On 18 September 1931, a 23-year-old woman was found dead in a sumptuous nine-room Munich apartment, a single shot wound into her heart. Her name was Geli Raubal, the apartment was rented to Adolf Hitler, and the young woman happened to be Hitler’s niece. Cause of death – suicide. Naturally.
Geli Raubal was the daughter of Hitler’s half sister, Angela. Angela and Adolf grew up together; both products of the same father, Alois Hitler, and his second and third wives respectively.
In 1928, Hitler offered his sister the position of housekeeper in his Bavarian mountain retreat. Angela arrived with her two daughters, Elfriede and nineteen-year-old Angela, known as Geli. Hitler immediately took a shine to the carefree Geli and, in order to remove her from her mother’s watchful eye, installed her into his Munich apartment. Nineteen years Hitler’s junior, she was, according to one of Hitler’s aides, ‘of medium size, well developed, had dark, rather wavy hair, and lively brown eyes… it was simply astonishing to see a young girl at Hitler’s side.’
Geli, who called Hitler ‘Uncle Alf’, had been born in Linz; the town Hitler always considered his hometown, on 4 June 1908.
Hitler liked to be seen with his attractive niece, taking her to meetings, and to restaurants and theatres, but their relationship was a stormy one. Both were consumed by jealousy – Geli of Hitler’s relationship with a seventeen-year-old Eva Braun, a model for Hitler’s photographer, Heinrich Hoffman; and Hitler by Geli’s flirtatious conduct and numerous admirers. Indeed, Hitler once told Hoffman, ‘I love Geli and could marry her.’
Instead, Hitler controlled her life and dictated whom she was allowed to see and when. Geli found her uncle’s overbearing influence suffocating. He refused Geli permission to move to Vienna to study music (Vienna was where, as a young man, Hitler twice unsuccessfully applied to the art academy).
When Hitler suspected Geli of dating his chauffeur, an ex-convict called Emil Maurice, he flew into a rage and had the man sacked (although he was at some point later re-instated). What we don’t know for sure was whether Hitler had a sexual relationship with his niece. His sexuality has always been a subject for debate – was he homosexual or even asexual? Hitler often maintained he was wedded to the German nation and had no time for women. (He only married Eva Braun in the bunker beneath the Reichstag in Berlin just forty hours before their joint suicide in 1945.)
With regards to Geli, Wilhelm Stocker, an SA officer, decades later, wrote, ‘She admitted to me that at times Hitler made her do things in the privacy of her room that sickened her but when I asked her why she didn’t refuse to do them she just shrugged and said that she didn’t want to lose him to some woman that would do what he wanted.’ The ‘things’ that ‘sickened’ her, so speculation has it, included sexual games involving urination.
In 1929, Hitler wrote Geli an explicit letter. The letter, had it been exposed to the press, would have spelt the end of Hitler’s career. It fell to a Catholic priest, Father Bernhard Stempfle, a fervent anti-Semite who had helped Hitler edit his biographical Mein Kampf, to rescue the letter. (Fr Stempfle would later fall victim to Hitler’s purge, the Night of the Long Knives, probably for simply knowing too much about Hitler’s deepest secrets. His body was found in a forest near Munich with a broken neck and three bullets in the heart).
For the last time – no
On the afternoon of 18 September 1931, witnesses heard Hitler and Geli have a row. As he got into his car to go to a meeting ahead of attending a conference in Hamburg, Hitler was heard shouting, ‘For the last time – no.’ After Uncle Alf’s angry departure, staff at the apartment heard Geli stomping around and may have heard a noise that sounded like a shot from a revolver.
The following morning, when Geli failed to emerge for breakfast, they knocked on her door, but found it locked from the inside. When there was no answer, they either broke the door down or called in a locksmith (accounts vary). The exact sequence of events is unclear. Inside they found Geli lying face down in a pool of blood with a single bullet wound to her heart. The gun, lying nearby, had been Hitler’s revolver. It looked like suicide. Yet, on the writing desk, was an upbeat letter Geli was in the process of writing to a friend. It was left unfinished in midsentence.
The seeds of inhumanity
There was no inquest into her death nor an autopsy. The passage of the bullet was not consistent with suicide, yet suicide was the verdict. There were several rumours – that her nose was broken, that she was pregnant.
The first police officer on the scene, Heinrich Muller (pictured), was seen pocketing the letter and the pistol into his coat. He was later appointed head of the Gestapo. An anti-Nazi journalist, Fritz Gerlich, claimed that Hitler never did leave for his meeting, and that he and Geli had lunch together at a local restaurant. On returning to their apartment, they had a row that resulted in Geli’s death. (Gerlich once defined the Nazi Party as: ‘Enmity with neighbouring nations, tyranny internally, civil war, world war, lies, hatred, fratricide and boundless want.’. Gerlich and, apparently, the owner of the restauarnt, was another killed during the Night of the Long Knives.)
When Hitler was told of his niece’s death, by Rudolp Hess, he fell into a deep depression, almost comatosed, and talked of taking his own life. Colleagues kept watch over him. He became a vegetarian because, apparently, the sight of meat reminded him of her corpse. Her bedroom was sealed off and maintained as a shrine. Each year, on the anniversaries of her birth and her death, the room was decked with flowers.
How Geli’s mother, Angela, reacted to the news is not recorded but one can imagine. She stayed on working for Hitler until, in 1936, she left his employ to marry an architect. Hitler, upset by her departure, did not send a wedding present.
Heinrich Hoffman, Hitler’s official photographer, later stated that Raubal’s death ‘was when the seeds of inhumanity began to grow inside Hitler’.
Sixteen months after the death of Geli Raubal, on 30 January 1933, Hitler was appointed chancellor.