|Born||Johanna Maria Magdalena Ritschel
November 11, 1901
Berlin, German Empire
|Died||May 1, 1945
Führerbunker, Berlin, Germany
|Political party||National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP)|
|Alma mater||Ursuline Convent|
|Profession||Mother, Propagandist, First Lady|
|Awards||Golden Party Badge
Cross of Honor of the German Mother
Johanna Maria Magdalena "Magda" Goebbels (née Ritschel; 11 November 1901 – 1 May 1945) was the wife of Nazi Germany's Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. A prominent member of the Nazi party, she was a close ally and political supporter of Adolf Hitler.
Childhood and youth
Magda was born in 1901 in Berlin, Germany to Auguste Behrend and engineer Oskar Ritschel. The couple were married later that year and divorced in 1904. Some sources, including Hans-Otto Meissner (son of Otto Meissner), suggest that the marriage took place before her birth, but there is no particular evidence to support that (as explained in a review, Meissner had tried without producing credible evidence to assert Magda's status as a legitimate child  ).
When she was five, her mother sent her to stay with Ritschel in Cologne. Ritschel took her to Brussels, Belgium, where she was enrolled at the Ursuline Convent in Vilvoorde. At the convent, she was remembered as "an active and intelligent little girl".
Her mother Auguste married a Jewish businessman named Richard Friedländer (born 1881) and moved with him to Brussels in 1908. They remained in Brussels, on cordial terms, until the outbreak of World War I, when all Germans were forced to leave Belgium as refugees, to avoid repercussions from the Belgians after the German invasion.
They moved to Berlin where she attended the high school Kolmorgen Lycée. Auguste Behrend divorced the now impoverished Richard Friedländer in 1914. He later died in Buchenwald concentration camp. It was at this time that Magda met and became close to another refugee from Belgium, Lisa Arlosoroff.
Marriage and son with Günther Quandt
At the age of 17, while returning to school on a train, she met Günther Quandt, a rich German industrialist twice her age, whose holdings later grew into VARTA batteries among other businesses. He also had large shareholdings in BMW and Daimler-Benz. It is claimed that although a physically unremarkable man, Quandt courted her at school by posing as a family friend and swept her off her feet with courtesy and grand gestures. He demanded that she change her name back to Ritschel (having borne the name of her mother and stepfather, Friedländer, at her own request, for many years) while converting from Ritschel's nominal Catholicism to Protestantism. She and Quandt were married on 4 January 1921, and her first child, Harald, was born on 1 November 1921. Harald was her only child to survive the war.
She soon grew frustrated in her marriage, because Quandt spent little time with her, and at the age of 23 she became attracted to her 18-year-old stepson Helmut Quandt. However, he died of complications from appendicitis in 1927. She and Günther Quandt then went on a six-month automobile tour of America, where she captured the attention of a nephew of the U.S. President Herbert Hoover. Later, after her divorce from Quandt, he travelled from America to visit her and ask her to marry him, an episode that ended in a car crash in which she was seriously injured.
On 22 October 1927, Gunther and Maria M. (Magda) Quandt boarded the Cunard steamship RMS Berengaria at the Port of Cherbourg, France, bound for the United States, by way of a half-day visit at the Port of Southampton, England. The Berengaria arrived in New York on 28 October. According to the ship's manifest, Gunther had last visited the United States for three months in 1924, when he visited Chicago, Illinois. On this visit, Gunther (with Maria M.) was to travel to conduct business with the H. Lloyd Electric Storage Battery Company located on Allegheny Avenue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Gunther reported that the trip was to last two months.
Quandt hired detectives and divorced Magda in 1929, but was ultimately generous with the divorce settlement.
Marriage and family with Joseph Goebbels
Young, attractive, and with no need to work, on the advice of a friend, she attended a meeting of the Nazi Party, where she was impressed by one of the speakers, Joseph Goebbels, then the Gauleiter of Berlin. She joined the party on 1 September 1930, and did some volunteer work, although she has not been characterized as politically active. From the local branch, Magda moved to the party headquarters and for a brief period became secretary to Hans Meinshausen, Goebbels' deputy, before being invited to take charge of Goebbels' own private archives.
