‚Smashing‘, speech on 08 May about Trümmerfrauen in Dresden

[German]

The following speech was given at a demonstration in Dresden called ’08 May 1945 Victory in Europe Day (lit. day of liberation) – a day to celebrate‘.

Talking about victim myths and historical revisionism generally becomes slowly established in leftist circles around Dresden.

‘Still very little acknowledgement for their achievements receive, however, Dresden’s “Trümmerfrauen”1’, argues the Frauenstadtarchiv (or ‘Women’s City Archive’). We agree with this, but for very different reasons:

In Germany, the so-called Trümmerfrauen cleared bombed towns from 1945 and into the 50s, and sometimes into the 60s. They removed rubble, demolished remaining ruins, and recycled bricks for rebuilding work. And they rebuilt ‘everything‘: apartment buildings, factories, schools, etc.. Since their physical work was hard, women’s health and safety measures were partially lifted in 1946. As paid workers they were divided into Bauhilfsarbeiterin (builder’s labourers), Trümmerarbeiterin (rubble worker) or Arbeiterin für Enträumungsarbeiten (clearing worker). But there were also unpaid volunteers.

On the worksites, these women*2 weren‘t on their own: Also involved were (German and Allied) professionals, prisoners of war, and former Nazi men* (on orders of the Allies).

The now-defunct right-wing nationalist website truemmerfrauen.de gets the heart of the powerful image of the Trümmerfrau. Along the lines of ‚Others destroyed our homeland, they rebuilt it bare-handedly‘, it states:

’08 May 1945, Germany, completely in ruins. A desert of 500 million cubic metres of rubble and ash. Experts calculated that it would take 30 years to clear the destruction. The experts were mistaken, because they failed to reckon with the women of our country. Even on the first day after the war, they begin work. With an unprecedented personal effort, they did what no one deemed possible. By the time their husbands and sons returned from war captivity, they had already thoroughly cleared up our country. The reconstruction begins and the world is astonished. As Trümmerfrauen, they left a memorial to themselves and to all women of our country.‘

The image of strong German women*, who sacrificed themselves for the country’s reconstruction under cost of great deprivations, worked and still works well for the German way of coming to terms with the past.

After 1945, the blame for the Holocaust and National Socialism was assigned to only a few people. Hitler did it – and maybe Göring and Himmler, too. The majority of ‚common people‘ was therefore able to shirk responsibility and to block out their own guilt.

German Feminism of the 1970s and 80s established a female* version of defence against guilt that is effective to this day: it was only the men involved. In discussions about women’s complicity, it was argued that women were complicit and did contribute, but really only because the patriarchy compelled them into it, so to speak.
Post-war feminists had to ignore that hierarchies between the genders lost precedence in the face of the potency of the ‚Aryan‘ Volksgemeinschaft during National Socialism. In relation to their unity against a shared ‚enemy‘ and esp. against Jews, ‚Aryan‘ women* were equal to men*. They weren‘t merely ‚birthing machines‘.

Their motherhood was highly praised, their work in the household and in the education of children increasingly recognised. The 1938 introduced Mother’s Cross underlines the NSDAP’s efforts in revaluing those ‚Women’s* work‘. ‚On its smallest scale, the struggle against the inner enemy, the undeutsche Geist (un-German spirit), fought‘ in the domestic sphere – said women leader Irene Seydel.3

Women* under National Socialism weren‘t simply timid little housewives, nor were they silent and passive supporters of their husbands. As concentration camp guards, leaders of the League of German Girls, munition workers or informers, women* participated no less enthusiastically than men* in the exclusion and extermination of millions of people. In doing so, the women* of Germany were their male* colleagues‘ equals in every way.

The increase in female* employment after 1933 also undermines the image of the oppressed housewife. One reason was the professionalization of former house chores, but conscription also swiftly removed large sections of the male* population from the workforce. Women’s* occupations were increasingly appreciated, as every member of the Volksgemeinschaft was seen as vital to the community’s continued successful and optimised existence. Then as now, groups – e.g. women* – emancipate(d) themselves precisely when they were needed as war or crisis managers.

The involvement and responsibility of German women* for the atrocities of National Socialism hardly seems to fit in with the image of the Trümmerfrau, which depicted her as a bare-handed woman* who suffered with no burden of responsibility. After all, she didn‘t start the war. She only worries about the children and about the food for the next day. How is it her fault? It’s unfair. But she toughs it out – she’s strong, she’s heroic, she’s selfless. For all of us.

It’s a good thing that women* are so strong and able to bear so much misery. ‚As tough as leather.‘
This readiness to make sacrifices is still honoured with ceremonies, exhibitions and the installation of memorials (such as the one in front of Dresden’s town hall) in honour of the Trümmerfrauen. Moreover, awards and medals were given: in the GDR, the ‚Activist of the Hour‘; in the FRG, the Federal Cross of Honour. The ‚oak planter‘ (Eichenpflanzerin) on the old 50 pfennig piece shouldn‘t be forgotten either.

