how important were its top-
ranking women in the Nazi party? According to Austrian historian and author Anna Maria Sigmund, they were mere hard-working window dressing, women who wanted to help their monstrous mates but were afforded little scope or respect within the party.
The irony is that many of these ambitious women were the antithesis of the ideal Nazi female -- the Aryan, stay-at-home mother surrounded by a bevy of children -- a point Adolf Hitler worked hard to conceal.
In Women Of The Third Reich, Sigmund profiles the eight most renowned women associated with the Nazi elite, including Reichstag president Hermann Goering's two wives, the Swedish noblewoman Carin (née von Kantzow) and actress-turned-grand-hostess Emmy (née Sonnemann); propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels's wife, Magda (née Behrend), whose devotion to Goebbels and Hitler was so demented that, as the regime crumbled, she had her six children killed before she committed suicide alongside her husband; and the women Hitler kept closest to him -- his niece Geli Raubal, whom most consider his only true love, his mistress, Eva Braun, and filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.
The profiles are extremely detailed and well-researched. (Sigmund offers 26 pages of references and sources.)
But these women's slavish love for the Nazi party, which held that women had no place in public life, meant that they were swallowed into servitude. With the exception of the larger-than-life Riefenstahl (whose incredible story director Jodie Foster is in the process of bringing to the screen), they come across as boring and their lives make dull reading.
I would have loved it if Sigmund had analyzed the way the emancipated and progressive German woman of the 20s was demonized by the Nazis, and how the image of woman as rural, domesticated baby-making machine came to rule the nation.
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WOMEN OF THE THIRD REICH by Anna Maria Sigmund (NDE Publishing), 236 pages, $23.95 cloth. Rating: NN