|Monday, 20 October 2008 21:21|
Johanna Maria Magdalena "Magda" Goebbels
Born: November 11, 1901, Berlin.
Died: May 1, 1945, Berlin.
Cause of death: Suicide, most probably a pact requiring her husband to shoot her.
Notable because: She executed her 6 children, whose names all started with H, before committing suicide.
Magda Goebbels was the wife of Nazi Germany's Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. A prominent Nazi, she was a close ally and political supporter of Adolf Hitler. As Berlin was being overrun by the Red Army at the end of World War II, she killed their six children and then committed suicide. (Her oldest child by another marriage was not present; he was a Luftwaffe pilot who survived the war.)
Magda was born in 1901 in Berlin, Germany to twenty-year-old Auguste Behrend, the acknowledged daughter of engineer Oskar Rietschel (sometimes spelled 'Ritschel'). Rietschel and Behrend married later that year and divorced in 1904. Some sources, including Hans-Otto Meissner (son of Otto Meissner) suggest that the marriage took place before Magda's birth, and that Magda was legitimate, but there is no particular evidence to support this.
When Magda was five, her mother sent her to stay with Rietschel in Cologne. Rietschel took her to Brussels, where she was enrolled at the Ursuline Convent in Vilvoorde. At the convent, she was remembered as "an active and intelligent little girl".
Magda's mother Auguste married a Jewish manufacturer named Richard Friedländer, later presumed to have died in the concentration camps, and moved with him to Brussels in 1908. They remained in Brussels, on cordial terms, until the outbreak of World War I, when all Germans were forced to leave Belgium as refugees, to avoid repercussions from the Belgians after the German invasion.
They moved to Berlin where Magda attended the high school Kolmorgen Lycée. Auguste Behrend divorced the now impoverished Friedländer in 1914.
It was at this time that Magda met and became close to another refugee from Belgium, Lisa Arlosoroff. It is commonly claimed that she later dated Arlosoroff's brother Haim Arlosoroff. He was to become a prominent Zionist and was assassinated in Palestine in 1933.
In 1919, Magda was enrolled in the prestigious Holzhausen Ladies' College near Goslar.
At the age of seventeen, while returning to school on a train, Magda met Günther Quandt, a rich German industrialist twice her age, whose holdings later grew into VARTA batteries among other businesses. He also had large shareholdings in BMW and Daimler-Benz. It is claimed that although a physically unremarkable man, Quandt courted Magda at school by posing as a family friend and swept her off her feet with courtesy and grand gestures. He demanded that she change her name back to Rietschel (having borne the name of her mother and stepfather, Friedländer, at her own request, for many years) while converting from Rietschel's nominal Catholicism to Protestantism. She and Quandt were married on January 4, 1921, and her first child, Harald, was born on November 1, 1921. Harald was her only child to survive the war.
Magda soon grew frustrated in her marriage, because Quandt spent little time with her, and at the age of twenty-three she became attracted to her eighteen-year-old stepson Helmut Quandt. However, he died of complications from appendicitis in 1927. She and Günther Quandt then went on a six-month automobile tour of America, where she captured the attention of a nephew of the U.S. President Herbert Hoover. Later, after her divorce from Quandt, he travelled back from America to visit her and ask her to marry him, an episode that ended in a car crash in which Magda was seriously injured.
Quandt hired detectives and divorced Magda in 1929, but was ultimately generous with the divorce settlement.
Young, blonde and attractive with no need to work, on the advice of a friend, Magda attended a meeting of the Nazi Party, where she was impressed by one of the speakers, Dr Joseph Goebbels, then the Gauleiter of Berlin. She joined the party on September 1, 1930, and did some volunteer work, although she has not been characterized as politically active. From the local branch, Magda moved to the party headquarters and for a brief period became secretary to Dr Hans Meinshausen, Goebbels' deputy, before being invited to take charge of Goebbels' own private archives.
Otto Wagener claims that Magda met and was attracted to Adolf Hitler, who was impressed by her, and that her marriage to Goebbels was somewhat arranged. Since Hitler intended to remain unmarried, it was suggested that as the wife of a leading and highly visible Nazi official she might eventually act as 'first lady of the Third Reich'. Magda's social connections and upper class bearing may have influenced Goebbels' own enthusiasm.
Meissner, on the contrary, makes no suggestion of this, claiming rather that Hitler (though undoubtedly impressed by Magda) was an exceptionally close, platonic friend of the couple in the earliest days, who would often arrive late at night and was as likely as Goebbels to sit with the baby Helga on his lap while they talked into the night. He also claims that after an abortive attempt to poison him at the Kaiserhof Hotel in Berlin in January 1933, Hitler asked Magda to prepare all his meals.
Magda married Goebbels on December 19, 1931, at Günther Quandt's farm in Mecklenburg, with Hitler as a witness.
