Nearly 500,000 young German women served in uniform with the German armed forces in the Second World War yet their history is rarely recalled in Germany and is virtually unknown in the Anglophone world. Recruited into the military against Nazi ideological norms to meet a desperate shortage of manpower, the status of these Wehrmachthelferinnen (armed forces’ auxiliaries) remained questionable. Indispensable to military communications and administration, by the end of the war they also served in the front line in forward army groups and anti-aircraft batteries. Records indicate that around 25,000 were captured in the East alone and taken as forced labourers to the Soviet Union; only 5,000 returned home and then not until the early 1950s.
The Wehrmachthelferinnen’s technical civil status appeared theoretical at best; they performed many of the same tasks as Allied servicewomen in similar formations and conditions. The British WRNS, WRAF and ATS contribution to the war effort is well-known and celebrated, both officially and in popular culture. But what is known of their German counterparts? During a conversation with a German friend, the author was fascinated by an anecdote about her friend’s grandmother who had worn a German Army uniform in the war. The author wanted to find out more and started digging.
This study, which became a master’s dissertation, was the result of that curiosity.