Working girl

A Jungführerin of the Reichsarbeitsdienst der weiblichen Jugend (RAD/wJ, Female Youth National Labor Service) with her floppy hat and swastika-adorned brooch. At the same time that the RAD was officially established in July, 1934, it was also divided into separate sections for males and for females. The Reichsarbeitdienst Männer, or RAD/M, was set up for men, and the Reichsarbeitdienst der weiblichen Jugend, or RAD/wJ, for females. All young women between 18 and 21 years of age were expected to serve. For women the period of service had been six months since 1939, but this was often extended by an emergency service obligation. In July 1941, the service was extended by a further six months to twelve months, extended to 18 months in April 1944, and finally made indefinite in November 1944. The extra (wo)manpower gained by the extended service term of 1944 was mainly used for anti-aircraft defense.

The female RAD replaced male agricultural workers as they entered Wehrmacht service, but they also joined the workforce in offices, in the armaments industry, and in public transport. Their main tasks were to assist peasant families with childcare and as teachers or nurses, or to work in the household, in the field, or taking care of farm animals, milking cows, and so on.

The daily routine, with its detailed schedules, left the members of the RAD/wJ with little time at their own disposal and resembled that of the soldiers: not counting the lunch break, the work hours amounted to about 76 hours per week. Also, the evenings were usually planned, and with no time for activities outside of the camp; this required special permission, as in the case of the military. The RAD completely replaced the existing social environment. Thus, a collective identity was to be developed in the new “community”, indoctrinating the RAD/wJ members into the Nazi state.

Women were also able to serve as Wehrmachthelferinnen (Army female auxiliaries), like telephone operators (“Blitzmädel“). To this end, the period of service was extended by six months. From 1944 the RAD/wJ was also used for the operation of anti-aircraft searchlights in support of anti-aircraft guns and Luftwaffe nightfighter units.

The manpower shortages required that women served, just like in many other countries affected by the war. For the Nazis, women were mainly to be mothers and to take care of the household. The war production relied on slave and forced labor, which often resulted in sabotaged munitions and other war materiél. Had German women been employed earlier, the war industry might’ve run smoother.

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Picnic in wartime

Thursday 8th June 1944, outside Turin, Italy. An SS-Untersturmführer (Lieutenant, standing) and a Fallschirmjäger (sitting in front of him) enjoy a day out together with a couple of Wehrmachthelferinnen (female Army auxiliaries), two civilian women and a little girl. The woman in the floral pattern dress (probably the mother of the girl) has donned the SS officer’s peaked cap, the silver death’s head glinting in the sun. It looks idyllic, but the people in the photo don’t know that there’s just eleven months left of the war. On 4 June, Allied troops captured Rome, and two days later Allied forces landed in Normandy. The Third Reich is crumbling around them, but perhaps they think that the vengance weapons or some other miracle the propaganda talks about will turn the tide of the war.

The female auxiliaries wear the lightning emblem of the signals troops on the sleeves of their white dresses, identifying them as telephone or radio operators. Over half a million German women served as auxiliaries for shorter or longer periods during the war, more than half of them as volunteers, the rest as conscripts. Those in signals capacity were known as “Blitzmädel“, “lightning-girls”, because of the signals troops patch. Other served as Flakhelferinnen (female anti-aircraft auxiliaries), manning searchlights, rangefinders, listening equipment, and even AA guns. It isn’t known how many women were killed while in service of the Wehrmacht.

North by Northeast

Gebirgsjäger (mountain ranger) posing together with a couple of young Sami women (in traditional clothing), Finnish Lapland, probably the winter of 1941-42. The truck to the left and the trailer carry the Edelweiss flower emblem of the 6. Gebirgs-Division. The other truck has the tactical sign of a mountain ranger motorized signals company vehicle. The firewood on the trailer and in the sack will be welcome in the sub-Arctic cold.

It might appear strange that at least four mountain ranger divisions were sent to the Finnish Lapland front, as the tallest mountain in that part of Finland is Korvatunturi (486 meters/1594 feet over the sea), which to people raised in the Alps is nothing more than a speed bump. The reason was that they were considered experts in winter warfare, but as their Finnish brothers-in-arms were under diplomatic pressure to not launch any major offensive on the port city of Murmansk or the railroad carrying supplies to the south, the front was relatively quiet for long periods of time.

A little-known fact is that Sweden allowed the Germans to use a couple of large warehouses outside the port of Luleå for storing supplies (mostly foodstuff) for the troops in Norway and Finland. They were destroyed in a fire in 2016.

Girlfriends

Her name was Gudrun Halenzik. On the back of the photo postcard, she wrote “Thanks for being a good schoolmate”, dating it 19 March, 1941. I doubt someone would don her friend’s Feldwebel (Master Sergeant) uniform and just write him a card, though, without having fond feelings for him. Maintaining a long distance relationship is hard enough in peacetime, and more than doubly so during war. Home leave was infrequent, and any hope for getting back home for a longer period of time would be to complete an academic degree, NCO and officer training courses, or convalesence. Break-ups were not uncommon; getting that “Dear John” (or rather “Dear Johann”) letter could make a soldier turn fatalistic.