Saturday 20 July 2019

Now we can all play at Eva Braun in Hitler's bunker

Eva Braun. Photo credit: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Eva Braun. Photo credit: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

They'll be marking the 70th anniversary of the end the Second World War in May, and anyone minded to make a holiday trip to Adolf Hitler's bunker will be able to do so. Kind of. The re-created 'Fuhrerbunker' is a sort of Disneyfied recreation of the original in Berlin, to be set 300 miles away at Oberhausen near Duisburg, and handily near to a LegoLand, (for the kiddies).

It will be interesting to see if it's all just like in the movie Downfall, and whether they do justice to Eva Braun's wardrobe of dresses. Eva, who became Mrs Hitler just before she and Adolf killed themselves on April 30, 1945, was a lady who liked to change her costume every day - sometimes three times a day.

She especially liked the frocks of Lanvin and Patou and the shoes and handbags of Ferragammo (and for perfume, Chanel's Chypre). Fashion was important to her, as was dancing and ice-skating and movies. She liked dogs and fluffy toy animals and children, and the writings of Oscar Wilde. She was a skilled photographer and she knew how to process and develop film as well as take professional snapshots.

The enigma of Eva Braun has been: how did a seemingly pleasant, ordinary young woman, the daughter of a schoolteacher father and a mother who was a swimming champion, become drawn to a manifestly evil dictator like Adolf Hitler? Rather like the Jihadi brides who run off to Syria these days, Eva was very young when she first met Hitler - just 17: he was 40 and he was already a Munich political celebrity.

He liked compliant younger girls, and knew just how to groom them, as we say now. He never 'pounced'. He seemed most gentlemanly. He took her for grand drives in his Mercedes motor car and spoke to her about the operetta. One of her biographers claims that, when their relationship became physical, it was she, not he, who initiated it.

Her parents were at first furious about the affair. They were initially anti-Nazi - her father, Otto, objected to the way Hitler was "sweeping away…everything decent about old Germany - the church, the monarchy…" Eva had two sisters and the elder, Ilse, worked for many years for a Jewish doctor to whom she was devoted. There was no tradition of anti-semitism in the family. (Otto was Lutheran, their mother, Fanny, Catholic, and the Braun girls went to convent schools.)

Once Eva was drawn into the liaison with Adolf Hitler, she was totally under his spell (and she wasn't the only one). She became wholly submissive to his demands - staying in the background in public life, breaking her heart when she thought he was ignoring her (she made two suicide bids while he was otherwise engaged invading the rest of Europe). Her life was saved by the Jewish doctor who was Ilse's boss.

And then, of course, there were the perks of privilege - of being the acknowledged mistress at the Obersalzburg mountain retreat where Hitler's entourage disported themselves. Her younger sister Gretl became her companion in this circle and these young women turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to all reports of atrocities.

As Eva and Gretl became ensconced in this gilded milieu, the Braun parents became first reconciled to the Nazi regime, and then, supporters and party members. The glamour of power often overcomes all principles.

But the Brauns were to pay dearly for their association with the Nazi elite and their family life was subsequently marked by tragedy, and shame: they lost Eva to a voluntary suicide and Gretl's husband was ignominiously shot as a traitor to Hitler. Gretl herself would have given birth by the roadside, as a war refugee, if an American officer hadn't helped her. Otto and Fanny's only descendent, Little Eva, herself committed suicide aged 30. Fanny Braun lived on until 1979.

The biographies of Eva Braun portray her as an unremarkable, but basically nice, young woman. She was humiliated by being kept in the background and she was miserable Hitler refused to allow her to have a child. She could be lively and took a schoolgirl delight in a sly cigarette habit - Hitler loathed smoking.

And she was considered brave to choose to remain in the bunker right till the end - Albert Speer offered to organise her escape and surrender to the Americans, who wouldn't treat a woman harshly. Eva refused: she seemed to accept she had to pay for her choices as the Reich came tumbling down.

And now the whole narrative can be re-visited for a jolly summer outing to the reconstituted Fuhrerbunker. What larks! History as theme park.

@MaryKenny4

Irish Independent

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