Trümmerfrau (literally translated as ruins woman or rubble woman) is the German-language name for women who, in the aftermath of World War II, helped clear and reconstruct the bombed cities of Germany and Austria. With hundreds of cities having suffered significant bombing and firestorm damage through aerial attacks (and in some cases, ground fighting), and with many men dead or prisoners of war, this monumental task fell to a large degree on women.
Degree of damage
Four million out of the sixteen million homes[clarification needed] in Germany were destroyed during Allied bombings in World War II, with another four million damaged. Half of all school buildings, forty percent of the infrastructure, and many factories were either damaged or destroyed. According to estimates, there were about 400 million cubic metres of ruins.
Removal of ruins
Between 1945 and 1946, the Allied powers, in both West Germany and East Germany, ordered all women between 15 and 50 years of age to participate in the postwar cleanup. For this purpose, previous restrictive measures protecting women in the labor force were removed in July 1946. Recruitment of women was especially useful since at that time, because of the loss of men in the war, there were seven million more women than men in Germany.
Usually, private enterprises were given assignments to remove the ruins, together with a permit to employ the women for that purpose. The main work was to tear down those parts of buildings that had survived the bombings, but were unsafe and unsuitable for reconstruction. Usually, no heavy machinery was used. The main tools were picks and hand-winches. After tearing down the ruins, the remnants had to be further demolished, down to single bricks that could later be used in rebuilding. A chain of women would transfer the bricks to the street, where they were cleaned and stacked. Wood and steel beams, fireplaces, wash basins, toilets, pipes and other household items were collected to be reused. The remaining debris was then removed by barrows, wagons and lorries. It was later reused to fill up holes in the streets or to make new bricks. In some German cities, schuttbergs (debris mountains) were created from leftover debris and exist today in a number of German cities.
Trümmerfrauen, both volunteers and regular workers, worked in all weather. They were organised in Kolonnen (columns) of ten to twenty people.
Later works and recognition
In the Soviet Occupation Zone, the Nationales Aufbauwerk (National Reconstruction Works) was founded, in order to coordinate the efforts of the Trümmerfrauen.
In West Germany, the removal works continued as Notstandsarbeiten (State-of-emergency Works), until the cities were cleaned and the reconstruction could begin.
In both parts of Germany, as well as in Austria, the efforts of the Trümmerfrauen were recognised with numerous ceremonies, memorials, awards and exhibitions.
Their role was also considered important in changing post-war gender roles, though the concept of women as independent workers was taken up more eagerly in the official views of East Germany than in West Germany, where, once peace and economic prosperity was restored, a tendency reemerged in some parts of society to return women to their traditional family role only.
On 4 October 2006, a weekly newspaper published the memories of the Trümmerfrau Elisabeth Stock (83) of which the following passage is cited:
"...it were mostly women who shoveled their way through the rubble of Aachen's inner city that was totally destroyed; just for one bowl of soup from the Americans, we hammered and dragged debris all day long, even the pickaxe was part of our equipment, ...that's probably one reason why they put a memorial plaque for Aachen's Trümmerfrauen at the back of the townhall."
Within the four occupied sectors of Berlin approximately 10 per cent of the buildings were irreparably destroyed. In the central districts of Berlin Mitte, Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, Prenzlauer Berg, Tiergarten, and Wedding up to 30 per cent were destroyed. For this reason, the Trümmerfrauen had to work hard and their commitment gained widespread recognition:
In 1946, the Allied headquarters published a series of stamps, the so-called „Bärenmarken“, for the whole of Berlin. The graphic designers Alfred Goldhammer and Heinz Schwalbe created four images with symbols of the reconstruction, e.g. a bear with a brick, a bear with a shovel, a bear with a beam and a young oak tree in front of the ruins at Belle-Alliance square.
On 13 October 1950 the mayor of East-Berlin Friedrich Ebert offered a newly built flat to a former Trümmerfrau in honour of her commitment. The flat was located in one of the terraces in the street which was formerly called Stalinallee and had been designed by Hans Scharoun.
Erika Heß, mayor of the district of Wedding, initiated the founding of a club for the Trümmerfrauen. Its members were invited for coffee and cake once a year and also received assistance when they needed to complete official business. In addition, excursions were organised.
In May 2005, the Bremen organisation Friedensforum initiated a two-hour meeting under the motto Mother's Day – in a different way. Additionally to various activities like music performances or discussion groups etc., a Trümmerfrau and a pupil met for public discussion.
In 2001, due to an initiative of the 1998-founded club Verein figürliches Glockenspiel im Alten Rathaus-Turm zu Chemnitz e.V together with the support of numerous donors, a carillon with a total number of 25 bells was installed. Three times a day the six figures, each one metre tall, come out of the tower. One of them is shaped like a Trümmerfrau. The rubble woman has a brick on her knee which she holds with her left hand; in her right hand she has a hammer. The figures were designed by the sculptor Johannes (Hannes) Schulze from Plauen and forged by the bell foundry Rudolf Perner Karlsruhe und Passau.
- "German History in Documents and Images". Occupation and the Emergence of Two States (1945-1961) - 3. Reconstituting German Society. German Historical Institute. Retrieved 4 April 2010.
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