Added October 2006.


Traudl Junge: Until the Final Hour

Hitler's Last Secretary

This book is neither a retrospective self-justification nor a self-indictment. I do not want it to be read as a confession either....

British viewers of a certain age who watched the old 1970s documentary series The World At War may remember Traudl Junge from one or two episodes that dealt with events in Germany towards the end of the war. A softly-spoken, somewhat hesitant woman in middle age at the time the series was made, she spoke about her impressions of Hitler during the last days of the Third Reich. More recently, this 2002 book, together with Joachim Fest's Inside Hitler's Bunker, formed the historical basis of the surprising German film Downfall.

Traudl Junge was born in Munich in 1920, a birth date that would make her eligible for Nazi indoctrination from her teens upwards. However, although she was a member of the League of German Maidens (BDM), she was mostly apolitical and did not become a member of the Party. Perhaps the biggest event in her formative years was her father's departure from the scene. His attitude towards marriage seems to have been light-hearted if not irresponsible, and her mother was left to raise two girls on her own, which meant straitened financial circumstances.

Although she had aspirations to become a dancer, Junge found herself having to work in business doing secretarial, a role she did not always enjoy. However a chance encounter with Albert Bormann (brother of the more infamous Reichsleiter of the Party) led to her applying for a job as secretary for Hitler in 1942. Although far from confident that she had a chance, Traudl Junge found herself thus suddenly working for the German dictator in his East Prussian headquarters or at Berghof. She was to remain in this role until Hitler's suicide in 1945.

There have of course been many books written about "life with Hitler", for want of a better expression. Former generals such as Heinz Guderian have provided an interesting and valuable insight into the dictator's strategy and tactics, his politics and descent into madness and destruction. What makes Traudl Junge's account so interesting is that she writes from the point of view of an ordinary German woman without any military or political background. At times the feminine insight can be somewhat over-detailed, such as when she goes into some depth about the clothes that people are wearing or how her room is laid out, and yet such scenes do provide a historical insight not normally found in other survivors' memoirs. For example, she records that Eva Braun did not entirely match the Nazi stereotype of the ideal German woman as she smoked, used makeup and tried to keep her weight below the plump and curvy ideal so favoured by Hitler and the Nazis. Much later on, towards the end of the book, she notes that after Eva Braun tries to comfort Hitler, who has just announced that everything is lost:

Then Hitler's eyes begin to shine from within, and he does something none of us, not even his closest friends and servants, have ever seen him do before: he kisses Eva Braun on the mouth, while the officers stand outside waiting to be dismissed.

At this point too Junge finds herself also volunteering to stay to the end.

The description of Hitler's human side runs through the book as a pale thread alongside the other, weightier leitmotivs, but should not be dismissed as the insinuation of a Nazi sympathiser that the dictator was really not such a bad man after all. Rather, it helps to remember that even the most evil men have some spark of good in them, albeit not enough to save their memory from eternal excoriation after their death. Hitler shows his concerns for Junge early on in the book, and perhaps in her subconscious replaces her flighty and absent father:

.... It looked as if Hitler wanted to say something more, and he seemed to be searching for the right words. Finally he said, smiling at me and speaking almost awkwardly, that he knew I was still very young, there were so many men here, most of them seldom went home and - well, soldiers feel particularly strongly attracted to the Eternally Feminine - in short, I must be a little careful, not too forthcoming. And if I had any complaints of anyone pestering me, never mind who it was, I was to come and tell him about it, any time.

So much for the swearing-in ceremony!... I'd thought I might have to provide evidence of my loyalty to National Socialism and the Party, vow to be loyal and to keep secrets. Instead, here was Hitler himself showing solicitude for my virtue.....

An interesting incident occurs later in the narrative when Hitler releases his Austrian dietician Frau von Exner because of her part-Jewish ancestry but tells her he will have her family "aryanised" (officially recognised as full Aryan blood, in Nazi parlance). This plan is sullenly resisted by Martin Bormann, whose advances the cook had refused during her time in the entourage. After Hitler gives Bormann a dressing-down over this, the family eventually receive their Party documents, but only four weeks before the final defeat. If this sounds like a tall tale to subvert the understanding of Hitler's role as the architect of the Holocaust, another anecdote from the book should suffice. Talking of Baldur von Schirach's wife:

... she had to leave suddenly when she raised a very unwelcome subject in tea-time conversation.... As Hitler was sitting by the hearth with his guests, she suddenly said, "My Führer, I saw a train full of deported Jews in Amsterdam the other day. Those poor people - they look terrible. I'm sure they're being very badly treated. Do you know about it? Do you allow it?" There was a painful silence. Soon afterwards Hitler rose to his feet, said goodnight and withdrew. Next day Frau von Schirach went back to Vienna, and not a word was said about the incident. Apparently she had exceeded her rights as a guest and failed to carry out her duty of entertaining Hitler.

