By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
When the movie Max -- a fictionalized account of Hitler’s youth as an aspiring artist -- was released last Christmas, some Jewish notables objected, complaining that the film ”humanized“ Hitler and was therefore inaccurate. They‘re going to have an even harder time with a new documentary about how nice Hitler was to the help. In the film Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary, Traudl Junge, the woman to whom Hitler dictated his last will and political testament in the Berlin bunker, drops 60 years of self-imposed silence to tell what it was like to live with the Fuhrer on the slippery slope down from Stalingrad.
Young Traudl Humps (as she was in 1942), a novice secretary from Bavaria, took to her new employer on sight. The ”lovely old gentleman“ was kind and attentive, had courtly manners, and proved as solicitous of his employees as he was of his lover, Eva Braun, and his beloved dog, Blondi. He preferred to lunch with his secretaries instead of his adjutants -- the pretty young women were his intimates, and none more so than Humps, his private secretary. He roared with appreciative laughter when she stoutly informed him that she had managed without a man all her life (she was 22) and was not about to run off and get married now. Best of all, he addressed her as ”my child,“ which was enormously gratifying for a fatherless young woman who had grown up under the dubious care of a tyrannical grandfather.
That Hitler was also der Fuhrer signified little to his secretary except that he was the big cheese of a brave new Germany. To be attached to Hitler, a wised-up Traudl Junge (she was briefly married to a Hitler aide who was killed at the front) recalls in 2001, was to live in virtual quarantine from reality. He was a man who dealt only in abstractions -- humanity didn‘t interest him. His retinue traveled with him from his headquarters at Wolf’s Lair to Berlin in a special train with the blinds pulled down. The word ”Jew“ hardly ever came up. One unfortunate visitor who voiced a passing qualm over the way Jews were being treated was thrown out and never invited again -- a light punishment by Hitlerian standards, but indicative of the way the Fuhrer dismissed all evidence that muddied his obsession with the ideal.
Still, he was a man. What makes Hitler appalling was not that he was inhuman, but that he expanded the range of human capacity for cruelty. Others have followed him: Watching Slobodan Milosevic -- isolated, unremorseful and contemptuous of his judges in the dock at the Hague -- who could doubt that, given the chance and the resources, he would have pursued ethnic cleansing to the full genocide of a people? As Junge painfully came to see, her boss kept his contradictions ever more monstrously compartmentalized as his fortunes waned. He worshipped Eva Braun (possibly without sex -- Hitler disliked being touched) but didn‘t hesitate to execute her brother-in-law for an alleged betrayal. He couldn’t stand flowers in his room because he hated being around anything dead. He liked dogs and children, very possibly in that order, but poisoned Blondi in the Berlin bunker to test whether the cyanide worked, and saw no reason to release Goebbels‘ six kids, who called him ”Uncle Hitler,“ from the bunker when the opportunity arose. And for all his promises to protect his staff, the Fuhrer withdrew into himself when all was lost, and committed suicide without heed to what would happen to those he left behind.
Junge’s testimony about the last days in Hitler‘s bunker will fascinate the layperson, but it adds little to what is already known by historians. The movie reveals much more about Junge herself and, by extension, about the way ordinary Germans dealt with Nazism both during and after the war. Blind Spot was directed by Andre Heller -- the son of a Viennese Holocaust survivor who died an opium-addicted wreck in London in 1958 -- with his Austrian colleague Othmar Schmiderer. Heller is an actor, musician and multimedia artist, but this Spartan documentary recalls the no-frills interviewing style of Claude Lanzmann’s famous Shoah, and his more recent Sobibor. Shot in 2001 in the one-roomed Munich apartment Junge had lived in for 50 years, the film is unadorned by fancy editing or de rigueur archival footage. Junge is elegant, self-possessed, and as analytical as one might expect from a former journalist and editor at a literary magazine. She doesn‘t plead; for the most part her demeanor is composed. From time to time Heller, in his only attempt at artifice, shows us Junge -- anxious and unguarded -- moving her lips as she watches herself give the interview on her television screen. We don’t know whether we‘re getting a reliving, a confessional or a tidied narrative of Junge’s past. Whichever it is -- very likely all three -- we see a woman who has engaged in a long, exhausting struggle with herself. Describing a system of tyranny so efficient, so insulated from the horrible acts committed in its name that it presented itself to her as normal, Junge comes close to excusing herself. She hated Hitler for what he did to the Jews and to Germany, but she hated him even more for being a bad father to her. Yet she also tells Heller she kept silent all those years because she could not forgive herself for her willful ignorance.
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