A New Look at Hitler's Mistress Eva Braun
The field research on the details of the relationship between Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun began while the dictator was still alive. The "Führer" was a late sleeper. In the late morning, after he had left his bedroom, with its connecting door to Braun's quarters, and the staff had removed the bed linens, the curious employees would scrutinize the sheets and pillowcases, searching for clues to what had happened there in the previous night.
"We snooped around in the beds," Herbert Döhring, the manager of the Berghof, Hitler's home in the Bavarian Alps, confessed to a television team decades later. But they found nothing, leading Döhring, a member of the Waffen-SS, to conclude that the relationship between the dictator and Braun, 23 years his junior, must have been platonic.
In the Third Reich, Döhring was one of only a small group of people who knew about Braun's close relationship with Hitler. It wasn't until after the war that the public learned that the dictator had spent many years in the company of an attractive blonde from Munich, who he married hours before the couple committed suicide, on April 30, 1945, in the Führer's bunker in Berlin.
Their secretiveness was based on political calculation. "Many women find me appealing because I am unmarried," Hitler believed. "It's the same thing with a film actor: When he marries, he loses a certain something among the women who worship him, and they no longer idolize him quite as much anymore."
Correcting the Image of Braun
Because of the relatively clandestine nature of their relationship, after the war the public was all the more intrigued about the daughter of a Munich vocational school teacher who had spent about a decade and a half at his side -- mostly at the Berghof in Obersalzberg in the German Alps, and occasionally in Berlin. But the initial answers did little to satisfy that curiosity. For decades she has been seen as a decorative companion to Adolf Hitler, an apolitical "dumb blonde" whose attentions served as an occasional diversion for the Führer.
But is it true?
Berlin historian Heike Görtemaker has now taken on the task of correcting this image of Braun, by writing the first scholarly biography of Braun, Eva Braun: Leben mit Hitler, claiming historians have hugely underestimated the role she played in his life.
She reveals her as a politically committed woman who won Hitler's affections, enjoyed a healthy sex life with him, sympathised with Nazi politics and gave him psychological support. Görtemaker spent three years researching her book, Eva Braun: Life With Hitler, due out this month from the prestigious CH Beck publishing house. She was able to draw on previously unseen or little-known documents, letters, diary entries and photographs.
Eva Braun features in films, plays, novels and historical memoirs,but is always portrayed as the dumb blonde who had the misfortune to fall in love with a devil, and this is an image that needs to be corrected. She was capricious, an uncompromising advocate of unconditional loyalty towards the dictator who went so far as to die with him, and he adored her.
According to Görtemaker's account, Braun was fully aware of the twists and turns of Nazi policy-making and made no attempt to speak out against the Holocaust.
She was in the loop and knew what was going on. She was no mere bystander.
By taking a strictly academic approach, Görtemaker manages to dispense with many of the anecdotes that have amused and occasionally titillated readers. According to one of these stories, Braun allegedly complained, in the Führer bunker, about her constant arguments with Adolf about meals. Hitler, an adamant vegetarian, allegedly demanded that she eat only gruel and mushroom dip, which she found disgusting ("I can't eat this stuff").
According to another story, told by one of the dictator's secretaries, Braun would secretly kick Hitler's German shepherd Blondi, supposedly because she was jealous of the dog. She is said to have gloated over Blondi's howls after abusing the dog ("Adolf is surprised at the animal's strange behavior. That's my revenge.").
Görtemaker blames British historians for shaping the image of Braun, claiming that writers such as Ian Kershaw and Hugh Trevor-Roper, and German historians such as Sebastian Haffner, judged her insignificant and her relationship with Hitler to be banal. She claims that the late Lord Dacre (Trevor-Roper) did most to influence the traditional perception. A wartime intelligence officer who carried out an official investigation into Hitler's final days and conducted numerous interviews with his entourage after the war, he dismissed Braun in a single word as "uninteresting".
Trevor-Roper took his cue from Albert Speer [Hitler's armaments minister], whom he interviewed at length,, Speer said, 'for all writers of history, Eva Braun is going to be a disappointment', and claimed that women had no significant role to play in the Nazi party. It was said of all the women, from the wives to the secretaries. Speer was trying to protect his wife. There was a strong movement to protect women in general, and so it became to be generally accepted that women had little role to play in the politics of the Third Reich.
