Friday, July 29, 2011

The Lost Life of Eva Braun by Angela Lambert

I found this on The Onion last night:

New Documentary Focuses On Life Of Eva Braun's Late Husband

NEW YORK—The History Channel announced Thursday it will air a new documentary this fall examining the life of the late husband of prewar German model and amateur photographer Eva Braun. "This film is a fascinating, in-depth look at a central figure in Eva Braun's life," said History Channel spokesman Charles Lansing, adding that the broadcast will feature more than 300 archival images of Braun with her husband, a German civil servant and vegetarian noted for his charisma and interest in art. "Braun's longtime lover had a significant impact on her views regarding politics and aesthetics, and the footage of him we've unearthed highlights the persuasive power of the man she often wrote about." Lansing added that the new documentary, entitled The Man Behind Eva Braun, will cover the very active life of Braun's spouse right up to his sudden passing in 1945 in the basement of the couple's Berlin apartment.

Thought it was fitting.

I can't tell you how much I loved The Lost Life of Eva Braun. I'm kind of sad to give it back to the library now...anybody wants to get me a present I'd gladly take a copy of this book.

I did my thesis on Lee Miller's photojournalism during WWII so I spent 4 months completely immersed in the war and at the end of it all I sat back and said, "Wait a second. Hitler had a girlfriend through the whole thing. WHO WOULD EVER-?! WHAT?! WHY!!??? HHHHOOWW?! WWWWHOOOO????????!" So I decided to find out. Like I said above, I found this book at my library and it's in nearly pristine condition, I doubt it's been taken out more than 4 times. It's pretty new, too, published in 2006. Come to think of it, the librarian that checked it out for me didn't even know we had it.

On to the review:

It's been the intention of history to remove all humanity from Hitler & co., to portray them strictly as monsters and not human beings. Documents like personal letters were destroyed in order to keep evidence of their humanity from the public. I take issue with that, as holding them up as symbols of evil, caricatures even, removes the elements that we all have in common with them which makes it so easy for us to say "That will never be me" or "I'll never fall in love with a fascist dictator"'s possible. It's possible, is all I'm saying.

The Lost Life takes an amazing perspective on the war because it's not in the concentration camps or Anne Frank's attic or any of the many many armies involved, it's civilian life in Europe, particularly Germany, at the time. Angela Lambert's mother was actually born within a few weeks of Eva Braun, so Lambert uses stories from her mother's life to supplement the little information available about Eva's childhood, and also to give her back that bit of human-ness: Eva's practically a ghost, floating through modern history as we know her name and little else.

That's about as much as most people knew at the time, as well. Hitler refused to make their relationship public, and Eva didn't end up even moving in with him until the late thirties even though Eva was essentially promoted to Hitler's #1 lady after his niece, Geli Raubal, committed suicide. And even after they began living together only the very, very top of the Nazi hierarchy and the personal maids of Hitler and Eva even knew who she was- on the phone directory for the Berghof (Hitler's main house in the German countryside) she was listed as a secretary. The few times they attended the same public event she was forced to sit far from Hitler with the other, actual, secretaries. At the Berghof she was confined to her room.

And while it's easy to view her as an anti-Semite and racist Nazi, Eva and most of her family never joined the Nazi party (except for her father, but he only did it to please Hitler). In fact, Hitler even presented her with an award he had made for non-Nazis that provided him with great services. And given her strict Catholic upbringing and patronage of Jewish clothing and shoe designers throughout the war (even after the ban on Jewish merchants was placed) it's unlikely that she was anti-Semitic. And given Hitler's strict orders that no one ever discuss anything war or politic related with Eva it's possible she never even knew about the camps, and even attempted to intercede with Hitler on behalf of a few friends (of course he ignored her, but she tried and reacted to the few incidents she did hear about.)

Lambert's book is impeccably researched (did anybody know that we, the United States, actually hold Eva's personal diary in our archives? We confiscated it during the war and it now resides in the National Archives in Maryland, along with Eva's own personal photo albums and home movies she took while living at the Berghof) and richly detailed. Her chapters on the last few weeks of Eva and Hitler's life in the underground bunker are vivid and emotional. The paragraphs on how Eva and the maids pitched in to make the last few days of the six Goebbels children as comfortable as possible knowing that their parents had already decided to murder them when the time came are particularly heartbreaking.

It's an incredible book with a unique angle on history and human nature. It also gives an in-depth look to German childhood in the early 20th century, showing how the stars aligned to make Hitler and Eva perfect for each other (Fathers, love your daughters for who they are so they don't fall in love with the first older man that shows them the slightest bit of positive attention). An absolute must-read for anyone An absolute must read for anyone, period.

5 starts out of 5.

See Blauthor, Blauthor! for more of my reviews!

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