Achtung baby!

HITLER AND GELI by Ronald Hayman, Bloomsbury pounds 17.99

On 18 September 1931 a 23-year-old woman named Angela ("Geli") Raubal was found dead in a Munich apartment with a bullet wound in her heart; the inquest verdict was suicide. At first sight, just another chore for the homicide division of Bavaria's corrupt police force. But the woman was Hitler's half-niece (the daughter of a half-sister), and the leader of the Nazi party (and soon-to-be Reichsfuhrer) had been having an affair with her for four years. All historical evidence agrees that Hitler was devastated by Geli's death and contemplated suicide himself. By common consent Geli was the only woman he ever loved. So what had happened? Did Geli really kill herself and if so, why? Or had she been liquidated by Nazi paramilitaries?

Ronald Hayman's extraordinarily able reconstruction of this event focuses on two aspects of the case: Hitler's sexuality and the official suicide verdict. A mass of conflicting evidence has come down to us on Hitler as sexual being, but Hayman seems on firm ground in claiming that the Nazi leader was monorchid (he had only one testicle), that he was intermittently impotent and that his basic libidinal drive was sado-masochistic. Hayman has sifted the evidence with great care and made effective use of the key pieces of eyewitness data: Albert Speer's revelations to the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm and the testimony to Allied interrogators in 1943 by former "left-Nazi" Otto Strasser.

Hitler's relations with significant women were always shot through by motifs of suicide and death-drive. Eva Braun threatened suicide many times and finally accepted the pact of death in the bunker in 1945. The movie actress Renate Muller jumped from a window in 1937 to foil her SS executioners. The usual story is that she had taken a lover without Hitler's permission and in revenge he sent a hit-squad to deal with her. But the real reason is that she knew too much about the Fuhrer's sexual preferences; he liked Muller to beat him savagely while he masturbated.

Geli Raubal came into Hitler's life in 1927 when her mother took the post as housekeeper at her half-brother's house near Berchtesgaden. Two years later Hitler moved into a nine-room apartment in Munich with Geli. Among other sexual perversions, Hitler liked to lie beneath his naked mistress gazing into her genitalia until Geli performed the grand finale by urinating on him. Knowledge of Hitler's special tastes made Geli dangerous once the Nazis got close to real power in Germany, as they did in 1930, following the death of Gustave Stresemann and the world economic crisis triggered by the 1929 Wall Street Crash.

Hayman provides a convincing psychological study of Geli, a young woman of easy virtue in conventional terms but terrified of her uncle's dark side, which she had glimpsed in the boudoir. In the early years of their relationship Hitler connived at her infidelity with his chauffeur, Emil Maurice, and at her other affairs. Once Hitler moved her into the flat in Munich he controlled her more tightly. Why did he not marry her? Partly, as Hayman suggests, because he despised women and partly, as Jung pointed out, because a medicine-man type of thaumaturge (essentially what the Fuhrer was) can never marry. Geli appears to have been a dog in the manger. She had no real feeling for "Uncle Alf" but did not want any other woman to have her role on the manipulative inside track.

Hayman is at his very best in disentangling the tragedy of September 1931. It is true that Hitler was losing interest in Geli and that the Nazi party might have wanted her out of the way as a dangerous source of damaging scandal about their leader. Yet a hit-squad would hardly have assassinated her in Hitler's own flat. That leaves the official verdict of suicide, but Hayman proves conclusively that this was a lie hurriedly concocted by Hess and others, and abetted by corrupt doctors and officials. The most plausible interpretation is that Hitler and Geli had one of their frequent, volcanic rows, and that it got out of hand. The likely sequence of events is that she told him she was pregnant by another man, that he became angry and threatened to shoot them both with a pistol, that there was a brief struggle during which the gun went off, and that Geli fell mortally wounded. It was Hitler's habit to emerge suddenly from rages and become quite rational again. Hayman speculates, plausibly enough, that he thought better of his earlier threat to kill himself and instead instituted a cover-up.

This is a riveting short book, which occasionally reads like La Ronde written by a black humourist, especially when we read that Geli first went to bed with Maurice out of jealousy, because "Uncle Alf" was flirting with Winifred Wagner, the statuesque English wife of Wagner's homosexual son, Siegfried. Hayman does his best to make sense of the sometimes alarming inconsistencies in the evidence: we cannot even learn with certainty from a plethora of eyewitnesses what colour Geli's eyes were. Hayman can sometimes be a harsh critic of other historians - both Joachim Fest and Allan Bullock underestimated Geli's age by two years - and this precision would be more welcome if he did not himself fall into silly errors, such as describing Sulla as a Roman emperor. But nothing can disguise the fact that this is a first-rate piece of historical detective work.

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