This is the continuation of my write-up on the memoirs of Traudl Junge …
From the very beginning of the writing, it becomes apparent that Hitler had become a fatherly like figure for Junge. This feeling of her’s was intensified by the fact that Junge had seen very little of her own father during her childhood (her mom and her dad were divorced when she was still very young). From early on and even later throughout the entire writing, you can see that this young little girl was so absorbed, thrilled and caught up by the fact that she was working for the head of the state that when Hitler asked her whether she would like to work with him, she could not say “no”. This was in spite of Hitler’s warning that “she was still very young, there were so many men … and soldiers feel particularly strongly attracted to the Eternally Female .. in short I (Junge) must be a little careful and not too forth-coming“. Junge started officially working for Hitler on January 30th 1943.
Traudl Junge does an excellent job of describing her initial experiences at the Wolf’s Lair. She describes meticulously the total environment, persons she started interacting with, the orderlies, the SS men, her co-workers – the rest of the other secretaries and even Blondi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blondi). Soon, in March 1943, she moves, along with Hitler and rest of pretty much everybody else to Berghof (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berghof_(Hitler)). I can’t remember reading another crisp and crystal clear description of a big mansion before. Unfortunately, the Berghof was completely ruined by the Allied bombings during the War and whatever left was destroyed and set to fire by the SS fleeing from the place. Finally the nail was struck in the coffin when the Bavarian govt destroyed the shell fearing neo-Nazi movement in 1953. All that now remains is the description from these pages 😦
Junge describes cleanly Hitler’s daily schedule, his military meeting in the morning, his grand lunch with his guests and the ladies in the afternoon, the little walk to the tea house in the evening and the final dinner late at night. It was here, during the tea house or after the dinner that Eva Braun (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eva_Braun) shot some of her mute videos and photos that later survived the War. More recently, a lip-reading software was able to decipher some of the conversations in those videos. Fascinating! However, Traudl Junge describes snippets of those conversations in her writing. I can’t help wondering, reading those conversations that the Nazis were able, to surprising abilities, with all their propaganda and amazing oratory skills, hide the true nature of the War from the non Jewish German population as well as those in the Führer bunker. Its no wonder that person like Junge believed what they were made to believe, like rest of the other German population. To the members of the Führer bunker, Hitler seemed to be that charismatic almost heavenly figure who would protect everybody at all times and eventually give Germany the victory that would finally end all the suffering and pains. Its amazing to think that even when it became apparent to the German military forces that on victory were now possible, people still held on to Hitler and assumed that he still had some magic trick, some reserved strength left under his sleeves that would prevent a total collapse. It is only towards the final days, when Germany faced total and complete destruction all around that reality could no longer be hidden and eventually people started understanding what had really happened. But I will come back to this point a little later.
Among those that Junge discusses repeatedly is Eva Braun. About Eva Braun Junge writes
” … She was very well dressed and groomed, and I noticed her natural unaffected manner. She wasn’t kind of ideal German girl you saw on recruiting posters for the BDM or in women’s magazines. Her carefully done hair was bleached, and her pretty face was made up – quite heavily but in very good taste. Eva Braun wasn’t tall but she had a very pretty figure and a distinguished appearance. She knew just how to dress in a style that suited her and never looked as if she had overdone it- she always seemed appropriately and tastefully dressed, although she wore valuable jewelry. …” And again “… Eva wasn’t allowed to change her hair style. Once she appeared with her hair tinned slightly darker and on one occasion she piled it up on the top of her head. Hitler was horrified “you look totally strange,quite changed. You are an entirely different woman!” … and Eva Braun made haste to revert to the way she looked before. …” *
About the relationship between Eva Braun and Hitler, she writes
” … Apparently he (Hitler) could not understand that a woman’s beauty alone is not enough of a foundation for a good marriage. Yet on the other hand, it wasn’t just Eva Braun’s beauty that attracted him. He often took his chance to talk to us about Eva. He phones her every day and if there were reports of an air raid on Munich, he would pace up and down restlessly like a caged lion, waiting to get in touch … So it was mainly her human qualities that bound Hitler to Eva Braun….“. When asked why he had not married Braun, Hitler said “I would not make a good father and I think it would be irresponsible to start a family when I can’t devote enough time to my wife. And in anyway, I don’t want children of my own. I think the offspring of men of genius usually have very hard time of it“. Traudl goes on to say ” ... it did disturb me a lot to find someone describing himself as a genius…“.
