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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lost German Girl

I am currently reading Hitler's Furies, which examines the role German women played in the killing machine of the Third Reich.  Perhaps the greatest revelation is how few of them were held accountable for their murderous and sometimes sadistic deeds, and how even after the war, German justice was reluctant to credit the testimony of Jewish survivors against these women.  The few women who were actually brought to trial lied blatantly about what and where they had been; they tried to pin their crimes on their husbands or lovers; they were pregnant at the time (and therefore, for some reason, incapable of shooting Jews in the forest like rabbits); they "forgot" where they were or what they were doing; they were just following orders. They returned to civilian life, some of them in the very same occupations they had held while they were committing their most cold-blooded crimes (i.e., nursing).  

Perhaps it doesn't matter.  They're mostly all dead now, these Germans of my parents' generation, or else very, very old.

I am not a World War II buff by any stretch.  What fascinates me is human cruelty, and identifying the social and psychological circumstances in which human cruelty emerges and flourishes.  Women's capacity for violence has, until recently, been overlooked.  They are seen either as victims or in thrall to a dark masculine force, rather than as people who participate in murder or genocide willingly, even enthusiastically, in service of their own ambition or sadistic pleasure.

On a related note, I cannot quite shake my fascination with "the lost German girl" who was filmed during the evacuation of Germans from Czechoslovakia in 1945.  She has been beaten, and seems exhausted and disoriented.  She is wearing military trousers and braces that seem to fit her too well to have been discarded by a male soldier.  She is clutching a deck of cards (or a bible? or a stack of worthless currency? or identification papers?). She has never been identified, and -- assuming she survived -- probably never wished to be.

A case has been made over at another blog that the photograph below is of the girl in the film, and, having compared the images over and over, I am also persuaded that they are the same person. The photograph is of an as-yet unnamed German woman who was serving in some capacity in the Wehrmacht apparatus in Czechoslovakia. (On the other hand, "the lost German girl" captured on film may simply have been one of millions of ethnic Germans expelled from various countries during this period.) 





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It's difficult, watching the film clip, not to feel great compassion for the young woman, who, with her loose, blonde, blood-caked hair, snug jumper, somewhat cynical expression, and meandering gait, appears to be utterly contemporary.  And yet I am also haunted by what she has done, the choices she has made that have brought her to this dark place along a sunny stretch of highway.

11 comments:

  1. Do you recommend the book? I read the reviews and it sounded interesting. A book I read when it was reissued in the English speaking world about ten years ago was A Woman in Berlin - a German who'd worked as a foreign correspondent and could speak Russian was trapped in Berlin when it fell to the Russian army. She documents her own brutal rapes and what happened to all the women around her. It's coolly written, which makes it all the more harrowing. I've since spoken to women here in Germany who think their mothers were raped at the end of the war. There's a veil of silence over this. Because they were the oppressors - in a historically unprecedented way - they can't deal with their own injuries, except to keep quiet about them.

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    1. I'm finding the information interesting enough to continue although the writer's style and treatment of her subjects isn't as insightful as I wish. Maybe because, as you note, she couldn't find German women willing to talk about it. It seems that they just chose to forget, and move on, leaving the next generation of Germans to wrestle with the demons. That's what I imagine happened to the "lost German girl" in that clip, who I imagine to have been both victim and on some level perpetrator of the horror: she made it home, picked up the pieces of her ordinary life, and never spoke or even thought much about what had happened to her. I've heard of "A Woman in Berlin" and I believe there is a film based on her memoirs. Now you've reminded me I mean to watch that.

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    2. This german girl did survive the war only cause the camra man helped her. she just watched her friend get beat to death and thats when this film was caught. The chezs were beating her when the usa came and stoped them. She got married had two girls. Her name is Lour and many years later lour gave a penny back to the camra man a penny he gave her for good luck. in the video you see her smile when he drives off but he saved her life. years after he said she was so good looking he tried to find her to love and help because of the conection. all true and theres more but lets save it.

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    3. To Anonymous May 5 4:25pm: What you refer to is a work of fiction, it is a screenplay written by a member of an online group who are trying to establish what became of her. The group have been working on this for nearly nine years and they have compiled 112 web pages of research to date. If interested, go to forum.axishistory.com, then look under Axis History, Women in the Reich and click on 1945 Lost German girl. They have discovered some fascinating information and even located the road where she was filmed. They have photos of the location which were taken only a few weeks ago, exactly 70 years to the day that she was filmed there in 1945. Alas, they have yet to learn her identity.

