Thursday, April 30, 2015

He loves me so much

Seventy years ago today, Adolf and Eva Hitler - married just 40 hours earlier - committed suicide in the so-called Führerbunker, Berlin - Adolf by shooting himself and Eva by biting into a cyanide capsule. Hitler, himself, left behind no diaries, although 60 volumes, purportedly by Hitler but later established as fakes, emerged in 1983, creating a huge media furore - see The Diary Review. Eva, maiden name Braun, though, did leave behind some diary material - 22 pages of a journal kept in 1935. Although the authenticity of this document has been questioned, Braun’s biographers have generally used it as a key source.

Eva Braun was born in Munich in 1912, the middle daughter of three, to a school teacher and his seamstress wife. She was educated at a Catholic lyceum, and then, for a year, at a business school in a convent. Aged 17, she was employed by Heinrich Hoffmann, the official photographer for the Nazi Party, working as a shop assistant and sales clerk. In October 1929, Hitler visited Hoffman’s shop, and was introduced to the young Eva. Thereafter, a furtive love affair developed between the two.

However, Eva eventually came to find the liaison so difficult and frustrating that she attempted suicide (by gunshot) in the autumn of 1932. Heike B. Görtemaker, author of Eva Braun: Life with Hitler (Allen Lane, 2011, translated from the German original by Damion Searls), says ‘although precise details remain unknown, witnesses and historians agree that Eva Braun felt abandoned and calculatedly acted to make the perpetually absent Hitler notice her, and to tie him more closely to her.’ 
Görtemaker notes that Hitler’s step niece, Geli Raubal, with whom he was living at the time, had committed suicide just a year earlier. Braun undertook a further suicide attempt, this time with pills, in 1935, again because she felt Hitler was not paying her enough attention.

Although her relationship with Hitler remained secret beyond his inner circle, Braun continued to advance her status, in that Hitler provided various residences for her: an apartment, then a villa, in Munich, where Eva lived with her sisters, an apartment at the Reich Chancellery in Berlin, and accommodation at Berghof, near Berchtesgaden, whenever Hitler was there. She attended the Nuremburg rally for the first time in 1935; and, increasingly, she took photographs and films of the inner circle which she was able to sell to Hoffman. In time, Braun was given the nominal role of Hitler’s private secretary which allowed her to visit the Chancellery without comment.

In early April 1945, Braun journeyed from Munich to Berlin, to join Hitler in the Führerbunker, an air-raid shelter and bunker complex near the Chancellery. By this time, the Soviet army was already making major advances on the city. On 22 April Hitler declared the war lost, and announced he would stay in Berlin until the end, and then kill himself. During the night of 28-29 April, he and Eva were married, as witnessed by Joseph Goebbels and Martin Bormann. During the morning of 30 April, Hitler was advised that their situation in Berlin was now hopeless - ammunition was running out, and the Soviets were closing in. At 3:30pm, witnesses heard a gunshot, and within a few minutes Mr and Mrs Hitler were found dead. Adolf had shot himself in the head, and Eva had bitten into a cyanide capsule. The bodies were burned, and, a few days later, the charred remains were found by the Russians and buried secretly in Magdeburg, along with the bodies of Goebbels and his wife and children.

Further information on Eva can be found at Wikipedia, a Danish fan site run by Louis Bülow, or in reviews of Görtemaker’s biography (at The New York Times, Der Speigel, or The Guardian). However, as Görtemaker notes, it is very difficult to reconstruct a full and accurate picture of Eva’s life and of her relationship with Hitler. This is partly because of the obsessive way Hitler kept the affair hidden, and partly because so few original sources - letters in particular - have survived. Görtemaker goes to some lengths, indeed, to describe the efforts that have been made to find letters that may or may not have been hidden/destroyed by Eva or her sister. In any case, 
Görtemaker explains that, in the context of so little information, ‘only’ a 22-page diary fragment in Eva Braun’s papers, written in old-style German handwriting, ‘sheds light on the character of their relationship’. Although she acknowledges that the document’s authorship remains controversial, she trusts it sufficiently to analyse and interpret its contents thoroughly.

The 22-page diary fragment is held by the National Archives, Washington D. C., with other Braun papers. I am not sure when it first appeared in English, though Nerin E. Gun includes it in his Eva Braun: Hitler’s Mistress, published in German in 1968, then in English in 1969 (Leslie Frewin). Several extracts can be found online at Bülow’s Eva Braun
website (from where the following extracts have been taken).

