Blind Spot
 26th Montreal World Film Festival, 2002

By Jerry Tallmer


©Photo by Lois Siegel

Jerry Tallmer
New York City Journalist and Critic
 One of Founders of “ The Village  Voice”
 Created the Obie Awards (Off-Broadway Theatre) in 1956

 
Traudl Junge


  Adolf Hitler had a dog named Blondi. He also had a cleanliness fetish, and every time he petted or stroked Blondi, he would wash his hands.

Blondi had a talent unusual in dogs. Blondi could sing - and, we are told, could even "sing an octave higher on command." On April 29 or 30, 1945, when the Russians had blasted Berlin into rubble and flames on all sides of Hitler's  bunker, and Der Führer, having just married Eva Braun, was about to dictate the Political Testament that would be his last heritage to the world (" . . . the Jews are to blame"), he took one of the cyanide pellets Himmler had provided him - and tested it on Blondi.

"It worked very well," says  the woman in the movie
The woman in the movie, a large, handsome, square-faced Bavarian with beautiful wavy gray hair, is 81-year-old Traudl Junge, who in 1942, at age 22, won a job as Hitler's private secretary, and served in that capacity -- at the Wolf's Lair (Hitler's field headquarters in East Prussia); at Bavaria's Obersalzberg (his "Eagle's Nest" at Berchtesgarden); and aboard his private train - all the way through to the Gotterdammerung of suicides in that bunker in Berlin.

I have never cottoned to the intellectual and societal elitism of Hannah Arendt's "Banality of Evil," but when even Traudi Junge says, of the goings-on all around her in the spring of 1945, that "a lot of it sounds so banal," your skin may suddenly start to crawl.

The film,  "Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary," a 90-minute documentary by the Austrian team of André Heller and Othmar Schmiderer, boiled down from 12 hours of Junge's on-camera remembrances, won an audience prize this past spring in Berlin at a screening only some 50 meters from where Hitler, Eva Braun, and the entire Goebbels family had died57 years earlier. It then opened nationwide in Germany.

             Filmmaker Andre Heller

All on its own it quickly became the buzz - "chilling," was the most-heard word -- of the recent 26th Montreal World Film Festival.

Traudl Junge - the granddaughter of a general - was a fatherless young woman when, in what she calls "an act of defiance," she left home in Munich to go live with her sister in Berlin. Defiance maybe, but Traudl, who was 13 when Hitler came to power, also says: "I was incredibly conformist as a child . . . I think I matured late as well."  Unable to afford dancing school, she went looking in Berlin for a job as secretary.

"Love can easily be translated into hate if your father betrays (i.e., abandons) you," she says, and she was sitting there, "in an unpleasant room" - having taken a typing test that she thought she'd flunked -- when "here came a kindly old gentleman (Hitler was 53) with a soft voice and a friendly smile, who just said: 'Good morning' . . . in a harmless, peaceful atmosphere, not frightening at all."
The place was freezing. "Hitler didn't like a warm room. 'My child,' he said, 'don't be nervous. Shall I bring a heater for you?' "

Little Trudy Humps, as Hitler would come to call her, had found her father figure.

He worried about all the men, his aides, who grabbed off all his secretaries. Maybe we should make the girls ugly, he said to her in jest - "put ornaments in their lips, like Negroes."  Mein Fuehrer, she replied, don't worry - "I've been without a man for 22 years." Her principal duty was to sort his mail.

She never heard the raging Hitler of the mass rallies "speak anything like that in private." He "never used the word 'Jews' in ordinary conversation, at least not in my presence." Once Himmler came around and talked of "concentration camps"; it's the only time she heard those two words. Once Baldur von Shirach (commander of the Hitler Youth) came in and talked about Jews being packed into railroad cars in Amsterdam.

"Hitler got very angry, and von Shirach was never asked to the Berghof again."

Yes, she has  regrets - given the passage of time and the distance, she regrets everything. "I did feel pity (for the victims of Nazism), but I had to overcome it . . . I can't forgive the child, the girl, I was . . . Millions of others didn't see what a criminal he (Hitler) was . . . To raise any discussion (of her mounting doubts) would have taken more courage (than she had).
She did see, all too well, what a self-cocooned personality Hitler was. A vegetarian. A health nut whose personal homeopathic physician, Dr. Morell, gave him hormone and vitamin shots. A dubious lover. "I didn't think the relationship with Eva was very erotic. I don't think he was prepared to let himself go - which," declares 81-year-old Traudl Junge, "is important in erotic matters."

He "would never have flowers in his room . . . had a dislike of dead things . . . never did see a city that had been badly bombed" - until Berlin.

It is the last months of that secretarial employment that, as noted, are truly Wagnerian - all mixed in with farce. In the final hours, Hitler - "his face like a mask of stone" - leans forward and, for the first time that Junge has ever observed, kisses Eva Braun on the lips. Amid discussions of whether poison or bullets are best for suicide, Eva engages pettishly "in a bizarre conversation" about a garden statue she wishes to claim as her own.

There is a wedding (not Eva's), and dancing, between shells and bombs. Hitler asks Junge to come in with a shorthand pad. "I had never in my life taken shorthand from him." Now she does. It is his Political Testament. "Please type up three copies as soon as possible," he says.

"I make fewer typing mistakes than usual. There are still two days and two nights to go."  Everybody is running around talking about how the Russians are going to castrate all the male Germans and raze Berlin to the ground - "visions from (Hieronymous) Bosch." At the end of the two days and two nights, the body of the leader of the Thousand-Year Reich is burnt - "leaving a gap in my memory, a black hole in my mind."

Through the years she has come to remember all too well, and by the time the two Austrians shot this movie, she has, I am told, cried all the way through the making of it.  For better or for worse, all but a tiny bit of the crying has been edited out, presenting a cool, self-contained Traudl Junge who
talks and talks and smokes and talks.
It was during the second screening of  "Blind Spot" in Berlin, this past February, that the hospitalized Traudl Junge died of cancer. "In our last phone call," says producer Danny Krausz, "she said she had the feeling that the past had let her go." But the past, her past, there on film, does not let go of us. Blondi, sing!


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