Otto Wagener claims that she met and was attracted to Adolf Hitler, who became impressed by her, and that her marriage to Goebbels was somewhat arranged. Since Hitler intended to remain unmarried, it was suggested that as the wife of a leading and highly visible Nazi official she might eventually act as "first lady of the Third Reich". Her social connections and upper class bearing may have influenced Goebbels' own enthusiasm.
Meissner, on the contrary, makes no suggestion of this, claiming rather that Hitler (though undoubtedly impressed by Magda) was an exceptionally close friend of the couple in the earliest days, who would often arrive late at night and was as likely as Goebbels to sit with the baby Helga on his lap while they talked into the night. He also claims that after an abortive attempt to poison him at the Kaiserhof Hotel in Berlin in January 1933, Hitler asked her to prepare all his meals.
She married Goebbels on 19 December 1931, at Günther Quandt's farm in Mecklenburg, with Hitler as a witness.
Joseph and Magda Goebbels had six children:
- Helga Susanne
- Hildegard "Hilde" Traudel
- Helmut Christian
- Holdine "Holde" Kathrin
- Hedwig "Hedda" Johanna
- Heidrun "Heide" Elisabeth
Joseph Goebbels had many affairs with other women during the marriage. One of the most widely known was with the popular Czech actress Lída Baarová. He was so smitten with Baarová that he even contemplated marrying her. During the premiere of the film Die Reise nach Tilsit, showing a virtuous German wife watching helplessly as a foreign woman seduced her husband, Magda Goebbels ostentatiously left the showing, owing to the blatant though accidental analogy. She resorted to asking Hitler for permission to divorce Goebbels, and Baarová was eventually sent away, while Goebbels was in such disgrace that for a time it was rumored that he might leave with Baarová to Japan as German ambassador. Magda was also rumored to have had an affair with Goebbels's deputy Karl Hanke, who helped her collect evidence for a divorce. Magda is said to have been wanting to divorce her husband for years, but was forbidden to do so by Hitler as well as forbidden to leave Germany.
According to General Wilhelm Mohnke and Chief Detective Johann Rattenhuber, Magda with all 6 of her children, had tried to flee from her husband in spring 1941, but was arrested near Bregenz, on the old Austrian-Swiss border and flown back to the Reich Chancellery in Berlin under arrest.
Both Goebbels and his wife derived personal benefits and social status from their close association with Hitler. Joseph Goebbels (as propaganda minister) and she remained loyal to Hitler and publicly supported him. Privately, she expressed doubts, especially after the war began to go badly on the Eastern Front. On 9 November 1942, during a gathering with friends listening to a speech by Hitler, she switched off the radio exclaiming, "My God, what a lot of rubbish". In 1944, she reportedly said of Hitler, "He no longer listens to voices of reason. Those who tell him what he wants to hear are the only ones he believes".
There is no evidence that she attempted to intervene to save her Jewish stepfather from the Holocaust. Though his fate has not been established, it is widely assumed that he perished in the camps, perhaps misnamed as 'Max Friedlander', a man known to have died in Sachsenhausen. Klarbunde claims that a letter with a plea from a Jewish school friend, on behalf of her daughter, seems to have also fallen on deaf ears. However, Felix Franks, a German Jew who later became a British soldier, claimed that his grandparents got an exit visa from Germany, with the help of Magda Goebbels.
"My father and step-mother were left behind in Germany but, two days before the War started, they were asked to come to Gestapo Headquarters and given an exit visa. There is a story in the family which goes back to the First World War when my step-grandparents were asked to give shelter to a young woman who’d been displaced by the war in Belgium. although she had a Jewish step-father, she eventually married Joseph Goebbels! My stepmother believes she may have acted as a sort of protecting hand and was involved with the exit visa. Certainly, the night before Kristallnacht, they got an anonymous phone call warning my father not to go home that evening but to go somewhere safe. My step-mother swore it was Magda Goebbels."
At the beginning of the war she threw herself enthusiastically into her husband's propaganda machine. Her other official functions involved entertaining the wives of the foreign heads of state, supporting the troops and comforting war widows.