Among the very few people who could question Hitler’s decision and oppose him openly other than Eva Braun was Albert Speer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Speer). Known also as ‘the good Nazi’ or ‘the Nazi who said sorry’, he died only a few years back, in the 80’s. Speer was an architect and in those days when Allied and Russian bombings were destroying much of Berlin, Hitler would discuss how we planned to rebuild the city and give it a new shape, using the architectural plans designed by Speer. Unfortunately, today, none of his architectural works remain. About Speer, Junge writes:
” He (Hitler) had special fondness for Albert Speer. ‘He’s an artist, and a kindred spirit,’. he said. ‘I have the warmest human feelings for him because I understand him so well. He is an architect like me, intelligent, modest, not stubborn military hothead. I never thought he would master his great task so well. ….Speer was certainly very pleasant, likable character: not by any means a party functionary, not an upstart but someone of real ability who did not lower himself to be a mere yes-man. Remarkably, he seemed to be one of the few people from whom Hitler would take contradiction. He (Hitler) himself once said, ‘When I work a plan out with Speer and ask him to do something, he thinks it over and after a while says, “Yes my Führer, I think that can be done”, Or perhaps he may say, “No, it can’t be done, not like that” and then he gives me convincing arguments why not’ … Speer did wear uniform for he held an official position and what is an official position without a uniform? However, his uniform was always slightly incorrect, and he never looked military in it … I never saw him intoxicated and he did not join in any of the parties thrown by people who knew Hitler …“
The movie Downfall correctly portrays some of this. In the final War days, Speer visits Hitler one last time before permanently leaving Berlin as the Red Army and the Allies close in. Speer tells Hitler “My Führer, I must tell you one thing … there are documents that can prove that at times I have not only ignored your orders but also acted contrary to those”**. Hitler looks at him with disappointment but with great helplessness, does not utter a word.
Like I was saying before, most people remained mesmerized by Hitler’s charismatic presence and totally oblivious to what was happening to the outside world and even to themselves. Junge was no different as is clear from her writing
“ … No rumors reached us, we heard no broadcasts from the enemy transmitters, we knew of no other attitudes, no opposition. We heard only one opinion and one belief ruled here … It was not until I had gone through with it to the bitter end and returned to ordinary life that I could see it clearly as that. At the time, I suffered a vague feeling of dissatisfaction, an uneasiness for which I could not find a name …If only I had been as mature and experienced as I am now I wouldn’t let myself just be carried away, or have absorbed Hitler’s ideas so easily and uncritically. Then I would have been bound to wonder about the dangers present in the power of a man whose gift for oratory and power of suggestion could hold people spellbound, simply suppressing their own will and convictions … it took and entire and total collapse, a really bitter and many deep disappointments, before I could see clearly and with any certainty … “.
But then there were few, who understood what were happening to them. For example, about her then fiancé and later er husband, Hans Junge, Traudl writes:
” … He was one of the few people to realize that in the long run, Hitler’s ideas would have such an effect on you that in the end you would not know what you had thought of yourself, and what was due to outside influence. Junge wanted his sense of objectivity back. He had applied several times to go to the front, which was the only way he could give up his job with Hitler. …” *
When Hitler insists her to get married with Hans, Traudl writes:
“… Now I was at a fix! For a moment I looked at him dumb-funded because I’d had absolutely no intention of committing myself so firmly to the relationship when Hans and I had known each other for such a short time. I tried desperately to find some good argument against the idea … I was wondering why the Führer should take any interest in my marriage. Love isn’t an affair of state, this was my own private business and I was quite annoyed to have such a VIP meddling with it. All the same I was surprised to hear Hitler say, ‘But you two are in love, so its best to get married at once! …’ How I could explain to him that love in its own isn’t always reason enough to get married straight away? …”. Nevertheless, the two get married pretty soon and their “married bliss lasted four weeks, while we went on honeymoon to Lake Constance, and then my husband joined the army and I moved back to headquarters.“
Traudl Junge’s work took her from Berghof to Wolf’s Liar, to Hitler private apartment in Berlin to the Reich Chancellery. There are numerous small and significant incidents that are exciting, thrilling and even sad and painful to read. I won’t bore the readers with these details. Besides you really ought to read the book in order to have fun from these experiences. I will also not describe the detailed facts about how things came to a complete collapse eventually. You can read them in any history book. If you want to take a short cut and decide to watch the movie Downfall, bear in mind though that the movie only faithfully reproduces Junge’s experiences in the last 10 days of Hitler’s life (from April 20th 1945, Hitler’s birthday to April 30th, 1945, the day he committed suicide). When I say faithfully, I mean ‘to the extent possible while dramatizing Junge’s written memoirs and filling the gaps where necessary’. There are several historical incidents that happened in those days of chaos and war that can never be proven or known for certainty. Historians have debated these facts for ages and they have often taken two or more different positions. Of course, while dramatizing, one has to choose between these different beliefs and perhaps use the one that is the most popular. Downfall does the same. But aside these facts, I think the movie is as authentic and true to history as it can possibly be. Here’s an excellent link in Russian that shows the real life pictures of the real characters against the actors in Downfall playing the same characters:
In the movie, young and charming Romanian actress Alexandra Maria Lara (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandra_Maria_Lara) plays young Traudl Junge and she plays her part to absolute perfection. Bruno Ganz plays Adolf Hitler and you can see the amazing similarity between his makeup and the real Hitler in the picture below. All these little little things makes Downfall rank #73 in the IBDB’s to #250 list.
