Eva Braun: Life with Hitler, by Heike B. Görtemaker
A new biography tells why the serious side to the Führer's 'dumb blonde' was hidden to history
Kate Connolly in Berlin
For decades she has been seen as a decorative companion to Adolf Hitler, an apolitical "dumb blonde" whose attentions served as an occasional diversion for the Führer. But the first academic biography of Eva Braun draws a different picture of the dictator's long-standing girlfriend, claiming historians have hugely underestimated the role she played in his life.
Berlin historian Heike Görtemaker reveals her as a politically committed woman who won Hitler's affections, enjoyed a healthy sex life with him, sympathised with Nazi politics and gave him psychological support. Görtemaker spent three years researching her book, Eva Braun: Life With Hitler, due out this month from the prestigious CH Beck publishing house. She was able to draw on previously unseen or little-known documents, letters, diary entries and photographs.
"Eva Braun features in films, plays, novels and historical memoirs," Görtemaker told the Observer, "but is always portrayed as the dumb blonde who had the misfortune to fall in love with a devil, and this is an image that needs to be corrected. She was capricious, an uncompromising advocate of unconditional loyalty towards the dictator who went so far as to die with him, and he adored her."
According to Görtemaker's account, Braun was fully aware of the twists and turns of Nazi policy-making and made no attempt to speak out against the Holocaust. "She was in the loop and knew what was going on. She was no mere bystander," said the historian.
Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, noted in his diary that Braun was a "bright girl who meant a great deal to the Führer". Görtemaker has evidence that she was present at meetings between Hitler and high-ranking Nazis. The relationship also had an everyday quality rarely explored by historians, such as rows with Hitler over domestic details and refusing to share his vegetarian diet. "I can't eat that stuff," she said.
Görtemaker blames British historians for shaping the image of Braun, claiming that writers such as Ian Kershaw and Hugh Trevor-Roper, and German historians such as Sebastian Haffner, judged her insignificant and her relationship with Hitler to be banal. She claims that the late Lord Dacre (Trevor-Roper) did most to influence the traditional perception. A wartime intelligence officer who carried out an official investigation into Hitler's final days and conducted numerous interviews with his entourage after the war, he dismissed Braun in a single word as "uninteresting".
"Trevor-Roper took his cue from Albert Speer [Hitler's armaments minister], whom he interviewed at length," said Görtemaker. "Speer said, 'for all writers of history, Eva Braun is going to be a disappointment', and claimed that women had no significant role to play in the Nazi party. It was said of all the women, from the wives to the secretaries. Speer was trying to protect his wife. There was a strong movement to protect women in general, and so it became to be generally accepted that women had little role to play in the politics of the Third Reich."
Hitler first came across Braun in 1929, when he was 40 and she was 17. She worked in a Munich camera shop run by his official photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann. According to Hoffmann's daughter, Hitler's opening line was: "May I invite you to the opera with me, Fräulein Eva? You see, I'm surrounded by men and I know what a pleasure it is to enjoy female company." Dates at the cinema and restaurants followed.
Braun was with him in his Berlin bunker as the city fell to the Russian forces in 1945 and shared his suicide on the afternoon of 30 April.
Görtemaker said recognising that Hitler had a "normal relationship" was a vital part of the process of seeing him as a recognisable product of German society in the first half of the 20th century. "He is mostly portrayed as incapable of having a private life," she said. "He said he couldn't marry because he was married to Germany."
The German public was never meant to know of Braun's existence and marriage was out of the question until the very end. He told Speer: "It's just like an actor when he marries. For the women who have worshipped him, he is no longer their idol in the same way."
Braun had her own private quarters at his Berghof mountain retreat, where she whiled away the time between his visits with reading, enjoying the outdoors and partying. "When he was there they led what can be called a bohemian existence," said Görtemaker.
She is also "totally convinced" that, contrary to popular belief, they had a normal sex life. Braun's friends and relatives say she giggled on seeing a photograph of the British prime minister Neville Chamberlain sitting on a sofa in Hitler's Munich flat in 1938, and remarked: "If only he knew what goings-on that sofa has seen."
