– The woman in question
“The older I get, the greater a burden I feel that I worked for this man and actually liked him…he was criminal and I just didn’t recognize it,” confesses Traudl Junge in “Blind Spot – Hitler‘s Secretary.”
Junge met Adolph Hitler when she was a fatherless, impressionable teenager. By 22 she was one of his private secretaries. She worked under him from 1942 to 1945, recording his last will and testament hours before his suicide.
We learn that Hitler was kind to her, loved his dog Blondie and had chronic stomach problems. He liked to arrange marriages, but didn’t like to be touched, and he never spoke of death camps or Jews.
“He didn’t think in human dimensions,” she tells us, “only of ideals and the Nation…Personal happiness never meant a thing to him.”
Junge’s recollection is stunning; when she speaks, her eyes fix on a point in space, and she‘s back in the bunker, watching Hitler and Eva Braun talk about how to commit suicide. “I‘ll take poison,” said Braun, “I want a beautiful corpse.”
Junge isn’t just remembering, she’s reliving, and her words flow with such force and clarity that we’re taken with her to the morbid, bloody heart of delusion.
Traudl Junge died the day of the film’s premiere, but her story lives on in all the loyal boys and girls (from Baghdad to Pennsylvania Avenue) politely taking notes and carrying out orders. “We thought we were at the source of information,” she warns, “but we were the blind spot.”
Interview with Andre Heller, Director of “Blind Spot-Hitler’s Secretary”
“I’m a hundred percent sure that the majority of the West doesn’t know my work,” Austrian director and artist Andre Heller told me.
Heller’s body of work is wide and varied. He’s built large-scale public art installations, he’s directed and acted in film and television. He’s created performances of all sorts including dance, musicals and modern circus.
“But for me it’s more important to be a human being than to be a famous or not-famous artist or poet or whatever. The title of ‘Artist’ has very strict rules, and it’s easy to get stuck in those perceptions. It’s better to call yourself a person who is learning. That title doesn’t have any restrictions.”
Heller’s latest project is the eye-opening documentary “Blind Spot-Hitler’s Secretary,” a deeply illuminating conversation with the only living member of Hitler’s inner circle, Traudl Junge. Junge was a girl when she met Hitler, and stumbled into his ranks by winning a typing contest at the Chancellery where she worked as a government secretary. Heller learned of Junge through writer Melissa Muller, and found her story compelling. Heller’s own interest in Hitler is quite personal.
Andre Heller: My father was one of the Jews arrested on the first day the Nazis stole Austria, the Anschluss. The Nazis took the country without firing a weapon; the Austrians were not in love with defending themselves. Many still consider themselves weaklings for this.
My father was picked up y the Gestapo and taken away, ut he was ought free. He owned chocolate and candy factories all over the world, N.Y., elfast, Argentina. His rothers from Switzerland, who were also wealthy, paid the Nazis a great deal of money to let him leave the country. He fled to Paris and ecame a French citizen.
Then the Nazis invaded Paris and he escaped on one of the last planes out. He went to London and worked for the De Gaulle government in exile. He was a liaison etween the White House and the exiled French government, couriering papers from De Gaulle to Roosevelt and then Truman.
This was a terrily difficult period for him. He was separated from family and country. Everyone he’d ever known was eing killed and he couldn’t do a thing to stop it. He lost his mind ecause of the war.
When he returned to Austria, he was talking to the angels, addicted to opium and osessed over Catholicism and Judaism. He died in ‘58. He wasn’t ale to e much of a father.
In 1977 you played the narrator in an 8-hour film aout Hitler, the German psyche and the culture created him.
Yes, Hitler, Ein Film aus Deutschland. [Hitler, A Film from Germany]. That was every European’s story, my family’s story. You can’t escape from this thing if you live in Europe. We’re still under the spell of what Hitler created.
Think for a second what would e different in your life or in the world if he hadn’t existed. What would e different in Austria? In America? He affected everything, the stories we tell, the plays we write, the governments we‘ve made. What would’ve een if not for Hitler? A certain quality was nearly erased in Europe’s German speaking countries. You cannot rape, drive out or kill many of your very est people without paying a big, big price.
How did you come to make “Blind Spot”?
