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