Hitler and Geli
by Ronald Hayman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This book has three major problems, one historical, one methodological, and one conceptual.
The historical problem is unfortunately inherent in the subject matter. We just don't know enough about Angela Raubal to provide material for an entire book. (Weirdly, this is the same problem I had with Michael Wallis's biography of Pretty Boy Floyd
, Pretty Boy: The Life and Times of Charles Arthur Floyd.
) She was a woman in Nazi Germany, she was only twenty-three when she died, and almost everything she herself put to paper was destroyed. And all the information we do
have about her is warped by its proximity to Hitler, who provides a distorting vortex for anything that gets near him.
There's only two things you can do with this problem. One is write a short book, more of a monograph, and we now consider that a non-viable option unless you are an academic and only interested in academic publication. The other is to find something else to fill your empty pages. In this case Hayman's got Hitler standing right there
, and I have Ian Kershaw's 2 volume biography of Hitler
(Hubris and Nemesis
). I know how much space that bastard can take up.
Hayman provides a weak, surface-y biography of Hitler--obviously and strongly influenced by The Psychopathic God
(itself a problem we'll come back to in a moment)--which really does nothing for his argument and feels very much like filler. I admit and agree that the lack of material on his subject matter is a problem that he is not responsible for--and just because we don't know very much about Geli Raubal is NOT
a reason not to write about her--but I don't think his solution was a good one. He might have done better to do some social history about women's roles and options in Weimar Germany, especially as it transitioned into Nazi Germany. Angela Lambert
does an excellent job in her biography of Evan Braun
of showing that even without Hitler, Braun had no good path open to her, because no woman in Nazi Germany did. Hayman doesn't show much if any awareness of that side of the problem--it's unfortunately probably not inaccurate to say that he's more interested in Hitler than in Raubal. (If I don't call him Adolf, I don't call her Geli. Fair is fair.)
The second problem, the methodological, is also inherent in the first. Almost all of Hayman's evidence (and sometimes "evidence") for his argument about Hitler and Raubal's relationship and her death is secondhand and hearsay. It's what surviving members of Hitler's inner circle wrote about Raubal or told interviewers about Raubal. And sometimes what they're saying is what somebody else
told them about Raubal. In all cases, they can't be trusted because they have their own narrative and their own interests and (post-war) self-exculpation--and those are serious problems because again, Hitler is a distorting vortex. (Henriette von Shirach is probably the closest thing he has to first-hand testimony, and regrettably, I don't think you can trust her as far as you can throw her.) Hayman does not discuss (or seem to be aware of) this problem about his evidence, which makes it even less trustworthy, especially when what he's using as evidence is rumors and gossip about Hitler's sex-life.
And that leads us to the third problem, the conceptual one, which is what Hayman thinks and how he thinks about, well, Hitler's sex-life. As I said, he's clearly heavily indebted to Waite, and the distinctive thing about Waite is his careful, ponderous, by-the-book Freudian analysis of the second-hand evidence, hearsay, and rumors about Hitler's sex-life. The cryptorchism, the impotence, the "deviant sexual practices": Hayman reproduces it all without apparently noticing that we have no evidence
of any of it. We have only what people say other people said about Hitler (the pornographic drawings that we have not one single example of) and what can maybe
be inferred from what Hitler said about himself, and that kind of inference is a very dicey proposition, even with someone as sublimely un-self-aware as Hitler. Nobody who might have had first-hand experience of Hitler in the bedroom survived the end of the war.
