The Goebbels children were the five daughters and one son born to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and his wife Magda Goebbels. The children, born between 1932 and 1940, were murdered by their parents in Berlin on May 1, 1945, the day both parents committed suicide.
Some writers have contended that their names all began with "H" as a tribute to Adolf Hitler, but there is no evidence to support this; rather, it supports that Magda's "H" naming was the idea of her first husband, Günther Quandt who named his other two children after his first wife beginning with "H".
Magda married Günther Quandt in January 1921 and ten months later Harald Quandt was born to the couple. Magda and Günther Quandt's marriage ended in divorce in 1929 and in 1931 Magda married Joseph Goebbels (Adolf Hitler was witness).
Harald not only attended his mother's wedding to Goebbels, but also formed quite an attachment with him, sometimes accompanying him to gatherings, standing on the platform near to "Uncle Joseph" wearing his Hitler Youth uniform. After his appointment as Minister, Goebbels demanded that Harald's father release Magda from her obligation under their divorce settlement, to send Harald to live with him in the event of her remarriage and by 1934, Harald moved completely to the Goebbels' household.
He would later serve as a lieutenant in the Luftwaffe and was the only family member to survive the war, becoming a leading West German industrialist during the 1950s and 1960s. Harald died in 1967, when his personal aircraft crashed over Italy. He was survived by his wife and five children.
Born September 1, 1932. Goebbels was proud of his eldest daughter and would go straight to her cot as soon as he returned from his office, to take her on his lap. Helga was a "daddy's girl" who preferred her father to her mother. She was reported to have been a lovely baby who never cried and just sat listening uncomprehendingly to the Nazi officials with "her blue eyes sparkling". It was not unusual for Hitler, who was fond of children, to take her on to his own lap while he talked late into the night.
She was photographed with Hilde presenting Hitler with flowers on his birthday April 20, 1936.
Helga was 12 years old when she died. Bruises found on her body postmortem (mostly on her face) led to wide speculation that she had struggled against receiving a cyanide capsule, which was used to kill her by crushing it between her teeth.
Born April 13, 1934, Hildegard was commonly called "Hilde". In a 1941 diary entry, Joseph referred to her as "a little mouse".
She was photographed with Helga presenting Hitler with flowers on his birthday, April 20, 1936.
Hilde was eleven years old at the time of her death.
Born October 2, 1935, Helmut was considered sensitive and something of a dreamer. In his diary, Goebbels called him a "clown." When his teacher at the Lanke primary school reported, to his father's dismay, that his promotion to a higher form was doubtful, he responded so well to intense tutoring from his mother and his governess that he not only achieved promotion, but also excellent marks. He wore braces on his teeth.
On April 26, 1945, Helmut read aloud his father's birthday speech to Hitler, and responded to Helga's protests that he was copying their father by arguing that no, their father had copied him.
Helmut was nine years old at the time of his death.
Born February 19, 1937. It is claimed that Holde got her name when the doctor who delivered her, Stoeckel, bent over her and exclaimed "Das ist eine Holde!" ("that's a pretty one!") Meissner claims that Holde was the "least lively" of the children and was somewhat "pushed aside" by the others to her considerable distress. He claims Goebbels responded to this by making her something of a favorite, to which she responded with devotion.
She was eight years old at the time of her death.
Born May 5, 1938, she was commonly called "Hedda". She had insisted, in 1944, that when she grew up she was going to marry SS Adjutant Günther Schwägermann, having been captivated by the fact he had a fake eye.
She was almost seven years old at the time of her death.
Born October 29, 1940. Rochus Misch described her as a "little flirt" and said she frequently joked with him in the bunker. "Heide" was four years old at the time of her death. She shared a birthday with her father.
Magda once described the temperaments of five of her children to her sister-in-law Eleanore (Ello) Quandt by describing how each would react to learning they had been deceived by their spouse:
- Helga – Would seize a revolver and shoot the unfaithful husband out of hand, or at least try to.
- Hilde – Would collapse altogether, sobbing and weeping, but would soon appear to be reconciled if her husband expressed remorse and swore to be faithful in the future.
- Helmut – Would never believe that his wife would deceive him.
- Holde – Would never quite get over the infidelity, but would be too proud to reproach her husband. Finally, through the breach of confidence on the part of her husband she would go to pieces altogether.
- Hedda – On the other hand, would give a peal of laughter and say, "Come here you rascal and give me a kiss".
In 1934, in search of privacy for himself and his family, Goebbels bought an imposing house in its own grounds on Schwanenwerder, an island in the River Havel. He also bought a motor Yacht Baldur for use on the river. Harald had his own nursery on the first floor while Helga and Hilde shared another. The children not only had ponies, but also a little carriage to ride around the gardens in. Two years later he purchased a neighboring property and extended the park, and included a private "citadel" as his own personal retreat.
