Books: “Eva Braun: Life with Hitler”

December 29, 2011

Chelsea, an aspiring actress, tells Cosmo Kramer during an episode of the TV series Seinfeld that her manager is “trying to put together a miniseries for me on Eva Braun. I mean think about it, is that a great idea? We know nothing about Eva Braun, only that she was Hitler’s girlfriend. . . . What was it like having sex with Adolf Hitler? What do you wear in a bunker? What did her parents think of Hitler as a potential son-in-law? I mean it could just go on and on….”

It could and it will, because while it isn’t true that we know nothing about Eva Braun, it is true that we know relatively little, considering that she was the consort of one of the most recognizable and most reviled men in human history.

Heike B. Görtemaker, tries to bring some clarity to this subject in Eva Braun: Life with Hitler, which was originally published in GermanThe very things that have made Braun an obscure figure up to now were obstacles to the author’s work, beginning with the fact that Hitler wanted to be perceived as a solitary messiah whose life and energy were devoted to lifting Germany and its people from the ignominious consequences of World War I.

 In order to maintain his image, Hitler kept the very existence of Eva Braun a secret from the German people, and he kept her at least at arm’s length and often much farther when they were in the company of his inner circle. Hitler married Braun on the day before they both committed suicide in a bunker in April 1945 while the Red Army was literally striding through the Reichstag grounds about 25 feet above their heads. He once said that he had never married because  he needed the political support of German women and that he would lose some of his appeal if he had a wife. “It’s the same with a movie actor,” Hitler said. “When he marries he loses a certain something from the women who adore him. Then he is no longer their idol as he was before.”

When I read that in Görtemaker’s book, I wondered what “certain something” Hitler had that would attract any woman, never mind millions of them. Evidently the author wonders about that, too. When she writes that Braun’s life was shaped by Hitler’s power, his world view, and his “charismatic attraction,” she adds parenthetically, “however difficult it may be to explain what that consisted in.”
Görtemaker is convinced that neither Braun nor the other women around Hitler — principally the wives of men like Albert Speer and Joseph Goebbels — were simply adornments who were expected to be seen but not heard. On the other hand, the author finds it impossible to say definitively how much Braun and the others knew about German policy, and particularly about the Holocaust. They had to know of the persecution of Jews in Europe; it was no secret. But discussion of the extermination program in Hitler’s presence was forbidden when he was in his “family circle,” as it were, meaning the crowd that frequented Berghof, Hitler’s frequent refuge in Bavaria.

Hitler met Braun in 1929 when he was 40 and she was 17 and working as an assistant to Dietrich Hoffmann who became the privileged official photographer of the Nazi party and the Third Reich. Görtemaker speculates that the couple were not intimate until 1933 when Braun had become an adult . At first they saw each other only intermittently, and this apparently weighed on Braun and was the cause of two suicide attempts. After the second incident, Hitler arranged for Braun to have her own home in Munich and to have regular access to Berghof, where her assertion of her prerogatives irritated some of Hitler’s coterie.

Whatever attracted Braun to Hitler in the first place, long before it was clear that he would lead the German nation, her commitment to him was complete. Görtemaker writes that the level of her loyalty was the object of admiration to at least some of Hitler’s associates and it may have been the one thing that most endeared her to him. There’s no evidence that she pressured him to marry her or that she complained about being kept out  of the public eye. And, in the most dramatic possible demonstration  of her constancy, however misguided, she went to Berlin against Hitler’s wishes with the clear intention of dying with him while many others, including Speer and Hoffmann, were already concocting lies about being “outsiders” in Hitler’s camp. The normal confidentiality of the culture in which Hitler lived, coupled with the loss and destruction of written records and the unreliability of later testimony by turncoats trying to save their own hides and reputation may mean that we’ll never know more about Eva Braun than Görtemaker has been able to tell us in this book. That’s unfortunate, not because Braun was so different from others who supported Hitler, but because she was so like them. She was in all respects an ordinary person who came under the still elusive spell of a bumbling, absurd little man who terrorized the world for more than a decade

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9 Responses to “Books: “Eva Braun: Life with Hitler””

  1. Cassie Says:

    How interesting. I really want to read this.

  2. Ron Says:

    His appeal was no accident in post-WW1 Germany. What probably attracted women to him was his power, and his certainty. Hitler did not exist on an island, he was not transported from outer space. He tapped into resentment and the anti-Semitism of the time. (still alive and well in Europe today). An absurd little man in retrospect perhaps, but he nearly conquered all of Europe. (with plenty of help from surrenderists and appeasers in the western world, kind of like today.)

    • charlespaolino Says:

      All very true. As I mentioned, this author suggests several reasons for Hitler’s appeal to women, power being one of them, although he had no power when Braun first became infatuated with him. The NSDAP was still an obscure party in 1929. I didn’t get into this in the blog post, but the author discusses a previous relationship Hitler had — with his step-niece — and implies that it might have been the love of his life.

      As you said, Hitler exploited the rampant anti-Semitism of that period, repeatedly associating it with Bolshevism — an idea that I presume Stalin would have refuted.

      Your observation about appeasers reminded me of The King’s Speech. That was a good movie in many ways, but it gave King George and his whole family a pass on their attitude toward Hitler before he started menacing Britain.

  3. shoreacres Says:

    I suppose it’s inevitable that we focus on Hitler when it comes to his relationship with Braun, wondering what she could have seen in him. But no doubt the Hitler we see retrospectively and the man she saw at 17 are quite different.

    Beyond that, her age and the mention of those two suicide attempts suggest she might have fixated her attention on anyone who came along at that point in her life. Obviously, this is pure speculation.

    It is interesting that suicide – attempted and successful – bracketed their relationship.

  4. charlespaolino Says:

    Eva Braun was 23 when she attempted suicide the second time. By that time, she had become a part of Hitler’s personal “inner circle.” We can only speculate about the reasons for the second attempt, but she was with Hitler for ten years after that and never tried it again.


  5. […] “Eva Braun: Life with Hitler”Books: “Eva Braun: Life with Hitler” jQuery(function($) { $.Lightbox.construct({ }); […]

  6. Ella Says:

    The woman in the Swastika pic is not Eva Braun, it’s Unity Mitford.

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