The family was central to Nazi ideology – people were encouraged to get married and have children. Honeymooning couples were given a copy of Mein Kampf to savour. Abortion was made illegal and the purchase of contraceptives frowned upon. Financial incentives were given to parents to have children by means of loans where the interest rate fell with each new child. By the fourth child the interest would be cancelled out.
Each year, on 12 August (the birthday of Hitler’s mother), the Motherhood Cross was awarded to mothers of large families: a Motherhood Iron Cross for mothers of four children, up a sliding scale culminating in the Cross of Gold and Diamond for those with ten children. For these finest examples of motherhood, Hitler acted as honorary godfather. Hitler Youth boys were expected to salute bearers of the cross. The mother was a heroine: ‘I have donated a child to the Führer,’ read one famous poster. The mother, according to Hitler, held the same rank of honour in society as the soldier.
Women were told not to work and they were certainly not allowed to be part of the Nazi hierarchy: ‘I detest women who dabble in politics,’ said Hitler, ‘in no local section of the party has a woman ever had the right to hold even the smallest post.’ The woman’s place was very much in the home. Women were encouraged to join the various Nazi leagues – the National Socialist Womanhood being one – while girls joined the female equivalent of the Hitler Youth, the League of German Maidens.
By 1939 almost 90 per cent of boys were members of the Hitler Youth. With slogans like ‘We are born to die for Germany’, the boys attended frequent classes and summer camps where physical activity and outdoor skills went hand in hand with Nazi indoctrination.
For the ‘handicapped’, either mentally or physically, the Law for the Prevention of Progeny with Hereditary Diseases (1933) meant compulsory sterilization. By 1937 almost 200,000 adults or ‘useless mouths’ had been sterilized.