chapter  12
19 Pages

Women’s crimes, state crimes: abortion in Nazi Germany*

WithGabriele Czarnowski

On 29 May 1935, just over two years after Hitler’s assumption of power, the domestic servant Hedwig F.1 and her child died in a hospital in Munich. Despite the fact that she was in the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy, two weeks earlier Munich’s Hereditary Health Court had ruled that she was to be sterilized on account of schizophrenia.2 Instead of waiting until after the birth to perform the operation, the public health officer in charge of the case not only initiated immediate compulsory sterilization but also ensured that the advanced pregnancy was “interrupted” for eugenic reasons. He based his decision on an illegal circular from the head of the Reich Medical Board to the German medical profession, made without the knowledge of the courts and the ministries. Hedwig F. haemorrhaged to death from the caesarian section undertaken to induce premature birth. Her child lived for half an hour, perhaps dying from the absence of routine natal care. For this reason, Ms. F.’s acting guardian submitted criminal charges against the participating physicians to the Munich public prosecutor’s office. With the agreement of the Reich Minister of Justice the prosecutor’s office halted the proceedings in January 1936.3

During the afternoon of 24 October 1944, in the last few months of the Second World War, the former midwife Marie B. was executed in Hamburg at the age of 77. Although her criminal record was otherwise clear, seven months earlier the Hamburg regional superior court (Landgericht) had sentenced Marie B. as a “dangerous habitual offender” to 12 years’ penal servitude for 29 counts of “commercial abortion”4 committed between 1935 and February 1943. She admitted to having performed abortions over a period of decades and estimated the total number to be around 150. Following an appeal by the public prosecutor’s office, the Supreme Court changed the sentence to the death penalty. Although

* Translated by Marlene Schoofs

even the Hamburg Gauleiter was in favour of a pardon in view of the woman’s advanced age, this was denied by the Reich Minister of Justice citing “authorization by the Führer”, and the sentence was carried out.5