Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary
Traudl Junge was a well-mannered Bavarian girl raised by a single mother, who yearned, she recalls, for a father figure to enter her life. In 1942, her wish was fulfilled, and how! In Berlin, the comely 22-year-old landed a job with Der Fuhrer himself, hired to type his speeches and correspondence. She remained in Hitler's employ until his suicide in 1946. It was to Junge that Hitler dictated his final will.
This amazing story was kept hidden for almost sixty years, until, at 81 and knowing death was approaching, the conscience-struck Junge spilled all for a documentary camera set up in her Munich apartment. Behind it stood Andre Heller and Othmar Schmiderer, Austrian Jews. Blind Spot-Hitler's Secretary, shrunken by the filmmakers to 90 potent minutes from ten hours of confessional interviews, premiered at the 1992 Berlin Film Festival. A day after, Frau Junge died of cancer.
It begin for Traudl Junge with a Third Reich entry-level opening: the last secretary had suffered hysteria trying to type for her VIP boss. Martin Bormann discovered Junge and brought her to his commander's freezing-cold office. Hitler, Junge remembers, was "Very friendly. He said, 'My child, don't be nervous. Should I get an electric heater for you?'"
Hitler confided that he fretted about staff turnover, that pretty young women run off and marry. Junge persuaded him that such was not the case with her: "I've been without a man for 22 years," she told him. A virgin!
Der Fuhrer was a considerate employer from day one.
"He didn't want someone making coffee, or taking dictation," Junge says, and he wasn't the type to make passes. "I felt he was uneasy about anything erotic. He wasn't one to let himself go." Junge eavesdropped on her boss's private life. She watched him relying on the advice of his in-house physician, a Dr. Morrell, who supplied Adolf with homeopathic pills, and hormone injections "for digestion, for wind."
Hitler didn't like to be touched, and he would wash his hands after petting his beloved dog, Blondie. Even in the hottest weather, Der Fuhrer wore long pants. He admitted to his secretary, "I can't wear shorts because my knees are too white."
All for the good, but it is Junge herself who realizes, as the camera interview proceeds, the superficiality of her testimony: "All of these stories sound so banal," she says. Her interrogators probe deeper: how did the War outside enter the office? What about Hitler and the Jews?
Hitler didn't wish to talk about the War, especially as it began to go against Germany. In 1943, Junge was warned, "Don't bother him with questions about Stalingrad." Later, Hitler, with Junge among those accompanying him, would ride by train through Germany with the shades drawn, shrouding himself from the destruction. "He never saw a city which was bombed," claims Junge.
Similarly, Hitler almost never discussed the Jewish Question around his help. But Junge was witness to a seminal argument between Hitler and a well-placed woman, who challenged the Fuhrer to his face about his ill treatment of Jews. A livid Hitler struck out: "Don't interfere with things you don't understand. Such mawkishness and sentimentality!" At this time, Junge's unspoken thought: "What if he found Jewish blood in his own family? Would Hitler have gassed himself?"
Blind Spot-Hitler's Secretary has significant value: (a) as an extraordinary oral history of a witness to the inner workings of the Third Reich, and (b) as an intimate look at how a decent, well-behaved German dealt with running with Hitler: then and now, thinking back guiltily on her complicity with the genocidal Nazi regime.
For the first: Junge offers creepy remembrances of life within the Berlin bunker, where Adolf and Eva hid in 1946, before ending their lives. She talks of a despondent Hitler sitting in a hallway petting puppies, then trying out cyanide on Blondie to make sure it would work for him. And then there was the time that Junge and Frau Braun went up for air, to discover flowers growing in Berlin.
For the second: Junge began to see Hitler's downside, that, for example, "Human life meant nothing to him." But she never challenged him, because, "If you like and respect someone, you don't want to dent the image." Her epiphany came late, when she was asked to write down his last will. Instead of being contrite down in the bunker, Hitler blamed the Jews for causing all of this, and the Germany people for being unready, "so they must perish." When Hitler killed himself, Junge, a short distance away in the bunker, finally seethed with anger at the shortcomings of her boss.
(Boston Phoenix, March 2003)