Later, the City of Berlin placed a second lakeside house at his disposal, a small castle, Lanke am Bogensee, as an official residence, which was only really large enough for the family to use as a weekend retreat, though Goebbels later added a large modern house on the opposite shore of the Bogensee.
When the Goebbels marriage reached crisis point in the summer of 1938, over Goebbels´ affair with Czech actress Lída Baarová, Hitler himself intervened and negotiated an agreement whereby the actress would be banished and the couple would keep up public appearances for a year subject to any reasonable conditions Magda might make. One of her conditions was that Goebbels would only be able to visit Schwanenwerder and see the children with her expressed permission. If, after that year, Magda still wanted a divorce, Hitler would allow it, with Goebbels as the guilty party, and she would retain Schwanenwerder, custody of the children, and a considerable income.
Goebbels abided scrupulously by the agreement, always calling for permission before visiting and expressing his regret at missing Magda if she was not there, or taking his place, amiably, with his family at the tea table, if she was. It is claimed that the children at no time seemed to be aware that their parents were living separately at this time.
In the media
In 1937, Helga and Hilde were photographed with their father at the Berlin Frühjahrsregatta.
The public reconciliation agreement in August 1938 was cemented by the appearance of Helga, Hilde and Helmut with their parents in front of the cameras of UFA, as a cinematic image of domestic reconciliation.
During 1942, the children appeared 34 times in the weekly newsreels, going about their lives, helping their mother, playing in the garden or singing to their father on his 45th birthday. That October, as a gift from the German Newsreel Company, Goebbels was presented with a film of his children playing.
Towards the end of 1944, Goebbels sent Magda and his two eldest daughters into a military hospital to be filmed for the weekly newsreels, but abandoned the project on realising that seeing the terrible injuries of the soldiers was too traumatic for his daughters.
As the Red Army moved closer at the end of January 1945, Goebbels ordered the removal of his family from the Lanke Castle estate to the relative safety of Schwanenwerder. From there the children could soon hear the rumble of artillery in the east and wondered why rain never followed the "thunder."
By April 22, 1945, the Red Army was entering Berlin and the Goebbels brought their children into the Vorbunker, that was connected to the lower Führerbunker under the Reich Chancellery gardens. Adolf Hitler and a few personnel were staying in the Führerbunker to direct the final defence of Berlin. Red Cross leader Karl Gebhardt wanted to take the children out of the city with him, but was dismissed.
General Bernd Freytag von Loringhoven later described the children as "sad" but Erna Flegel, with whom they had much contact in the bunker, characterised them as "charming" and "absolutely delightful", as did their young governess "Frau K".
Hitler was very fond of the children, and even in the last week of his life still took great pleasure in sharing chocolate with them as well as giving them the use of his bathroom, it being the only one with a bathtub.
They are reported to have played with Hitler's dog Blondi during their time in the bunker complex, where they slept in a single room. While many reports suggest there were three separate bunk beds, secretary Traudl Junge insisted there were only two. The children are said to have sung in unison while in the bunker, performing for both Hitler and the injured Robert Ritter von Greim, as well as having been conducted in play-song by pilot Hanna Reitsch. Junge said that she was with the children on April 30 when Hitler and Eva Braun killed themselves.
Stories of brutality and rape by the advancing Soviet troops were circulating in Berlin, and there was much discussion in the Führerbunker about suicide as a means to escape humiliation or punishment from the Soviets.
Goebbels's last testament, appended to Hitler's, claimed that his wife and children supported him in his refusal to leave Berlin, qualifying this by asserting that the children would support the decision if they were old enough to speak for themselves. Both pilot Hanna Reitsch (who had left the bunker on April 29) and Junge (who left on May 1) carried letters to the outside world from those remaining. Included was a letter from Magda to Harald who was in an Allied POW camp.
The following day, on May 1, 1945, the Goebbels' six children were injected with morphine (likely by an SS dentist, Helmut Kunz) and then, when they were unconscious, killed by having a crushed ampoule of cyanide placed in their mouths. Accounts differ over how involved Magda was with the killing of her children. According to Kunz, he administered the morphine but it was Magda Goebbels and Ludwig Stumpfegger (Hitler's personal doctor) who administered the cyanide tablets.
Rochus Misch, a radio operator in the bunker, said Werner Naumann told Misch that the children would be given "candy water" by Stumpfegger. Misch had earlier seen poison successfully used on Hitler's dog, Blondi. Another account says that the children were told they would be leaving for Berchtesgaden in the morning, and Stumpfegger was said to have provided Magda with morphine to sedate the children. Erna Flegel claims that Magda reassured the children about the morphine by telling them that they needed inoculations because they would be staying in the bunker for a long time. Erich Kempka reported after the war that he believed the children had been "taken away by a nurse" that day, just before he left the bunker. Some witnesses claimed that Stumpfegger crushed the cyanide capsules into the children's mouths, but as no witnesses to the event survived it is impossible to know. O'Donnell concluded that, although Stumpfegger was probably involved in drugging the children, it was Magda who killed them. He suggested that witnesses blamed the deaths on Stumpfegger because he was a convenient target, having disappeared (and died, it was later learned) the following day. Moreover, Stumpfegger may have been too intoxicated at the time of the deaths to have played a reliable role.
