The researcher, Wendy Lower, an American historian now living in Munich, has drawn attention to the number of seemingly ordinary German women who willingly went out to the Nazi-occupied eastern territories as part of the war effort, to areas where genocide was openly occurring.
"Thousands would be a conservative estimate," Ms. Lower
said in an interview in Jerusalem last week.
While most did not bloody their own hands, the acts of those who did seemed all the more perverse because they operated outside the concentration camp system, on their own initiative.
findings shed new light on the Holocaust from a gender perspective, according to experts, and have further underlined the importance of the role of the lower echelons in the Nazi killing apparatus.
Ms. Lower, 45, presented her work for the first time at this summer's workshop at Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research.
has been trying to decipher what motivated these women to commit such crimes.
"They challenge so deeply our notion" of what constitutes normal female behavior, she
But the Nazi system, she
added, "turned everything on its head."
Ms. Lower said she worked for many years at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and is now teaching and researching at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat in Munich .
began traveling to Ukraine in the early 1990s, as the Soviet archives opened up.
started in Zhytomyr, about 75 miles west of Kiev, where the SS leader Heinrich Himmler had his
Ukrainian headquarters, and where she
found original German files, some burned at the edges, in the local archive.
noticed the frequency with which women were mentioned at the scenes of genocide.
For women from working-class families or farms in Germany, the occupied zones offered an attractive opportunity to advance themselves, Ms. Lower
Only 1 or 2 percent of the perpetrators were women, according to Ms. Lower
They were acquitted both times because of contradictions that arose in the testimonies of witnesses gathered over 20 years, the former chief prosecutor in the case told Ms. Lower