Lord Byron wrote, “Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart/Tis a woman’s whole existence.” This sentiment epitomized Adolf Hitler’s relationship with his consort who had the rather unenviable distinction of being the partner of the man history has dubbed evil incarnate.
Friedrich “Fritz” Braun and Franziska “Fanny” were a typical lower-middle class couple in Munich, parents of three daughters: Ilse, Eva and Margarete, “Gretl.” Their lives, similar to most of their countrymen, were a study in survival due to the hyperinflation which crippled Germany following defeat in World War I. Nevertheless, they did their best for their children who attended the local Catholic school. Their middle daughter was indistinguishable from her friends whose lives revolved around typical teen pursuits of boys, make-up, clothes and sports. After the lyceum she enrolled in the Convent of the English Sisters in Simbach am Inn where she achieved average grades and indulged in dancing, gymnastics, Hollywood movies and romance novels. She also enjoyed the plays of Oscar Wilde (at least until they were banned when her boyfriend came to power.) In 1929 Ilse obtained a job as an assistant for Dr. Martin Levy Marx whose relationship moved from professional to intimate.
In September, Eva answered an ad in a Munich newspaper for a trainee position and began working as an assistant to Heinrich Hoffman, the photographer instrumental in the making of Hitler’s official image as a demi-god. Eva, an eager apprentice, developed a passion for the camera and became adept at taking and developing pictures.
She would no doubt have lived and died an unknown hausfrau except for an October, 1929 encounter when the 40- year-old leader of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party paid a visit to his personal photographer and saw a blonde seventeen-year-old girl. As the door opened, Eva was standing on a ladder which gave Hitler an eyeful of shapely legs; Eva saw the man behind the images who had a funny moustache. Hoffman introduced the visitor as “Herr Wolff,” Hitler’s childhood nickname and one used only by members of his inner circle. Hitler did not pursue Eva as he was involved in a romantic relationship with his young niece Geli Raubal, of whom he was obsessed. When Geli committed suicide in their home with her Uncle Alf’s gun, the small part of Hitler’s DNA which was human was devastated. Months later he remembered the pretty girl he had met two years earlier who bore a striking resemblance to Geli; she was to serve as the classic rebound.
Heinrich Hoffman then played a new role for his Fuhrer- matchmaker. However, before Hitler agreed to go on a first date he had Martin Bormann scrutinize her background in case she had any Jewish blood hidden amongst her family skeletons. When she was deemed of undiluted Aryan stock, dates at the cinema, opera and drives in his Mercedes followed, heady fare for a girl to whom luxury was a stranger. The appeal of Hitler to Eva was getting attention from Germany’s leading Alpha male; Eva’s appeal was she was an impressionable girl which would allow him to serve as svengali. He explained his philosophy, “A highly intelligent man should always choose a primitive and stupid woman.” The comment- which could have proved a relationship buster- was taken with the proverbial grain of salt. After all, of all the German volk she had been chosen by the world’s most powerful man as his lover. Within a year, she had lost her virginity in Hitler’s home, on a couch filled with fluffy pillows. On the walls were two photographs: one of Klara Hitler, (his Mother) and the other of Geli Raubal.
Though no definitive knowledge exists of what really happened behind the closed doors of the Fuhrer’s bedroom, historical speculation has ranged from homosexuality to abstinence. The sole peephole into Hitler’s sex life is he liked Eva to sport chamois leather underwear. (Fortunately for mankind she never got pregnant.) Whatever transpired behind that curtain, Adolf became the sun around which Eva’s life orbited. Hitler, however, had a different agenda. He was committed to his public persona and thus presented himself as the husband of every German woman, “Germany is my only bride.” He elaborated on this to Reich architect Albert Speer, “It’s just like an actor when he marries. For the women who have worshipped him, he is no longer their idol in the same way.” Although he refused to get married to preserve his elevated status, a secret girlfriend was another matter.
Adolf was immune to the tears of his lonely lover as he did not have much time for her during the Nazi rise to power: there were the Reichstag elections to win, the chancellorship to obtain, the masses to whip up, the Jews to persecute. In despair or bid for attention, Eva shot herself in the neck; when she recovered she claimed she had been symbolically aiming at her heart. This suggests she was either a remarkably bad shot or she had manipulated the master manipulator. As a variation on a theme of her favorite playwright Oscar Wilde: to lose one girlfriend to a self-inflicted gunshot wound may be regarded as a misfortune; to both looks like carelessness. Hitler told Hoffman that he now recognized that “the girl really loved him” and he bought her a phone for her home so that she no longer had to sleep on a bench at the photography shop, waiting for his call. He further placated Eva by installing her in a villa near his own Munich home, one replete with a maid, Mercedes and chauffeur.
With excess funds for the first time in her life, Eva filled her emotional vacuum with acquisition for material goods and changed her outfits several times a day. Although she had an opulent lifestyle, she remained depressed because she was deprived of the one thing she coveted, her lover’s constant company. When the affair cooled off again in 1935, Eva confided to her diary of her commitment-phobic Adolf, “Love seems not to be on his agenda at the moment.” In response she staged a second suicide attempt when she overdosed on the sleeping pill Phanodorm. Her inert body was discovered by Ilse who immediately contacted Dr. Marx. In his official report he employed the euphemism ‘excessive fatigue.’ Twice proved a charm and he agreed to meet her suitably star-struck parents. Moreover, proving he knew how to show a girl a good time, allowed her to attend the Nazi Party rally at Nuremberg. Eva understood the psychology that the way to a dictator’s heart was through self-violence. He also installed Eva at Berghof, his mountain retreat in the cloud-swirled Bavarian Alps, (from which he could nostalgically view his native Austria,) and which he had purchased with funds from Mein Kampf (My Struggle.) In a nod to propriety she had her own apartment next to her lover’s but it was general knowledge to his intimates she was the mistress of the unique manor. Evenings would find them in the study, adorned with Hitler’s watercolors, where she would sip wine while he drank tea. Their favorite song was “Blutrote Rosesn” “Blood Red Roses.”
