|Born||Johanna Maria Magdalena Ritschel
11 November 1901
Berlin, German Empire
|Died||1 May 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, companion and political supporter of Adolf Hitler. Some historians refer to her as the unofficial "First Lady" of Nazi Germany, while others give that "title" to Emmy Göring.
As Berlin was being overrun by the Red Army at the end of World War II in Europe, she and her husband fatally poisoned their six children in their sleep before they committed suicide. A son from a previous marriage survived her.
Magda was born in 1901 in Berlin, Germany to Auguste Behrend and engineer/Berlin developer Oskar Ritschel. The couple were married later that year and divorced in 1905. 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 claim. 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 Jewish businessman and leather-goods magnate 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. In 1919, Magda was enrolled in the prestigious Holzhausen Ladies' College near Goslar.
Marriage and son with Günther Quandt
In 1920, while returning to school on a train, she met Günther Quandt, a rich German industrialist twice her age. His 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 Second World War.
She soon grew frustrated in her marriage because Quandt spent little time with her. His main interest seemed to be the expansion of his business empire. She was left to look after six children and run a household. The children included Harald, Quandt's two sons from his prior marriage, and three children from a friend who had died.
On 22 October 1927, Gunther and Magda 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. On this visit, Gunther and Magda travelled to conduct business with the H. Lloyd Electric Storage Battery Company located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Gunther reported that the trip was to last two months. During their automobile tour across America, 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 ask her to marry him, an episode that ended in a car crash in which she was seriously injured.
In 1929, Quandt discovered that Magda was having an affair, so he separated from her. He went on to divorce Magda that same year, but was 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 in Berlin and for a brief period became secretary to Hans Meinshausen, Goebbels' deputy, before being invited to take charge of Goebbels' own private papers. She and Goebbels then became romantically involved while on a short trip with friends to Weimar in February 1931. Thereafter, a relationship began and by April they began making plans for their future together. Goebbels wrote in his diary, "We have made a solemn vow to each other: When we have conquered the Reich, we will become man and wife. I am very happy." Her flat on the Reichkanzlerplatz soon became a favourite meeting place for Hitler and other NSDAP officials.
By September, the relationship continued but not without problems. Goebbels would show outbursts of jealousy and had some concern over the fact that Adolf Hitler had grown fond of Magda. Magda decided to move up their wedding date. Otto Wagener claims 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. Goebbels biographer Peter Longerich concurred with this "plausible" conclusion as Magda was a very ambitious woman. Meissner contends that Hitler (though undoubtedly impressed by Magda) was an exceptionally close friend of the couple in the early 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.
Magda and Goebbels were married on 19 December 1931, with Hitler as a witness. Hitler enjoyed staying at the Goebbels' Berlin apartment, where he could relax. He grew very fond of the Goebbels' children. Magda had a close relationship with Hitler, and became a member of his small coterie of female friends. She went on to become an unofficial representative of the regime, receiving letters from all over Germany from women with questions about domestic matters or child custody issues. After 1933, the Goebbels' became accustomed to the luxury lifestyle which went with their high social position. Their Berlin home on Göringstrasse was remodeled by Albert Speer and they spent the spring and summers in Kladow. In 1936, they bought a villa on Schwanenwerder island and later another at Bogensee near Wandlitz in Brandenburg.
Joseph and Magda Goebbels had six children:
- Helga Susanne (1932)
- Hildegard "Hilde" Traudel (1934)
- Helmut Christian (1935)
- Holdine "Holde" Kathrin (1937)
- Hedwig "Hedda" Johanna (1938)
- Heidrun "Heide" Elisabeth (1940)
Joseph Goebbels had many affairs with other women during the marriage. In 1936, Goebbels met the Czech actress Lída Baarová and by the winter of 1937 began an intense affair with her. Magda had a long conversation with Hitler about the situation on 15 August 1938. Unwilling to put up with a scandal involving one of his top ministers, Hitler demanded that Goebbels break off the relationship. Thereafter, Joseph and Magda seemed to reach a truce until the end of September. The couple had another falling out at that point, and once again Hitler became involved, insisting the couple stay together. Hitler arranged for publicity photos to be taken of himself with the reconciled couple in October 1938. Magda too had affairs, including a relationship with Kurt Ludecke in 1933 and Karl Hanke in 1938.