18 February 1935
‘Yesterday he came quite unexpectedly, and we had a delightful evening.

The nicest thing is that he is thinking of taking me from the shop and - but I had better not get excited about it yet - he may give me a little house. I simply must not let myself think about it. It would be marvelous. I wouldn’t have to open the door to our “beloved customers,” and go on being a shopgirl. Dear God, grant that this may really happen not in some far-off time, but soon. [. . .]

I am so infinitely happy that he loves me so much, and I pray that it will always be like this. It won’t be my fault if he ever stops loving me.

I am so terribly unhappy that I cannot write to him. These notes must serve as the receptacle of my lamentations.

He came on Saturday. Saturday evening there was the Town Ball. Frau Schwarz gave me a box, so I absolutely had to go after I had accepted. Well, I spent a few wonderfully delightful hours with him until 12 o’clock and then with his permission I spent two hours at the ball.

On Sunday he promised I could see him. I telephoned to the Osteria and left a message with Werlin to say that I was waiting to hear from him. He simply went off to Feldafing, and refused Hoffmann’s invitation to coffee and dinner. I suppose there are two sides to every question. Perhaps he wanted to be alone with Dr. G., who was here, but he should have let me know. At Hoffmann’s I felt I was sitting on hot coals, expecting him to arrive every moment.

In the end we went to the railroad station, as he suddenly decided he would have to go. We were just in time to see the last lights of the train disappearing. Once again Hoffmann left the house too late, and so I couldn’t even say good-bye to him. Perhaps I am taking too dark a view, I hope I am, but he is not coming again for another two weeks. Until then I’ll be miserable and restless. I don’t know why he should be angry with me. Perhaps it is because of the ball, but he did give his permission.

I am racking my brains to find out why he left without saying good-bye to me.

The Hoffmanns have given me a ticket for the Venetian Night this evening, but I am not going. I am much too miserable.’

28 May 1935
‘I have just sent him the crucial letter. Question: will he attach any importance to it?

We’ll see. If I don’t get an answer before this evening, I’ll take 25 pills and gently fall asleep into another world.

He has so often told me he is madly in love with me, but what does that mean when I haven’t had a good word from him in three months?

So he has had a head full of politics all this time, but surely it is time he relaxed a little. What happened last year? Didn’t Roehm and Italy give him a lot of problems, but in spite of all that he found time for me.

Maybe the present situation is incomparably more difficult for him, nevertheless a few kind words conveyed through the Hoffmanns would not have greatly distracted him.

I am afraid there is something behind it all. I am not to blame. Absolutely not.

Maybe it is another woman, not the Valkyrie - that would be hard to believe. But there are so many other women.

Is there any other explanation? I can’t find it.

God, I am afraid he won’t give me his answer today. If only somebody would help me - it is all so terribly depressing.

Perhaps my letter reached him at an inopportune moment. Perhaps I should not have written. Anyway, the uncertainty is more terrible than a sudden ending of it all.

I have made up my mind to take 35 pills this time, and it will be “dead certain.” If only he would let someone call.” ’

It is worth noting that as far back as 1949 a book appeared entitled The Diary of Eva Braun. This was edited by Alan F. Bartlett, and published by Aldus (republished by Spectrum in 2000). It was based on a typed manuscript, covering the years 1937-1944, that was given, apparently, by Eva Braun to Luis Trenker, a film-maker. Some discussion of this book can be found at the Axis History Forum. However, whereas biographers appear to take the 1935 diary fragment seriously, they rarely - if ever - mention the Bartlett book.

Finally, there is another - and major - diary source for information about Eva Braun - the published diaries of Joseph Goebbels. He committed suicide, with his wife, (after killing all six of his children), a day after the Hitlers, on 1 May 1945. Extracts from Goebbels’s diaries have already appeared in The Diary Review - see The Reichstag on fire - but more will follow tomorrow, on the 70th anniversary of his death.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How bloody corrupt

In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the end of the 1984-1985 miners’ strike in the UK, the Mirror, a daily newspaper, recently published extracts from the diary of John Lowe, a miner who spent his entire working life in the industry, but who only became politicised during that famous coal industry dispute.

Lowe was born in Whiston, Yorkshire, in 1931, spending his early childhood year there, and then in Danesmoor, Derbyshire. He left school at 14, and went to work at the Clay Cross Companies coking plant and then at the Parkhouse Colliery. In 1953, he married Elsie, and they would have two sons and three daughters.

In the early 1960s, Lowe moved to work at the Rufford Colliery in Nottinghamshire, and a few years later moved to Clipstone Colliery. After 40 years a miner, 30 years of which were at the coalface, he was made redundant in 1987. Thereafter, he suffered from various physical ailments which restricted his mobility in retirement. He died in 2005.