Magda's son by her first marriage, Harald Quandt, became a Luftwaffe pilot and fought at the front, while, at home, she lived up to the image of a patriotic mother by training as a Red Cross nurse and working with the electronics company Telefunken, and travelled to work on a bus, like her work colleagues.
Most likely due to her lifestyle and weak heart, she was often ill and bedridden. Towards the end of the war, she is known to have suffered from severe depression and suddenly begun to suffer from trigeminal neuralgia. This condition affects a nerve in the face, and although usually harmless is considered to cause intense pain and can be notoriously hard to treat. This often left her bedridden and led to bouts of hospitalization as late as August 1944.
In late April 1945, the Soviet Red Army entered Berlin, and the Goebbels family moved into the Vorbunker, that was connected to the lower Führerbunker under the Reich Chancellery garden. One of the rooms they occupied had been recently vacated by Hitler's personal physician Theodor Morell. Meanwhile, reports of Soviet troops looting and raping as they advanced were circulating in Berlin.
My beloved son! By now we have been in the Führerbunker for six days already—daddy, your six little siblings and I, for the sake of giving our national socialistic lives the only possible honourable end ... You shall know that I stayed here against daddy's will, and that even on last Sunday the Führer wanted to help me to get out. You know your mother—we have the same blood, for me there was no wavering. Our glorious idea is ruined and with it everything beautiful and marvelous that I have known in my life. The world that comes after the Führer and national socialism is not any longer worth living in and therefore I took the children with me, for they are too good for the life that would follow, and a merciful God will understand me when I will give them the salvation ... The children are wonderful ... there never is a word of complaint nor crying. The impacts are shaking the bunker. The elder kids cover the younger ones, their presence is a blessing and they are making the Führer smile once in a while. May God help that I have the strength to perform the last and hardest. We only have one goal left: loyalty to the Führer even in death. Harald, my dear son—I want to give you what I learned in life: be loyal! Loyal to yourself, loyal to the people and loyal to your country ... Be proud of us and try to keep us in dear memory ...
Joseph Goebbels' last will and testament, dictated to Hitler's secretary Traudl Junge, stated that his wife and their children supported his refusal to leave Berlin and his resolution to die in the bunker. He later qualified this by stating that the children would support the decision [to commit suicide] if they were old enough to speak for themselves.
Hitler and his bride Eva Braun committed suicide on the afternoon of 30 April. The following day, on 1 May 1945, Magda and Joseph Goebbels drugged their six children with morphine and killed them by crushing cyanide capsules in their mouths. Accounts differ over how involved Magda Goebbels was in the killing of her children. Some accounts claimed that the SS doctor Ludwig 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, Magda Goebbels killed them herself. O'Donnell suggested that witnesses blamed the deaths on Stumpfegger because he was a convenient target, having disappeared and died the following day. Moreover, as O'Donnell recorded, 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.
She appears to have contemplated and talked about killing her children a month in advance. According to her friend and sister-in-law (from first marriage) Ello Quandt, she told her that they were all going to take poison.
"We have demanded monstrous things from the German people, treated other nations with pitiless cruelty. For this the victors will exact their full revenge...we can't let them think we are cowards. Everybody else has the right to live. We haven't got this right---we have forfeited it. I make myself responsible. I belonged. I believed in Hitler and for long enough in Joseph Goebbels...Suppose I remain alive, I should immediately be arrested and interrogated about Joseph. If I tell the truth I must reveal what sort of man he was--must describe all that happened behind the scenes. Then any respectable person would turn from me in disgust. It would be equally impossible to do the opposite--that is to defend what he has done, to justify him to his enemies, to speak up for him out of true conviction...That would go against my conscience. So you see, Ello, it would be quite impossible for me to go on living. We will take the children with us, they are too good, too lovely for the world which lies ahead. In the days to come Joseph will be regarded as one of the greatest criminals that Germany has ever produced. His children would hear that said daily, people would torment them, despise and humiliate them. They would have to bear the burden of his sins and vengeance would be wreaked on them... It has all happened before. You know how I told you at the time quite frankly what the Führer said in the Café Anast in Munich when he saw the little Jewish boy, you remember? That he would like to squash him flat like a bug on the wall...I couldn't believe it and thought it was just provocative talk. But he really did it later. It was all so unspeakably gruesome..."  ...
