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His authority was extraordinary. He was always polite and charming.
May 2, 2005 5:48 PM   Subscribe

"His authority was extraordinary. He was always polite and charming." Erna Flegal, Adolf Hitler's nurse in the bunker during the last days of World War II, breaks 60 years of silence in this interview. She was also interviewed by US intelligence officers in 1945.
posted by kirkaracha (12 comments total)

 
I remember thinking about this earlier this year when the interview with Hitler's secretary came out. She had said that he was always a good boss, and well-liked by the office staff. I had a hard time reconciling that with the image of the monster that I've always had in my head when it comes Hitler. Then, a comment in someone else's blog struck me: of course Hitler was a good boss, polite and charming, and the like. How else could he have gained so much power and gotten so many people to go along with his plans?

It's not the scary, rude, misanthropic jerks you have to watch out for. It's the charming, smiling, glad-handing ones that always seem to be able to sell anyone on anything.
posted by Bluecoat93 at 6:08 PM on May 2, 2005


Wow, talk about a scoop. And just a few hours ago we thought interviewing George Lucas was a big deal. (I also wonder, of course, if she ever met Godwin.)
posted by LeLiLo at 6:09 PM on May 2, 2005


I also wonder, of course, if she ever met Godwin.

Ha!
posted by shmegegge at 6:22 PM on May 2, 2005


you know... she's kind of wishy washy. like she doesn't want to be considered the authority on those days, you know?

Do you regret your role in the Third Reich? Or was this an exciting period for you?

Flegel: It's difficult when you have a society (the Nazis) and it's discussed afterwards by the left or the right. Often it's seen wrongly. Everyone has their own opinion.


Stuff like that. Perfectly understandable, of course. But it's hard to read all that history and keep seeing "but everyone has their own story," as a caveat everywhere.
posted by shmegegge at 6:40 PM on May 2, 2005


"they always seemed solid", proclaimed Adolf Hitler's wetnurse.

Sorry.. I always wanted to put that in type.
posted by Balisong at 6:50 PM on May 2, 2005


shmegegge writes " you know... she's kind of wishy washy. like she doesn't want to be considered the authority on those days, you know?

"
Do you regret your role in the Third Reich? Or was this an exciting period for you?

"Flegel: It's difficult when you have a society (the Nazis) and it's discussed afterwards by the left or the right. Often it's seen wrongly. Everyone has their own opinion.

"Stuff like that. Perfectly understandable, of course. But it's hard to read all that history and keep seeing 'but everyone has their own story,' as a caveat everywhere."


That seems perfectly understandable to me. Why should she be an authority on those days when she was just a small part of the picture? How would she, as an authority, ever be able to tell you what it was like in that world, living under beliefs about the world that you've never come close to having? You grew up knowing that Hitler was the epitome of evil -- she was just a nurse in his bunker and knew that he was authoritative and polite. How is she supposed to tell you that Hitler wasn't a monster, was just a person like you or I, who had completely different ideas about the world and acted according to them, and that the fact that those ideas required horrific things like gas chambers and Auschwitz didn't mean that he couldn't be polite and charming? What would you gain from it? No matter what she tells you, you won't be able to put yourself in that situation, and no matter how much you learn about it, it won't tell you what the next Hitler will look or act like.

Think of her position. After the war, no wonder she clammed up. Everyone wants all these nasty details, and all she's got is her life and the whole world wanting to spy on it. Everyone trying to put it into a box of the Evil Nazi Days, and those people were her coworkers and friends and she disliked some of them, like Goebbels and Eva Braun, but not because they were the Hollywood version of Nazis, just because they were people who she didn't get on well with. You can't put someone's life into a box as if it's black and white, or expect them to do it for you.

I'm glad she did finally talk more about it, because I share the endless curiosity about the whole fiasco, but I'm learning that no one can be an authority on an event that involved millions of people.
posted by heatherann at 7:19 PM on May 2, 2005


Really interesting link- I had never heard the story of the Goebbels, and how they killed their own children. Chilling.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:20 AM on May 3, 2005 [1 favorite]


TPS - Then you shouldn't miss Downfall which depicts the last few days in the bunker and the death of the children in a manner so banal, it's beyond horror.
posted by punilux at 10:53 AM on May 3, 2005


Also, TPS, check out Blindspot, which is the documentary about Hitler's secretary that Bluecoat refers to (and which Downfall is based on).
posted by scody at 11:00 AM on May 3, 2005


With six billion people you're going to get quite a few evil sociopaths. By themselves they can harm hundreds of people. In order for them to be able to harm millions they need people who can look at horrible acts and say "...but everyone has their own story...". The willingness of of many people to ignore reality is much more dangerous than the evil of one lunatic.

The interview does make it seem as if Ms. Flegel was never very in touch with reality.

Ms Flegel insists that the Russians she had encountered treated her "very humanely", despite the mass rape of German women by Russian soldiers elsewhere in the city.

Ms Flegel said her "interrogation" by the Americans in November 1945 was little more than an informal chat over dinner. "They invited us to have dinner with them and treated us to six different courses in order to soften us up. It didn't work with me, though."

"His authority was extraordinary. He was always polite and charming. There was really nothing to object to."
posted by rdr at 1:00 PM on May 3, 2005


It's interesting how history works - someone who at the time was completely insignificant to the scene later becomes the expert because all the major characters are gone.

I also find it amusing how much this woman hated and envied Eva Braun. Of course, in her eyes, I don't think anyone would have been "good enough" to be Mrs. Hitler.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:03 PM on May 3, 2005


When the Eva Hart died in 1996 she was the last survivor of the Titanic to remember the sinking. She made the famous remark that her mom said that saying the ship was unsinkable was "flying in the face of God". Losing a living connection with a historical event like that commits the incident to the history books- no more can you imagine one more interview surfacing some new first hand insight. The event is relegated to second guessing- it's "played out" in any human sense.

We're fast approaching that point with WW2 survivors and this news story was a stark reminder of it. Hitler is made more cartoonish by the year, painted to be a raving lunatic. Yet at the time he was very compromising and charming on many fronts. For instance, he had no economic ideology at all- he got to power largely by convincing capitalists that he would stop the communists. Is what he stood for was the politics of "go team!": militant nationalism and dehumanizing minorities.

Naziism is now a simple epithet meaning genocidal nut job, and militant nationalism is a political strategy available for reuse. Just ask the neocons. Politically, most people are still of the "go team!" variety. God forbid the neocons should ever find someone with real charisma- we'd all be at his whim...
posted by efbrazil at 7:27 PM on May 3, 2005


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