… Every time another memorial goes up in the “rubble woman’s” honor, German politicians look to what former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said in Munich in 2005. The rubble-clearing women in the aftermath of WWII are “a symbol of the German people’s wish to rebuild and of their powers of survival,” he said, adding that the Munich monument “commemorates the large number of women who volunteered to clear the ruins.”
Wrong, says historian Leonie Treber. Neither was there a great number of women, nor did most of them volunteer to clear the rubble, the researcher says. “The Trümmerfrau is a German legend.”
Yet it wasn’t just the women who were reserved when it came to clearing the war debris; men weren’t crazy about the task, either. In the eyes of the Germans, it was anything but honorable for people to show their “willingness to rebuild.” In fact, most Germans regarded clearing rubble as punishment – and for a reason.
During the war, the Nazis made soldiers, the Hitler Youth, forced laborers, prisoners of war and concentration camp prisoners clear the bombed cities after Allied air raids. In 1945, after the end of the war, prisoners of war and former members of the NSDAP Nazi party took their place. When that turned out to be insufficient, the population was asked to help – on a voluntary basis in the West, but usually against their will in the Soviet occupation zone.