The Woman at His Side

Careers, Crimes, and Female Complicity under National Socialism

 

 

A staged reading on the role of women in the SS Sippengemeinschaft

 

 

In the train carriage, a woman confides in a total stranger:

 

“My husband talks in his sleep at night … the father of my children is a murderer—how can I embrace him?”

 

While the wives look after the house and the children, their SS husbands organise the extermination of the Jews, work as commandants in concentration camps or as doctors charged with eliminating those lives deemed ‘unworthy of life’.

 

And the women? While the official propaganda cast them as angels in the household, they were more or less willing to adopt this role. Many of them spent the Nazi period in the field with their husbands. Through their day-to-day conversations and semi-private encounters in the home, they were comparatively well informed about the national socialist politics of extermination. In their diaries they describe their duties as representatives, mothers, house-keepers; and they supported their husbands in planning their careers. Who were these women?

 

 

 

In search of their own grandmothers?

 

In their staged reading, the three actresses from Berlin, Inga Dietrich, Joanne Gläsel, and Sabine Werner, illuminate a hitherto underexplored chapter in the history of National Socialism. Women as perpetrators. Innocent in the eyes of the law. What was the exact nature of their crimes?

 

The performance takes a subtle approach to this historical and moral grey area: using illuminating passages from original documents coupled with a minimalist aesthetic. The biographies of the individual women, their views and opinions about National Socialism during and after the war, together with their descriptions of the internal structure of the SS, form the basis of the performance.

 

The audience follow these seemingly harmless women from their often humble beginnings to a splendid villa with a view of the crematorium. Their motivations for tolerating the extermination of so many people are terrifyingly simple and prosaic: love, career prospects, a nice house, a little more money—the same things that have always motivated people, in other words, and still do so today.

 

The piece was commissioned by the Memorial at the House of the Wannsee Conference and is based on Gudrun Schwarz’s study “Eine Frau an seiner Seite” (1997).

 

A sample of the texts:

 

 

“We must be clear about the fact that the movement, the world view, has lasting stability only if it is supported by women, for men comprehend all things with the mind, while women comprehend all things with their emotions. … Only if we as a kinship order manage to march into the future together with women, to integrate women into our mission, only then will we achieve what we have set ourselves as our goal.”

 

Heinrich Himmler


 

“More than anything else, at that time my husband dreamt of a normal family life and a house of his own. One day he came home and asked me what I would say if he were to sign up with the Death’s Head units. He told me it was a new position that had something or other to do with the army and the police. We would have to move to another city, where we would get a little house of our own. And so we moved to Dachau. If I had said no, he would have remained a skipper on the Danube.”

 

Fanny Fritzsch

 

 

 

“We, Reinhard and I, are content. He is happy that he doesn’t have to deal with any domestic problems. When he comes home tired and exhausted in the evening, I am there for him. All day he has to be there for others, always ready, always present, and always having to make decisions, often very difficult decisions. He takes pleasure in this little home of ours.”

 

Lina Heydrich

 

 

 

“His name is mentioned in the local paper. It says: ‘…with animalistic pleasure he watched people die…’ You’ve got to laugh… whatever shall he think when he sees such rubbish.”

 

Irene Mengele

 

 

 

“My husband cannot have issued such an order, it is not in his character… And if he were to have done something, he would own up to it. That is what my husband is like—and that’s that.”

 

Käthe Meyer