For twelve turbulent years, Fraulein Christa Schroeder was at Hitler’s side, with notebook and pencil, as he and his cohorts murdered their way to a permanent power by destroying the old Weimar Germany and amazingly through the ballot box to succeed. All amazing times for any historian to examine and even more exciting for a secretary to live and work through it all, with Christa being there through most of it waiting for her master’s voice.
Born in 1908 Christa’s mother was a single parent, very much a stigma in those days. Her own relationship with her mother was and could be fraught.
It’s interesting to note that when she accepted eventual employment from the NSDAP (Nazi party) she was 22-years-old, almost the same age as when Traudl Junge also gained employment in Hitler’s secretarial pool in 1942.
Secretaries inevitably know and understand far more about their boss and his foibles than perhaps their own family do, and I can recollect two previous English cabinet ministers who divorced their wives and married their secretaries.
Of the infamous named “Night of the long knives,” executed in 1934, she flew with Hitler to Munich as he prepared to clean out the SA stable, beginning with his old benefactor, Ernst Rohm. Then at Bad Wiessee, she entered the hotel Hanselbaur soon after the arrest of Rohm’s lieutenants. Observing him sitting rather deflated “sitting in a winged back armchair, his fine shepherd dog resting alongside him,” later Rohm and many others not even connected to him were executed in Stadelheim prison, Munich and elsewhere. It is estimated over one hundred people were victims of an act orchestrated by Hitler and others.
Hours later and now sitting alone in the Reich Chancellery Hitler joined her and saying with a deep breath: “So I have bathed and felt as if newly born,” a strange choice of words for this bloodletting that he had just ordered to be carried out on occasion that had just occurred under his personal orders. I can’t help thinking that is a blasphemous reference to the saving words in John 3:3.
In Hitler’s travelling circus on his ‘triumphant visit’ to Austria in 1938 and especially in Vienna (yes she was there as well as going with the ‘boss’ to Italy), Christa refers to Cardinal Innitzer and of his visit to meet Hitler at the Hotel Imperial in the city, this she says certainly impressed Hitler as he enthused about on the way home. (Strangely enough in the 1963 film “The Cardinal” this important scene has a demented Hitler berating a quivering cardinal. It’s quite dramatic in fact. So of this supposed temper tantrum of Hitler, it didn’t happen, well not according to Christa anyway, and she should know, she was there.
I would have liked to have learned more about Christa’s failed relationship with her Yugoslav fiance. Because in 1938 her path and the diplomats crossed, yet it would end in disappointment. Later in 1939, she requested Hitler’s blessing for the impending marriage, this was sadly denied her by him. So to please him or perhaps there were other reasons she broke off the engagement, and this I suspect would cause her emotional stress, for the rest of her life.
Yet a lazy life in the Berghof somehow managed to be retained and even during the War. Hitler would grace it with his presence and everything naturally revolved around him, his demanding diet and his dog, Blondi.
And never forget that amazing window, then the showpiece of the building (nine meters wide in fact), that gazed out solemnly at the beautiful Untersberg mountains. This was always a topic of awe and amazement to guests and staff alike, with afternoon tea served at precisely four on the terrace. (Perhaps camomile tea and merengues, always popular for those with sensitive stomachs!) And frequently appearing in Eva Braun’s family films of everyday life at the court. (Hitler had, in fact, bought Eva a movie camera as a gift in 1936.) Life must have seemed sweetly serene for Christa and the other ‘chosen few’ in this make-believe world, but for the suffering soldiers of Field Marshall Von Paulus’ Sixth Army, fighting for survival in the cold of Russia, and remember few would or could escape that military disaster, with sadly fewer ever returning home to Germany to waiting families and friends in Postwar Germany.
In the evening Christa with Hitler and his selected guests would gather in the great hall after dinner to listen to some music (all being Hitler’s favourites of course.) The resident DJ at these in-house functions was surprisingly Martin Bormann who controlled the music cabinet, then placed the discs on the turntable and watched the guests with those penetrating eyes, nothing escaped his eyes or ears it seems.
Interestingly Christa relates a story about the sudden flight to Britain of Rudolf Hess. She was quite sure she said that Hitler knew nothing of the flight because apparently, Martin Bormann’s secretary wrote to Christa stating: “I am of the opinion that Adolph Hitler knew nothing of the flight. Martin Bormann told me at the time…Martin Bormann was always straight!”
Well, that statement could be debatable from those who knew him and feared him greatly, he wasn’t called “the grey eminence” for nothing. But as a live-in-secretary, she must have heard whispers of the camps and what was happening there or maybe she considered them just stories and nothing more, or so she hoped!
For Christa Schroeder, the Berghof years and its pleasures must I suggest have been the most blissful of her life (and she certainly looks very happy in the cine-film and photos taken of her in those lost days of the 1940s.) But after the Rastenbeuh mosquitoes the Berlin Bunker was now beckoning and with its claustrophobia atmosphere, there would now be no place else to go.
Now the final act would be played out at the court of ‘Mad King Adolph’ and to the terrible sound of marching Russian boots as they got nearer to a waiting and almost defenceless Berlin. And of those ladies who entered Hitler’s life, some with hesitation, with many departing in haste, Christa writes of her boss: “That He used eroticism, but not sex.” Hitler, she claims, was after all too committed to Germany. But I wonder if she truly believed that herself.
Of Geli Raubal she states with perhaps some certainty that, “He loved this girl very much,” and that poor naive Geli was flattered by her famous uncle’s devotion. Years later at the genteel afternoon teas, he would happily share with her and the other secretaries, she writes: “His memory of Geli became a cult for Hitler.” But wasn’t the whole of Nazism erected upon a cult? Hitler had twisted a nation away from God by offering them fake Nordic gods and atheism.
