The Magazine

Der Führer’s Girl

The love (?) story of Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler.

Sep 19, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 01 • By SUSANNE KLINGENSTEIN
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One example will suffice. When SS-Obergruppenführer Julius Schaub, Hitler’s personal adjutant who’d been close to him for 20 years, was pressed on the topic of Hitler and Braun in questioning at Nuremberg in 1947, he would not come right out and describe the relationship as intimate. But he did say that the men surrounding Hitler had a hard time understanding why he didn’t marry her. Görtemaker concludes that Schaub was “a simple soul” whose statements after the war were “generally questionable or downright false” anyway, and who in this case just “did not understand the compulsion bound up with Hitler’s categorical self-idealization, nor the fact that the power of the National Socialist system depended in large part on the myth of the ‘Führer’ standing above all everyday politics and problems.”

But what if it just wasn’t so? What if the power of the Nazis was actually sustained by an entire people because that people was doing quite well under Hitler’s dictatorship? What if the more simple-souled Germans who, like Schaub, didn’t see a problem with being married and being away from the wife because duty called, were simply letting Hitler have his myth while they were improving their social conditions? As the Heidelberg historian Götz Aly showed in his study Hitlers Volksstaat (2005), Hitler’s regime set in motion massive social mobility in the lower classes by implementing policies that redistributed wealth, largely the confiscated wealth of the Jews and later the wealth transferred back to the Reich during the looting of Europe. From Martin Bormann, who lived in a confiscated villa in Munich’s elegant Bogenhausen section, to the little shopkeeper at the corner who was glad to get rid of a Jewish competitor, millions of Germans benefited in palpable material ways from Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. The Germans wanted what the Jews had, and Hitler gave it to them. The Germans supported him as long as his power was to their benefit.

Whether he was married or not would not have made the slightest difference to them. Schaub, a married man who lived in the real world, saw that very clearly, and in his statement he dared to indicate that he thought Hitler a bit odd. If Görtemaker had listened more carefully to people like Schaub, she might have written a more complex, more interesting, book.

Susanne Klingenstein is a lecturer in the Harvard/MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.