An illustration is provided in the story of his beloved dog Blondie. All who surrounded Hitler knew of his pride and affection for Blondie. He bragged on the tricks she could perform. He kept her by his side most of the time. She even slept in his bedroom in the bunker. Then, as the Russians closed in, Hitler fed Blondie cyanide. He killed his dog not to spare her from any of the ravages which might follow defeat, not to spare her from hunger or deprivation or disease. Rather, he had begun to suspect that the cyanide Himmler had supplied for Hitler's own suicide might be fake. So the Fuhrer, who had already sacrificed his entire nation to his own vanity, killed his dog to make sure that his supply of suicide tablets would work when the time came.
Junge was 22 in 1942 when she was employed as one of Hitler's four private secretaries. She doesn't know if she was chosen because she typed and took dictation well or because she was young and pretty. She does remember with abiding shame that she was enthralled by Hitler and breathless with eagerness to work for him. Hitler's work habits required that all of his secretaries live in his own compound. Rather than labor in an office, they remained in their apartments until they were summoned to perform various tasks. Among their duties were to take tea with Hitler every afternoon and to dine with him at lunch and dinner. The nature of their close association might lead one to wonder about sexual obligations of the sort that other such charismatic madmen as Charles Manson, Jim Jones and David Koresh extracted from their followers. But Junge admits to no such connections and wonders if Hitler even had much of a sexual relationship with Eva Braun.
Junge stayed at the Fuhrer's side through his reversal of fortune in World War II all the way to his suicide. She recalls with dismay her joy when Hitler survived an assassination attempt by one of his own generals. Interviewed at age 81 in 2001, she remembers the details of her years with Hitler with remarkable clarity and expresses her memories with unusual vividness. We gather from her comments that she spent the 56 years after Hitler's death trying to come to terms with her having liked and admired a man she subsequently came to understand as one of the most evil human beings ever to have trod the earth. Until she sat in front of Schmiderer's camera to submit to 10 hours of Heller's interviews, she had shared her experiences with no one. Heller believes that she finally talked publicly because she knew she was dying. And indeed, she did die of cancer within hours of this film's debut at the Berlin Film Festival.
The filmmakers' strategy for this documentary is boldly stark. As anyone knows from watching the History Channel, voluminous archival film footage exists for showing the places and events that Junge describes. They accessed none of it. The camera always remains on Junge's face to capture the swirl of emotion she feels as she tells her story. In a strikingly novel follow-up, Heller shows Junge footage of his earlier interviews with her and encourages her to comment. She is obviously uncomfortable, pronounces herself banal and wonders how she could ever have been so blind, so brain-washed with admiration to have stored such recollections in her memory bank. This technique serves as a perfect metaphor for the entirety of this film and the bulk of Junge's life, looking back at herself with dismay and harsh judgment.
Traudl Junge was raised by her divorced mother under strained economic circumstances. And she's almost certainly right that Hitler was a father figure for her. But recognizing that fact about her youthful self provides her no comfort. She was not educated beyond high school, but she is obviously highly intelligent and a lot more articulately introspective than most people manage. Her eyes began to open during the last days in the bunker when Hitler began to rage against international Jewish conspirators and the failure of the German people to be strong enough to realize his vision. But she began to see far too late, she believes, and she reveres the memory of a young woman her own age who was captured and executed for serving in the Resistance. And that girl's story is Junge's message for us all about the Hitlers who might rise in our midst in the future. Whatever our circumstances, there is no excuse for not recognizing evil when we see it.