Eva Braun: Life with Hitler
by Heike B. Görtemaker, translated from the German by Damion Searls
Knopf, 324 pp., $27.95
Just after the end of World War II, Albert Speer complained to his American interrogators that “history always emphasizes terminal events.” He hated the idea that what he saw as the early successes of National Socialism would be obscured by the regime’s grotesque ending. Paradoxically, Eva Braun would have been an even smaller footnote to history if she had not disobeyed Hitler’s orders and returned to Berlin to take part in that terminal event. She almost certainly visualized their fate in cinematic terms as the climax of a great epic and love story.
Hitler too was fixated on the cinema. When Soviet armies surrounded the city, he rejected all entreaties to leave the Reichschancellery for Bavaria, because, as Speer indicated, he pictured his Führerdämmerung amid the apocalyptic destruction of Germany’s capital. The Fall of Berchtesgaden did not have the same ring as The Fall of Berlin. For Hitler and the Nazi leadership, image and impression were often more important than reality. In a deeply disturbing way, this frivolous irresponsibility and fantasy were an integral part of their inhumanity.
Eva Braun evidently liked to think of her life as a fairy tale. Her father was a teacher in Munich, and although she and her two sisters were brought up in comparatively straitened circumstances, there was enough money to educate Eva at a convent. In October 1929, soon after she left, the plump young seventeen-year-old found a job in the photography shop of Heinrich Hoffmann. Eva had never heard of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, of which Hoffmann was a member. He also happened to be a friend of Adolf Hitler, and his first image-maker. Hitler felt able to relax in his company more than in that of party colleagues and rivals. Hoffmann’s daughter Henriette, who was the same age as Eva and rather sarcastic about her, later married Baldur von Schirach, who although half-American was appointed by Hitler to be leader of the Hitler Youth and in 1940 Gauleiter of Vienna.
Some three weeks after Eva began work, Hoffmann had a visitor whom he introduced to his assistant as Herr Wolf. Hoffmann asked her to join them. Although Hitler was twenty-three years older than Eva, more than twice her age, he evidently showed his interest. After Hitler left, Hoffmann told her who he was. When she returned home, she asked her father about Adolf Hitler. He was not complimentary. Hitler began to ask her out, and in the following year, 1930, asked Martin Bormann to investigate whether the Braun family was purely “Aryan.” This may have been because Eva’s older sister, Ilse, was working for a Jewish doctor to whom she was strongly attached until he emigrated to New York.
Hitler’s relationship with Eva Braun at this time was frustrating. She spent most of the time waiting for him to call or to appear unannounced. He was still fixated on Geli Raubal, the daughter of …