Meissner claims that Stumpfegger refused to take any part in the deaths of the children, and that a mysterious "country Doctor from the enemy-occupied eastern region" appeared and "carried out the fearful task" before disappearing again, but this explanation may owe more to Meissner's characteristic diplomacy and consideration than any reality.
Magda appears to have contemplated and talked about killing her children at least a month in advance. After the war, Günther Quandt's sister-in-law Eleanore recalled Magda saying she did not want her children to grow up hearing that their father had been one of the century's foremost criminals and that reincarnation might grant her children a better future life. Reitsch, who stayed in the bunker after flying Luftwaffe General von Greim in to meet with Hitler, said Magda asked her in the last days to help ensure she did not back away from killing the children if it came to that.
She also refused several offers from others, such as Albert Speer, to take the children out of Berlin. The children seemed unaware of the impending danger, but the eldest child, Helga, seemed to sense that the adults were lying to her about the outcome of the war and asked what would happen to them. Misch was among the last to see the children alive. They were seated around a table in his work area as their mother combed their hair and kissed them, all wearing nightgowns as it was close to their bedtime. Heide, the youngest, had scrambled up onto the table. Helga, whom Misch called the brightest of the children, was "crying softly" just before bedtime on that final night and wore a glum expression. Misch felt Helga had little fondness for her mother. Magda had to push Helga towards the stairs that led to the upper bunker or Vorbunker. Four-year-old Heide, who had tonsilitis and wore a scarf around her neck, turned back to look at Misch, giggling, and teasingly said, "Misch, Misch, du bist ein Fisch," or "Misch, Misch, you are a fish", just before her mother led her and her siblings upstairs. Misch recalled later that he suspected what was about to happen and would always regret not intervening. The children's bodies, in nightclothes, with ribbons tied in the girls' hair, were found in the two-tiered bunk beds where they were killed, when Soviet troops entered the bunker a day later. A Soviet autopsy on Helga's body noted "several black and blue bruises", indicating that she probably woke up and struggled with her killer. A photograph taken during the autopsy showed heavy bruising on the dead child's face. The injuries were apparently caused when her killer forced a cyanide capsule into her mouth.
On May 3, 1945, the day after Soviet troops led by Lt. Col. Ivan Klimenko had discovered the burned bodies of their parents in the courtyard above, they found the bodies of the six children in their beds, dressed in their nightgowns, the girls wearing bows in their hair.
Vice Admiral Hans Voss was brought to the Chancellery garden to identify the bodies, as was Hans Fritzsche, a leading German radio commentator who had answered directly to Goebbels, the following day. Their bodies were brought to the Buchau Cemetery in Berlin for autopsy and inquest by Soviet doctors. In spite of repeated attempts, even Frau Behrend, the children's grandmother, never learned what became of the bodies. After the fall of the Soviet Union it was revealed that the bodies were repeatedly buried and exhumed, along with the remains of Hitler, Eva Braun, Joseph and Magda Goebbels, General Hans Krebs and Hitler's dogs. The last burial had been at the SMERSH facility in Magdeburg on February 21, 1946. In 1970, KGB director Yuri Andropov authorised an operation to destroy the remains. On April 4, 1970, a Soviet KGB team with detailed burial charts secretly exhumed five wooden boxes. The remains from the boxes were thoroughly burned and crushed, after which the ashes were thrown into the Biederitz river, a tributary of the nearby Elbe.
Rochus Misch, former radio operator for Adolf Hitler, attracted controversy in 2005 when he called for a memorial plaque to be installed in honour of the six Goebbels children. Critics felt it would taint the memory of Holocaust victims to honor the children of the Nazi leader. Despite their parents' crimes, Misch argued that the children themselves were innocent, that to treat them as criminals like their parents was wrong and that they were murdered just as other victims during the war were murdered.
- The 1997 historical fiction book The Karnau Tapes by German author Marcel Beyer was told from the point of view of Helga Susanne and the fictitious Hermann Karnau.
- In the 2004 film Downfall (Der Untergang)
- The film also presented the theory that Magda Goebbels was directly responsible for the poisonings, crushing cyanide capsules in their mouths after Ludwig Stumpfegger had given each of them an oral solution to put them to sleep (in contrast to the morphine injections they were said to have received). In the film, the eldest child, Helga, is shown being forced to drink the oral solution by her mother and Stumpfegger, while the other children drink it willingly.
