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Why Eva Braun Deserves No Sympathy: Conversation with Heike Görtemaker

By Richard Ernsberger Jr. 
Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: January 30, 2012 
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Sixty-seven years after her death, Eva Braun, the long-time mistress of Adolf Hitler, remains a mysterious figure. Heike G. Görtemaker, a German historian and author, attempts to add clarity to the life of a woman who met Hitler as a teenager and, in the last days of the war, became the führer's wife—only hours before committing suicide. In Görtemaker's book Eva Braun: Life with Hitler (Knopf, 2011), she argues that the conventional wisdom about Braun—that she was a dumb blonde and a largely inconsequential figure—is false. Görtemaker, who earned a PhD in history from Free University, Berlin, asserts that Braun and the wives of Nazi leaders should be viewed unsympathetically: even if they weren't decision-makers, they shared Hitler's worldview.

When Eva Braun met Hitler, she was a 17-year-old photo shop assistant and he was a 40-year-old firebrand. What did they see in each other?
Not a single letter from Hitler addressed to his mistress, or a single letter from Eva Braun addressed to Hitler, has ever been recovered. We just have different accounts from former members of Hitler's inner circle, like Albert Speer, the adjutant Julius Schaub, and others. When Eva Braun first met Hitler in October 1929, he was already a well known politician in Munich, and she had just started her work in the studio of Hitler's personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann—and this is almost all we can say. The development of their relationship before 1935 remains unclear. After the war, the Braun family, as well as Hoffmann, were not interested at all in speaking. Both had to establish the greatest possible distance between themselves and the Nazi system in order to save their own lives and livelihoods. They had to hide the fact that they once belonged to Hitler's close circle.

Braun is commonly considered a mere background figure in Hitler's life. You dispute that idea in your book.
The lack of primary sources about Braun, and the dominant memoir literature, especially the popular autobiography by Speer, made it easy to view her as a disappointment of history because she didn't take part in the decision making leading up to the crimes committed by the Nazis. Biographies portray her as a tragic or ridiculous figure who, mostly ignored by Hitler, spent her life waiting for him and who hardly knew anything about the course of events around her. They mainly assume an unfilled existence—a life disconnected from Hitler's political activities. But the sources available now show that Eva Braun has to be seen as part of Hitler's inner circle and not apart from it. Her life should not be called lost or tragic. She wanted to be at Hitler's side, and fought very hard, with all means, to achieve that position.

So she was much more than just a simple-minded blonde?
Oh, yes. This notion of the dumb blonde was created after the war in the memoir literature by all these Hitler cronies, who hated her. And we later were told that she was unintelligent and totally uninterested in politics. The Nazi women said after the war that they had nothing to do with politics at all. Even Ilse Hess, who was an early campaigner for the National Socialists and a member of the party since 1921, said after the war that she had nothing to do with politics—and as a woman had always been passive. But that was not true—and not true for Eva Braun. Braun became part of the Nazi propaganda machinery. She served not just as decoration; she took pictures and films portraying Hitler at his Berghof retreat as a likeable caring person and family man, fond of children. But he wasn't a family man. And she sold these so-called private pictures to Heinrich Hoffmann, and in doing so earned a lot of money—she got 20,000 marks for one of her [home] movies. She was very rich. It cannot be said how many pictures published by Hoffmann in his famous picture books about the private life of the führer were actually taken by Eva Braun.

Should she be considered a collaborator?
Over the 14-year [span] of her relationship with Hitler, Braun developed a very important role within the inner circle. She changed from a rather shy and insecure person into a determined woman—a capricious, uncompromising champion of absolute loyalty to the dictator. As early as 1936, nobody in the inner circle could challenge her position. Even Albert Speer and the powerful Joseph Goebbels and others sought her company in order to get a closer personal [connection] to Hitler. So within the hierarchy of Hitler's inner circle, Eva Braun had a strong position. As one female guest later said, to be invited to the Berghof it was absolutely necessary to get on well with Braun. If you couldn't get along well with her, you weren't invited.

Was Braun interested in politics or the war, or aware of the atrocities?
Yes. It is true that Braun did not belong to the [Nazi Party]. But that fact does not mean that she rejected the Nazi state or was opposed to it in any way. On the contrary, her life, like that of everyone else around Hitler, was shaped by his worldview—by his charisma and his power. The members of the so-called Berghof circle, men and women, identified with the anti-Semitic, racist worldview and aggressive expansionist policies of the Nazi regime. So the collaboration, within the scope of what was possible for her, was unmistakable. It cannot be verified that she knew about the Holocaust, but she certainly was informed about the persecution of Jews and the deprivation of their rights. It is also clear that she supported this policy. Despite the fact that she did not appear in public, she was not a passive bystander.

Did she and Hitler have a conventionally intimate relationship?
We can't really say. Christa Schroeder, Hitler's longtime secretary, [wrote] in her memoir that the relationship had only been for show, but she had earlier admitted, in an interrogation by Allied officers in May 1945, that Hitler had treated Braun like his wife.

What was behind her two suicide attempts?
The exact circumstances of her first attempt at the end of 1932, which involved a pistol belonging to her father, remain unclear. And the same is true of the second in 1935. There are differing accounts of exactly what happened and when—did Braun act calculatedly to make the absent Hitler notice her? Did she actually blackmail him? We can only speculate. But in any case, only a year after his niece's suicide, and in the middle of his political battle for the chancellorship, Hitler could not afford a new private scandal. So therefore he had to bring under control a relationship he had apparently misjudged. We can assume with this extreme act that Braun showed Hitler early on her readiness to die. And in his eyes, perhaps, this act proved the kind of self-sacrifice that he expected from all his followers.

