On April 30, 1945, the Soviet Union Red Army, had reached within several blocks of the Reich Chancellory. Realizing that their fates were sealed, Reich Chancellery Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) and Eva Braun (1912-1945) took their own lives instead of risking capture by Allied forces. Over the next two days, those who had chosen to remain with them in the underground bunker made their way to surface and attempted to flee Berlin. Among them was one of Hitler’s personal secretaries, Gertraud “Traudl” Junge (1920-2002). As a close assistant to the Führer, she found herself in a unique position to observe the daily routine of one of the most powerful men in world history. This is her memoir of the time she spent with the man who lit the spark for the second world war.
Traudl Junge was one of several people close to Hitler who wrote about their time with him at different points in his life. Two memoirs that stand out in particular are The Young Hitler I Knew by August Kubizek (1888-1956) and I Was Hitler’s Pilot by Hans Baur (1897-1993). Both are very good books and show Hitler’s life in different time periods. Neither discuss the Final Solution in detail and I do not believe that Kubizek was a member of the Nazi Party. However he was a close friend of the teenage Adolf Hitler and in his book, recalls many memories of their time together during their teen years. Junge’s account is just as appealing and confirms much of what has been written about the cast of characters that formed the leadership of the Third Reich.
The information she reveals here is not anything groundbreaking nor are there any “smoking guns”. In fact, there is very little discussion of the war or the Final Solution. In regards to the war, Junge was assigned to stay close to Hitler and rarely left his side. Her knowledge and exposure to the war comes largely from dictation that she is asked to type, military figures who arrive to converse with Hitler and the fate of her husband Hans Herman Junge (1914-1944). The atrocities against Germany’s Jews also receives very little discussion. But there is a scene in which the wife of a high-ranking official brings up the deportation of Jews. The matter is not discussed further and Junge does not see her come around again. As to how much she knew about the extermination camps will always be a mystery. She did reveal some things here but any other information she may have kept close to the chest went with her to the grave when she died on February 10, 2002. In 1973, she sat for an interview which was later included in a documentary called World at War, which aired on British television. It is one of several interviews she gave about her time as Hitler’s secretary. The program is available on YouTube and can be found here. And to my surprise she speaks in fluenty English while recalling the memories she had with vivid clarity. Of course, more than thirty years had passed since war ended and her once brown hair had by then, turned completely white. But what she says in the interview closely matches what is written in the book.
What is really good about this story is that Junge observes many things about everyone who comes in and out of Hitler’s circle. What becomes clear throughout the book is that Hitler is without a doubt the pupeteer and those under his command, who are entranced by his aura, go above and beyond to gain his admiration and sabotage competitors. Rivalries, infidelity, gluttony and even drunkeness are all on the table as Junge gives her descriptions of the many faces she meets in just a few very short years. And at times, the events that take place make it seem as if Hitler and his suboordinates lived in an alternate reality.
Hitler is by far the star of the show and Junge’s account of his daily activites provides an intimate look at the Führer. And in an almost Wizard of Oz like setting, we go behind the curtains and observe the contradiction between Hitler the leader and Hitler the person who cunningly presents himself as a benevolent father like figure, only concerned with Germany and its people. Junge easily admits that his charm and personality blinded her to the evil lurking under the surface. And that side of him is what kept Junge and others arround him largely unaware of major events that were spelling doom for Germany. Admittedly, the picture she shows of Hitler does give the impression of a harmless older gentleman who many of us would love to have around. However, the cracks in the facade began to appear and she sums the point up perfectly in this quote:
Hitler lived, worked, played with his dog, ranted and raged at his generals, ate meals with his secretaries, and drove Europe towards its fate – and we hardly noticed. Germany was echoing with the wail of sirens and the roar of enemy aircraft engines. Fierce battles were being fought in the East.
This climate of insulation kept Hitler partially blind to his own egomania and the reality on the front lines. News reports painting a grim picture for Germany’s success do come in and Junge vividly recalls those moments where Hitler literally flew into rages. And at one point, even as the Russians are steadily advancing on Berlin, he still remains committed to defeating the Red Army. Perhaps it was delusion or refusal to accept that the destiny he planned for Germany would never come to fruition. By the time Hitler has decided to take his own life, it is clear to all involved that Germany is doomed. The reality of living in a post-war Germany as a Reich conspirator and the fear of Soviet capture, induced others to follow Hitler’s path including the Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945), his wife Magda Goebbels (1901-1945) and their six children. Today it might seem extreme that they chose death but Junge recalls a comment by Madga that explains the thoughts of those in the bunker:
“Frau Goebbels talked to me about it. There were no differences of class or rank any more, we were all bound together by fate. Frau Goebbels was in greater torment than any of us. She was facing six deaths, while the rest of us had only to face one. ‘I would rather have my children die than live in disgrace, jeered at. Our children have no place in Germany as it will be after the war.”
Yet even as Hitler was planning his own demise, there were still others were carrying out their duties even if the Führer would not. The efforts to achieve a negotiated surrender by Heinrich Himmler(1900-1945) and the attempt to seize control of the Reich by Hermann Goering (1893-1946) are both discussed, providing us with a look into the fragmented and substance riddled mind of the Führer, partly due to years of the injections by the Reich “Spritzenmeister”, Dr. Theodor Morrell (1886-1948). The doctor makes an appearance as well and it is clear that Junge held the same opinion as many others about Hitler’s favorite doctor.
At less than three hundred pages, the book is slightly on the shorter side. But I do feel that Junge and Muller produced a very good memoir that will remain a welcomed addition to my library. Some readers might expect more from her but what she did leave for us adds another level of authenticity to history’s record of Adolf Hitler’s last days.