Nursing in Nazi Germany has become a compelling topic in nursing history research since the 1980s. Alongside an increased interest in Nazi medicine among members of the medical profession, small groups of nurses have begun to investigate the role of nursing during the Nazi era. 1 In particular, Hilde Steppe's thoughtful work on this topic has stimulated research in the field, 2 and today there is a growing body of literature. However, regional studies are rare, although such studies offer an opportunity to explore the detail of power relations that include nurses and nursing in the wider scheme of political and economic conditions within Nazi Germany. The value of regional investigations is well illustrated by Cornelia Rauh-Kühne; 3 her study of National Socialism in Catholic areas of Germany led her to conclude that the Nazis usually enjoyed less support from Catholic than from Protestant communities, but she also found strong regional differences. As nursing and nurse training was often closely associated with religious groups, it is very likely that these regional and religious differences will be reflected in nursing and health care. The main focus of this chapter is to determine the extent to which Nazi structures were integrated into health care and nursing within the region of Osnabrück (north-west Germany) and to assess the extent to which religious affiliation influenced these processes.
The state archives in Osnabrück were consulted to seek out sources for the study. The data that survive consist mainly of letters exchanged between the state and regional government with the local Gesundheitsämter (public health departments). A compendium of law relating to the health system was used to establish the legal context within which the letters were written. General statistical information on the region of Osnabrück was also sought out. The findings were interpreted in the context of the published literature on nursing and welfare politics and the history of Osnabrück during the Nazi era.
Four case studies have been prepared to illustrate the impact of the Gleichschaltung (coordination) of services by the National Socialist (NS) government on different aspects of health care and nursing. The chapter begins with a short account of the general situation in the region of Osnabrück, the local position in the administrative structure, and the broad position of nursing and health care during the Nazi era.