November 18th, 2015
HITLER WAS THE FÜHRER WHO WAS MARRIED TO GERMANY. This still dominant view of Hitler was created by a large propaganda machine that portrayed him as a bachelor who invested all his time and energy to his country. Only a small inner circle of friends and confidants knew about his mistress, Eva Braun, who was 20 years his junior. The rest of the world learned about Eva Braun after both she and Hitler took their own lives in that bunker in Berlin where they were hiding from the allied forces in a war that they both knew was lost. This was only two days after they had been married.
Based on meticulous research by the author, the Eva Braun we come to know is not as naïve and innocent as described previously. Although we can’t conclude that she knew about the Holocaust and had influence on the regime, the book shows that she was an active supporter of the regime and helped sell Hitler to the people. They met at Photohaus Hoffman, the company where she worked for which was run by Heinrich Hoffman who was part of Hitler’s inner circle and who remained one of his most intimate friends during the years that followed. Heinrich and his Photohaus Hoffman were responsible for selling Hitler to the German people by the continuous release of pictures of him.
Although Hitler and Eva weren’t intimate from the beginning, they grew closer over time until finally she became a dominant and stable factor within his inner circle living at the Berghof residence. In this period she grew from an insecure girl to a self-confident woman. Her feelings of insecurity that dominated the start of their relationship can be related to the lack of public acknowledgement she got as being Hitler’s partner. In fact, it is hard to find pictures of Hitler and Braun together for they hardly appeared together in public. And when you do find a picture where Hitler and Eva appear together, she is always seated in a different row than Hitler. Although this had to be hard for her – she was supposed to have attempted suicide twice – she was determined to solidify her position. Eventually, she was the woman who reigned at the Berghof, who arranged movie nights and dinners and lived there together with Hitler, a position that wasn’t always evaluated in positive terms by the other members of the Berghof circle.
Lack of Primary Sources
Interestingly, the exact nature of the relationship between Eva and Hitler remains unclear throughout the book. This is primarily caused by a lack of primary sources (Eva’s diary was never found). However, another part of the puzzle has to do with the ambivalent nature of Hitler as we come to know him in the book. However, the fact is that he did marry her and she remained true to him until the end when she and Hitler committed suicide on April 30th 1945. It wasn’t until then that the world learned about the mistress, then wife, of Hitler.
Not much is known about the role of the women of important Nazi-officials. Is this caused by a neglect of historians or did the regime also play a part in creating this blind spot in history?
“Actually the notion of the lives of women and girls in Germany created by the Nazi propagandists had little to do with reality. The actual lives of women beyond the “cult of the mother” were significantly more multi-layered and complex than is generally assumed. Nevertheless, visibly political active women, like “Reich Women’s Leader” Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, were exceptions. Since women were not allowed to hold high-ranking positions in politics, the economy or the military, the lives of women in general, and the activities of the wives of the Nazi elite in particular, were seen as meaningless with respect to their political development. After the war, the women who had been around Hitler gave the impression that they had nothing to do with politics during the Nazi dictatorship and had spent their time only with private matters. Even Ilse Hess, an early campaigner and stern activist of the Nazi Party, declared after 1945 that she, as a woman, had been always “passive”. Therefore, the women themselves and the memoir literature after the war produced the legend of “female innocence” that became part of the “exonerating debate” during the 1950’s. Biographies of Hitler or other leading Nazis, like Hermann Göring or Albert Speer, mostly ignore the wives. And even if they are mentioned: there is no talk about the political motivation of these women, let alone their anti-Semitism or anti-democratic attitude. This view changed slowly during the 1980’s, when a new and more complex perspective on the social history of the “Third Reich” also highlighted the role of women. Now they are increasingly perceived as actors on the historical stage.”
Was it difficult – over half a century after her death – to uncover facts about Eva Braun? Could you elaborate more about your sources and how you as a historian weigh the different pieces of – sometimes contradictory – information?
