The XX Factor

At Least You’re Not at Nazi Bride School

A portrait of Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, a Nazi Party member and leader of the National Socialist Women’s League in Nazi Germany.

Photo by Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images

I defy you, this Tuesday, to dream up something more horrifying than the phrase “Nazi bride school.” As The New Yorker reports, these training academies for Reich wives-to-be cropped up throughout the late 1930s to usher young maidens toward their spiritual and reproductive destinies. Classes designed to “mould housewives out of office girls” covered cooking, ironing, gardening, child care, appropriate cocktail conversation, how to polish boots and daggers, and more. Students also took a series of oaths: They pledged undying fealty to Hitler, promised to get married in a neo-pagan ceremony presided over by a government official (rather than in church), and vowed to raise their children in harmony with party principles. Upon completing the course, women were issued certificates of accomplishment—stamped with the Germanic tree of life—and encouraged to go forth and multiply.

The bride schools, known as Reichsbräuteschules, initially only accepted women engaged to members of the SS. (They were barred from enrollment if they had Jewish or gypsy heritage, physical disability, or mental illness.) Yet within a few years, the academies were welcoming any bride-to-be with the necessary racial prerequisites.

A curriculum unearthed last week in the German National Archive evinces exactly the kind of enlightenment you’d expect from a bunch of Nazis. (“Take hold of the frying pan, dust pan, and broom, and marry a man!” was one of Hermann Goering’s “Nine Commandments for the Workers’ Struggle.”) As Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, leader of the NS-Frauenschaft and the highest-ranking woman in the Third Reich, said in a speech to the party Congress in 1935, “Women must be the spiritual caregivers and the secret queens of our people, called upon by fate for this special task!” To become those queens, the future hearth goddesses of the Rhine were to spend “preferably two months before their wedding day” in bridal boot camp: “to recuperate spiritually and physically, to forget the daily worries associated with their previous professions, to find the way and to feel the joy for their new lives as wives.”

It’s hard to know exactly what that means—the volk mysticism is laid on pretty thick—but photos from the Archive show crisply dressed students marching through hayfields, bustling around kitchens, hemming one another’s clothes, and arranging herbs. What else did they do? Oh, “acquire a special knowledge of race and genetics” so that they might fulfill their calling as “sustainers of the race.” (Meanwhile, in the Wannsee Conference House just across the road, senior officials plotted the Final Solution.)

The Third Reich awarded bronze “Crosses of Honor” to German mothers who bore four or five children, silver to those with six or seven, and gold to those with eight or more. And, according to the Telegraph, “newlyweds were given a state loan of 1,000 reichsmarks (approximately 4,900 dollars) of which they were allowed to keep a quarter for each child they had—in effect, a bribe to procreate.” “Secret queen” and “spiritual caregiver” sounds nicer than “conveyor belt for genetically pure babies,” I guess. In any case, Scholtz-Klink and other top officials doubted women were going to realize Nazism’s grand national promise by exercising their minds.