Was being Hitler's mistress a sacrifice?
She had a thankless role to play, with no status as a wife, not least because of Hitler's own anxieties and lack of self- confidence. The existence of a mistress did not fit with the successfully cultivated myth of the lonesome führer who sacrificed his personal life for the cause of the German people. He feared the influence of a wife and of a family. His own blood relations had to stay away from him. As a mistress Eva Braun had no legal [rights] and remained in a dependent position.

She was very calm, even carefree, in the last days of the war. Why?
Eva Braun was, at the end, where she wanted to be. And keep in mind that she was very convinced about what Hitler did. He was her hero—and this was true for all other members of the inner circle. Her behavior in her last weeks in the Berlin bunker, her willingness to die with Hitler, reveal a stern character. Some sources indicated that she, at the end, encouraged Hitler's self-deception; and that she supported his delusion that he was surrounded by traitors. There are indications that even Martin Bormann and Speer feared her at the end. Neither of them wanted to die; they tried to escape from the bunker. So Eva Braun was one of Hitler's last and most loyal disciples. She certainly believed at the end to die with him a hero's death.

Was their marriage shortly before their suicide her idea or his?
Both.

Quite a Shakespearean moment.
Oh, yes, very Shakespearean: the doom of the Reich. But he was very thankful [for her]. To one of his adjutants, Hitler said: This woman came to me at a time when all others were leaving me. You can't believe what this meant to me. He was very thankful that she stayed loyal to him; that she didn't leave him like Himmler and Speer and all the other Nazis.


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7 Responses to “Why Eva Braun Deserves No Sympathy: Conversation with Heike Görtemaker”


  1. 1
    Tom says:

    Being unquestioning and compliant is very different from being complicit, and it is easy to make speculations after someone is dead and their defenders wish to make themselves scarce.

  2. 2
    rachel says:

    What is wrong with you??! Eva Braun was a poor young girl who fell in love with a man and gave up everything to be with him. She obviously felt strongly about him, enough to give up her life to be with him she shouldn't be graded on what kinda of a person he was. Her compassion for him is inspiring, even though she didn't share his beliefs on Jewish people she still felt as though he was just another man one she deeply cared for. Its just like the tale of beauty and the beast she looked past his looks to see the beauty inside

  3. 3
    Tina Baker says:

    Love makes us do foolish things. She had opportunities to save herself by distancing herself from Berlin as its downfall became inevitable, yet she chose to relocate to "The Fuhrer Bunker" to die with the major players. When the major players in Hitler's entourage began defecting from Berlin, it was Eva and secretaries and clerks who remained loyal and decided to stay by his side. She might conceivably have survived the war, but instead sacrificed herself for the reward of two days of marriage. If that isn't the definition of a victim, I don't know what else would satisfy the requirement…..She was a non-entity, caught up in a maelstrom,

  4. 4
    rachel says:

    Love is also the thing that keeps people's humanity in check. Love is the bond shared between mother and son, the bond that brings people together together instead of tearing them apart. The best of us realize that loyalty untill the end and risking our lives for the ones we love is a genuine act of humanity; caring for others before ourselves. So many hid Jewish people in there homes during this awful time and they were considered heros so why can't Eva also be considered a good person for going back for the people she loved?

  5. 5
    Mike Wills says:

    Hitler was Homosexual. Both Eva and Geli realized this almost straight away. He subjected them to extemely degrading sexual acts (no intercourse) and had a fetish in that he would defecate on these poor women. Hitler surrounded himself with homosexual and effeminate males in the early years but realised later on that to find respect from the arch conservative Army he would need to be seen as 'normal'. Why do you think these women, on a number of occasions tried to kill themselves. In the end Hitler killed his own niece to protect his reputation as a sordid pervert from reaching the public.
    Do your homework and you will find the truth.

  6. 6
    michael mills says:

    Utter nonsense, Mike Wills. There is no reliable evidence that Hitler was homosexual; that idea is based entirely on dubious claims made by one former member of Hitler's First World War unit, and is not supported by any other member of that unit.

    The claim that Hitler was a sexual pervert who liked women to defecate on his face was wartime American propaganda based on extremely dubious testimony by Otto Strasser and Putzi Hanfstaengl, both former assiciates of Hitler who had fallen out with him and fled Germany. There is no independent verification of those claims.

    In fact there is no reliable evidence as to Hitler's sexuality. It may have been relatively normal, but it is likely that most of his sexual energy was sublimated into political and ideological activism.

    There is also no evidence that Hitler killed his niece Geli Raubal. Her death was most likely suicide, after she discovered that he had begun a relationship with Eva Braun. His own relationship with her was most likely that of a substitute father figure; he certainly acted out such a role, and seems to have regarded her as a substitute daughter. She appears to have had something of a \crush\ on him, a very common psychological reaction of young women to older men in a position of authority.

  7. 7
    Barry Pope says:

    What's all this?

    1. Quote from a letter from Eva Braun to Hitler, after Hitler survived the murder attempt on his life in July 1944:

    "From our first meeting I swore to follow you anywhere – even unto death – I live only for your love."

    2. Quote from Hitler:

    "A highly intelligent man should always choose a primitive and stupid woman. Imagine if on top of everything else I had a woman who interfered with my work! In my leisure time I want to have peace .. I could never marry. Think of the problems if I had children! In the end they would try to make my son my successor."

    When they met, Braun was 17 and Hitler was 40. Sure, Eva Braun was only average intelligence. She knew zero about the death/concentration camps, just as Traudl Junge knew nothing. It was all a romantic storybook life to her – similar to Romeo and Juliet.
    Braun's home videos were not wittingly part of propaganda schemes on her part – she was almost always at the Berghof or the Eagle's Nest or the lake. This life was all she knew.

    Eva Braun was a puppet.



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