"It just didn't fit into the picture people had of him. Many women in particular didn't like it, asking how could anyone be good enough for Hitler," said Görtemaker.
March 2, 2010
Posted by Meredith Blake
Whatever Eva Braun may have seen in Adolf Hitler--a man who drove her to make two unsuccessful attempts on her life--she took her secrets with her to the grave. Yet even if Braun had lived to tell her side of the story, or had left behind more than a single, sparse journal, her tumultuous, fifteen-year relationship with the twentieth century's most reviled leader would remain fundamentally baffling: just how could any sane person love Hitler? At this point, Braun is so closely identified with the cruel and inexplicable nature of love that it's become something of a cliché to invoke her name in times of romantic confusion ("Even Hitler had a girlfriend," et cetera). It's no wonder, then, that a new biography of Eva Braun is making such waves in Germany. Written by Heike Görtemaker and published just last week, “Eva Braun: Life with Hitler” is a groundbreaking attempt to dismantle the prevailing ideas about the woman who was Hitler’s longtime companion—and, for forty hours, his wife.
Historically, Braun has been portrayed as an insipid and naïve but ultimately apolitical young woman. The British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper's account “The Last Days of Hitler” first cemented the idea of Braun as a vacuous "silly cow." Sixty years later, Angela Lambert’s biography, “The Lost Life of Eva Braun,” painted her as a well-meaning but gullible girl whose ideology extended only as far as her vanity table. In Oliver Hirschbiegel's 2004 film “Downfall,” Braun has a little more pluck--mostly, she just wants to party--but again, her greatest fault is her blind loyalty to the Fuhrer, not bloodthirsty anti-Semitism. As Görtemaker told the BBC, Braun is consistently depicted as one of two things: “a dull and naïve blonde, or a decent young girl who had the misfortune to fall in love with a monster.”
“Eva Braun: Life with Hitler,” may finally eradicate these ideas. Görtemaker, whose previous work includes a well-received biography of the German journalist Margret Boveri, tackles some of the more persistent Braun myths head-on. For instance, unlike other biographers, she rejects the assumption that Hitler and Braun did not have a normal sex life; the book even includes a story about a couch where they shared many an assignation--and where Neville Chamberlain later sat. The author also doesn’t buy the idea that Braun was anything less than a passionate believer in Nazism. “She was in the loop and knew what was going on. She was no mere bystander," Görtemaker explained to the Observer.
Adding to the book's considerable buzz is the fact that a film adaptation is already in the works. Michael Simon de Normier, an associate producer on last year's similarly themed “The Reader,” optioned the film rights last week, even though an English-language version of "Eva Braun: Life with Hitler" is not yet available stateside. (For the record, the book’s German publishers, C. H. Beck, say two publishing houses are currently bidding for U.S. rights.)
Until recently, the idea of portraying the fuhrer and his inner circle on film has been somewhat taboo. In his review of “Downfall,”A. O. Scott explains this reluctance: “Curiosity carries with it a sense of moral risk, as if understanding Hitler might be the fateful first step toward liking him." That's why the Hitlers and Eva Brauns we’ve seen on film have largely been caricatures—think of “The Producers,” for instance. But now, after “Downfall,” “Max” and even “Inglorious Basterds,” the Hitler taboo is slowly being lifted. One can argue over whether this is an entirely positive development—do these odious figures “deserve” so much thoughtful consideration?—but it’s a sea change nonetheless.
So now that Bruno Ganz has made it “safe” to play Hitler, the question of casting becomes inevitable. Bookslut nominates Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio, but in my opinion he's too perennially boyish, Diaz too sunny and Californian. Diane Kruger was phenomenal as a German double agent in “Basterds,” but perhaps that makes her too obvious of a choice to play Braun. I'd suggest Evan Rachel Wood, who has the ideal combination of Aryan looks and the ability to play troubled characters. As for Hitler, Kenneth Branagh is old enough and even sort of looks the part (sorry, Kenneth), though at this point he may be a little sick of playing Nazis. Regardless of who is ultimately cast, we love the idea of agents rolling calls in a desperate bid to get their clients cast as Hitler and Braun.