In 2011, Wharncliffe Books (part of Pen & Sword Books) published the diary of John Lowe as If Spirit Alone Won Battles: The 1984-1985 Miners’ Strike in Nottinghamshire. It was edited by Jonathan Symcox, Lowe’s grandson, with a foreword by Dennis Skinner, a well-known and outspoken left-wing Member of Parliament. Son of a miner himself, Skinner was a strong supporter of the National Union of Mineworkers strike, in 1984, against Prime Minister Thatcher’s plan to close coal mines. The stand-off between the Conservative government and the miners came to be dubbed as ‘the most bitter industrial dispute in British history’ - see Wikipedia.

Last month, on 2 March, the Mirror published a series of extracts from the diary to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the end of the 1984-1985 miner’s strike (on 3 March 1985) that had so divided the country. The Mirror noted: ‘Despite never having been a political activist, the Clipstone picket manager kept a detailed diary throughout the dispute. It captures the moments of frustration, pride, desperation and drudgery of that critical time. It details the booking of buses to transport pickets, instructions to them if they were arrested or stopped by police and the coded lists for the flying pickets which were changed every day to stay one step ahead.’

The following extracts are taken from the Mirror article, but further extracts from Lowe’s book can be found at the Miner’s Advice website.

2 January 1985
‘Back to the grind with the alarm set for 4.15am. We must be bloody crackers. Seven of us turned up for the first picket and we were disappointed to find only one policeman on duty, the idle swines.’

3 January 1985
‘Tried this afternoon to talk to some of the afternoon shift – as distasteful as it feels, it’s the only fresh tack left open to us. One of the lads talked for fifteen minutes and was really sick of it – he would only promise to think about rejoining us and to talk to his wife. If we could get two or three out again, it would really boost the lads; unfortunately it would take a bloody miracle.

Board and media campaign getting into gear now, with figures of six hundred returns given for the last two days. F***** liars!’

21 January 1985
‘Nationally, men are returning to work and this is very sad. They are not going back because the cause is wrong; after all this time the poor buggers are being forced back by all sorts of reasons: debt, a lack of money, food and fuel, and domestic and personal problems. Two of ours lost this week.

The case of the Transits in Mansfield: our initial findings were a ‘scab van’ picking up in Pleasley and going on towards Clowne, and police patrol cars patrolling the supposedly closed office block near the dole office, which showed signs of activity with many lights on inside and three wire-mesh Transits still in the closed-off yard. We then found that the vans were certainly driving into Yorkshire and taking part in the ‘scab runs’ there, with police escorts all the way – but that Notts men were not taking part.

What surprised us was that the drivers were Yorkshiremen, some of them from the pit villages they were driving to: I was very saddened to think that such treachery could be enacted by working class people against what were, perhaps, members of their own families.’

23 February 1985
‘Used the last of our coal today. We’ve been lucky right through, managing to get the odd bag given and burning it sparingly with logs; our good neighbour has helped out us and others and we owe him gratitude.

The kids on holiday in Belgium are due home this evening; another set are due to go to France shortly and at Easter yet another lot go to Amsterdam. We must never forget our brothers over the Channel.

The Board are offering an immediate advance of £100 to those returning now. How bloody corrupt are they prepared to be.’

Although few and far between, there are other published diaries by miners. Pen & Sword have published, for example, The Miners’ Strike Day by Day, the diary of Arthur Wakefield, and Yorkshire’s Flying Pickets based on the diary of Bruce Wilson, both edited by Brian Elliott.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Diary briefs

Eldon Chester’s farm life diary - Fort Madison Daily Democrat

Ronnie Wood to publish teen diaries - The Guardian, NME

John Dunbar’s Egypt war diaries - Lake Macquarie City Library, ABC Newcastle

Londoner’s WW2 diary found - The Mirror

Frontline Medic - Gallipoli, Somme, Ypres - Helion & Company, The Edinburgh Reporter

Vancouver nurses WWI diaries - Vancouver Courier

Diaries of Gateshead theatre founder - The Journal

Zadie Smith on life writing - Rookie

Wartime Diary of a Liverpool Girl - Tumblr blog, Liverpool Echo

‘Rare’ captain’s diary sold at auction - Hansons

Senator Bumpers diary on Clintons - Mother Jones

Ongoingness: The End of a Diary - Sarah Manguso, The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian

Danish emigrant’s Lusitania diary - Iowa Public Radio

Alex Salmond’s referendum diary - The Scotsman, The Conversation

A Russian Arctic Convoy Diary 1942 - Fonthill Media, The Edinburgh Reporter

The Diaries of Charles M. Houston - Missoulian

Cathedral handyman’s diary details robberies - The Telegraph

Diaries that helped convict paedophile - Manchester Evening NewsDaily Mail

Corruption arrests thanks to Chinese diary - Epoch Times

Diary evidence in Ottawa fraud trial - Huffington Post, Vancouver Observer

Monday, April 6, 2015

My heart beats faster

Seventy years ago today Kim Malthe-Bruun, a brave young Dane, only 21 years of age, was executed by the Nazis for being involved with the Danish resistance movement. Soon after his death, his mother published some of Kim’s writings, including letters and diary material written during his incarceration. In one moving piece, written just a month before his death, he writes about feeling no fear while his heart beats faster every time someone stops outside his door.

