With all the stress of solidifying the Third Reich’s domination in Europe, the German Nazi soldiers had to unwind somehow – but who would have thought their version of fun would include dressing up in women’s clothing?
This paradoxical phenomenon was discovered by artist Martin Dammann who was researching the lives of the Nazi soldiers and happened to uncover a series of amateur photographs showing numerous male soldiers meticulously dressed as women. In these photographs, the men are seen wearing makeup, women’s lingerie, draping gowns, and posing quite confidently, some even with shaved legs. Through careful examination of the photos, it is clear that the soldiers weren’t just sloppily throwing on female clothing to take a few funny pictures. They took pride and care in how they looked, with head scarves tied carefully around their heads, and in the case of wearing a female Nazi uniform – not a button was out of place. The crossdressing occurred at parties as a way to relax and have fun at the end of the day.
It seems that these crossdressing parties were a form of entertainment for the bored Nazi soldiers (many of whom probably hadn’t seen a woman in a long time). In response to the photographs, sociologist Harald Welzer argues that this behavior should not be seen as something “unusual” or “restricted.” He states in an interview with the Daily Mail that “as paradoxical as it may seem, these photographs of Wehrmacht soldiers in female underwear, on first glance so exotic, actually corroborate the normality of the situation, and not its exceptionality, precisely in times of war.” While the photographs do show the crossdressing men posing confidently together, sometimes with their arms around each other, in none of them will you see any explicit sexual behavior. There is no kissing, not sitting on each other’s laps, just a lot of singing, smiling, and dancing.
There is no doubt that war takes a large toll on everyone involved, but it is surprising that the way these soldiers chose to have fun seems to directly go against the philosophy of the regime they were fighting for. Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich took a strong stance against the homosexual community in Germany beginning in 1933, when gay organizations and books discussing homosexuality (and sexuality in general) were banned. Additionally, homosexuals within the Nazi Party itself were not safe from persecution and were often murdered. In fact, the European Parliament recently adopted a resolution on the Holocaust to include the direct persecution of the homosexual community. While today we know that cross-dressing and homosexuality do not necessarily correlate, it is clear that at the time in Nazi Germany, everyone was expected to conform to what the Party deemed sexually acceptable, making the flamboyant crossdressing soldiers’ behavior seem bold (and dangerous) given their positions.
It is interesting to see this group of soldiers that are widely thought of as heartless, almost inhuman extensions of the Nazi Party engaging in such vulnerable and unusual behavior when the sun goes down. They are humans after all – they had thoughts, desires, and a need to have fun; and while these photographs may reveal the more sensitive side of this group of men, it also sadly illustrates that they were able to entertain themselves (and have fun) while carrying out the most murderous and destructive regime in human history.