Underneath the Bunker

Blind Spot offers a long close-up with one of Hitler's intimates

Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary


Adolf Hitler killed his own dog. Most of his other evil is well documented now, and words alone are inadequate anyway, so let's begin by considering this comparatively microscopic offense. For the many who shower their canines with at least as much affection as they offer other human beings (and often more), the horror of this fact should be obvious. This guy fed poison to his loyal, beloved, longtime pet, golden retriever Blondi. Here we have a comprehensible level of human wickedness.

Thanks to André Heller and Othmar Schmiderer's documentary Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary, you don't have to imagine this man. The project's subject, Traudl Junge, has plenty of stories to tell about der Führer as a human being, and just so there's no misunderstanding of her sentiments and comprehension of history, she begins by calling him a "monster" and an "absolute criminal." The 81-year-old Junge died in February 2002, just hours after this project premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival and just days after the publication of her memoirs, In the Final Hours. ("I have finally let go of my story," she told Heller. "Now I feel the world is letting go of me.") One experiences here Junge's long-overdue catharsis after nearly six decades of harboring these memories, which she never previously released to the public.

Those coming to this series of interviews seeking revelations about the Nazi regime may find themselves a trifle disappointed. This is portraiture, the tale of a fatherless, naïve girl named Traudl Humps who accepted a position as Hitler's personal assistant in 1942 and worked earnestly beside him until his suicide at the war's end, even taking dictation of his last will and testament. We learn of the girl's devotion -- indeed blind, as was most of Germany's -- and, perhaps most disturbingly, of how one man with impeccable manners managed to catalyze a nation's hatred and focus it while perverting a collective conscience.

The decades have put significant distance between Junge and Hitler, so this is not a showcase for emotional outbursts. Her elegant visage maintains an almost preternatural sense of calm, as if she's carried this baggage to the point of utter familiarity and woeful acceptance. Still, there's no dearth of humanity as she admits her shame and horror -- she married a Nazi who soon died in battle, and briefly considered herself one, but at the same time scarcely comprehended the atrocities being committed in the name of her chosen political party. (It's tempting to ask whether this sounds familiar, but very fortunately it doesn't -- yet.)

Considering Junge is perhaps more the point here than considering Hitler -- and indeed, even in subtle, minimalist frames set in her tiny apartment in Munich, she's a fascinating subject. Obviously, though, the real power of the project -- much as in Menno Meyjes' recent fictionalized Max -- comes from reflecting on Hitler as a mortal man, albeit one gone as wrong as ever was possible. It is in Junge's careful recounting of his delicacy, his airs, his warm congeniality toward all of his staff, that we get a sense of how warped a mind can become and how shielded from reality high political offices can be.

In cinematic terms, there's virtually nothing here to discuss; this is strictly an interview piece, suited as well or better to television or video. Basically Heller and Schmiderer change angles a few times, Junge dons a few different outfits and -- astutely -- the subject is occasionally shown reviewing her thoughts on videotape, the better to correct or expand on her recorded notions. On the big screen, it might have benefited the audience to see a few stock glimpses of Berlin or Hitler's "Wolf's Lair" retreat, but clearly Heller, whose father was a Viennese Holocaust survivor, wanted to focus solely on this one face, this one voice.

If Junge's firsthand recollections aren't always visually stimulating, they're still more illuminating than most cinematic re-creations of the era. In Blind Spot, we don't grasp the background of the man who kills his own dog, let alone get anywhere near sympathy for the devil, but we do get a lasting impression of one of history's most demented souls and a young, hopeful spirit who just wanted to believe in something. Junge castigates herself for her terribly misplaced faith but also reflects on Hitler's comforting reassurance that "You can't possibly make as many mistakes as me." It appears from this production that those words, in an expanded context, eventually brought her comfort and release.

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