The lack of primary sources about Braun, and the dominant memoir literature, especially the popular autobiography by Speer, made it easy to view her as a disappointment of history because she didn't take part in the decision making leading up to the crimes committed by the Nazis.
The Nazi women said after the war that they had nothing to do with politics at all. Even Ilse Hess, who was an early campaigner for the National Socialists and a member of the party since 1921, said after the war that she had nothing to do with politics—and as a woman had always been passive. But that was not true—and not true for Eva Braun.
'The History of that Sofa'
Görtemaker puts as little stock in such "tabloid" stories told by the people in Hitler's immediate surroundings as she does in Döhring's bed-linen analysis. Instead, the historian assumes that the couple had a normal, intimate relationship, as Braun's friends and relatives would later report. According to those accounts, when Braun saw a photo depicting British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sitting on the sofa in Hitler's Munich apartment in 1938, she giggled and said: "If he only knew the history of that sofa!"
“It just didn't fit into the picture people had of him. Many women in particular didn't like it, asking how could anyone be good enough for Hitler," said Görtemaker.
The historian takes the character at the center of her book seriously, and in the material she has analyzed, there is credible evidence that Braun was more to Hitler than an "attractive young thing" in whom the dictator "found, despite or perhaps because of her unassuming and insipid appearance, the sort of relaxation and calm he was seeking," as Hitler's personal photographer Heinrich Hoffmann later claimed.
In his will, which Hitler drew up in 1938, Braun's name appeared immediately after that of the Nazi Party. Under the provisions of the will, the party was to pay her a substantial, lifelong pension, to be drawn from his assets. Propaganda minister and Hitler confidant Josef Göbbels noted several times how much the dictator appreciated his mistress ("A clever girl, who means a lot to the Führer").
She was involved in the plans for the conversion of the Austrian city of Linz into the Führer's cultural capital, where Hitler, a native of Austria, planned to retire after the Nazi's final victory. And if he had had his way, Braun would also have survived the demise of the German Reich. He repeatedly asked her to leave Berlin in the final days of the war and fly to Bavaria. But Braun refused. Until the very end, Hitler spoke of her "with great respect and inner devotion," Albert Speer, Hitler's crown prince, said in his first statements to the Allies in 1945.
Devoid of Friends?
The notion that Braun meant something to the dictator is not as banal as it may seem at first glance. The perception of her as an inconsequential accoutrement contributed greatly to the image of Hitler as a purely political being. This is the perspective conveyed by best-selling Hitler biographers Joachim C. Fest, Sebastian Haffner and Ian Kershaw.
According to their versions, Hitler lived a life devoid of friends, love and passion -- a life that was easy to discard and, therefore, was accompanied by a constant readiness to commit suicide. For Haffner, at least, Hitler's 1945 suicide in his Berlin bunker was "to be expected." In a broader sense, the all-or-nothing policies Hitler pursued until total defeat could also be interpreted as a consequence of the dictator's emotional emptiness.
Görtemaker avoids directly criticizing this interpretation, but it is clear that her account raises the issue, once again, of Hitler's psyche. Of course, her book also shows how difficult it will be to find answers, because of the order Hitler issued in 1945 to destroy all private records. The order most likely extended to his correspondence with Braun, which has been proven to have once existed.
For this reason, the historian can only draw on a few letters Braun wrote to female friends and relatives, as well as fragments of a 1935 diary, although its authenticity is disputed. She also makes use of statements made by Hitler's servants, bodyguards, his chauffeur and various senior Nazis in the decades following the war, although she treats this information with a healthy dose of scepticism, and rightfully so. A constant thread throughout the book is Görtemaker's acknowledgement that there are many questions she cannot answer.
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 Göbbels 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. .
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 Göbbels 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”.
The only thing that gave her life meaning was Hitler. She had him all to herself only in death, but that seems to have been enough.
The Lost Life of Eva Braun
Even the beginnings of the affair are relatively murky.
