“Now that I have let go my story, I can let go my life”
– Traudl (born Gertraud) Junge (née Humps), Feb 10 2002
These were the last words before death from the woman who otherwise lead an ordinary and secluded life, except for one thing – she was the youngest and the last secretary to the man whom the world knows as Adolf Hitler (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitler) . She was not only his last secretary but also was among the few people who were with the Führer until the very end and left Hitler’s bunker below the Reich Chancellery on the night of April 30th, 1945, the day Hitler killed himself. She also took down Hitler’s Last Will (http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/My_Private_Will_and_Testament) and the political testament (http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/My_Political_Testament). Therefore, as a person, she was immensely valuable to history.
I came to know about her accidentally, just while browsing the pages of wikipedia – something that I do as a means to unwind myself. I love and value history and her life interested me. After all, she managed to survive a complete and total collapse of a nation and begin anew. The last time I had read a personal account written during the time of the War was that of the Anne Frank’s diary (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Frank) . That was eons back, during my high school days. At that time, the holocaust (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holocaust) became a hot topic of discussion and reading following the release of Spielberg’s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Spielberg) Academy Award Winning movie, Schindler’s List (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108052/). Unfortunately, the real truth of the holocaust, including the movie itself was censored from being read/viewed by young adults like us in India. So, honestly, much as I had loved to read Frank’s account and her juvenile thoughts and experiences, I failed to understand the bigger truth about the War itself. In years to come, I did began to realize the true events but I was too busy with my career and events of my personal life that I could not explore it in any depth. Now I have some time of my own to devote to reading and learning. So, out of interest, I started reading her memoirs which was published a few years back, in German (and later translated to English) just before her death.
Immediately after the War (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II), through her then lover Heinz Bald, Junge met a prosperous entrepreneur who was Bald’s patron. This person was fascinated about her past and insisted that she should write down her memories of her time with the Führer. Over the next few months, she wrote about 170 pages of manuscript in her leisure time, at evenings and weekends. She loved to write and this would also serve as a document in case and official asked about Hitler and the circumstances of his death as a part of the War investigation. However, in the climax just after the War when everybody as trying desperately to move forward and forget the past, her story never got published. For a long long time to come thereafter, her account remained unnoticed and unpublished. Over the years she started feeling an extreme guilt of having served the person who she termed as the ‘greatest criminal ever lived’ and doesn’t feel any urge to publish her writing.
In around the year 2000, she met an Austrian journalist, historian and author, Melissa Muller (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melissa_Muller). Her first meeting lead to many many more and Melissa encouraged her to publish her work. Over the course of next two years, Junge discussed her life, thoughts and her account of her days with Hitler. Finally, with her help, the world comes to read her account for the first time, in 2001 in her book “Until the final hour”, in German. Two years later, her book was made into an Academy Award nominated movie, “Downfall” in German (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_Untergang) . The movie currently ranks #73 in the IMDB’s list of all time top #250 movies.
In the following paragraphs, I will give my own thoughts about the book, some quotes that I found interesting and some of my thoughts about the movie Downfall.
One of the things I felt as I read through the book is that the book is very complete. It’s not just Junge’s memories of her days with Hitler but it is also about her complete life. The first section of the book deals with her family, her upbringing and her youth. Its a very interesting read. It’s as if the girl Getraud Humps, her life and her character is slowly unfolding before our eyes. This tale is written not by Junge, but by Melissa and describes how, through a series of coincidences and events, Junge got an offer to work as Adolf’s secretary. It’s a fascinating read. The chapter concludes at a time when Junge has already started working for Hitler, at the Wolf’s Liar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfsschanze). It is from here that Traudl Junge’s own account begins, the account that was written way back in 1947.
The book is complete from other respects too. For example, the notes at the end of her account gives a brief but important facts of the lives of all the different persons Junge mentions in her book. For instance, the note about Heinrich Hoffmann says:
b Fürth 12 September 1885, d Munich 16 December 1957; works in his father’s photography business; 1908 sets up independently in Munich; 1920 joins NSDAP, membership number 425; 1933 becomes member of the German Reichstag; 1938 given the title of Professor by Hitler; 1945 interned by the US army, released May 1950.
From these accounts, you can track down the fate of any person who finds a special mention in Junge’s account and with whom she has worked and interacted with. This also includes numerous persons, including her husband, Hans Junge (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Hermann_Junge) who was an orderly working for Hitler when Traudl came aboard.
In the last section of the book, Melissa chips in again to fill in the gaps. She describes Junge’s life after the war. In the writing, she describes what had happened to her after she escaped from Hitler’s bunker. This is also extremely interesting reading. Through a series of good and bad lucks, she finally finds her life back together again, together with her mom and her sister. Melissa also quotes some of the letters Junge writes to her mom after the war when she begins to find her life back again. They are so emotionally rich and very satisfying to read. Melissa’s writing continues to describe Junge’s later life and events; some of which are good and some bad; her relationship with Heinz, the breakup, the new relationships etc etc etc.
As you can see, the book in itself is a complete record of a person’s life and experiences. This is one of the most important criteria for which the book is a satisfying read. The reader gradually realizes how a young naïve girl, who started out aspiring to be a ballerina (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballerina), ended up working for Hitler, accompanied him until the very end, as a entire nation came to a complete collapse and then again through a series of interesting experiences, managed to survive the destruction and gather her life back again.*
In the second half of this writing, I will put some interesting quotes from the book, put my views about the movie Downfall and then finally conclude.
… To be concluded
* Although it is my personal opinion that Junge made some critical mistakes in judgment throughout her life that ended up in her leading a more or less melancholy existence, her involvement with Hitler and her constant sense of guilt.