By Klaus Wiegrefe
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.
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. British historian and intelligence officer Hugh Trevor-Roper, who questioned Hitler's entourage immediately after the end of the war, concluded that Eva Braun was "uninteresting." Every other notable Hitler biographer would eventually arrive at the same conclusion.
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, published by the prestigious Beck publishing house. Several, lighter works on Hitler's mistress have preceded the new tome.
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 Blondie, supposedly because she was jealous of the dog. She is said to have gloated over Blondie's howls after abusing the dog ("Adolf is surprised at the animal's strange behavior. That's my revenge.").
'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!"
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 Joseph Goebbels 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 skepticism, and rightfully so. A constant thread throughout the book is Görtemaker's acknowledgement that there are many questions she cannot answer.
Even the beginnings of the affair are relatively murky. 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."
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