She appears to have refused several offers from others, such as Albert Speer, to have the children smuggled out of Berlin and insisted that the family must stay at her husband's side. In the Führerbunker she confided to Traudl Junge, that "I would rather have my children die, than live in disgrace, jeered at. My children stand no chance in Germany after the war".
"Straight after Hitler's death, Mrs. Goebbels came down to the bunker with her children," Mr Misch recalls. "She started preparing to kill them. She couldn't have done that above ground—there were other people there who would have stopped her. That's why she came downstairs—because no-one else was allowed in the bunker. She came down on purpose to kill them.
"The kids were right next to me and behind me. We all knew what was going to happen. It was clear. I saw Hitler's doctor, Dr Stumpfegger give the children something to drink. Some kind of sugary drink. Then Stumpfegger went and helped to kill them. All of us knew what was going on. An hour or two later, Mrs Goebbels came out crying. She sat down at a table and began playing patience. This is exactly how it was."
After their children were dead, Magda and Joseph Goebbels walked upstairs to the bombed-out Chancellery garden, avoiding the need for anyone to carry their bodies. By some accounts, she was shaking uncontrollably. The details of their suicides are uncertain. According to one account, Joseph Goebbels shot his wife, then himself. Another account was that they each bit on a cyanide ampule and were given a coup de grâce immediately afterwards by SS adjutant Günther Schwägermann. Schwägermann testified in 1948 that at around 2030 hours the couple walked ahead of him up the bunker's emergency exit stairs and out into the garden. He waited in the stairwell and heard the "shots" sound. Schwägermann then walked up the remaining stairs and outside where he saw the lifeless bodies of the couple. Following Joseph Goebbels' prior order, Schwägermann told an SS soldier to make sure Goebbels' was dead. The soldier fired into Goebbels' body, which did not move. The bodies were then doused with petrol, but the remains were only partially burned and not buried.
The charred corpses were found on the afternoon of 2 May 1945 by Russian troops. The children were found down in the Vorbunker dressed in their nightclothes, with ribbons tied in the girls' hair. A photograph of Goebbels' burned face was later widely published. The remains of the Goebbels family were repeatedly buried and exhumed, along with the remains of Hitler, Eva Braun, General Hans Krebs and Hitler's dogs. The last burial had been at the SMERSH facility in Magdeburg on 21 February 1946. In 1970, KGB director Yuri Andropov authorised an operation to destroy the remains. On 4 April 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.
Portrayal in media
Magda Goebbels has been portrayed by the following actresses in film and television productions.
- Helga Kennedy-Dohrn in the 1955 West German film Der Letzte Akt (Hitler: The Last Ten Days).
- Yulia Dioshi in the 1971 Eastern Bloc co-production Liberation: The Last Assault.
- Eléonore Hirt in the 1972 French television production Le Bunker.
- Marion Mathie in the 1973 British television production The Death of Adolf Hitler.
- Barbara Jefford in the 1973 British film Hitler: The Last Ten Days.
- Piper Laurie in the 1981 United States television production The Bunker.
- Elke Sommer in the 1982 United States television production Inside the Third Reich.
- Hanna Schygulla in the 1998 Spanish comedy drama La niña de tus ojos (The Girl of Your Dreams).
- Yelena Spiridonova in the 1999 Russian drama Molokh.
- Eva Mattes in the 2001 German comedy Goebbels und Geduldig.
- Jill Richardson in a 2003 episode of the British television series Days That Shook the World.
- Corinna Harfouch in the 2004 German film Downfall (Der Untergang).
- Annette Uhlen in the 2004 German television production Propaganda.
- Emma Buckley in the 2005 British television production Uncle Adolf.
