UC Santa Barbara > History Department > Prof. Marcuse > Courses > Hist 133D Homepage > 133D Book Essays Index page > Student essay
“Analyzing the Personal Character of the Führer Through the Narratives of His Secretaries”
He Was My Chief: The Memoirs of Adolf Hitler's Secretary
by Ruth Gonzalez
for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
About Ruth Gonzalez
I am a senior political science and history major and throughout the course of my undergraduate experience I have taken courses that briefly covered the events that took place during the Holocaust and World War II. I always took interest in these topics but I felt that these classes never did full justice to the history of the holocaust. In taking this course I became aware of how much there is to learn about the holocaust and when picking a book for my book review I wanted to select a topic that I was interested in and knew the least about. That is what led me to read Schroeder’s book about her experiences as Hitler’s secretary and to view the film Blindspot. I selected this book and film in hopes to broaden my knowledge about Hitler the individual and not the Führer everyone came to identify him as.
Abstract (back to top)
In her memoir He Was My Chief, Shroeder describes her experiences as Hitler’s secretary. She describes that Hitler came across as a very charming man who always took care that all of his secretaries were treated well, and he often engaged in long conversations with them. She describes Hitler as a man with qualities of an ideal individual because he did not have any addictions and lived a very healthy lifestyle. Schroeder claims she was not aware of the atrocities Hitler had been responsible for because he never spoke about them and always handled his political business behind closed doors. Traudl Junge was another one of Hitler’s secretaries. In the film Blindspot she also claims that Hitler was a very charming man and that she was unaware of the crimes he had committed because her work never required her to confront these atrocities. In very few occasions do Schroeder and Junge actually mention wrongdoings by Hitler, but given their positions as secretaries, they most likely choose to describe Hitler in this way in order to justify their work for him.
Essay (back to top)
Christa Schroeder and Traudl Junge were two of Adolf Hitler’s secretaries and both wrote accounts on their experiences with the Führer. I specifically analyze Schroeder's memoir He Was My Chief and Junge film interview Blind Spot for an understanding of Hitler’s character. The personal character of Hitler described by both Schroeder and Junge depicts him as an ideal individual because he did not drink or smoke, became a vegetarian, was very faithful in his love life and always seemed to be very caring about the people who surrounded him. There are very few occasions in which Schroeder and Junge mention wrongdoings by Hitler, but given their positions as secretaries, I argue that they describe Hitler in this light in order to justify their work for him and their oblivion about his crimes and by painting Hitler in this manner they succeeded at making readers/viewers less judgmental of their positions as secretaries of the Führer.
Schroeder's Positive Descriptions of Hitler
Christa Schroeder served as Hitler’s secretary from 1933 to 1945 and in this period of twelve years she became very close to him (Schroeder, ix). She almost never left his side and whereever the Führer went she followed. During her time as secretary, she was in charge of transcribing speeches, letters and other personal documents for Hitler. Right from the start of her memoir, Schroeder describes how polite and charming Hitler was towards her. She points out that the first time she met with him he was very friendly and made an effort to help ease her nerves by letting her know that “I am very pleased that you will write for me. It is only a draft so it will not be important if you make a few typographical errors” (Schroeder, 17). On a different occasion she describes that he indicated how lovely her name was “you ought not to say it is an ugly name, it is very beautiful” (Schroeder, 18). These are only a few of the several positive impressions Schroeder has of Hitler and she includes many other instances in which Hitler behaved in the same manner. Schroeder states that Hitler always made sure his secretaries were included in any special events or special rewards he awarded to his staff because he always had their best interest in mind, “In all these excuses one sees their hope of ditching us by the wayside. But the boss would not let himself be persuaded” (Schroeder, 97).
