Pages

Monday, 26 October 2020

Nazi wives: The bizarre and debauched romances of Hitler's henchmen and the women who fell in love with them

 Their husbands and partners are some of the most notorious and despised figures in modern history, responsible for the atrocities carried out during the Second World War.

But behind the steady flow of propaganda that enraptured Nazi Germany, its leaders were involved in debauched affairs, three-way relationships and brutal mistreatment of their wives that would have shocked the nation.

SS Chief Heinrich Himmler, a virgin until his late-20s, was having repeated affairs behind his wife Margarete's back.

And when propagandist Joseph Goebbels was forced to admit a relationship with an actress to his other-half Magda, she was forced to accept it because Hitler denied her a divorce.

'I think rightly so historians have been focused on what their husbands were up to,' James Wyllie, author of Nazi Wives: The Women at the Top of Hitler’s Germany, told the New York Post.

But, 'the wives were very interesting too.'

Here, the Mail looks behind the scene at the private lives of some of figures in the German high command:

Martin Bormann and wife Gerda

Known for his brutality, coarseness and virulent anti-Semitism, Nazi Party boss Martin Bormann wielded enormous power as Hitler’s private secretary. He controlled access to the Fuhrer and was also in charge of Nazi party promotions and appointments.

Few women epitomised the Nazi ideal of womanhood better than Gerda Bormann. She wove her blonde hair into a plait, eschewed cosmetics and wore traditional Bavarian dress — as did all nine of her children. In the few images of them that survive, they look as if they’ve just stepped off the set of The Sound Of Music.

Yet Gerda was an unquestioning Nazi, programmed to obey her thuggish husband. So thoroughly had she been brainwashed by Nazi ideology that she never complained about his infidelities.

Known for his brutality, coarseness and virulent anti-Semitism, Nazi Party boss Martin Bormann wielded enormous power as Hitler’s private secretary. He controlled access to the Fuhrer and was also in charge of Nazi party promotions and appointments

Known for his brutality, coarseness and virulent anti-Semitism, Nazi Party boss Martin Bormann wielded enormous power as Hitler’s private secretary. He controlled access to the Fuhrer and was also in charge of Nazi party promotions and appointments

As far as Gerda was concerned, Bormann’s succession of brief affairs were merely the healthy expression of a man’s need to reproduce. She even reached out the hand of friendship to Hedwig Potthast, the secret mistress of SS chief Heinrich Himmler, who had also organised the extermination camps.

But in October 1943, unknown to his wife, Bormann fell head over heels with a woman he flirted with at a ball.

The woman, Manja Behrens, was a dental assistant turned actress, who’d appeared in a couple movies. Although Bormann was married, he pursued Behrens relentlessly until she finally gave in.

But in October 1943, unknown to his wife, Bormann fell head over heels for Manja Behrens, a dental assistant turned actress that he flirted with at a ball

But in October 1943, unknown to his wife, Bormann fell head over heels for Manja Behrens, a dental assistant turned actress that he flirted with at a ball

A few months later, Bormann was forced to confess to his wife, Gerda, that he’d fallen 'madly in love' with his mistress. But Gerda, instead of being stung, decided to use the situation to suggest starting a polygamous household.

'One year [Manja] has a child, and the next year I do, so that you will always have a wife that is mobile,' Gerda gushed to her husband. 'We’ll put all the children together in a house on a lake.'

She went so far as to suggest a contract be drawn up, granting the mistress the same rights as the lawful wife. Gerda even thought a law should be passed in Germany 'which would entitle healthy, valuable men to have two wives.'

For Bormann, a man with an 'unrestrained libido' that he satisfied 'without regard to social convention,' this was a perfectly acceptable idea. 

But Gerda (pictured in the back of the car), instead of being stung, had the novel solution of suggesting establishing a polygamous household

But Gerda (pictured in the back of the car), instead of being stung, had the novel solution of suggesting establishing a polygamous household

Keen to put her ideas into practice, Gerda invited Manja to move in. But the actress struggled to adjust and eventually walked out.

In 1945, as the Allies closed in on Berlin, Martin Bormann was killed — probably by a shell from a Soviet tank. Gerda, who’d stayed behind at their cottage, painted a Red Cross on the roof of a school bus, and set off with her children, her sister-in-law and seven other infants for the South Tyrol.

There, they were met by the Nazis’ regional boss, who found them a home in a small village.

Though safe for the time being, Gerda was assailed by terrible pains. A local doctor recognised that she was in the advanced stages of ovarian cancer.

