Geli Raubal – Hitler’s niece

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.

Uncle Alf

Geli RaubalIn 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).

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Yakov Stalin – a summary

Born 18 March 1907, Yakov Stalin (or Dzhugashvili) was the son of Joseph Stalin and Stalin’s first wife, Ekaterina Svanidze. Stalin certainly didn’t harbour particularly warm feelings for his son. Deprived of his father’s affections and upset by a failed romance, Yakov, or Yasha as Stalin called him, once tried to shoot himself. As he lay bleeding, his father scathingly remarked, ‘He can’t even shoot straight’.

Yakov StalinYakov Stalin joined the Red Army at the outbreak of war in the East in June 1941, serving as a lieutenant in the artillery. On the first day of the war, his father told him to ‘Go and fight’.

Peace loving and gentle

His half-sister, Svetlana Alliluyeva, the daughter of Stalin and his second wife, Nadezhda, claimed in her book, Twenty Letters to a Friend, that Yakov never ‘took any advantage [as a soldier]; never made even the slightest attempt to avoid danger… Since my father, moreover, hadn’t any use for him and everybody knew it, no one in the higher echelons of the army gave him special treatment.’ Yakov, according to Svetlana, was ‘peace-loving, gentle and extremely quiet.’ But he wasn’t fond of his half brother Vasily (Svetlana’s brother) and disliked his ‘penchant for profanity’, and once turned on Vasily with his fists ‘like a lion’.

Nazi Officers Interrogating Yakov StalinOn 16 July, within a month of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Yakov was captured and taken prisoner (pictured). Stalin considered all prisoners as traitors to the motherland and those that surrendered he demonised as ‘malicious deserters’. ‘There are no prisoners of war,’ he once said, ‘only traitors to their homeland’.

Certainly Yakov, by all accounts, felt that he had failed his father. Under interrogation, he admitted that he had tried to shoot himself. His father probably would have preferred it if he had.

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Jan Palach – a summary

On 16 January 1969, a 20-year-old Czechoslovakian student, Jan Palach, staged a one-man protest on Prague’s Wenceslas Square by dousing himself in petrol then setting himself on fire. Three days later, on 19 January, he died of his injuries. Palach’s protest was against Czechoslovakia’s authoritarian rule, re-imposed after the brief but significant period of liberalization, the Prague Spring, of the previous year.

Prague Spring

Leonid BrezhnevThe Prague Spring had been led by Czechoslovakia’s new communist party chairman, Alexander Dubcek, appointed in January 1968. Although claiming to be loyal to his Soviet masters in Moscow, Dubcek ushered in a period of political and cultural freedom unheard of in the previous twenty years of Czechoslovakian communist rule. The Soviet leadership, under Leonid Brezhnev (pictured), became increasingly concerned with what they considered Dubcek’s treachery and Czechoslovakia’s counterrevolution and demanded he reversed the reforms.

While outwardly agreeing and promising to compromise, Dubcek did nothing to halt the growing movement of liberalisation. Dubcek had gone too far, and so Brezhnev decided to act. On 21 August 1968, Soviet troops appeared in Czechoslovakia and on the streets of Prague to quash the ‘Prague Spring’ and to reassert stricter communist rule. Dubcek was initially arrested, restored briefly to power, albeit heavily monitored, before being replaced by Gustav Husak, a hardline alternative, loyal to Brezhnev and the communist cause. The Prague Spring was over.

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Hermann Goring – a summary

Born in Bavaria, 12 January 1893, to a well-to-do Prussian family, Hermann Goring fancied himself as a cut above the rest, a cultured man, fond of fine-living, the arts and women. Indeed, as a young fighter pilot during the First World War, Goring cut a dashing figure and in June 1918, won the Pour le Mérite, otherwise known as the Blue Max, Prussia’s highest award.

Hermann GoringAt the time of his birth, Goring’s parents were stationed in Haiti, his father working for the German consul there. His mother returned to Germany to give birth, then promptly returned to Haiti, leaving baby Hermann with a friend, not to see her child again for three years.

After the First World War, Goring worked as a commercial pilot in Denmark and Sweden, where he met his future wife, the Swedish baroness Carin von Kantzow. They married in Munich on 3 February 1923. Serving as a Prussian deputy in the German Reichstag, he met the young Adolf Hitler and soon afterwards, in 1922, joined the fledging Nazi Party.

Austria

A year later, on 8 November 1923, Goring was shot in the leg and badly injured during the Munich Putsch, Hitler’s failed attempt to seize power by force. From there, together with his wife, Goring escaped to Austria. In Innsbruck, his wound was operated on but such was the pain he was given morphine, thereby starting an addiction which would last until his final days. At one point, during his forced sojourn in Austria, and later Italy, where he met Italy’s fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, Goring’s addiction had become so severe he had to be incarcerated in a mental hospital, occasionally having to be restrained by means of a straitjacket. In 1927, after four years away, Goring returned to Germany.

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Nadezhda Alliluyeva, wife of Stalin

Joseph Stalin married twice. His first wife, Ekaterina Svanidze, died in December 1907, aged 22, from typhus. His second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, died, having shot herself, on 9 November 1932, aged 31.

