Frauen – German Women Recall the Third Reich

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. Perhaps because she is neither Jewish nor German, and speaks fluent, if flawed, 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 it 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.”
Here, the story is that of the women, those who did not make policy but who lived with its effects and witnessed 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.

Reviews

A New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”

“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.”–New York Times Book Review

“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.”–Kirkus Reviews

“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.”–Women’s Review of Books

“A fascinating account. . . . it tells us things that we didn’t know about the Hitler period, but more perhaps about the Germany of the present and the difficulty many Germans have in coming to terms with their past. The women Alison Owings has interviewed are an interesting and diverse lot, and her conversations with them are spirited, sometimes contentious, often funny, and always revealing.”–Gordon A. Craig, J. E. Wallace Sterling Professor of Humanities, Emeritus, Stanford University, and author of The Germans

“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.”–Los Angeles Times Book Review

“[An] engaging book . . . this is oral history as it should be done.”–Chicago Tribune

“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’.”–Susan Brownmiller

“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.”–Choice

“This collection . . . will fascinate anyone who has wondered how ordinary women experienced life in Nazi Germany. . . . A valuable work of reportage.”–Booklist

“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.”–San Francisco Chronicle

“Owings deploys her journalistic skills to present the women in striking juxtaposition to one another, with vivid sketches of their appearance, character, mannerisms, surroundings and family background. . . . for anyone interested in the Germans and Germany, Frauen makes for compelling reading.”–London Times Literary Supplement

“A vivid picture of Germany under the Nazis emerges from this collection of unsettling interviews.”–Publishers Weekly

“There is much, much to be learned here about humankind and effective (and infrequent) Christian witness, and about everyday life on the homefront. You will not find a better written, nor more careful, respectful, honest, and humble presentation of a grotesque historical context than this.”–William W. Rankin, Anglican Theological Review

“A groundbreaking set of oral histories. . . . Highly recommended.”–Library Journal

“Owings’ painstakingly collected oral histories contain the confessions of few true-blue Nazis. But . . . we encounter plenty of dissemblers and Nazi fellow travelers. . . . Their stories read as case histories demonstrating (it seems) the powerlessness of the individual in the face of crushing historical circumstance.”–Philadelphia Inquirer

“A fascinating probe of a generation of women whose voices have not, until now, been heard.”–Jewish Times