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Gitta Sereny interviews Hitler's Private Secretary Traudl Junge

The Sunday Times

September 25, 2000

 Illustrations added by this website; the picture of
Traudl Junge is from her
interview in The Fatal Attraction


Traudl Junge, Hitler's secretary from 1943, says the Führer she knew was kind, paternal and fond of gossip.

Interview by Gitta Sereny (left, by Gary)

Junge today: "I can't deny how I felt about him"

Hitler's two faces

TRAUDL JUNGE is 80 now, slim, elegant, white-haired but smooth-skinned and quite beautiful. One can easily imagine what she must have been like at 22, in December 1942[1] (her name then Gertraud Humps), Jungewhen Hitler chose her out of a shortlist of nine from hundreds of young applicants to become his fourth, and youngest, secretary.

When I went to see her a few weeks ago in her flower-filled studio flat in Munich, her birthplace and home, the German edition of Ian Kershaw's Nemesis -- the second volume of his Hitler biography -- was lying on her table. It had arrived only the day before but she had already read the last six chapters. "I don't understand much about military things," she says, "but these pages are about the time I worked for him, from January 1943 to the end." She has become weary of reading Nazi history: "There is so much of it, so much of it the same or wrong." But she is impressed by Kershaw's objectivity.[2]

"He is different, perhaps because he is of a different generation. The way he presents what the 'Red Threat' meant to us in the early years, and how Hitler used it, is quite extraordinary. It isn't that he defends or justifies us in any way, but he appears to understand, better than others have done, how it ended up with the Germans being not oppressed, of course, as were the Poles and Russians later, but psychologically subjugated by Hitler. That terrible, terrible charisma of his, all of it serving -- we know it now but didn't then -- his ultimate megalomaniac goal, a race-selected United Europe under German domination.

"Only a foreign historian can look at Hitler like this; no German could have this distanz, not even the younger ones, not yet. That is probably why, except for Joachim Fest's 20 years ago, there is barely a Hitler biography written by a German."

HitlerJunge is now one of the last survivors of Hitler's inner circle and there are many details of her two-and-a-half years with him that she can no longer recall. "Anyway, all the facts are known," she says. "What I can, well, perhaps still contribute is the atmosphere around him, the different man we knew . . ." she is not given to hyperbole and hesitated for a moment ". . . the two men he was."

Junge and I are not strangers. Over the past 50 years, every historian and every journalist who wrote about the Third Reich, including me repeatedly, has tried to pick her brains about the people who were part of this intimate group, and about Hitler himself, whom she knew in a way only a secretary could.[3] To her he had always been kind, concerned about her welfare, "very paternal", she says. She still does not like to talk about these feelings. "It embarrasses people. They don't understand, and how can they? But I can't and won't deny how I felt about him then."

Speer with Irving at Frankfurt Book FairA little like Albert Speer (right, with David Irving in 1980), whom she respected, and sympathised with after he left Spandau prison -- in contrast to most of Hitler's circle, who, loyal to Hitler to their deaths, rejected Speer as a traitor), she went through a long period of reflection and deep disillusionment after the war, and to this day has periods of depression. She is convinced that Hitler basically had two separate personalities, of which she and all the "ladies" of his close circle -- his mistress Eva Braun (for just 24 hours at the end his wife), his four secretaries, the wife of his personal physician (Annie Brandt), his favourite military aide (Maria von Below) and Albert Speer's wife Margret -- saw only the human, often charming side.

"We never saw him as the statesman; we didn't attend any of his conferences. We were summoned only when he wanted to dictate and he was as considerate then as he was in private. And our office, both in the Reichschancellery and in the bunkers, was so far removed from his command quarters that we never saw or even heard any of his rages that we heard whispers about. We knew his timetable, whom he received, but except for the few men he sometimes had to meals we attended, such as Speer, the other architect, [Hermann] Giesler, or his photographer, [Heinrich] Hoffmann, we rarely saw any of them

[after Stalingrad the two older secretaries shared Hitler's lunch, the younger ones his supper and one was always detailed to host the post-midnight tea].

"My colleagues told me that in the earlier years he talked incessantly, about the past and the future, but after Stalingrad, well, I don't remember many monologues. We all tried to distract him, with talk about films, or gossip, anything that would take his mind off the war. He loved gossip. That was part of that other side of him, which was basically the only one we saw."

And she recalls the first dictation she took from him, the test that was to decide her future, at the "Wolfsschanze", his East Prussian field HQ, in December 1942. "Later I realised what a dreadful time that was for him, just before Stalingrad. But you wouldn't have guessed it: the only thing he seemed to have on his mind was to make me comfortable and reassure me." Hitler hated heat, she says. "His working quarters were kept at 11 degrees and, imagine, he had them bring in a heater for me." (Three years later, in the Berlin bunker, hours before his suicide, she would have a similar experience.

"'How are you, my dear?' he asked me. 'Have you had a bit of rest? I want to dictate to you. Do you think you are up to it?'." She realised what he wanted to dictate only when he said the title, "My Testament".

His voice when dictating -- always straight into the machine, she says -- was usually quiet but, at times, when working on speeches, it would suddenly became raucous, his gestures studiedly expansive.

"It happened from one moment to the next, and he was clearly acting, rehearsing, performing." This "performance" would include the use of awful words that he never used in private. "His speeches all had these words in them [about the Jews and the Slavs] and I now know that one simply got used to them, didn't really hear them, blocked them. And an instant later, he would be quiet again, professorial with his steel-rimmed glasses."


She has been convinced for years now that genocide, of whole populations as well as of the Jews, was on his mind from the start.[4] But she is bewildered to this day how it could be that these dictated speeches, orders and aides-memoire, continually revised as he spoke and thus obviously containing his ideas and plans, failed so completely to reveal, both to her and her three colleagues, the fatal essence of that other, that second, man. "What with having to be available to him day and night and at the same time sharing most of his private life, meals and leisure, we, too, I now know, led a dual existence," she says. "But that never occurred to us at the time and, isolated from the experiences of other Germans, we accepted as normal our not only very privileged but entirely abnormal life."

Was she aware of Hitler's impulsiveness?

"Kershaw's biography reminded me how unsystematic everything was, his political and military decisions, his life, really. Putting together what this book now shows us and what I probably felt in my bones then but only understand consciously now, the essential thing about Hitler probably was that his mind and his actions were ruled not by knowledge, but by emotion. I had never understood until now how he, who supposedly so loved the Germans, was prepared to sacrifice them so cold-bloodedly at the end. I have never understood myself the effect he had on all of us, including the generals. It was more than charisma, you know. Sometimes when he went off somewhere without us, the moment he was gone, it was almost as if the air around us had become deficient. Some essential element was missing: electricity, even oxygen, an awareness of being alive -- there was a . . . a vacuum.

"What was decisive, perhaps from the start I think, was that -- different, I now know, even from other dictators -- he had no peer; there was no one whom he could, or indeed would, consult for advice, or who would have dared to question his decisions. Speer was basically the only one he felt emotion for, listened to and could really talk with, but not about politics. [Josef] Goebbels could have filled that other role, except that -- we knew this though Goebbels never did -- Hitler didn't feel anything for him; he was, in a way, too intellectual. It sounds absurd, but I think he intimidated him. Of course, Goebbels would have done anything for him and in the end he, his wife and their children died for him."

In the last days in the bunker, they felt like automatons: "We had no normal feelings any more; we thought of nothing except death. Hitler and Eva, when they would die, when the six Goebbels children would be killed, when and how we would die."

All feelings of rank had gone.

"I asked Magda Goebbels, who looked like a ghost, whether there wasn't something that could be done to get the children out. And she answered that she preferred for her children to die than for them to live in the disgrace of the Germany that would be left."

When, two hours before Hitler killed himself,[5] she found herself alone with him in the conference room, waiting to take down his last will, she felt intensely that this was the moment of truth.

"I thought that now I would be the first person on earth to know why all this had happened. He would say something that explained it all, that would teach us something, leave us with something. But then, as he dictated, my God, that long list of ministers he so grotesquely appointed to succeed his Government, I thought -- yes, I did then think -- how undignified it all was. Just the same phrases, in the same quiet tone, and then, at the end of it, those terrible words about the Jews. After all the despair, all the suffering, not one word of sorrow, of compassion. I remember thinking, he has left us with nothing. A nothing."

Hitler in conference

Illustration from David Irving: Hitler's War. [Buy this picture as a 2' x 3' Focal Point poster]

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