Dictating the Holocaust: Female administrators of the Third Reich

Rachel Century

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis investigates the background, activities, and motivations of German women who provided administrative support for Nazi institutions and agencies of the Third Reich. It compares women who specifically chose to serve the Nazi cause in voluntary roles with those who took on such work as a progression of established careers. Using a variety of sources, including post-war testimony in
criminal cases, it shows how much they knew about the repressive and genocidal aspects of the regime and evaluates the role that ideology, as against other factors, played in their loyalty to their employers.

Secretaries, SS-Helferinnen (SS female auxiliaries) and Nachrichtenhelferinnen des Heeres (female communication auxiliaries of the army) held similar jobs: taking dictation, answering telephones, and sending telegrams. Yet their backgrounds differed markedly. While secretaries were habitually recruited on the basis of their prior experience and competencies, the Helferinnen predominantly volunteered, sometimes motivated by ideology and the opportunity to serve their country, sometimes enticed by the prospect of foreign travel or the lure of the uniform.

The thesis sheds light on these women’s backgrounds: their social status, education, career patterns. It seeks to explain the situations and motives that propelled them into their positions and explores what they knew about the true nature of their work. These women often had access to information about the
administration of genocide and are a relatively untapped resource. Their recollections shed light on the lives and work of their superiors, the mundane tasks that contributed to the displacement, deportation and death of millions of people across Europe, and the extent to which information about these atrocities was communicated and comprehended. Attention is paid to the specific role played by gender amongst perpetrators of the Holocaust. The question of how gender intersected with National Socialism, repression, atrocity and genocide forms the conceptual thread linking the separate chapters on these three groups of women who had varied backgrounds and degrees of initial commitment to Nazi ideology.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Cesarani, David, Supervisor
Award date1 Apr 2013
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013


  • Holocaust
  • second world war

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