“Because of the lack of primary sources, the common interpretations of Eva Braun were encouraged by the memoir literature written after the Second World War. In these accounts former members of the Nazi elite or members of Hitler’s staff mentioned wives, girlfriends or female relatives just as passive bystanders. Neither Hitler nor Eva Braun left any notes with information that could have illuminated the character of their relationship. There exist only a few postcards and letters written by Eva Braun and a diary fragment, dating from the 6th of February 1935 to the 28th of May 1935. But it is disputed whether these pieces were actually written by Eva Braun, because the handwriting in old German is very different from other letters she wrote. But even if there are few personal documents by Eva Braun and none by Hitler, who had his most loyal adjutant destroy all private letters and documents at the end, there are a lot of statements and notes by others that shed light on the relationship between Braun and Hitler. Thus I used, among others, contemporary statements by Joseph Goebbels, Martin and Gerda Bormann, and interviews of the members of the “inner circle” conducted only a few weeks or months after the surrender of the German Wehrmacht. NS-functionaries as well as Hitler’s secretaries, adjutants and doctors were questioned by Allied intelligence officers. Among them were Albert Speer, Karl Brandt, Theodor Morell, Christa Schroeder, Traudl Junge and Wilhelm Brückner. In addition I saw the interrogation files of the family and friends of Eva Braun (including her parents, her sisters, her friend Herta Schneider, Heinrich Hoffmann and other members of the “inner circle”) conducted by the German denazification-courts in Munich from 1947 to 1949. And last but not least I undertook an analysis and assessment of the memoir literature published since the 1950’s in which Nicolaus von Below, Otto Dietrich, Albert Speer, Baldur von Schirach and many others expressed their views. In doing so, asking who said what, when and why, the role of Eva Braun within the circle of the most trusted followers of Hitler became a different one.”
Perhaps the most dominant myth about Eva Braun was the idea that she didn’t play any role in the regime and that she didn’t knew what was going on, that she was just a young and naive woman who just happened to fall in love with this powerful, evil man. Although we can’t be certain that she actually knew about the holocaust, we know now she was an active supporter of the regime and someone who was initiated into the highest circles. How do you think the world would have received this view of Eva Braun when your book was published say 30 or 40 years ago? Do you think the world today was ready for your message?
“I think the book would not have been written this way 30 or 40 years ago. Since that time the perception of women in general has changed. Each generation looks at historical events or figures from a different perspective. Whereas at the end of the 1960’s research was mainly concerned with the origins and structure of the national socialist dictatorship and ignored the lives of women as meaningless, today it is unacceptable to strip a dictatorship from the men and women working for it and living in it. Today women are not necessarily perceived as passive bystanders, who are unaware of political events. In the case of Eva Braun, the lack of primary sources and the dominant memoir literature, especially the popular autobiographies of Albert Speer, made it easy to view Eva Braun as a “disappointment of history” because she did not take part in the decision-making leading up to the crimes committed by the Nazis. But the sources that are available now show that Eva Braun has to be seen as part of Hitler’s inner circle and not apart from it.”
The Eva Braun that is portrayed in your book, seems to have a diverse array of traits and characteristics. For instance, sometimes she seems young and insecure while at other times she appears to be very self-confident. One reason for this could of course lie in how the different sources (chose to) portray her. But besides the different sources, are there any other reasons for this apparent diversity in character? Are there also stable traits and characteristics that you uncovered? In other words, what is her core character?
“It is very difficult, almost impossible, I would say, to uncover Eva Braun’s “core character”, since the primary sources are so scarce, the family remained almost silent after the war, and we have to rely mainly on statements and notes by others. It was my aim not to add new speculations to the already existing ones but first of all to deconstruct “the story” of Eva Braun which is the subject matter of so many articles, novels, stage plays and movies. For me it was kind of detective work. Therefore I tried not to smooth out the contradictions. All we can say with a certain amount of clarity is that in the fourteen years of her relationship with Hitler, Eva Braun developed from a rather shy and insecure person in Hitler’s inner circle into a determined woman – a capricious, uncompromising champion of absolute loyalty to the dictator, who played a more and more important role for him. By1936, nobody could dare challenge her position. Even Albert Speer and the powerful Joseph Goebbels, as well as others, sought her company in order to get a closer personal grip on Hitler. Within the hierarchy of Hitler’s closest circle, Eva Braun possessed a strong position. To get on well with Eva Braun was absolutely necessary for being invited to the Berghof, one female guest later claimed. Nevertheless, many members of Hitler’s staff and his private circle thought that she was ‘not good enough’ for the “Führer”. They disliked her as much as they feared her.”
