The 'Dishonorable' German Girls: The Forgotten Persecution of Women in World War II

By Jan Friedmann

Hitler's Gestapo arrested thousands of women for admitting they had affairs with foreign forced laborers in Germany, despite many confessions being false and made under duress. Men were often executed and women sent to concentration camps for the crime of "racial defilement." Some continued to suffer the consequences long after the end of the war.

Concentration camp surviver Maria K. in Ravensbrück: K. and other survivors say the humiliation from other residents of their towns continued for years. Zoom
Annette Hauschild

Concentration camp surviver Maria K. in Ravensbrück: K. and other survivors say the humiliation from other residents of their towns continued for years.

On Sept. 19, 1941, Maria K. signed the record of her interrogation. In her written statement to the police detective, the 14-year-old girl confessed that she had "shared the bed of Polish national Florian Sp. and also had sexual relations with him."

The incident allegedly took place on a Saturday evening in July. She had tended the cows during the day, and that evening she and her 18-year-old friend Hedwig invited the two Polish men to join them.

According to her signed statement, they kissed, and then the four of them went to the bedroom, Hedwig with Josef G. and she with Florian. Once in the bedroom, the Polish man removed her panties. They had slex three times that evening and twice in the next few days, once after lunch, behind a bush in a nearby field. This is the account given in her signed confession.

Maria K., who is 82 today, covers her face with her hands when she talks about the "confession" that changed her life forever and led to the death of the two young men. She is ashamed, even though the Gestapo detective concocted the statement and beat her into signing it. This is her story today, and other documents support its veracity.

Gisela Schwarze, a historian from the western German city of Münster, has spent years investigating cases like hers, digging through the files of special courts in cities like Dortmund, Bielefeld and Kiel. She uncovered Maria K.'s story in a local archive. It unfolded in Asbeck, a village with a wartime population of 850 in the western Münsterland region.

'Racial Defilement'

As a result of her research, Schwarze discovered a group of victims of the Nazi regime that has been neglected to this day. It consists of the women and girls who government officials accused of having sexual relations with foreign forced laborers. Some of the romantic relationships did exist, while others were made up, but the punishment was almost always extreme. The women were sent to concentration camps by the thousands, while the men were usually executed.

"Fellow Germans who engage in sexual relations with male or female civil workers of the Polish nationality, commit other immoral acts or engage in love affairs shall be arrested immediately," Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, ordered in 1940.

The crime the Nazi lawyers had constructed was called "racial defilement." At first, it only applied to relationships between Jews and non-Jews, but the racist construct was later expanded to include Slavs.

Prisoners of war and deported civilians were forced to work in factories and in fields, where they came into contact with local residents, many of them women. The men were fighting on the front. But informers prepared to denounce wrongdoers were everywhere -- neighbors, co-workers and teachers -- contributing to a hellish atmosphere of racial hatred and bigotry.

Maria K., the third youngest of 11 siblings, was orphaned as a child. An older brother took in the siblings, but he was eventually drafted into the German army, and his 27-year-old wife was left to care for the children on her own. To help her out, the landlord sent Florian Sp., a young Polish forced laborer, whom the children quickly came to trust.

'Necessary Welfare Measures'

The comfortable relationship between the Polish worker and the family was viewed with suspicion in the village. Maria was arrested, and during her interrogation the Gestapo officer hit her in the face and told her to admit that she had had sex with the Pole. The helpless and naïve girl signed the confession, which only marked the beginning of her worst ordeals. In October 1941, the Gestapo in Münster submitted a request to "initiate the necessary welfare measures" against Maria, who was now classified as a "dishonorable German girl."

She was placed in various reformatories and was eventually taken to a place that the SS had set up to house young female delinquents: the "Uckermark Youth Protection Camp," a subcamp of the Ravensbrück concentration camp.

