(1912 - 1945)
March 26, 2006
THE LOST LIFE
OF EVA BRAUN
by Angela Lambert
Century £20 pp495
In 1929, Eva Braun was a sweet 17-year-old, naive but ambitious, from a respectable Bavarian Catholic family, and well aware of her attractiveness to men. She had just begun her first job in a photographic shop in Munich’s bohemian quarter. One October day, Adolf Hitler walked into her life.
Later, she told her sister Ilse what happened: “I had climbed up a ladder to reach the files that were kept on the top shelves of the cupboard. At that moment the boss came in, accompanied by a man of a certain age with a funny moustache, a light-coloured English overcoat and a big felt hat in his hand. They both sat down on the other side of the room opposite me. I tried to squint in their direction and sensed that this character was looking at my legs.”
Their future, fateful liaison was already prefigured in that brief encounter. The former convent schoolgirl, enjoying the attention, was only embarrassed because she had just shortened her skirt by hand and “wasn’t sure that I had got the hem even”.
The stranger had indeed noticed the pretty girl on the ladder. Hitler was introduced to her (as “Herr Wolf”, his usual alias) by her boss, Heinrich Hoffmann, who was both his photographer and a friend. The man who became her nemesis — and humanity’s — seems to have made an instant impression: Eva decided there and then to marry him. He was equally determined to remain single and childless. But neither would let the other go.
Eva was not Hitler’s first mistress: that dubious privilege belonged to his niece, Geli Raubal, who had shared his bed while her mother kept house for him. Not only was this an incestuous relationship, but when Geli tried to escape by taking other lovers, Hitler suffocated her with his jealousy. It was a revolting tale of beauty and the beast.
In 1931, when Geli realised that Hitler would neither marry her nor let her marry anybody else, she shot herself. Foul play was suspected, but nothing was ever proved. His grief seems to have been genuine: her room remained a shrine to the end of his life.
Eva saw her chance to comfort the stricken Führer; within weeks they were lovers. Thereafter, Eva saw off all competition. Unity Mitford appealed to Hitler’s snobbery, and he used her to impress guests in prewar Berlin, but she was too unbalanced and too English to be a serious rival. Magda Goebbels ruthlessly established herself as Hitler’s hostess when he needed to entertain. Eva was always kept in the background on official occasions. To her chagrin, she never met visiting celebrities such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. But at the Berghof, Hitler’s country house, Eva was deferred to by the Nazi hierarchy. Behind her back, they called her the “silly cow”.
Despite endless rumours, there is no evidence that Hitler was sexually abnormal, though he was certainly shy and probably a virgin into his thirties. Unlike the affair with his niece, this was not an abusive relationship, but emphatically consensual. Yet it must be significant that all the important women in Hitler’s life committed suicide: beginning with the failed attempt of an early girlfriend, Mimi Reiter, there followed Geli and Unity (who shot herself on the day Britain declared war). In the end, Eva had the satisfaction of seeing her hysterical rival Magda Goebbels kicked out by Hitler minutes before their double suicide.
What is less well known is that, much earlier, Eva twice tried to kill herself: in November 1932, she shot herself in the throat, but missed the jugular. Then, in 1935, she tried again, this time with sleeping pills. Her reason, both times, was Hitler’s neglect. Although he expected her to give up her career and all hope of marriage or children, he might see her only every three or four weeks. While away, he often didn’t write or phone. Just before her second suicide attempt, she wrote: “If only I had never set eyes on him!” Yet however unhappy she was, her devotion was a fact of life. When they finally married, she seems to have considered her life fulfilled for the 36 hours during which she was addressed as “Mrs Hitler” — though her husband still referred to her as “Miss Braun”.
Angela Lambert’s lively and readable biography tries hard to make Eva’s “lost life” more than a footnote in history. But her relationship with Hitler was kept too private even for family, friends and servants to do more than guess what made them tick. As she admits, we know more about her days in the Berlin bunker than all the rest of her life, and that last phase is all too familiar.
To make Eva more three-dimensional, Lambert has resorted to various questionable devices. First, she writes a parallel narrative about her own German relations, especially her mother, whose background bore some resemblance to Braun’s. This is harmless but distracting. Then she speculates about what X might have said to Y — what Hitler and Eva might have said as they committed suicide. This is positively irritating. Finally, she tries to place Eva’s life in the context of the historical drama around her. This is fine, but she is out of her depth. She admits that until she embarked on her research, she knew little about the period, and I am afraid that it occasionally shows. For example, she greatly overestimates Hitler’s fame and success when he met Eva in 1929, claiming that the Nazi party then had “a million members” (the true figure was less than a fifth of this), or that Mein Kampf was already selling “millions” in 1927 (two years later, both volumes together had sold only 40,000 copies).
Lambert identifies so far with her subject that she tries to show that Eva was not an anti-semite and knew nothing about what was happening to the Jews. It is impossible to prove a negative, but no reputable historian is likely to be persuaded. (It is not clear from the footnotes whether David Irving, whom Lambert interviewed for this book, encouraged her to turn it into an apologia.) The fact that Eva was a nice Catholic girl who had never joined the Nazi party does not exonerate her. The only thing that gave her life meaning was Hitler, and she knew better than most what gave his life its meaning. She had him all to herself only in death, but that seems to have been enough.
Dinner with Adolf
The relationship between Hitler and Braun was often awkward in public, particularly in the early years. Hitler would sometimes treat her with indifference, or ignore her completely. On 1 April, 1935, she complained to her diary about a recent dinner at a hotel: “I sat near him for three hours and could not exchange a single word. By way of goodbye he handed me, as he has done before, an envelope with money in it. It would have been much nicer if he had enclosed a greeting or a loving word.”
Available at the Books First price of £18 including p&p on 0870 165 8585
2 April 2006 11:22
CENTURY £20 £18 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897
In 1981 Gore Vidal published an essay in The Nation entitled "Pink Triangle Yellow Star". The title referred to the two badges worn by inmates of Hitler's concentration camps, the yellow star to denote the Jews, the pink triangle for the homosexuals. But the principal target of a typically excoriating attack was not the Holocaust but the overt homophobia of the American intelligentsia. One paragraph in particular burned itself into my own consciousness at that time, a period which also saw Martin Sherman's play Bent put on at the Royal Court (and later in the West End). It starred Ian McKellen and Tom Bell and dealt seriously for the first time with the plight of homosexuals in the concentration camps.
"I was present," wrote Vidal, "when Christopher Isherwood tried to make this point to a young Jewish movie producer. 'After all,' said Isherwood, 'Hitler killed 600,000 homosexuals.' The young man was not impressed. 'But Hitler killed six million Jews,' he said sternly. 'What are you?' asked Isherwood. 'In real estate?'"
This might seem of doubtful relevance to Angela Lambert's long and exhaustively researched study of Hitler's only long-term mistress and, for some 36 hours, his wife, Eva Braun, but it in fact replicates one of her main subsidiary themes in the book. She is unhappy with the term Holocaust and prefers to use the phrase Black Events to describe the scale and variety of the Nazi atrocities on the grounds that, for most of us, Holocaust indicates exclusively the slaughter of the Jews. In fact, Nazi extermination policy and practice encompassed Jews, negroes, gipsies, Communists and physical, mental and moral "degenerates", all of whom had to be extirpated from the pure Aryan glory of the Thousand Year Reich.
Lambert, as a non-Jewish English writer, is well qualified for her work since her mother was German, was born within a month of Eva Braun's birth date in 1912 and came from a similar social class and background to Braun. Thus, for Lambert, Braun is not some exotic creature but an ordinary woman of a specific German type, not unlike Lambert's mother, who married an ordinary Englishman and survived the war because she was living in England while the rest of her family suffered on the civilian front in Germany. Given that Lambert's mother pops up periodically throughout the narrative to reinforce several of her arguments, I hope I'll be forgiven for a personal note in this review.
