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Working Girl

Listening to Hitler's Secretary

After 55 years of near total silence, Traudl Junge agreed to tell artist and first-time filmmaker André Heller the story of her life as Adolf Hitler's personal secretary.

"She was so afraid that people would misunderstand, and think she still believed that Hitler was a great man," Heller said by telephone from his home in Vienna. "But I was interested in hearing, for once in my life, somebody who said, 'I loved him, I was impressed by him, and eventually I learned that he was the biggest criminal of all time.' I meet a lot of people who say they knew nothing during the war, or people who are still Nazis. But I seldom meet a person who has learned so much." Blind Spot, the riveting 90-minute documentary Heller made in collaboration with cameraman Othmar Schmiderer, was culled from some 26 hours of interviews he conducted with Junge, whose harrowing tale seems emblematic of a generation's moral failures—from her fatherless girlhood steeped in self-sacrifice and deprivation, to the false comfort she found in the "paternal" figure of her employer, to the horrifically surreal last days she spent in Hitler's Berlin bunker, taking dictation while her world crumbled around her.

Born in 1946, Heller grew up in a ruined city and in the shadow of his father, a Jewish resistance fighter crushed by his wartime experience. "Mrs. Junge could not forgive herself for having been the dupe of Hitler," Heller noted. "And my father could not forgive himself for having survived the war."

"Afterwards, she suffered from breast cancer and depression, and couldn't work for years," he continued. "Following the bizarre marriage that Hitler arranged for her with his manservant [who died at the front], she never had another love affair. When I met her, she spent her free time in what seemed to me a highly symbolic gesture, reading to the blind."

Junge died of cancer the night Blind Spot had its premiere at last year's Berlin Film Festival, where it won the Audience Prize. Three and a half million viewers tuned in when it screened on German television. For those (myself included) who grow queasy when films about the war prove popular in Germany, Heller has a ready answer.

"I'm not just uncomfortable when they show films about the Holocaust on television. I'm uncomfortable here, period," he said, noting ruefully that Jörg Haider's ultra-right, anti-immigrant Freedom Party is still part of Austria's government. "If they did it once, they can do it again," he added. "And when people ask my address, I always tell them, 'Sitting on packed luggage.' "


Related Story:
J. Hoberman's review of Blind Spot

 
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