Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun kept their relationship
a secret from the outside world
SHE IS THE WORLD’S most famous dumb blonde, the ultimate victim of personal stupidity. It was not just her hair color that made her reputation, but also her very name: Braun/Brown is one of the most ordinary in any European language, and reflected the brown of the Nazi Party uniform. And if there is anything everybody can agree on, it is that she got what was coming to her.
That is the cliché that the “History” Channel and dozens of poorly researched biographies have served up to us for the past sixty-five years. But was there more to Eva Braun? German historian Heike Görtemacher, whose new biography of Hitler’s intellectually challenged mistress hit bookshops here last week, certainly thinks so.
Braun’s life story can be summed up in questionnaire style: Born in Munich in 1912 to a respectable teacher and his wife, Eva attended business school and took a job as a lab assistant for Hitler’s personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann. It was at Hoffmann’s studio that seventeen year-old Eva met the future Führer in 1929, describing him to her friends as “a gentleman of a certain age with a funny moustache, a light-coloured English overcoat, and carrying a big felt hat.” She moved into his life in 1931 following the suicide of Hitler’s niece and apparent lover, Geli Raubal, and probably became his number one girlfriend around this time.
What kind of relationship did they have? As Görtemaker explains, nobody knows for sure. Even Hitler’s domestic personnel debated what – if anything – they got up to in bed. The Führer’s sex life remains a complete mystery. Most of the stories that have grown up around it have since faded back to the tabloid pages, e.g. the “one-testicle theory,” the idea that Hitler was gay, or that he received pleasure from such acts as undinism (look it up). It’s more likely that he experienced little or no sexual drive at all and saved his energy for the pursuit and exercise of pure power. In any case, Eva – just like Hitler’s other companions – was driven to madness by his chronic neglect. She shot herself in the chest in 1932 and took poison in 1935. This latter suicide attempt brought about a change in their relationship. Hitler took greater care of her, purchasing a villa for her and her sister in Munich, and also appeared impressed by her willingness to die for him, which was always the way to the dictator’s heart.
Eva Braun was no Eva Peron. Hitler probably regarded his girlfriend as a liability and kept her out of the public eye in order to prevent a scandal (the public never heard of her until after the war). He also found her useful as a sort of gatekeeper who kept other women at bay. But he was equally concerned about his calculated image as a lone and deeply desirable alpha male who was accessible to all women. Nazi philosopher and party co-founder Dietrich Eckart told Hitler that Germany’s savior “must be a bachelor, then we’ll get the women!” Hitler himself once told his chief architect and personal friend Albert Speer that “many women adore me because I am unmarried.”
Far from the ideal of "Aryan" womanhood Hitler celebrated,
Eva Braun smoked, drank, wore makeup, and loved to dance
But was Eva the mere passive victim of Adolf’s whims, as pop historians have portrayed her? It is true that other leaders looked down upon her and made fun of her in private. But Görtemaker found that Eva skillfully ran Adolf’s household in Berchtesgaden and that he intended to place the administration of his future palace compound in Linz into her capable hands. She was also an accomplished photographer and sold her private photos of Hitler to her former boss Hoffmann at a considerable profit, which gave her a significant personal income. But she also appears to have had a moderating influence on Hitler. On occasions when he would embark on long harangues against Jews and Churchill, boring other guests, she would often end the discussion merely by saying “It’s getting late, dear.”
And yet, Eva was no bleeding heart. While not exactly Lady Macbeth, she fanatically supported Hitler's policies and may have pushed him even further than he already intended to go – particularly after the start of World War II, which gave her greater influence than ever before. There is no doubt that she dreamed of one day standing beside Hitler in public, the Josephine to his Napoleon. Braun was “a capricious, uncompromising proponent of unconditional loyalty to the dictator,” Görtemaker writes. Anything but a victim, she worked her way up to this position and joined Hitler in his Reich Chancellery bunker against his stated wishes. Their grotesque wedding ceremony just forty-eight hours before their double suicide on April 30, 1945 appears to have been a last gesture of loyalty from Hitler – and his desire to make her “an honest woman” before it was all too late.
None of this should surprise us. Nazi women were typically more radical than their men. Once, not long after the seizure of power, Hitler was drinking coffee with Joseph Goebbels and his wife Magda. The subject turned to a person who had made an unfavorable comment about Hitler. “I think we should lock him up,” Hitler commented. “I think you should chop off his head,” Magda retorted. Joseph noted in his diary that even the Führer was taken aback. She was by no means alone with attitudes like this. Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, the head of the Nazi women’s organization and an officer in the SS , volunteered to organize women’s battalions against the invading Soviet Army in the last months of the war. Pilot Hanna Reitsch begged him to be allowed to lead a fleet of kamikaze planes to stop the Soviets at the Oder River. Hitler turned down both requests.
Görtemaker’s book won’t do much to change our image of Braun. There is simply too little documentary material available – she lived in a time before blogs and “Tweets,” if you can imagine such a thing – and you have to suspect that ultimately there wasn’t really all that much “there” there. But it does highlight the way both Nazi ideology and subsquent Anglo-American-dominated historiography have consistently downplayed the role of women in the recent past. Many men feel a need to consign women to the margins of history, both in life and in death.