Скачать fb2
Eva Braun

Eva Braun


    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 EVA BRAUN Life with Hitler Translated from the German by Damion Searls


    On March 7, 1945, when Eva Braun had a chauffeur bring her in a diplomatic car from Munich to Berlin, she wanted to write the final chapter of her story herself.1 That story had begun in 1929, in the offices of a Munich photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, where she met the leader of a far-right political party that had not, at the time, been very successful: the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistiche Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or NSDAP). That leader’s name was Adolf Hitler. Now she was driving to the capital, against his will, in order to die with him.
    Hitler had ordered her to stay on the Obersalzberg, a mountain in the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden, where he owned a large residence called the Berghof. Berlin was badly damaged, practically destroyed, after the Allied air strike of February 3; the air-raid sirens were sounding several times a day. The Soviet Red Army had reached the Oder River in January, while American and British forces, supported by numerous allies, were approaching from the west. As a result, no one in the Reich Chancellery expected Eva Braun to appear. Albert Speer remarked about her arrival in his memoir Inside the Third Reich: “Figuratively and in reality, with her presence a messenger of death moved into the bunker.”2 Be that as it may, she was also stepping out from the shadows of her existence as merely a mistress. Her name became inseparable from that of Hitler, and she herself, with their joint death, became a legend with him. Is that what she wanted?
    No one, writes the British historian Ian Kershaw, shaped the twentieth century more powerfully than Adolf Hitler. The shocking experience of a “modern, advanced, cultured society… so rapidly sink[ing] into barbarity”3 has undeniably had consequences down to the present day. In the process, the name Hitler has become a symbol: around the world, standing for violence, inhumanity, racism, perverted nationalism, genocide, and war. Ever since January 30, 1933, when Hitler was named Chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg and the NSDAP legally came to power, there have been countless attempts not only to describe the structure and institutions of the National Socialist dictatorship, but also, more than anything, to explain the “phenomenon” of Adolf Hitler.4 The debates continue even today.
    Eva Braun, in contrast—the mistress for many years and eventually the wife of “evil incarnate”—has been seen as historically insignificant, as “a very pale shadow of the Führer,”5 even as “a historical disappointment,” in Hugh Trevor-Roper’s words. As nothing. The reason for this was the belief that Eva Braun “played no role in the decisions that led to the worst crimes of the century,” that she was nothing more than part of Hitler’s private pseudoparadise, which may in fact have made it possible for him to pursue “his monstrous horrors all the more persistently.”6 Thus Eva Braun has remained a marginal figure in the biographies of Hitler. The few books that treat her own life story emphasize her allegedly tragic “fate as a woman” and refrain from presenting Hitler’s girlfriend in her social, cultural, and political contexts—unless the book’s author has an ideological agenda of his or her own.7
    This disregard of Eva Braun as a historical figure is due in no small part to the dominant image of Hitler in the historical literature, because the question of whether Hitler should be portrayed as a human being at all is a controversial one even now. Some of his biographers maintain that their subject is a “nonperson”; Joachim C. Fest, for example, in the early 1970s, admitted that Hitler had apparently overwhelming power and “his own kind of greatness,” but criticized the paleness of his person and his rigid, statuelike, theatrical appearance, while remarking on Hitler’s “inability to lead an everyday life.”8 Decades later, Ian Kershaw said that Hitler’s “entire being” was given over to his role as “Führer,”[1] to the point where he lacked a “private,” a “deeper” existence: the personal life of this despot who had an “extraordinary kind” of “charismatic” power consisted, according to Kershaw, of nothing more than a chain of “empty routines.”9 Even from a distance of sixty years, even while they are convinced that historical scholarship has “painstakingly taken the measure” of the “abyss,” historians persist in looking at “the grotesque face of the monster” when it comes to Hitler himself.10
    But doesn’t this interpretation risk succumbing to Hitler’s own self-presentation, according to which his individuality was of secondary importance? Do we not thereby dehumanize him, and as a result let him escape our critical understanding? It was Joseph Goebbels after all, Hitler’s Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, who tirelessly promulgated the idea that the “Führer” had sacrificed his private life and all of his individual happiness for the German People[2]—that he stood “above all the daily worries and cares of ordinary mortals ‘like a rock in the sea.’”11 Are we not still creating an artificial figure when we look back at him in this way, one that only makes it harder for succeeding generations to confront their own histories and understand the nature of the Nazi dictatorship?
    In no way do I mean to argue for an overemphasis on the individual in history. Nor am I suggesting that we should show “understanding” for the dictator’s private side, especially since that dictator has already become an object of dubious fascination as “the devil in person.” Rather, a serious, source-critical study of Eva Braun, which no one has carried out until now, offers a new perspective on Hitler, and one that can help undo his demonization.
    Thus the question is: Who was this woman, actually, and what perspective does she open up onto this “criminal of the century”? The fact is that Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler were together for fourteen years—a relationship that ended only with their double suicide. Moreover, this relationship was one of Hitler’s few close personal ties to any woman at all. She was largely concealed from the German public, and in terms of external appearance, Eva Braun—young, blond, athletic, attractive, fun-loving—absolutely did not fit Hitler with his “psychopath’s face” (Joachim Fest’s phrase), who looks prim, stiff, and elderly in the private photographs in which he appears. Eva Braun, it is said, loved fashion, movies, and jazz; read works by Oscar Wilde (who was banned in Germany after 1933); liked to travel; and pursued sports to excess.12 Her life hardly corresponded to the petit bourgeois ideal of the German woman as propounded by Nazi ideology: bravely defending the husband’s home and her motherhood before all else. So what did connect Eva Braun to Hitler? What were her relations like with the men in the Nazi leader’s innermost circle—Hermann Göring, Albert Speer, and Martin Bormann? What light does this relationship shed on Hitler? Did he live with his lover in a kind of parallel private world that was fundamentally opposed to the official “Führer image”? Or is it in fact impossible to separate public and private in this way? Did both worlds belong together inseparably—for Eva Braun as well as for Hitler?
    By all appearances, Eva Braun was a young woman of average abilities from a conventional, lower-middle-class family. She clearly did not stand out due to her background or her interests. It is often mentioned that she was noticeably lacking in any political sympathies or interest in current events at all.13 Eva Braun was not sophisticated and glamorous like Magda Goebbels, nor was she politically influential like Annelies von Ribbentrop (daughter of the champagne manufacturer Otto Henkell), nor did she possess the fanaticism of a Gerda Bormann. But it is precisely her allegedly average ordinariness that invites us to reconstruct her historical circumstances. Her “normality” at the center of this atmosphere of “evil” is like an anachronism that brings this evil into relief and shows it in a new light.

The Meeting

    On April 30, 1945, at around 2:30 p.m., Erich Kempka, Hitler’s driver since 1932, receives a phone call in the garage in the basement of the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. He is to get hold of fifty gallons of gasoline and bring it to the entrance of the “Führer bunker” in the Chancellery garden. He will be given further details there. When Kempka arrives with the men who are helping him carry the gasoline canisters, SS-Sturmbannführer Otto Günsche explains that the Führer is dead. He, Günsche, has been assigned to burn the body immediately, since Hitler did not want to end up “on display in a Russian panopticon.” Günsche and Kempka enter the bunker, where Martin Bormann hands over Eva Braun’s body to Kempka. She is wearing a dark dress that feels damp around the area of the heart. Kempka carries her upstairs to the exit, preceded by Heinz Linge (a valet) and Dr. Ludwig Stumpfegger carrying Hitler’s corpse. Günsche, Bormann, and Joseph Goebbels follow behind. Shortly before 3:00 p.m. they lay the two bodies next to each other in the sand on level ground, pour five barrels of gasoline over them, and set them on fire. The men stand in the bunker entrance and, as the bodies burn, raise their arm one last time in the Hitler salute. When artillery shells start falling on the site, they hurry back into the protection of the bunker.1


    Almost sixteen years earlier, in October 1929, Hitler and Eva Braun met for the first time in the studio of photographer Heinrich Hoffmann. Hoffmann was a press photographer and portrait photographer well known in Munich after World War I, as well as a publisher and a National Socialist from the beginning. He ran a studio, called Photohaus Hoffmann, at 25 Amalienstrasse, near Odeon Square in central Munich. From there he supplied the Munich Illustrierte Presse (Illustrated Press) and domestic and foreign agencies with his pictures. Hoffmann’s father was a photographer as well, and he had apparently forced his son to follow in his footsteps; Hoffmann had owned a business of his own in Munich since 1909.1 Even before 1914, Heinrich Hoffmann had made a name for himself with the public and in artistic circles with his photography service—the “Hoffmann Photoreport”—as well as by taking portrait photographs. Still, he owed his flourishing business to the NSDAP. After World War I, which he spent on the French front as a reservist in a replacement detachment of the air force, he put his talents at the service of the far-right nationalist movement that was rising to power.2

