Summary: First published in German two years ago, Heike Görtemaker’s biography of Hitler’s mistress has recently been translated for an English audience. The book tells the story of Braun’s 14‑year relationship with Hitler and challenges the view that she was little more than a bystander. Instead, Braun is revealed to have been a key player in the Nazi regime
As part of our reader book club, BBC History Magazine gave people the chance to read Eva Braun: Life with Hitler and put their questions to the book's author, German historian Heike B Görtemaker. Here is what they had to say...
How was the book received in Germany? Has it been felt to add anything to the understanding of Hitler and his entourage?
Tom Bull, Sheffield
Heike says: Shortly after the book came out in February 2010, it became a bestseller. It is now published in its fifth edition and translated into 17 languages. After all, the name of Eva Braun is still present in the public arena around the world. Sixty-five years after committing suicide, her life and death continues to stimulate the thoughts and fantasies of many people. At the same time, we still know very little about the men and women who once belonged to Hitler’s inner circle.
Since, with respect to Eva Braun, the primary sources are so scarce, it was my aim not to add new speculations to the already existing ones, but first of all to deconstruct the story of Eva Braun, asking who said what, when and why. My book is, as Der Spiegel put it, the “first scientifically researched biography” on Eva Braun.
Do you believe that Eva Braun was truly in love with Hitler the man or Hitler the Nazi hero/demigod type figure?
Michele Holmes, Suffolk
Heike says: An answer to this question would be difficult even if Eva Braun was still alive. It is almost impossible to uncover any of her true feelings, since the primary sources are so scarce, the family remained almost silent after the war, and we mainly have to rely on statements and notes by others who after 1945 had to disguise their own closeness to Hitler and the regime.
Braun’s behaviour during her last weeks in the bunker and her willingness to die with Hitler reveal a rather stern character. She knew exactly what she did and why she did it. But was she a woman in love, a loyal disciple or a fanatic who wanted to become part of history together with the führer? We don’t know. Her closest friend, Herta Schneider, declared in 1949 that Braun had been in love with Hitler.
Albert Speer’s biographer Gitta Sereny believed that his wife could hardly have “remained in total ignorance” of Nazi crimes. What is your view on Eva Braun? Was she in ignorance of the sheer scale of the Holocaust?
Michele Holmes, Suffolk
Heike says: It is important to stress that Braun, who travelled extensively and had a house in Munich and apartments at the Berghof in the Bavarian Alps and at the Old Reich Chancellery in Berlin, was no passive bystander. Together with her employer, Hitler’s friend and photographer Heinrich Hoffmann, she became part of the Nazi propaganda machinery and did not serve just as decoration at the Berghof. All members of the Berghof circle, including Eva Braun, were not just witnesses, but convinced of the Nazi ideology.
It cannot be verified that Braun knew about the Holocaust. All surviving members of Hitler’s inner circle later denied knowledge. Yet this is hardly plausible, since quite a number of them were fanatic anti-Semites. Braun, like all others, was at least informed about the persecution of the Jews, depriving them of any civil rights.
Would Braun have been held in any way responsible postwar, had she not taken her own life?
Jemima Williams, London
Heike says: No, I don’t think so. She would have been questioned by Allied intelligence officers shortly after the war – like other members of Hitler’s inner circle – to find out more about the dictator and his intimate companions. It is also possible that they would have brought her to a detention camp for that reason. But since Eva Braun, compared to women like Emmy Göring, Ilse Hess or Annelies von Ribbentrop, never had an official function and had not even joined the Nazi party, nothing else would have happened to her. Even Ilse Hess, a Nazi member and activist, was just interned for her denazification hearing in June 1947, and was released by March 1948. Braun would have been perceived as a ‘profiteer’, not as an actor on the historical stage, let alone as someone who committed a crime.
What do you think Hitler saw Eva Braun’s role as? Was she there merely to support him in his role as führer?
Jemima Williams, London
Heike says: The existence of a mistress did not fit into the successfully cultivated “myth” of the lonesome, godlike “führer” who sacrificed his personal life for the cause of the German people. Hitler concealed his private life, even destroyed his private correspondence a week before he died. Given the fact that there is no document which reveals the feelings Hitler might have had for Eva Braun, it is difficult to judge about the emotional side of the relationship. However, later statements by former members of Hitler’s closest circle clarify that Hitler obviously trusted Eva Braun until the end and needed her loyalty and stabilising support. She possessed a strong position within the hierarchy around him, but remained – unmarried – in a position he could control. While guests, adjutants, doctors and others had to get on well with her, they disliked her as much as they feared her power.
Next month we'll be looking at Tutankhamen’s Curse: The Developing History of an Egyptian King by Joyce Tyldesley.
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