Freie Universität Berlin

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Amy Edwards, University of California, San Diego, History

Serving the Volksgemeinschaft: German Nurses in the Second World War

In my dissertation, I will examine the experiences, actions, and motivations of women working as nurses for the German Red Cross during the Second World War. As part of their duties, these nurses provided male soldiers with medical care, food, and care packages. Thus, because of the nature of their work, these women came into intimate contact with German soldiers and the grim reality of war on the Eastern Front. By investigating the nature of their experiences, I hope to draw conclusions about how these aid workers conceived of their place in the war and in German society in terms of race, agency, and responsibility. In doing so, my research will shed light on the ways in which perpetration and resistance took on specifically gendered forms and how humanitarian aid workers dealt with the conflict between their positions as neutral caregivers and as German citizens living under the Nazi regime. This project thus aims to widen the historical discussion of the relationship between gender, genocide, and humanitarian aid. In addition, my project moves beyond the war itself in order to answer the question of how these women’s wartime activities were remembered, both publicly and privately, and what these memories meant for the women themselves and the two postwar German publics. My dissertation will analyze the different memories and the reasons for their formation and transformation. This task is important because it can demonstrate how the memory of these women was neglected or altered in larger processes of forgetting and coming to terms with the past and in reconstructing the image of the German Red Cross after 1945.