I was born in London in 1935, the son of academic German Jewish refugees who fled Germany in 1933, the year Hitler came to power. My parents helped as many of their relatives as they could to get out of Germany but could not save not all of them. Some refused to leave or were too old or infirm, and thus became part of the six million. So I never knew my grandparents. Since you can't really miss what you have never known, this did not affect me particularly deeply but became of great interest only as I watched my own children grow up and appreciated their relationship to their three grandparents. What I personally lost through the Black Events only really struck home in the last three years, as I have become a doubtless fond and foolish grandfather, and have been able to feel personally the deprivation of having had, thanks to Hitler, no contact at all with my own grandparents. Thus I can envy Lambert for her knowledge of her German grandparents and her virtual bilinguality in English and German, which she has used to such effect in this book. My own bilinguality ceased and evaporated at the age of four. With a war on, little English boys didn't speak German.
I became a keen student of history and, as a book publisher, helped to feed the avid interest of the British in Nazism. In one of the books I published I came across a Nazi list of Jewish intellectuals who had fled to England, were still living there and were to become an immediate part of the Final Solution when the SS and the Wehrmacht completed their successful invasion of these islands. When I showed the list to my father, then a respected Cambridge don, with his name circled by me in felt pen, I was aware of a distinct sense of pride coming off him as he saw the roll-call of those German writers, academics, artists and businessmen with whose talents Hitler had so strongly benefited his foes and conquerors.
As a publisher and a writer who, even now, finds the history of Germany from 1933 to 1945 endlessly absorbing 60 years after the war ended, I took considerable pleasure in some of the books I made available to British readers. The most fascinating was Walter Langer's The Mind of Adolf Hitler, the work - once secret - of a psychologist commissioned by America's OSS to construct a psychological profile of the Führer and analyse his weaknesses based on known biographical facts plus all available secret intelligence. The one that gave me the most pleasure was the selection of Goebbels' Diaries, introduced by Hugh Trevor-Roper. They were entirely genuine and uniformly horrible, but they did sell. My pleasure came from my giving a substantial part of the profits to The Jewish Quarterly, then still edited by its founder, Jacob Sontag, a journal and a human being of the kind that would have made Goebbels, perhaps the most revolting of all the Nazi leaders, spin furiously in his grave. The Swiss lawyer who represented the Goebbels estate was, I learned, sublimely unhappy when he saw the notice about the profits and The Jewish Quarterly on the copyright page of our edition.
Lambert's book contains, inevitably, since Braun as a biographical subject exists only as Hitler's creature, a kaleidoscope of snapshots of the Führer as seen through the eyes of those of his contemporaries and colleagues who wrote about him, notably Albert Speer and Putzi Hanfstaengel. Lambert also makes good and frequent use of the best previous writing on Hitler, particularly Gitta Sereny's great book on Speer and Trevor-Roper's Hitler's Table Talk. Without this skilful interweaving, to write a life of Eva Braun would be to try and make bricks without straw; a use of cliché which has its own irony since that was the impossible task imposed upon the Children of Israel by their Pharaonic masters. Because Braun, without her relationship to Hitler, would have received no biographical attention whatsoever, it's fair to say that she now exists in such detail in this book simply because there is still this vast need to satisfy our curiosity about the Nazi period; a curiosity which is, I suspect, partly voyeuristic and partly a desire to try to understand how such a period of sustained evil could be largely unquestioningly tolerated by the German people.
Merely to tell us Eva's life story gets us no further in this endless quest, which is doubtless why Lambert also interweaves a potted history of the Hitler years, making skilled - and fully acknowledged - use of the work of Richard Evans, Antony Beevor, Alan Bullock and others, as well as their German counterparts and Günter Grass's novel Crabwalk, the first important German book to examine the horrors of life as an ordinary German civilian during the War.
It is almost too obvious to state that the key figure in the book is not Eva Braun but Adolf Hitler. Since Hitler had dictated what the ideal German woman should look like, that's what Eva looked like. He had decreed that the perfect Nazi woman would stand by her man and breed as many new little Nazis as possible, while evincing no interest in or knowledge of politics; for this the absolute model was not actually Eva Braun but Magda Goebbels, who bore Josef six immaculate blonde children and shut her eyes not only to his evil politics but also to his constant philandering.
Eva was - apart from Hitler's niece Geli Raubal, who, unable to cope with her uncle as both Führer and lover, killed herself - the only woman he allowed himself to love. She gave Hitler no children because, Lambert suggests, he officially refused to marry because he was married to the Party, and, in reality, refrained from marriage because marriage in his society dictated children and he refused to breed because, while he disapproved of degeneracy and brought in outrageous eugenic laws to stamp it out, he knew his own family history was dangerously prone to a madness he did not wish to pass on or perpetuate.
Hitler first met Eva in 1929 when she was a teenage assistant in the Munich photographic business of Heinrich Hoffmann, who had shrewdly spotted Hitler's potential as early as 1922 and battened on to him as his official photographer until the end. Hitler was 23 years older, charismatic, potentially rich - the royalties from the preposterous Mein Kampf were huge - and already marked by power. On his part, the relationship grew slowly but eventually he bought her a small house in Munich and, when in charge of Germany, made an apartment for her in the Berghof where he ran things when not in Berlin.
While Eva was deeply in love with him, he did not or could not publicly acknowledge her even as a maîtresse en titre. She was never introduced to his high-powered visitors. She was referred to, if at all, as a secretary, of which he had several. Except at night, she rarely saw him privately and even more rarely alone. She spent endless hours swimming, exercising, grooming, changing her clothes, shopping and buying lots of Ferragamo shoes. The Nazi wives, with the exception of Henriette von Schirach and Margret Speer, ignored or snubbed her, a safe activity for them since she had no official status and her name did not even appear in the Berghof phone directory.
During the Downfall period she moved into the Führer bunker and, for a day and a half, following a hurried civil ceremony, she was Frau Hitler. Goebbels and Martin Bormann were the witnesses. With the Russians encircling the bunker, Magda Goebbels poisoned her six children before her husband shot her and himself. Hitler gave Eva a cyanide capsule. When she had swallowed its contents he bit on his and simultaneously shot himself through the mouth. Their corpses were cremated in the garden by Hitler's adjutant and valet.
As Lambert makes clear Eva Braun was a pretty, pleasant woman devoid of malice and certainly no Nazi. She wasn't really interesting yet Lambert has written an interesting book about her and her still horribly absorbing period. Albert Speer, who had been fond of her, said "For all writers of history, Eva Braun is going to be a disappointment." For me at least her life is a terrible reminder of what Hannah Arendt wrote in her great book about Eichmann: "It was as though in those last minutes he was summing up the lessons that this long course in human wickedness had taught us - the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil."
More than a dumb
Nigel Jones reviews The Lost Life of Eva Braun by Angela Lambert.
The German sense of humour, observed Mark Twain, is no laughing matter. One exception to this iron rule was provided - albeit unconsciously - by Hitler's valet, Heinz Linge, in a TV documentary. The interviewer asked Linge about the sex life of the Führer and his 'mistress' Eva Braun.
Linge's eyes popped in indignation and his voice dropped as he growled out a furious denial: Nein, there had never been any hanky-panky of that kind. The clincher? Linge's wife had been Hitler's housekeeper and minutely examined the Führer's sheets every morning - she had never found any tell-tale stains. Such rumours, Linge concluded, were 'Quatsch' (rubbish).
Angela Lambert begs to differ. In her Woman's Realm version of the Third Reich, Lambert insists that Hitler and Eva were lovers. Nevertheless, she accepts that Hitler, like Churchill, had a low libido, and unfortunately poured his considerable energies into politics rather than the airhead who was a constant, if offstage, presence in his life.
Hitler first clapped appreciative eyes on Eva's teenage legs up a ladder in the Munich shop of his personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, where, in 1929, she had just started working as a studio assistant. So determined is Lambert to paint a portrait of a woman who loved not wisely but too well, that she rather glazes over considerable circumstantial evidence that the Führer was either incapable or unwilling to have a mistress, in the generally accepted sense of the word. She canvasses but dismisses stories that Hitler was either genitally malformed (the famous one ball rumour); homosexual (making Eva his 'beard'); or had incestuous coprophilia with his unfortunate niece Geli Raubel, whose troubled relationship with 'Onkel Alf' culminated in her suicide.
According to Lambert, Hitler deflowered Eva at his Bavarian mountain retreat, the Berghof, only weeks after Geli's death, although she concedes that she has no positive proof of the deed. At any rate, from then on Eva effectively filled Geli's dirndl, and became the chatelaine of the Berghof until she voluntarily travelled to Berlin to marry her errant swain, and share with him the dubious glory of Götterdämmerung in the bunker.