It is surprising to see that Schroeder had more pleasant memories with the Führer than she did negative ones, given the political figure that he was. There were only a handful of instances in which Schroeder describes bad encounters with Hitler or cruel actions he took. In fact, readers will notice that a person can become captivated by Hitler’s charm and in several instances forget that this is the same person who led the genocide of so many people. Other positive characteristics that she includes about the Führer are his strong opposition to smoking and drinking, his faithfulness to his love interests and his implementation of a vegetarian diet: “Hitler went on to explain how nicotine and alcohol ruined people’s health and addled the mind” (Schroeder, 117). Schroeder also mentions an instance in which the Führer delivered flowers to her while she was in the hospital in hopes that she would soon recover: “He presented me with a bouquet of long-stemmed pink roses which it was his custom to send, and a book with his dedication written on the fly-leaf” (Schoroeder, 60). This is just one of the many noble gestures Hitler had towards those closest to him. These are all qualities that many individuals strive to obtain, and Hitler stood by them throughout his life as Führer.
The fact that Schroeder makes it a point to highlight the pleasant qualities of the Führer reinforces my belief that this was a tactic of hers used to blind herself from reality and to convince her readers that she never knew the truth behind Hitler. Schroeder is aware that by making her memoir entirely focused on the great person that Hitler portrayed himself as, the readers would be less prone to judge her negatively. This can also be an indication of how Schroeder dealt with the reality of having worked for a man such as Adolf Hitler because she convinces herself that anyone could have been fooled by his charisma.
Junge Positive Descriptions of Hitler
Traudl Junge was one of Hitler’s secretaries from 1942 until the end of his life. She was at Hitler’s side till the very end and helped him in the dictation of his will and his last political statement (Blind Spot). Junge also describes Hitler in a very positive way she expresses that she viewed him as a father figure because of his caring qualities (Blind Spot). She admits to enjoying his company and that she never became aware of the real situation until after the war. In the film, she expresses how she often had lunch with the Führer and that she never saw the “monster” in him (Blind Spot). She relieves herself from any responsibilities of the atrocities committed during the war by stating that she was unaware of the situation in Germany because her job only entailed the transcription of speeches, private letters and personal things but never any political or military material (Blind Spot). She also admits that she did not care to know what was going on and never tried to find out because she did not want to tarnish the image she had created of Hitler. Junge seems to be able to justify her time as Hitler’s secretary by placing most of the blame on Hitler himself. She describes in her interview that Hitler had the power to manipulate people’s consciousness and make them feel at ease about their assigned duty by taking full responsibility for the action of others (Blind Spot).
Junge admits she could have become aware of the real situation surrounding her chief if she had just paid closer attention to the matter. By admitting this fact, Junge lets it be known that knowledge was a choice and she opted not to pursue it. This was probably because she knew that the information she would find about Hitler would be far from positive. This justification indicates Junge’s tactic for being able to continue as Hitler’s secretary. It also indicates that Junge chose to give a biased interpretation of Hitler’s character since she only acknowledges his good qualities and blocks out anything that would go against that.
Even though both women focus most of their accounts on the good qualities of Adolf Hitler, they do manage to incorporate recollections in which Hitler demonstrated characteristics of the “monster” he came to be known as. Their decision to include these accounts might lead readers to believe that both of the women were not biased in their accounts, yet one must keep in mind that these recollections are very minimal and never function to overshadow the good qualities of the Führer.
Schroeder Negative Experiences With Hitler
Christa Schroeder describes one instance in 1941 in which Hitler became very upset with her over a comment she made that went against the beliefs of the Führer. This conversation was initiated by Hitler who commented that soldiers should not be given cigarettes freely because of the bad consequences they can bring and Schroeder disagreed and stated they should be allowed this pleasure since they do not receive any others (Schroeder, 117). This conversation upset Hitler because Schroeder had gone against his beliefs and he became so aggravated that it placed a permanent dent in their relationship. Another instance was when a guest known as Henriette Schirach personally confronted Hitler about the deportations of Jewish women from Amsterdam, something to which he furiously responded that it was none of her business, and that he did this in order to balance the population of Europe, stating, “Every days tens of thousands of my most valuable men fall while the inferior survive. In that way the balance in Europe is being undermined” (Schroeder, 170). These two incidents I found to be the most compelling evidence into Hitler’s evil character and even though Schroeder includes them in her memoir it is evident she intentionally oversees them by not placing much emphasis on them. It is likely that she experienced more instances like these in her time as secretary but she only chose to include a minimal number of them to make Hitler look less evil.