As a two-year-old, Nadezhda, or Nadya, Alliluyeva was reputedly saved from drowning by the visiting 25-year-old Stalin. When staying in St Petersburg (later Petrograd), Stalin often lodged with the Alliluyev family. He may have had an affair with Olga Alliluyeva, Nadya’s mother and his future mother-in-law.

In March 1917, Stalin returned to Petrograd from exile to join the unrest following the February Revolution and the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II. By then Nadya was 16 and she fell for the romantic revolutionary with his sweep of jet-black hair.

Mr and Mrs Stalin

Following the October Revolution of 1917, Nadya became Stalin’s personal assistant as he embarked on his job as the People’s Commissar for Nationalities and joined him in the city of Tsaritsyn during the Russian Civil War. They married in 1919 and had two children: Vasily, born 1921, and Svetlana, born 1926. (In 1967, Svetlana was to defect to the US, became known as Lana Peters and died in Wisconsin on 22 November 2011).

Nadya found life in the Kremlin suffocating. Her husband, whom she once saw as the archetypal Soviet ‘new man’, turned out to be a quarrelsome bore, often drunk and flirtatious with his colleague’s wives. A manic-depressive and prone to violent mood swings, Stalin’s colleagues thought her ‘mad’.

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Eva Braun – a summary

Eva Braun was born 6 February 1912. She first met her future husband, Adolf Hitler, while working as an assistant and model to Hitler’s official photographer, Heinrich Hoffman. It was 1929 and she was 17, Hitler 40.

Adolf Hitler und Eva Braun auf dem BerghofAt the time Hitler had taken upon himself the responsibility of looking after his 21-year-old niece, Geli Raubal. The exact relationship between uncle and niece has never been properly ascertained except that Hitler was overly-possessive and jealous of the company she kept. On 18 September 1931, Raubal committed suicide by shooting herself with Hitler’s pistol.

Hitler’s relationship with Eva Braun began soon after Raubal’s death and possibly before. Raubal’s jealousy of Braun has been mooted as a possible cause of her suicide.

The Invisible Woman

Germany, as a nation, never knew of Braun’s existence as Hitler went to great lengths to keep her hidden from view. He was, as he often remarked, primarily wedded to the German people and wanted to maintain his popularity amongst German women, whose adoration for Hitler sometimes contained a sexual dimension.

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The Death of Hitler

The death of Hitler: In January 1945, with the Soviet Red Army bearing down on Germany, Hitler left his HQ in East Prussia and moved back to Berlin and into the Reich Chancellery. A month later, he went underground into the Chancellery’s air-raid shelter, a cavern of dimly-lit rooms made of solid, high-quality concrete.

Hitler’s Health

Adolf HitlerDuring his last few months, Hitler’s health deteriorated rapidly. In February 1945, after so many years of shouting and screaming, he had to have an operation on his vocal chords which, following the operation, obliged him to stay silent for a whole week.

Despite the implorations of his staff, Hitler refused to leave Berlin, and finally, realising the war was truly lost, he decided to end his life. Shuffling around with a stoop, Hitler looked much older than his fifty-six years. A new pain in his eye required daily doses of cocaine drops, and, perhaps from the onset of Parkinson’s disease, his left hand shook constantly. His eyesight had become so poor he had to have his documents written in extra-large print on specially-made ‘Fuhrer’ typewriters.

He ate poorly – devouring large portions of cake. He’d fallen out with many of his senior colleagues – in particular Hermann Goring and Heinrich Himmler, both of whom he accused of treachery and ordered to be arrested on sight and court-martialled. Joseph Goebbels, however, remained loyal to the last, broadcasting to the nation, demanding greater effort and sacrifice against the enemy.

Hitler the General

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Erwin Rommel – the Forced Suicide of a Great General

‘We have a very daring and skilful opponent against us, and, may I say across the havoc of war, a great general.’

The words were Winston Churchill’s and the great general he was referring to was Erwin Rommel.

The Desert Fox

Born 15 November 1891, Erwin Rommel was, and still is today, the German we can almost admire (although, technically, not a Nazi, as he never joined the party). As Churchill suggests, he was respected as a master tactician, the supreme strategist who, in 1940, helped defeat France and the Low Countries and then found lasting fame when sent by Hitler to North Africa where, commanding the Afrika Korps, he earned the sobriquet, the Desert Fox. Germany, his nation, adored him, his troops loved him, Hitler treasured him and his enemies respected him. His Afrika Korps was never charged with any war crimes and prisoners of war were treated humanely. When his only son, Manfred, proposed joining the Waffen SS, Rommel forbade it.

In June 1944 Rommel was sent to Northern France to help co-ordinate the defence against the Allied Normandy Invasion but was wounded a month later when a RAF plane strafed his car. Rommel returned home to Germany to convalesce.

The July Bomb Plot

Meanwhile, on 20 July 1944, Hitler survived an assassination attempt in his Wolf’s Lair in East Prussia, the ‘July Bomb Plot’, perpetuated by Nazi officers who hoped to shorten the war with his removal. Hitler, although shaken, suffered only superficial injury and those responsible were soon rounded up and executed. Rommel, although not involved and actively against any plan to assassinate Hitler, did support the idea of having him removed from power. Once his association with the plotters, however tenuous, came to light, his downfall was inevitable and swift.

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