This does tally with a similar account in David 's life of Erwin Rommel, where Rommel raises the possibility of finding a "Jewish person of good character" to become a Gauleiter and thus deflect criticism of Nazi policies, only to be snapped at by Hitler and met by a dead silence by the rest of the entourage. It is an interesting fact that Hitler rarely spoke outright to outsiders of his deliberate plans to exterminate the Jews but nevertheless showed himself prickly and defensive when the question was raised in innocence. He was also very wary of putting his signature to actual documents relating to the destruction of the Jews and other peoples deliberately targeted, although his orders on the eve of the invasion of Russia leave little doubt that he spared no pity for those he regarded as undesirable elements.

Part of the value of Junge's narrative lays in the account of Hitler's domestic life, at least at the Berghof. Hitler held court for his inner circle in a different role to the court he held for his generals and other officials, and indeed preferred light, trivial talk (at least in the early days) to matters of state when he was seated by the fireside. Like some of the other war leaders, notably Stalin, the German dictator also kept unhealthy hours, more so as the war dragged on until he was going to bed at four or five o'clock in the morning. The medical "treatments" offered by the apparently irresponsible Theo Morell and Hitler's bizarre faith in him also come under scrutiny. Indeed, as Junge mentions, Hitler appeared ready to excuse the most basic failings in his old Party comrades, at least until he felt, at the eleventh hour, that they had wilfully betrayed him. Perhaps the creatures that Hitler felt closest to throughout the entire period are his dogs, especially Blondi whom he taught to do tricks and of whom he was a proud and devoted owner.

As the war progressed Traudl Junge started to see through the chinks in Hitler's armour. When she asks the Führer why he supports marriage but is not married himself, he tells her that he would not make a good father, he could not devote enough time to his wife, and anyway children of men of genius have a difficult time.

This was the first expression of personal megalomania that I heard from Hitler, or the first to be taken seriously... this time it did disturb me a lot to find someone describing himself as a genius.

Another portentous vignette is Hitler's views on religion. Whereas some haters of the Christian church and some far-Right elements have alike tried to portray Hitler as a good Catholic, in reality his religion was far darker. Traudl talks about the discussions, or rather Hitler's monologues on the origin of man and religion:

He was not a member of any church, and thought the Christian religions were outdated, hypocritical institutions that lured people into them. The laws of nature were his religion. He could reconcile his dogma of violence better with nature than with the Christian doctrine of loving your neighbour and your enemy. "Science isn't yet clear about the origins of humanity," he once said. "We are probably the highest stage of development of some mammal which developed from reptiles and moved on to human beings, perhaps by way of the apes. We are a part of creation and children of nature, and the same laws apply to us as to all living creatures. And in nature the law of the struggle for survival has reigned from the first. Everything incapable of life, everything weak is eliminated. Only mankind and above all the church have made it their aim to keep alive the weak, those unfit to live, and people of an inferior kind."

Although creationists often unfairly try to give a dog a bad name and then hang it by blaming all human ills of the past century or so on evolution, it is clear that Hitler used his own somewhat half-baked version of the theory at least as an alibi, even if his own motives were really different.

The worsening military situation forced the evacuation of the East Prussian headquarters and a move to Berlin, where 1945 found Junge and her fellow workers sheltering in the bunker in a claustrophobic world increasingly detached from reality. She records the coming and going of senior Nazis, the disappearance or dismissal of many of the leading figures, and Hitler's worsening physical and mental state. She was aware that Magda Goebbels intended to do away with her six children, and it is a sign of the complete moral disintegration of the participants in the drama that nobody tried to stop her. Even then there are signs of a brief flicker of humanity: Eva Braun, for example, gives Junge a coat which she knows that she herself will not be around to enjoy much longer. Finally, the dictator and his longtime partner marry and then commit suicide (Junge's claim to have heard the actual shot is probably a mistake). Even in death, however, the miasma of Hitler hovers over the bunker, leading to more suicides. Finally she takes part in a breakout with the SS commander Mohnke and many of the other bunker staff, although many are killed (Bormann also perished on this night). On the last page she notes that she ended up imprisoned for a while by the Russians but was not transported to the USSR and through the kindness of one man was able to eventually escape into the West in 1946.

The final part of the book is written by co-author Melissa Müller and deals with Traudl Junge's subsequent career after the war and her attempts to come to terms with her relationship with Hitler. It is a sobering and not entirely happy story, although Junge (who died in 2002, weeks after the book was published) showed courage in trying to deal with her past (which was after all much less culpable than that of some of her countrymen).

Not until the middle of the 1960s did I gradually and seriously begin to confront my past and my growing sense of guilt.... I have learned to admit that in 1942, when I was eager for adventure, I was fascinated by Adolf Hitler, thought him an agreeable employer, paternal and friendly, and deliberately ignored the warning voice inside me, although I heard it clearly enough. I have learned to admit that I enjoyed working for him almost to the bitter end. After the revelation of his crimes, I shall always live with a sense that I must share the guilt.

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