- In the 2005 documentary The Goebbels Experiment, directed by Lutz Hachmeister and narrated by Kenneth Branagh, the archive footage was shown at the beginning and end of the film.
- The 2010 historical fiction novel Chocolate Cake with Hitler by Emma Craige tells the story of the children's last days in the bunker through the eyes of Helga Goebbels.
- The 2011 historical fiction young adult novel The Girl in the Bunker by Tracey Rosenberg is narrated by Helga Susanne, and tells the story of the children's final days in the bunker.
- Behrend, Auguste. "My daughter Magda Goebbels", Schwaebische Illustrierte, April 26, 1952
- Meissner, Hans Otto. Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, pp. 95–105
- Meissner, Hans Otto. Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, p. 125
- Klabunde, Anja, Magda. Goebbels, illustrations between pp. 182–183
- Meissner, Hans Otto. Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, Illustrations between pp. 240–241
- Beevor, Antony (2002). The Fall of Berlin 1945, Viking-Penguin, pp. 380–381. ISBN 0-670-03041-4
- Meissner, Hans Otto. Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, pp. 242–249
- Galante, Pierre and Eugene Silianoff (1989). Voices from the Bunker.
- Klabunde, Anja. Magda Goebbels.
- Meissner, Hans Otto. Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, pp. 134–144
- Meissner, Hans Otto. Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, pp. 195–205
- Photo, Helga, Hilde and Goebbels, 1937 Berlin Frühjahrsregatta
- Joseph Goebbels: Bio Nationalsozialismus.de Rechercheportal für Schule, Studium und Wissenschaft
- Home movies of Magda and her children, summer 1942(The original title is Goebbels's birthday, "To 29 October 1942")
- Mollo, Andrew & Ramsey, Winston, ed. After the Battle, Number 61, Seymour Press Ltd., London, 1988, pp. 28, 30
- Tony Le Tissier (1999). Race for the Reichstag: The 1945 Battle for Berlin, Routledge, p. 62
- Harding, Luke, Interview: Erna Flegel, Guardian Unlimited May 2, 2005
- Statement of Erna Flegel RN. Red Cross Nurse from the training school "Markisches Haus" Scharnhorststrasse 3, Born 1911. Made to the CIA November 23, 1945
- Meissner, Hans Otto. Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, pp. 260–271
- Transcript of the testimony of SS-Stürmbannführer Helmut Kunz in Soviet captivity, Vinogradov, V. K., et al., Hitler's Death, p. 56
- Kindermord im Führerbunker. Der Spiegel 41/2009
- Telegraph (September 6, 2013). "Rochus Misch". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-09-08.
- Testimony of AIr. Erich Kempka on the last days of Hitler, Berchtesgaden, 20th June, 1945
- O'Donnell, James P. The Bunker.
- Meissner, Hans Otto. Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, p. 242
- Craigie, Emma (April 8, 2010). "Last days of Hitler's favourite little girl". The Daily Telegraph (London).
- Best, Nicholas. (2012) Five Days That Shocked The World, Thomas Dunne Books, pp. 212-213. ISBN 978-0312614928
- O'Donnell, James P. (2001). The Bunker, Da Capo, pp. 258–261. ISBN 0-306-80958-3
- Beevor, Antony (2002). The Fall of Berlin 1945, pp. 380–381.
- Books (April 8, 2010). "Last days of Hitler's favourite little girl". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 2011-11-23.
- Gott, Richard, The Child Killer News Statesman 6 May 2002
- Vinogradov, V. K., et al. Hitler's Death: Russia's Last Great Secret from the Files of the KGB, Chaucer Press, 2005, pp. 111, 333. ISBN 1-904449-13-1
- Vinogradov, V. K., et al. (2005), p. 333
- Vinogradov, V. K., et al. (2005), pp. 335–336
- interview 2005 Salon interview
- The Goebbels Experiment
- Lehrer, Steven (2006). The Reich Chancellery and Führerbunker Complex: An Illustrated History of the Seat of the Nazi Regime. McFarland. p. 214. ISBN 0-7864-2393-5.
- Lehrer, Steven (2002). Hitler Sites: A City-by-city Guidebook (Austria, Germany, France, United States). McFarland. p. 224. ISBN 0-7864-1045-0.
- Craigie, Emma (2010). Chocolate Cake with Hitler . Short Books. ISBN 978-1-907595-20-2.
- Rosenberg, Tracey S. (2011). The Girl in the Bunker . Glasgow: Cargo Publishing. ISBN 978-0-956308-35-1.
- A short film about the Goebbels family (showing home movie footage of the children, followed by Soviet footage of the corpses of Goebbels and the children (from the BBC & various sources via YouTube))
- Home movies of Magda and her children, summer 1942