It has often been joked that Goebbels was not tall, Hitler was not blond, and Goering was not thin- the point being, of course, that no Nazi fit the Nordic superman image they so often lauded. But there was a Nazi who fit the image almost so perfectly as to be startling: a woman, Magda Goebbels. Like German women were supposed to do, she bore a multitude of children for the Fuhrer and the Reich. She was beautiful, stately, and a good homemaker. She was one of the only people close to Adolf Hitler to completely read his long book, Mein Kampf. She let herself fall under the oratorical spell of Hitler and Goebbels. Most of all, she was utterly devoid of any true belief system or philosophy, and lived only to satisfy a lust for power and a simultaneous wish to be ruled. Hans-Otto Meissner’s Magda Goebbels: First Lady of the Third Reich, a fantastic and informative book detailing the life of the Nazi Propaganda Minister’s wife, tries to understand why so elegant a woman could be drawn into such a repugnant philosophy. 1
Magda Goebbels was the feminine face of evil- wily, subtle, stately, alluring, yet just as dangerous as the men in the Nazi circle, albeit in a vastly different way. The Nazi world view was not merely spread by political speeches, or even the subconscious allure of propaganda, but by the personalities and vibe of fellow human beings such as Magda, people who the everyday German citizen admired and saw as the barometer of their nation’s values and strength. Perhaps because of its subtle subjectivity, her brand of evil was less easily detected and more dangerous. The ease and coldness with which she turned on those who once befriended her remind one of Hannah Arendt’s phrase, “the banality of evil,” and underscored the instances of political backstabbing that occurred at a more official level. Maria Magdalena Ritschel, born on November 11, 1901, was the daughter of Oskar Ritschel, a wealthy engineer, and Auguste Behrend, who came from the lower middle class.1 Later, her mother married Richard Friedlander, also a very wealthy man. Magda remained close to both her fathers throughout her childhood.2 The Belgian Ursuline convent Magda was sent to as a child was strict, employing disciplinary practices from the medieval ages.3 Magda learned the self-control and ability to adjust to different states of mind she would require when she joined the Nazi party.4 Joseph Goebbels was the son of a lower middle class foreman in a textile factory. Dark featured and delicate, having one leg which was 8 centimeters shorter than the other,5 he was bullied in school, but determined to make up for it by being mentally stronger than his classmates.6 His teachers at school noticed his brilliance, but, ironically, did not think he would make it as a speaker. He enrolled at the Albert Magnus Society to study for the priesthood, but his tutor saw right into Joseph’s true soul: “Young man, you don’t believe in God.”7 2
Goebbels earned a doctorate and went on to write a few bad plays while sulking around, waiting for the chance to use his true talent, hoping it would be with the new political group he had discovered, the National Socialists, the Nazis.8 He never spoke out against or even felt a particular way about the Jews while in his youth; in fact, some of his most helpful professors and beloved authors were Jewish.9 At one point, the nihilistic and fickle man even began working for a Nazi rival group, and tried to persuade National Socialists to join it, merely because the pay was better.10 When he rejoined the Nazis, he even spoke openly against Hitler, calling him bourgeois and pro-monarchist.11 Meanwhile, Magda befriended and quickly married a much older gentleman, the wealthy Gunther Quandt. Much older in spirit and manner than in years, she attracted his attention immediately, her hunger for life and excitement showing in her face.12 After a short courtship, they...
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