Every picture tells a story - even the illustrations on the covers of books. Michael Kater's cover shows a rather shabby, cabbage-patch Hitler attending a harvest festival in 1936, receiving the salutes of a crowd in which the faces of adoring women are prominent. The image is both revealing and misleading. The peasant costumes certainly alert us to the affinities between Nazism and provincial kitsch, and Hitler's studied geniality also reminds us of his extraordinary personal popularity, always much greater than that of the party as a whole or of its other leaders. But the illustration is more likely to mislead if it reinforces the popular idea of a Hitler cult among women. Jill Stephenson, writing in the collection of essays edited by Peter Stachura, disposes effectively of what one recent writer has called 'the sacrificial willingness of women to be Hitler's devotees'. The complex and changing position of women in the Third Reich admits of no such conclusion, while it is certain that before 1933 women always gave less electoral support to National Socialism than men. Hitler would have done better without female suffrage, just as he would have done better in 1932 with first-past-the-post elections rather than PR.
LRB 1 November 1984 | PDF Download