Monday, June 18, 2007

Eva Braun and Adolf

There is an enduring interest in the history of the Third Reich that has spawned innumerable books on the subject and upon its dramatis personae. My own interest is that, indirectly, it affected my life as it did so many others of my era.
Thus when I saw that there was a new book entitled “The Lost Life of Eva Braun,” I ordered a copy.
It arrived on my desk with a thump, a paperback running to an incredible 636 pages.
I had once contemplated a book on the same subject but, on reviewing the subject and the available material, figured that I would be hard pressed to get more than a hundred pages. If, as is often said, Josef Goebbels was the only truly interesting character in the Nazi hierarchy, Eva Braun must rank as the least. About as significant a figure in the history of that epoch as my Aunt Fanny.
Angela Lambert, the author of this new tome, is a successful novelist, with tenuous links to the Germany of that era, and she has produced an alarmingly overweight biography of an alarmingly underweight subject.
Perhaps a clue to the problem lies in her admission that, until she started work on the book, she was “in a state of comparative ignorance about the Third Reich and the Second World War.”
As one would expect from a novelist, the book is an easy read. Where it fails is that, possibly due to her crash course in the history of the period, her story primarily covers the ground trodden by rather more knowledgeable historians. It becomes an easy read primer for the story of the Nazi party and of Adolf Hitler, Braun has merely a walk-on part.
Even worse, it has led her into perpetrating errors, some simple, some more serious. Although she has clearly spent a lot of time researching aspects of the story, she mentions spending hours in the dusty auction house of Hermann-Historica, searching for proof that Eva Braun had never been a member of the Nazi party, some rather more obvious details have escaped her.
At the wedding of Eva's sister to Hermann Fegelein, she says, “In the official wedding photograph, Hitler for once in civilian dress (he had sworn to wear uniform, like his soldiers, until the war was over), smiles thinly through narrowed lips.” As I write, I have this picture in front of me. Hitler is in his regular war-time garb and, if that's “a thin smile upon his narrowed lips,” clearly I need a new pair of glasses. But then, I don't have the imagination of a novelist.
The book has more footnotes than I have ever seen in one volume, some of them running to nearly a full page, always a deterrent to easy reading. And some are grossly incorrect. She states that Hitler's doctor, Theodore Morell was “cross-examined, found guilty and hanged after the Nuremberg Trials in 1948.” In fact, Morell was never charged with any crime and died of a stroke in 1948.
Possibly she was confusing him with another of Hitler's doctors, Karl Brandt, who was executed for his part in the Holocaust.
But it's these sort of crass errors that undermine the value of her book, which largely goes to prove that indeed, Eva Braun, barely merits more than a hundred pages.

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