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DAILY TELEGRAPH BOOKS OF THE YEAR and BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE BOOK CLUB title
'I want to be a beautiful corpse, I will take poison' Eva Braun, 1945
Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler were together for fourteen years, a relationship that ended only with their marriage and double suicide in Berlin. Braun was obsessed with sport, fashion, photography and films, and seems to have had no real interest in politics. She and Hitler were unmarried and they had no children. And so, at the heart of the Nazi regime there was an odd paradox: the leader of a ferocious dictatorship, himself obsessed with imposing an idea of the 'German family' on an entire nation, who chose to spend much of his adult life with a woman 23 years younger than himself in a way that was unideological and bohemian.
So who was Eva Braun? Heike Görtemaker's highly praised new book is the first to take Braun's role in the Nazi hierarchy seriously. It uses her to throw fascinating light on a regime that prided itself on its harsh, coherent and unsentimental ideology, but which was in practice a chaos of competing individuals fighting for space around the overwhelmingly dominant figure of Hitler. Braun had a special place 'at court'. She was both marginal and exceptional: a more powerful figure than 'the First Ladies of the Third Reich' such as Magda Goebbels and Margarete Speer, but someone who almost never chose to use that power.
Braun's life tells us a huge amount about a particular, catastrophic era in German history, both in her role as Hitler's companion and as the hostess at Nazi social events at the Berghof. Heike Görtemaker's book allows Braun to step out as much as possible from the shadows and fully inhabit her strange role at the heart of a terrible regime.
Known today primarily from a handful of personal photos with the F hrer and the reminiscences of his closest aides, Eva Braun is often thought of as a stereotypically vapid dumb blond, in thrall to Hitler's magnetism, but ignorant of and uninterested in the political tumult he caused. Braun, 23 years Hitler's junior, was long thought to have been merely the leader's arm candy, never having a truly intimate or emotional bond with the man who said the only bride he would consent to marry was Germany itself. G rtemaker challenges these assumptions in the first scholarly biography of Hitler's mistress, originally published in German last year. Having painstakingly reviewed the archives for references to Braun's relationship with Hitler, G rtemaker presents a portrait of an engaged and engaging young woman, fervently supportive of National Socialism and one of the few members of Hitler's inner circle to never lose his trust or fall out of affection. Though a full account is hampered by the lack of revealing documents (a stash of hundreds of love letters that Braun ordered preserved just before her suicide has never been found and is presumed destroyed), this telling sheds more light on the central question in the narrative of Eva Braun: "Did she share the political positions and basic worldview of her lover or was she merely the tragic slave,' who nonetheless profited from Hitler's power by enjoying the luxurious life that he offered her?" Photos.