Historian Examines the Role of Women Guards in Nazi Concentration Camps

There were approximately 3,500 women who served as guards at Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Some of the women volunteered for service, but many were conscripted. The average age was 26, but some were only 17 or 18. These women guards have been portrayed as highly cruel and sadistic, even more so than male guards.

But doctoral research by Shelly Cline, now a public historian at the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education in Overland Park, Kansas, questions the commonly held perception that women guards were more evil than their male counterparts. In research for her doctoral dissertation, Dr. Cline found that women guards “were adhering not to a predictable female code of behavior but rather to a male military code of behavior that governed camp. They acted outside the gender norm. At the same time, they don’t have their own space there, and they don’t fit in because they are a female minority in a predominantly male workplace. There is a different expectation of women in terms of behavior.”

Dr. Cline found that women guards were berated more so than male guards by prosecutors at war crimes trials. Dr. Cline said of the trials that she examined, 84 percent of the women on trial were convicted compared with 50 percent of the men. Dr. Cline believes that the gender discrepancy in convictions was due to the fact that the women were less guarded about what happened while the men likely were more savvy in their navigation and admitted to less. The women did not understand how to lie advantageously, Cline believes.

Dr. Cline received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Kansas in May.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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