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"Healthy Woman - Healthy Nation"

A Nazi propaganda film demonstrates fitness routines for German women.
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Courtesy of the Bundesarchiv

Nazi ideology placed great importance on promoting the health and physical strength of the so-called Volksgemeinschaft  (German racial community). The regime sponsored many sporting events and athletic activities for “Aryan” citizens through Nazi youth groups and the “Strength through Joy” program (Kraft durch Freude).1 Nazi public health officials urged every German to exercise regularly, but the regime encouraged men and women to do very different types of exercises.

The featured propaganda film shows young women performing group exercises and helping children with their gymnastics. Created in 1937, “Healthy Woman - Healthy Nation” demonstrates the Nazi ideal of young “Aryan” women making themselves fit and strong so they can become healthy mothers. Similar propaganda films of young German men exercising in the Hitler Youth show them hiking mountains and doing military exercises. Particularly in the years before World War II, the Nazi regime encouraged young German women to practice graceful, coordinated exercises intended to develop feminine grace and a spirit of camaraderie and solidarity.2

Although there was nothing especially unusual at the time about separate gender roles being reflected in men’s and women’s athletic activities, the different types of exercises promoted by the regime demonstrate how Nazi ideology imagined the primary roles of men and women. Young men received physical conditioning and military training for their future roles as soldiers, and young women did exercises to prepare them for lives as wives and mothers of large families for the Reich.3 Many German women sought professional careers in spite of the regime’s propaganda, and Nazi policies had complex and uneven effects on their career opportunities.4 

The regime promoted an idealized vision of large German families with mothers as primary caregivers for the children, but Nazi propaganda also encouraged men to play an active role in their children’s upbringing. Displaying images of German men in uniform holding their children, articles such as “Is This Unmanly?” suggested that "there is probably nothing more manly" than being a father as well as a soldier. Although the regime pushed very specific gender roles, labor shortages and the changing dynamics of World War II created many exceptions to the Nazis’ idealized gender roles. Military service kept many fathers from spending time with their families, and German mothers were often forced to find work outside of the home to support their children.5

“Strength through Joy” was designed to create popular support for the Nazi regime by providing German workers with tourism and leisure activitiesFor more on "Strength through Joy," see the related Experiencing History item, Photograph of "Strength through Joy" Event at Strandbad Wannsee.

For more about Nazi ideals of women and femininity, see Dagmar Herzog, ed., Sexuality and German Fascism (New York: Berghahn Books, 2005); and Jill Stephenson, Women in Nazi Germany (New York: Longman, 2001). See also the Experiencing History collection, Gender, Sexuality, and the Holocaust.

For more on Nazi ideology, physical conditioning, and the regime's idealized gender roles for women and soldiers, see Lisa Pine, "Education and Socialisation: Imbuing German Society with Nazi Family Ideals," in Nazi Family Life, 1933–1945 (Oxford: Berg, 1997): 47–87; and Gerhard Rempel, "Contestants, Boxers, Combatants," in Hitler's Children: The Hitler Youth and the SS, 1933–1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989): 173–204.

The regime introduced policies encouraging women to adopt roles that Nazi ideology deemed appropriate, but labor shortages caused by World War II also provided some German women with new opportunities to pursue their careers. To learn more about Nazi gender policies and women’s professional opportunities in the Third Reich, see Michelle Mouton, "From Adventure and Advancement to Derailment and Demotion: Effects of Nazi Gender Policy on Women’s Careers and Lives," Journal of Social History 43, no. 4 (Summer 2010): 945–971.

For more on gender and family life under Nazi rule, see the Experiencing History collection, Family Life During the Holocaust.

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 [Narrative introduction to the film; not featured in selected clip]

"For women, the mothers of the future generations, the greatest asset is a healthy mind in a healthy body. Therefore a woman’s daily duties include the training of the body. Women’s sports must differ from men’s sports. Breaking records is a matter for men. Sports should give a woman more than just strength, joy, and gracefulness. The sports organization of the new Germany makes it possible for every woman to pursue the types of sports that are best and healthiest for her."

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Courtesy of the Bundesarchiv
Accession Number 2002.542.1
RG Number 60.3405
Source Number 2559
Date Created
1937
Duration 00:02:30
Time Selection 01:15–03:45
Sound Yes
Videographer / Creator
Gösta Nordhaus
Language(s)
German
Location
Germany
Moving Image Type Newsreel
Description The featured propaganda film shows young women performing group exercises and helping children with their gymnastics.
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