Apart from Eva's own films and pictures, and the occasional slighting reference by visitors, there is little extant information on Eva in the intervening Berghof years. Lambert errs in assuming that because Eva was frequently dismissed by jealous top Nazis and their wives as an empty little bimbo unworthy of their leader, she was not just that. Eva, blonde, pudding-faced, uninterested in politics, undemanding, adoring and loyal was the epitome of the sort of woman Hitler liked to have around.
Her life in the golden cage of Berghof was unexacting: she took thousands of photos (preferably of herself), watched escapist movies, sported in lakes and meadows, smoked illicit cigarettes and pined for her often absent Adolf. She twice attempted to commit suicide in despair at her ambiguous existence, in which Hitler refused either to marry her, give her a child (because of worries about his defective, inbred genes, thinks Lambert) or even to let his other courtiers know of her true status.
Lambert is no expert on the Third Reich, and her book is based on a wide but recent selection of books. As a result it has some elementary errors - she claims the officers' bomb plot which nearly killed Hitler was carried out by the Kreisau Circle - a harmless civilian discussion group; and she gets the name of Goebbels's son who was killed in the bunker wrong. It is worth reading as a compendium of gossip, but not as a serious contribution to Nazi history - what Lambert calls 'the Black Events'; which never intruded into Eva's futile life.
Lambert pads out Eva's sad but unilluminating story, told in breathlessly gushing prose, with irrelevant comparisons with her own German mother, just because she was born in the same year as Eva. Without apparently realising the significance of the statistic she tells us that Hitler has been the subject of 700 biographies - while poor Eva has had only one. Go figure, as they say. For all the fresh insight offered, the author might as well have written the life of the other dumb bitch who died with Hitler in the bunker - his beloved Alsatian Blondi. In fact, he may well have been more fond of the one with four legs.
The Eva Braun story: Behind every evil man...
She was a good Catholic girl. Her ordinariness was her defining quality. So why did she devote herself to Adolf Hitler? As a major new biography is published, Frances Wilson looks at her strange life - and death
Published: 12 March 2006
It wasn't much of
a wedding; just the bride and groom and a few of his colleagues. Appropriately
for a workaholic, the ceremony was held in his office without ceremony, but
there was plenty of champagne in the store and nothing left now to do with it,
so they drank a hearty toast to the bride. She would have preferred to wear a
different dress of course, so it was all a bit disappointing, but she wasn't
going to let silly things ruin the moment she had waited 15 years for.
He had said he couldn't marry because he was already "married to the destiny of Germany", but relations in that particular area having irrevocably broken down, he could consider himself a free man. But he left the wedding breakfast early, to dictate his last will and testament.
"There are two ways of judging a man's character," Adolf Hitler apparently told Ernst Hanfstaengl. "By the woman he marries and by the way he dies." Hitler married Eva Braun on 28 April, 1945 and 36 hours later they each took a cyanide capsule and he put a gun to his head. The 700 or so biographers of Hitler have judged his character on rather more than the selection of Eva as bride and cyanide as honeymoon, but it might be possible to say a great deal about Eva Braun based on her peculiar choices of spouse and suicide.
Never less than immaculately turned out, she had her hair done for the occasion, wore her husband's favourite black dress accessorised by a pair of Italian shoes and a diamond watch. She was Frau Hitler for one night only. Hitler, to whom she had been devoted for years, chose to thank her for the many "years of faithful friendship", as he put it in his last will, only as the Russians advanced in on Berlin and his fate was sealed. For some she is the epitome of the Tammy Wynette ideal: she stood by her man to the very last, choosing to die in the bunker as his partner rather than have any kind of future without him.
What kind of woman does this make her? And why are we so fascinated by the women who attach themselves to monsters? From Lady Macbeth to Carmilla Soprano, the claw-like nails of the gangster's moll have a grip on our imaginations. Their love humanises the man and dehumanises themselves.
"Every woman adores a fascist," wrote Sylvia Plath, and while a few of the Nazi party were undeniably dishy - Heydrich, for example - Plath's dictum does not explain the appeal to a pretty bourgeois girl like Eva Braun of the plain, prudish, emotionally immature, lower-middle class vegetarian artist who didn't even look good in a uniform. Power is an aphrodisiac. Myth has it that women were so drawn to Hitler's charisma that some would wet themselves or even reach orgasm during his speeches, but Eva did neither when she first met him: she was bored by politics, and he was not yet famous.
Traudl Junge, the secretary whose book about the last weeks of the Third Reich was turned into the award-winning film Downfall, has reawakened our interest in fascist women. Angela Lambert has now written a biography, The Lost Life of Eva Braun, which sets out to explore what motivated Eva Braun to devote herself to such a man and what he saw in her, the woman he would keep secret from the German nation for 17 years.
Lambert's subject is not an easy one. The Eva Braun who has until now only made sporadic and brief biographical appearances comes across as someone whose most remarkable quality was her emptiness, which is possibly why she is so difficult a figure to judge: was she morally culpable or a childlike innocent? There is no suggestion, as there is with those weird women who become engaged to murderers in prison, that she wanted to "change" Hitler. In Downfall, it is Eva's vacuity which is represented as evil; she feverishly dances the night away as Berlin crumbles.
She attempted to supplement this inner vacuum by a seemingly endless desire to acquire. Her love of shopping and collection of shoes is one of the only things Braun shares with other famous consorts of dictators. She was unconcerned with personal advancement or advancement of her family, spending her time instead floating about, changing her clothes seven times a day, waiting for her Führer to call.
Putting aside the total absence of ethical responsibility which characterised Germany as a whole, Eva Braun seems to have started out a nice enough girl. She was no partner in crime like Myra Hindley, says German historian Richard Overy, for the simple reason that she did not see her Adolf as a criminal. He was a hero, the saviour of Germany. It is not certain that she was ever a member of the Nazi party and it is unlikely, given the Führer's feelings about women interfering in his work, that she knew the details of what he was up to. But this is the problem with Eva: it is her bland indifference to the world her boyfriend was destroying that makes her such a sinister figure.
Eva Braun first met Hitler in October 1929. She was 17, chestnut haired and fresh-faced, one of three sisters from a conventional Roman Catholic family in Munich. She liked dancing, gymnastics, Hollywood movies, and romantic novels, and had the potential required for the ideal Nazi woman: kids, kitchen and church. After leaving her convent school, she began working for Heinrich Hoffman, official photographer to the Nazi party, and it was here that she met the 40-year-old Hitler. As the door opened, Eva happened to be standing on a ladder which gave them both a good vantage point: he looked at her legs, she looked down at his face, they each liked what they saw.
He was introduced by Hoffman as Herr Wolf, which was good enough for Eva who had never heard of Hitler anyway. To her, he seemed "a gentleman of a certain age with a funny moustache and carrying a big felt hat". To him, Heinrich Hoffman recollected, "she was just an attractive little thing, in whom, in spite of her inconsequential and feather-brained outlook - or perhaps just because of it - he found the type of relaxation and repose he sought... But never, in voice, look or gesture, did he behave in any way that suggested any deeper interest in her."
At first glance, the attraction between them seems based on no more than a direct appeal to one another's egos: "A highly intelligent man should always choose a primitive and stupid woman," the Führer explained - he liked young girls because he could mould them. Eva, ever vain, was flattered by the attentions of an Alpha male. But Hitler, it is important to remember, was already involved with his young niece, Geli Raubal, and he only began to take Eva seriously in late 1931, after Geli's suicide. Geli, according to Ian Kershaw, Hitler's most authoritative biographer, was the only woman about whom Hitler was ever to have intense feelings or to be emotionally dependent. Eva Braun was a classic rebound.
Her diary entries for 1935 suggest that even by this stage his interest in her had not shown signs of deepening. "Why do I have to go through all this?" she writes of his continual absences. "If only I had never set eyes on him! I am utterly miserable. I shall go out and buy some more sleeping powder and go into a dreamlike state."
Braun seems to have been in a dreamlike state most of the time. A depressive, she attempted suicide twice before Hitler set her up in a house of her own, but not even being on the Führer's payroll entitled her to public acknowledgement and she was bundled away whenever important guests arrived. She spent much of her time alone and bored to sobs. Her cousin, Gertrude Weisker, said she was "the unhappiest woman I ever met".