The major conceptual problem comes in the discussion of Hitler's "sado-masochism"--which I put in quotes because Hayman is using Freud's model, which sees sadism and masochism purely as perversions and sicknesses, and shows absolutely no awareness that our thinking has advanced since Freud and that there are other, better, more nuanced and sophisticated models available for thinking about BDSM. (This is the same thing I bitched about at length in my review
of Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman's Co-Creator
.) The problem
with Hitler's sexual practices, insofar as we have genuine evidence about them, isn't the sadism or the masochism or the urophilia per se
; it's that he was forcing unwilling women to participate in fulfilling his sexual needs. (Hayman labels Eva Braun a "victim of Hitler's sado-masochism" and it's not at all clear that's true, either from his perspective of "sado-masochism" being a crime or from the position I would prefer to discuss about consent, just as his calling Renate Mueller a victim of Hitler's "sado-masochism" is pretty misleading. She certainly did not enjoy her relationship with Hitler, whatever it consisted of, and hers is the clearest evidence* we have, as best I can tell from Hayman, about what Hitler's sexual practices were
, but the fact that she was victimized by Hitler's government
and committed suicide because she thought--rightly or wrongly--that the SS were coming to arrest her is not a direct result of "sado-masochism," Hitler's or otherwise, though you can certainly make an argument it's a direct result of Hitler's paranoia.) It's consent issues, in other words, that we need to be looking at if we want to talk about Hitler's monstrosity, and those need to be carefully separated from sadism/masochism and dominance/submission. And I could really have used Hayman to have--and to impart--a better supported understanding of how all of these things were understood in 1930s Germany instead of going for sensationalism. (And there's another thing he could have been doing instead of rehashing Hitler's biography.)
But where he really goes off the rails (for me) is in his attempt to do a Freudian analysis of Hitler's career as a dictator and mass murderer, trying to use "sado-masochism" as an explanation for Hitler's aggression against his European neighbors, for his orders to massacre the Poles and the Russians and the Jews of all nationalities, for his scorched earth tactics at the end of the war. And trying to argue that Hitler's "sado-masochism" infected all of Nazi Germany, that that
's the explanation for totalitarianism and the rule of terror. Leaving aside the question of how much influence Hitler's personal style had (and I'm willing to be persuaded it had a LOT, but I need some evidence), this argument is completely ignoring the entire history of the German right-wing at least
back to World War I, if not much, much farther. The things that Hayman points to as the results of Hitler's "sado-masochism" are things--like everything else about Hitler--that were lying around waiting to be picked up and turned into weapons.
So. Hayman's argument is that Hitler murdered Raubal (or, more likely, would have been convicted of manslaughter), and where the book is actually interesting is in his analysis of the lies the top Nazis were telling (half an hour after they said it was suicide, they were trying to announce it was an accident) and where they contradicted each other and what we can learn from those contradictions. It's not clear whether Raubal died on the day before her body was found or the day before that. It's not clear whether her face was bruised, not clear whether her nose was broken. It's not clear whether Hitler was in the Munich flat when she died or--as everyone loudly insisted--on the way to Nuremberg. Her motive for suicide was thin at best, and the letter she broke off writing in the middle of a word was full of plans for a visit to Vienna. The path the bullet took through her body (entering above the heart and lodging at her left hip) was very peculiar and an almost impossible angle for a suicide to achieve, even if she would have wanted to. Everyone very carefully forgot to look for powder burns on her skin and clothes. Her body was whisked away to be buried in Austria before anyone could suggest an autopsy or an inquest.
It's hard to tell what's genuine hinkiness and what's the effect of Hitler's distorting vortex (and again, Hayman's refusal to admit the vortex into his analysis is a serious problem), but I ended up being fairly convinced that Raubal did not kill herself, even if I didn't buy any of the rest of Hayman's argument about Hitler.
And in the end, I suppose that's my most central disappointment in this book: it's about Hitler when the person I'm interested in is Raubal.
*The "evidence" we have from Renate Mueller is what the OSS Source Book
says (quoting someone, but Hayman's citation isn't clear enough for me to figure out who) that a director named Adolf Zeissler said (and goodness knows when he said it, since it could be any time from 1936 through the end of the war) that Renate Mueller told him in 1936, four years after her experience and at a time when, blacklisted and a morphine addict, she had no incentive to be, and cannot be counted by any stretch of the imagination as, a reliable witness. Hayman does not talk at all
about the problematic nature of his evidence here. Or anywhere else.View all my reviews