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Hitler, close up

Inside Hitler's Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich; Joachim Fest; Translated from the German by Margot Dembo; Farrar, Straus & Giroux: 192 pp., $21 Until the Final Hour: Hitler's Last Secretary; Traudl Junge; Edited by Melissa Muller; Translated from the German by Anthea Bell; Arcade: 262 pp., $26

April 25, 2004|John Lukacs | John Lukacs is a historian and the author of many books, including "The Hitler of History."

Junge's memoir has the stamp of authenticity. This is important, because Hitler was very close to his secretaries; they knew many details of his personal life. He treated them with almost exaggerated courtesy. The Hitler who appears in Junge's memoir is, among other things, kind and considerate. I must fall back on La Rochefoucauld's profound maxim: "There are evil men in this world who would be less dangerous if there were not some good in them." The Eva Braun, too, who is often described in this memoir, appears as a kind and decent young woman, not a dumb goose.

Traudl Junge did not have a happy life. She became Hitler's secretary only in 1942, almost by accident. Next year, Hans Junge, one of Hitler's aides, married her. The year after that, he fell on the Western front. They had no children. She stayed in the bunker until the very end, for almost two days after Hitler's and Eva Braun's suicides, and then escaped miraculously through a burning Berlin and hordes of Russians. She had two serious love affairs but never married again. Her account of her awakening to what Hitler meant and had done seems honest and plausible. She also seems, at least in some ways, to have understood some things about Hitler and about his following that Fest, with all his dedication and his enormous mass of knowledge about Hitler and the Third Reich, did not quite get. *

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