10th February 2010
By Mail Foreign Service
She was the mystery figure at Hitler's side that the world never knew about during the lifespan of the Third Reich.
Now the first comprehensive biography of Eva Braun reveals how the hidden First Lady of Nazism was the polar opposite of everything her beloved Adolf decreed should be found in a woman.
'Eva Braun: Life With Hitler,' by renowned German historian Heike B. Goertemaker, paints Eva not as an air-head besotted by a dominant man, but a fiercely loyal, independent thinker at odds with Hitler's public proclamations about 'the fairer sex'.
Eva was the only woman, apart from his mother, that touched the soul of Hitler - the mistress of the Berghof in Bavaria and the bunker in Berlin whom he married in the final days of the war.
She would later kill herself with him rather than face life without her husband of just 40 hours.
Born in 1912 to a schoolteacher father, she was 23 years younger than the man she called 'Wolf' - the nickname he was known by among Nazi underlings until the end.
She worked as an assistant for Heinrich Hoffmann, the photographer who became rich as the Fuehrer's personal cameraman, and met Hitler in 1929.
Goertemaker writes of how the blonde, blue-eyed, Eva touched something in the cold heart of Hitler.
It was her personality, her charm and her independence which captivated Hitler until they died together in Berlin on April 30 1945.
In her 350 page book she writes: 'She was completely different from the standard portrait of her. She was capricious but an uncompromising proponent of absolute loyalty to the dictator.
'She led a life of which was totally the opposite of the that of the propaganda films of the Third Reich.
'Since Eva was neither housewife nor mother, and did not want in all probability to be, she corresponded to the needs of a man 23 years older than her who was emotionally retarded with dubious habits. But she was far more than just an attractive young thing.'
In Eva, says the book, Hitler built a bourgeois existence far removed from the titanic struggles of war, conquest and genocide with her as homemaker and he as the tired man-about-the-house at the end of a busy day.
Only last week it emerged in another book in Germany, about Hitler's fragile health, that he took primitive sex potions to prepare himself for intimate encounters with Eva.
Hitler had maintained the myth throughout his reign that the only 'bride' he could countenance was Germany.
Consequently, she was a secret to all but the inner circle of the regime until long after the shooting had stopped.
Germany's Spiegel magazine called Goertemaker's work 'the first scientifically researched biography to correct the image of the stupid blonde at the side of the mass murderer.'
Goertemaker turns on its head the preconceptions about Hitler and Eva - that he was asexual, while she was dim - and uses only material and anecdotes supported by documentation or eye-witness accounts.
The physical side of Eva and 'Wolf's' love is referred to.
Once in 1938, when she saw a photo of British prime minister Neville Chamberlain sitting on the sofa at his Munich flat, she exclaimed to friends: 'If only he knew the history of this sofa!'
In that same year, Hitler wrote in his will that, whatever happened, Eva should receive a pension from Nazi party funds in perpetuity.
His propaganda chief Josef Goebbels, who would die in the bunker on the same day as his patron and her, wrote at the time: 'She is an intelligent girl who means much to the Fuehrer.'
Far from being merely 'arm candy', Eva shared Hitler's passions for architecture and Goertemaker writes how she was deeply involved with his plans to turn his native Linz into the artistic capital of the Reich.
'She was never as banal as she was painted,' said Goertemaker, who also examines the rumours that Hitler ordered his S.S. men to probe into Eva's family tree to make sure she had no Jewish blood.
Eva attempted to commit suicide in 1932 following the death of her father: had she succeeded she would have been the second woman close to Hitler to kill herself.
His niece Geli Raubal, with whom he was obsessed, took her own life in his Munich flat in 1931.
She attempted suicide a second time in 1935 with sleeping pills, an incident which Goertemaker says brought her and Hitler closer together.
Shortly afterwards he installed her at the mountain home - the Berghof - in Bavaria where she became his full-time mistress.
'She was loyal to him unto death,' she writes, 'and it was this unconditional loyalty which Hitler probably held in higher esteem than everything else.'
'Only my Shepherd dog and Ms. Braun are faithful to me and belong to me,' complained Hitler at the end of the war.