Interested in my review of Nathaniel Philbreck’s look at Bunker Hill, his most recent (and perhaps is best) historical work. Read my review on The State Journal-Register’s Morris Chair blogsite.
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Isaac “Marty” Morris
This was a sneak peek at The Patient Ecstasy of Fraulein Braun, a novel by Lavonne Mueller, (Opus Books, 304 pages) originally posted in December 2012. It is now in print, having been released on April 30. The April 30 date is important, as it was on April 30, 1944 that Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler were married in the bunker beneath the streets of Berlin. The next day, they would both be dead.
But said Virgilius ‘What dost thou still gaze at?
…I made answer thereupon….’In that cavern where
I held mine eyes with such attention fixed,
I think a spirit of my blood laments
The sin which down below there costs so much.’
Dante, The Inferno, Canto XXIX, Longfellow translation
Was there anyone in history worse than Hitler? Probably. Our ally against him, Josef Stalin is one of the best candidates. But my generation, though once removed, still finds Hitler difficult to approach from any objective point of view. This may be because by seeking objectivity we somehow neutralize the unspeakable horror that the man unleashed on the world. That horror still haunts from grainy photographs of young men and women that adorn bookcases and fireplace mantels; spectral images of human beings who died fighting him or who succumbed in the showers at Dachau to then have their ashes blacken the sky with the thick, choking reality of death.
What can we say, therefore, about someone who loved Adolf Hitler? Does loving a monster make of you a monster?
Playwright Lavonne Mueller has written a novel that would seem to answer the question, but which actually raises as many questions as it answers. Eva Braun, a young woman who fell for Hitler–whom she calls “Adi”–when he was a rising star, and then spent 12 years as his mistress hidden away from the public eye. After all, the Führer’s image was as one married to Germany, and it wouldn’t be fitting for people–women especially–to see the man on whom the nation was fixated to be romantically linked. So Eva spent many lonely years tucked away in the Berghoff, Hitler’s posh estate in the mountains, or sitting the back row at main attractions while Magda Goebbels, wife of propaganda chief Josef Goebbels, appeared publicly with the Führer as Germany’s informal “first lady.” Why would she subject herself to such a life?
The simplest answer, and the one that comes through int his novel, is that Eva Braun loved, idolized, adored Adolf Hitler. With apologies to Jerry Maguire, Hitler “had her at hello” the first time he met her at Heinrich Hoffman’s photography studio in Munich, where she worked as a young model. After that, there were no more men in her life. Even though she would have to share him with Germany, she was content to do so.
Well, there were times when it got to her. She attempted suicide twice, once with a pistol (she was a bad shot), once with pills. Were these pitiful cries for attention? Perhaps. If so, they worked to some extent. Hitler was moved, and soon began to be more attentive to her needs.
But Hitler had experience with suicidal women. The woman whom many–even Eva–thought was the real love of his life was his niece, Geli Raubel. Though she was 25 years his junior, Hitler was obsessed with the young woman, eventually controlling her movements and possibly subjecting her to deviant sexual acts. Her only escape from him was suicide, which she committed in 1931.
So, when Eva took the pills, the Führer came to comfort her with flowers.
The novel’s time frame is the last two weeks of Eva’s life in the Bunker, that Danteesque cavern where HItler finished out his career as Germany’s chancellor. She narrates, and it becomes apparent that this time beneath the streets of a devastated Berlin is the happiest time of her life. She now has “Adi” close. Oh, yes, the meetings with generals and advisors continue on late at night, but “Adi” is only separated by a wall and will come to her eventually. One quickly surmises that Hitler is living in a state of denial, hoping for a miracle that will never come, unable to accept the fact that it is over.
The narrative is not kind to Magda, the wife of Josef Goebbels. In fact, if we are to believe Eva, Magda spents a great deal of time rutting with this or that visiting officer, perhaps in retaliation for her husband’s much publicized affairs with German actresses. Magda’s shamelessness even extends to allowing herself to be mounted by a staff officer in a shelter while her oldest daughter is in the room. Eva covers the daughter’s eyes and tries to distract her from the grunts and moans.