One of the most intriguing pieces of information about Eva Braun pertains to her two attempts at suicide. Although she seems to have been a troubled young woman back then, these attempts also got Hitler to pay more attention to her and allowed her to play a more dominant role in his life. In the book there is a suggestion that Braun uses the attention she gets from her attempts at suicide to manipulate Hitler to pay more attention to her. The latter fits with the idea that Eva Braun was not merely a victim – ‘the woman who just happened to fall in love with a monster’ – but also someone who actively pursued a life with Hitler. What is your view on this? Would you say she was a manipulative and power hungry woman?
“The exact circumstances of Eva Braun’s attempted suicide with a pistol belonging to her father at the end of 1932 remain unclear. The same is true for another alleged suicide attempt in 1935. There are differing accounts of what exactly happened, and when. But did Eva Braun in 1932 calculatedly act to make the absent Hitler notice her? Did she actually blackmail him? We cannot answer these questions. We can only speculate. In any case, only a year after his niece Geli Raubal’s suicide and in the middle of his political battle for the chancellorship, whose success was closely bound up with the “Führer cult” around him, Hitler could not afford a new scandal. Therefore he had to bring a relationship that he had apparently misjudged under control. We can assume that, with this extreme act, Eva Braun showed Hitler early on her readiness to die. And in his eyes, this act perhaps proved the kind of self-sacrifice which he expected from his followers. Yet her behavior during her last weeks in the Berlin bunker and her willingness to die with Hitler reveal a rather stern character. Some sources indicate that she encouraged Hitler’s self-deception and supported his delusion that he was surrounded by traitors. She was one of Hitler’s last and most loyal disciples and certainly believed in dying a hero’s death.”
When reading your book, I sometimes got the idea that the relationship of Hitler and Braun was more practical than romantic when it concerned Hitler even though in the end he did marry her. Did you think he really did love her or were there other reasons that their relationship was based upon. What was in it for him? For instance, it is often said that a strong woman always stands behind a strong man.
“It is very difficult to judge about the emotional side of the relationship, the feelings both might have had for one another or not, since not a single letter of Hitler addressed to his mistress has ever been recovered. We only have different accounts of former members of Hitler’s “inner circle”, like those of Albert Speer, the adjutant Julius Schaub, the secretary Christa Schroeder and others. But even Schroeder, who maintained in her memoirs that the relationship between Braun and Hitler had been a sham, admitted in an early interrogation by Allied officers in May 1945 that Hitler had treated Eva Braun like his wife. Hitler obviously trusted Eva Braun until the end and needed her stabilizing support. But this relationship, based at least on mutual loyalty, did not fit into the successfully cultivated “myth” of the lonesome “Führer” who sacrificed his personal life for the cause of the German people. Even more important: Hitler might have feared the influence and the power of a wife who had legal rights and possibilities – as he himself once said. As a mistress, Eva Braun had no legal means and remained in a dependent position.”
Heike Görtemaker PhD (1964) studied history, economy and German. She wrote her thesis on Margret Bovari, one of the best-known German journalists and writers of the post-WW2 period, titled ‘Journalismus und Politik im Transformationsprozeβ von der NS-Diktatur zur Bundesrepublik’ which was published in 2005 as Ein Deutches Leben. Die Geschichte der Marget Bovari 1900-1975. Upon publication in 2010 in Germany Eva Braun: A life with Hitler became an instant bestseller. The movie rights have been obtained by Michael Simon de Normier who also produced The Reader starring Kate Winslet.
BY: DAPHNE WIERSEMA