Dr Anja Peters
Hello Dear Readers,
Not only are you going to meet another brilliant woman who successfully combined motherhood with study -but- you will be introduced to a topic I have never honestly thought about…female Nazis. Like most people I have a basic knowledge of Nazi Germany and know that branches of my family tree are missing as a result of Jewish extermination. But the specific examination of female Nazis has never really come to my attention…
This week’s Meet a Mum is Dr. Anja Peters all the way from Germany!
This is Anja with her supervisor Professor Gerhard Baader after she had passed her Viva.
She might be embarrassed by this description but I believe Anja is a warrior in the fight for truth. As she says, her research brings another Nazi out of hiding.
Anja’s research examined the Nazi midwives’ leader Nanna Conti – a project which Anja struggled to get off the ground. Determination, tenacity and self-belief led not only to the project being accepted but to Dr. Peters’ PhD being completed in 2014. I am sure you will enjoy reading her words and, if I can convince her, hopefully we can find out more about her research.
Thank you Anja for sharing your story with us – I especially love your words of wisdom at the end!
Please tell me a little about yourself and your family?
I live with my husband and three children who are aged 5-11 and am expecting my fourth child. Currently one elderly cat and 10 canaries belong to our family as well.
** Anja and her husband are now the proud parents of a precious new baby **
What did you study and what led you to choose that degree/program?
From 1994-1997 I trained as a paediatric nurse which isn’t an academic profession in Germany yet. I found that I simply wanted to dive deeper into nursing and health and therefore studied Nursing & Health with a focus on Nursing Science at the University of Applied Sciences in Neubrandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern from 1998-2003. I did my thesis on the professional training courses for midwives in nearby Alt-Rehse from 1935-1941.
**My understanding is that this was the main educational centre for Nazi medicine in Germany during 1935-1943 **
While doing research for my thesis I read a lot about the Nazis’ midwives leader Nanna Conti, but couldn’t do thorough research on her as this would have been too far away from my subject. So I looked for a possibility to focus research onto her. As I graduated at a university of Applied Sciences I didn’t have automatic access to PhD programs as they are settled at classic universities. So I simply asked the head of the Institute for History of Medicine at Greifswald University whether she saw any possibility for me to do my PhD. She liked my topic as well as my biography and accepted me herself. It still needed at lot of struggling, arguing and sending letters of recommendation, but finally I was accepted at the medical faculty. I passed my viva in 2014.
What were some of the main challenges you faced?
First of all to finance the project and also to contribute to my family’s income. There were quite a lot of months when my husband I were counting our money. It was incredibly helpful when I got a scholarship. And then to cram my dedication for my research, the needs of my children, the needs of our partnership and my own individual needs into one life. Work-life balance while being utterly sleep-deprived (my youngest started to sleep the night through at the age of 2.5 and as the kid really needed the safety of mum’s breast my husband couldn’t support me here very much) was a challenge on its own. In the final phase of my PhD my second supervisor – a Holocaust survivor and over the years a close friend – suffered from a severe accident. This really meant a lot of pressure as it was an important goal for me to finish my thesis so he would be able to read it. We both managed.
What were your main motivators?
The topic. Doing research about a female Nazi perpetrator means a lot of me, because it pulls one of many out of the hiding, might help victims to deal with what happened and gives information to the younger generations to prevent that anything like the Nazi health system from being established ever again. I also think that this prevention through education will contribute to create a safer future for my children.
I also freely admit that I need my bit of the adults’ world every day. I tried to be a full-time mum for 14 months with my eldest, but it simply drove me nuts. So I think being a researching/working mother is also good for my children.
What were the major impacts of your study on your children (good/bad)?
My children didn’t like it at all when I was away for archive research or conferences. And when I am really deep into writing I am not really present even when at home. During the last weeks of my PhD I probably was the most impatient mother imaginable. But I think I was able to explain to them that I needed this time and they were indeed very patient with me. So I think they have learned that there are things about which you really are passionate.
And they already know that Nazis are evil people and are able to explain for themselves why they are. I don’t have to explain to them that it is foolish to exclude humans because they are disabled or from another country or… They found this out by themselves. They were also incredibly proud when I got my degree, even if they still find it a bit strange that I am called Dr. Peters now. My youngest still doesn’t really understand that I am not a physician yet.
Do you have any tips or suggestions for other mums?
Find a good kindergarten and don’t listen to fools who will tell you that you are a bad mother, because your baby/toddler/child is in day care. An African proverb says that you need a village to raise a child. If you don’t live in such a rural community, create your own village.
Find a way to work outside your home. I simply asked a local housing company to fund my work by giving me office space. They let me use a small flat for 30€ a month for three years. I didn’t have to worry that any documents would fall victim to creative children and it felt more like going to work. Furthermore I couldn’t get distracted by a household which I usually neglect, but which becomes incredibly tempting when you should read about methodology instead.
Of course there are times when you have to work weekends. But try to keep evenings and Sundays free of work. Otherwise you will be overworked within a short time plus having a bad conscience, because you haven’t spent enough time with your children.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were a ‘mum who studies?’
All three of my wise advices above.
What would you say to other mums who are currently studying?
Enjoy it! It is challenging, often exhausting and sometimes beyond your power, but believe me – it is worth it. You are obviously clever and love your field of research. This is as much part of you as being a (clever and loving) mum. Take time for recreation, take time when you focus on your research. When you have finished you will occasionally wonder how you managed, but you will be incredibly proud – of your clever, beloved kids and yourself.
And finally what do you think the higher education system can do to support mums who study?
I don’t know much about higher education system in the UK, Australia and the U.S., but from my German point of view I would ask for more scholarship programs for parents and obligatory kindergartens at university. And more mothers in leading positions in every education system.
Thank you Anja for your work in bringing attention to this Nazi perpetrator so that history may reflect the truth.