The Goebbels subsequently had six children
Goebbels had many affairs with other women during his marriage to Magda. One of the most widely known was with the popular Czech actress Lída Baarová. He was so smitten with Baarova that he even contemplated marrying her. Magda resorted to asking Hitler for a divorce, and Baarová was eventually sent away, while Goebbels was in such disgrace that for a time it was rumored that he might be sent to Japan as German ambassador. Magda was also rumored to have had affairs, including one with Goebbels's deputy Karl Hanke.
Both Magda and Goebbels derived personal benefits and social status from their close association with Hitler. Joseph (as propaganda minister) and Magda remained loyal to Hitler and publicly supported him. Privately, Magda expressed doubts, especially after the war began to go badly on the eastern front. On November 9, 1942, during a gathering with friends listening to a speech by Hitler, she switched off the radio exclaiming, "My God, what a lot of rubbish". In 1944, she reportedly said of Hitler, "He no longer listens to voices of reason. Those who tell him what he wants to hear are the only ones he believes".
There is no evidence that Magda intervened to save her Jewish stepfather from the holocaust. Though his fate has not been established, it is widely assumed that he perished in the camps, perhaps misnamed as 'Max Friedlander', a man known to have died in Sachsenhausen. A plea from a Jewish school friend on behalf of her daughter seems to have also fallen on deaf ears. Asked about the antisemitism of her husband she answered: "The Führer wants it thus, and Joseph must obey".
At the beginning of the war Magda threw herself enthusiastically into her husband's propaganda machine. Her other official functions involved entertaining the wives of the foreign heads of state, supporting the troops and comforting war widows.
Magda's first son, Harald Quandt, became a Luftwaffe pilot and fought at the front, while, at home, Magda strove to live up to the image of a patriotic mother by training as a Red Cross nurse and working with the electronics company Telefunken. She insisted on traveling to work on a bus, like her co-workers.
Towards the end of the war, Magda is known to have suddenly begun to suffer from trigeminal neuralgia. This condition affects a nerve in the face, and although usually harmless is considered to cause more intense pain than any other condition and can be notoriously hard to treat. This often left her bedridden and led to bouts of hospitalization as late as August 1944.
In late April 1945, the Soviet Red Army entered Berlin, and the Goebbels family moved into the Führerbunker, beneath the bombed out Reich Chancellery. One of the rooms they occupied had been recently vacated by Hitler's personal physician Theodor Morell. The only bathroom with a bath was Adolf Hitler's own, and he gladly made it available to Magda and her children. Meanwhile, reports of Soviet troops looting and raping as they advanced were circulating in Berlin. Hitler and his bride Eva Braun committed suicide on the afternoon of April 30.
Two days earlier, Magda wrote a farewell letter to her son Harald Quandt, who was in a POW camp in North Africa. This letter is her only handwritten bequest.
Joseph Goebbels' last will and testament, dictated to his secretary, directed that Magda and their children support him in his refusal to leave Berlin and his resolution to die in the bunker. He later qualified this by saying that the children would support the decision [to commit suicide] if they were old enough to speak for themselves.
The following day, on May 1, 1945, the Goebbels' six children were drugged with morphine and killed with cyanide capsules broken in their mouths. Accounts differ over how involved Magda Goebbels was in the killing of her children. Some accounts claimed that the SS doctor Ludwig Stumpfegger crushed the cyanide capsules into the children's mouths, but as no witnesses to the event survived it is impossible to know this. O'Donnell concluded that although Stumpfegger was probably involved in drugging the children, Magda Goebbels killed them herself. O'Donnell suggested that witnesses blamed the deaths on Stumpfegger because he was a convenient target, having disappeared (and died, it was later learned) the following day. Moreover, as O'Donnell recorded, Stumpfegger may have been too intoxicated at the time of the deaths to have played a reliable role.
Meissner claims that Stumpfegger refused to take any part in the deaths of the children, and that a mysterious "country doctor from the enemy-occupied eastern region" appeared and "carried out the fearful task" before disappearing again.
Magda appears to have contemplated and talked about killing her children at least a month in advance. She also refused several offers from others, such as Albert Speer, to spirit the children out of Berlin. There was evidence, in the form of bruises, that the eldest child, twelve-year-old Helga, had awakened and struggled before she was killed. The children's bodies, in nightclothes, with ribbons tied in the girls hair, were found in the two-tiered bunk beds where they were killed when Soviet troops entered the bunker a day later.
After their children were dead, Magda and Joseph Goebbels walked upstairs to the bombed-out garden, avoiding the need for anyone to carry their bodies. By some accounts, she was shaking uncontrollably. The details of their suicides are uncertain. One SS officer later said they each took cyanide and were shot by an SS trooper. An early report said they were machine-gunned to death at their own request. According to another account, Joseph shot Magda and then himself. This idea is presented in the film Downfall. Their bodies were doused in petrol, only partially burnt and not buried. The charred corpses were found on the afternoon of May 2, 1945 by Russian troops and a photograph of Goebbels' burnt face was widely published. Their remains and those of their children were later secretly buried by the Soviets, and in April 1970 all were burned and the ashes scattered in the Elbe river.
|Last Updated on Friday, 24 September 2010 16:42|