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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Serving the Volksgemeinschaft : German Red Cross Nurses in the Second World War

  • Author(s): Zroka, Amy Liane
  • et al.

In this dissertation, I investigate the actions and experiences of German Red Cross nurses who worked on the Eastern Front during the Second World War. The purpose of the project is to gain a deeper understanding of how the Third Reich mobilized "Aryan" German women for war service and how these women, as nurses, helped constitute a Volksgemeinschaft or "people's community." By examining the actions of nurses, I analyze how humanitarian ideals are affected by nationalist goals and international conflicts. In addition, I also move beyond the war itself in order to answer the question of how German Red Cross nurses' wartime activities were remembered, on the level of the individual and of the group, and what these memories meant for the women themselves and the two postwar German publics. This project therefore investigates the discourses, training programs, and personal experiences of German Red Cross nurses and the soldiers, ethnic Germans, and non-Germans with whom nurses interacted. Red Cross nursing appealed to German women because it provided them with the opportunity to work outside of the home without violating traditional gender norms. During their time serving in hospitals on the Eastern Front, nurses modified the National Socialist concept of "people's community" by creating a community of the front field hospital. This community was defined not only by German citizenship, but also by a set of common wartime experiences and connections to German Red Cross institutions. Red Cross nurses who served at the front gained a sense that they, rather than their superiors who worked further away from the front, had a better understanding of the war. As a result, the nurses who worked in these field hospitals forged a specific kind of nursing community within the larger German front community. These women thus modified the Nazi community based on their needs and experiences. However, nurses also reinforced Nazi "racial" and political hierarchies by prioritizing the care of German soldiers and ethnic Germans. After the war, changing patterns of silence and recollection slowly brought nurses' experiences and memories into public discussions

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