The Nazi Party’s House Photographer

    It is no longer possible to reconstruct exactly when and in what circumstances Hoffmann met Hitler for the first time. Hoffmann’s daughter, Henriette von Schirach, later claimed that the Populist poet and writer Dietrich Eckart had put her father in contact with Hitler; Hoffmann himself said in his memoir that their first encounter was for purely business reasons, after an American photo agency offered him one hundred dollars for a photograph of Hitler, on October 30, 1922.3 As early as 1947, in an unpublished written statement in his own defense, Hoffmann claimed that the “American press” had offered him “a large sum for the first picture of Hitler” at the time. In order to get this money, “under any circumstances,” he contrived a seemingly chance encounter by suggesting that Hermann Esser, a good friend of Hitler’s, hold the reception for his upcoming wedding in Hoffmann’s house, on July 5, 1923. In this way, he planned to meet Hitler, who was to be one of the witnesses at the ceremony.4
    In fact, Hoffmann had been a member of the German Workers’ Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or DAP) since April 6, 1920—six months after Hitler had joined. Anton Drexler had founded the party in January of the previous year, in Munich, and it had recently changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistiche Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or NSDAP). Hoffmann began to publish the weekly newspaper Auf gut deutsch (In Good German), edited by the radical nationalistic and anti-Semitic Dietrich Eckart, Hitler’s friend, mentor, and father-figure. This failed poet used the paper to rail against the Weimar Republic, Bolshevism, and Judaism, under the motto “Germany, Awake!”5 There is much evidence to suggest that Hoffmann became friends with this circle of like-minded men, including Eckart, Hitler, and the journalist Hermann Esser, before he began to make himself useful to the NSDAP and especially to the man who became its leader starting on July 29, 1921: the aggressive “beer hall agitator” Adolf Hitler.6 Despite numerous requests, Hoffmann at first respected Hitler’s wish not to be photographed. Hoffmann’s first portrait of Hitler, in fact, appeared only after the failed Beer Hall Putsch of November 8–9, 1923, which made Hitler famous throughout Germany but also landed him in jail. (Hoffmann photographed him as a prisoner.) The following year, Hoffmann published a photo brochure titled (in German) “Germany’s Awakening, in Words and Pictures.” In 1926, the tireless Hoffmann, together with Hitler and Hermann Esser (their mutual friend and the first head of propaganda for the Party), founded a richly illustrated weekly Party newspaper, the Illustrierter Beobachter. That same year, at Hoffmann’s suggestion, the Völkischer Beobachter (The People’s Observer, the Nazi newspaper) included photographs for the first time—from Hoffmann’s own studio, needless to say.
    The NSDAP was thus on the cutting edge, technologically speaking. Only a few years earlier it had been common practice to illustrate newspaper stories with drawings or engravings. Even The New York Times started to print photographs regularly only in 1922. Photojournalism’s true breakthrough, made possible by the development of the 35 mm camera in 1925, had only just begun.7 Unlike in America—and also England and France, where the British Daily Mirror and French Illustration had set up a daily photographic exchange service between London and Paris as early as 1907—in Germany the practice of printing photographs in newspapers only slowly gained popularity.8
    Among the pictures Hoffmann published in the Völkischer Beobachter was a series showing, for the first time, Hitler giving the Nazi salute with outstretched arm before a march of thousands of Party faithful on July 4, 1926, at the first NSDAP convention after it was reestablished in Weimar.9 Already, in the earliest phase of the Nazi Party’s rise to power, Hoffmann was putting his initiative and photographic skill behind the power of images—and the power of the Party’s not uncontroversial leader, who was controversial even within the Party at first. For Hitler and the propaganda campaign he was waging against both external opponents and opponents within the Party, Hoffmann soon made himself indispensable. He became Hitler’s “personal photographer.”10 From then on the leader of the Nazi Party almost never appeared without Hoffmann, whether on trips, on the campaign trail, or at lunch at Hitler’s local Munich pub.
    Hoffmann’s decision to devote his career entirely to Hitler and the NSDAP paid off only in later years, however. In 1929, the Landtag (state parliament) campaigns and mass rallies provided Hoffmann’s business with more and more assignments. These included the four-day NSDAP convention in Nuremburg on August 1–4, with the spectacular parade of sixty thousand SA and SS members, and Hitler’s appearance on October 26 in the Zirkus Krone in Munich with Alfred Hugenberg, the press tycoon and head of the German National People’s Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, or DNVP), in connection with the proposed German referendum against the Young Plan. That same year gave the Nazi Party its first electoral victories. In the Reichstag (national parliament) election the previous year, on May 20, 1928, it looked as though the National Socialists were sinking back into insignificance—they received only 2.6 percent of the vote—but in the Landtag and municipal elections of 1929 the trend was uniformly upward.11 With the world economic crisis unfolding in the background, and the rise in unemployment to 3.32 million people in Germany, the NSDAP achieved gains in Saxony, Baden, and Bavaria; in Thuringia, in fact, its vote tally rose from 4.6 to 11.3 percent.
    In light of these results, it is no accident that Hoffmann, then forty-four years old, was able to expand his business even in fall 1929, at the onset of the worldwide economic crash. He profited both from the increasing number of assignments from the Party and from the greater use Hitler himself made of him. Photo agencies were booming in any case, since by that time more and more newspapers were illustrating their reports with photographs. The demand throughout the world for news photographs was constantly on the rise, and a flourishing business grew from Hoffmann’s small workshop in a courtyard behind 50 Schellingstrasse. It moved to 25 Amalienstrasse in September 1929, and was renamed the NSDAP-Photohaus Hoffmann. Shortly before the reopening, Hoffmann hired new employees, and one of them was the seventeen-year-old Eva Braun.12

“Herr Wolf”