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.
Due to her weak heart and "delicate health", she would have extended periods of illness and being bedridden. Towards the end of the war, she is known to have also suffered from severe depression and 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 added a postscript to Hitler's last will and testament stating that he would disobey the order to leave Berlin, "[f]or reasons of humanity and personal loyalty". Further, 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 Eva Braun committed suicide on the afternoon of 30 April. On the following day of 1 May 1945, Magda and Joseph Goebbels arranged for an SS dentist, Helmut Kunz, to inject his six children with morphine so that when they were unconscious, an ampule of cyanide could be then crushed in each of their mouths. According to Kunz's later testimony, he gave the children morphine injections but it was Magda and SS-Obersturmbannführer Ludwig Stumpfegger, Hitler's personal doctor, who administered the cyanide. Author James P. O'Donnell concluded that although Stumpfegger was probably involved in drugging the children, Magda Goebbels killed them herself. He surmised that witnesses blamed the deaths on Stumpfegger because he was a convenient target, having 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.
Magda 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, such as one by 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 Hitler's secretary 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."
She helped the girls change into long white nightgowns. She then softly combed their hair. Misch tried to concentrate on his work but he knew what was going to happen. Magda then went back up to the Vorbunker with the children. Shortly thereafter, Werner Naumann came down to the Führerbunker and told Misch that he had seen Hitler's personal physician, Dr Stumpfegger give the children something "sweetened" to drink. About two hours later, Magda came back down to the Führerbunker, alone. She looked very pale, her eyes very red and her face was "frozen". She sat down at a table and began playing patience. Joseph Goebbels then came over to her, but did not say a word at that time.
After their children were dead, Magda and Joseph Goebbels walked up to the garden of the Chancellery, where they committed suicide. There are several different accounts of this event. According to one account, Goebbels shot his wife and then himself. Another account was that they each bit on a cyanide ampule and were given a coup de grâce immediately afterwards. Goebbels' SS adjutant Günther Schwägermann testified in 1948 that the couple walked ahead of him up the stairs and out into the Chancellery garden. He waited in the stairwell and heard the shots sound. Schwägermann then walked up the remaining stairs and once outside he saw the lifeless bodies of the couple. Following Joseph Goebbels' prior order, Schwägermann had an SS soldier fire several shots 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. The remains of the Goebbels' family, Hitler, Eva Braun, General Hans Krebs, and Hitler's dogs were repeatedly buried and exhumed. The last burial was 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 used detailed burial charts to exhume five wooden boxes at the Magdeburg facility. The remains from the boxes were burned, crushed, and scattered 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.
- Thacker 2010, p. 179.
- Longerich 2015, pp. 159, 160.
- Longerich 2015, p. 151.
- Magda Goebbels biography at Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin
- Meissner 1980, p. 13.
- Arditti, Michael, Magda Goebbels by Anja Klabunde Literary Review, 22 May 2002
- Meissner 1980, p. 16.
- de Launay, Jaques, Hitler en Flandres, 1975
- Longerich 2015, pp. 151, 152.
- Longerich 2015, p. 152.
- Meissner 1980, p. 29.
- Meissner 1980, p. 31.
- Thacker 2010, p. 149.
- According to the ship's manifest, Gunther had last visited the United States for three months in 1924, when he visited Chicago, Illinois.
- 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 1980, p. 61.
- Meissner 1980, p. 77.
- Meissner 1980, p. 82.
- Longerich 2015, p. 153.
