Eva Braun was only 17 when she first met Hitler. In October 1929, she was working late in Heinrich Hoffmann's photography shop when her boss introduced her to "Herr Wolf", who turned out to be Adolf Hitler. The three shared a meal of beer and sausages, during which time Hitler is said to have "devoured her with his eyes". Despite the 23-year age gap, Braun was to become an important presence in Hitler's life.
Given how much attention historians have paid to Nazi Germany, it is perhaps surprising how little we know about Hitler's young, sporty, photography-mad girlfriend from Munich. Keen to preserve his image as a demigod guided by Providence to restore Germany to its former glory, the Nazi leader was determined to keep the relationship a secret. To party members, Hitler lost no opportunity in emphasising that he lived only for politics, explaining his decision not to marry by saying: "I have another bride: Germany! I am married to the German people and their fate!"
His actions were riven with contradictions. He exhorted German women to see their primary role as wives and mothers and hoped to encourage couples to marry with generous "marriage loans". Yet he rejected this route for himself.
Why did Hitler relent only at the final hour, when the Russian tanks were rolling into Berlin, and marry Eva Braun 40 hours before their double suicide? Was Hitler afraid to expose himself to a wife's influence, which might make him vulnerable? Maybe he felt that if he took a wife, his appeal would be diminished in the eyes of the female electorate. This was not a risk he was prepared to take, and Braun occupied a curiously privileged yet hidden position in Hitler's inner circle.
Heike Görtemaker's meticulous book (translated by Damion Searls) is not a sensationalised tell-all account of Hitler and Braun's love life. It cannot be, for so much of the evidence was destroyed in the final days of the Third Reich. The book reassesses the sources that remain. It explains what we can and what we can't know about Hitler's girlfriend, and dispels the the many myths pedalled by the surviving members of the Nazi elite.
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