German women and the holocaust

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Alongside this historical and moral “fact” it is important to consider the contemporary
debate led by Carol Gilligan which suggests that women are more morally caring than
men.2 This is supported by a feeling that women would have been morally unable to
implement, perform or ignore the atrocities of the Shoah. [Owings 1993, xii]
The above view would imply that German women can be included in a group of
caring individuals who were unable to help the Jews because of their own victimisation
by the Nazi regime. I intend to show that this view is misguided. Whilst there is some
truth in it, for women were discriminated against by both state and society, it ignores
certain facts about the various roles women chose to play in Nazi society. It also
discounts those women who resisted Nazi injustice and rescued victims. German women
may have different levels of moral responsibility, but they cannot simply be cleared of all
Before proceeding it is necessary to clarify some key terms. Under the heading of
perpetrators I include all those people who directly contributed to the Shoah, both the
camp guard and the bureaucrat who compiled lists of Jews for deportation. In the
bystander group I put those who did nothing active either to harm or to help the Jews.
The bystanders may have been hostile towards Jews, or they may have felt disgusted by
the events of the Holocaust, but they did nothing active. When I speak of German women
in this paper I mean those German women who were not themselves victimised by the
Nazis. They were the “superior” women who fitted in with the Nazi notion of an Aryan
woman. I intend no offence by leaving out those German women who were persecuted by
the Nazis, such as German Jewish women, Communists and trade unionists, gypsies and
2 See Carol Gilligan, Different Moral Voices.
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