NS-Frauen-Warte, first published in 1934, was the primary women's magazine in Nazi Germany propagating what was supposed to be the norm in Nazi society, in particular the looks and behaviour of an 'ideal German woman'. Ella Rossman, Student of the 'History of the Modern World' Master's Programme at the HSE School of History, analysed visual images presented in ten issues of the magazine published between July and December 1941 to examine National Socialist propaganda concerning family politics and women's roles.
The NS-Frauen-Warte magazine was founded by the official National Socialist Women's Organization (Nationalsozialistische Frauenschaft) in 1934 to serve as the primary propaganda vehicle targeting German women; it was the only women's magazine financed by the Nazi (National Socialist German Workers') Party. The party's support, among other factors, allowed NS-Frauen-Warte to increase its circulation to 1.9 million copies and become the largest media outlet in its market segment in 1939. Published once every two weeks until 1945, the magazine had a colour cover and a black and white interior.
Typically, women's magazines are designed to be flicked through, but the NS-Frauen-Warte publishers apparently assumed that their readers would slow down and peruse ideologically loaded editorial articles which contained no pictures and discussed current political issues of the time. These editorial pieces were followed by lighter illustrated stories about women in the Third Reich-friendly states (Japan and Italy) and the lives of farmers, workers and other social groups. The back of the magazine featured fashions, recipes, excerpts of novels, and advertisements.
In this way, the magazine made a fairly strong emphasis on social and political issues despite the officially proclaimed principle that women should focus primarily on private life, home and family.
The publication's target audience was limited to those women whom the Nazi ideologists and supporters of racial theory and eugenics considered 'superior', i.e. fitting the definition of physically and mentally healthy, heterosexual ethnic Germans, while those who did not fall within this definition were either ignored by official discourse or were depicted as 'enemies' deserving to be physically destroyed and forgotten.
Among other propaganda messages, the magazine promoted women's voluntary work to support the economy, as the Third Reich did not officially mobilise women on the home front. Many stories in the magazine praised and encouraged volunteers who contributed to various sectors of economy, including agriculture, but apparently, these messages did not bring any tangible results.
Nazi leaders were thinking of women as men's companions: wives, mothers and sisters, while men were given the role of masters of the world's fate. In other words, the Third Reich's ideology was based, inter alia , on the concept of 'divided gender spheres' meaning that gender strictly determined the types of roles and responsibilities 'naturally' befitting a person.
Stories and pictures published in NS-Frauen-Warte excluded members of a wide range of social groups — not just limited to 'non-Aryan' women but also those past childbearing age, etc. Most images were of young women, mothers and housewives, all looking very similar, tall and fit, with fair hair and blue eyes, a small waist and wide hips and shoulders.
Illustrations suggest that the magazine was intended mainly for women of the middle and upper middle classes; indeed, it is known from other sources that the Nazis targeted these particular classes with their election campaign messages and subsequent propaganda. The magazine's fashion column featured expensive outfits, furs and other clothes clearly unsuitable for hard work, and depicted women with neat makeup and perfect hair, wearing bright aprons and elegant gowns — never trousers — to do housework, thus sending a message of femininity to be followed.
In contrast, most men pictured in the magazine were uniformed military or Nazi party leaders. It is noteworthy that news from the front and descriptions of military equipment were featured alongside a discussion of evening dresses, cooking and childcare, presenting the war as just another aspect and an integral part of everyday life. Issue no. 2 of 1941, for example, published an article entitled 'Eternal German Fighter' just a few pages away from baby care tips. Likewise, in Issue no. 9 of the same year, an article entitled ‘Thanks to Mothers’ illustrated with a picture of a woman holding a baby immediately followed a piece on ‘Worldwide Fight Without Mercy’. On the magazine's pages, life was depicted side by side with death, new births with the ruthless killing of people, and the world of childhood with massacre.
Men's images in the magazine were associated with military symbols, e.g. soldiers were often shown on horseback holding weapons. In contrast, women were portrayed with household utensils, fashion items or children.
However, other than these attributes, there were few distinctions between the genders. Their physique was similar: both men and women were tall, fit and straight-backed, with almost identical facial features, postures and gestures, and appeared to be enjoying their perfect bodies. Taken from a low angle, photos showed people looking at the viewer from above, similarly to ceremonial portraits. Both men's and women's bodies shared the same type of physique and body language and both used a limited set of postures and gestures.
However, when 'non-Aryan' people appeared in the magazine, their physique was depicted in stark contrast to the 'heroic' body images of German men and women. In Issue no. 8, the article 'Who is Frau Kollontai?' is illustrated by a photo of Alexandra Kollontai. Of the many available pictures of the Soviet diplomat, the magazine publishers selected a rather unflattering one in which Kollontai, wearing a high-collar jacket, her hair matted, gives the viewer a sullen look. Kollontai appeared amorphous and bodiless, her gestures and posture diametrically opposed to those typically ascribed to ideal German men and women.
Many historians of Nazi Germany seek to understand how German soldiers justified their own crimes to themselves. According to some authors, many Nazi servicemen believed that they were defending their home, an ideal space of comfort and harmony, where 'their' women were waiting for them.
Based on the reviewed magazine publications, it is difficult to draw a clear boundary between the private, 'feminine' sphere and the war rhetoric. Everyday life as depicted in the women's magazine is rather vague and lifeless and appears to be secondary to the world of war and brute masculine dominance considered to be the highest value and essence of Nazi ideology.