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