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At the castle they were gassed, which she decided was not that bad because ‘death by gas doesn’t hurt’.From the outset, Lower concludes, ‘women made cruel life-and-death decisions, eroding moral sensibilities’. It was no big step when the racial purification process turned to the Final Solution of exterminating millions of Jews.From the moment the Nazis came to power and imposed policies of Aryan racial purity, countless nurses, their aprons filled with morphine vials and needles, routinely slaughtered the physically disabled and mentally defective.Pauline Kneissler worked at Grafeneck Castle, a euthanasia ‘hospital’ in southern Germany, and toured mental institutions selecting 70 ‘patients’ a day.When they came to her and opened their mouths, she shot them in the mouth with the small pistol that she kept at her side.Close to the mass-shooting site where the ghetto inhabitants were herded to await their deaths, Westerheide and his deputies partied with some German women.But she would use her pram to ram Jews whom she encountered on the streets and was said to have actually killed a small Jewish child with it.Such treatment is an affront to any sense of humanity, let alone womanhood — all the more so because most of these crimes went unpunished.
But much worse than these active accomplices were the women who killed — often the wives of SS officers.
A mass of secretaries, for example, typed the orders to kill and filed the details of massacres.
This placed them at the very centre of the Nazi murder machinery, but they, like so many others, chose to shut their eyes and benefit from their proximity to power.
Meanwhile, the millions of other women who were complicit in these odious events got on with their lives after the war as best they could, as if the whole Hitler era had been a nightmare to be put aside and forgotten once everyone had woken up.
Lower says: ‘To assume that violence is not a feminine characteristic and that women are not capable of mass murder has obvious appeal: it allows for hope that at least half the human race will not devour the other, that it will protect children and so safeguard the future.