Click here to plan your next WW2 tour

Infantry in drag

A small, homely Christmas celebration at an unknown location, possibly a bunker or barracks in 1943 (Photo: Collection Martin Dammann)
A small, homely Christmas celebration at an unknown location, possibly a bunker or barracks in 1943 (Photo: Collection Martin Dammann)

While the Second World War was one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century, we would nevertheless celebrate the end of the year by writing about a relatively light-hearted element of the period: German soldiers in drag. Soldiers donning women’s clothes on occasion is nothing new. Frontline units or POWs putting on a stage show for some holiday had to make do without actual actresses. A little bit of gender-bending fun was bound to elicit hoots and cheers from the audience, becoming a way to blow off a bit of steam in the middle of the war. We will look at some old amateur photos that show a German soldier differing very much from that of depicted on propaganda posters.

Beaches of Normandy Tours
Not just Germans: American soldiers putting on a “Girlie” show at Fort Slocum, NY in 1942 (Video: YouTube)
Beaches of Normandy Tours
A whole dance group of soldiers in Poland in Dobrodzień (Guttentag) (Photo: Collection Martin Dammann)

What may be surprising is the frequency with which old German private photos show men in drag, suggesting the practice was much more widespread than in other armies.

A German soldier dressed as a woman singing for the troops (Photo: Collection Martin Dammann)
A German soldier dressed as a woman singing for the troops (Photo: Collection Martin Dammann)

It’s been suggested that the German soldier’s propensity for cross-dressing stemmed from his cultural background. In Germany, the carnival season before Lent had featured a gender-bending element for centuries. In the city of Cologne, a stock carnival mascot is “the virgin:” a pig-tailed maiden traditionally played by a man since the 1820s. In the Rhineland, the Weiberfastnacht (Women’s Carnival), a night when women take charge and can cut off men’s neckties on the street, goes back to the Middle Ages. It’s quite possible that soldiers far away from home would reach back to such folklore elements for comfort.

Departing guards’ Christmas show and party at the Stalag VI-C POW camp in 1941 (Photo: Collection Martin Dammann)
Departing guards’ Christmas show and party at the Stalag VI-C POW camp in 1941 (Photo: Collection Martin Dammann)
Picture probably taken on the Western Front during the Sitzkrieg period early on in World War II, known as the Phoney War, when no major action took place (Photo: Collection Martin Dammann)
Picture probably taken on the Western Front during the Sitzkrieg period early on in World War II, known as the Phoney War, when no major action took place (Photo: Collection Martin Dammann)

Not all cross-dressing photos were taken at specific events. Some suggest that soldiers in freshly occupied towns would sometimes just go through abandoned houses and put on whatever women’s clothing they found for a bit of ad-hoc fun.

Click here to plan your next WW2 tour
Three soldiers in what looks like freshly looted women’s clothes in a recently captured town on the Western Front (Photo: Collection Martin Dammann)
Three soldiers in what looks like freshly looted women’s clothes in a recently captured town on the Western Front (Photo: Collection Martin Dammann)

It wasn’t just the men, either. There are also photographs of soldiers swapping clothes with young ladies, presumably romantic interests, to pose for photos.

Equal opportunity cross-dressing: men in dresses and their French girlfriends in uniforms (Photo: rarehistoricalphotos.com)
Equal opportunity cross-dressing: men in dresses and their French girlfriends in uniforms (Photo: rarehistoricalphotos.com)

Though many soldiers in drag probably weren’t gay, it should be added that the Berlin of the Weimar Republic in the interwar period was one of the most sexually liberal cities in the world before the Nazi rise to power. The collective memory of such times probably also made the soldiers more comfortable with their tomfoolery.

Beaches of Normandy Tours
Soldier in fur and his “admirers”, possibly somewhere on the Eastern Front (Photo: Collection Martin Dammann)
The soldier in stylized women's underwear poses the least of questions about this scene, which was probably some sort of joke by young recruits (Photo: Collection Martin Dammann)
The soldier in stylized women's underwear poses the least of questions about this scene, which was probably some sort of joke by young recruits (Photo: Collection Martin Dammann)

The apparent tolerance for cross-dressing soldiers contrasts sharply with the Third Reich’s official stance on such frivolities. The Nazi Party did have quite a few homosexuals among its founders, most notably the openly gay Ernst Röhm, co-founder of the Sturmabteilung (SA), the brownshirt Nazi paramilitary detachment, which itself counted many homosexuals among its leadership. The tolerance for homosexuality, however, came to an end on the Night of Long Knives in 1934, when Hitler eliminated his internal opposition in the Nazi Party through a series of extrajudicial executions and homosexuality became harshly persecuted in Nazi Germany at large, too. Some 50,000 men were officially sentenced for homosexuality; somewhere between 5,000 to 15,000 of them were sent to concentration camps, while others served time in prison.

German soldier in drag in front of a Third Reich flag (Photo: Collection Martin Dammann)
German soldier in drag in front of a Third Reich flag (Photo: Collection Martin Dammann)

In conclusion, let us wish you a Happy New Year again! You can learn more about the lesser-known aspects of soldiers’ lives during the war on our tours. We hope to take you on a memorable trip on the former battlefields of World War II in 2022. Please click on the banner below to browse our website and to choose your preferred tour.

Click here to plan your next WW2 tour
Facebook Facebook
Instagram Instagram
Website Website
YouTube YouTube
Reply this email
Copyright © *|CURRENT_YEAR|* *|LIST:COMPANY|*, All rights reserved.
*|IFNOT:ARCHIVE_PAGE|* *|LIST:DESCRIPTION|*

Our mailing address is:
*|HTML:LIST_ADDRESS_HTML|* *|END:IF|*

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

*|IF:REWARDS|* *|HTML:REWARDS|* *|END:IF|*
Plan
yourtour
Beaches of Normandy Tours review
"This tour was so moving, I was brought to tears"Band of Brothers Tour, 2022
Review score: 10/10
Beaches of Normandy Tours review
"I would recommend this tour to anyone without hesitation"Band of Brothers Tour, 2022
Review score: 10/10
Beaches of Normandy Tours review
"I would definitely recommend this tour to everybody who enjoys history."Band of Brothers Tour, 2022
Review score: 10/10