The story of Eva Braun is shrouded in speculation: did she enjoy any kind of sex life with Hitler? We know that he liked her to sport chamois leather underwear, but whether she was ever more than his fetish object is anyone's guess. Did he like her defecating on him, as Geli had done? Was she ever in love with Hitler, and how well did she actually know him? Did she realise how mad he had gone by the end? As for the question of why she put up with such a life and such a man: once she became his mistress she surely had no choice. Nobody left the Führer, unless, like Geli, you went out feet first.
The big question, however, is how much she knew about what was happening to the Jews. The representation of Eva as shallow, foolish, young and naive, like that of Traudl Junge in Downfall, seems a convenient way of containing the evil of Nazism by placing it firmly in the male camp. The refusal to ask questions, as Junge says, is itself a crime. "Eva Braun will prove a great disappointment to historians," predicted Albert Speer, Hitler's architect, but maybe she is interesting precisely because of her shallowness. As Oscar Wilde put it: "Only shallow people know themselves."
09 April 2006
Sympathy for the devil’s lover
Books: By Lesley McDowell
The Lost Life of Eva Braun
by Angela Lambert
“History,” says Angela Lambert, “insofar as it has taken any notice of Eva – has returned a damning verdict.” It is time for a re-appraisal, Lambert argues, of the woman who was Hitler’s mistress for 14 years and who married him in the bunker in Berlin the day before they both committed suicide.
How does one go about re-appraising someone who loved one of the most despicable characters in history? Lambert could have taken an academic approach, comparing Braun with the wives and lovers of other 20th century dictators; or perhaps a political one, assessing her position as a woman within the context of the times. But neither would have worked. Eva Braun, in Lambert’s eyes, was apolitical; hidden away at the infamous Berghof in Obersalzberg, nobody, apart from Hitler’s closest confidants, even knew of her existence.
Nobody, that is, apart from journalists for the Paris Soir newspaper – who exposed Braun’s relationship with Hitler in 1936 – Braun’s own extended family of uncles, aunts and cousins, some of whom made visits to the Berghof in spite of their own objections to Hitler, and the multitude of servants and assistants who accompanied the Führer and other Nazis on their regular stays at the Berghof. So quite a few people knew about Eva Braun, as it turns out, although everybody says they didn’t.
It’s almost impossible to remain objective about Braun, although Lambert does try. Interspersed with details about Braun’s life, the author gives us glimpses of her own middle-class German mother, Edith Schroder, born just a month after Braun herself. From her mother, Lambert has absorbed those tiny domestic details that also illuminate Braun’s early life – the food both girls would have eaten as good young German girls, the songs they would have sung, the books they would have read.
These personal family touches do not soften us towards Braun; Lambert does not want to excuse her. But she does want to try and understand her (just as she tries to understand her own mother’s latent racism). Eva Braun met Hitler while she was an assistant in a photography shop that he frequented. At the time, he was involved in a highly charged relationship with his own niece, 19-year-old Geli Raubal. It was the late 1920s and Hitler was establishing his power base. That incestuous affair came to an end when Geli killed herself, a few hours after a blazing row. “In the end, being Hitler’s partner – whether for four years or 13 – entitles both young women to be called tragic heroines,” writes Lambert.
This last statement is disputable; Eva knew all about Geli – she was her rival after all – and one might think that the suicide of one lover might be bad news for the other. In fact, Eva was to try and take her life twice in the next few years, as she struggled to keep Hitler’s attention. Her diary, dated from February to May 1935, reveals her to be a “tormented figure”, according to Lambert, “emotionally strained by her lover’s neglect and driven half insane by her need for him”. The photograph albums she left behind tell us much more about Eva the person – how she wanted to be in films, loved glamour and dressing up, played the good hostess, and was fond of children and small dogs. The other Nazi wives looked down on her.
Whether Eva was as miserable as contemporaries have stated, holed up at the Berghof, without access to radios or newspapers (Hitler preferred her to remain apolitical) and longing for the child that her lover would never permit her to have, can only be guessed at. Certainly, Lambert never lets us forget the daily struggles faced by women during the war, while Eva was dining on the best food, wearing the latest fashions and sheltering in beautiful surroundings. But she does want us to see Eva very much as an innocent – ignorant of the Holocaust, of the hardships Germans were suffering, of anything but love for her man.
At times she almost succeeds in convincing us. And then, suddenly, there are moments when it all turns around, in such passages as Lambert’s description of a young Eva, high-spirited and full of fun, teasing her more serious big sister Ilse. That scene reminds the reader of yet another spirited young girl, bright and loving to play games, and always impatient with her sombre elder sibling: Anne Frank and her sister Margot.
Eva Braun – die Frau, die Adolf Hitlers kaltes Herz gewann und als seine Ehefrau im Führerbunker starb. Nur wenig ist über sie bekannt.
Eine neue Biographie („The Lost Life of Eva Braun“), für die die Autorin Angela Lambert unter anderem mit Brauns Cousine Gertraud sprach, stellt die Frage:
Warum gab sich die schöne blonde Frau dem Nazi-Monster hin?
Er war 40, sie 17, als sich beide im Oktober 1929 kennenlernten. Er nannte sie abschätzig „ein attraktives kleines Ding“.
Das Beziehungsmotto Hitlers war zutiefst verachtend: „Ein hochintelligenter Mann sollte immer eine einfache, dumme Frau wählen.“
1931 wurde aus der Bekanntschaft eine Liebschaft – allerdings nicht intensiv genug für Eva. Vier Jahre später schrieb sie in ihr Tagebuch:
„Warum muß ich das alles ertragen? Hätte ich doch nur nie ein Auge auf ihn geworfen. Ich fühle mich total schlecht. Ich sollte noch mehr Schlafmittel kaufen und mich in einen traumartigen Zustand versetzen.“
Und weiter: „Er hat mir so oft gesagt, wie sehr er mich liebt. Aber was bedeutet das schon, wenn man in drei Monaten kein gutes Wort von ihm gehört hat?“
Mit 25 zieht Eva Braun, die eine Passion für Mode und billige Filme hatte, dennoch auf Hitlers Berghof bei Berchtesgaden.
Ihr Sex sei „normal“ gewesen – bis 1943, als Eva Braun aufgelöst zu Albert Speer, Hitlers Liebling, kam: „Der Führer hat mir gerade gesagt, ich solle einen anderen finden. Er kann mich als Mann nicht länger befriedigen.“
Das läßt – so die Autorin – Rückschlüsse zu, daß es bis dato geklappt hatte – trotz Hitlers Mißbildung (laut russischer Autopsie hatte er „nur einen Hoden).
Eva, zu diesem Zeitpunkt 31, sucht Rat bei Dr. Morell, dem Leibarzt Hitlers. Lust am Sex kann auch der beim Diktator nicht erwecken.
Am 28. April 1945 heirateten beide im Bunker von Berlin. 36 Stunden später schluckten sie Zyanid. Eva Braun starb als Eva Hitler.
'Eva's Cousin': The Prequel to the Marriage of Eva Braun
By ALAN RIDING
By Sibylle Knauss.
336 pp. New York: Ballantine Books. $24.95.
Gertrude Weisker was just 20 in the summer of 1944 when she was summoned to Hitler's Bavarian mountain retreat by her cousin, Eva Braun. Hitler's mistress was bored. Her sister, Gretl, had just married a rising SS officer and Eva now wanted a new companion to amuse her during the lengthy stretches when Hitler was away from the Berghof. Weisker, a bright, impressionable physics student who was 12 years Braun's junior, felt privileged to be chosen.
The experience would teach her more than she wanted to remember and more than she could forget. Nine months later, when she fled the smouldering Berghof, she had been transformed by love, life and death. In 1952, she made the mistake of revealing her past to prospective in-laws, and her engagement was promptly called off. When she did marry, she promised her husband she would never speak of it again. Only when he died in the late 1990's could Weisker at last unburden herself.
The result is a strange, moving and disturbing book, "Eva's Cousin," by Sibylle Knauss, a German novelist. While written in the first person, the book is announced as a novel, with Gertrude's name change to Marlene. But it is impossible to know where the fiction starts. Knauss's dedication does not help: "For G.W., who had the courage to face her past. With my gratitude to her for trusting me, and for her wise advice during my work on this book. This story is as true as the facts on which it is based - and as fictional as any novel. For readers who know and respect the mystery of fiction."
