Documenting the final days of the Nazi regime and its leader

How does one deal with a subject that runs against every single positive human emotion? As much as one might like to turn one’s back and ignore the facts, the 6 million tickets sold of Oliver Hirschbiegel’s «Downfall» – the movie presents the last few days of the Nazi elite in the Fuhrer’s bunker – and the publishing success of the memoirs of Traudl Junge, Hitler’s secretary (250,000 copies in Germany alone; Greek edition by Medusa), command attention. On the occasion of the film’s premiere in Greece and the presence in Athens of Melissa Muller, editor of «Until the Final Hour: Hitler’s Last Secretary,» the Goethe Institute in Athens recently organized a tribute. The film, which was based on Junge’s memoirs portrays Hitler’s human side: private moments in the bunker, and his final hours. Apart from the movie, the memoirs have also sparked a documentary. Junge passed away just a week after the book was published, but after also having seen the documentary and given her approval. Speaking to Kathimerini, Melissa Muller offered her own take on Traudl Junge’s experience, one of the last remaining accounts of one of humanity’s most tragic periods. Do you believe that Traudl Junge was really so naive? I wouldn’t exactly call her naive. Like the majority of the German population, she was not interested in politics. What she really wanted to become was a dancer, so whatever pretext could get her out of Munich was welcome. She became Hitler’s secretary by pure coincidence. She felt charmed by Hitler, flattered by the position. She had admired him ever since she was a child. Perhaps what proves her naivete, her responsibility and her guilt for what happened, was that she ignored a lot of things because she wasn’t interested. In the book, she claims that she lived in a golden cage, a place that was entirely cut off from the rest of the world, where there was no information. She began working for Hitler in 1942. The war had already started by then. She could have known; she could have been informed. She had heard of the bombing, of what was going on. Yet she was under Hitler’s influence. She might even have asked him. His answer would have been that it was all in aid of the great, final victory. That was enough for her. Why did you seek out her testimony? My first contact with Junge had nothing to do with this book. I was involved in another project which is still a work in progress: art in the Third Reich. I went looking for her in order to find out about Hitler as a person, what he was like in his private life, how he felt about art, music and painting. In the beginning, Junge was very negative. But that quickly changed. I realized that she was «terribly» nice – I’m using the word with its double meaning. For me, it was equally difficult to approach this person. Nazism was a very difficult issue for my generation. Yet Junge seemed honest and she came across as a very likable person. She spoke to me about her desperation, her despair. She had been Hitler’s secretary and nothing could change that. She felt guilty because she had not thought of all the things she should have in the first place. I wrote a biography of Anne Frank and gave it to her. She was really touched. The question of her honesty was still haunting me. I became a regular visitor. At one point, she gave me her diaries – for reading, not for publication. About a year later, she agreed for them to be published. She had great reservations and she felt ashamed of herself; she defined herself as a «lady-in-waiting.» I believed her when she said that she didn’t know, because she didn’t want to know. Of course, that does not absolve her of responsibility… Surely not, and that is reprehensible. But she was the first to condemn herself. Otherwise, she would never have made that book. In the last few years, there seems to be renewed interest in the subject of Nazism’s rise and fall. Why is that, in your opinion? I wouldn’t qualify it as renewed, but a kind of interest that has never really faded. Perhaps it seems greater these days because the issues are much more analyzed. There is less weight on the shoulders of this generation and therefore they can approach these issues in a more open way. At the same time, people realize that all those who witnessed that period will not be around for much longer and so they are trying to preserve some kind of testimony. Is dealing with this issue a burden or perhaps a desire for catharsis? What is it that weighs more on the German people? Only a few would admit to it being a burden, an inner burden. Traudl Junge is one of the people who admitted it. A burden in the sense of guilt and responsibility. On the occasion of the 60 years since the end of the war, there is a lot of discussion in Germany of this subject. There is a certain «culture of memory,» where Germans themselves «remember.» In a certain way, they also pay tribute to themselves, for being victims. Because they too were bombarded, they suffered as well. Yet they never forget that before they became victims they were first culprits and criminals. It’s a kind of perception that hurts the Jewish people a lot. What kind of direction does the discussion take? They wonder how all of this ever happened. Germany possessed culture. They wonder how all of them, nearly all of them together, in unison, approved all this happening, allowed it. Several times in the book readers might feel somewhat uncomfortable, like the scene in which Junge describes the SS commander weeping at the theater during a classic melodrama performance. I had a hard time with that as well. Perhaps we approach the entire Nazi leadership as monsters. And why not?, you might add. It never occurred to us, however, that they too had feelings, coupled with an obsession. Junge says that she never heard Hitler screaming. Yet we all recognize him as somebody who was very loud. Junge herself was never capable of bringing the two images of Hitler together. She describes him as a lovable man toward his secretaries. Did Junge stay next to him till the end out of fear or out of admiration? Surely she must have had her doubts during the final period. She was beginning to «see.» A decisive factor in her deciding to stay was the fact that she didn’t know where to go. She was ashamed of meeting her friends. The difference between her and other Hitler associates is that she didn’t believe that her life would end with the fall of Nazism. She didn’t have that kind of dependency relationship. The interview was translated from the Greek text.

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