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Postwar Germany has two iconic views of women — the Trummerfrau and what the GIs called Veronika Dankeschön. Of course not every woman could be squeezed into one category or other, but they reflect two extreme ways women made do in the postwar world.

Bundesarchiv

Bundesarchiv

I’ll start with the “heroic” icon, the Trummerfrau. It literally means “rubble woman,” and that’s exactly what they were, the women who hammered bricks, shifted the ruins off the streets, salvaged materials for reconstruction. In Berlin alone, about 60,000 women did this work for the extra rations they were entitled to. A woman whose main job was mother and hausfrau received a lot less to eat than the women who cleared the streets. Food rations were everything, especially when the women supported old people and children in the home.

They had to. Their men were missing, killed, severely wounded or emotionally scarred. Suicides after the war were likely to be men. For those few immediate postwar years, the women held society together and laid the groundwork for the country Germany would become, an unusual freedom that would evaporate in the 1950s.

The opposite of the trouser-wearing, dusty, hard working Trummerfrau was the girl people in the era would call “loose,” to put it mildly. The Veronika Dankeschön — the initials purposely spell VD, a serious problem in the postwar world —  used her sex to get the basic things she needed and wanted. Nylons were the stereotype, but women went out with Allied soldiers for many other reasons — food and cigarettes, new music in the Allied clubs, even the hope of marrying and being taken to another country. There was a shortage of German men and a surplus of Allied men, so none of this was a surprise.

Not every woman who went out with an Allied soldier was a Veronika. Plenty of young German women just wanted to have some fun after the war, meet new people, open up to the world. Many did eventually marry. But the Germans as a whole looked warily at the girl who dated an Allied soldier. She might be called an Ami-liebchen (American-lover), a term just short of prostitute.

Once (western) German society stabilized in the 1950s, the Trummerfrau and the Veronika made way for the new ideal of German women. It looked a lot like the old one — respectable wife and mother, a support for her man. What women did in the immediate postwar years to keep their families fed, have fun or seek advantages was swept under the rug. An embarrassment for some, a cause for shame. The postwar years were considered immoral, a time most Germans wanted to forget almost as much as they wanted to forget the war.

*Photo 1: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-25093-0003 / CC-BY-SA [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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