Yet while the mystery remains, it does not diminish the book's power. The story is told more or less chronologically, with flashbacks to Marlene growing up under the daunting shadow of Braun's beauty, elegance and renown. The narrative also pauses as Marlene reflects on her life between July 15, 1944, and May 4, 1945, with the self-knowledge she has acquired since then. But, above all, it is a confession a painful admission that she was, as Braun put it, "one of us." In Anthea Bell's excellent translation from the German, "Eva's Cousin" is a novel that feels like the truth.
The book's title is accurate: it is about Eva's cousin, not about Eva Braun. Yet Braun floats through it, first as young Marlene's role-model, then as the lonely, vain, loyal, and neglected mistress of a monster. Hitler is a more distant figure. He left the Berghof two days before Marlene arrived at the mountain-top fortress palace and never returned. Marlene knew him first through Nazi propaganda, then through Braun's pining eyes, and finally by listening secretly to German-language radio broadcasts on the BBC.
When Marlene came to the Berghof, she embraced her role as Braun's playmate. They would gossip, skinny-dip in a nearby lake, play cards, try on clothes, and watch romantic movies together. Braun's "ardent wish to marry the worst man in the world was romantic through and through," Marlene writes. And later she notes: "Eva dreamed of a postwar career as a film actress. What part did she want to play? She wanted to be Hitler's lover in a big Hollywood movie." After Germany conquered the United States, that is.
But Braun's daily life was more banal. She was constantly anguished when Hitler was away and upset when he did not telephone her. "She had a great talent for hurt feelings," Marlene recalls. "In every other way she was moderate, reasonable, average. Only when it came to feeling hurt was it granted to her to break the mold. She was extraordinarily good at it. And in Hitler she had met her master, the man who would give her the occasion for hurt feelings on a grand scale."
After some weeks, Marlene moved from the Berghof itself to a nearby chalet, the Tea House, where Hitler would occasionally take an afternoon nap and where she now spent her mornings studying physics while Braun slept in late. And it was here one night that she found an emaciated boy of 16 cowering in her kitchen. He had escaped from a detachment of Eastern European slave workers who were building a new bunker below the Berghof. He gave his name as Mikhail. Without hesitation, Marlene offered him shelter.
In the months that followed, feeding and hiding Mikhail became her principal preoccupation, her silent protest against the dictator whose hospitality she enjoyed. At the same time, she was drawn into the Nazi web through her love of an SS officer whom she names as Oberstrumbannfuhrer Hans. To keep him away from the Tea House, she spent nights with him in a nearby hotel, but they did not make love. One day, he arrived unannounced at the Tea House and, in panic, she surrendered her virginity to distract him from Mikhail hiding in a corner of the room.
Soon afterwards, Braun left the Berghof to rejoin Hitler in Berlin. "For twenty-four hours I act like an husband whose wife has walked out on him," Marlene writes. "I am indignant. I am baffled. I don't believe it. I say: It's not so much the fact that she's gone. It's the fact that she didn't say good-bye to me. Imagine just leaving like that!" Instead of herself also leaving, however, Marlene still has Mikhail to look after. And as the BBC keeps reporting, the end is fast approaching.
Marlene's final weeks at the retreat are indeed the stuff of novels. She and Mikhail are snowed in without food, Hans begins to suspect her behavior and reveals himself more Nazi than lover, she defies him by declaring "the truth is that we're beaten" and is placed under house arrest, Mikhail manages to escape and Allied bombers target the Berghof. She learns that her cousin has at last achieved her dream of marrying Hitler, two days before they commit suicide. Then Marlene too is scrambling for her life.
The book concludes with Marlene's final mea culpa, a letter written to her father, whom she last saw in July 1944 and who died in a Russian camp in 1946. She now knows he was right in opposing her move to the Berghof and that she misses him desperately. "Now I realize that to this day I never stopped looking for you," she writes mournfully. And then she adds: "We all have our dead, with whom we are fated to talk. To whom we still owe our explanations, and of whom we would like to know one last thing. You are one of them for me, Father, and Eva is another."
Alan Riding is the European Cultural Correspondent of The New York Times, based in Paris.
My cousin, Eva Braun
As a 20-year-old, Gertrude Weisker joined her cousin Eva Braun, Hitler's mistress at Berchtesgaden for lonely days of swimming and killing time in the dying months of the war. Now in her late 70s, Gertrude insists neither she nor Eva were Nazis
Saturday April 27, 2002
Earlier this year I came across an extraordinary book, a novel based on a few months in the life of Eva Braun, Hitler's mistress. In the summer of 1944, bored and in need of distraction, Eva invited her cousin Gertrude Weisker to stay with her at the Berghof, Hitler's mountain retreat; the novel, to be published in this country next month, drew largely on Gertrude's account of that summer, a summer which was to prove Eva's last.
To me, Eva was always a cipher: a glamorous blonde often filmed playing at different sports, or photographed dressed in Bavarian costume, by the Führer's side. She is also one of the most inconvenient women in history, for her existence testifies to a mysterious phenomenon: that Hitler had a personal life. If he loved Eva and Eva loved him, then he must have been a human being, despite the great weight of evidence to the contrary.
Who could have fallen in love with Hitler other than a Nazi as fanatically committed as he was? Yet the Eva Braun I read about turned out to be an It Girl, an ornament of the Third Reich, a vacuum, an empty case. One might expect no more intelligence and morality than from a lapdog (and it was an untranslatable Austrian slang word for a pet that Adolf used for her nickname).
Those who chastise women for their love of clothes and make-up and other tawdry diversions do not understand that you cannot have depths without surfaces, but in Eva's case, she was veneer through and through. So I was mad to meet Sibylle Knauss, the novelist, who had so depicted her, and stunned to find out that Gertrude Weisker, the model for the novel's central character, was happy to be interviewed. I could now speak to one of the last personal links with the originator and instrument of both the second world war, and of genocide and mass murder.
Sibylle Knauss lives just outside the southern city of Stuttgart, Gertrude Weisker a couple of hours' drive north, in Jena, near Heidelberg. Sibylle, a tall elegant woman born in 1944 who has written nine novels and also lectures in film, picked me up and we set out in pleasant sunshine along the autobahn. She is part of a generation I have long admired and respected - those Germans born during and just after the war, whose investigation of their parents' past had a uniquely personal resonance.
In the 1950s, after the Allied programme of "de-Nazification" that was supposed to identify party members and ensure they had no place in the new civic, industrial and media infrastructure, the motto of Germans (and oddly enough, of their victims, too) was "forget the past". The postwar period, both for perpetrators and survivors, was one in which the future was everything; both Germans and Jews were intent on building new states.
The Bible commands us not to look back on past evil, lest we are turned to pillars of salt, but Sibylle's novel does not accept that memory, compassion, emotion and perception must be abandoned if one is to escape from history. "What is special to Germans," she told me as we drove to Jena, "is this feeling of guilt, and by saying, 'I'm German', it's always included - this knowing that we are a guilty nation, and the process of building this feeling of guilt has been done over the decades. Of course I don't feel personally guilty because I was a newborn baby when Hitler was there, but when I say, 'I'm German', I say, 'I belong to a guilty nation' and I think that's how most Germans feel. You are forced to look inside, to look back."
The genesis of her novel was a 1998 interview with the magazine Der Spiegel, in which she mentioned that she would be interested in writing something about Eva Braun. "We were talking," she told me, "about matters of German history and how they could be transformed into literature. I was interested in writing about her because it's so difficult. I appreciated the challenge, but it was a long-term project, not very real, until I got this call from a woman who said, 'I am the cousin of Eva Braun and I could tell you a lot', so I met her. I did some interviews, but more than that we just talked. She also gave me some papers she had written for her children."
As we drove along, I was trying to get to grips with Gertrude Weisker. The narrator of Sibylle's novel, Marlene, is explicit about her place close to the heart of fascism - "we Nazis," she says - but Sibylle warned me to be cautious. Gertrude's father, an engineer, was not a member of the party and in 1946 was killed by the Russians, for collaborating with the Americans. In July 1944, Eva rang Gertrude and told her she was lonely, with Hitler away a great deal in east Prussia directing the failing war effort. Alone in the Berghof, she asked Gertrude to come and be her companion. Gertrude's father forbade his daughter to go. Her defiance of him, Sibylle felt, was less to do with an admiration for fascism than the adolescent rebellion of a 20-year-old girl intoxicated by her glamorous older cousin (Eva was then 32), who on a previous visit had donated to her one of her own satin bras.
