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Traudl Junge was Adolf Hitler's private secretary, from Autumn 1942 until the collapse of the Nazi regime. She worked for him at the Wolfsschanze in Obersalzberg, on his private train and, finally, in his bunker in the besieged capital. It was Traudl Junge to whom Hitler dictated his final testament. In her first ever on-camera interview, 81-year-old Junge talks about her unique life. In the spring of 2001, Andre Heller succeeded in convincing Traudl Junge how valuable it is to record her unique memories. Fifty-six years after the end of the Second World War, an important eyewitness reveals her experiences to us. What she saw and heard turned her into an furious opponent of National Socialism; an opponent, moreover, who is still painfully aware and seems incapable of forgiving the young girl she once was--for her naivete, ignorance, and her liking for Hitler.Written by
Sujit R. Varma
The official sites of this film claim that these interviews are Traudl Junge's first public appearance, that she "kept quiet for nearly 60 years". See more »
But one day I walked past the memorial plaque for Sophie Scholl on Franz-Joseph-Straße and there I realised that she was my age group and that she was executed the year I came to Hitler. That moment I felt that being young actually isn't an excuse and that maybe one could have learnt about things.
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Near the beginning of the film, Hitler's secretary tells a story of a concentration camp guard asked if he felt pity for the victims, and that he replied yes, of course he does, but that he had to get over it for the greater good. His sense of morality was still intact, just perverted. Like that line in "Rules of the Game," everyone has their reasons. The film forces us to humanize the "bad" guys -- this is an old woman, and, with the exception of Leni Riefenstahl, nobody wants to immediately hate an old woman, least of all one was never a member of the Nazi party and whose own husband died fighting. She got the job largely out of chance: during her typing test, which she was doing terribly on, a phone call (which would prove life-changing) came in for Hitler and she had time, while he was on the phone, to calm herself down and type properly.
The film isn't much as a film, but the director does something very smart in showing her watch the film herself. On the one hand, it allows her to go back and make an addendum should something seem incomplete or out of context, and on a subject as touchy as this that makes sense. (And it's something that allows her to remain dignified -- the aim here isn't to "catch" her admitting to something, nor is it to make her into a symbol we can feel sorry for: she cries only once, and even then it's brief.) But on the other hand, it could also be seen to be allowing her to backtrack on her own admissions. For instance, at one point she dismisses her descriptions of Hitler as being "banal," and with the exception of her description of the joy he took in showing off his dog's tricks (that's too obvious a comparison for it to speak of his manner in dealing with humans), the insight she gives is valuable because it explains her experience, how it felt at the time. The atrocious digital video is painful on the eyes, but the director's decision to cut to her watching the video herself has a secondary value; at one point as she is watching the video she adds a question, asking rhetorically if Hitler had found Jewish blood in him, would he have gassed himself? Because it is so casually interspersed with the interview proper, and because of the echo in the room, it's a haunting moment, and it adds an aesthetic dimension to the film that is otherwise lacking (and maybe rightfully so).
She describes her house as being one raised by a man (her grandfather on her mother's side; her father was absent) who favored ideals such as backing down and making sacrifices. That, and the fact that she openly admits to being endeared to Hitler based partly on a paternal image, partly explains her naivety, but even the background reasons for why she didn't understand who Hitler really was (or what he was really doing, as she had a closer understanding of "who" he was than those of us who pontificate from a distance) doesn't do anything to change the fact that she can't live with herself because of it. The film doesn't really take an in depth approach at that, at the nature of her depression; it more listens to her relay the information as she experienced it, which is an interesting perspective. We get a good sense of her guilt when she describes Hitler's private courteousness vs. his bombastic public persona. Which was the evil one? If he had ideals in his private life, they became evils in his public life. But his success could not have been achieved if it was not for the collective "us." THAT is a troubling thought, and it betrays the common image we have of Hitler as the great evil. It's no wonder she was so distraught that after years of silence (and disinterest in her story) she emerges to make this film -- and then die after its release.
As a woman she has certain insights into the Hitler phenomenon. She never understood why Hitler received so many fan letters from women, remarking that she didn't see him as a sexual beast (she only once witnessed him kiss his wife Eva Braun on the lips), and that he had relatively "primitive" views on women -- he could never understand that a man might cheat on his beautiful wife with a less attractive woman; after all, what else could he want aside from his wife's beauty? She also speaks quite eloquently about eroticism, and it might seem out of place to praise her for it (or to praise the filmmakers for including it), but just hearing her, a woman of a certain age, talk openly about giving yourself over to the erotic (and how Hitler never did) is a pleasure in itself.
Those looking for a revelation into the Holocaust's inner workings will likely be disappointed -- even though she was in the bunker, she doesn't solve the Hitler suicide question (she heard an officer claim to have burned the body post-suicide, but didn't go look). But it's fascinating regardless, and she finds it fascinating too -- it's interesting to watch her fairly calm and reserved demeanor grow more excitable in the last half hour as she remembers certain bits of information. Listening to her, we get a pretty full sense of the mania of the last days -- she recounts the story of a wedding going on and the party afterward with someone playing an accordion; this, as Russian artillery fires in the background. Then she finds a rather poignant Hitler quote when she and others, knowing what Russian soldiers do to the women they catch, ask for cyanide tablets and Hitler consents, saying he wishes he could offer a better farewell gift. 8/10
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