One day, a British Army major turned up on her doorstep. She panicked, thinking he was going to take her to a concentration camp. Instead, the major took her straight to an Italian hospital, where she had an operation.

It was too late. Gerda died on March 23, 1946, a few months shy of her 37th birthday, with all her fanatical beliefs intact.

Joseph Goebbels and wife Magda 

As Hitler’s infamous propaganda minister from 1933 to 1945, the rabidly anti-Semitic Goebbels seized control of the media and the arts, including theatre and film. But his wife — chiefly remembered for the killing of their six children — led an extraordinary secret life at the heart of the Third Reich.

From the moment Magda met Joseph Goebbels, the erotic charge between them was intense. She’d started working at his Nazi propaganda department in 1930, and it wasn’t long before they became lovers.

Goebbels was enraptured by the stunning and sophisticated blonde: ‘It’s like I’m dreaming. So full of satisfied bliss,’ he wrote. What she saw in him was harder to imagine: short and born with a club foot, he was prone to making clumsy passes at good-looking women, who often reacted with revulsion.

From the moment Magda met Joseph Goebbels, the erotic charge between them was intense. She’d started working at his Nazi propaganda department in 1930, and it wasn’t long before they became lovers

From the moment Magda met Joseph Goebbels, the erotic charge between them was intense. She’d started working at his Nazi propaganda department in 1930, and it wasn’t long before they became lovers

Still, Magda had been electrified by his rhetoric at a Nazi rally, which doubtless fuelled her desire.

Magda, a rich divorcee, also had a much younger lover. She tried to end that relationship, but the besotted student turned up one day with a gun, threatening to kill her if she didn’t take him back.

But there was one obstacle to their growing relationship with Goebbels: Hitler. Magda had met the Fuhrer the year after and she was immediately entranced by him. He returned the infatuation.

Hitler wanted to pursue a relationship with her, but in order to keep it secret, he came up with a strange proposition. To keep her close, he’d have Magda marry Goebbels. She enthusiastically accepted.

But there was one obstacle to their growing relationship with Goebbels: Hitler. Magda had met the Fuhrer the year after and she was immediately entranced by him. He returned the infatuation. Pictured: Hitler with deputy Hess

But there was one obstacle to their growing relationship with Goebbels: Hitler. Magda had met the Fuhrer the year after and she was immediately entranced by him. He returned the infatuation. Pictured: Hitler with deputy Hess

'Magda was intelligent, very sophisticated, very capable and really fell tragically in love with Hitler more so than her husband, but understood the only way to be close to Hitler was to embrace being the first lady of the Third Reich,' Wyllie said.

Magda and Goebbels married in December 1931, though he was uneasy over her adoration of the Fuhrer.

'She loses herself a bit around the Boss,' he wrote in his diary. 'I am suffering greatly. I didn’t sleep a wink.'

But Goebbels was also a dog in his personal life. He pursued director Leni Riefenstahl, and stuck his hand under her dress once while sitting next to her at the opera.


He struck up an affair in 1938 with actress Lida Baarova. He confessed the relationship to his wife over tea and asked if the three might be able to co-exist. Magda reluctantly agreed and Goebbels soon booked a trip for the three of them aboard a yacht.

An increasingly unhappy Magda wanted a divorce, but Hitler forbade it.

'He was really touchy about the idea that any of his close compatriots got divorced,' Wyllie says, because it would be bad for the party’s image.

Magda ultimately resigned herself to her husband’s philandering. She turned to Buddhism to combat her unhappiness and amused herself by playing tricks on his various mistresses.

She prank called one, telling her that Goebbels would send a car for her at a deserted crossroad at 11 p.m., then left the woman waiting for an hour before telling her husband what she’d done.

At the end of war however, Magda was face the most tragic ending of all the wives to Nazi leaders.

Confined to the Fuhrer's bunker in 1945, and with the man she actually loved having killed himself to avoid capture, she turned to her own children and her husband.

Twenty-four hours after the Fuhrer’s suicide, her children were given cocoa laced with a powerful sedative. 

At 8.40pm on May 1, 1945, she and Goebbels walked arm-in-arm into the garden.

Magda bit on her cyanide capsule. Her husband shot her in the head, swallowed his poison and turned the gun on himself. After their bodies were doused in petrol, the fire burned all night. 

Heinrich Himmler and wife Margarete

Heinrich Himmler was averse to bedroom intimacy. 'Sex both scared and fascinated him,' Wyllie writes.