"They are examples of people who were very close to the centre of Nazism, but somehow they were also very far from it," Sibylle said. "They didn't think about anything political, about political crimes or war, they just lived their little everyday lives at the Berghof. My personal view is that, at the age of 20, nobody is really any political person. When I think of myself, when I think of my sons who are 28 and 27 now, at the age of 20 they talked so much nonsense and I also had no view of any political things at the age of 20. Like Eva Braun, and Gertrude Weisker, I was more interested in clothes and dancing and fun."
We arrived in Jena. Gertrude came to the door, a stocky woman in her late 70s. The walls of her living room were covered with Chagall prints. We sat down and I apologised in advance for asking the same questions as many others must have done before. "I can't change my answers," she replied. "I want to be true."
The facts about Eva Braun are these. She was born the middle of three sisters into a Catholic family; three lively, pretty girls. In 1929, at 17, she was working as an assistant to Hermann Hoffman, Hitler's official photographer. From the moment Hitler walked into the shop, she was in love. Her father frowned on, and later felt humiliated by, the liaison - not because his daughter was associated with the prime mover of the Nazi party, but because Hitler would not marry her; she was a mistress, not a wife. After 1933, when the Nazis were elected and took control of the press, her face vanished from the public gaze. As far as the public was concerned, the Führer was married to Germany, not to a little blonde in Munich.
Few people outside the party's inner circles were aware of her existence until after the war, when her death, alongside Hitler in their Berlin bunker, was announced. Hitler had married her 36 hours before. She would leave behind instructions to her sister, Ilse, to burn some of her papers, her dressmaker's bills. She did not want to go down in history as a shopaholic - the only sin, Sibylle writes, that she was aware of committing. Apart from these few facts she is a void.
The first thing I asked Gertrude was why she had defied her father. I wanted to see if Sibylle's thesis was correct, that it was innocence that drew her to the Berghof. "I wanted to see my cousin and my father allowed me to go to Munich where my grandparents lived," she said. "You see it was war, you couldn't go any place and before the war we had travelled as far as possible all over this world. With the Nazi regime we felt ourselves in a big concentration camp. Then I had the chance to see my cousin and why should I not go? But Eva was not on the train station when I arrived. There were two SS men and they told me, 'We bring you to your cousin.' I didn't know she was living in the Berghof, I thought they were bringing me to Eva's house in Munich."
I was startled by this reference to Germany as a "concentration camp" for its Nazi population; if its free civilian citizens thought they were in a concentration camp, where exactly were the inmates of Auschwitz? The Marlene of the novel would not, I thought, have used such inadvisable language. But I pressed on, asking if she knew about her cousin's relationship with Hitler when she went to stay.
"I knew it from 1932. I was nine years old and I saw a picture in the newspaper saying that Eva Braun was now the favourite of Hitler, but I didn't know about Hitler and I didn't know what a favourite was. My parents told me I was not allowed to talk about it. I decided it was best to say nothing."
What was the Berghof like? (Sibylle had described it as resembling the headquarters of a Bond villain.) "It was just a staircase, a big staircase you could find in any place. I was not impressed by it, not at all. The servants served us meals and took care of the rooms. They were kindly, why shouldn't they be? When I was there we were completely alone." Hitler, it turned out, was away in east Prussia throughout Gertrude's visit. I was disappointed to hear this. I was not going to get any close-up portrait of the madman himself.
What sort of person was Eva? "I loved her," Gertrude replied. "It's difficult for me to explain how she was. She was very sporty, and to me she was very beautiful. You see I was 12 years younger than her and it is normal that you adore the grown-up person. I felt like a girl, but she was, in my eyes, always trying to do something, to be active. I don't know why. There was a special emptiness in her and she was trying to fill it by sport, by swimming. Things which don't matter. She always changed dresses, five times, seven times a day. I don't know what it means, perhaps it was the possibility to be another person. Sometimes she was a Bavarian girl, sometimes she was a lady, and maybe that was to fill her emptiness. There was no one to adore her."
Why had Eva fallen in love with Hitler? "That's a good question. I don't know." Did she ever ask her? "No, we never talked about this. You see it was a very different generation, we were very respectful to each other, and for me, 12 years younger, it was impossible to ask." What did they do all day? "When the weather was nice, we went swimming. There was a very lonely place with a waterfall, I think you saw in the films; that place, it was our place. [Eva Braun's home footage of these excursions survived the war.] A car brought us down to the lake, a boat took us to the lonely place and we spent the day there. When we left the house we were accompanied by one or two soldiers. They were always behind us and I didn't know what they did. Did they control us, or did they help us? When we took postcards [to be posted] we went out of the house, through the back entrance, and took a car to avoid them." So they were like teenagers escaping from the adults? "Yes. It was like teenage life."
Perhaps the most significant role Gertrude played was in convincing her cousin that her boyfriend was not going to win the war. When she moved to the tea house she found a radio and Eva asked her if she wanted to listen to the BBC, an activity that was then punishable by death. "I heard all about what is going on in Germany, how the bombing had started, how the American troops were coming nearer and nearer, every morning when I came to her I made little notes telling her now they are here, now they are there. Eva listened carefully and in time she completely changed, she was very strong with herself, she was not interested in swimming or dancing, I think she prepared herself very carefully for her death. There was bombing in Munich in December, it was a hard bombing and we were there together in the shelter. She opened her suitcase and showed me her jewellery and said, 'This is for you.' I said, 'I don't want it.' But she said, 'I don't need it any more.' "
At the beginning of January, Gertrude received a phone call to say that her father was ill, and returned to Jena. Eva made her way to Berlin to be with Hitler and the two women never saw each other again."Now I think that, had I not left her in the January, maybe she wouldn't have gone to Berlin. That's something that's in my mind now. There was no one to keep her at the Berghof. She had no other way than going to him. I can't say that's true but that is what I feel now."
Eva could have survived the war, Sibylle pointed out. Few people in Germany had ever heard of her. The wives of other high-ranking Nazis were not punished. But life was an option Eva did not choose. Both Sibylle and Gertrude feel that Eva's personality was that of a depressive. Early in her relationship with Hitler she made two suicide attempts. Part of a diary exists from that period. "Why doesn't the devil come and catch me?" she wrote. "With him it would be better than here." She got her wish. The devil did catch her.
So far, Gertrude's answers had been forthcoming, but not especially revealing. Trained as a scientist, she did not seem to have those shafts of insight and the self-awareness of Marlene, her character in the novel. I didn't want to ask the obvious question - did you know about the concentration camps? - but whether she had said to herself during those months at the Berghof, "I am a Nazi." "We Nazis." And if so, what had looking back done to her? "I? A Nazi? No. I have never been one," she replied, surprised.
But she stayed with her cousin Eva, who was a Nazi, I pointed out. "No. She was not in the party, she was the girlfriend of Hitler, nothing else, she was nothing." But how could she not be a Nazi? I asked. She was in love with the guy who started the whole thing. "Maybe it's strange for you, but this was, I think, the only thing she could arrange, that she was not a member of the party. So she had no possibility to interfere with anything. We have an aunt, she was a nun, and at that time monasteries were occupied and my aunt asked Eva, 'Can you help us so that we can stay in the monastery?' and do you know what Eva told her: 'Let your hair grow.' That means, if you have to leave the monastery nobody can see you are a nun. She had no influence and she didn't try to have influence."
I thought this revealed complicity rather than innocence, but what I said was, "I accept that, but she was in love with a man who was promising world domination on a fascist ideology. Why?"
"Was it some kind of faith on him, in him, about him? I don't know," she replied.
