Joseph Goebbels’s former personal secretary, one of the last surviving eyewitnesses of the inner workings of the Nazi machine, has broken her near-silence of over 70 years, telling the story of her experience working for Hitler’s chief propagandist in a new film about her life.
“A German Life,” compiled from over 30 hours of conversation with the 105-year-old Brunhilde Pomsel, was first released at last month’s Munich Film Festival. The film shows her talking candidly, and at times chillingly, about her relationship with Goebbels, Adolf Hitler and other key figures of the Nazi regime, her role as personal aide to the minister of propaganda, and the grim last days she spent in the infamous Führerbunker.
Speaking to the Guardian newspaper this week, in one of only a few interviews she has agreed to give, Pomsel explained why she decided to tell her story now, after decades of silence.
“In the little time that’s left to me – and I hope it will be months rather than years – I just cling to the hope that the world doesn’t turn upside down again as it did then, though there have been some ghastly developments, haven’t there? I’m relieved I never had any children that I have to worry about,” she said.
“It is absolutely not about clearing my conscience,” she added.
Pomsel expressed some sense of guilt but was unrepentant about the decisions that brought her to the very center of Nazi power.
“Those people nowadays who say they would have stood up against the Nazis – I believe they are sincere in meaning that, but believe me, most of them wouldn’t have,” she said. “The whole country was as if under a kind of a spell… I could open myself up to the accusations that I wasn’t interested in politics but the truth is, the idealism of youth might easily have led to you having your neck broken.”
Pomsel waxed lyrical about the working conditions with her former boss when she first started working for him in 1942, long before she shared his final days in the subterranean air-raid shelter in Berlin.
“We always knew once he had arrived, but we didn’t normally see him until he left his office, coming through a door that led directly into our room, so we could ask him any questions we had, or let him know who had called,” she said. “Sometimes, his children came to visit and were so excited to visit Daddy at his work. They would come with the family’s lovely Airedale. They were very polite and would curtsy and shake our hands.”
Three years later, as Berlin was overrun by Soviet Army troops in May 1945, Goebbels and his wife killed their six children with cyanide before killing themselves. It was a day after Hitler’s suicide.
Pomsel, who was captured shortly after by Soviet troops and spent five years in a Soviet prison, says she was “dumbstruck” when told the news.
As Goebbel’s secretary, Pomel’s tasks included “massaging downwards statistics about fallen soldiers, as well as exaggerating the number of rapes of German women by the Red Army,” according to the Guardian. She maintains, however, that despite her proximity to Goebbels, himself considered one of Hitler’s closest confidants, she was not privy to the horrors perpetrated by her bosses.
“I know no one ever believes us nowadays – everyone thinks we knew everything,” she said. “We knew nothing, it was all kept well secret.”