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The SS counted on the gratitude and loyalty of these willing and tractable recruits. For women who had to make their own living and sometimes help their families as well, service in the SS was an important step up the social ladder and offered welcome financial security. As guards, the women gained the status of employees of the Reich, with salaries fixed according to the civil service pay scale.

Once social security contributions, tax, and the cost of board and lodging in the SS sector of the camp were deducted, this left As a guard, Braunsteiner earned nearly twice as she had as a factory worker. Service in the SS offered them job security and, for their social level, very good wages, along with privileges cheap accommodation and meals, uniform, etc. Applying for such a job did not necessarily imply any political commitment or ideological motivation, but rather the desire for higher social status and a degree of comfort.

Historians often seem surprised that these women signed up voluntarily, but our research shows the logic of their choice. Nonetheless it is true that the young women who were recruited in , at the height of Nazi triumphalism, showed few signs of any scruples. Like everyone in Nazi Germany, they would have heard reports and rumours about the concentration camps, which until mainly held German and Austrian political prisoners 8.

But the fresh recruits probably had no clear idea of what awaited them, and they did not ask themselves too many questions. They became that in a specific social context and a specific institutional space. The concentration camp was a socio-cultural environment and a living and working reality that the guards experienced, interpreted and adapted in different and contradictory ways. The beginners usually appeared frightened upon first contact with the camp, and it took some time to attain the level of cruelty and debauchery of their seniors.

Some of us made a rather grim little game of measuring the time it took for a new Aufseherin to win her stripes. As for the others, a week or two, a month at the most, was an average orientation period. Tillion, It only took a few weeks to transform the shocked, frightened and clumsy newcomers into confident guards, capable of using verbal and physical violence on the prisoners. What happened during the first weeks? How was training carried out? What did it mean for a young woman recruit to live in a concentration camp and wear a uniform? In order to explore the process of initiation and adaptation of the SS women to the reality of the camps, we propose two lines of enquiry: the power to act, and the experience of power through architecture and the uniform.

Of course concentration camps were institutions where people were imprisoned and supervised, on the basis of criteria that were initially political and subsequently racial. But for the SS personnel, these same camps were also places where they lived and worked, run according to military rules. Life at the camp was a barracks life, if by barracks we understand an enclosed living and working environment, access to which is regulated and supervised.

The guards could only go out through an official exit and needed a pass to do so. Their use of time, their space, their movements and their activities were all organised and regulated according to military rules. As Foucault has argued, discipline organises an analytical space which arranges the circulation and movements of people and distributes bodies in space and time Foucault, — Institutions like the convent, the boarding school, the factory, the barracks, the hospital, just like the concentration camps, all make use of the same meticulous techniques, innocent in appearance, which until now have lost none of their power.

The houses and flats built for the female guards remain unique in the Nazic oncentrational system. Eight houses were arranged symmetrically in two rows around a wide square, lending a certain majesty to the group of buildings. According to the anthropologist Insa Eschebach, the arrangement and architectural style of the houses express the self-concept of the SS. They reflect the ideological frame and life world inhabited by the SS personnel Eschebach, Each house contained ten single-occupant studio flats on two floors, and four single attic rooms, thus accommodating up to 14 guards.

On each floor five residents shared toilets, a bathroom, and a small kitchen. If we take into account the conditions in which most of the guards had lived with their families until then, like Braunsteiner who shared a small three-room flat with seven people, the accommodation was impressively modern and comfortable.

Their uniforms, too, played an important role in the experience of power.


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Upon arrival the new recruits each received two uniforms summer and winter , two pairs of boots, a pair of gloves, stockings, blouses, a field cap, and sports kit From its inception, Nazi society was a society of uniforms. Women had worn them since they joined the work force en masse during the First World War — as postwomen, ticket inspectors, etc. But the uniform acquired a very different meaning under Nazism. It was no longer just work clothing but a sign of belonging to a community, to a political elite established according to racial criteria.

Although the status and duties of female guards were comparable to that of their male counterparts, subtle distinctions were still apparent in the dress code. They had to be content with the imperial eagle, an emblem reserved for state functionaries. Nonetheless, their uniform was still charged with significant political and social meaning, for the wearer and the observer.