Eva herself, though ardently devoted and faithful to Adi, suffers from a deep frustration that stems from Adi’s–shall we say–unusual style of lovemaking which leaves her totally unsatisfied. She sometimes finds ways to compensate in the fashion of a good Catholic schoolgirl (which, incidentally, she had been) who knows how to push then envelope just far enough with men so as to maintain “technical” fidelity.
These portions of Eva’s narrative strain credulity, as I am unable to recall any such allegations regarding Magda Goebbels other than an affair she had with one of Hitler’s henchmen, and “rumors” of others. It is doubtful that Magda was the kind of woman who would engage in table top sex in one room while her husband met with staff in an adjoining room.
Yet, there is a sense that I get from this story, and such orgiastic inclusions, that the women in the bunker were perhaps not as much in denial as were Hitler and some of his henchmen. Perhaps the point is that they knew all too well that the end was but days away so the irrepressible life force expressed in a few moments of sexual pleasure was hungrily sought as a means of dealing with the threat of extinction. There is a scene in the streets of Berlin later wherein Eva and an officer come upon two naked SS men engaged in sex with one another on a discarded mattress. They are desperately seeking a few minutes respite from what is certain–Russian tanks but two block away–to be their last few minutes on earth.
The best thing that this novel does is to point up the moral ambivalence, or perhaps the amorality or even moral perversity, of Eva, Magda, and many of the followers of Hitler. Magda and her husband would sooner die than live in a world without their Führer, and so they commit suicide after Hitler and Eva do–only they take the lives of their six beautiful children before doing so. Eva herself achieves her dream to be united with her beloved Adi on the night before they will die, in spite of the fact that her brother-in-law was executed two days before by henchmen of her beloved. Her chief concern in the last hours is what she will wear for their wedding, while humans are being burned, shot, exploded and ground into asphalt in the streets above them.
Throughout, Eva blames anyone she feels isn’t loyal to the Führer, even his niece and former lover Geli, for letting the man down. People who did not serve him well or rightly simply didn’t understand what or who he was.
This book takes you into a cavernous hell that summons the ghost of Dante, one which attempts answers to some difficult psychological questions, but still leaves you wondering how a man like Hitler could inspire such devotion, even when that devotion clashed with conscience. As a general rule, people aren’t attracted to monsters.
Hitler’s secretary, Traudi Junge, a Braun lookalike who was with the Führer until the end, expressed this conundrum best in a journal written several years following the last night in the bunker:
“I was 22 and I didn’t know anything about politics, it didn’t interest me…. I…was fascinated by Adolf Hitler. He was a pleasant boss and a fatherly friend. I deliberately ignored all the warning voices inside me and enjoyed the time by his side almost until the bitter end. It wasn’t what he said, but the way he said things and how he did things.”
Six million or more human beings would undoubtedly have a very different take on “how he did things.”
Copyright Isaac Morris 2013
On April 23, I was invited to be among those at Capital Airport who would welcome home more than 70 veterans of World War II and the Korean conflict back to Springfield from their Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. It was quite a scene. A Bagpiper led a single-file parade of veterans, many in wheel chairs, and “guardians” — family members or friends who accompanied them on their one-day, whirlwind tour of our nations capitol.
I really had no idea what this was all about until Diana Weyhenmeyer, Springfield, a friend of ours, told us about her 97 year old father and how he would be making the trip. Her father, Frederic Willard Parker, Mt. Sterling, is as sharp or sharper than most people my age. It was clearly apparent that the day he spent with his daughter seeing the Korean War Memorial, the Air and Space Museum, and several other Washington D.C. landmarks was among the most special of his life. Her smile as they got off the flight fairly well summed it all up.
What struck me as I watched this parade of veterans, men who had once put on the uniform and placed their lives into the hands of fate, was how much I regretted that members of my own family who fought in World War II were not alive to see this, or perhaps to make this trip.
My father, John Henry Morris, had his teeth shot out in North Africa. My stepfather, Charles Russell, contracted Hepatitis (which was misdiagnosed as the flu and would kill him 30 years later), probably when he was among a troop of young boys who were “volunteered” to bury the remains of hundreds of prisoner of war camp victims. Fleeing Nazis simply left them to rot, some in trenches, others just piled up in fields. My uncle, E.P. “Red” Hohmann, had a lung shot out in Italy, and lived the remainder of his very productive years with only one. Another uncle, John Martin Hohmann, was lost and presumed dead when the Japanese sank his battleship. He survived, fortunately, but never spoke about those awful days.
It is easy to wax patriotic and spout bromides about what we owe these man–and women too; members of what Tom Brokaw dubbed (and rightfully so) the “greatest generation.” None of my uncles, nor my father or stepfather, spoke of what they endured. It has to be pried out of them. In my stepfather’s case, I learned nothing from him and it was only after his death when I uncovered a box with black and white photos of a young, gangly, curly-haired boy from Missouri helping to lift corpses into a trench. It was only then I realized what horror his young life had fallen into. Yet, he went gladly, willingly, because that was what he thought was right.
I also found a dim, black-and white photo of a beautiful young French girl, which has long been a source of speculation: was she someone he loved? Did she survive? We will never know.
So it is not an empty observation to say that we may owe more than we realize to the men and women who fought, bled, and died in a time most of us only know through the history books. The Honor Flight assembly of welcome is a fitting reminder of how much we should value their service. But somehow, it just doesn’t seem to be enough.
I got a kick out of one old vet who was walking around with a blue T-shirt on that read, “If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran.” we laugh, because it’s funny; but we may also laugh because it is true.
Heaven help us if we ever forget what these brave men (and yes, women) did for us so many years ago. Their sacrifice is truly to be cherished.
Effective May 1, I will no longer be posting on The Morris Chair.
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The Blood Gospel: The Order of the Sanguines Series, by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell (Harper Collins Publishes, 2013, 479 pages)
As one hundred cardinals convene in secret behind ancient walls to elect a new pope, it is a great time to pick up a novel about secret goings on in the Vatican featuring a group of monks whose job it is to fight evil, romps through the Vatican tombs, and an array of monsters set upon destroying anything that gets in their way in their pursuit of a book known in legend as The Blood Gospel .
In this book you will meet monsters thought long dead but still alive in pursuit of …well, something: Elizabeth Bathory, aka the “Blood Countess,” still alive and in hot pursuit of settling a score with an older love, a monk named Rhun, who now battles on the side of good. Gregori Rasputin, the “mad monk,” also aligned on the side of evil. And there are hosts of scary creatures called “strigoi,” big mean critters who can however be stopped by a bullet through the head fortunately. Oh, there’s a hungry bear who lives in a cage just waiting for Rasputin to turn him loose on some unsuspecting soul. And Elizabeth has a pet wolf, one who lavishes attention on her and eats anyone she sets him upon.
But in The Blood Gospel we meet a secret sect called the Sanguinists (can you say “secret sect of sanguinists” real fast five times without spitting?) whose sworn duty for all time is to fight the evil. You know, sort of like “The Avengers” only with a holy mission.
An earthquake at Masada, site of the mass suicide of Jews in their desperate attempt to avoid slaughter by the Romans, sets this whole story in motion when a crucified woman is discovered under ground. Alive. Centuries old but alive. Go figure. A dedicated archeologist, a solider, and a cardinal are pulled into the mystery as they search for the Blood Gospel of Jesus Christ,a book whose meaning seems in the final analysis less important than the drama surrounding it.
This book has many inspirations, not the least of which is Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, but there are shades of “The Mummy,” with its moments of witty repartee. Oh, and Raiders of the Lost Ark comes to mind, since there are Nazis that pop up in here as well. “John Carpenter’s Vampires” comes to mind as well, with James Woods as a vampire hunter employed by the Vatican. One gets the impression that the authors–who writes very well incidentally–took a little of this, a little of that, threw it all into one big pot, stirred it up and threw it against the wall. The result is what you might expect: a mish-mash that, while it purports to explain may traditions in the Catholic Church, leaves me wondering why I spent good money on it. It should have left me breathless. But it just left me waiting for the next novel by Dan Brown, who can pull these books off better than any of the various copy cats.
That said, I did make it all the way through. Something kept me reading. Oh, I know! The devil made me do it!
Copyright Isaac Morris 2013