Not long after this, Gertrude produced the family album. There was Eva at her older sister Ilse's wedding. Gertrude, young, serious-faced, holding flowers. There was Eva in evening dress. There were the three Braun sisters together, three good German Catholic girls of which there is nothing, not a trace left; not a child between them survived. There was her sister Gretel's wedding to Hermann Fegelein, said to be responsible for the murder of 20,000 Jews in Poland and the Soviet Union, him on the left in SS uniform, Hitler on the right. The picture is signed on the back from Gretel to Gertrude. Fifty-seven years after the end of the war, Gertrude still keeps a picture of Adolf Hitler in the family album. I could have asked her why, butI didn't. What was she going to say? My cousin Gretel was not a Nazi?
For two years after the war Gertrude wandered her derelict country with a knapsack. She nearly got engaged, but when her fiancé found out who she was, he dumped her. Who would willingly father children who would, by marriage at least, be related to Adolf Hitler? When she met her future husband in 1948, he said he would marry her only if she kept quiet about her history. Her children were not told who their cousin was until after their father's death, 10 years ago.
But life has changed for Gertrude since since Sibylle Knauss's novel was first published in Germany. She has become a star of chat-shows, and it is assumed that the story of Marlene is that of Gertrude Weisker, that Sibylle Knauss was merely a ghostwriter. A web of false memory has grown up as the novelist's surmises become Gertude's own recollected past.
On the way back to Stuttgart, I expressed my unease to Sibylle. She reminded me of what she had said on the way, her cautious words of warning: "When I wrote this novel, Gertrude Weisker's story wasn't the point," she had said. "It was only one element among others. I wanted to talk about a state of mind. I wanted to know how it feels to have been a young woman in those times, to have been this close to Hitler and his private world, how these memories are alive in the life she now leads as an old woman. It's about a person who once enters a very bad place, a place of evil, and tries to escape from it for the rest of her life. For me, that's more essential than the Eva Braun-Hitler love story. I think Gertrude Weisker has escaped from it in telling about it. It was a sort of coming free, but in my opinion she now very much enjoys being a person of interest and I try to think what I would do in her situation. I would have said, after a few interviews, this is it, but she never gets enough of it. She was the model, of course she was, but she is not Marlene. Gertrude Weisker may be more intelligent than her cousin was but there's not much interesting about her as a person."
Sibylle and I had a very late lunch and then I spent the evening at her house. On her bookshelves I found a German biography of Eva Braun, in which she is photographed in her early teens at a fancy dress party. She came as Al Jolson. A Jew in blackface. Who was she? In the words of Sibylle's novel, probably just "a very pretty blonde with something not quite right about her eyes... vain and completely ignorant of power politics." What was the secret of her relationship with Hitler? Again, as Sibylle writes, her role was to persuade him "erroneously, that he is a human being capable of feelings and emotions". And what was one to make of Gertrude Weisker? Sitting at the airport, drinking coffee near the gleaming Mercedes gift shop, I could not help but think that if one listened to every German alive today one would wonder whether the cheering crowds at the rallies, the parades, the speeches, the red and black ecstasy of fascism, all of it was just a movie, shot with extras. Who was a Nazi? No one, apparently. "I was not a Nazi," Gertrude said. Eva Braun was not a Nazi. Maybe even Hitler wasn't a Nazi. Maybe it never happened, maybe it was all a dream.
At the foot of the Obersalzburg, the mountain on which the Berghof sat, a vast camp of slave labourers and soldiers toiled to build a subterranean empire in which the Third Reich could survive underground for 100 years, "a mole state with mole subjects," writes Sibylle Knauss in her book. Gertrude never noticed them. Marlene did. "My father was a Nazi," Sibylle said insistently. "We Germans were Nazis." And I thought again how even innocence can be a crime against humanity
Eva's Cousin, by Sibylle Knauss, is published by Doubleday on May 9, priced
£12.99, and Linda Grant's third novel, Still Here, will be published by Little,
Brown on May 30, priced £10.99.
The TLS n.º 5388, July 7, 2006
WOMAN AND DOG
The Third Reich and the plots against the Führer
300 pp. Cape £ 20
0 224 07121 1
The Lost Life of Eva Braun
495 pp. Century £ 20.
1 8441 3599 3
Despite the recent vogue for “alternative” histories of the twenty century, and the frequency with which Hitler appears in them, there does not seem to have been any counter-factual speculation about what might have happened had Hitler been assassinated at an early point in his career (or, more happily, strangled at birth). With one or two exceptions, the focus of attention has almost invariably been the spine-chilling possibility of a victorious Nazi Germany.
This is not for want of credible circumstances in which an assassination might have succeeded: from Georg Elser, the lone bomber of the Bürgerbräukeller, to the palace revolutionaries of the 1944 bomb plot there seems to have been little shortage of Germans out to finish off the Führer, not to mention Allied agents and Polish partisans. Killing Hitler was obviously on the minds of many contemporaries, even if only as an idle fantasy. Neville Henderson, quoted in the epigraph to one chapter of Roger Moorhouse’s very readable study, would - given a gun and two shots - have shot first Himmler and then Ribbentrop, before using the butt of the rifle to “brain” Hitler, while Albert Speer, in so far as he is to be believed, not only fantasized about ‘eliminating” Hitler, but also about kidnapping Nazi leaders in order to prevent them from committing suicide and thereby escaping enemy justice. But “from the intention to the deed” was, as Speer put it, “a very long way”, and he admitted that he could never really have done it. Similarly, General Halder, who often wished that Hitler might be assassinated. or even be killed by accident. could not contemplate doing the job himself, and it seems likely that many who fervently wished Hitler dead could not have done the deed themselves. Lord Halifax, on hearing of the suggestion by a British military attaché, Noel Mason-Macfarlane, that Hitler could easily bc picked off with a rifle shot, was dismayed by the thought that British diplomats should stoop to assassination, and Mason-Macfarlane was informed that his plan was “unsportsmanlike”.
Roger Moorhouse locates the many plots against Hitler in a number of overlapping contexts, from the Führer’s personal security arrangements - often surprisingly lax, even after the first attempts on his life - to the broader history of organized resistance, whether from German officers, underground movements within Occupied Europe or SOE. But where the history of resistance has often concentrated on the ideological motives of resisters, or the extent to which they reflected the relationship between Nazism and society, the focus here is on the practicalities of access and timing, or the personal dilemmas of individuals. Officers, for example, bound by a personal oath of loyalty to the Führer, did not take lightly the prospect of committing high treason, and those who did conspire to murder Hitler and overthrow the regime were vilified long after the war by right-thinking patriots before they were rehabilitated as saviours the German conscience. The result is a gripping account, which is thoroughly researched, but wears its scholarship lightly enough to be read like a good political thriller.
In the end, of course, Hitler died by his own hand, along with his wife of thirty-six hours; and perhaps the most improbable of all counter-factual scenarios would be Hitler as a happily married man. Angela Lambert’s account of the life of Eva Braun is a compelling story based on interviews, eyewitness accounts, and hitherto unused family papers. It is the story of a conventional middle-class girl from a conservative Catholic background, but one apparently more independent-minded than most. There seems to be relatively little to say about Braun herself whose sole purpose in life - and claim to fame was loving Hitler with undeviating loyalty to the end, a loyalty, as the Führer himself pointed out, matched only by Blondi, his Alsatian. In fact, so little is really known either about Eva Braun, or about her relationship with Hitler, that a great deal has to be supposition and speculation, and although Lambert is persuaded that they were lovers, there seems to be no more evidence for this than for the more sensationalist speculations about Hitler’s sex life. In any case, much of the story here is about what it was to be a young middle-class woman growing up in Germany at the time, and seems to be based as much on the experience of the author’s own German mother as on that of Eva. (They were born in the same year.) There is also a substantial section on Hitler’s own childhood, despite Lambert’s point that while there have been hundreds of Hitler biographies, there has only been one of Eva. (There is, of course, a good reason for that.) Nevertheless, and despite the somewhat approximate knowledge of the Third Reich, this too is a very readable book, packed with gossip, anecdotal detail (such as the Homes and Gardens feature on the Berghof, and priceless captions to the many pictures: “Eva Braun - not a pretty baby”; and later: “the hairstyle is unflattering (she is attempting the currently fashionable shingled bob”).
Yet for all the sympathy she might elicit, it is never possible to forget where Eva Braun was, who she was with, and what she was a part of. Despite the obvious futility of her wasted life, and the superficial poignancy of the record of her last days - the last letter to a friend, the distress and despair of those in the bunker with Hitler at the end, the imagined tenderness between Eva and Adolf before their suicide - it is difficult to find much sympathy for the “lost” life of Eva Braun, without remembering those whose lives were destroyed by the Nazis.
