Thursday, July 29, 2004

Strange Emancipation

[Side note: This is my 100th post here.]

Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace has an article about the experiences of women in Alsace during World War II and the annexation of the departments to Germany.

The Reich compelled many Alsatian men to serve in the Wehrmacht, often threatening their families. Compelling Alsatian men to service created holes in the labor force of the departments. 10,000 workers were withdrawn from industries that built arms that contributed to supplying the German war effort.

The Gaulieter (I think his name was Wagner--the article does not give his name) decreed that women between 16 and 45 were obliged to work. The decrees were reinforced with measures to shut down numerous small enterprises (shops and such) that tended to employ women in order to make their employees available. Consequently, the Alsatian workforce increased by 10,000 people from its previous levels.

As the war continued, the Gauleiter increased demands on women workers. The number of hours that they were required to work changed from 50 hours to 56 hours, then again to 72 hours, per week. However, the continual expansion of the work week did little to increase productivity. Instead, it resulted in absenteeism (at a rate of 8% in some factories).

The article argues that these unfortunate women were somewhat like Rosie the riveter: they took jobs in fields that were dominated by men. The fact that they were compelled to work, as well as to do so for NS Germany, makes this "liberation" very problematic. The opportunity to be in essential industries also gave women the ability to resist in important arenas, something that is reflected in the rate of absenteeism.

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