December 16, 2011 6:17 pm

Mrs Hitler

The hidden life of Eva Braun contests the consensus version that Hitler’s girlfriend was a historically insignificant figure

 Eva Braun: Life With Hitler, by Heike B. Görtemaker, translated by Damion Searls, Allen Lane, RRP£25, 336 pages

 

Adolf Hitler’s romantic entanglement with Eva Braun hardly got off to the most auspicious start. They met in October 1929. After sharing a meal of sausages and beer, Hitler, who had introduced himself under a false name (Herr Wolf), offered Braun a lift in his Mercedes. The 17-year-old shop girl, unaware of the true identity of her dining companion, turned him down flat.

This anecdote suggests Braun was not au fait with the leading light of Munich’s nascent far-right political scene. However, in Eva Braun: Life with Hitler, justly billed as the “first source-critical biography of Braun”, German historian Heike B Görtemaker contests the consensus version that Hitler’s girlfriend was a historically insignificant figure and that she played no part in the decisions which led to “the worst crimes of the [20th] century”.

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Sadly, a paucity of new information means that Görtemaker fails to dispel the opinion of Hitler’s acolyte and chief architect, Albert Speer, that “Eva Braun will prove a great disappointment to historians”. Instead, the author relies on dubious postwar testimonies of Nazi higher-ups, or tenuously addressing the question of what attracted Hitler to Braun by examining his behaviour with third parties.

Braun, the rather bland product of a petit bourgeois family, seemed to have been more concerned about her make-up than any of the finer points of Hitler’s foreign policy. It is not until the final chapters, which contain the lead-up to Hitler and Braun’s hasty marriage and their joint suicide on April 30 1945, that Görtemaker’s research starts to bring an original focus.

In the stifling confines of their Berlin bunker, Hitler, racked by illness and paranoia, draws motivation from Braun’s “strange calmness”. “[Braun’s] conduct helped him rigidly cling to his insane confidence in victory and reinforced his delusion that he would still beat back the Russians and liberate Berlin,” writes Görtemaker.

“She permitted him no weakness and reprimanded him even for slight negligence, such as a fleck of dirt on his uniform.” This suggestion that Braun helped to prolong the war, or at least Hitler’s part in it, is the most damning indictment Görtemaker can offer.

After the war, Traudl Junge, Hitler’s youngest private secretary, recalled how Braun calmed Hitler in the bunker by speaking to him like a child and promising to stay with him. Hitler’s reaction was to kiss her full on the lips in front of his inner circle.

Until then, throughout their 16 years of knowing each other, Hitler had tried to keep their relationship a secret. Görtemaker concludes that this “reveals less about [Braun’s] inadequacies, than about [Hitler’s] own anxieties and lack of self-confidence, as a parvenu.” Unfortunately, given the task she has set herself, the same can also be said of her book.

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