It started as a kind of private, scientific research. I’d heard about Mrs. Junge through the writer Melissa Muller and thought it would be interesting to hear her story. I wanted to understand how people deal with their pasts. My father couldn‘t forgive himself for surviving the Holocaust. He was unhappy from the same origin as she was. That‘s what interested me.
In making the film, Mrs. Junge and I talked a great deal. I told her about my connection to Hitler through my father, and she told me her story. It didn’t start as a movie. She wouldn’t have spoken to me if I were a journalist, or from the Nazi inquisition. I wanted to know how she struggled with herself, how did my father struggle, how were they similar. This is how we developed trust. It didn’t start as something for publication. It was 18 hours of us talking on film.
She’d had cancer. Both breasts had been removed. She’d had depression for 25 years. She never had another love affair after her husband died [in WW2] because she said she wasn’t worth being loved because of her past.
I have seven hours of film where she’s just insulting herself. She struggled unbearably with it.
As an adult, when she came to understand and admit what she and what Hitler did was completely wrong, her friends called her a traitor.
I asked if she’d made friends since, and she said, “I have this woman who’s blind, and there’s a blind man.” Everyone she listed was blind. Well, she read to blind people. She read “Anne Frank’s Diary” and “The Von Klemperer Diaries, ” which are the incredible diaries of a professor who lived in the Jewish underground in Dresden during the war. They give one of the only descriptions of the daily horrors created by the Nazis. She was teaching these people what no one had taught her. I said, “this is what you needed when you were young, someone to open your eyes.” Without being aware of it, she was fighting the ignorance that caused her so much pain.
She was a Social Democrat who fought against all the right-wing hate movements. She did so much, but she still didn’t respect herself. And she didn’t believe her story was interesting.
The Americans and Russians had her in prison immediately after the war and weren’t interested in her story, this girl who’d taken Hitler’s last will and testament. She knew more than Goering or Goebbels because she was there 24 hours a day.
She saw with the sensitive eyes of an observant little girl. The details she provides are remarkable. Hitler, this mass murderer, didn’t like flowers because he didn’t like to be around dead things. He closed the windows of his train when he traveled through Germany so he wouldn’t have to see the bombed cities he’d created. He couldn’t give himself to a woman because he wasn’t able to let go enough to feel real emotion.
I think she was very much in love with Hitler in her youthful naiveté, and she hated herself for this. But she remade herself out of learning. She was a woman who developed real wisdom, but was unable to accept that she was wise. She was terrorized with self-hatred for what she had been. She spent 50 years fighting this, and couldn’t find a way to forgive herself. This was very moving to me. The majority of people I meet are much less reflective than she was.
She was a child when she met this man, a teenager, fatherless and with all the normal needs and flaws that accompany that.
I told her that of course, when we spoke. If she’d really been a Nazi, I couldn’t have spoken with her. I don’t have the nerves, the journalistic objectivity for that sort of thing.How did it become a film if it didn’t start as one?
As it went on, I realized this was something unique, because her memory was so powerful. I showed it to friends who said “Yes, it’s interesting. You should show it publicly.”
I brought it to the producers who told me I’d have to use additional material. If Mrs. Junge was talking about Hitler’s his dog, I’d have to show the dog, if she was talking about Eva Braun, I’d have to show Eva Braun. I refused. I come from a background in which you pay attention to someone who’s interesting, and if they’re boring, you leave the room. If they’re interesting, you look in their eyes and decide if they’re telling the truth. So I said I’d never use additional material. Mrs. Junge’s eyes and concentration are much more involving, and have a much fiercer tension than some old film.
She was terribly afraid to show the film. She was terrified people would consider her an old Nazi, and that real Nazis would cling onto her like a monument or cathedral because she had known Hitler.
She agreed to show it but wanted to be out of Europe in case the press came after her. She wanted to go stay with her sister in Australia, but she became sick and couldn’t travel. She died the night of the film’s Berlin premiere. She said, “I have let my story go, now life lets me go.”
The film has stirred up a great deal of discussion and thinking. It’s had a very powerful impact.
In one of my last telephone conversations with her she told me, “I think I can start to forgive that little girl.”
Andre Heller spoke to me from his home in Italy.