    Eva Braun’s job at Photohaus Hoffmann seems to have been primarily behind the counter. In any case, the various statements about her actual duties are contradictory. For example, Henriette von Schirach—Hoffmann’s daughter and a friend of Eva Braun’s the same age as she, who was thus in a position to know—says at one point in her memoir that Braun was an “apprentice in [Hoffmann’s] photo lab,” but mentions elsewhere that Braun sold “roll films” in her father’s “photo store.”13 In fact, both were true. Eva Braun, Heinrich Hoffmann later wrote, had been a “novice and shop assistant” and worked for him “in the office, as a salesgirl, and also in the laboratory.” From 1933 on, after Braun was “more established” in the business, she worked exclusively “in photography.”14
    To be a photographer was a very respected and enviable career for a woman at the time. The field was new and modern and the idea of becoming a fashion or portrait photographer attracted many women. Eva Braun was especially interested in fashion. Her first task at Hoffmann’s, though, was to learn how to use a camera and develop pictures. From the beginning, her duties included running small errands for Hoffmann and his clients and working behind the counter. Along with press photography, the rise in amateur photography offered a steadily growing market, so Photohaus Hoffmann not only took photographs but also sold photographic equipment, which was now readily available to the public. In addition, it sold pictures and postcards of its own, and Eva Braun was also responsible for those sales, according to Baldur von Schirach, Hoffmann’s son-in-law and the future Youth Leader of the Nazi Party.15 Hoffmann’s preferred motifs and images included his fellow Party members and, especially, portraits of its leader, Adolf Hitler.
    Eva Braun probably met Hitler for the first time in October 1929, a few weeks after starting her job.16 She was apparently working late, organizing papers, when Hoffmann introduced her to one “Herr Wolf” and asked her to fetch some beer and sausages for him and his friend, and for herself as well, from a nearby restaurant. During the meal together that followed, the stranger was “devouring” her “with his eyes the whole time,” and he later offered her “a lift in his Mercedes.” She refused. Finally, before she left the studio, Eva Braun’s boss, Hoffmann, asked her: “Haven’t you guessed who that gentleman is; don’t you ever look at our photos?” After she said no, Hoffmann said: “It’s Hitler! Adolf Hitler.”17
    This account appears in the first published biography of Eva Braun, from 1968, by the Turkish-American journalist whose birth name was Nerin Emrullah Gün. According to Gün, Eva Braun told one of her sisters—presumably Ilse, the oldest of the three sisters—about this first meeting with Hitler, which occurred “on one of the first Fridays in October,” either October 4 or October 11, 1929. But how reliable is Gün? His work is quoted extensively even today, and it tends to give the impression that Eva Braun dictated her story directly to him. From whom did he get his information, and how? And what are we to make of his own thoroughly enigmatic history?
    Gün worked in the press department of the Turkish embassy in Budapest during World War II. Shortly before the end of the war, on April 12, 1945, the secret police ordered his arrest for allegedly being an enemy of the German state; he was sent to the Dachau concentration camp. Two weeks later, on April 29, 1945, he was liberated along with the other prisoners by the American Seventh Army. Gün moved to the United States, simplified his name to Gun, and later wrote a book about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. That was presumably why the CIA suspected him, as a member of the Communist Party, of being involved himself in the assassination of President Kennedy and charged him with having committed espionage and falsified documents in Europe.18
    In the mid-1960s, on the occasion of the anniversary celebration of the liberation of Dachau, Gun visited West Germany. That was apparently when he arranged to meet Eva Braun’s family and other former members of Hitler’s inner circle. He tracked down Franziska Braun, Eva’s mother, in her house in Ruhpolding, Bavaria, and also questioned Eva’s sisters, Ilse and Margarete (who was called Gretl), as well as Eva’s best friend, Herta Schneider (née Ostermayr). Gun obtained access to Eva Braun’s private photographs and letters, and these were published for the first time in his book. However, Gun does not give precise details about the sources of his information, and he switches freely back and forth between invented anecdotes and factual testimony from actual witnesses in a way that makes it impossible for the reader to determine which is which.
    Ilse Hess, Rudolf Hess’s wife, wrote in a letter to Albert Speer on June 25, 1968, that Gun, “the author of the book about Everl [her nickname for Eva Braun],” had stayed with her, Ilse Hess, “for weeks” in Hindelang, since he was now planning to write a biography of her husband; she wrote that she now called him only by the name “Mr. I pay all” (in English), since that was his “favorite expression.”19 This remark shows the lack of respect she had for him; Gun apparently had little background knowledge and Ilse Hess did not take him seriously. Presumably, Gun likewise stayed with the Braun family the year before while he was researching his book on Eva Braun, although there is no concrete evidence either way.
    Thus we cannot say that the sequence of events at the first meeting between Eva Braun and Hitler has been established with certainty, even if matters may well have played out the way Gun describes. It is certainly unclear why Hoffmann would have introduced his prominent friend and Party colleague under the fake name “Wolf.”20 (Hitler did often use that name for himself, especially when traveling.) Possibly Hoffmann was trying to forestall a nervous, or even hysterical, reaction from the young woman. In any case, nothing could stop the attraction that apparently sprang up spontaneously on both sides. From then on, Hitler, already forty years old, remembered himself to the seventeen-year-old Eva Braun with compliments and little gifts every time he visited the studio.
    Such visits were not at all difficult for Hitler to arrange. Photohaus Hoffmann, on the corner of Amalienstrasse and Theresienstrasse, was directly across the street from Café Stephanie, a favorite spot for the leading Nazi politicians. Before World War I, it had been a meeting point for the bohemians of the Schwabing district, including such figures as Heinrich Mann, Erich Mühsam, Eduard Graf von Keyserling, and Paul Klee. The Party’s headquarters were just a side street away, at 50 Schellingstrasse, the same street where the editorial and printing offices of the Völkischer Beobachter were located a few houses farther on. At 50 Schellingstrasse itself was the building where Heinrich Hoffmann and his family used to live, and Hoffmann’s “workshop” was located next door. That was where he photographed Hitler, Göring, and other Party leaders.21 Also on Schellingstrasse was the Osteria Bavaria, the oldest Italian restaurant in Munich, where Hitler and his fellow Party members often used to go; it is still there today, under the name Osteria Italiana. Henriette von Schirach described the restaurant as a “cool, small winery with a little courtyard painted in Pompeian red and a ‘temple,’ that is, an alcove with two columns in front of it,” which was kept reserved for Hitler. However, Hitler’s later secretary, Traudl Junge, said that the Nazi leader’s regular table was the “least comfortable table all the way in the back, in the corner.”22
    Hitler rarely ate alone. His constant companions from the early 1920s on included not only Heinrich Hoffmann but also Ernst F. Sedgwick Hanfstaengl,23 a German-American who was named head of the Party’s Foreign Press Bureau in 1931. Ernst was the younger brother of the art publisher Edgar Hanfstaengl, who had taken over the family business, “Franz Hanfstaengl Art Publishers,” in 1907; he led the New York branch of the publishing house until the end of World War I and then returned to Munich. Hitler’s Munich circle in the early years also included Adolf Wagner, the powerful Gauleiter[3] of the Munich–Upper Bavaria region, called the “despot of Munich”; Julius Schaub, Hitler’s personal assistant; Christian Weber, a “potbellied former horse trader” (in Joachim Fest’s words) and good friend of Hitler’s; and Hermann Esser, a founding member of the NSDAP, whom Goebbels called “the little Hitler.” Later additions included the young Martin Bormann (a Party member since 1927), Otto Dietrich (press chief of the NSDAP since 1931), SS General Joseph “Sepp” Dietrich, Max Amann, and Wilhelm Brückner (an SA-Obergruppenführer and Hitler’s chief adjutant since 1930).24
Eva Braun in Photohaus Hoffmann, posing on a desk, 1930 (Illustration Credit 1.1)
    Eva Braun was only occasionally invited out by Hitler—to a meal, a movie, the opera, or a drive in the Munich region. Henriette von Schirach recalled, about the beginning of the acquaintance between her father’s friend and Eva Braun, that Hitler could “give the most thrilling compliments”: “May I invite you to the opera, Miss Eva? I am always surrounded by men, you see, so I know very well how much the pleasure of a woman’s company is worth.” Who, she said, “could withstand” that?25 Although their relationship seemed to be a rather superficial one at first, Hitler immediately had the girl investigated. Martin Bormann, at whose wedding Hitler had recently been a witness, was given the assignment as early as 1930 to determine whether the Braun family was “Aryan,” that is, had no Jewish ancestors.26 Bormann, who had meanwhile risen to the SA Supreme Staff, was to remain one of Hitler’s closest and most trusted friends from 1933 until Hitler’s death.27
    Eva Braun, still a minor at that point, presumably did not suspect a thing about Bormann’s vetting. It is easy to imagine that this girl was impressed by her new acquaintance’s prominence and was open to his political ideas. There is no evidence as to whether she herself, or her parents, held anti-Semitic views. Since Ilse Braun, four years older than her sister Eva, worked as a receptionist for a Jewish doctor who was also a close friend of hers, there seem not to have been ideological prejudices in Braun’s family. Photographs of Eva Braun from her early years working in Hoffmann’s photography store show a very childish-seeming girl, who obviously liked to be photographed and was not shy about striking poses in the office rooms.28 Her relationship with Hitler is said to have remained purely “platonic” until 1932. Heinrich Hoffmann, in his memoir Hitler Was My Friend (London, 1955; German translation, 1974), claimed that his employee had pursued the relationship and had let it be known that “Hitler was in love with her and she would definitely succeed in getting him to marry her.”29 He did not perceive any “intense interest” on Hitler’s part at first, though. In truth, what Hoffmann’s observations reveal is the difference between a young woman—still a teenager, in fact—and a bachelor rather more advanced in years: while she spontaneously and enthusiastically expressed her feelings, he set store by the utmost discretion.