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  2. An interesting post, and one that reminded me of some of my own reading. During the last few years, I've been reading quite a bit about the modern-day slave trade (mainly as research for Doctor Who fan fiction, of all things), and have found it surprising just how much women have been involved in this beastly business (as well as comprised the majority of its victims). In one book, simply titled Enslaved, for example, I read the harrowing tale of a Haitian girl who was forced to be the domestic slave of a succession of female relatives (all of whom treated her abominably), as well as the story of a Sri Lankan woman who was so badly treated by her Lebanese mistress (again as a domestic slave) that she ended up jumping off a fourth floor balcony just to escape from her (she survived, but broke half the bones in her body in the process). And then there was the story of the Kenyan woman kept as a domestic slave by an Egyptian couple, in which the standard narrative of domestic abuse was reversed: it was the wife who was the violent one, while the husband was the one who just stood by and let the abuse happen. Another book I read which dealt with the subject of slavery in some depth, Bitter Chocolate, described how women played a pivotal role in the procurement of child slaves for cocoa growers in West Africa, such women finding it relatively easy to traffic their unfortunate charges across national borders because of the way in which a woman with a lot of children who aren't her own in tow elicits far less suspicion than a man in the same situation.

    Like you, I've been interested in violent, cruel, and, dare I say it, evil women, and have come across quite a few (infamous) examples in my own reading. For example, there's Elena Ceausescu, wife of the Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu (who was executed alongside her husband, and was, by all accounts, not much better than him), as well as Agathe Habyarimana, wife of deceased Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, and someone believed to have played a key role in unleashing the Rwandan genocide. Also worthy of a mention is Gulnara Karimova, daughter of the Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov, and somebody who's apparently the most hated woman in Uzbekistan because of her autocratic ways. Unfortunately, like so many other things, the subject of women who aren't paragons of traditional feminine virtue is one that's become tainted by its association with the Manuresphere, whose members seem determined to portray all women as demonic.

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    1. I'm also fascinated by female murderers, like Lizzie Bordon, who got away with her crime simply because the male jury couldn't wrap their heads around the idea that a "respectable woman" was capable of hacking up her parents in a fit of rage.

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    2. I'm always surprised that it comes as a tremendous shock (even to me, sometimes) that women are easily as criminal as men. Look at some of the women in power at the moment in South America - busy enriching themselves as fast as they can. Or the woman in the UK who's about to be banged up for killing men and dumping them into the river. Before forensic toxicology really hit its stride, there were plenty of women who got out of unhappy marriages by dumping poison in hubby's tea.

      There is one time when women don't get away with their crimes - if children are involved. Then women get extremely harsh sentences, even if clearly mentally ill.

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    3. I think, by the way, that it's perfectly OK to agree that women can be criminal. Criminality is part of the spectrum of human behaviour and patriarchy painting women as pure white - unless fallen - is, in a way, refusing to acknowledge that women are part of the human race. People do shit. Awful shit. Sometimes not out of need or pain, or broken childhoods, but just because they can.

      I was really sorry they executed the Ceausescus, and not just because I'm against the death penalty - a more fitting punishment might have been to make them do some hard labour for the rest of their lives. Like making them tear down some of their awful buildings and cart away the rubble by hand.

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    4. I was sorry they executed the Ceausescus as well, particularly as I later learned that their execution hadn't been so much an act of "rough justice" (as the media had portrayed it at the time*), as it had been a means of keeping them from incriminating other members of the Communist regime who'd been complicit in their crimes. On the subject of Romania, I find it deliciously ironic that its godless Communist leadership once did what the vehemently anti-Communist Christian Right are trying to do now: namely, outlaw all contraception and abortion (and, no, it didn't work out at all well for them)!

      *My own local newspaper, for example, printed a rather nauseating cartoon that showed the Ceausescus being executed, the firing squad's bullets spelling out "MERRY CHRISTMAS ROMANIA" (or something like that) on the wall behind them.

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    5. Oh, and on the subject of women as criminals, another fascinating instance of this I've heard of is that of women taking the reins of power in the Mafia and other Italian criminal organizations. Roberto Saviano's Gomorrah: Italy's Other Mafia, a book about the Neapolitan Camorra, for example, has a lot on this subject.

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  3. BTW, that forum you provided a link to looks interesting; I can see myself wasting many hours on it! I've quite the fascination with World War II myself, my interest in it really starting when I watched most of The World at War on TV in 1995 (the 50th anniversary of the war's end). It's sort of hard to believe that that conflict's been over so long now that veterans from it are becoming as old (and rare) as I remember World War I veterans being back in the '90s. The latter individuals would probably be all gone now, particularly since next year will be the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War.

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