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Taking Dictation to a Whole New Level

Traudl Junge, 1920-2002. Hitler's last secretary dies.

11:01 PM, Feb 14, 2002 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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TRAUDL JUNGE had a solid resume. She was a journalist at Quick magazine, a freelance writer and editor, and even a technical adviser for a movie. But most of all, she was a secretary with almost superhuman skills at typing and dictation. And she was very good at following orders--a boss's dream come true. But I imagine on Junge's resume, there'd be a sizable gap from 1942 to 1945. It's not that she was unemployed. Quite the contrary: For three years, Traudl Junge was the personal secretary to Adolf Hitler. Which isn't something you'd want to mention at an interview.

Junge was born in Munich in 1920. In the 1930s, she was a member of the League of German Girls--an apparatus that provided Nazi indoctrination, though according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Junge was a "completely apolitical member." And while she started down the path of a secretary, her real dream was to be a dancer just like her sister, a member of the Deutsche Tanzbuehne troupe in Berlin. Junge never got an offer from the troupe, but she did get a job as an aide in the Reich Chancellery, thanks to her sister's friendship with Albert Bormann, brother of Martin, right-hand man to the Fuehrer (it's all about connections).

In December 1942, Junge and eight other secretaries from Berlin were nominated for a much higher level of administrative assistance. The job was the fourth and final secretary to the head of the Third Reich. The interview process would take place at the Fuehrer's headquarters in Rastenburg--otherwise known as the Wolf's Lair. Understandably, Junge was a nervous wreck. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably. When her time came, she met one on one with the dictator for a trial dictation. But the Fuehrer easily calmed her nerves, saying, "Child, you can hardly make as many mistakes as I do." Junge described the genocidal megalomaniac as a "pleasant, older man with fatherly friendliness" (this being the Fatherland and all) who "could really charm people with his voice." Junge got the job and, at 22 years old, became the youngest of all the secretaries.

For the next three years, Traudl Junge would follow the Fuehrer on his journeys from the Wolf's Lair to the Berghof in Obersalzburg and finally on to Berlin--when it came to traveling, Junge says her boss was "easy-going." She and the other secretaries even shared meals with Hitler, an avowed vegetarian. Said Junge, "My colleagues told me that in the earlier years he talked incessantly, about the past and future, but after Stalingrad, well, I don't remember many monologues. We all tried to distract him with talk about films, or gossip, anything that would take his mind off the war. He loved gossip. That was part of that other side of him, which was basically the only one we saw."

In other words, Junge and the others never knew about the Holocaust. Hitler "practically never mentioned the word 'Jew'" she said. "I never had the feeling that he was consciously following criminal aims. No one ever spoke about this topic--at least not in our presence." The only time Junge heard references to Jews and camps was at the Berghof when Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, said the camps were "being managed very skillfully."

Not everyone believes this. Mark Weitzman, director of the Task Force Against Hate at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, was unimpressed with Junge's defense. "Sure she might not have known all the intricacies of the Final Solution," Weitzman told me, "but didn't she notice that a sizable chunk of the population was missing?" Other critics call Junge's claims "sheer fantasy" and "revisionism."

In early 1945, as the war was clearly coming to an abysmal end, Hitler allowed his staff to escape from Berlin, before the arrival of the Soviets. But as Ian Kershaw writes in "Hitler: 1936-1945: Nemesis," the Fuehrer's remaining assistants, Gerda Christian, Traudl Junge, and dietician Constanze Manziarly, "found themselves rejecting the offer to leave and telling Hitler that they would stay with him in the bunker."

From there, things went downhill. Hitler would sometimes stare into space. Meals were served irregularly. Staffers even started smoking right in front of him. "It was a terrible time," recalled Junge. "I can't really remember my feelings. We were all in a state of shock, like machines. It was an eerie atmosphere." The atmosphere outside the bunker was slightly worse, of course, what with children and the elderly fighting the Red Army by strapping anti-tank guns to their bicycles.