Trustee in Personal Matters

    The mutual trust between Hitler and Hoffmann—indispensable for the long sittings in the portrait studio and attested by the countless photographs in which Hitler struck uninhibited poses—extended to their private lives.30 Henriette von Schirach later recalled that her family moved into a “tremendously modern apartment in Bogenhausen” in 1929, “which Hitler liked” to visit. He ate spaghetti there, with “a little muscat, tomato sauce on the side, then nuts and apples,” and improvised on the piano after the meal.31 Hitler felt “at home” with Hoffmann and his family, according to Albert Speer in Inside the Third Reich. In the garden of the photographer’s villa in Munich-Bogenhausen, Hitler could, as Speer observed in the summer of 1933, behave without the slightest formality, “lie down on the grass in shirtsleeves” or recite from “a volume of Ludwig Thoma.”32
Hitler practicing oratorical poses, photographed by Heinrich Hoffmann, 1926 (Illustration Credit 1.2)
    By that point Hoffmann and Hitler had been friends for at least a decade. Hoffmann’s son-in-law Baldur von Schirach later reported that Hitler had come to know “family life” with Hoffmann; Hoffmann’s first wife, Therese (Lelly); and their children, and that he had been taken in as a member of the family.33 The photographer and his family were, so to speak, the core of the private circle around the unmarried NSDAP leader. After Therese Hoffmann’s early death in 1928, the bond between the two men seemed to grow even stronger. During Hitler’s many trips in the service of the Nazi Party’s ambitions, not only Hoffmann himself but also—at Hitler’s request—Hoffmann’s daughter Henriette accompanied him, to bring a little youthful freshness into the company of men.34 Family celebrations, such as Hoffmann’s son Heinrich’s confirmation in March 1931, his daughter Henriette’s wedding the following year, or Hoffmann’s remarriage in 1934, were celebrated together. Not only that, the weddings were organized by Hitler himself in his apartment on Prinzregentenplatz.35
    In Obersalzberg and Berlin as well, Hoffmann was there as Hitler’s constant companion.36 Despite never holding an official position in the government or the Party, the photographer enjoyed a position of trust—and thus power—that important Party members such as Goebbels or Bormann envied, thanks to his practically unlimited access to Hitler until 1944. Others, such as Otto Wagener, head of the political-economic department of the Nazi Party, were annoyed that Hitler would occasionally discuss “the most secret matters in the presence of his close companions.” Wagener “sometimes heard something of truly decisive importance only by complete accident from the photographer, Hoffmann.”37
    But why did Hitler choose Hoffmann in particular—someone known as a hard-drinking bon vivant, someone whose character and habits actually didn’t match his at all—as his confidant and constant companion? It is an important question because the relations between Hitler and Hoffmann are analogous to the relationship between Hitler and Eva Braun. She, too, seemed not to match her lover, either in outward appearance or in inner temperament. Hoffmann and Hitler were connected by their similar experiences in World War I, their nationalistic and anti-Semitic convictions, their petit bourgeois backgrounds, and their early ambitions to be artists. Nevertheless, what was decisive for Hoffmann’s status as “personal photographer” was his absolute loyalty and fidelity to Hitler himself, which he made clear from the beginning. Hoffmann followed to the letter any and all of the restrictions on photographing or publishing that were imposed upon him, and retouched his pictures according to instructions.38 Hitler in turn ensured that the position of his personal photojournalist remained more or less unofficial to the end, so that Hoffmann remained dependent on him and under his control at all times.
    In fact, Hoffmann was not only Hitler’s fellow Party member, friend, and photographer, but a kind of go-between—even, in a sense, his private ambassador—in ways that crossed the boundaries between propaganda work, private life, and, later, political activities in the realm of art. It was at Hoffmann’s house that Hitler could meet Eva Braun for afternoon tea or dinner, informally and out of the public eye.39 And it was Hoffmann to whom Hitler entrusted his girlfriend when she accompanied him to Party events, unbeknownst to the uninitiated, under the guise of an “official photographer of the NSDAP.” Financial transactions concerning Braun, too, such as the purchase of a house, were carried out via Hoffmann in the early years. At the same time, Hitler also entrusted him with political tasks far outside the purview of a propaganda photographer, and for which Hoffmann actually had no experience. For example, Hoffmann was allowed to select artworks for the prestigious “House of German Art” (Haus der Deutschen Kunst) exhibit in Munich in 1937, to the amazement and annoyance of several contemporaries, and was later placed in charge of the “Great German Art Exhibition” that was held yearly. Hoffmann became Hitler’s personal art adviser and art buyer, in which capacity he committed art theft on a grand scale. As further signs of the position of trust he enjoyed, he was made a member of the Committee for the Utilization of Products of Degenerate Art, as established by Goebbels in May 1938, and was granted a professorship in July of the same year.40
    During the preparations for war against Poland, and the signing of the Nonaggression Pact with the Soviet Union which Hitler pursued to that end, Hitler even promoted his friend to Special Ambassador and sent him with Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop’s delegation to Moscow on the evening of August 22, 1939. Hoffmann later boasted that he was supposed not only to photograph the event, but, more important, to report back to Hitler about Stalin and his entourage.41 The reason for this was not least that Hoffmann was indispensable to Hitler as an informer: the loyal factotum would have access to everyone in Moscow and be able to give Hitler rumors and information about the behavior of everyone there—including the Germans. “Keep your eyes and ears open” was Hoffmann’s assignment. As a result, it is hardly surprising that Ribbentrop suggested, after the fact, that Stalin had objected to Hoffmann’s “activities.”42 In fact, Hoffmann’s presence must have displeased Ribbentrop as well, and also Friedrich-Werner Graf von der Schulenburg, the German ambassador.
    It would therefore considerably understate Hoffmann’s importance to describe him merely as an “interlocutor” of Hitler’s, who enjoyed “the fool’s freedom” to say what he wanted and who, in contrast to the “Führer,” understood nothing about politics so that Hitler’s conversations with him about politics were useless.43 Hoffmann himself fostered this interpretation in his postwar memoirs by presenting himself as an apolitical person, for obvious reasons.44 During the denazification proceedings in 1947–1948, while the press labeled him one of the “greediest parasites of the Hitler plague,” and his own goal was to establish the greatest possible plausible distance between himself and the Nazi system in order to save his own life and livelihood, he cast his role in an even more modest light. In an unpublished defense attestation from 1947 he insisted that he had “avoided political topics” with Hitler, and that Hitler had come under the “bad influence” of others and was no longer receptive to “advice from familial circles.” His “task,” Hoffmann claimed, consisted primarily in fulfilling the wishes of other people around Hitler. He countered the charge of having been a leading propagandist for the NSDAP by pointing out that his name had never appeared in the official National Socialist registers and that the office of a “Reich Photographic Correspondent” did not even exist.45
    That was indeed the case: no official position with this name did exist. Nonetheless, ever since 1933 when he opened a branch of his business in Berlin (“Hoffmann Press,” 10 Kochstrasse), Hoffmann on his own initiative had included the title of “Reich Photographic Correspondent of the NSDAP (Member of the Reich Association of German Correspondents and News Office e.V.)” in his correspondence. In Munich, along with his Photohaus, he owned the “Brown Photo Shop” on 10 Barer Strasse as well as the “National Socialist Picture Press” at 74 Theresienstrasse.46 With his books of photographs—vetted by Hitler—that were printed in the millions, titles such as (in German) Hitler in His Mountains (1935), The Hitler Nobody Knows (1936), Hitler Off Duty (1937), and Hitler Conquers the German Heart (1938), Hoffmann filled an important function in the “Führer propaganda” system. He single-handedly shaped the personal side of Hitler’s “Führer image” with his purported insider’s snapshots and cast Hitler as the “father of the nation,” in his early years as Chancellor, by suggesting a closeness between the “leader” and the “fellow people” that did not exist. The fact that Hoffmann held no official government position and did not pursue his career in the Party, but rather remained directly connected to Hitler purely by loyalty and true belief, was in fact prerequisite for his unique field of operations. It obviously made sense for Hoffmann, under pressure from the denazification authorities, to describe his relationship with Hitler as having been of a purely “private nature.” Hoffmann’s excuse that he was merely an “employee” who “occasionally used” the title of Reich Photographic Correspondent in his correspondence must also be understood against the background of the Munich denazification court’s decision of January 1947, which included him among the group of “major offenders” and sentenced him to ten years of labor camp and the confiscation of his assets.47
    The same motives that led Hoffmann to disguise his political role within the Nazi system may also have led him to keep his knowledge of Hitler’s private life to himself. Hitler’s relationship with Eva Braun—which did, after all, begin in Hoffmann’s photography shop—was another object of the denazification court’s investigations: he was accused of having used the relationship between his young employee and the NSDAP leader “to gain political power.” Thus we can hardly expect Hoffmann to shed light on the dark corners of the relationship between Hitler and Eva Braun. His primary concern was to make his lack of knowledge and distance from the events plausible to the court. Thus he spoke of a “highly unromantic acquaintance” and kept silent about his own interactions with Eva Braun and her family.48
    In short, the question of whether Hoffmann was, as is often claimed in retrospect, finally responsible for having brought about the relationship between Hitler and Eva Braun can be answered only speculatively. It is also impossible to tell what the personal relationship was between Hoffmann and his second wife, Erna, and his prominent friend’s girlfriend, who had no official existence but nonetheless played a special role in Hitler’s life. Still, Braun’s younger sister Gretl also worked as one of Hoffmann’s employees later, which suggests that Hoffmann was to some extent responsible for the two sisters’ financial security. And pictures from Gretl Braun’s second wedding in 1950 show that his connection was not entirely broken off after the end of the war.49 In any case, Hoffmann’s description of the events connected to Eva Braun in his 1955 memoir remains curiously vague and incomplete, not least because the denazification proceedings against him were concluded only shortly before his death on December 16, 1957. Hoffmann’s memoirs thus need to be read as fundamentally a perpetrator and collaborator’s attempt to exonerate himself.50


    When Eva Braun met Hitler in Munich, in the fall of 1929, the Bavarian capital was already fast in the grip of the Nazi Party. Since the NSDAP’s reestablishment in 1925, the number of Party members had more than tripled and it was no longer merely one of many Populist-nationalist movements: it had won the field from all rivals in only four years. It put forward candidates in Landtag elections throughout Germany and had achieved its first successes. But even though Hitler, the Party’s leader and most successful hatemonger, had already received nationwide attention, appearing before a crowd of sixteen thousand people for the first time in Berlin, on November 16, 1928, his base of power remained Munich. There, in his favorite city, he had been an attraction for years. Every week he filled beer halls such as the Hofbräuhaus with thousands of listeners. In addition, the fourth convention of the NSDAP, in Nuremberg on August 1–4, 1929, was his first successful propaganda spectacle, one that would soon be followed by many more.1

A City of Extremes

    Why were the National Socialists so successful in Bavaria? After Germany’s defeat in World War I, what was it there that provided such a fertile breeding ground for nationalism and antidemocratic and anti-Semitic ideologies? One explanation is the way that radical political transformations were set in motion and carried out in the Kingdom of Bavaria during the final phase of the war. As is well known, the German Revolution of 1918–1919, or November Revolution, started in the Bavarian capital, Munich. It lasted longer and was more radical there than anywhere else in Germany. Even before the end of hostilities—on November 7, 1918, four days before the armistice was officially signed in a railroad car near the northern French city of Compiègne—exhaustion with the war, destitution, and the accompanying political radicalization had resulted in a speedy end to the centuries-old Bavarian Wittelsbach monarchy. King Ludwig III fled Munich after a mass rally led by Kurt Eisner, a Jewish journalist and radical socialist, two days before the fall of Kaiser Wilhelm II in Berlin and the abolition of the monarchy in the whole German Empire. For members of the radical right in Munich, this sequence of events gave rise to the so-called Dolchstoss Legend, the fabrication according to which Jews and Communists had “betrayed” their own country with a “stab in the back” and caused Germany to lose the war. Nazi propaganda would make successful use of this legend against “Jewish Bolshevism” a few years later.2
    A provisional revolutionary government, under Eisner, took power and declared itself the “Free Republic of Bavaria” and the “Democratic Social Republic of Bavaria,” with the motto “Long live peace! Down with the royal family!” Eisner took over the leadership of the hastily formed Council of Workers, Soldiers, and Farmers. However, after having, in Eisner’s words, “swept away the old junk of the Wittelsbach kings,” the new government proved to be completely incompetent.3 Agrarian reform plans on the Soviet model were not in fact a suitable way to solve the economic and social problems affecting Bavaria. In addition, Eisner himself, who imagined a “society of spirits” and saw himself as representing a new, pacifist Germany, was utterly unsuited to be a politician. His revolutionary comrades—described by the German historian Hagen Schulze as “literati, chansonneurs, con artists, and psychopaths, without exception”—hardly presented a better picture.4 Eisner’s radical-left government was therefore diametrically opposed to the mostly conservative population, especially in rural areas. Yet the representatives of the upper middle class, too, generally disliked Eisner’s regime. Thomas Mann, for instance, as early as November 8, 1918, came to the conclusion that Munich—and Bavaria as a whole—was now “governed by Jewish scribblers,” “racketeer[s],” “profiteer[s]” and “Jew-boy[s].” He wondered, “how long will the city put up with that?”5
    Eisner was not a native of Bavaria and from the beginning he was subject to relentless, unscrupulous anti-Semitic attacks. He received threatening letters and there were even calls for his assassination. The campaign against him ended with his being shot dead on a public street by Anton Graf von Arco-Valley, a student and former officer, on February 21, 1919, after the Bavarian National Assembly elections and shortly before he was to step down. Since there was no civil order worthy of the name, anarchy threatened after the murder. “They never understood Eisner,” the writer Ricarda Huch wrote about her fellow Bavarians after the bloody deed,
    just as little as he understood them. How could they? There wasn’t the slightest trace of Bavarian royalism, coziness, roughness, and sloppy good nature in him—he was an abstract moralist, who wrote perfectly good drama criticism and no doubt terrible poems. Criticism and theory, though, do not make a ruler any more than they make an artist: one needs to be able to actually do it.6
    What followed were two Soviet-style republics that plunged Munich into political chaos once and for all. The first, under Ernst Niekisch, leader of the “Munich Central Council of the Bavarian Republic,” dissolved the parliament and removed Eisner’s legal successor, the social-democratic prime minister. In accordance with the Soviet ideal, the government broke off all “diplomatic relations” with the German government. It lasted only one week. The government that followed, run by the Munich Communist Party and supported by the Soviet Union, lasted all of two weeks. Nevertheless, the concomitant violence, with bloody battles between the communist revolutionaries and their opponents, were to shape the political atmosphere for years. For example, street fighting in Munich on May 3, 1919, in which the German army and specially formed Bavarian Freikorps[4] units defeated the so-called dictatorship of the Red Army, cost the lives of more than six hundred people. The leaders of the Soviet-style republic were either killed by the Freikorps or received heavy sentences for high treason, as did the writers Ernst Toller and Erich Mühsam. Thousands of supporters of the “Spartacists” ended up in jail. The Bavarian capital thereby became the main stronghold of an extraordinarily pronounced anticommunism and radical anti-Semitism.7

Everyday Life and the Political Environment

    Daily life in Munich suffered greatly during the early days of the revolution and the “reign of terror” after Eisner was assassinated. Many stores were closed, either because they could no longer obtain any food or because they were looted. Public transportation didn’t run, postal service was limited, there were curfews at times, private conversations on the telephone were prohibited, the mail was censored. During the battles between German troops and the second Munich republic, Munich was completely cut off from deliveries of food from anywhere else. Payments collapsed.
    People saw these events, however, in very different ways, depending on the observer’s political views, age, career, gender, and social class.8 Thomas Mann, for example, recorded in his diary on May 17, 1919: “We’re only lacking groceries now. Will have to eat lunch in the hotel. The house is cold, so afraid of catching cold, namely feeling in my teeth. But my two little rooms are cozy, total peace and quiet.”9 For large numbers of the population, in contrast, hunger, lawlessness, armed street fighting, and murder, always in the context of the lost world war, constituted traumatic experiences that turned Munich into a breeding ground for an above-average number of Populist-nationalist groups. The gradual stabilization of the economic situation throughout Germany after 1924 did little to change that.
    Even so, the later rise to power of the National Socialists cannot be seen as an inevitable development. The NSDAP’s political breakthrough did not take place until the start of the global economic crisis of 1929–1930, after all.10 There is no disputing, though, that anti-Semitism had become a “firm foundation” in the Bavarian city since the turmoil of the Munich republics, whose leaders often came from Jewish families.11 Even renowned newspapers such as the Münchner Neueste Nachrichten spread these ideas. Klaus Mann, whose upper-class daily life was “affected… very little, and only indirectly,” by the revolution and civil war, recalled that as a young man he saw postrevolutionary Munich as “a bore and altogether barbarous,” in addition to its having “a poor reputation among liberals.” He wrote:
    It was considered the most reactionary place in Germany—a center of the counter-revolutionary tendencies smoldering all over Europe. Flippant editors in Berlin used to run the dispatches from Munich under the caustic heading: “From the Hostile Countries Abroad!” The people of Munich, in their turn, stubbornly believed that Berlin was ruled by a conspiracy of Jewish bankers and Bolshevist agitators.12
    The truth is that the right-wing Bavarian state government under Minister President Gustav Ritter von Kahr, which came to power in 1920 and followed a path opposed to the Weimar Republic, made it possible for far-right enemies of democracy to become increasingly effective. Even Hitler was seen by Kahr—a former royal official and monarchist, and now a member of the Bavarian People’s Party (Bayerische Volkspartei, or BVP)—not as a political opponent but as an ally in the fight against communism. The so-called Bavarian Defense Forces, too, which grew out of the Bavarian Freikorps bands from the battle against the communist republics, were oriented in a Populist-conservative direction and laid the foundation for the rise of an authoritarian, fiercely antidemocratic power structure in Bavaria. Without this unique political environment, along with the encouragement and financial support from influential Populist-nationalist circles in Munich society, Hitler’s rise would not have been possible.