- Manvell & Fraenkel 2010, p. 94.
- Longerich 2015, pp. 153, 157, 158.
- Wagener, Otto, Hitler: Memoirs of a Confidant
- Meissner 1980, pp. 91, 97–99.
- Longerich 2015, p. 167.
- Longerich 2015, p. 160.
- Longerich 2015, pp. 231, 290–291.
- Longerich 2015, pp. 315, 316.
- Manvell & Fraenkel 2010, p. 165.
- Longerich 2015, pp. 317, 318.
- Longerich 2015, p. 392.
- Manvell & Fraenkel 2010, p. 170.
- Longerich 2015, pp. 392–395.
- Longerich 2015, pp. 391, 395.
- Longerich 2015, p. 317.
- Thacker 2010, p. 204.
- Meissner 1980, p. 219.
- Meissner 1980, p. 222.
- Jewish Museum Berlin, major exhibition "Home and Exile, The Jewish Quarterly."
- Meissner 1980, p. 127.
- Longerich 2015, pp. 197, 361, 362, 706.
- Klabunde, Anja, Magda Goebbels, p. 302
- What is Trigeminal Neuralgia? TNA Website
- Meissner 1980, pp. 141, 228, 234.
- Thacker 2010, p. 298.
- Longerich 2015, p. 686.
- Joachimsthaler 1999, pp. 160–182.
- Beevor 2002, pp. 380, 381.
- James O'Donnell: The Bunker (Da Capo Press, 1978) ISBN 0-306-80958-3
- Meissner 1980, 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.
- Misch 2014, p. 176.
- Misch 2014, p. 177.
- Joachimsthaler 1999, p. 52.
- Beevor 2002, p. 381.
- Beevor 2002, p. 398.
- Vinogradov 2005, pp. 111, 333.
- Vinogradov 2005, p. 333.
- Vinogradov 2005, pp. 335, 336.
- "Magda Goebbels (Character)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 8 May 2008.
- Beevor, Antony (2002). Berlin: The Downfall 1945. London: Viking-Penguin Books. ISBN 0-670-03041-4.
- Der Spiegel No. 35/04 Hitlers Ende Spiegels (H. 35, 2004)
- E. Ebermayer, Hans Roos: Gefährtin des Teufels – Leben und Tod der Magda Goebbels (Hamburg, 1952)
- Goebbels, Joseph: 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
- 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.
- Longerich, Peter (2015). Goebbels: A Biography. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-1400067510.
- Manvell, Roger; Fraenkel, Heinrich (2010) . Doctor Goebbels: His Life and Death. New York: Skyhorse. ISBN 978-1-61608-029-7.
- Meissner, Hans-Otto (1978). Magda Goebbels – Ein Lebensbild (Munich)
- Meissner, Hans-Otto (1980) . Magda Goebbels: The First Lady of the Third Reich. New York: The Dial Press. ISBN 978-0803762121.
- Misch, Rochus (2014) . Hitler's Last Witness: The Memoirs of Hitler's Bodyguard. London: Frontline Books-Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-1848327498.
- O'Donnell, James P. (2001) . The Bunker. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-80958-3.
- Schaake, Erich (2000).Hitlers Frauen (Munich)
- Schneider, Wolfgang (2001). Frauen unterm Hakenkreuz (Hamburg)
- Sigmund, Anna Maria (1998). Die Frauen der Nazis Volume 1, (Vienna) ISBN 3-8000-3699-1
- Thacker, Toby (2010) . Joseph Goebbels: Life and Death. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-27866-0.
- Vinogradov, V. K. (2005). Hitler's Death: Russia's Last Great Secret from the Files of the KGB. Chaucer Press. ISBN 978-1-904449-13-3.
- Wistrich, Robert (1987). Wer war Wer im dritten Reich (Frankfurt am Main)
- Dieter Wunderlich: Göring und Goebbels (Regensburg, 2002)
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