May 2001 Journal

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Role model Magda

It is said that if the Weimar Republic hadn’t enfranchised women, the Nazis would not have won the majority of the popular vote in 1933. The fact that German women supported a party that categorised them as inferior, and excluded them from any role in the political process, tells us a great deal about the truly antediluvian character of German society. In the 18th and 19th centuries England had its great political hostesses like Lady Holland and the Duchess of Devonshire and outstanding writers like the Brontes and George Eliot; France boasted the Princess de Polignac and George Sand; even in Russia, the most feudal country of Europe, Tolstoy created female - and feminist - heroines like Anna Karenina. In Wihelminian Germany her rather pallid fictional counterpart was Fontane’s Effie Briest (though the real life Lou-Andreas Salomé, confidante of Nietzsche and Freud, deserves an honourable mention).

Third Reich’s First Lady

Where, one asks, were the German equivalents to the Pankhursts, or to those heroic Russian revolutionaries like Vera Zasulich? In fact, one woman operating on the German political stage would have fitted the bill. She was Rosa Luxemburg, a Polish Jewess murdered by rightwing officers in 1919. Hereafter, the type of woman whom literally millions of her humble sisters would dream of emulating was Magda Quandt. Finishing-school educated and advantageously married, she burst upon the national consciousness when she became the First Lady of the Third Reich by taking Josef Goebbels as her second husband. Since Hitler was both psychologically and politically averse to marriage, Magda acted the part of his chatelaine at the Berghof a glamorous role that made her the Madame Pompadour of the Nazi Versailles.

But things weren’t as simple as all that. In Hitler’s Neanderthal mind, relations between the sexes were determined by the old adage ‘to the brave the fair’. (In other words, man was the hero whose reward consisted of the submission of a beautiful woman). Sexually abnormal himself, Hitler liked to bask in the ambience of glamour generated by the presence of film stars like Leni Riefenstahl, Zarah Leander and Lillian Harvey. Those ‘divas’ were exempt from the constraints of the three ‘Ks’: Kinder, Kirche, Küche.

Fulfilment in motherhood

But Magda’s role had to be more than merely decorative. As the Reich’s First Lady she had to demonstrate the fulfilment Nazi women were supposed to find in motherhood. She did so with a vengeance, giving birth to six Goebbels children in short succession, and being almost permanently pregnant. Goebbels, meanwhile, pursued his career as the most scandal-prone sexual athlete in the Nazi hierarchy. Although their marriage was obviously not one of ‘true minds’ they did agree on one thing in the end: a world bereft of the Führer was not fit for their children to grow up in. Thus in late April 1945 they decided on suicide en famille. It could be said that Madga, who had a record of bad faith throughout her life towards Jewish family friends, towards the brilliant Zionist luminary Chaim Arlosoroff, towards her first husband finally proved herself most faithful in committing the most heinous deed a mother is capable of. Even in this she was representative of her sex, for it is a little contested fact that in the wave of suicides that gripped the country after Hitler’s death women outnumbered men.
Richard Grunberger

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