If Christa admired Geli she certainly seems to have taken a dislike to the future Mrs Hitler, and naturally, she would never show it. Eva Braun no less describing her relationship with Hitler as a “facade” and later “she made some sly suicide attempts,” remarked Christa of Eva’s failed attempts with the pills. But she was a soft blonde and womanly with great energy in gaining her own way, but I suspect Christa, the devoted conscientious employee, found in Eva a lazy and spoilt woman, frequently changing her clothes several times a day (because of boredom?) and lacking any interest in politics, so it seems.
Perhaps Hitler was aware of something in Christa, and after all, she had been on his payroll for thirteen years. This when he sent her away in 1945 from the bunker before he married Eva, and requested Traudl to take down his last Will and Testament, a chore I would have thought Christa would have had the honour of performing, and I suggest even she must have seen this as a wrong against her lasting loyalty in the years after the War.
Yet in those final days in the bunker, she happily drank champagne with Eva, played records for her even flirted with some the soldiers before the Nazi pack of cards came tumbling down, finally forever on her career and Germany’s past.
Her pen portraits of the Nazi villains of that time is also interesting. Writing of the brown shirt leader, Ernst Rohm, seen after his arrest and waiting his fate, she recalls him sitting in a winged back chair, somehow deflated after his arrest with “his fine shepherd dog resting alongside him.”
I wonder what happened to that faithful dog and could his name be perhaps “Dolphi.” I certainly hope he wasn’t one of the victims of that evening’s bloodbath, with perhaps later being offered a good home by someone, maybe even Hitler, Himmler or Heydrich the perpetrators of the “Night of the long knives.”
Of Heinrich Himmler, she claims he didn’t like music and would have been unsuitable as Hitler’s successor. Dr Goebbels, it seems had a sense of humour as seen in photos of her with him on the terrace of the Berghof.
Reich hero Otto Skorzeny even offered her some cyanide tablets for a bottle of whisky (Jack Daniels perhaps?) and of Martin Bormann she writes, “Bormann was simply one of the devoted and loyal of Hitler’s vassals to my mind. He was one of the few national socialists with clean hands..he was incorruptible.” Well, it seems to me that Christa had perhaps a crush on Bormann and must have followed the reported newspaper sightings of his movements after the War in South American and elsewhere with great relish, maybe he even sent her postcard written in code if and when he had the time.
Amazingly in her memoirs, she offers few words about Hitler’s youngest secretary Traudl Junge. So was this perhaps because of some jealousy that the younger girl was privy to so many of Hitler’s secrets, and that she got on so well with him or was it just because of her youth which would reach out before her, whereas much of Christa’s was now sadly behind her. Perhaps only memories and loneliness would comfort her in her little Munich apartment in the final years of her days.
Of her beliefs of a life hereafter and of the saving blood of Jesus Christ, I have no idea.
In the dying days of the Reich Hitler had summoned her and Gerda Christian, and urged them to leave the bunker quickly. However, he had one last order for Christa, that she return to the Berghof and retrieve and destroy his personal papers. Some have even suggested that Hitler himself might have considered returning with a select group of elite SS soldiers and maybe mount a final stand in the mountains he so loved against the approaching Americans.
Well, it’s an interesting scenario where perhaps General Patton might have made Hitler’s acquaintance if and when he had surrendered, but of course, it never happened. Hitler had always decided his own death and how he would arrange it. In the end, it would be in the ruins of Berlin and never the Berghof with its God-given beauty.
Christa did indeed arrive after a difficult journey at the mountain lair and as instructed she later removed some keepsakes of personal correspondence and drawings from Hitler’s office, later keeping some other artefacts and keepsakes of Hitler for herself as souvenirs of her years with him. But for now Christa’s employment as “Der Fuehrer secretary” was over, forever.
Later she would write bitterly that “On May 28th 1945 I was bundled into a jeep by two American soldiers, together with my two cases and an Erica typewriter.” Now she would have to face some of the consequences of being so close to Herr Hitler.
She would be interred with others of his staff as a prisoner by the Americans and as a possible war criminal, and out of her interrogations her interrogator would craft his own book on her and the Hitler years, much to her disgust.
After three years she was released.
Yet she kept copious notes of her life with Hitler and possibly concealing them in those post War days in Germany. And in 1985 her own memoirs would be published (but only in German) and as she later confessed, “I was a fanatic for truth.” Yet if all of the truth went into the book I do not know. I somehow doubt it. Her title for the published book was “He was my Chief.” A strange title it seems for a memoir.
Christa Schroeder never married and later lived quietly in Munich earning her living as a secretary, using those skills she had acquired and sharpened during her long service with Hitler, and they would never leave her until her death in 1985, aged seventy-six. I suspect many of the secrets and memories of the man who called his secretaries “my child” went with her to the grave and hadn’t these been what she had always cherished with from the man she was proud to call “My Chief.”
Postscript: According to Albert Speer Christa had some idea of the exterminations in 1942, saying to Speer years after the Wars end: “Of course Hitler knew! Not only knew it, it was all his idea, his orders.” But she later begged Speer not to reveal this in his published autobiography. This he did, writing later that: “I complied with her request during her lifetime.”
As the rise and fall of the Third Reich developed so did her own life in those turbulent twelve years of Hitler’s madness that almost brought a country to the brink of ruin.
“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.”
He was my chief, the memoirs of Adolph Hitler’s Secretary, Christa Schroeder
18th October 2012
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