It marked out these civilian employees as legitimate representatives of the Nazi state. The uniform concealed individual features and character traits behind those of the group.

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Their wearers enjoyed a common feeling of power and belonging. The uniform contributes to forging an esprit de corps , even though it does not exclude hierarchies of rank and frictions within the group. In her study of SS men, the political scientist Paula Diehl has clearly shown the dividing line traced between those who belong to the group and those who are excluded.


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  • This division of power also applies to the female guards Diehl, f. The question of the aura of the uniform was never discussed by former guards. But it occupies a very important place in the memoirs of former deportees.

    Dachau and the SS

    Even before they received their field-grey uniforms, they all came in a body to see the chief overseer. Most of them were plainly and rather poorly dressed, and stood shyly in the office, looking ill at ease and anxious; many did not know what to do with their hands.

    GERMANY: The NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMP of DACHAU, all areas shown

    Langefeld [the chief overseer, EM] told them which houses they would livein, where to get their uniforms and when their duties would commence. High leather boots already changed their manner; add a field cap cocked jauntily over one ear, and they started looking more self-confident.

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    Buber-Neumann, For the SS, the concentration camp was a disciplinary space. Barracks life and the uniform enabled the transformation of an assortment of unique individuals into a single homogenous group. These living spaces were also subject to the internal regulation of the camp, and inside them the guards observed and supervised themselves. But these physical and mental controls over the guards operated on a very small scale. Living in the camp thus meant limits and rules for the guards. But they also enjoyed certain privileges.

    The tasks of cooking, cleaning, washing up, ironing, were all performed by the camp prisoners, under their supervision.

    The Dachau Concentration Camp Was "An Academy Of Violence" | Sheldon Kirshner | The Blogs

    So the guards did not need to concern themselves with laundry or housework. Few of them would have had such luxury in their civilian lives. It is quite clear that camp life, at least at the start, offered the women a degree of comfort until then unimaginable: a room of their own, regular free time, a decent salary. The disciplinary control to which the guards were also subjected should therefore not be regarded as something purely negative —prohibition, law, restriction. Michel Foucault criticises the reduction of the concept of power to mere repression and negation, to you must not Foucault, To understand the workings of power it is also necessary to analyse its positive and productive dynamics.

    You will be surprised to receive these lines from me today.

    A Schooling in Violence

    Since this office post does not greatly suit me, I would like to ask you whether you might not have a position for me, in the camp administration if possible. I would gladly return to you. I do not enclose a cv since you will still remember my conduct in service. Should you require it, I could of course send it to you separately.

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    If a suitable post was available for me, I would be grateful if you could let me know soon since I have to give notice at my current post. I look forward to your answer in this matter and send you my greetings. Heil Hitler! Hildegard B But how are we to comprehend concentrational violence? Observing the everyday activities of the female guards can give us a better understanding of how the concentration camp worked as an institution, but also of the cultural and social function of physical violence.

    The principal task of SS personnel was to ensure the supervision and orderly management of the camp The regulations, the frequent warnings issued by the Chief Economic and Administrative Office of the SS for the camps in Oranienburg 15 Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt, WVHA , and messages from Heinrich Himmler himself, strictly forbade all gratuitous use of violence. View cookies policy.

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    We'll try and order for you. With Free Saver Delivery. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Share. Description Dachau and the SS studies the concentration camp guards at Dachau, the first SS concentration camp and a national 'school' of violence for its concentration camp personnel. Set up in the first months of Adolf Hitler's rule, Dachau was a bastion of the Nazi 'revolution' and a key springboard for the ascent of Heinrich Himmler and the SS to control of the Third Reich's terror and policing apparatus.

    This chapter focuses on the contribution of cultural ideals of masculinity to the Dachau SS, and their influence on social relations in the camp. The chapter also addresses the marriage approval process in the SS and focuses on the family life of SS men posted at Dachau. It looks at the impact of ideals of tough manliness, intolerance for foes, and male comradeship on perpetrator deportment and daily conduct. It appraises the gendered component of SS power in the camps, relative to the emasculation of the inmates.

    The chapter concludes with a comparative analysis of female concentration camp personnel, and a review of the legacy of the masculinist SS for the wartime era and the Holocaust. University Press Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter. Please, subscribe or login to access full text content.

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