Not a single letter from Hitler addressed to his mistress, or a single letter from Eva Braun addressed to Hitler, has ever been recovered. We just have different accounts from former members of Hitler's inner circle, like Albert Speer, the adjutant Julius Schaub, and others. The development of their relationship before 1935 remains unclear. (Görtemaker)
Hitler apparently met Braun in 1929, when she was 17, at the "NSDAP Photohaus Hoffmann," a photography shop, on Amalienstrasse in Munich. The young woman, who looks mischievous in pictures, had previously attended a girls' school for home economics and office management, and was now working in the photography shop. Her boss Heinrich Hoffmann, who was chosen as Hitler's official photographer, was one of the early members of the Nazi Party. A hard-drinking anti-Semite, Hoffmann made a fortune with propaganda photos and picture books, including a book titled The Hitler Nobody Knows.
How Political Was Eva Braun?
For Hitler, a 40-year-old opposition politician at the time, there were many opportunities to pay a visit to Hoffmann's shop. The Nazi Party's national office was around the corner, as were the editorial offices of the party newspaper Völkischer Beobachter and, of course, Hitler's favorite restaurant, the Osteria Bavaria.
If what Hoffmann's daughter later said is true, the party leader charmed the teenager with snide Viennese charm:
May I invite you to the opera, Miss Eva? You see, I am always surrounded by men, and so I can appreciate my good fortune when I find myself in the company of a woman. Dates at the cinema and restaurants followed.
When he was with women he never showed the slightest inclination toward womanizing. The naïve Braun, who fantasized about the world of films and loved fashion magazines, succumbed to the strong suggestive powers that even neutral observers ascribed to Hitler. Soon after meeting Braun, the Nazi leader apparently issued orders to look into whether the Braun family had any Jewish ancestors.
No one knows when the banter turned into a relationship. In 1932, Braun tried to commit suicide with her father's gun, which some contemporaries suspected was an attempt to pressure Hitler to pay more attention to her. The Nazi leader had his eye on the chancellorship, and it would have been the second suicide by a young woman that could have been tied to Hitler. His niece, Geli Rauball, shot herself to death, presumably to escape the attentions of her jealous uncle. After Braun's recovery, Hitler became more committed to her and by the end of 1932 they had become lovers. She often stayed overnight at his Munich apartment when he was in town.
The Back of the Group
Eva Braun seemed to have suffered from a lack of attention or recognition from Hitler. The World War I veteran, who had been a failure in civilian life, continued to live a Bohemian existence after coming to power in 1933. He was often absent for days from the business of running the government in Berlin. He spent his time strolling through Munich, going to the opera and the theater with his shady entourage and visiting construction sites, which Hitler, a lover of architecture, felt were important. In good weather, the group would drive out to the countryside, and Braun often went along on these outings.
Of course, she was required to travel in a separate compartment with the secretaries, and during the country walks her place was at the back of the group. On occasion, Hitler would openly hand her an envelope filled with cash, which reminded Speer of "American gangster films."
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.” (Lambert)
According to a fragment of her diary and the account of biographer Nerin Gun, Braun's second suicide attempt occurred in May 1935. She took an overdose of sleeping pills when Hitler failed to make time for her in his life Hitler provided Eva and her sister with a three-bedroom apartment in Munich that August, and the next year the sisters were provided with a villa in Bogenhausen.
Braun attended the Nuremberg Rally for the first time in 1935, as a member of Hoffman's staff. Hitler's half-sister, Angela Raubal (the dead Geli's mother), took exception to her presence there, and was later dismissed from her position as housekeeper at his house in Berchtesgaden. Researchers are unable to ascertain if her dislike for Braun was the only reason for her departure, but other members of Hitler's entourage saw Braun as untouchable from then on.
By 1936, Braun was at Hitler's household at the Berghof near Berchtesgaden whenever he was in residence there, but she lived mostly in Munich. Braun also had her own apartment at the new Reich Chancellery in Berlin, completed to a design by Albert Speer.
She grew into the role of hostess at the Berghof, where Hitler would often spend weeks at a time, even during the war. Her official title was "private secretary." Braun had her own private quarters at his Berghof mountain retreat, where she whiled away the time between his visits with reading, enjoying the outdoors and partying. "When he was there they led what can be called a bohemian existence," said Görtemaker. Of course, the dictator continued to keep the relationship out of the public eye.
Detrimental to his Image
Despite his efforts to conceal the relationship, the Allied press eventually learned that Hitler had a girlfriend named Braun, and Time reported the story in 1939. But it remained a secret in Germany, and Hitler was probably correct in his assumption that going public with the love affair would have been detrimental to his image as Führer.
