Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Abwehr’s assessment of Russian women

If you read the title and expect this post to be critical of the conduct and morals of Russian women, during WWII, you will be disappointed. So read on!

The Abwehr was Germany’s military intelligence service. In the Eastern Front they had a lot of responsibilities like protecting the occupied areas from Soviet agents and saboteurs, combating partisans and generally keeping the population under control.

In order to carry out their mission they built up a large spy network that employed individuals of both sexes and various ethnicities, religions and political convictions.

In Foreign Military Studies report P-122German Counterintelligence activities in occupied Russia 1941-44’ pages 75-82 (available through the fold3 site), there are several paragraphs devoted to the personality traits that made Russian women different from their western counterparts. I found it so interesting that I decided to post the relevant part here:

o. Russian Women

The difficulties encountered by the Germans in working with female Russian agents were far greater than those experienced with male Russians. The Soviet women differed greatly from their Western counterparts in character, customs, and opinions. Some of the character differences in the Russian women were inherent while others were the result of Soviet influence and living conditions in the USSR.

(1) Peculiarities of Russian Women

The principal trait of contemporary Russian women was their independence, which was shown in all aspects of their behavior and especially in their relationships with men, Soviet women participated more actively in political activities than was surmised by the Western world. In the USSR, women often occupied high positions and exerted enormous influence on public and economic life. It was not unusual to find a woman directing a big concern, serving as chairman of an organization like the Society for the Promotion of Aviation and Chemical Defense (Osoaviachim), or as secretary of one of the Communist Party organizations . Moreover, the women in the USSR received training on an equal basis with the men. This developed their self-confidence. The Russian women occupying such high positions had more power over their subordinates than that enjoyed by their Western counterparts. A Soviet woman in high position could discharge an employee and turn him over to the NKVD for imprisonment. In the USSR, it was the official or political position that determined an individual's power, not the sex. Despite the generally demoralizing effect of Communism, Russian women had retained the high moral standards accredited to them. The Soviet system had influenced them to a lesser degree than the men. Russian women kept their word, were less amenable to bribery than the men, detested all excesses, and frowned on work for material gain only. Most Russian women were very strong and of great endurance, and were able to withstand pain as well as hunger, thirst, and cold far better than spiritual privation. Apart from these character traits, they owed their mental formation to the influence of foreign, especially to French, literature. They were influenced by the novels of de Maupassant, which were relatively well known in the USSR. Soviet propaganda also exerted a certain influence, pointing out that the Westerner, educated under capitalism, looked to women as a means to satisfy his carnal desires and neglected completely their personalities.

(2) Recruiting or Russian Female Agents

It was a long time before the Abwehr understood Russian women well enough to be able to employ them profitably. Other methods had to be used than those employed in recruiting Polish, Latvian, French, and Belgian women. The recruiting officer had to show that he was not interested in the prospect as a woman, for she would refuse to collaborate if she became suspicious of his intentions.

(3) Inducements

 The Abwehr personnel often stressed the inequalities of a woman’s position under the Soviet regime. True, she enjoyed equal rights, but she had to work harder and under greater difficulties. Her work under the Soviets was unsuitable and did not correspond to her physical make-up and mental qualifications, besides being injurious to her health. Moreover, the Soviet system disorganized the family. Husband and wife worked hard all day. If they desired advancement, they had to fulfill obligatory public services, attend meetings and lectures, serve on committees, sign manifestos, etc. On returning home, both were too tired to enjoy each other's company. The wife was unable to, educate and influence her children for luck of time, end apart from this, the Communist Putty did not permit any influence deviating from the Party line as set down by Lenin and Stalin. From infancy, every boy was influenced by the Soviet regime; he attended Soviet schools, and later joined Pioneer and Komsomol (Young Communist League) organizations. The case of Pavlik Morozov was always used a convincing example of what happened to children brought up by the Communist Party. Pavlik, the twelve-year old son of a collective farmer, denounced his father to the NKVD. For this betrayal, he was slain by his grandfather. The Soviets, however, erected a statue in Pavlik's memory, calling him a hero for betraying his father. Material inducements influenced women in Russia but not as much as they did elsewhere. Money gave them an opportunity to dress well, to buy cosmetics, and to pretty themselves, things they were unable to do on a large scale before the war.

(4) Tasks Assigned to Russian Female Agents

Set tasks and stereotyped orders were avoided. Every mission, however small, had to be presented idealistically. In every case assurance had to be given that the fulfillment of the mission would not harm the Russian people or be detrimental to their interests. In general, most of the prospects were ready and willing to help overthrow the Communist regime. A task involving some difficulty was presented as a challenge to awaken their sense of rivalry. For example, a woman spy might be told that it was doubtful whether she could outwit her competitor - a grown and experienced man - since she was only a woman. If her rival was a woman, she was told that the other female agent was prettier and smarter. The adversary was always described as an enemy of the people, a provocateur, informer, sadist, etc. …..


In working with Russian female agents, the surest means of gaining their co-operation was to appeal to their minds and to stress the highly ethical nature of their mission. It was far more difficult to compel a Russian woman to accept a mission in which she had to play the role of a prostitute. The same was true of female agents sent out by Soviet intelligence agencies to spy on the Germans. Russian women accepted and carried out such tasks very unwillingly. Prostitutes were very rare and generally of weak character, stupid, rind therefore unfit for intelligence work.

(5) Motives influencing Female Agents

The best agents were those who wore convinced of the necessity of their work. Some female agents worked for the Abwehr to avenge fancied slights, or the death of some relative at the hands of the Soviets. Others volunteered to work for the Germans because Soviet intelligence had been about to conscript their services and assign them to tasks they were unwilling to do. Still others enlisted without knowing the dangers ahead of them. Once they had signed a contract, it was too late. German counter-intelligence agencies seldom forced Russian women to work for them, whereas the Soviets had no such scruples.

(6) Remuneration

Ant form of remuneration or mark of distinction given to a female agent was subject to certain rules. Whatever she received had to be given it, the form of a present. Money was presented in an envelope with a gift -- perfume, soap, silk stockings, etc. Female agents appreciated such attentions. Inexperienced Gorman officers or counterintelligence agents antagonized the women when they showed lack of tact in such matters.

(7) Recreation and Leaves

Recreation and leaves for female agents were complicated and delicate problems. When a male agent was on leave, a close watch had to he kept on him, for at such times he was particularly vulnerable. The question of leave for the female agents presented oven greater difficulties. The best solution to the problem was to organize tours to Germany for both male and female agents. Fairly small groups were made up under the supervision of a German Army specialist carefully selected for the purpose. In Germany, the female agents came in contact with a more cultured and broad-minded way of life. The falseness of Soviet propaganda regarding hunger and deprivations in the 'West 'was readily apparent. The shops, theatres, museums, and places of amusement and instruction furnished those women with so many new impressions that they had no time to think of the rigors of their work. Moreover, life in Germany gave them a goal for the first time in their lives' to live in the West after it was all over. They were confident that the Abwehr would give them good jobs or even support them when for one reason or another they wore no longer able to work as agents.

I wonder if modern Russian women also have the same traits.

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