In a post-feminist era featuring Lynndie England and female suicide bombers it may no longer be shocking to hear that women at war are as capable of atrocity as men. In 1945, however, the Anglo-American public was disgusted by the spectacle of female SS auxiliaries who had presided over atrocious conditions in Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, Belsen and Buchenwald concentration camps. They seemed to personify the Nazi corruption of morality to the extreme of inverting time-honoured gender roles. Women were supposed to be givers of life, nurturers and carers, but the Third Reich had produced a monstrous regiment of sadists and murderers.
The majority of German women cast themselves as victims of Hitlerism, a pose that many onlookers willingly accepted so as to preserve the natural order. There was, after all, much evidence that the Nazis decried women’s emancipation. As soon as the Party took power it edged women out of the