But Eva Braun’s aim was poor. Whether by accident or design, the bullet missed all her vital organs and was easily removed in hospital, where Hitler, alarmed, visited her shortly thereafter. Hitler told Hoffmann that he “must look after her” from now on; a second suicide scandal might ruin him. He now realized “that the girl really loved him.” Hitler made no mention of his own feelings. But from that moment, his relationship with Eva became a fixed and significant part of his life. If her suicide attempt had been a cry for help, then it had succeeded. But she knew the rules by which the affair had to be conducted. It must remain under wraps. Not even on private occasions could any gestures of affection between the two be allowed if others were present. Marriage was out of the question. The public role of “first lady of the Third Reich” was left to be fought for between the fanatical Nazi Magda Goebbels, wife of the propaganda minister, the actress Emmy Göring, second wife of the Reich’s “second man” Hermann Göring, and Ilse Hess, a committed Nazi of the first hour, married to Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess.
Braun’s personal correspondence with Hitler was destroyed on his orders just before the end of the war, but a fragmentary—though clearly authentic—diary from 1935 survives, in which Eva wrote of her dismay when Hitler left suddenly for Berlin “without saying goodbye” after spending “two marvelously beautiful hours” with her up to midnight the previous day. During the following weeks, in which Hitler was preoccupied with major political issues, from the Saarland plebiscite to the introduction of conscription, “love seems not to be on his agenda at the moment,” she wrote. At a reception in a Munich hotel, her expectation of a “kind word” or “greeting” from him was disappointed, and as he parted, he merely gave her “an envelope with some money inside as he had already done once before.” Worse still, Hitler was now seen at social events in Berlin in the company of a young and beautiful aristocratic woman, Sigrid von Laffert.
Faced with such seeming indifference to her, Eva resorted for a second time to a suicide attempt, on this occasion with an overdose of sleeping pills, that would really “make ‘dead sure,’” as she noted in the diary. In fact, she survived. But the tactic succeeded. She moved out of her parents’ house into an apartment five minutes away from Hitler’s own, in Munich, together with her sister and a domestic servant. The rent was paid by Hitler, using Hoffmann as an intermediary. A few weeks later, she was allowed to appear at the Nazi Party Rally in Nuremberg, and sat on the podium, much to the disgust of the leading ladies in the party hierarchy, who up to this point had been unaware of her existence. Shortly afterward, Hitler’s half sister left his country retreat the Berghof, in the Bavarian Alps, after seven years in charge of its daily management—that is, once she had made clear her dislike for her young rival, Eva Braun. It was obvious that Hitler would brook no criticism of the woman who had now become his permanent companion.
If Eva was seen with Hitler in public, at visits to the opera, or on sporting or social occasions, then she had to be in the background. But she now traveled with Hitler often, even accompanying him on trips abroad, in the guise of a “private secretary” or a member of Hoffmann’s staff. Eventually she was provided with an apartment in the old Reich Chancellery in Berlin so that she could be with Hitler when he was in the capital. And behind the scenes, she slowly began to assert herself, above all at the Berghof, where she now lived for most of the time. Here Hitler came to relax and to resume the bohemian lifestyle he had enjoyed in the 1920s. While the establishment was run by Hitler’s unobtrusively efficient factotum Martin Bormann, it was Eva Braun who established herself in the next few years as the hostess who orchestrated the retreat’s social events and came to be recognized, willingly or otherwise, by Hitler’s circle of intimates as the mistress of the household. Bormann was careful to maintain good relations with her, ensured she had whatever she needed, including money, and carefully made arrangements to conceal her existence from the general public.
Of course, since the fact that Hitler had a long-term mistress was known to the senior figures in the regime, observant journalists could find out about it as well—if they so wished. For German reporters it was too dangerous. But Eva Braun’s role did not escape the attention of some perceptive foreign reporters. Thus, for example, on May 15, 1939, in the true style of the gossip columns of the day, Time magazine ran a story under the headline “Spring in the Axis,” writing that a young, blonde woman called Eva Braun had been supplied with an apartment by her “old friend in Berlin who always comes to see her when he is in town.” “To her friends,” the article wrongly reported, “Eva Braun confided that she expected her friend to marry her within a year.” The following December, indeed, America’s Saturday Evening Post ran a piece: “Is Hitler Married?” The German journalist Bella Fromm, who had fled her homeland for the United States in 1938, seems to have picked up gossip that led her to identify Braun as Hitler’s mistress as well; Fromm included it in her diary publication Blood and Banquets in London in 1942, noting that Hoffmann’s former assistant “Eva Helene Braun” seemed to have captured the Führer’s heart. The Nazi censors, however, saw to it that such reports never reached the German-reading public.
WHILE HITLER might have thought it necessary to keep the relationship quiet before he came to power in 1933, once he had established his dictatorship he could in effect do anything he wanted. Why then did the couple neither marry nor have children? In public, Hitler went out of his way to demonstrate his kindness to children, as to animals, and the offspring of intimates such as his architect and munitions supremo Albert Speer were always a welcome presence at the Berghof. Moreover, Nazi ideology emphasized the importance of “Aryan” women such as Eva Braun marrying and having children for the Reich. Leading Nazis, such as Goebbels with his six children, or Bormann with an impressive ten, duly obliged. Eva Braun had photos taken of her and Hitler sitting on a sofa together with the young children of her friend Herta Schneider and kept them in a special album, signifying her dream of having children with him after the war, in a parallel fantasy world to that conjured up by Hitler as he inspected models of the monstrous cityscapes he planned for Berlin or Linz once peace came. Hitler in turn allowed her to photograph him with children, not only because she sold the pictures to Hoffmann for propaganda use, but also because, Görtemaker suggests, he knew that these images allowed her to dream of the family life she was unable to have with him.
Hitler indeed deliberately avoided commitment to family life because he wished to project himself as an ostensibly lonely figure to whom all others had to defer, a man who stood above the social norms of the Third Reich. His model here was Karl Lueger, the popular, anti-Semitic mayor of Vienna, where Hitler had lived before the First World War, who had refused to marry his partner because, as he had said, he needed “the women” in order to “achieve anything” politically. “Lots of women,” Hitler later declared, “are attracted to me because I am unmarried.”
The Third Reich was what has been called a “plebiscitary dictatorship.” Hitler repeatedly needed to demonstrate, not least to international opinion, the mass support his regime and its policies enjoyed; hence the lengths to which he went to manufacture majorities of 99 percent in elections and referendums. Women voters—the majority, given the mass slaughter of German men in the First World War—were an important source of electoral support for Hitler both before and after he came to power. And women, too, were vital in his view as supporters of the war effort, keeping their men committed to the cause and ensuring that soldiers had no reason to worry about their families on the home front. Marrying would, he said privately in 1942, create “legal rights! So it’s much more proper to have a lover. The burden drops away and everything remains a gift.” Aware of these views, Eva was careful not to use her position to try to influence Hitler in personal or political matters; while Hitler reacted allergically to any attempts by others to gain influence over him through her. When Hermann Göring lost power after the beginning of the war, he tried to regain it by encouraging his wife to become a personal friend of Eva’s; Hitler brusquely put a stop to the maneuver.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