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War: Monsters & Heroes

Hitler and Goebbels' Wife
Why Did This Nazi Beauty Try to Escape from the Reich? ... Here Are the Facts
Reading Time: 11 minutes 25 seconds

A German mother writes to Adolf Hitler: "My heart is filled with joy so that the first tears had to come. My son has died for you and our Fatherland. But I cannot but thank you, our great Führer, for all the things you have done which have made our Germany so glorious...."

And it is not only one German mother who has written such a letter to the Führer. There have been many such letters from women whose sons or husbands have died for Hitler and the glory of the Fatherland.

There is something especially ironic about these women. The Nazis have said again and again that the woman's place is at home. She exists for the sake of the man — now, in wartime, the Nazi soldier. There is scarcely any prostitution in Germany any more. It isn't necessary. "A German woman does not say no to a German soldier," Berlin has decreed.

Yet it was these women, more than any one else, who helped Hitler come to power. His best helpers were the so-called unpolitical womanhood, the middle-class women who looked up from the ever more pressing difficulties of their daily life to Hitler as a savior. They became his most passionate adherents. Today they still are. How otherwise can we explain those letters by German mothers?

From these millions of women, a few stand out. Those who loved Hitler rued it or died of it. Those who wanted power were frustrated. Those who helped him were tossed aside.

Although every one knows them by name, hardly any one knows their stories. That goes for Magda Goebbels and for Emmy Göring. That goes for the dancer La Jana, and the movie stars Renate Mueller and Leni Riefenstahl, and the artists Margarete Slezak and Rosalind von Schirach.... There is Ribbentrop's wife, and Frau von Papen, and the powerful Berta von Krupp. There is the English girl, Unity Mitford. There is Princess von Hohenlohe, who declared before an English court that she had achieved "Munich." There is Madame X, the mistress of the King of Belgium, who was paid by Hitler; there is Countess Vera von Fugger, sent by the Gestapo to destroy Schuschnigg. There are the mistresses of the French politicians, and the daughter of Mussolini who betrayed her own country.

Some of them are dead; all are victims of a tragic error.

Magda saw Hitler for the first time on a summer evening in 1927. Then she was Magda Quandt. Their first meeting took place on the estate of her husband in Mecklenburg. Hitler and Goebbels had driven there from Berlin. Dinner was over when they arrived. In the library they met Frau Quandt. She was beautiful — slender, with golden blonde hair and dark blue eyes. She had, though extremely young, all the poise of a great lady. When Hitler and Goebbels looked up at her, she saw only Hitler.

The Führer and his adjutant had good reason to be astonished. This beautiful woman was more than twenty-five years younger than her husband. But then, Herr Guenther Quandt was rich enough to give a young wife anything she wanted. He belonged to the clique of industrialists who since 1926 had been subsidizing the Nazi movement as insurance against Communism. In addition, he had put at the Nazi leaders' disposal his numerous houses or estates.

He was in love with his young wife. Not being so young himself, however, he liked a quiet life. Of his own accord, he would hardly ever have left his estate in Mecklenburg. But Magda wanted to be where things happened. So there were difficulties. Sometimes he would give in, and the couple would move to Berlin for the winter season. But that only made it clearer to him that he was losing Magda more and more, day by day.

Early in 1928 he took her to the United States. They rented an apartment at the Hotel Plaza in New York. Years later he told a friend it was his last attempt to save his marriage.

At first Magda seemed impressed by New York. Quandt showed her Broadway, showed her the shops on Fifth Avenue, bought her anything she fancied. But in the final analysis this whole experience was nothing but a bigger dose of the life with him which did not satisfy her in Germany.

Only a few years before, Magda had been poor. She came of a middle-class family that had lost all its money during the war and the inflation. After her father had died, her mother had married again: Herr Friedlaender, a business man from Berlin. Through him Magda was introduced into a circle of intellectuals. She had quite a good time. For a long while she was almost exclusively in the company of a young Zionist leader, Arlosoroff, who later on, in Palestine, was assassinated by Arabs. Everybody thought she would marry Arlosoroff. But when Quandt appeared she decided for the elderly millionaire.

In New York things came to a head. Magda said, "America bores me. I do not belong here. I belong in Germany." Quandt was astonished, hurt. It took him years to see that he himself had shown her the way to get rid of him. For he had brought her into contact with the Nazis, and it was the Nazi movement that fascinated her.

After her return to Berlin, she was interested in only one thing: the Party. She devoted all her time to the Berlin Local Group (Ortsgruppe). She neglected her husband, her small son Harald, her household. She hardly ever spent an evening at home, was nearly always at some Party meeting.

And then she saw Hitler for the second time, at a meeting of the Women's Local Group in the Berlin Sportspalast. After he made his speech, she was introduced to him and to Dr. Goebbels. Before she could open her mouth, Goebbels said, "We have already had the pleasure..."

Hitler did not seem to remember that. But he invited her to come with him and other leaders to his hotel.

That's how it started.

In the weeks and months that followed, Magda could be observed almost constantly somewhere near Hitler. Whenever he was in Berlin, she would hardly move from the bar of the Hotel Kaiserhof, in which he had his suite. Sometimes she could see him for only a few moments, and even then he wasn't alone. But she was happy. All those who knew her said she had changed amazingly. She seemed younger.

When Guenther Quandt came back from a business trip to the Rhineland in February, 1930, his butler handed him a letter. It was from Magda: she had left him for good. He made a last attempt at reconciliation, but she refused even to see him. So he sued for divorce. The action took more than a year. Magda renounced alimony; she said she wanted only her freedom. But in the spring of 1933, shortly after Hitler came to power, Quandt was arrested. The official charge was that he had not paid all his taxes. He was fined a million marks, which he promptly paid. But among the higher-ups many knew that he also paid three times that amount to his former wife and her second husband.