The National Socialist Movement

    Finally, the significance of the traditional Munich beer halls must not be underestimated as a factor in recruiting the majority of National Socialist supporters. The party life of the NSDAP played out in large part in the bars of the city. That was nothing new; pubs and inns had a long history in Germany as political gathering places. Nothing had changed in that regard since the Peasants’ War in the early sixteenth century, and especially since the civil revolution of 1848, with its “saloon republicans.” In Munich, too, the pubs formed a central part of the political culture. Thus it is no accident that the NSDAP was born from the “political regulars” in one of Munich’s many beer halls. Its predecessor, the German Workers’ Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or DAP), had been founded in the Fürstenfelder Hof hotel on January 5, 1919. Hitler joined this little group of right-wing extremists less than a year later, on September 12, 1919; the following month, they opened their first place of business in a back room of the Sterneckerbräu beer hall, which also served as a weekly meeting place. Hitler announced the first Party program of the NSDAP in the famous Hofbräuhaus, with its thirty-five hundred seats—the same place where the communists had proclaimed the second Munich republic on April 13, 1919.
    This institution, in the middle of the old city and originally established to supply the royal court with specially brewed beer, was already, since the turn of the century, a sightseeing destination for visitors to Munich from all over the world. The French journalist and travel writer Jules Huret wrote that you had to go to the Hofbräuhaus to “come into contact with the true beer drinkers…. A horrid smell of beer and tobacco fills the hall. Hundreds of drinkers are sitting side by side at heavy oak tables on rough benches, smoking cigars or long pipes. The crowd is from the People—laborers, handymen, coachmen, next to officials young and old, office workers, shopkeepers, the petty bourgeois….” The mood was “as free as could be, sometimes even boisterous”: the “lack of embarrassment and the naturalness” left “nothing to be desired.”13
    With this sketch of the people who filled the Hofbräuhaus, Huret described, ten years before the NSDAP was founded, its social structure, drawn from every class of the population. Among the proclaimed goals of the Party’s “25 Point Program,” announced by Hitler to around two thousand people in the Hofbräuhaus on February 24, 1920, were the unification of all Germans into a “Greater Germany,” the abolition of the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the demand for “land and soil” for the German People, and the declaration that no Jew is a legal citizen and that every “non-German” who had immigrated since the day of the German army’s mobilization (August 2, 1914) would be forced to leave the “Reich.”14 With this program, proclaimed in mass rallies, the NSDAP attempted to set itself apart from other German Populist factions. The “German Nationalist Protection and Defiance Federation” (Deutschvölkischer Schutz und Trutzbund), founded in Bamberg in 1919, still constituted the strongest organization of this type by far in Germany. It had 25,000 members by the end of 1919, while the NSDAP had only around 2,350 members a year later, at the end of 1920. Proof of “Aryan ancestry” was a prerequisite for membership in the Federation just as for membership in the NSDAP, and both far-right groups used the same symbol as an emblem: the swastika.15
    But as early as 1920, Hitler was already proving himself to be a successful propagandist for his hitherto insignificant party. He made several public appearances a month, more than any other Party member—most often in Munich beer cellars or in Zirkus Krone, but also in Rosenheim, Stuttgart, and Austria—and he filled even the largest venues, flanked by his aggressive, paramilitary SA men. The truth was that his events offered the greatest “entertainment value.” Still, the NSDAP’s breakthrough needed more than Hitler’s “hypnotic rhetoric” and his power over “the soul of the mob” in a haze of tobacco smoke. A serious “atmosphere of crisis” and supporters and patrons from the highest circles of society were necessary as well.16
    The Populist writer Dietrich Eckart, for example, a bohemian and favorite of the salons who had lived in Berlin before World War I, put Hitler in contact with the Berlin piano manufacturer Edwin Bechstein and his wife, Helene, in the early 1920s, and this was both financially and socially valuable for Hitler. The Bechsteins lived in both the German capital and Munich, and not only were among the most important early financial backers of the NSDAP, but also arranged for Hitler to make further influential connections, such as with the family of the composer Richard Wagner in Bayreuth.17 Ernst Hanfstaengl likewise made an effort “to work on Hitler’s behalf” starting in 1922; fascinated by Hitler’s “aura of someone out of the ordinary” and his “unique appearance,” Hanfstaengl became a close companion with international connections. The publishers and spouses Hugo and Elsa Bruckmann also counted themselves among Hitler’s numerous admirers in Munich. Rich and politically influential, they contributed in many ways and in no small degree to Hitler’s social recognition.18
    In 1923, at the peak of hyperinflation in Germany, the NSDAP was as popular as it had ever been up to that point. The number of Party members rose to over fifty thousand.19 But after the failed Beer Hall Putsch (or Hitler Putsch) of November 8–9, 1923, in Munich—the violent, so-called national revolution against the “Berlin Jew-government,” in which fourteen members of the uprising and four policemen lost their lives—the Party’s rise came to a halt. The NSDAP was outlawed; Hitler and many of his comrades-in-arms ended up in prison or were forced to flee. The National Socialist movement seemed to be over, and the refounding of the Party in the Bürgerbräukeller on February 27, 1925, did not at first seem to make much of a difference. Financial problems, intraparty squabbles, and sluggish recruitment of new members gave the impression throughout Germany that the National Socialists were in decline. The situation changed abruptly in 1929. The worldwide economic depression, poverty, and rising unemployment put the German parliamentary democracy in an increasingly embattled position and helped the NSDAP achieve a renewed upswing nationwide, although the center of the Party remained in Munich. Hitler, a “howling dervish,” in Carl Zuckmayer’s words, was on the threshold of his political breakthrough in the autumn of 1929 when, in the photography store of his friend Heinrich Hoffmann, he met Eva Braun—the woman he was to die with sixteen years later in Berlin.20


    Eva Braun, baptized Eva Anna Paula Braun, was the second of three daughters of a vocational school teacher in Munich. When she was born, on February 6, 1912, troubled times lay ahead for Germany and the world. The Balkans, with its multicultural countries and border conflicts, had long been like a powder keg ready to blow up at any time. The assassination of Austrian Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife on June 28, 1914, unleashed the First World War, and Germany had to pay for its defeat with submission to the Versailles Treaty. The atmosphere within the Braun family was tense as well: Eva’s parents, Friedrich and Franziska Braun, underwent a marital crisis in 1919, after eleven years of marriage, which ended in their divorce on April 3, 1921. It is not known what caused the split. Possibly, as for many couples, their living apart for years as a result of Friedrich’s military service led to their estrangement. He had voluntarily enlisted in the war in 1914, and he was stationed first in Serbia, then elsewhere, finally serving in a military hospital in Würzburg until the end of April 1919. During this period, Franziska—a veterinarian’s daughter who had worked as a seamstress in a Munich textile company before her marriage—mostly lived alone with her three small children. In the divorce, she was granted custody of the girls, who were thirteen, nine, and six at the time. But the separation did not last long; the following year, on November 16, 1922, Friedrich and Franziska Braun remarried.1

Middle-Class Normalcy

    Financial reasons may well have played a large part in the Braun family’s reuniting. There had been famine in Germany since the end of the war; prices never stopped rising, and in August 1922 inflation reached an initial high-water mark of 860 marks to the dollar. While foreign visitors poured into Germany to buy things cheaply, it grew more and more difficult for Germans to pay for the basic food they needed with their ever-more-worthless money.2 The result was strikes, demonstrations, and labor unrest. Friedrich Braun himself, as a teacher, was not faced with unemployment, but in the period of hyperinflation in 1922–1923, when a pound of butter cost 13,000 marks, the fixed salaries of public employees lost an enormous amount of value. Craftsmen, small business owners, and the self-employed suffered likewise, of course. In these circumstances—inflation and reduced income—it was not possible to run two households.3
    The economic situation improved only after currency reform was carried out in November 1923. Chancellor Gustav Stresemann, in office for only three months, managed to stabilize the currency and reorient the German approach to the question of reparations. The conflict between Germany and the Allies about the amount and method of reparations payments had escalated ever since the Versailles Treaty of June 28, 1919, in which the victors in World War I dictated the terms of the peace. Stresemann’s skill in negotiating, especially with the French, resulted in a new, less strict financing program for the German Reich, which was drawn up in London on August 16, 1924, with the decisive help of American bankers. This Dawes Plan—named after Charles G. Dawes, the American lawyer and banker who played a leading role in its formulation—was intended to support the German economy in order to promote the rebuilding of Europe. Money poured into Germany from the United States in the following years—a loan of 800 million gold marks as well as private investments—enabling the economic recovery that had so long been hoped for. The so-called Golden Twenties of the Weimar Republic had begun, during which exports boomed while unemployment remained high and the national debt increased.4
    For the Brauns, these developments meant a great improvement in their own financial situation. In 1925, they moved, with a servant, into a large apartment at 93 Hohenzollernstrasse in Schwabing, Munich’s artists’ and entertainment district. In the following years the family could also afford an automobile; they bought a BMW 3/15 with the money from an inheritance.5 After the painful experiences of the inflation, they clearly preferred to convert their money into valuable property as quickly as possible. Still, despite a situation now lacking in material worries for the most part, Friedrich and Franziska Braun’s marriage seems to have remained unhappy. Eva Braun’s friend Herta Ostermayr later described Eva’s family circumstances in that period as “not very pleasant.” That is why, Ostermayr said, Eva Braun spent “almost her whole childhood at my house” and also took vacations “with me at the rural estate of my relatives.” Eva Braun’s ties to her school friend’s parents were so close, according to Ostermayr, that she called them “Father and Mother.”6 Herta Ostermayr, or Herta Schneider after her marriage in 1936, knew Eva Braun from elementary school and was her closest friend. Later, she and her children would be regular guests at the Berghof until the end of the Nazi regime.
    Ostermayr’s statements are significant because they contradict the testimony of the Braun family. Franziska Braun in particular emphasized to the journalist Nerin E. Gun that her daughter grew up in an intact household. She assured Gun that “not a single cloud” had cast its shadow across her marriage, “not even a real quarrel.”7 This statement is obviously false, in light of the legal dissolution of the marriage. Franziska Braun—who, like every other member of the family, fell under pressure to justify herself after 1945, given her personal relations with Hitler—retroactively constructed a private idyll that never, in fact, existed.
    At any rate, Friedrich Braun in the mid-1920s was able to offer a solid, middle-class prosperity to his family, which extended to his daughters’ education. Eva attended elementary school from 1918 to 1922, then a lyceum on Tengstrasse, not far from their apartment. In 1928 she spent a year at Marienhöhe in Simbach am Inn on the German-Austrian border, a Catholic institute rich in tradition. A Merian copperplate engraving from around 1700 shows the view of Braunau from Simbach across an old wooden bridge—the same Braunau where Adolf Hitler had been born on April 20, 1889. The institute in Simbach had opened a housekeeping school only a few years earlier. The facility itself had been in existence since 1864, and was run by the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an order of Roman Catholic nuns pledged to the rules and spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Founded by the English nun Mary Ward (1585–1645), one of the most important woman of the seventeenth century, and thus also known in Germany as the “Institute of the English Maiden,” this order of women was active throughout Europe and is considered even today a pioneer in women’s education.8 Along with home economics, Eva Braun studied bookkeeping and typing at Marienhöhe and was thereby trained for future office work—a path that was by no means taken for granted for girls in the middle-class environment of that time. When Eva Braun, at the age of seventeen, returned from Simbach to Munich, on July 22, 1929, she moved back in with her parents. Only a few months later, in September, she answered an ad in a Munich newspaper and found a trainee position: Heinrich Hoffmann, photographer, was hiring.9
The Braun family (left to right): Ilse, Friedrich, Franziska, Gretl, and Eva, 1942 (Illustration Credit 3.1)

The Constant Companion: Margarete Braun

    Eva Braun was not to be the only member of her family to work for Hoffmann. Three years later, in early April 1932, her younger sister Margarete Berta (Gretl) followed her and was given a job as a salesgirl in the photographer’s publishing house. Sixteen at the time, Gretl had just dropped out of the Franciscans’ upper girls’ school in Medingen near Willingen on the Danube and was entering the sphere of NSDAP activities.10 It is highly likely that Eva Braun’s recommendation played a role in getting her sister the job: by that point, Eva already had an intimate relationship with Hitler. But it is also true that Hoffmann needed more employees: his business, recast by the owner himself as the “Hoffmann National Socialist Photographic Propaganda Division,” expanded its activities for the NSDAP through the start of the year of crisis, 1932.11
    Important votes were soon to be held: for Reich President on April 10, and for the Reichstag (Parliament) in July. Unemployment was running rampant—almost six million people in Germany were jobless. In these circumstances, the NSDAP could expect an enormous increase in its vote tallies, and it ran its propaganda machine at full speed. For example, Hoffmann, shortly before Gretl Braun got a job with him, was “charged with the responsibility of carrying out the photo-reporting for the Reich President electoral campaign” on April 1, 1932, in his capacity as Hitler’s “Party photographer.”12 In addition, his press was turning out massive quantities of Nazi photo-illustrated books for the first time, and in mid-1932 Hoffmann also took over a press photography illustration office in Berlin, finally ensuring his presence at the center of political events.13 Still, it is noteworthy that both Braun sisters, who henceforth were to move in Hitler’s closest private circles, worked for Hoffmann. It is not known whether Hoffmann gave Gretl Braun a position to “be helpful” to Eva Braun, and thereby indirectly do the “Führer” a favor, and the specific details about his private and business dealings with Gretl Braun remain unclear. Hoffmann himself kept silent about these dealings for the rest of his life.14
    In any case, Eva and Gretl Braun remained inseparable in the years to follow. They left home together in 1935 and moved into an apartment in Munich, then a few months later into a single-family house that Hoffmann bought for them on Hitler’s instructions. Gretl Braun accompanied her sister during their weeks-long stays on the Obersalzberg as well, and also on foreign trips, for example to Italy.15 Starting in 1936 at the latest, she was a member of the Berghof inner circle around Hitler. She is rarely mentioned, however, in the memoirs and reminiscences from the period. Only the secretaries, Christa Schroeder and Traudl Junge, would later remark that the Nazi leader occasionally tried to marry off his girlfriend’s sister. Junge, who traveled to the Berghof only starting in March 1943, also recalled that Gretl Braun was in love with Fritz Darges, an SS-Obersturmbannführer and Hitler’s personal adjutant, but that their affair was “a little too dangerous and not private enough” for him, given her close personal relations with Hitler.16
    Whereas Eva Braun’s role and her significance for Hitler have been controversial since the war, her sister’s profile has remained unclear. What did she do at the Berghof? What was her relationship to Hitler, and to Eva? Only one thing is clear: Gretl Braun never stepped out from the shadow of her older sister before 1944. Her role was, it seems, organized around Eva Braun’s needs: she acted in the background, as Eva’s guest, companion, or chaperone. This role changed only with her marriage, on June 3, 1944, which gave her the status of wife at last. She married Hermann Fegelein, Heinrich Himmler’s liaison officer in the “Führer headquarters” and—according to Albert Speer—one of the “most disgusting persons in Hitler’s circle.”17 At the instigation of her sister Eva, Gretl had grown up from girlhood in a political environment that she remained attached to until the bitter end; her marriage to Fegelein only consolidated her position there.

