Monday, 6 May 2013

"Eva Braun: Life with Hitler" by Heike Görtemaker - a review

Albert Speer is said to have once opined that generations of future historians would be “disappointed” by Eva Braun.  Hitler’s wife, he implied, was a nobody: someone who – for all her proximity to great events – had exerted no influence, for good or ill, upon them.

I was reminded of this comment when I finally got around to reading Beate Görtemaker’s biography of Eva Braun last week: “Eva Braun: Life with Hitler”, which was first published a couple of years ago.  Görtemaker touted her biography as the first serious study of Braun’s short life (she died aged 33) and in this respect she is absolutely correct.  Previous studies by Angela Lambert and US journalist Nerin Gun cannot boast the integrity and the rigorous approach of Görtemaker’s.  So, in that respect, the book is most certainly to be welcomed.

The book tells the story of Braun’s life well: her rise from middle-class Munich shop girl to Hitler’s mistress, her attempted suicides, her shadowy role as the ‘lady of the house’ at the Berghof above Berchtesgaden and her sordid death at Hitler’s side in the Reich Chancellery bunker in Berlin in 1945.  Görtemaker appears as an assiduous researcher, who is evidently keen to submit existing accounts and persistent myths to vital, critical scrutiny.

However, the book makes some rather grander claims: most notably that Braun was not the passive, “see no evil – hear no evil” character that history has thus-far perceived.  This is an interesting suggestion, and Görtemaker does well to analyse the various memoir accounts of those in Hitler’s entourage – such as his secretary Christa Schroeder and his architect Albert Speer – in trying to prove this point.  Many of those accounts, like Speer’s, are patently self-serving, dissembling and self-exculpatory – not least in claiming that life in the Third Reich’s inner circle was an interminable round of boring vegetarian lunches where no political matters were ever discussed.  

Yet, though the point about self-serving memoirs is well-made, Görtemaker fails to convince with her wider point about Braun’s possible knowledge of and involvement in Nazi politics.  Essentially, though it is well-written and engaging, the book is feeding off scraps.  Due to Hitler’s order at the end of his life that all his personal correspondence was to be destroyed, the evidential base for Görtemaker’s study is extremely thin.  Consequently, she is forced to rely far too much on speculation and guesswork, and as a result the book reads – at times – like a retreaded brief history of the Third Reich with a somewhat unconvincing ‘Eva Braun twist’.

This is a shame, but is perhaps inevitable given the lack of available material.  Despite the book’s shortcomings, this is still the best and most serious biography of Eva Braun that is available.  Yet, that said, it is hard to disagree with Speer’s alleged comment – Eva Braun does appear as a disappointment to history.

© Roger Moorhouse 2013

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