Various groups of Nazis think that the Trümmerfrauen deserve even more honour. But they‘re not alone in their opinion:
The fringe party ‚Grey Panthers‘, which targets pensioners in particular, has supported Trümmerfrauen since the 80s.
Dresden’s Frauenstadtarchiv has also organised an annual Trümmerfrauen meeting since 2006. The date was ‘deliberately chosen’: the 8th of May, V-E Day! This year, it was postponed to the 23 May – up to now, we couldn‘t find out why. Those discussions of Trümmerfrauen in Dresden’s culture of remembrance involve co-operation with the city archives, Dresden’s equal opportunity commissioner, Dresden’s centre for women’s education called ‘help for self-help’ (lit) and also with schools.
In 2006, the Frauenstadtarchiv also published a brochure4 which is based on interviews with Trümmerfrauen and archive material and whose ‚main aim‘ is to ‚thank all women, who saw the end of the war and its awful consequences as a beginning and not as an end‘ – ‚this generation of women, without whom Dresden after 1945 would have become less rapidly what it is again today – if at all – a new cultural capital known as the ‘Florence of the Elbe’.6

The brochure constantly mourns the ‚downfall of the once Saxon residence‘ Dresden, which is described as a ’symbol of [this] pointless destruction.‘ It talks about an ‚apocalyptical storm of fire‘ with a ‚hungry maw‘ – without even mentioning a German responsibility for the war and destruction. For ‚the longing for peace was also what motivated thousands of women to rebuilt Dresden.‘7 And it’s this longing for peace which seems to make today’s discussions and critical reappraisal of history impossible.
Moreover it says: ‚Most young women and mothers associated the end of the war with the remembrance of the hurtful loss of theirs husbands, fathers, brothers and sons, who became victims of the Nazi-German warfare which trampled over the international law.‘9 Here, even the German soldiers are victims – namely of the warfare.
The 27-paged pamphlet also gives voice to some of the women’s first-hand experiences (the so-called Erlebnisgeneration). Charlotte W. for example complains: ‚For me, it was work of punishment for my family, because my brothers was in the party, in the Nazi-party. My brother was a simple member, because he wanted to study. That’s the way it was. It was kin liability.‘5
If interested, you can read more strokes of fate on your own.

For several years, the working-group of social-democratic women (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Sozialdemokratischer Frauen) also holds a rally on Women’s Day. At which location, you may ask? The Trümmerfrauen memorial. ‚In addition to the honouring of Trümmerfrauen with flowers at the memorial, we want to bring everything that women do and want to do today to mind.‘8 (chairwoman Dorothee Marth 2010)

So much for Dresden.

Last December, two members of the Green Party in Munich took the consequence and covered the local Trümmerfrauen memorial with a brown cloth. The cloth read ‚Memorials for the right ones, not for Old Nazis‘. As a result, a shitstorm broke out, including death threats. In regard to their arguments, Nazis, other right-wing women* and men*, and friends of peace and reconciliation worked hand in hand – they only lacked a human chain or a Monday demonstration.

There is currently no public discussion of Trümmerfrauen or the complicity of women* in Dresden under Nazism. It doesn‘t have to stay that way. Maybe someone sees this as an impulse:
Trümmerfrauen attributed to a fast rebuilding of Germany. The only question is, why this is supposed to be great. In general, no one should have to ruin their spine by crushing stones – for Germany or any other idea. Whoever had to do it on orders of the Allies should be grateful that they didn‘t have it worse.
We can‘t blame each and every Trümmerfrau for having been a Nazi or having supported their ideas. But since this is the case for nearly all Germans, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that it was different for Trümmerfrauen. That they opposed the ideas of National Socialism is the absurd assumption.
German women* were in general neither any less at fault nor less responsible than any other member of the Volksgemeinschaft. The Volk didn‘t stop existing on 08/05/1945. Whenever ‚We are the Volk‘ is shouted on today’s Monday and Saturday demonstrations, it has to be taken seriously.

Antisemitic, anti-romanyist, racist, social-Darwinist and völkisch tendencies have to be fought against.

On 08/05/1945, only military intervention helped. What has to be done from a feminist and critical perspective today, that’s what needs to be discussed.

No peace for the Volk.

  1. http://www.frauenstadtarchiv.de/ [zurück]
  2. 2Even though we recognise categories of gender as constructions, the binary gender system and its ‚natural‘ attributes is a social reality that confronts us ever so often. For this reason, we use the term ‚women‘, but we mark it with an appendix. [zurück]
  3. Radonic http://jungle-world.com/artikel/2006/21/17545.html [zurück]
  4. http://www.frauenstadtarchiv.de/fsa-dresden_broschuere-truemmerfrauen.pdf [zurück]
  5. http://www.frauenstadtarchiv.de/fsa-dresden_broschuere-truemmerfrauen.pdf [zurück]
  6. http://www.frauenstadtarchiv.de/fsa-dresden_broschuere-truemmerfrauen.pdf [zurück]
  7. http://www.frauenstadtarchiv.de/fsa-dresden_broschuere-truemmerfrauen.pdf [zurück]
  8. http://www.spd-frauen-dresden.de/index.php?mod=content&menu=90401&page_id=2074 [zurück]
  9. http://www.frauenstadtarchiv.de/fsa-dresden_broschuere-truemmerfrauen.pdf [zurück]