Like Hess, the head of the SS remained a virgin into his late 20s after reading a book that suggested young men should channel their sexual energy into more useful pursuits. Celibacy was also a way to make a “virtue out of his abject failure with women.'

One woman who didn’t reject him was Margarete Boden. She had been a nurse on the Western front during WWI, and that experience likely damaged her.

One woman who didn’t reject him was Margarete Boden. She had been a nurse on the Western front during WWI, and that experience likely damaged her. She met Himmler on a train in 1927, began corresponding with him and the two married the next year

One woman who didn’t reject him was Margarete Boden. She had been a nurse on the Western front during WWI, and that experience likely damaged her. She met Himmler on a train in 1927, began corresponding with him and the two married the next year

She met Himmler on a train in 1927, began corresponding with him and the two married the next year. The union would bring her mostly misery.

“She was an enigmatic woman,” Wyllie said. “She was very closed off. She was defensive and paranoid and ultimately unhappy most of the time. I think she wanted a more ordinary husband than she got.”

Despite Himmler’s initial aversion to sex, he had trouble staying faithful. In 1938, he fell 'hopelessly' in love with his secretary, 26-year-old Hedwig Potthast — nicknamed Bunny

Despite Himmler’s initial aversion to sex, he had trouble staying faithful. In 1938, he fell 'hopelessly' in love with his secretary, 26-year-old Hedwig Potthast — nicknamed Bunny

She and Himmler dreamed of becoming farmers and bought a rural plot of land outside of Munich where she grew crops and tended to chickens, geese and rabbits.

She was often unwell and was badly injured in a 1939 accident when her home’s water heater exploded.

Despite Himmler’s initial aversion to sex, he had trouble staying faithful. In 1938, he fell 'hopelessly' in love with his secretary, 26-year-old Hedwig Potthast — nicknamed Bunny.

Bunny and Himmler schemed to find a way that they could be together.

When she gave birth to their son in 1942, he rented a cottage outside Berlin for her.

Margarete eventually found out about her husband’s love child. 'Sometimes I cannot believe what I live through. We poor women,' she wrote in her diary. 'Surrounded by lies and betrayal.'

Rudolf Hess and wife Ilse

Ilse Prohl, born in 1900, was the daughter of a respected doctor who was killed during the Great War.

While still a schoolgirl, she had a chance encounter with a strapping 26-year-old Rudolph Hess when they rented rooms in the same boarding house.

Ilse was smitten and pursued him, but Hess resisted. Like Himmler, he was still a virgin and had a tortured relationship with his body and desires, at times craving a 'monk-like existence.'

The couple dated for several years during which Hess 'showed absolutely no interest in sex,' the author writes. The two were bound by a shared love of classic German culture and poetry.

The pair first saw Hitler speak around 1920 and were immediately under his spell. 'We are anti-Semites,' Ilse wrote a friend. 'Constantly, rigorously, without exception.'

One-time Deputy Führer Rudoph Hess
His wife Ilse

One-time Deputy Führer Rudoph Hess meanwhile was mostly uninterested in sex with his wife Ilse, leaving her to years of misery and disappointment.

After seven sexless years, however, Ilse began losing patience with her boyfriend. In 1927, while Ilse, Hess and Hitler were dining at a cafe, Ilse was musing about what she’d do in the future.

Hitler took her hand, placed it on Hess’ and suggested they marry. Although Hess described Ilse as a 'loyal friend,' the two agreed to get married, with their wedding in December 1927. 

They moved into a small Munich apartment together, but Hess’ aversion to sex remained. Ilse complained to a friend that she felt like a 'convent girl.'  

Ten years later the couple had their only child, Wolf, named in honour of Hitler who occasionally used the animal as a code name.

Ten years later the couple had their only child, Wolf, named in honour of Hitler who occasionally used the animal as a code name

Ten years later the couple had their only child, Wolf, named in honour of Hitler who occasionally used the animal as a code name

After a falling out with Hitler, Hess flew himself to Scotland on a solo mission to bring about peace between Britain and Germany, but was arrested after discovering there was no plan for a peace agreement.

He was then sentenced to life imprisonment at Nuremberg and sent to Spandau prison in Berlin. But rather than abandon her husband, Ilse, who spent a year in jail, continued to correspond with Hess, although letters could take up to seven months to arrive.

Hess hanged himself in 1987 at the age of 93. Ilse, who surprised many historians by remaining loyal, died in 1995.

No comments:

Post a comment