Author: Amy Carney, Pennsylvania State University, History, USA
Key words: Nazi Germany; SS family community; Second World War; population and demographic policies
The First World War was demographically devastating for most of the belligerent nations. Millions of wartime deaths stripped these countries not only of their youngest and most fit men, but their potential offspring as well. Germany was among the nations affected by this loss, and German eugenicists were all too aware of the consequences resulting from it. Their attempts to encourage the Imperial government to be proactive and to limit losses during the war had failed, yet these physicians and scientists redoubled their efforts after the war to persuade the new Weimar government to take the regulation of the health and well-being of its population seriously. They had been making some headway in the 1920s, but the real catalyst for propelling population politics to the center of political life was the rise to power of the Nazi Party in 1933.
The Nazi government implemented a wide range of positive and negative initiatives before and during the Second World War that were designed to reshape the population. In addition to government action, one branch of the Nazi Party, the SS, sought to be proactive in regulating the reproductive decisions of its members. The purpose of this organizational oversight into the private lives of SS men and their wives was part of a larger goal. SS leaders wanted to transform their organization into an elite family community that could serve as the racial aristocracy of the Third Reich. They implemented numerous measures throughout the 1930s to achieve this objective.
SS leaders had no intention of letting the Second World War impede their efforts. They continued to advance the family community with the expectation that the SS would have a leading role in postwar Germany. Among the measures implemented during the war were decrees that sought to promote reproduction, especially the October 1939 procreation order and the August 1942 last sons order. Vacation policies were amended, too, to favor married men and to provide them with extra opportunities to rendezvous with their wives for the purpose of trying to conceive. The aim of such commands and policies was to prevent a repeat of the demographic decline that Germany had experienced in the First World War and, in doing so, to have the SS serve as a role model for the rest of the German population.