Reinhard Spitzy, a staunch Nazi and employee of the former German ambassador to London, Joachim Ribbentrop, was astonished when a young woman with whom he was unfamiliar suddenly interrupted a conversation between Ribbentrop and Hitler at the Berghof, and said that the men should "finally" come to dinner. A colleague explained Braun's position to Spitzy, who was appalled. He had imagined Hitler as an "ascetic, above sex and passion." Instead, his hero was no different from anyone else.
Görtemaker said recognising that Hitler had a "normal relationship" was a vital part of the process of seeing him as a recognisable product of German society in the first half of the 20th century.
He is mostly portrayed as incapable of having a private life, He said he couldn't marry because he was married to Germany.
The German public was never meant to know of Braun's existence and marriage was out of the question until the very end. He told Speer:
It's just like an actor when he marries. For the women who have worshipped him, he is no longer their idol in the same way.
Braun had a strong interest in photography and making films, and she also liked to be photographed. The photo albums and films of her that have survived depict her as a carefree, athletic and extroverted woman, who sometimes posed in her bathing suit and even filmed her sister when she went swimming in the nude. After the war, a former member of the SS complained that she did not conform to the "ideal of a German girl." According to the SS officer, Braun would start "making the initial preparations for all kinds of amusements" -- parties at the mountain hideaway -- shortly after Hitler's limousine had pulled away from the Berghof.
Such statements conform to the image of an apolitical entourage that everyone involved -- from lowly servants to luminaries such as Albert Speer -- described after the war, and into which Braun seemed to have integrated herself seamlessly. There was said to be a rule at the Berghof: that politics was not to be discussed in the presence of women. Instead, the topics of discussion were apparently fashion, dog breeding and operettas.
In 1943, shortly after Germany had fully transitioned to a total war economy. this meant , among other things, a potential ban on women's cosmetics and luxuries. According to Speer's memoirs, Braun approached Hitler in "high indignation"; Hitler instructed Speer, who was armaments minister at the time, to quietly arrange for production of women's cosmetics and luxuries to cease rather than instituting an outright ban.
Biographer Görtemaker doesn't have any trouble introducing arguments against the exclusiveness of this version. A look into Braun's photo albums, which include pictures she took on August 23, 1939, is enough to support this notion. On that day Ribbentrop, who had been promoted to foreign minister by then, was in negotiations with Stalin in Moscow over the partition of Eastern Europe between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Hitler wanted the alliance so that he could invade Poland. The photos show how tense and visibly restless he was while waiting for the outcome of Ribbentrop's talks with Stalin. It was pure politics, and Braun was there.
Braun became part of the Nazi propaganda machinery. She served not just as decoration; she took pictures and films portraying Hitler at his Berghof retreat as a likeable caring person and family man, fond of children. But he wasn't a family man. And she sold these so-called private pictures to Heinrich Hoffmann, and in doing so earned a lot of money—she got 20,000 marks for one of her [home] movies. She was very rich. It cannot be said how many pictures published by Hoffmann in his famous picture books about the private life of the Führer were actually taken by Eva Braun. (Görtemaker)
Görtemaker also believes that the woman at his side "shared Hitler's worldview and political opinions uncritically." The circumstances alone suggest that this was the case. Braun spent almost half of her 33 years in the company of fanatical Nazis.
The Making of Legends
After learning about the failed 20 July plot to kill Hitler, Braun wrote to him, "From our first meeting I swore to follow you anywhere even unto death. I live only for your love".
Braun was faithful unto death, and it was this unconditional loyalty that Hitler presumably valued in her above all else. "Only Miss Braun and my German Shepherd are loyal to me and belong to me," he is believed to have said near the end of the war.
At that point, Braun had already decided to remain with the Führer. She even had someone teach her how to use a pistol when the Red Army had already advanced into Berlin. "We are fighting to the end here," she wrote from the Führer's bunker to her closest friend on April 22. "I will die as I have lived. It will not be difficult for me."
According to the records of the Berchtesgaden District Court, Eva Braun died on April 30, 1945, at 3:28 p.m., after biting into a capsule of potassium cyanide. Hitler followed her two minutes later.
The making of legends could begin.....
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