Tuesday 16 January 2018

Review: History: Eva Braun: Life With Hitler by Heike B Gortemaker

Allen Lane, £25

At least two women had one of the most loathsome roles in history -- as Adolf Hitler's girlfriend. Perhaps as a result, both attempted suicide. One, his step-niece Geli Raubal, succeeded first time.

The other, the blonde Eva Braun, 23 years younger than him, was successful on her third attempt. She bit into a cyanide capsule in a bunker in the ruins of Berlin before her beloved Fuhrer did the same and shot himself in the head for good measure.

In the weeks before her death, as one million Red Army soldiers attacked Berlin, Eva threw champagne parties and discussed the best way to die.

"I want to be a beautiful corpse. I will take poison," she supposedly said as hysteria reigned.

In the end she was the most loyal camp follower of his crazed vision, opting to die with him as the thousand year Reich went up in flames at a cost of millions of lives.

So who was the woman who spent at least 14 years of her life pandering to Hitler and his insanity?

A new book, Eva Braun: Life with Hitler by German historian Heike Gortemaker, attempts to shed some light on a woman often dismissed as a dumb blonde -- and places her as a key figure in Hitler's 'court'. It is a fascinating insight into that circle, although Eva's voice is hard to discern.

She is mentioned in only one document written by Hitler, apart from his last testament.

In a 1938 will she would get 12,000 marks a year if he died. Her letters largely didn't survive, and many top Nazis distanced themselves in denazification courts in the late 1940s. Most of their relationship was a state secret; Hitler after all was married to the Reich.

Eva, who loved travel, sports, fashion, movies and jazz and read Oscar Wilde, was from a lower middle-class family, the second of three daughters. At just 17 she first met Hitler, who was 40, in 1929. She worked in the Munich studio of Heinrich Hoffman, who went on to become the dictator's personal photographer.

She was asked to get beer and sausages for Hoffman, and his friend 'Herr Wolf'. As they dined the stranger was "devouring" her with his eyes and she declined a lift in his Mercedes. She was later told it was Hitler, who was then plotting to take over Germany.

Eva was sometimes invited out by Hitler for a meal, a movie, the opera, or a drive. But Hitler, being the madman that he was, had her investigated by Martin Bormann in 1930 to see if she had any Jewish ancestors.

Their relationship is said to have remained platonic until 1932. Hitler, who seemed to have lived a bohemian lifestyle, was also apparently having a relationship with his 23-year-old step-niece Geli who lived with him.

She shot herself with Hitler's gun, a Walther pistol, in 1931 amid rumours of incest, jealousy and even murder. But sometime in the next year Eva shot herself with a similar weapon in a failed suicide attempt and Hitler told Hoffman he wanted to take care of the "poor child", saying something like this "mustn't happen again".

Historians agree that Eva felt abandoned and tried to make the perpetually absent Hitler notice her. Hitler told Hoffman he realised the girl really loved him and that he felt a moral obligation to care for her.

When he was busy again in 1935 she took an overdose of sleeping tablets. Their bond grew closer, though he erected a wall of silence around her, and only once in the 12 years after 1933 were they photographed together.

As her status grew in Hitler's inner circle, the German public only learned shortly before the end of the war that Hitler lived with a woman and eventually married her. Sexually, Hitler, was something of an enigma and this book does not have any insights on that.

Speculation has ranged from masochism to homosexuality to chastity.

His attraction to the 17-year-old Eva indicates someone deeply repressed with an arrested sexuality which had remained fixed at a teenage or childish level.

Gortemaker accepts that Eva was his mistress, but the nature and extent of their sexual relation remain unknown.

In the end in the bunker she comes across as the fussy little mistress permitting Hitler no weakness and reprimanding him even for slight negligence, such as a speck of dirt on his uniform.

But her conduct helped him cling to his insane confidence in victory as he ranted and raved about divisions which he didn't have mounting a counterattack.

In one letter she even comes across as carefree, saying she was practising with her pistol, and was "very happy to be near him, especially now".

In her last party in the Old Chancellery they drank champagne, laughed, and danced to an old hit record from 1929 in a Germanic version of Dante's Inferno.

After their deaths in 1945 Stalin denied to Truman and Churchill that he knew anything about Hitler's whereabouts. In 1948 Gen Eisenhower ordered the American secret service to investigate a tip-off that Eva, Hitler, and Bormann were running a cafe in Amsterdam.

Now, that would have been one scary joint.

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