Monday, August 15, 2016

Kate Connolly interviews Joseph Goebbels’ 105-year-old secretary: ‘No one believes me now, but I knew nothing’ // David Mikics - Germany and the Concept of Collective Guilt

While she admits she was at the heart of the Nazi propaganda machine, with her tasks including massaging downwards statistics about fallen soldiers, as well as exaggerating the number of rapes of German women by the Red Army, she describes it, somewhat bizarrely, as “just another job”. A German Life, compiled from 30 hours of conversation with her, was recently released at the Munich film festival. It is the reason why she is willing to “politely answer” my questions. “It is important for me, when I watch the film, to recognise that mirror image in which I can understand everything I’ve done wrong,” she says. “But really, I didn’t do anything other than type in Goebbels’ office.”


But it would take her a full six decades after the end of the war before she made any inquiries about her Jewish schoolfriend, Eva. When the Holocaust memorial was unveiled in 2005, she took a trip from her home in Munich to see it for herself. “I went into the information centre and told them I myself was missing someone, an Eva Löwenthal.” A man went through the records and soon tracked down her friend, who had been deported to Auschwitz in November 1943, and had been declared dead in 1945.

She notes how life for her vivacious, red-haired Jewish friend, Eva Löwenthal, became increasingly difficult after Adolf Hitler came to power. Pomsel was also shocked by the arrest of a hugely popular announcer at the radio station, who was sent to a concentration camp as punishment for being gay. But she says that largely, she remained in a bubble, unaware of the destruction being meted out by the Nazi regime on its enemies, despite the fact she was at the physical heart of the system.

“I know no one ever believes us nowadays – everyone thinks we knew everything. We knew nothing, it was all kept well secret.” She refuses to admit she was naive in believing that Jews who had been “disappeared” – including her friend Eva – had been sent to villages in the Sudetenland on the grounds that those territories were in need of being repopulated. “We believed it – we swallowed it – it seemed entirely plausible,” she says.

When the flat she shared with her parents was destroyed in a bombing raid, Goebbels’ wife, Magda, helped to soften the blow by presenting her with a silk-lined suit of blue Cheviot wool. “I’ve never possessed anything as chic as that before or since,” she says. “They were both very nice to me.”
She recalls her boss as being “short but well kept”, of a “gentlemanly countenance”, who wore “suits of the best cloth, and always had a light tan”. “He had well-groomed hands – he probably had a manicure every day,” she says, laughing at the thought. “There was really nothing to criticise about him.” She even felt sorry for him because of the limp he had, “which he made up for by being a bit arrogant”. 

Only occasionally did she get a glimpse of the the man who turned lying into an art in pursuit of the Nazi’s murderous goals. She was terrified to see him on stage at Berlin’s sportpalast delivering his infamous “total war” speech in February 1943. She and another colleague had been given ringside seats, just behind Magda Goebbels. It was shortly after the battle of Stalingrad and, Goebbels hoped to get popular support to pull out all the stops to fight the threats facing Germany. “No actor could have been any better at the transformation from a civilised, serious person into a ranting, rowdy man … In the office he had a kind of noble elegance, and then to see him there like a raging midget – you just can’t imagine a greater contrast.”.. Read more:
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/15/brunhilde-pomsel-nazi-joseph-goebbels-propaganda-machine

Do only psychopaths commit horrible mass crimes, or are we all more responsible than we are willing to admit? Two new histories of the Nazi war machine examine their leaders—and their soldiers. 

Even when it should have been clear that World War II was lost, Germans still lined up behind their leader. In 1945, the last year of the war, more than 60 percent of German POWs professed their faith in Hitler, the man who had led their nation to ruin. Such desperate clinging to charismatic authority has occurred in other times and places, and it raises a hard question: To what degree were the German people as a whole—not just their leaders—responsible for the evil of Nazism? The idea that the worst evildoers (in this case, the top Nazis) have abnormal psyches might just be a way of defending ourselves against the immoral darkness that inhabits us all.


Joel E. Dimsdale in his Anatomy of Malice: The Enigma of the Nazi War Criminals searches for the key to human evil in the psychiatric examinations undergone by the Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg Trials in 1945-46. Dimsdale, a well-known psychiatrist, begins with a grossly unscientific sample: He appears to have chosen the four among the 22 Nazi defendants whose mental lives seem most abnormal. And so he gives us a highly selective parade of fanatical Hitlerites: the clearly demented Rudolf Hess; the sex-addled Julius Streicher, publisher of the outrageously anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer; and a victim of brain damage named Robert Ley, who as head of the German Labor Front helped to set up slave labor factories. Finally, Dimsdale throws in Hermann Göring, a longtime favorite of those who think that lack of morality and freakish behavior go together in history the way they do in horror movies... read more:

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