Women of the Third Reich – Anna Maria Sigmund

The Nazi slogan “Women must be emancipated from women’s emancipation” appears early in this book, and one can easily see the attraction for any historian, male or female, of investigating the dichotomies it presents. For though the Nazi regime was almost exclusively male, its rise to power would have been much harder, if not impossible, without the efforts and enthusiasm of numerous powerful and highly-placed women. The most famous of these are undoubtedly Eva Braun and Leni Riefenstahl, both of whom are discussed in this book, but Magda Goebbels, Carin Goering and others played significant roles in the Reich, donating money, time, and political connections to the cause throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

Regrettably, Women Of The Third Reich does not meet the measure of its subject. Sigmund’s writing is dry and utterly without passion for her material (this may be in part due to poor translation; the person responsible is uncredited). The effect is like reading a high-school history paper by a student who, camouflaging an utter lack of interest in the topic, piles on every available fact, hoping to buffalo through and emerge with at least a gentleman’s C for the sheer amount of research that’s been done. When Sigmund does inject something like emotion into the text, the words flop awkwardly across the page, as in this description of Gerda Bormann:

The daughter of long-time party member Walter Buch married Martin Bormann, a convicted accomplice to murder, in a typical swastika wedding, had nine children, and clung naively and fanatically to her husband and to the Fuehrer.

Now we are talking about Nazis, after all, but this still seems a bit much. What, after all, was a “typical swastika wedding”? We’re not told. This kind of rhetorical clumsiness turns up later, in the chapter on Riefenstahl, when we get clanking boilerplate sentences like “[Dr. Arnold Fanck’s] revolutionary photography and clever editing caused quite a stir.” In what circles? Again, we’re not told. The sentence merely lies there, declarative and unsubstantiated.

It’s clear that Anna Maria Sigmund invested time in digging up facts on these women and their relationships to the Third Reich. It’s less clear why she, and/or the publisher, thought that was enough to carry the book. A subject this controversial deserves better treatment. Women Of The Third Reich could have been a fascinating investigation of a relatively little-known subject. Instead, the reader is left hoping that a better writer will put Sigmund’s impressive storehouse of information to some better literary use down the road.

Phil Freeman