In this groundbreaking biography of Eva Braun, German historian Heike B. Görtemaker delves into the startlingly neglected historical truth about Adolf Hitler’s mistress. More than just the vapid blonde of popular cliché, Eva Braun was a capricious but uncompromising, fiercely loyal companion to Hitler; theirs was a relationship that flew in the face of the Führer’s proclamations that Germany was his only bride. Görtemaker paints a portrait of Hitler and Braun’s life together with unnerving quotidian detail—Braun chose the movies screened at their mountaintop retreat (propaganda, of course); he dreamed of retiring with her to Linz one day after relinquishing his leadership to a younger man—while weaving their personal relationship throughout the fabric of one of history’s most devastating regimes. Though Braun gradually gained an unrivaled power within Hitler’s inner circle, her identity was kept a secret during the Third Reich, until the final days of the war. Faithful to the end, Braun committed suicide with Hitler in 1945, two days after their marriage.
Through exhaustive research, newly discovered documentation, and anecdotal accounts, Görtemaker has meticulously built a surprising portrait of Hitler’s bourgeois existence outside of the public eye. Though Eva Braun had no role in Hitler’s policies, she was never as banal as she was previously painted; she was privy to his thoughts, ruled life within his entourage, and held his trust. As horrifying as it is astonishing, Eva Braun will undoubtedly be referenced in all future accounts of this period.
Heike B. Görtemaker, born in 1964, is a German historian and author. She studied history, economics, and German literature in Berlin and Bloomington, Indiana. In 2005, she published a biography of Margret Boveri, a prominent German journalist from the 1930s to the 1970s. Görtemaker lives with her husband near Berlin. She is currently working on a project dealing with the legacy of Hitler’s inner circle in postwar Germany.
From our Q&A with the author
Q: What is the most important difference between Eva Braun: Life with Hitler and the other accounts that have been written of her life?
A: Biographies dealing with Eva Braun so far portray her as a tragic or ridiculous figure who, mostly ignored by Hitler, spent (indeed wasted) her life by waiting for him. They mainly emphasize her “tragic fate” and assume an unfulfilled existence as she stayed childless and, until her last day in the Berlin bunker, unmarried. She was, so is said, absolutely un-political and knew hardly anything about the course of events around her. Therefore Eva Braun’s life and her way of living are usually treated as a theme disconnected from Hitler’s personal and, more important, political activities. While Hitler is viewed as a person with no human feelings or bonds, Eva Braun is described as either a dull and naive blonde, or as a decent girl who had “the misfortune to fall in love with a monster” (Angela Lambert). In my book I tried to look behind the still existing myths surrounding the private live of Hitler and Eva Braun. I asked who Eva Braun, the woman whose name is inseparable tied to that of Hitler and the inhuman regime of the Nazis, really was. What can be said about herself and her relationship with Hitler? What kind of role did she play within Hitler’s private circle? How much influence or power did she have? Did she know about the holocaust? My book analyzes all available primary and secondary sources with regard to Eva Braun and takes a fresh and more critical look at the memoir literature, asking who said what, when and why. In doing so, the role of Eva Braun within the circle of the most trusted followers of Hitler became a different one.
Q: It seems that any study of Eva Braun must first wade through a vast amount of misinformation and obfuscation. What types of primary documents did you use in your research?
A: Because of the lack of primary sources, the common interpretations of Eva Braun were encouraged by the memoir literature written after the Second World War. In these accounts former members of the Nazi elite or members of Hitler’s staff mentioned wives, girlfriends or female relatives just as passive bystanders. Neither Hitler nor Eva Braun left any notes with information, illuminating the character of their relationship. There exist only a few postcards and letters written by Eva Braun and a diary fragment, dating from the 6th of February 1935 to the 28th of May 1935. But it is disputed whether these notes were actually written by Eva Braun, because the handwriting in old German is very different from other letters she wrote. But even if there are few personal documents by Eva Braun and none by Hitler, who had his most loyal adjutant destroy all private letters and documents at the end, there are a lot of statements and notes by others that shed light on the relationship between Braun and Hitler. Thus I used, among others, contemporary statements by Joseph Goebbels, Martin and Gerda Bormann, and interviews with the members of the “inner circle” conducted only a few weeks or months after the surrender of the German Wehrmacht. NS-functionaries as well as Hitler’s secretaries, adjutants and doctors were questioned by allied intelligence officers. Among them were Albert Speer, Karl Brandt, Theodor Morell, Christa Schroeder, Traudl Junge and Wilhelm Brückner. In addition I saw the interrogation files of the family and friends of Eva Braun (including her parents, her sisters, her friend Herta Schneider, Heinrich Hoffmann and other members of the “inner circle”) conducted by the German denazification-courts in Munich from 1947 to 1949. And last but not least I undertook an analysis and assessment of the memoir literature published since the 1950’s where Nicolaus von Below, Otto Dietrich, Albert Speer, Baldur von Schirach and many others expressed their views.