I will end this write up by quoting Junge’s reaction to the 20th July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_20_Plot) and her experiences in the final days of her life in the Hitler bunker.
About the 20th July plot:
“... The assassination attempt of July 20th was the greatest possible misfortune for Germany and Europe. Not because it was made but because it failed. Hitler saw all the unfortunate coincidences that foiled the plot as his personal success. His confidence, his certainty of victory and his sense of security, his consciousness of power and his megalomania now really passed beyond all the bounds of reason. … They (SS men) were acting as if they had won a hard battle and a great danger had now passed. They congratulated the Führer on his miraculous survival and we stood there and let their mood infect us, we went on believing in him (Hitler), never realizing that the die had already been cast to decide our fate that day. … He (Hitler) made a short speech intended to show the German nation that he was uninjured. He thanked providence for averting a great misfortune from the German people … We listened, isolated and dazed by the frenzied aura of superior confidence radiating from these heroes of 20th July, and it never occurred to us that thousands of listeners out there were groaning in disappointment, burying their hopes and cursing the fate to which Hitler was so grateful. I still thought we had to win the war because otherwise all the terrible things Hitler had mentioned would happen, and they meant the end. …“
The writing continues and the War continues as well, getting grimmer and grimmer every day. Finally another 20th April arrives. 20th April, 1945: Allied and Red Army stood just outside Berlin. In the bunker people have gathered to celebrate Hitler’s 56th birthday.
“In the evening, we cramped together in the little study. Hitler was silent … We asked him if he wouldn’t leave Berlin. ‘No, I can’t,’ he replied. … We said nothing and the champagne we were drinking on his health tasted insipid. For Hitler had now said out loud what we had long seen, with terror, with certainty.: he himself no longer believed in victory. He retired early and the party broke up. but Eva Braun came back once she had lead Hitler to his room. A restless fire burned in her eyes. She had on a new dress made of silvery blue brocade; it was meant to be worn to a party at the side of man she loved. Hitler hadn’t noticed it. And he hadn’t noticed that there were four young women at his table who wanted to live, who had believed in him, who had hoped for victory from him. …”
Junge told us later that her hatred for Hitler began from this point onwards. This is for the first time she started to realize the emptiness in Hitler’s words and how volatile and precarious their situation was. There was no one to depend on, no one to trust. No escape for the terrible destiny that awaits them.
“... Eva Braun wanted to numb the fear that had awoken in her heart. She wanted to celebrate once again, even when there was nothing left to celebrate, she wanted to dance, drink, to forget … I was only too willing to be infected by the last strings of lust of life and get out of the bunker where the heavy ceiling suddenly weighed down so palpably on our spirits … Eva Braun wanted to dance! Never mind who with .. we drank champagne, there was shrill laughter and I laughed too because I didn’t want to cry. … This was a party given by ghosts …“
You really ought to see the movie Downfall in order to feel the above lines. It was recreated to perfection.
“22 April 1945: Feverish restless in the bunker. All hell is let loose outside. Hitler stands motionless in the little anteroom outside his study. … ‘A plane is leaving in an hour and will take you south. All is lost, hopelessly lost.’. … I don’t want to say it but it comes out of its own accord; I don’t want to stay here and I don’t want to die; but I can’t help it. ‘I’m staying too’, I say.“
From here on and in the rest of the pages, the writing continues to get more and more morose and grimmer until the final day 30th April arrives. When everything comes to a final ending, life almost stops in the bunker. On the night of that day, Junge along with a few other people decide to break through the Red Army barricade and escape. From then on, a new life, a life of uncertainty, struggle, unspeakable pain and hardship and fear begins …
If Junge were alive, I would have told her two things. First, she does not owe any apology to anyone. There is no reason to feel guilty and sorry for her past. And secondly, I respect her and all those who chose life to death that day. We need to remember and respect and draw example from those who showed tremendous courage and determination to survive and see through those days of misery; having lost everything; having to face fear, death and extreme misery every day. My deep respect goes to all of them. She was a very courageous woman indeed.
To conclude, I will touch upon one final quote from Traudl Junge:
“We should listen to the voice of conscience. It does not take nearly as much courage as one might think to admit to our mistakes and learn from them. Human beings are in this world to learn and to change themselves in learning.”
– Traudl Junge (16 March 1920 – 10 February 2002)
* These quotations were added to Wikipedia as a part of enriching it’s historical content. More quotations will be added in due course.
** These words were actually taken from Albert Speer’s memoirs which he wrote in jail while he was serving his sentence. To quote wikipedia: “In the published edition of Inside the Third Reich, Speer relates that he confessed to Hitler that he had defied the Nero Decree, but then assured Hitler of his personal loyalty, bringing tears to the dictator’s eyes”