawed as well, except in the cases of the socially unfit, where it would often be mandatory. The Nazis also provided benefits to encourage families to reproduce. The already enticing offer of the marriage loan program was improved for those with children. Couples were given interest-free loans if the wife stopped working; additionally, if they started a family, their principal would be reduced by 25 percent for every child they created. Income tax deductions also increased, and parents could take off 15 percent off their income for each child. If a mother had more than six children, she did not have to pay any income tax at all (Koonz 187). When these provisions combined with the steadily recovering economy, Nazi Germany saw a modest increase in the number of births, which helped their plans of fortifying the nation.

In addition to propaganda and legislative efforts, the Nazis also created a number of programs that helped mothers raise fit children for the regime. The first of which, Hilfswek ‘Mutter und Kind,’ was created in February 1934 by the NS-Volkswohlfahrt Nazi welfare organization. Mutter und Kind performed many functions: “welfare and recuperation for mothers, welfare for small children and the establishment of help and advice centers” (Pine 23). All mothers were given aid, as long as they and their children were racially pure and valuable. However, this help was not only given in the form of money and food; Nazis went as far as to set up homes for women who recently gave birth, where nurses would take care of them and their needs. An assistant was sent to their house to take care of the children, and the new mother would travel to a recuperation home, which doubled as a Nazi propaganda tool. “Mothers coming to these homes received a large dose of National Socialist ideology,” (Pine 27) as they learned about the proper role of women and were instructed how to raise strong children for the nation.

The Reichsmutterdienst (RMD), instituted on Mother’s Day 1934, was another Nazi program with the aim of molding motherhood. The RMD set out to train racially valuable mothers to fully understand their tasks, including educating children and maintaining the household. In order to achieve this goal, mother schools were created. The concept behind these training facilities was to emphasize child care and family life to prospective mothers, hoping that they would return to their homes and produce as many children as possible. The Nazis predicted that this would increase birth rate as well as the purity of the new generation. By 1941, about 517 mother schools were operating in Germany and Nazi territories, and over 5 million women were enrolled by 1944 (Pine 75-78). Their plan was working, and through propaganda under the veil of education, many women were “persuaded to devote themselves to National Socialism” (Pine 79).

Another program utilized by the Nazis was the Reichsbund der Kinderreichen (RdK): the National League of Large Families. It was created during the Weimar to boost Germany’s crumbling morale and birth rate. However, the aims of the program became very important after 1933, when the Nazis decided to use the RdK to their advantage. The program was expanded, and the aim became to “change the entire position of the Volk [nation] to one in which the desire for children and for kinderreich families was accepted as the norm” (Pine 91). All negative media, theater or literature regarding large families or mothers was to be destroyed. They distributed propaganda promoting pure kinderreich families. They also had a secondary aim in helping large families when they needed assistance; they gave aid regarding rent, shelter, employment and many other issues. RdK was later reformatted into the Reichsbund Deutsche Familie, Kampfbund fur erbtuchtigen Kinderreichtum (RDF), or the National Association of the German Family, Combat League for Large Families of Sound Heredity. They maintained the same aims as the RdK when it came to encouraging childbirth, but there were stricter regulations when it came to the racial purity of the families. All new members went through a screening process to determine whether or not they were socially suitable. Additionally, it became mandatory for their children to be educated by Nazi officers about proper behavior and service to the nation (Pine 94-95).

The Lebensborn program was another political initiative encouraging childbirth. This began in 1936 and was headed by the leader of the SS, Heinrich Himmler. Regarded as very controversial among Nazi officials, this program “established a network of homes to enable racially desired pregnant single women to bear their children in discrete and comfortable surroundings” (Heineman 31-32). Some believed that this was promoting impure practices in the nation, as these children would be illegitimate. However, Himmler maintained that it was simply a way to make “single women available for fertilization by SS men” (Heineman 32). This would still create strong children as they would be genetically pure, then adopted into worthy German families. Lebensborn was hotly debated, and many leaders disagreed with the project’s aims; many Nazi teachers and mentors wanted to know how they were to teach children to be pure and upright citizens, while their own administration was giving aid to unwed mothers (Koonz 399-400). Regardless, the Lebensborn program continued, and at one home alone helped over 540 mothers give birth from 1938 to 1941 (Pine 41). Himmler insisted that “every mother of good blood should be holy to us,” whether or not she was married (Pine 39).

However, keeping in mind all the propaganda and programs aimed at mothers, it is important to understand that the Nazis were simply using mothers for their reproductive abilities. They did not admire women or their maternal nature; the Nazis just needed strong children to fortify the nation. This is supported by the example of Wilhelmine Haferkamp. During the Nazi regime, she gave birth to nine children, which put her in good graces with the government. However, when she was motherly in other ways, they threatened her with punishment. When Haferkamp saw cold and tired slave laborers outside her house, she insisted on bringing them soup and bread. This is undoubtedly a very maternal act; however, by Nazi standards, this was helping the enemy, since the laborers were usually prisoners of war. Her husband was called to the Nazi party office, and they demanded that Haferkamp stop helping those who were impure (Owings 20-21). The Nazis simply used mothers in order to achieve their goals of building a strong, populated country.

German women learn how to take care of a baby at a Nazi pronatal institution in 1937. (Source.)

By using propaganda and political initiatives, the Nazi party succeeded in creating an ideal mother archetype. They reinforced this ideology with legislative measures and programs to ensure that women were living up to their civic duty. Patriotic German women complied with these demands and produced many children; though modestly, the birth rate increased, and some families had seven or eight children simply to satisfy their government. However, the Nazi party was not concerned with the concepts of motherhood or family structure. These initiatives were self-serving, in that they only wanted a strong, populated nation in order to dominate the rest of the world.

History paper---Literature paper---Bibliographies
Pictures---Links---About Me---Main Page