The Distant Sister: Ilse Braun

    Ilse Braun, in contrast, spent her life at some distance from her sisters, geographically at least. She was the first to move out of their parents’ house, in 1929, and by her own account lived for years in the office of her Munich employer, the ear, nose, and throat doctor Martin Marx.18 He was fourteen years older than she, likewise born in Munich, and had received his PhD from Ludwig Maximilian University in 1922 and practiced in the Bavarian capital ever since.19 In a postwar interview, Ilse Braun did not provide further background about her residence in her employer’s office, and we do not know if she had an intimate relationship with her boss or if he was merely doing the young woman a favor by putting a room at her disposal. Ilse Braun’s life circumstances—standing in radical opposition to the ideas of morality prevalent at the time—certainly suggest that the Braun family ties remained problematic. Furthermore, Ilse Braun’s position working for a “Jewish” doctor, as she herself stated he was, obviously led to tensions with her sister Eva, who at the time was not only working for Hoffmann (and thus the Nazi Party) but was also in personal contact with Hitler. In any case, Ilse Braun maintained after the end of the war that her sister had pointed out “the impossibility of our having two such opposite jobs” and had asked her to break off both business and personal ties with the doctor.20 Presumably, Eva Braun was afraid that if her older sister’s affair with Dr. Marx became known in her National Socialist environment, it could threaten her own developing relationship with Hitler.
    Nonetheless, Ilse Braun worked as a receptionist for Martin Marx for another eight years, leaving only, on his “advice,” when he was making preparations to emigrate in 1937—or so she emphasized under questioning in October 1946.21 In fact, the discrimination against and exclusion of Jewish doctors, roughly a quarter of all the doctors in Munich, had already started shortly after Hitler came to power. In the Bavarian capital, 80 percent of “non-Aryan” doctors in the national health insurance system lost their licenses due to a new regulation announced in April 1933. The “cleansing” of the field of medicine, demanded by Hitler personally, was carried out more diligently in Munich, under Karl Fiehler (mayor, 1933–1945), than elsewhere, since Fiehler was a committed National Socialist of the first order and an extreme anti-Semite. He had doctors fired from state-run facilities, clinics, and universities for racist ideological reasons.22
    At first, the private practice of the doctor for whom Ilse Braun worked and under whose roof she lived was not affected: Dr. Marx could continue, like many of his colleagues, to practice unhindered, despite the exclusion from government positions. The situation in Munich became more extreme only with the proclamation of the “Nuremberg Laws,” with their “Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor,” on September 15, 1935. Not only marriage but also “extramarital relations” between “Jews and citizens of German or related blood types” would now be prosecuted, likewise any work by an “Aryan” woman under forty-five in a “Jewish” household.23 Ilse Braun’s friendship with her employer and above all her remaining under his roof now meant that both of them risked arrest on charges of “defiling the race.” The Gestapo carried out checks in Munich in this regard and followed up on rumors and suspicions. Nevertheless, Ilse Braun and Martin Marx apparently remained undisturbed until their business and personal relationship came to an end in early 1937.
    By then, Eva Braun had become a figure of permanent importance in Hitler’s life, joining the Nazi leader at his refuge on the Obersalzberg whenever he was there. She had dedicated herself entirely to Hitler and his life and must have found her sister’s living and work situation, unchanged for years, completely unbearable. Ilse’s later career developments suggest that it was Eva who was responsible for Ilse’s dismissal and who, at the same time, helped her find a remarkable new career and place to live. For immediately after her departure from Dr. Marx’s office, Ilse Braun started work as a secretary in Albert Speer’s office in Berlin, on March 15, 1937.24 A month and a half earlier, on January 30, Speer had been named “General Building Inspector for the Reich Capital” by a “Führer’s edict” and was given the responsibility of remaking the architecture of Berlin into a “World Capital Germania.” The ambitious architect, just thirty-two years old at the time, was a trusted friend of the Nazi leader and among the frequent guests at the Berghof, where he also knew Eva Braun. He must have been only too happy to do a favor for his “Führer’s” girlfriend. That is the only way to explain why Ilse Braun was one of Speer’s first employees to move with him into his new Berlin office building at 4 Pariser Platz, the just-requisitioned Prussian Academy of Arts.25
    Ilse Braun’s employer of many years, Martin Marx, left Germany only the following year, in 1938, and emigrated to the United States, which since 1936 had been the main destination for German doctors. With an established personal practice of many years’ standing, Dr. Marx, like numerous members of his profession, decided to flee the country only quite late. Ilse Braun stated after the war that she had “tried to intercede for him,” while it had been apparent to him that, she said, “my sister was unable—and I was even less able—to do anything to help him.” In fact, it was Ordinance 4 of the “Reich Citizenship Law” of July 25, 1938, which revoked the license to practice medicine of all Jewish doctors in Germany, that was the decisive factor. Dr. Marx was officially expatriated on April 5, 1939, according to the expatriation list published six months later, on November 15, in the Deutscher Reichsanzeiger. The revocation of his doctorate from Munich’s Ludwig Maximilian University followed on October 25 of the same year.26
    Ilse Braun, meanwhile, had already married in Berlin, in October 1937, and she therefore gave up her job with Speer after only six months.27 Nothing is known about her husband, named Höchstetter. They divorced after approximately three years. Ilse Braun nonetheless stayed in Berlin. Her sister Eva had had a small apartment of her own in the Old Reich Chancellery since early 1939 and occasionally stayed in the capital. In 1940, after the outbreak of the war, Ilse Braun graduated from a training program in the editorial offices at the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (DAZ) newspaper and worked as an editor there until summer 1941.28 This well-known conservative national paper, once owned by the Ruhr industrialist Hugo Stinnes and his heirs, was transferred to the National Socialist Deutscher Verlag only at the beginning of 1939. Thus the DAZ, like the vast majority of newspapers in the capital, was a part of the Nazi Press Trust controlled by Max Amann, the Reich Press Chamber’s powerful president and an old comrade-in-arms of Hitler’s from the early days of the NSDAP.29
    Still, it is difficult to understand—almost incomprehensible—how and by what means a simple doctor’s receptionist found a trainee position as a DAZ journalist. By comparison, a colleague of Ilse Braun’s, Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, who was given a trainee position there at the same time, was not only seven years younger than Ilse Braun but was highly qualified, was faithful to the Nazi regime, came from a rich, upper-middle class family, and had received a doctorate under Emil Dovifat, a well-known professor of journalism at Berlin University.30 Of course, none of that was true of Ilse Braun. Yet Ursula von Kardorff, a member of the editorial staff of the DAZ from 1939 through 1945, clearly knew even back then whom she was dealing with, and knew that her new colleague’s sister, Eva Braun, was “often” to be found “with Hitler at the Berghof.” Still, after Ilse Braun’s brief excursion into Berlin’s newspaper world, Kardorff remained in contact with her “former trainee,” especially since, as she wrote in her diary, Ilse Braun seemed “not particularly nazi.” So it stands in Kardorff’s entry from July 30, 1944, after she visited Ilse Braun and looked at photographs showing Eva and Gretl with Hitler at the Berghof: “I thought to myself, this connection could still be useful someday, if things get really bad.”31
    After Ilse Braun remarried, on June 15, 1941, she left Berlin. She moved to Breslau with her husband, a certain Fucke-Michels, and worked there as an editor for the Schlesische Zeitung.32 One hint about who her husband may have been appeared in a New York Times article on April 12, 1998: in the context of a story about an international conference on the subject of art looted during the Holocaust, the unusual name Dr. Fucke-Michels came up. He was described as a “Nazi cultural aide” who in 1942 had told Hans Posse, director of the Staatliche Gemäldegalerie in Dresden and an art representative of Hitler’s, that a valuable medieval manuscript had been confiscated in 1938 because there was a danger that the Jewish owner would leave the country.33 Was this Ilse Braun’s husband? In the memoirs and reminiscences of the members of the Berghof circle, Eva Braun’s older sister is not mentioned once; there is obviously not the slightest hint about her husband. Only in the fragmentary notes of the historian Percy Ernst Schramm, who was the official diarist for the Operational Staff of the German High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, or OKW) during the war, and who was present during the questioning of Hitler’s personal physicians in 1945–1946 in the course of his work for the U.S. Army Historical Division, is it stated that Ilse Braun was married to a “propaganda man” in Breslau.34 In any case, we cannot believe Ilse Braun’s later testimony that she received neither “financial support nor any other privileges” from her sister Eva, in light of her job in Berlin, at the very least.35 Likewise, her flight from Breslau to the Obersalzberg at the end of the war does not suggest a great distance between her and Eva Braun.


    After 1931, the contact between Eva Braun and Hitler grew more intensive. Yet he also insisted at every opportunity, to fellow Party members, that he lived only for politics and therefore his private life belonged to the cause. Otto Wagener, for instance, the first chief of staff of the SA who spent 1929 to 1933 near his “Führer” and heard many of his personal conversations, recalled one long discussion in which Hitler explained to him that he could not ever marry: “I have another bride: Germany! I am married: to the German People and their fate!… No, I cannot marry, I must not.”1 Nonetheless, he met with Eva Braun more and more often, although the exact circumstances and precise development of their relationship remain unclear.

The “Führer’s” Long-Distance Lover

    Heinrich Hoffmann, who saw Eva Braun almost daily and the leader of the Nazi Party often, remarked that Hitler himself “did not let on” about any close relationship at the time—either because he was not interested in the young woman or because he “did not want to say anything.” Hoffmann said he was convinced that Eva Braun became Hitler’s lover only “many years later.”2 His daughter Henriette von Schirach, in contrast, wrote in her memoir that the “love affair” between Braun and Hitler had already started by the winter of 1931–1932.3 Hitler’s housekeeper, Anni Winter, who lived in Hitler’s apartment at 16 Prinzregentenplatz along with her husband and another subletter, likewise claimed that Eva Braun became Hitler’s lover at the start of 1932.4 This version of events, which Nerin E. Gun retold without providing any exact sources, was later confirmed by the historian Werner Maser, relying on a personal communication from Anni Winter in 1969.5