In the magnificent chalet on the hill Eva and Gretl, two Catholic girls from the lower-middle class, got to meet the highest ranking Nazis and foreign dignitaries including David Lloyd George, the Aga Khan, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Benito Mussolini. Although Hitler demanded she remain circumspect about their relationship, she giggled when she saw a photograph of Neville Chamberlain sitting on the sofa in Hitler’s Munich home, “If only he knew what goings-on that sofa has seen.” Eva was not permitted to attend the meetings of the top brass, (she was so disinterested in politics she never joined the Nazi Party,) but was nevertheless Berghof’s acknowledged hostess. At meals she sat at Adolf’s left and felt unassailable enough to rebuke him for being late for dinner and to shush him when he monopolized the conversation. She was also the only who was able to challenge his high will: although it infuriated him she refused to stop habits he found anathema: eating meat, nude swimming, and wearing make-up. On the otherend were his aides who were too nervous even to awaken him with news of the D-Day invasion.
Eva most truly came into her own when she could record her world through the eyes of the lens and she captured the secret life of the Nazis when they allowed themselves to take a break from world domination, catching in intimate close-ups, as in the German-American writer Hannah Arendt’s phrase, “the banality of evil.” These images serve as a visual diary of the henchmen: relaxing on the terrace of the chalet, drinking coffee and eating cakes, Hitler patting the head of his adored Alsatian Blondi or walking Eva’s two Scottish Terriers, Negus and Stasi. When he first saw Eva’s black puppy he quipped, “My God, what is this? Racial mixing?” The candid pictures are in sharp contrast to Hoffman’s idealized ones, and make for the world’s most macabre photo album. Although Adolf continued in his refusal to marry Eva, he spoke of spending his life with her. In the Berghof was a model of Linz, his native city he dreamt of turning into the artistic capital of the Reich. He stated, “Aside from Fraulein Braun, I’ll take no one with me.” It was under its sacred soil he wished to be buried by the side of Eva.
Another token of his affection, one given on the occasion of her 27th birthday, was an Eszeha wristwatch; on its back was engraved: Zun 6.2.1939 herzlichst (most affectionately A. Hitler). He also made a provision in his will providing her with 12,000 Reichsmarks annually. However, there were limits to what he was willing to do. Eva futilely tried to intercede on the behalf of her sister Ilse and Dr. Marx whose sexual liaison was criminalized under the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor which carried the charge of ‘defiling the race.” The physician eventually escaped to New York in 1938 and Eva found her a job as a receptionist for Speer. Eva also pleaded the case for her other sister, Gretl who had married SS Gruppenfuhrer Hermann Fegelein and was nine months pregnant when Hitler executed her husband for desertion in the garden of the Reich Chancellery.
The treatment of her two sisters would have been a deal-breaker for most women but Eva never faltered in her devotion. She comforted him in the 1936 Berlin Olympics when African-American Jesse Owens defeated his Aryan athletes, the 1943 German debacle in the Battle of Stalingrad, and the 1944 assassination attempt by Claus von Stauffenberg. Upon learning of this Eva wrote, “From our first meeting I swore to follow you anywhere even unto death. I live only for your love.” It was her unerring loyalty which led him to say, “Only my dog and Eva are faithful to me and belong to me.”
The true litmus test of fidelity came in the spring of 1945 when the Red Army was reaching the Reichstag; Eva rushed from Munich to Berlin to be with Hitler in the squalid Fuhrerbunker. On midnight on April 28th, Eva Anna Paula Braun finally got her wish-without even attempting a further suicide attempt-to become Frau Hitler. However, it was a wedding like no other. The bride wore a black dress-one which her lover had always admired, accessorized by Italian shoes and her diamond watch.The groom was in the throes of madness- and kept muttering, “Es ist alles verloren, huff nongslos verloren.” “All is lost, hopelessly lost.” The only guests were Bormann and Goebbels who toasted the new couple with champagne. Goebbels quickly absented himself to join his wife Magda in order to poison their six children before following suit. In a nod to romance and their impending doom, the song on the victrola was “Blood-Red Roses.”
Their marriage which Eva had waited for fourteen years was only of forty hours duration. The honeymoon consisted of Hitler testing out a cyanide capsule on Blondi before Eva ingested her own; two minutes later Hitler died with a pistol shot to his temple. The Hitlers’ final burial was 290 miles away from his dream city of Linz; their cremated bodies were buried in the Reich Chancery Garden above the bunker. In 1970 the KGB re-burned the remains of husband and wife, and scattered their ashes on a river near Magdeburg.
Hitler had once remarked, “There are two ways of judging a man’s character. By the woman he marries and by the way he dies.” History judges the dictator on far more but the quote says a great deal about Eva based on her choice of spouse. Pinning her life to such a man led to her own mein kampf. Eva was just one of Hitler’s millions of victims; what made her unique was she was a willing one.
Othello’s words, after smothering his wife Desdemona, before taking his own life, can serve as Eva Braun’s own mea culpa: “When you shall these unlucky deeds relate, Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate, Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak of one that loved not wisely, but too well.” A chance encounter at a photography studio destined Eva Braun to become the real life Little Red Riding Hood, devoured by Herr Wolff.