Female pilots who fought for the Fatherland
We know — and adore — stories of The Greatest Generation. But what about their enemies — their female enemies? Acclaimed author Clare Mulley tackles this long overdue subject in “The Women Who Flew for Hitler: A True Story of Soaring Ambition and Searing Rivalry,” a spellbinding, scrupulously researched dual biography of Nazi Germany’s most highly decorated women pilots.
One was a Nazi apologist. One wanted the Fuhrer dead.
Hanna Reitsch and Melitta von Stauffenberg were talented, courageous and strikingly beautiful women who fought convention and class to make their names in the male-dominated field of flight in 1930s Germany.
Both became pioneering test pilots and were awarded the Iron Cross for service to the Third Reich. But they could not have been more different — and they absolutely hated each other. One even refused kind words for the other’s eulogy.
Hanna Reitsch was middle-class, vivacious and distinctly Aryan, while the darker, more self-effac- ing Melitta von Stauffenberg came from an aristocratic Prussian family with Jewish roots. Still both were driven by deeply held convictions about honor and patriotism; but ultimately, while Reitsch tried to save Hitler’s life begging him to let her fly him to safety in April 1945, von Stauffenberg covertly supported a famous attempt to assassinate him.
Biographer Ms. Mulley gives a full and largely unknown account of the aviators’ contrasting yet strangely parallel lives along with historic backdrop of the 1936 Olympics, the Eastern Front, the Berlin Aero Club and Hitler’s bunker. The book is yet another brutal lesson about Nazi Germany’s attitudes toward race, class and women.
The hardcover includes almost two dozen glossy photographs that illustrate the story and the times. Some are charming; family photos, Bavarian style picnics and weddings.
There is even a nod to the daring new 1930s “bob” haircut. But others, such as a self-described “beaming” Reitsch with Hitler are hard to take. The author does not shy from Reitsch’s refusal to critically examine her role in the Third Reich and the moral dilemma of the times.
Cover of “The Women Who Flew for Hitler”