Synopses & Reviews
What were the women of Germany doing during the Third Reich? What were they thinking? And what do they have to say a half century later?
In Frauen we hear their voices––most for the first time. Alison Owings interviewed and here records the words of twenty-nine German women who were there: Working for the Resistance. Joining the Nazi Party. Outsmarting the Gestapo. Disliking a Jewish neighbor. Hiding a Jewish friend. Witnessing "Kristallnacht." Witnessing the firebombing of Dresden. Shooting at Allied planes. Welcoming Allied troops. Being a prisoner. And being a guard. The women recall their own and others' enthusiasm, doubt, fear, fury, cowardice, guilt, and anguish.
Alison Owings, in her pursuit of such memories, was invited into the homes of these women. Because she is neither Jewish nor German, and because she speaks fluent colloquial German, many of the women she interviewed felt comfortable enough with her to unlock the past. What they have to say will surprise Americans, just as they surprised the women themselves.
Not since Marcel Ophuls's controversial film The Sorrow and the Pity have we been on such intimate terms with "the enemy." In this case, the story is that of the women, those who did not make policy but were forced to participate in its effects and to witness its results. What they did and did not do is not just a reflection on them and their country––it also leads us to question what actions we might have taken in their place. The interviews do not allow for easy, smug answers.
"Powerful testimony from 29 German women survivors of the Third Reich that provides not only a stunning portrait of life on the home front but also insights into a society that spawned both Hitler and the Holocaust. . . . Oral history at its best . . . a much-needed record of WWII German women."
"In vivid and often poignant portraits-cum-interviews . . . [Owings] has captured the extraordinary diversity of their experiences . . . each portrait, each interview, provides valuable insight into what happened to half the German population between 1933 and 1945."
* A New York Times Notable Book of the Year *
"These oral histories displace the silences and stereotypes that have prevented us from recognizing the myriad ways German women and their families responded to Nazism. . . . They probe the complexities and contradictions that German women faced during the Nazi era, reminding us that human action is never automatic or overdetermined. . . . Reading Frauen we begin to glimpse how the exercise of conscience is simultaneously possible and subverted under fascism."
"A vivid picture of Germany under the Nazis emerges from this collection of unsettling interviews."
"A remarkable work of history that stands out from the vast library of World War II studies for its sheer intimacy and its sometimes startling perspectives. . . . Frauen transcends the genre of oral history and turns into something more elaborate and accomplished and memorable."
"[An] engaging book . . . this is oral history as it should be done."
"Frauen goes further than any book I know toward addressing the eternal question of the private citizen's individual responsibility within a fascist regime. Few of Ms. Owings's Frauen can be called heroines, or even passive resisters. But that is her point. This book will be mined by contemporary and future scholars, indeed, by all who puzzle over the moral failures of 'human nature'."
"An extraordinarily rich historical resource, both exhilarating and exasperating, moving, and occasionally, hilarious. Owings asks tough questions, has a fine eye for telling gestures, and chooses her subjects from all walks of life. . . . An excellent work."
"This collection . . . will fascinate anyone who has wondered how ordinary women experienced life in Nazi Germany. . . . A valuable work of reportage."
"The effect is akin to eavesdropping on an intimate conversation and helps put events and people's reactions to them in context . . . Owings resists stereotyping her subjects."
About the Author
Alison Owings is a freelance journalist who has contributed regularly major television network news broadcasts. She is author of Indian Voices: Listening to Native Americans (Rutgers University Press, 2011) and Hey, Waitress!: The USA from the Other Side of the Tray.. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband.
Table of Contents
Idealism and Chasm: Frau Margarete Fischer
Motherhood Times Ten, and Food to Spare: Frau Wilhelmne Haferkamp
A Matter of Fate: Frau Marianne Karlsruhen
National Socialism and Christianity: Frau Ursula Meyer-Semiles
Retrospective Guilt: Frau Liselotte Otting
The History Lesson: Frau Mathilde Mundt
An “Exotic” Past: Frau Verona Groth
A Cosmopolitan View of the World: Frau Maria von Lingen
Learning How Communism Works: Frau Irene Burchert
Solidarity and Survival: Frau Charlotte Müller
“We Did Love our Führer, Really!”: Frau Ellen Frey
Before, During, and After the Firebombing: Frau Ursula Kretzschmar
The Ambivalence of Avoidance: Frau Martha Brixus
From the Emperor to a Mud Hole: Frau Margarete Sasowski
Rural Perspectives: Frau Barbara Amschel, Frau Anna Lieb, Frau Anna Maier
A Modest Woman of the Resistance: Mrs. Freya von Moltke
The Schisms of a “Flakwaffenhelferin”: Frau Erna Tietz
On Megalomaniacs and Little People: Frau Anna Rigl
Dissident Clergy and Dissident Actions: Frau Emmi Heinrich
A Job in Its Own Category: Frau Anna Fest
A Child Not of the Times: Frau Karma Rauhut
“A Very Unpolitical Woman”: Frau Anne Hepp
“I Was Alone. And I Had the Whole City Against Me.”: Frau Doktor Margret Blersch
“I Am Never Dishonest.”: Frau Regina Frankenfeld
Life as a Cabaret: Frau Christine Weihs
A Natural Matter of Friendship: Frau Erna Dubnack
Talking about Silence: Ms. Rita Kuhn