Kim Malthe-Bruun was born in Fort Saskatchewan, near Edmonton, Canada, in 1923. His mother, Vibeke, originally from Denmark, decided to move back home with Kim, then nine years old, and his younger sister. When still young he signed up with the merchant navy, and then, after the German occupation of Denmark, he joined the Danish resistance. In 1944, he was arrested by the Germans for being involved in the shipping of weapons from Sweden to Denmark. He was tortured, and then, on 6 April 1945, he was executed. A little further information is available from Wikipedia or The Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida.

After the war, Vibeke edited a selection of her son’s diary-like letters, some written when he was still a seaman and some written from prison, as well as diary material found hidden in the Copenhagen prison. These were published by Thaning & Appel soon after Kim’s death. They received a wider audience when, in 1955, Random House published a translation (by Gerry Bothmer) into English titled Heroic Heart: The diary and letters of Kim Malthe-Bruun 1941-1945. More recently, in 1996, substantial excerpts from Kim’s diary appeared in Children in the Holocaust and World War II: Their Secret Diaries by Laurel Holliday (Simon and Schuster). Much of this latter - which was reissued in 2014 - is available to read online at Googlebooks (and is the source of the extract below).

In general, Kim’s published letters are diary-like, factual, about his daily life, trials and tribulations, but the following text (3 March 1945) was found, after the German capitulation, in Vestre prison. It was written in microscopic writing on the back of a letter Kim had received toward the end of February 1945. Around this period, it is known that Kim was being tortured and, at least once, was sent back to his cell in an unconscious state.

3 March 1945
‘Yesterday I was sitting at the table. I looked at my hands in amazement. They were trembling. I thought about it for a moment. There are some things which produce a purely physical reaction. Suddenly, as I was sitting here, I was possessed by the desire to draw something. I got up and started to sketch on the wall. I was fascinated and became more and more absorbed. Under my hand suddenly appeared a farmer, standing by a barbed-wire fence. I sat down, got up and made some changes, sat down again and felt much better. All day I worked on it. There were so many things which I couldn’t make come out the way I wanted them to. I studied it, stretched my imagination to the utmost and was suddenly completely exhausted. I erased all of it and since then even the idea of drawing makes me sick.

I’ve been thinking about this strange experience a good deal. Right afterwards I had such a wonderful feeling of relief, a sense of having won a victory and such intense happiness that I felt quite numb. It seemed as if body and soul became separated, one in a wild and soaring freedom beyond the reach of the world, and the other doubled up in a horrible cramp which held it to the earth. I suddenly realized how terrifically strong I am (but perhaps I only tried to talk myself into this). When the body and soul rejoined forces, it was as if all the joys of the world were right there for me. But it was as with so many stimulants; when the effect wore off the reaction set in. I saw that my hands were shaking, something had given inside. It was as if there had been a short circuit in the roots of my heart which drained it of all strength. I was like a man hungry for pleasure and consumed by desire. But still I was calm and in better spirits than ever before.

Although I feel no fear, my heart beats faster every time someone stops outside my door. It’s a physical reaction.

Strange, but I don’t feel any resentment or hatred at all. Something happened to my body, which is only the body of an adolescent, and it reacted as such, but my mind was elsewhere. It was aware of the small creatures who were busying themselves with my body, but it was in a world of its own and too engrossed to pay much attention to them.

I’ve learned something by being alone. It is as if I’d reached rock bottom in myself, which usually can’t be seen for all the layers of egotism, conceit, love, and all the ups and downs of daily life. It is this which makes me feel as if I’d had a short circuit within me. When I’m with the other people, their interests, their conversation, act as a balm, covering the rock bottom in myself with a warm compress. When I’m alone, it is as if layers of skin were being scraped away. Your mind is not at ease, you can’t concentrate on reading, the spirit as well as the body must keep pacing up and down. I suddenly understood what insanity must be, but I knew that this was like everything else which has happened to me, and in a couple of days I’ll be myself again.’

The Diary Junction