Sleeping With the Devil
Was Hitler's lover a vapid dupe or an accomplice to evil?
Sunday, February 18, 2007; BW06
THE LOST LIFE OF EVA BRAUN
By Angela Lambert
St. Martin's. 495 pp. $29.95
Many biographies reveal as much about their authors as about their subjects, and this account of the life of Hitler's mistress can serve as Exhibit A. The British writer Angela Lambert is fascinated by Eva Braun for one key reason: Like Lambert's mother, Braun was born in Germany in 1912, grew up during Hitler's rise to power and never questioned what was happening in her country. Lambert's mother then married an Englishman and moved to Britain in 1936, but until the end of her life, she never acknowledged that her silence in the 1930s represented any kind of moral failure.
By painstakingly examining the thin trail of evidence left behind by Braun, Lambert wonders whether all German women, from the least famous to her infamous subject, should be condemned for the horrific deeds of their men. If Braun can be absolved of guilt, she suggests, so can most German women, including her mother. "Any verdict on Eva is, in microcosm, a verdict on the German people," she writes. And from there, it's a short step to this sweeping statement: "Women who love evil men need not necessarily be evil themselves."
Lambert insists that her minute examination of Braun's life proves that she has been unfairly caricatured "as a feather-brained non-entity" who partied and worried about her wardrobe while her lover set the world aflame. The woman who finally married Hitler right before committing suicide with him in his bunker in Berlin at the end of the war, Lambert argues, was caring, sensitive and, above all, loyal. She claims that the former photo shop assistant was smarter than is commonly assumed -- but "blissfully ignorant" of politics, which was considered men's business, and remained so throughout the war years she spent in Obersalzberg, Hitler's retreat in the Bavarian Alps. All she cared about was when "HE," as she referred to him in her letters, would visit.
Although Lambert concedes that even ordinary citizens couldn't be clueless about the fate of the Jews after Kristallnacht in 1938, she largely dismisses the notion that Braun and most other Germans could have known the full extent of the horrors of the deportations and the camps. She also argues that the widespread anti-Semitism of German women like her mother, who remained "unthinkably prejudiced against Jews" even after the war, didn't overshadow their positive traits, such as love of family.
As for Braun, Lambert portrays her as "blameworthy" -- not implicated in the suffering Hitler inflicted on the world, "but not innocent either." Then she adds a defense of Braun that is staggering in its implications. "It is not a crime to be shallow and fun-loving," Lambert insists, seemingly ignoring the context of such "fun": Hitler's orgy of mass murder. Even Braun's outburst against her sister, who dared to denounce Hitler near the end -- "You deserve to be lined up against the wall and shot!" -- is presented as an understandable product of blind love for her man. But Lambert is hardly doing her mother or other dangerously passive German women a service by equating their willful blindness with Braun's. This is a case of a daughter protesting too much, offering a damning indictment instead of an effective defense. After all, Hitler proved how easily willful blindness could serve the cause of blind destruction.
--Andrew Nagorski, a senior editor at Newsweek International, is the author of the forthcoming "The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow That Changed the Course of World War II."
The Reich stuff
An examination of two women close to Hitler, and their roles in the Nazi regime
Leni Riefenstahl: A Life
By Jürgen Trimborn
Faber and Faber, 351 pp., illustrated, $30
The Lost Life of Eva Braun
By Angela Lambert
St. Martin's, 495 pp., illustrated, $29.95
Leni Riefenstahl and Eva Braun. It's hard to believe that two women so different could both embody Nazi ideals. As an actress, Riefenstahl was a public icon of Aryan womanhood. As a filmmaker, she became the Third Reich's chief propagandist, the one who stirred the fascist frenzy. Braun, on the other hand, was the führer's secret love .
Riefenstahl was strong. She was a symbol of Aryan athleticism who gained fame from the mountaineering movies in which she portrayed mythic German beauties. On screen, she embodied German nationalist ideals: cold as ice, strong as steel, blond as peroxide could make her. Eventually, she turned her immense talent to making Nazi documentaries: Her films of the Nuremberg rallies and the 1936 Berlin Olympics won worldwide accolades (for her cinematic skill) while in Germany they won thousands of acolytes to the Nazi Party. In America, Frank Capra and Charlie Chaplin studied her films to try to learn how cinematic propaganda could work. Riefenstahl survived the war, and for more than 50 years she claimed to have been an unwilling servant of the Third Reich and ignorant of its genocide. By the time she died, at 101, her campaign of denial had met with some success. Many film critics seemed willing to overlook her fascism and to celebrate her talent instead.
Eva Braun, on the other hand, was docile and sweet. As Hitler's mistress, she spent most of her adult life waiting at home in Hitler's Bavarian retreat. The führer visited only once every few weeks, but Eva was always ready to try to ease his stress with her bubbleheaded antics and sentimental ways. From Braun's 19th birthday to her 32d, her relationship to Hitler was secret. But at the defeat of the Third Reich, as some of his most trusted ministers fled from him, Braun stayed at Hitler's side, announcing her intention to die in his arms. Hitler rewarded her loyalty by summoning a terrified civil servant to the bunker and marrying her, 36 hours before he handed her the cyanide capsule that ended her life. Ten minutes after she swallowed it, her still - warm body was doused in gasoline, and she and Hitler burned together.
Angela Lambert's "The Lost Life of Eva Braun" tries to portray Braun as a "tragic heroine," a powerless but fundamentally good victim of her proximity to power. Her argument is wildly unconvincing, but there's a certain fascination to reading about Braun . The book is lively, readable, undisciplined, and sometimes just silly. But it is also somewhat compelling, in large part because Braun's story is mixed up with the author's own story of her struggle to cope with her German mother. Apparently, Lambert's mother looked like Braun. She was a racist and an anti-Semite who never repressed her aversion to Jews or to people of color. But she was also an "amiable" mother. Lambert is troubled by this contradiction, and throughout the book she grapples with it, inserting paragraphs about her mother and her mother's family whenever the parallels strike or puzzle her. The strategy is understandable. It's hard to know how else to fill the pages, when there is so little documentary evidence. Twenty-two pages of Braun's diary remain, along with a few albums of snapshots of her. Although the last few weeks of her life are exhaustively documented, for the years before that, Lambert is forced to speculate.
Lambert can't face up to Braun's complicity with Hitler because for her it is tied to her own mother's guilt by association. In her effort to exonerate Braun, Lambert quotes the Holocaust denier David Irving, and ignores the analyses of scholars like Daniel Goldhagen , who describes many ordinary Germans as "Hitler's willing executioners."
Jürgen Trimborn's "Leni Riefenstahl: A Life" is on the other end of the spectrum . It is exhaustively researched, and the scholarship is careful and sound, if a little dull. Since Riefenstahl was a very public figure and a compulsive liar, there is much contradictory evidence about her. Trimborn sorts through it all with great clarity as he builds the case that Riefenstahl was an enthusiastic Nazi.
Riefenstahl's great talent does not change the ethics of her Nazi participation any more than her subsequent denials. After the war, she spent years as a photographer of the Nuba people in the Sudan. Susan Sontag linked those photos to the Berlin Olympics documentary because they also fetishized physical perfection, but it is clear that Riefenstahl intended them as compensatory images because they were African instead of Aryan. Once the Sudan was torn apart by civil war, Riefenstahl embarked on a final chapter as a deep-sea filmmaker. At age 100, she was in scuba gear making beautifully painterly abstractions underwater. As Trimborn tells it, Riefenstahl was a resourceful and vigorous woman with a great eye for an image and an amazing capacity for telling convincing lies.
Neither amiability nor talent is an excuse for complicity with genocide, or for subscribing to the fundamentally evil tenets of Aryan supremacy. Being a woman in a man's Reich doesn't cut it either. Lambert's honest struggle to exonerate Braun and Trimborn's careful effort to convict Riefenstahl are both somewhat interesting for the armchair ethicist, but in both cases, the final conclusions are simple: The woman who helped create Hitler and the woman who loved him were both willing participants in and supporters of the Third Reich.
Renée Bergland, a professor at Simmons College, is writing a biography of astronomer Maria Mitchell.