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Hitler's Last Secretary
A Firsthand Account of Life with Hitler
By Traudl Junge, Melissa Müller, Anthea Bell
Skyhorse PublishingCopyright © 2011 Ullstein Heyne List GmbH & Co. München
All rights reserved.
A CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH IN GERMANY
by Melissa Müller
A time between times. Munich 1947. Once the 'capital of the Nazi movement', the city is now in ruins. Its people are exhausted by cold and hunger, but at the same time they are making a new beginning. Miserable destitution and an overwhelming lust for life co-exist in striking juxtaposition. Traudl Junge is twenty-seven years old, a high-spirited young woman eager to get on with her life. She has been 'exonerated' by the denazification commission on the grounds of her youth-fulness. She works as a secretary, frequently changing jobs. You live from day to day now. Traudl Junge is considered a good worker. A reference written for her at the time dwells in particular on 'her quick understanding, good letter-writing style, and her typing and shorthand, which are well above average.' In the evenings she regularly goes to the cabarets and little theatres shooting up like mushrooms in the city. Money, food and cigarettes are in short supply. Friends and neighbours stick together and share what they have. Traudl Junge's life lies before her, and so – she hopes – do love and great happiness. She has no very clear idea of the future, but she believes in it.
Munich 1947. Once the 'capital of the Nazi movement', the city is now in ruins. Traudl Junge is twenty-seven years old and has been a widow for three years. Her last employer, 'the best I've had yet,' she says, is dead, and many of her closest colleagues from the war period are missing without trace. She doesn't know if they have been taken away to Russian camps or committed suicide. She herself has survived several months in Russian prisons, a protracted attack of diphtheria and an adventurous escape from Berlin to Munich. She has returned with mixed feelings, afraid of being pilloried or shunned. She does not hide the fact that she was Hitler's private secretary for two and a half years, and is relieved to find how little interest anyone takes in her past. Even her mother doesn't want to know any more about it. She does often get sensation-seekers asking avidly, Do tell us, is Hitler really dead?, but no one seems to want to hear details, let alone attempts of any kind to explain or justify herself. Others make light of her vague sense of guilt for serving a genocidal murderer and thus sharing in the blame for his crimes. You were still so young ... In 1947, the process of forgetting is well under way, as self-protection for Nazis, their fellow-travellers and their victims alike.
One leading lady, two scenarios – both of them accurate.
Traudl Junge's life splits in two in the early post-war years. On one side of the split are the memories weighing down on her of that carefree time in Adolf Hitler's circle and its dramatic finale. She is alone with those memories. On the other side is everyday life among the ruins, with its immediate privations and pleasures. These she can share with others – friends, acquaintances, her mother and her sister.
At quite an early stage – indeed, as she remembers it, directly after the fall of the Third Reich – Traudl Junge manages to shake off the magnetic attraction of Hitler. Perhaps that was because, while she admired what she describes as the charming, friendly and paternal side of his character as she knew it at close quarters for two and a half years, she was always indifferent to the National Socialist regime itself, indeed uninterested in it, and gave no serious thought to its ideology and its inhumanities. Her past is an undigested mixture of pleasant personal memories and the dreadful knowledge she has been slowly acquiring bit by bit since the war, although she does not really let it reach her until much later. Traudl Junge entered Hitler's orbit by chance, and her view of him was extremely narrow – hard as that is to imagine today, even for Traudl herself. She was swept into the aura of Hitler, she felt flattered, and nothing that did not affect her personally touched her. Naivety? Ignorance? Vanity? Complacent gullibility? Complicity that was drilled into her? In 1947 she does not ask herself these questions. She has survived and now – with the strength of youth, as she says – she literally begins casting off her past. Not until the 1960s will these questions begin to torment her, and go on tormenting her to this day.
In 1947, through her then lover Heinz Bald, she meets a prosperous entrepreneur who is Bald's patron. He is fascinated by her past and tells her she should write down her memories of her time with 'the Führer'. His former wife is German Jewish and has been living in the USA since the divorce on which he insisted in the 1930s, but she is still in friendly contact with him and would like to offer the memoirs to an American daily paper. Traudl Junge likes the idea and soon sets to work. Looking back, she says that she herself felt an urge to record these crucial events in her life before the memories faded. Another reason is the wild speculation about Hitler's death which constantly confronts her. If anyone should happen to interrogate her again, she can point to her written record.
Over the following months she types some 170 pages of manu-script in her leisure time, at evenings and weekends. She enjoys writing. But in the end her account is not published because it was said, in 1949, that 'readers would not be interested in such stories'. All the same, Traudl Junge feels that her writing is a kind of catharsis. Admittedly she seldom stops to reflect on her experiences in any depth, but she conceals nothing and does not try to justify herself. She is simply recording events, episodes, personal impressions, and when she has finished she draws a line – for the time being – under that part of her past. For a long while her account lies unnoticed.
In fact Traudl Junge's attitude to Adolf Hitler was still ambivalent in those early postwar years – or so at least her manuscript reads. Her memoirs are therefore bound to shock the modern reader now and then. Rereading them decades after she wrote them down, she herself feels distress and shame at the naivety and inability to see dispassionately that are evident in long passages of them. It's banal, she says; the tone is sometimes unpardonably simple-minded. She cannot recognize its historical value, and now its immediacy and lack of artifice irritate her. She fails to see how forcefully her apparently innocuous accounts of Hitler's daily round in the Wolf's Lair or at the Berghof back up Hannah Arendt's much-quoted thesis of the banality of evil. The illuminating insights she can offer those who like to regard Hitler and his accomplices as monsters without any human features are little comfort to her. She sees her memoirs, above all, as evidence of her unthinking attitude at the time, a kind of conclusion to a guileless youth spent in an environment that itself was very far from innocuous.
Gertraud Humps, known as Traudl, is born in Munich on 16 March 1920. A month before, on 24 February, Adolf Hitler and Anton Drexler, founder of the German Workers' Party (the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, abbreviated to DAP), announce the party's xenophobic programme at the first great mass rally of the NSDAP (the National Socialist German Workers' Party) held in the Hofbräuhaus in Munich. The fact is worth mentioning because the programme was addressed to 'The impoverished people!'
Large sections of the population are indeed in a wretched situation, which leads to discord and political protest. Between December 1918 and the middle of February 1919 alone, the number of unemployed in the city rises from 8000 to about 40,000. Homes, food and fuel are all in short supply.
Traudl's father Max Humps, born in 1893, is a master brewer and a lieutenant in the Reserve. He is regarded as 'charming but flighty' and 'not exactly cut out for marriage'. Traudl's mother Hildegard, née Zottmann, is three years his junior and the daughter of a general. She is marrying beneath her. The young couple move into a small attic apartment in the Schwabing district. But immediately after Traudl's birth Max, a native of Regen in Lower Bavaria, loses his job with the Löwenbrauerei, and financial difficulties soon make the considerable differences of character between husband and wife a problem. Hildegard is a melancholic but very emotional woman with an inflexible view of the world and a strict moral code. Max is a man who muddles his way through, takes life easy and is very humorous – it is difficult to be angry with him, but no one can rely on him.
Like many unemployed men at this time Max Humps, who has no particular aim in life and anyway prefers his circle of friends and what he called sporting companions to any kind of family idyll, joins the 'Freikorps Oberland'. This is one of the right-wing 'Freikorps' units which attract men of anti-republican, nationalist and anti-Semitic opinions. It is a strictly organized volunteer formation – nationalist and populist in nature-with many members from the Bavarian Oberland, and was founded in April 1919 to campaign against the Munich Räterepublik (Councils Republic). He works hard to recruit new members, and is popular in the deeply insecure male world of that time. The military defeat of the First World War, the tug-of-war over the Treaty of Versailles, the emancipation of women encouraged by the war, their newly won franchise, economic hardship – the groups of men sheltering behind their uniforms, their weapons and their decorations aim to draw attention to all these things and provide a counterbalance. Bavaria attracts right-wing groups because the new Bavarian government, which itself is right-leaning, is very tolerant of them.
After the march into Munich in May 1919 which aims to topple the Räterepublik, the Freikorps Oberland campaigns against Communist risings in the Ruhr in April 1920, and from May to August 1921 fights against Poland in the border war in Upper Silesia. Max Humps is present at the storming of the Annaberg in Upper Silesia, an event that wins the Freikorps great credit in conservative circles. Max's father-in-law the general is looking after his wife and daughter, for he himself is seldom at home. When the Allies enforce the disbanding of all defence associations in the summer of 1921, some sections of the Freikorps Oberland set up the 'Bund Oberland', the 'Oberland League', with its headquarters in Munich. Its statutes promote the idea of a 'struggle against the enemy within', and express hostility to the Republic. The group's new leader, Friedrich Weber, paves the way for close collaboration with the NSDAP. On 1 May 1923 armed units of the Oberland League and the SA (Sturmabteilung or Brownshirts) oppose a Social Democratic and Communist demonstration on the Oberwiesenfeld in Munich. In September the Bund Oberland becomes part of the newly founded 'Deutscher Kampfbund' (German Combat League), led by Adolf Hitler.
Several companies of the Bund Oberland take part in Hitler's putsch of 8–9 November 1923. Max Humps is with them, and is decorated with the NSDAP Blutorden (Blood Order) for his part in the operation. The Bund is then banned, but continues in existence as the 'Deutscher Schützen-und Wanderbund' (German Marksmen and Hikers' League).
It is not clear whether Max Humps supports Hitler's attempted putsch out of political conviction, or simply for lack of any better way to spend his time, or whether he really believes that Hitler will give the country's economy a boost. His daughter for one regards him as a patriotically mercenary type of character who felt it opportune to go along with his comrades – they included Sepp Dietrich, later to be leader of the Leibstandarte SS (Hitler's bodyguard) – and to spout nationalist slogans. He is not arrested after the failure of the putsch; he is not important enough. However, he still fails to find regular employment and his wife and children are suffering real hardship – children in the plural now, because a second daughter is born in December 1923, a month after the failed putsch. The girls' mother often has no idea how she is going to feed them next day. In 1925 Humps goes to Turkey, now under the control of Mustafa Kemal Pasha, later known as Kemal Atatürk. As the country moves closer to Europe it needs the practical skills of Western professionals, and Max Humps finally gets back to work as a master brewer. He leaves his family behind in Munich – and now if not before, Hildegard Humps's patience with her husband is exhausted. She wants no more to do with him and goes back to her parents' home with her children – as a housewife and mother with no independent income, she can see no alternative. When Max Humps, who has done quite well in Turkey, tries on several occasions to bring his family to Smyrna (now Izmir), Hildegard refuses to go and asks for a divorce instead.
Traudl is five years old when her father leaves. Even before that he was not, admittedly, the traditional father-figure, but on the few occasions when he did come home she found him a delightful companion and an inventive playmate.
She begins school in 1926. She goes to the Simultanschule in Munich's Luisenstrasse, an establishment which admits children of all religious persuasions, probably not so much as the result of any broad-minded attitude of her mother's as because it was close to her grandparents' apartment in Sophienstrasse, near the Old Botanical Garden. Traudl was baptized an Evangelical, but has grown up without strong ties to the church and often plays truant from the Sunday children's services.
Traudl's grandfather Maximilian Zottmann, born in 1852, rules over the five-roomed apartment in Sophienstrasse, which is quite a grand place. She finds her grandfather a stern and pedantic autocrat who regulates the course of his day to the minute, thinks a great deal of discipline and order, and doesn't understand a joke. He is no substitute for her father. He regularly tells her mother, 'Kindly bring your brats up better', when Traudl and Inge laugh just a childish decibel too loud. But little Traudl's world is still all right as long as her grandmother is alive. Agathe Zottmann makes peace between everyone in the apartment, and Traudl adores her. Agathe is a native of Leipzig and met her husband when she was visiting the spa resort of Bad Reichenhall; Traudl later describes her grandmother as a very affectionate, understanding woman. The little girl loves to hear Agathe's stories of Leipzig in her young days, and when Traudl has to write a composition at school on 'My Dream Holiday' she chooses not Hawaii or the Himalayas like her school friends, but Leipzig.
Agathe dies in 1928, and her loss hits eight-year-old Traudl hard. After his wife's death Traudl's grandfather becomes meaner with money and more of a domestic tyrant than ever. He likes his new-found bachelor freedom and plays sugar daddy to a young dancer called Thea, and although his daughter is running his household he misses no opportunity to point out that she and the children are a financial burden on him. In 1930, when Traudl begins secondary school at the Luisenlyzeum for girls, her mother applies for reduced fees because she cannot pay the full amount out of her housekeeping money – only 4.50 marks a day to feed four mouths. Traudl often has to report sick when there is a school outing because her mother can't scrape up the 2.70 marks for expenses. However, she does not feel that her childhood and early youth are unhappy. Difficult as their situation is for both mother and children, it brings the three of them closer together. Hildegard Humps is not a particularly demonstrative woman – not the kind of mother you kiss and cuddle – but her children feel that she loves them and understands them. She provides them with security. Her educational ideals are those of her time: they must grow up to be 'decent people', truthful, helpful, honourable, modest and considerate, they must make allowances and they mustn't poke their noses into what is none of their business.
The girls have ample opportunity to practise the virtue of making allowances when their mother's younger brother moves in with the family. Hans is an artistically gifted young man who has trained as an architect, but he suffers from schizophrenia. The children are usually amused but sometimes upset by his persecution mania and peculiar notions, and they feel increasingly uneasy when they realize what a trial their mother finds her brother's crazy ideas and wild accusations. In the middle of the 1930s Hans Zottmann – like at least 360,000 Germans with what are described as hereditary disorders – will be forcibly sterilized. The family do not question the operation but accept it as a necessary evil. Hans would never make a good father, they tell themselves.
As a girl Traudl enjoys life. She loves nature and animals; the household always includes a dog or some cats. And she likes going to school – not that she is particularly eager for education, but she fits easily into classroom society and likes the company of her girlfriends. Looking back, she describes herself as a herd animal, never meant to be a loner and not notable for original ideas and lateral thinking, but a girl who seeks security, safety and recognition in her own environment and wants everything to be harmonious. Her academic achievements are not much above average; her favourite subjects are art and gymnastics, but she likes German and English too. She is thought of as a lively child, and often, when her high spirits are too much for her grandfather or her mother, she puts up a fervent prayer to heaven in the evening: 'Please make me a good girl.' She is particularly anxious not to hurt her mother, whose personal misfortunes have not escaped her notice. However, she can be light-hearted. Even at the age of six, when told reproachfully, 'Oh Traudl, if only you weren't so wild!' she replies cheekily, 'Oh dear, if only God didn't want it that way.' This remark becomes a family saying. Little highlights in her young life are her rare visits to the movies with her sister – a ticket for the Bogenhausen cinema costs 70 pfennigs, and it is an hour's walk for Traudl and Inge from Schwabing to Bogenhausen and then an hour back again – and their summer holidays in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps, where Grandfather rents a game preserve, first and for a long time in Aschau, then in Seeon and finally on the Ammersee, where he shoots his last stag at the age of eighty.
Excerpted from Hitler's Last Secretary by Traudl Junge, Melissa Müller, Anthea Bell. Copyright © 2011 Ullstein Heyne List GmbH & Co. München. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
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