Heike B. Görtemaker , Eva Braun: Life with Hitler , trans. Damion Searls(New York: Knopf, 2011), 336 pp., $27.95.
[amazon 030759582X full]IN THE small hours of the morning of April 29, 1945, as the Red Army’s guns and tanks could be heard bombarding the center of Berlin, a curious event took place in Hitler’s bunker deep under the garden of the old Reich Chancellery. Witnessed by Reich propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and the head of the Nazi Party Chancellery Martin Bormann, a local Berlin official formally conducted a ceremony of civil marriage between the German dictator Adolf Hitler and a thirty-three-year-old Bavarian woman, Eva Braun, some twenty-three years his junior. After the ceremony was over, the party was joined in Hitler’s living room by a small group of secretaries and leading Nazis for a glass of sparkling wine and, as one of those present later wrote, reminiscing “happily about the old days.”
It was a marriage solemnized in the shadow of death. Shortly before, Hitler had dictated his “political testament” to one of the secretaries in the bunker. In it he declared that since his life was now almost over, he had decided “to take as my wife the woman who, after many long years of loyal friendship, came to the already besieged city. . . . It is my wish that she go with me into death as my wife.” On the afternoon of April 30, the pair retired into Hitler’s private quarters, where Eva Hitler, as she now was, sat down on a sofa. She bit a cyanide capsule and died instantly. Hitler, wanting to make doubly certain of his own death, did the same, while simultaneously firing a bullet through his right temple. Upon hearing the noise, some of the others present in the bunker entered the room and organized the removal of the bodies to the garden, where, acting on instructions, they poured petrol over them and burned them until they were unrecognizable. The still-functioning Nazi propaganda machine issued a statement claiming Hitler had died fighting to the end. No mention was made of his new wife. She died as she had lived, invisible to all but a handful of the Führer’s intimates.
Who was Eva Braun? Why did she link her fate so inextricably to that of the German dictator? Why was her existence kept so secret for so long? Was she just a simple, apolitical, naive young woman captivated by Hitler’s charisma? Was her relationship with the dictator merely platonic? In this new book, the first serious, scholarly biography of the girl who after her death became one of the world’s best-known women, the historian Heike Görtemaker sifts thoroughly and cautiously through the available documentation to try and find an answer to these perplexing human questions.
HISTORIANS HAVE long been aware that Hitler relied on a small band of intimate friends and acquaintances to do things for him. Far from being professionally run, the Third Reich was governed by amateurs and outsiders. The role of his personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, in this little coterie has, however, as Görtemaker shows, been insufficiently appreciated. Hoffmann was a Nazi almost from the very beginning, meeting Hitler before the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 and allaying the Nazi leader’s anxieties about being photographed in unflattering situations by capturing his image in the most appealing possible way. Hoffmann’s work ensured Hitler’s picture was all over the media by the late 1920s. His photographs were always the best. He accompanied the Nazi leader virtually everywhere. Hoffmann’s home provided Hitler with something like an ersatz family retreat. These services earned him Hitler’s trust and later on brought him a large income and a good deal of power in the cultural world, including the selection of his paintings for the Great German Art Exhibition of 1937, the showcase for Nazi art. Relatively early in his career, Hoffmann was able to expand his business and hire new staff. One of these new employees was the young Eva Braun.
Born on February 6, 1912, Eva was the second of three daughters of a lower-middle-class couple, Friedrich and Franziska Braun. Their marriage was neither happy nor stable. Indeed, in 1921 they had divorced, only to remarry just over eighteen months later, as rampant inflation was beginning to destroy the incomes of so many people like themselves: three children were cheaper to support in one household than in two. After the economy stabilized in the mid-1920s, the family, helped by an inheritance, recovered sufficiently to move into a large house, employ a servant and buy a car. But the situation at home remained tense, so much so that Eva spent most of her time living with the family of a friend, whose parents she ended up calling mother and father. After a period in boarding school, she answered an advertisement placed in a local newspaper by Heinrich Hoffmann and in September 1929 joined his rapidly growing staff.Pullquote: Nazi ideology portrayed women as essentially passive, modest, simple and undemanding creatures, whose role was to adore their menfolk. Eva Braun was no such woman.Image: Essay Types: Book Review