Notes & references
- Magda Goebbels biography at Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin
- Meissner, Hans Otto, Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, p. 13
- Arditti, Michael, Magda Goebbels by Anja Klabunde Literary Review, 22 May 2002
- Meissner, Hans Otto, Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, p. 16
- de Launay, Jaques, Hitler en Flandres, 1975
- Meissner, Hans Otto, Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, p. 29
- Meissner, Hans Otto, Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, p. 31
- Meissner, Hans Otto, Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, p. 61
- Meissner, Hans Otto, Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, p. 77
- List or Manifest of Alien Passengers For the United States Immigration Officer At the Port of Arrival (Form 500 U.S. Department of Labor, Immigration Service), pp 7 – 8, number on list 3 & 4, dated October 22 & 28, 1927.
- Meissner, Hans Otto, Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, p.82
- Wagener, Otto, Hitler: Memoirs of a Confidant
- The Special Chest of Magda Goebbels: Provenance at the Wayback Machine (archived December 20, 2005)
- Meissner, Hans Otto, Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, p. 91
- Meissner, Hans Otto, Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, pp. 97–99
- Meissner, Hans Otto, Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, illustrations between pp. 240 and 241
- Cinzia Romani, Tainted Goddesses: Female Film Stars of the Third Reich p86 ISBN 0-9627613-1-1
- Meissner, Hans Otto, Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, p. 194
- Klabunde, Anja, Magda Goebbels, p.278
- Speer, Albert, Inside the Third Reich, p.214
- The Bunker, O'donnell
- Meissner, Hans Otto, Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, p. 219
- Meissner, Hans Otto, Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, p. 222
- Jewish Museum Berlin, major exhibition "Home and Exile, The Jewish Quarterly."
- Meissner, Hans Otto, Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, p. 127
- Klabunde, Anja, Magda Goebbels, p.302
- What is Trigeminal Neuralgia? TNA Website
- Meissner, Hans Otto, Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, pp. 141, 228 & 234
- Mollo, Andrew & Ramsey, Winston, ed. After the Battle, Number 61, Seymour Press Ltd., London, 1988, pp. 28, 30
- Meissner, Hans Otto, Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, p. 260
- Hitler's last days: "Preparations for death"
- James O'Donnell: The Bunker (Da Capo Press, 1978) ISBN 0-306-80958-3
- Meissner, Hans Otto, Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, p. 270
- Meissner, Hans Otto, Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich, p. 242
- Klabunde, Anja, Magda Goebbels
- "Ello Quandt testimony"
- Junge, Traudl, Until the Final Hour
- "I was in Hitler's suicide bunker". BBC News. 3 September 2009. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
- Beevor 2002, p. 381.
- Joachimsthaler 1999, p. 52.
- 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
- Vinogradov, Hitler's Death, p. 333
- Vinogradov, Hitler's Death, pp. 335–336
- "Magda Goebbels (Character)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 8 May 2008.
- E. Ebermayer, Hans Roos: Gefährtin des Teufels – Leben und Tod der Magda Goebbels (Hamburg, 1952)
- Joseph Goebbels: Tagebücher 1945 – Die letzten Aufzeichnungen (Hamburg, 1977) ISBN 3-404-01368-9
- Anja Klabunde: Magda Goebbels – Annäherung an ein Leben (Munich, 1999) ISBN 3-570-00114-8
- Hans-Otto Meissner: Magda Goebbels – Ein Lebensbild (Munich, 1978)
- James O'Donnell: The Bunker (Da Capo Press, 1978) ISBN 0-306-80958-3
- Joachimsthaler, Anton (1999) . The Last Days of Hitler: The Legends, the Evidence, the Truth. Trans. Helmut Bögler. London: Brockhampton Press. ISBN 978-1-86019-902-8.
- Erich Schaake: Hitlers Frauen (Munich, 2000)
- Wolfgang Schneider: Frauen unterm Hakenkreuz (Hamburg, 2001)
- Beevor, Antony (2002). Berlin: The Downfall 1945. London: Viking-Penguin Books. ISBN 0-670-03041-4.
- Anna Maria Sigmund: Die Frauen der Nazis Volume 1 (Vienna, 1998) ISBN 3-8000-3699-1
- Der Spiegel No. 35/04 Hitlers Ende Spiegels (H. 35, 2004)
- Robert Wistrich: Wer war Wer im dritten Reich (Frankfurt am Main, 1987)
- Dieter Wunderlich: Göring und Goebbels (Regensburg, 2002)
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