I saw the movie, Downfall, first and am haunted by it yet. The haunting led to a search for Traudl Junge’s book which the movie was made from and it doesn’t disappoint though it drags a little in the middle. Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase “the banality of evil” crowns Junge’s avuncular Hitler like a satanic halo.
But being banal, he has no horns or a tail. He’s only the very model of your average twencen health nut, vegetarian and dog lover who signs the orders for the murder of millions with no more attention than his occasional lectures to his devoted entourage about the dangers of smoking or the glories of creamed potatoes.
Uncle Fuehrer, as Junge reports that the Goebbels’ doomed children called him, saves his emotion for his dog, only occasionally sparing a tear for the Aryan children dying under the Allies bombs while waving away the Jewish children he murders as of no account because he doesn’t see them or their parents as human.
The movie’s star Bruno Ganz ably dramatizes the man Junge found so compelling and makes her adoration understandable. She never saw the grinning skull behind the kindly smile. Only later would she be appalled at her naive participation in a criminal regime. The movie also enlarges on her brief description (because she didn’t see it) of Mrs. G.’s careful poisoning of her children and eliminates altogether Junge’s quicky marriage to Hitler’s longtime valet before he falls in battle, presumably because it would have made the actress less sympathetic. It works in the memoir, however, to humanize what would otherwise have been a robotic Junge.
It’s only odd, perhaps, that a clip from the movie showing Hitler in a rage at bad news has been repeatedly used with appropriate subtitles for all manner of contemporary mockery on YouTube. But maybe it’s good to make Uncle Fuehrer into a clown. In Junge’s telling and Ganz’s portrayal, his ordinariness is too chilling.