Scholtz-Klink, Gertrud (1902—)

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Scholtz-Klink, Gertrud (1902—)

German who became Frauenführerin (female führer) of both the National Socialist Women's Union and of German women in general during the Third Reich, but wielded no power. Born in Adelsheim, Baden,Germany, on February 9, 1902; married three times; children: eleven.

Joined the Nazi Party (1928); became Frauenführerin (female führer) of both the National Socialist Women's Union and of German women in general (1934); having escaped punishment (1945), remained convinced that the Third Reich had been beneficial to the German people and particularly to its women.

Married at age 18 to a postal clerk, Gertrud Scholtz-Klink could boast of classic "Aryan" features, including the blonde hair and blue eyes that many Germans in fact do not have. Joining the anti-feminist Nazi Party in 1928 when it was still a small sect on the radical right, Scholtz-Klink had little education and a natural tendency to accept what those (men) in authority told her was right. In 1929, she was appointed Nazi women's leader in the southwestern German state of Baden, which led to a promotion two years later to head the women's group in the state of Hessen. Scholtz-Klink had sound political instincts, always cultivating the male leaders in the Nazi Party, particularly Gauleiter (regional party chief) Robert Wagner. Although she was the head of a large family and a widow (she eventually had eleven children in three marriages), Scholtz-Klink displayed remarkable energy and tenacity when given an assignment. Besides her regional responsibilities, she also became prominent in the early 1930s in the Nazi national organization for women party leaders, the Nationalsozialistisches Frauenschaft (National Socialist Women's Association, or NSF), as well as in the group designed to incorporate the rank and file of Germany's women, the Deutsches Frauenwerk (German Women's Enterprise, or DFW).

The Nazis came to power in 1933, initiating a reign of terror that quickly eliminated their enemies; their private political party became the sole faction within a totalitarian state. The new situation gave Scholtz-Klink an opportunity to greatly expand her power. In 1934, Labor Service chief Konstantin Hierl named her head of the national Women's Labor Service (Frauenarbeitsdienst). That same year, with the support of Erich Hilgenfeldt, director of the Nazi Welfare Association (Volkswohlfahrt), she took charge of both the NSF and the DFW, becoming Reichsfrauenführerin (women's Führer) and thus exercising the same dictatorial power within these organizations as did Adolf Hitler on the national scale (Führerprinzip—the leadership principle). Her youthful energy and obedience to the party hierarchs made her a suitable choice for these posts. By 1939, an estimated six million women were participating in the activities of these two mass organizations.

Because her activities were cut off from the mainstream of Nazi Party activities, Scholtz-Klink enjoyed considerable autonomy within the boundaries of her own bureaucratic organizations. Outside this realm, however, her influence was slight, and Hilgenfeldt reigned supreme. Adolf Hitler often mentioned Scholtz-Klink and her groups in public but did not consult with her. Many German women recognized the essential powerlessness of these organizations and most did not become members. Despite persecution, church-affiliated organizations remained significant places for women to seek moral support during the Nazi years. As a fanatical Nazi, Scholtz-Klink harbored antipathy to Christianity and formally withdrew as a member of the Lutheran church. This move likely only served to embolden some German women not to support her Nazi organizations.

Gertrud Scholtz-Klink's ideals were simple, indeed unsophisticated. She fully accepted her task of bringing German women back to the traditional patriarchal ideals of " kinder, kirche, küche" (children, church, kitchen). An effective orator with a rasping voice that somewhat resembled that of Hitler, Scholtz-Klink spoke at countless rallies on the joys of simple domestic chores and child rearing. "The mission of woman," she said, is "to minister in the home and in her profession to the needs of life from the first to the last moment of man's existence." Like those of the male Nazi leaders, her speeches were filled with military images, declaring that "the German woman enthusiastically fights at the Führer's side in his battle for universal recognition of the German race and German culture." Convinced that physical labor would be healthy not only for women but for the future of the German race, she often spoke of how "the German woman must work and work, physically and mentally she must renounce luxury and pleasure." Sometimes her oratory bordered on the absurd, as when she declared during a Nazi rally in 1937 that "even if our weapon is only the wooden spoon, its striking power shall be no less than that of other weapons."

The start of World War II in 1939 opened up great opportunities for all branches of the German state and the Nazi Party, both of which viewed military victories as opening the door for widespread plunder and expansion of power. In the occupied territory of Poland, Scholtz-Klink's NSF organization was active in the transfer of

possessions from Jews and Poles to Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans). On at least one occasion, Scholtz-Klink personally benefited from these traumatic events. On the eve of the outbreak of war, she sent a special "buyer" to purchase the valuables of the family of Erna Segal . For a tiny fraction of their value, Scholtz-Klink acquired the Segals' possessions in a situation very close to extortion because of her power and the desperation of the family to come up with funds to pay a massive "tax" that had recently been levied on Germany's entire Jewish community.

In 1945, Soviet soldiers captured Scholtz-Klink, but she was able to escape, living under an assumed name in the French occupation zone. After she was identified and arrested in 1948, she served 18 months following her conviction by a French military court in November 1948 on a charge of carrying false identification papers. Subsequently included on a Tübingen de-Nazification court's list of "major offenders," Scholtz-Klink benefited from the Cold War which had caused a major change in American policy toward Germany. The West needed Germans as allies against the Soviet Union, and reminders of the Nazi past were now very much out of place. As a result, Scholtz-Klink was acquitted of war crimes and her sentence of 18 months just happened to coincide with the time she had already served on her earlier conviction. In the early 1950s, she was banned for life from holding any public office in the Federal Republic of Germany. Scholtz-Klink remained utterly unrepentant, publishing in 1978 a collection of speeches and essays entitled Die Frau im Dritten Reich (Women in the Third Reich).

sources:

Andrews, Herbert D. "Thirty-Four Gold Medallists: Nazi Women Remember the Kampfzeit," in German History. Vol. 11, no. 3. October 1993, pp. 293–315.

Cosner, Shaaron, and Victoria Cosner. Women under the Third Reich: A Biographical Dictionary. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Koonz, Claudia. Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, the Family, and Nazi Politics. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1987.

Saldern, Adelheid von. "Victims or Perpetrators? Controversies about the Role of Women in the Nazi State," in David F. Crew, ed. Nazism and German Society, 1933–1945. London: Routledge, 1994, pp. 141–165.

Scholtz-Klink, Gertrud. Aufbau des deutschen Frauenarbeitsdienstes. 2nd ed. Leipzig: Verlag "Der Nationale Aufbau," 1934.

——. Die Frau im Dritten Reich: Eine Dokumentation. Tübingen: Grabert, 1978.

——. The Task of the Woman of To-Day: Conference of Women at the Reich Party Rally of Honour, 1936. Berlin: NSDAP-Deutsches Frauenwerk, 1936.

——. Verpflichtung und Aufgabe der Frau im nationalsozialistischen Staat. Berlin: Junker und Dünnhaupt, 1936.

"Scholtz-Klink, Gertrud (1902—)," in Dieter K. Buse and Juergen C. Doerr, eds. Modern Germany: An Encyclopedia of History, People, and Culture, 1871–1990. Vol. 2. NY: Garland, 1998, p. 894.

Wistrich, Robert S. Who's Who in Nazi Germany. New ed. London: Routledge, 1995.

John Haag , Associate Professor History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia