She shared Hitler's bunker, but claimed ignorance of the Holocaust
As exits go, that of Traudl Junge was timed to exquisite perfection. Her life was largely one in which infamy was overlaid by obscurity. Then, for a brief few days, she was accorded something approaching global fame. And, in the midst of it, at the age of 81, she died.
She had been suffering from cancer. She spent her last days in a Munich hospital.
With masterly ambiguity, the documentary, by the multi-talented André Heller, was called Blind Spot - a title that did justice both to Junge's claims to have been kept in the dark and the belief of many historians that she and others close to the Führer suffered from an entirely self-induced amnesia.
Junge insisted that Hitler and other Nazi leaders "practically never mentioned the word Jew" in her presence, even though it was while she was working for the Führer that his regime killed most of the 6m Jews who died in the Holocaust. She said she only found out about the Holocaust after the war, and then felt wracked with guilt for having liked "the greatest criminal who ever lived".
Among those who scorned her claims were staff at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. After Heller's film was screened in Berlin, Efraim Zuroff, director of the centre's office in Israel, said: "Her story reflects the blind loyalty of far too many Germans whose allegiance to Hitler and the Nazi party enabled the implementation of the final solution."
Junge was born Gertraud Humps in Munich. She had wanted to be a ballet dancer, but when she heard of a vacancy in the Chancellery, she played up her typing and shorthand skills to land the job. "I thought I would be at the source of all information. But I was really in a blind spot," she said in the documentary.
When Junge's trial period as a Hitler's secretary was about to end she was summoned in front of Hitler for the confirmation of her new job. She was expecting a loyalty oath, countless background checks, and to be forced to join the Nazi Party. Instead Hitler only wanted one promise from her: Since she would be a young girl working among a lot of male military personnel, she would have to promise to report to Hitler any harassment by them.
In December 1942, she became the youngest of the Nazi dictator's personal secretaries. "He was a pleasant older man who welcomed us with real friendliness," she said of their first meeting. Among her recollections of the Führer was that he did not like cut flowers because, he said, he did not want to be "surrounded by corpses".
In June 1943, Traudl married Hitler's SS aide Hans Junge - just three months after she had stated that she "had no interest in men". The fact that they both worked close to Hitler enabled Hans Junge to - finally, after several pleas - get away from Hitler's entourage for a frontline duty in the ranks of the Waffen SS. He was killed a year later when a British plane strafed his company in Normandy in August 1944.
The young widow joined Hitler and his staff when they moved into an underground bunker in Berlin in January 1945. She recalled Hitler sitting for long periods of time, just staring into the distance. Meals were no longer served regularly, and people even began to smoke in the Führer's presence.
"It was a terrible time. I can't really remember my feelings. We were all in a state of shock, like machines," she said.
After the war, Junge was taken into custody by the Red Army, then the Americans. After being interrogated and spending about six months in prison, she was released. She continued to work in Germany as a secretary, and later as a science reporter.
Othmar Schmiderer, the producer of the documentary, was among the last people to speak to her. He quoted her as saying: "Now that I've let go of my story, I can let go of my life."
Junge had no children, but is survived by a sister who lives in Australia.
·Traudl Junge, secretary, born 1920; died February 10 2002
David Cesarani and Peter Longerich
The film Downfall has received terrific reviews in this country and has already been seen by four and a half million Germans. It has clearly struck a chord with the popular mood in Germany and feelings about the Nazi past.
This should come as no surprise. The brilliant portrayal of Hitler by Bruno Ganz exposes him as a repellent human being devoid of concern about the misery into which he led his people. The film thus panders to the tendency of Germans to see themselves as victims of Nazism and war rather than perpetrators.
A self-pitying attitude has always been present in German attempts at "coming to terms" with the Nazi past, but it has been expressed with increasing stridency over the last two decades. It provides the key for understanding how history is massaged by Downfall's makers.
The film's producer, Bernd Eichinger, and director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, claim they are merely excavating a suppressed history and that they sourced every major scene from historical texts. The script draws on books later written by survivors of the Führer bunker, notably the memoir of Traudl Junge, Hitler's last secretary, but also Albert Speer and an SS doctor, Ernst Günther Schenck.
In fact they have reworked the evidence and omitted crucial information. Traudl Junge appears in the film's opening scene in 1942 as a fresh-faced and apolitical 22-year-old who is engaged by Hitler because she comes from his beloved Munich. The audience never learns that her background was saturated in Nazism.
Her father was a fanatical nationalist who fought in the rightwing Freikorps in the early 1920s. For participating in Hitler's abortive putsch in 1923 he earned the Nazi "Blood Order" medal. Although he was estranged from Traudl for many years, they were reunited in 1936, by which time he was security director in an armaments factory and held SS officer rank.
Traudl herself enrolled in the Nazi League of German Girls in 1935, and in 1938 joined the elite Faith and Beauty organisation. Its mission was "to bring young women up to pass on the National Socialist philosophy of life". She was an activist in other Nazi organisations too. Although she did not formally join the Nazi party until 1944, by the time she started working for Hitler she had impeccable ideological and political credentials.
Perhaps to maintain her image as a virginal witness, the film passes over her 1943 marriage to Hans Junge, who joined the SS-Leibstandarte, Hitler's personal guard, in 1933, and served as Hitler's orderly for three years. He was killed fighting with the Waffen-SS in Normandy in 1944. So when her eyes widen while Hitler rants about "international Jewry" it can hardly be out of surprise at his lethal rhetoric. Her reaction is as unlikely as the sight of Albert Speer, in another scene, shifting uncomfortably when Hitler congratulates himself on having cleansed Germany of the "Jewish poison".
Almost the only voices in the bunker protesting against Hitler's inhumanity come from Waffen-SS members. We see Schenck, after toiling heroically in the underground field hospital, looking shocked at the antics of Hitler's entourage. He repeatedly asks why officers should obey the Führer's orders unto death.
We are not told that Schenck had earlier served in the Waffen-SS on the eastern front or that, more damningly, after the war Munich University refused to reinstate him to his chair because he was implicated in the conduct of "frivolous" medical experiments on inmates in Mauthausen concentration camp.
Most astonishingly, Waffen-SS General Wilhelm Möhnke is depicted as a humanitarian pleading with Hitler to evacuate civilians and arguing with Goebbels against the suicidal deployment of poorly armed militia against the Red Army.
This is the same Möhnke whose Waffen-SS unit massacred 80 captured British soldiers outside Dunkirk in May 1940. He later led a Waffen-SS regiment in Normandy that murdered more than 60 surrendered Canadian troops.
In one dramatic encounter, Möhnke protests to Göbbels against the pointless sacrifice of aged militia men. Göbbels retorts that they had consented to Nazi rule and "now their little throats are going to be cut". The effect is to engender contempt for the heartless Nazi propaganda chief and sympathy for his hapless victims who were hoodwinked into giving their mandate to a gang of murderous thugs.
However, the scene is invented. The only source is the postwar memoir of Hans Fritzsche, who served in the Nazi propaganda ministry. Fritzsche claimed to have heard these words at the last Göbbels press conference, not addressed to Möhnke.
Yet this fabrication goes to the heart of the film's mission, which is to depict the German people as the last victims of Nazism whose true defenders were a band of brave German soldiers, including SS men, who fought until overwhelmed by the Bolshevik hordes.
This is no accident. The film's agenda echoes the Historikerstreit controversy in the late 1980s over interpretations of the Third Reich, and parallels the efforts of former Chancellor Kohl to allow Germans to feel comfortable with their past.
Although Kohl has gone, his legacy informs this film. His precipitate union of West and East Germany in 1990 left a deeply divided nation. He understood that in the search for a national identity one thing all Germans could share is a history of suffering under allied aerial bombardment and the onslaught of the Red Army on eastern Germany.
The popularity of Downfall capitalises on the success of recent publications about the bombing of German cities and the dreadful experience of civilians overrun by the Red Army. These horrors are undeniable, but the use of memoirs intended to distance their authors from Nazism by depicting Hitler's clique as contemptible reinforces the sense of Germans as guileless victims. Is the belligerent self-pity fostered by Downfall becoming a new form of German nationalism?
David Cesarani is research professor in history at Royal Holloway, University of London, where Professor Peter Longerich is director of the centre for research on the Holocaust and 20th-century history.
Born Gerda Daranowski, and nicknamed "Dara", she began working for Hitler in 1937 after his secretaries Johanna Wolf and Christa Schröder had complained about having too much work. They asked for assistance but Hitler reportedly hesitated. He did not wish to see a new face in his inner sanctum. He finally gave in and hired Gerda Daranowski.
There are rumours that Christian wrote memoirs. If this is true, they have remained unpublished, even though countless other memoirs by those close to Hitler have been published in German, and recently re-published in English.
Wolf was born in Munich and joined Hitler's personal secretariat in 1929 as a typist, at which time she also became a member of the Nazi Party. When Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933 she became a senior secretary in his Private Chancellery. Wolf was one of his oldest and longest tenured secretaries. While he addressed his other secretaries formally as “Frau” or “Fräulein”, he called her “Wölfin” meaning She-Wolf because of his obsession with wolves. Ms. Wolf and Hitler had a very close relationship. She was often thought of as the best possible source for people to go about Hitler. As a dedicated Nazi she was a trusted member of Hitler's entourage, and remained with him when he withdrew to the Führerbunker in central Berlin as the Red Army approached in 1945.
Wolf was arrested and taken prisoner on 23 May in Bad Tölz when the Americans occupied Berchtesgaden. Together with Schröder, she remained a prisoner until 14 January 1948. Wolf moved to Kaufbeuren afterwards and died in Munich on 5 June 1985 aged 85.
She was born, Emilie Christine Schröder, in the small town of Hannoversch Münden and moved to Nagold after her parents died. There she worked for a lawyer in 1929 and 1930.