After Magda had left Quandt's house she had become, unofficially, a kind of private secretary to Dr. Goebbels. All who knew her concurred in the belief that personally he didn't mean a thing to her. No man could mean anything to Magda, save one. Had she not burned all bridges just to be near that one man?

From then on, Hitler and Magda were seen together a good deal. She would go for the week-end to Berchtesgaden. She seemed to be in a state of profound excitement, to be expecting something to happen any day.

Then suddenly it was all over. It was as if all ties between them had been cut. What could have happened?

Nothing really had. But Magda had learned something — a certain awful truth about the Führer. She didn't talk about it then, in 1930; it came out eight years later, when she fled to Zurich, Switzerland. Then she told one of her former intimate friends about her discovery.

What she learned must indeed have been disheartening. Love — wasn't that something warm, sweet, tender? What had love to do with — cruelty? But the Führer ... When she learned what his idea of love was, she understood that there were only two possibilities for her or any woman in love with him: to be destroyed or to flee.

Later it was said that Magda married Goebbels for practical reasons. She did — for the practical reason of a woman running for her life.

The marriage took place in December, 1931, in a town in Mecklenburg. Hitler appeared as best man. That was hardly more than fair, since but for him the marriage would never have taken place. But Dr. Goebbels did not know that at the time.

Magda was still ambitious. She could still be the first lady of Germany. Why not? Hitler would never marry; of that she was now pretty sure. At important meetings she would ask anybody who crossed her path what Dr. Goebbels' chances would be if Hitler came to power. When Hitler finally did so and Goebbels did not receive a Cabinet post immediately, she became ill. Then, when he was appointed Minister of Propaganda, she rapidly recovered. She moved into the palace in the Wilhelmstrasse.

Even so, she didn't want to be merely Dr. Goebbels' wife. She persuaded him to set up a fashion department in the Propaganda Ministry and make her head of it. She saw herself as fashion dictator. She even published a proclamation in which she said that "film actresses of German blood can wear only German clothes." But Germany roared with laughter. Goebbels rather hurriedly abolished the fashion department, and that was the end of Magda's official career.

By then the Führer had appeared in her life again. His visits to the Goebbelses' palace and to their summer home became more and more frequent. One official explanation was that Hitler was so fond of children, especially of Helga Goebbels, born in 1934. Another was that Magda was such a wonderful cook, so expert at cooking vegetable dinners for him. A third was that he went to get the Doctor's advice. It was Hitler himself who destroyed this third version. He would sigh in comic desperation that he had had to listen for hours to the Quatscher (gabber). That was his nickname for his Propaganda Chief.

But why, then, did he visit them so much? Simply because he could not have arranged for Magda to visit him. That is why he would persuade Goebbels to give parties and receptions, all including musical soirees. For, strangely enough, when Hitler starts seducing, there must be music. It must not be too loud nor too near. As he listens, he sits down beside the woman, looks at her with his famous soulful look, puts his hand on hers.

He never failed to take a seat beside Magda during those musicales. She could not very well get up or free her hand. But she knew why Geli Raubal, why Renate Mueller, had preferred death to life. She had seen many women before Hitler had been interested in them, and then when he was through with them.

This knowledge protected her — with one exception. There was the night in Berchtesgaden in 1936. The night before the German army marched into the Rhineland.

Goebbels must have learned about it. Soon after his marriage he had looked around for amusement outside of his own home. As early as the summer of 1933 he established a little bachelor apartment in the West End of Berlin. There he would receive the visits of young actresses. His affairs soon became the talk of the city. As Propaganda Minister, he was more or less a dictator in the realm of the German theater and film. It was impossible for an actress to have a career if he didn't O. K. her. And, of course, he had a price.

But perhaps Goebbels threw himself into all this to forget that he was married to a woman who was in love with another man, the only man in Germany he could not touch.

The night in Berchtesgaden came about thus: Hitler, in that time of suspense, had retired to his Berghof and invited a few intimates, among them the Goebbelses. Two or three days before the march into the Rhineland, the Doctor had to return to Berlin. When the zero hour arrived, all the other guests had left — except Magda, who perhaps had no choice.

For many weeks afterward nobody saw Magda. There were rumors that she was sick, that she was in a sanatorium. When she reappeared, she seemed suddenly to have aged.

Life in Berlin continued outwardly as before. There were even those soirees at the Goebbels palace, though the Fuhrer was present only on rare occasions. As for Goebbels himself, his excesses in the Rankestrasse apartment went beyond all bounds. Finally the movie actor, Gustav Froehlich, who was living with the beautiful actress Barova, discovered that Goebbels had forced her to obey his will. Froehlich went to Goebbels and beat him up. And within twenty-four hours all Berlin knew about it.

Magda in haste packed suitcases and left with her children. On December 23, 1938, she arrived in Zurich. That was when she talked, when she made an unclean breast of it all. She had had enough. She wanted a divorce.

All the outside world heard of her flight. Hitler ordered Goebbels to get her back. Goebbels phoned to Zurich, in vain. Then Hitler took over personally — or via Himmler. Two gentlemen called upon Frau Goebbels in Zurich. They inquired after the health of her children. They seemed greatly worried. Suppose something should happen to the children! Magda understood. She went back to Berlin.

That's how scandal was averted. Naturally, the German press had not printed a word about her flight.

As for the Führer, by this time there was another woman into whose big blue eyes he wanted to gaze. Hermann Göring had married back in April, 1935. And, just for the record, Hitler had been best man.

Publication Date: November 22, 1941