She was given a prisoner number, 290, and from then on she no longer had a name. She suffered beatings, whippings, hunger and acts of humiliation. She was released in the fall of 1944 and taken to a preparatory school for children's nurses near Berlin. At the end of 1945, she managed to return to Asbeck by traveling through occupied Germany. The two Polish forced laborers had already been hung in Asbeck on August 28, 1942. The cause of death listed on their death certificates was "unknown."

The people who carried most of these executions remained unpunished after the war, and in 1963 the Münster public prosecutor's office closed its investigations into the cases. But the humiliations continued for Maria K. During church services, villagers berated her as a "Pole's whore" and "Pole lover." Many women who had survived the Nazi persecution were treated in much the same way.

A few weeks ago, Maria K. and historian Schwarze traveled to the Uckermark camp together, where a memorial, a stone wrapped in strips of iron, stands today. Maria K. scattered a handful of earth at the site, which she had collected in the forest where the two young Poles were killed.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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1. Bigotry
mae 01/22/2010
Very sad story indeed. What was so shocking is the harsh treatment these women received from their neighbors and insults they endured as "Polish whores" etc. It shows the depth of bigotry against Poles in Germany at that time and if one is to be honest, a bigotry that exists even today. Just as surely as the Nazis didn't invent anti-semitism, they did not invent anti-Polish/eastern European bigotry, they merely exploited the rascism and bigotry that already existed in Germany. But of course , the standard refrain of "Germany is no more racist than other countries" is the usual excuse. That is denial.
2. *
BTraven 01/22/2010
---Quote (Originally by mae)--- Very sad story indeed. What was so shocking is the harsh treatment these women received from their neighbors and insults they endured as "Polish whores" etc. It shows the depth of bigotry against Poles in Germany at that time and if one is to be honest, a bigotry that exists even today. Just as surely as the Nazis didn't invent anti-semitism, they did not invent anti-Polish/eastern European bigotry, they merely exploited the rascism and bigotry that already existed in Germany. But of course , the standard refrain of "Germany is no more racist than other countries" is the usual excuse. That is denial. ---End Quote--- I think it has more to do with envy, because the wife of his brothers managed to handle the farm? and children very well, and that without commanding the Pole who was forced to work in Germany in a harsh and rude way. That made their neighbours suspicious. As far as I know most people were not denounced because of political or, as in that case, ethnical reasons. It was often much simpler, and the reasons more banal – they were envious and did not grant other people success or better life. The legislation of nazis welcomed everybody to denounce people since it was the most effective way to subjugate people – creating an atmosphere of fear and mistrust to each other spares can spare you a lot of staff in security. Bigotry and an stupid feeling of superiority played an important part in the grief case Spiegel reported about but do not forget that materialism plays an important role in life.
3. How tragic!
Tilmeeth 01/22/2010
I had no idea. I was aware of the treatment of Norwegian women who had affairs with German soldiers (I'm an ABBA fan), and of the lesser controversy of British women doing the same with German POWs, but not of the scale of this discrimination in Germany itself. How terribly tragic. A thoughtful and interesting article, but unfortunately far too short.
4. It's nothing new
felix.vallis 01/24/2010
Thank you for this article, but it's nothing new. As far back as 1983, Polish film director Andrzej Wajda made a film "Eine Liebe in Deutschland" based on similar story. Anyone interested should check http://www.allmovie.com/work/30343
5.
symewinston 01/30/2010
---Quote (Originally by Tilmeeth)--- I had no idea. I was aware of the treatment of Norwegian women who had affairs with German soldiers (I'm an ABBA fan), and of the lesser controversy of British women doing the same with German POWs, but not of the scale of this discrimination in Germany itself. How terribly tragic. A thoughtful and interesting article, but unfortunately far too short. ---End Quote--- ABBA was a Swedish group
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Book Bag
Historian Gisela Schwarz is the author of the recent German-language book, "Es war wie Hexenjagd. Die vergessene Verfolgung ganz normaler Frauen im Zweiten Weltkrieg." (It Was Like a Witchhunt: The Forgotten Persecution of Normal Women During World War II.) Ardey-Verlag, Münster; 224 pages; €19.90. The book has not been published in English.


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