Junge's Negative Experiences With Hitler
Traudl Junge also describes a few negative experiences that she encountered with Hitler during his last days in office. She states that in the dictation of his last political statement he blatantly blamed the outcome of the war on the Jewish population and he failed to take any responsibility for the subsequent outcomes (Blind Spot). Through Hitler’s decision to include these declarations in his statement, Junge claims she became familiar with the true sentiment of Hitler and his feelings towards the Jewish population. Another incident that she experienced involved Hitler’s order to kill his own brother in law named Hermann Fegelein who was married to Eva Braun’s sister. Junge claims this incident also took place during the last days of Hitler’s life because he was killed a day before Hitler committed suicide (Blindspot). Junge claims that Hitler ordered for Fegelein’s assassination because he became suspicious of him (Blindspot). Junge explains that this decision shocked her because Hitler had no substantive reason to blame him for such a thing and he seemed to completely disregard the fact that he was part of his family. Junge points out that these events took place in Hitler’s last days in office and this provides readers with a justification for her decision to remain as secretary, because up until this time she claims she had never became suspicious of him. These claims are most likely false because it would have been very difficult for Junge not to detect any other alarming actions taken on by the Führer during her entire duration as secretary.
Reasoning for Schroeder Description of Hitler
In the accounts of Schroeder and Junge, one can see that both secretaries felt more comfortable addressing the positive characteristics of Adolf Hitler but seemed to oversee any of the signs that might have led them to the real character of the Führer. The evidence for Hitler’s crimes were present all along, as evident with Schirach’s statements to Hitler, yet Schroeder purposely refuses to acknowledge the significance and reality behind these claims (Schroeder, 170). The truth of the matter is that Schroeder chose to work for Hitler and remain by his side for twelve years, a fact that leads many to directly associate her with the atrocities that took place at that time. She must have been aware of this and as a result opted to write a memoir that would hopefully change people’s perception of her. She also chose to focus on these events because she hoped that through them she would ease the guilt she was experiencing. For this reason, readers must not take her accounts as the solemn truth because they provide a biased interpretation of the personal life of the Führer.
Reasoning for Junge Description of Hitler
In her film, Junge also gives more importance to the positive side of Hitler and his ability in persuading others to carry out his will. She seems to absolve herself from all blame by stating that she was not the only one that was fooled by Hitler and that he did a good job at making everyone feel guilt free about their actions. She most likely chose to emphasize these points in her interview to persuade viewers into believing that the truth was not as clear as many might have think. Ultimately her account does include negative experiences with Hitler that she indicates took place at the very end of his life but she comes right back to the argument that Hitler was successful at making people like him and fall for his tactful charm. This belief places her as a victim and creates compassion for her situation.
In conclusion, both Schroeder and Junge provide very interesting accounts on their interactions with Adolf Hitler. Both seem to focus more on Hitler the kind and charming individual rather than the mass murderer. In their eyes, Hitler did not come across to be the evil individual readers imagine he was and this provides both secretaries with the basis for justifying their decisions to remain by his side. At the end, both Schroeder and Junge are viewed as two more victims of Hitler’s diabolical plot. Whether their interactions with Hitler actually played out the way they described is left to speculation, but I would argue that given their positions as secretaries it is likely that they experienced a lot more than they were willing to discuss. In the end, both are successful at depicting themselves as victims by indicating that they were unaware of the political situation that was taking place and that everything came as a surprise to them.
I certify that this essay is my own work, written for this course and not submitted for credit for any other course. All ideas and quotations that I have taken from other sources are properly credited to those sources. I agree to web publication of this essay.
Annotated Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 3/28/10)
Books and Articles
Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi: