The Lost Life of Eva Braun by Angela Lambert

DAILY MAIL                                       24 March 2006

(Century £20.00)

Albert Speer warned that ‘For all writers of history, Eva Braun is going to be a disappointment.’  This might explain why there have to date been 700 biographies of Hitler and only one in English of the woman who spent fourteen years by his side.

Until her last thirty-six hours, Eva’s role in Hitler’s life went entirely unacknowledged.  Only a handful of the Fuhrer’s most trusted associates knew of her existence.  As late as June 1944, the British Secret Service believed her to be one of Hitler’s secretaries.  In this new biography, Angela Lambert has embarked on the somewhat contradictory task of emphasising Eva’s importance to Hitler and effecting her rehabilitation.

As Lambert herself remarks, the known facts of Eva’s life would hardly fill a chapter.  She was born in February 1912 to a devoutly Catholic mother and a strictly Protestant father.  She developed an early interest in photography which led to her employment by Hitler’s court photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, whereby she first came to the Fuhrer’s notice in October 1929.  She was precisely the sort of pretty, unthreatening girl to appeal to him, but it was not until the suicide of his niece (and one true love), Geli, two years later that he began to consider her seriously.

Over the next few years, Eva consolidated her place in his affections.  Already fond of her, Hitler became increasingly concerned for her safety (and fearful of scandal) after her two botched suicide attempts, which Lambert takes more seriously than many previous commentators.

From 1935, she was the effective hostess at the Berghof, Hitler’s Alpine retreat, where she established a convivial atmosphere in which the Fuhrer could relax.  She was, however, the classic ‘bird in a gilded cage’, her boredom exacerbated by her exclusion from official functions and the Fuhrer’s increasing absences during the War.

Nevertheless, she remained fiercely loyal to Hitler, travelling to Berlin in March 1945 to share his fate, where she was finally rewarded with the title she had long craved, although, significantly, during their brief marriage her husband continued to refer to her as Fraulein Braun rather than Frau Hitler.

The two key questions in any assessment of Eva’s life are how much she knew about the Holocaust (or as Lambert, rightly concerned to emphasise the wide range of Nazi victims, puts it, ‘the Dark Events’), and the precise nature of her relationship with Hitler.

As regards the former, Eva, like any remotely perceptive German, must have been aware of Nazi persecution of the Jews before the War.  Hitler’s abhorrence of women’s involvement in politics, however, along with her own geographical isolation, militated against her awareness of the death camps.  She can be condemned for her ignorance and blind obsession but not for her complicity.

As regards the latter, Lambert draws on the testimony of Hitler’s housekeeper, Frau Mittlstrasse, among others to assert that, at least in the early years, Eva and Hitler were physically intimate.  She ignores, however, both the recent TV documentary in which Eva’s maid claimed to have seen no signs of intimacy on the sheets and her own primary source, Eva’s cousin, Gertraud Weisker, who insisted that Hitler’s interest in Eva was paternal rather than sexual.

Overall, Lambert offers a highly readable account which, despite several errors of fact (Jews were forbidden to employ German women under the age of forty-five, not thirty-five;  the Goebbels son in the Bunker was Helmut, not Harald) admirably fulfils its brief of rescuing its subject both from Hitler’s shadow and the charges of hostile witnesses.

It does, however, manifest serious faults.  In the first place, the facts that ‘hardly fill a chapter’ have been stretched out to 470 pages, with Lambert betraying her own wish to focus on Eva by padding out her life with long passages, at once extraneous and familiar, on subjects such as the aftermath of the First World War, the building of the Eagle’s Nest and the 1936 Olympics.

Even worse, she draws on the coincidence of her own mother’s having been a month younger than Eva to insert frequent descriptive and analytical accounts of her mother’s family life in Germany, her married life in England, her childhood reading and lifelong racism, which are, at best, distracting and, at worst, as when she speculates on Eva’s and her mother’s responses to their parents’ very different marital difficulties, downright risible.