- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2003

It seems unlikely that an elderly interview subject, filmed unglamorously as she sits and smokes in a modest apartment, could command your attention for 90 minutes, during which there’s nothing but talk, talk, talk. Yet that’s exactly what Traudl Junge does in “Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary.”

A modest little documentary by Austrian filmmakers Andre Heller and Othmar Schmiderer, the film takes a whack at explaining Adolf Hitler indirectly, through one of his private secretaries, the late Miss Junge, who died, at 81, just hours after the film premiered at a Berlin film festival.

In the immediate aftermath of the war, Miss Junge was taken into Russian, and later American, custody and eventually released. Thereafter, she led a quiet life in a Munich suburb, working as a journalist. She kept largely silent about her history until this documentary, which coincided with the publication of her memoir, “In the Final Hours.”

“Blind Spot” has no music, no archival footage, no pictures, no B roll — no stylistic sweeteners save for one brief clip of Miss Junge watching footage of herself and occasional cuts to an alternate interview session while the audio track of a previous one continues. Yet her testimony is so absorbing that artificial enhancements would have been distractions.

Watching “Blind Spot” isn’t quite like going to dinner with Miss Junge, but it has that quality. You can, perversely, feel her sense of excitement as she recalls meeting Hitler for the first time and, through a family friend, landing a job as the Fuehrer’s amanuensis. She was an immature, naive young girl, she believably insists, and knew nothing of Hitler’s crimes until after the war was over. Hitler, to Miss Junge, was a father figure, a “kindly,” even self-deprecating gentleman.

“No one makes as many mistakes as me,” Hitler told her, trying to assuage her nerves as he tested her dictation skills. She remembers flubbing the exam— a case of trembling hands — but fatefully got a second chance when Hitler was interrupted by a phone call from Joachim von Ribbentrop, Germany’s foreign minister.

How’s that for a fork in the career road?

As one would expect from someone who observed the man up close, Miss Junge supplies plenty of fascinating personal minutiae that no doubt will fuel the perennial speculation about Hitler’s psyche and sexuality.

A few examples: She never heard him say the word “love,” and his relationship with Eva Braun didn’t seem at all “erotic”; he adored his dog, Blondie, but always washed his hands after petting her (eventually, he poisoned her); he casually referred to himself as a “genius”; his private manner of speech was far gentler than his rabid public persona.

In light of the barbaric crimes Hitler perpetrated, Miss Junge says all these tidbits seem “banal” to her. She was so close to him that she never saw the big picture. Hence her “blind spot.” Oddly enough, the “banal” stuff is anything but. We know the nuts-and-bolts history; from our detached perspective, the banality of Hitler is what’s most riveting about her story.

An interesting word choice, banal, echoing as it does the phrase the late political theorist Hannah Arendt made famous in her study of Adolf Eichmann — the “banality of evil.” Was Hitler’s evil banal? Was the Third Reich a cold, bureaucratic machine? That wasn’t the whole of Miss Arendt’s argument (she firmly believed Eichmann was personally responsible for his crimes and deserved to be executed), but the seemingly extenuating idea of “banality” is part of an ongoing debate over the complicity of the average German during the war.

Even from her limited perspective — that of an intelligent, thoughtful, articulate but operationally innocent figure in Hitler’s regime — Miss Junge sheds light on this question.

Wracked with guilt until her death, Miss Junge poignantly recalls visiting a memorial to Sophie Scholl, a member of the brave White Rose resistance group based at the University of Munich. Scholl was executed in 1943, when she was 21 years old — the same age Miss Junge was when she started working for Hitler.

People knew the truth about Nazism. Some fought back; most didn’t. Miss Junge, according to “Blind Spot,” had only begun to forgive herself when she died of cancer last year.

Miss Junge remembers Hitler as a perfervid ideologue consumed by the canard of a monolithic Jewish world conspiracy. He never referred to individual Jews, she tellingly observes; only to impersonal abstractions like “International Judaism.”

In the last days of the war, in the spring of 1945, Miss Junge spent extended time with Hitler in his fortified underground bunker in Berlin. She watched as he grew ever more paranoid about his senior staff (with good reason — they tried to assassinate him) and dismayed by the German people, who weren’t adequately “prepared” for the war.

The West would never be able to resist Bolshevism without him, Miss Junge recalls Hitler saying. Europe was too weak, too corrupt, its blood too tainted. The war ended; Germany lost; and none of Hitler’s baleful predictions came to pass. Nazism was premised on lies, Miss Junge concluded, and its barbarity stemmed from a group of powerful men who turned people into mere abstractions.

Miss Junge unknowingly summed up the central evil of all forms of totalitarianism when she said this of Hitler: “The individual never mattered to him.”

***

TITLE: “Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary,” playing exclusively at Visions Cinema; in German with English subtitles

RATING: PG (Frank discussion of the Jewish Holocaust and wartime violence)

CREDITS: Interview by Andre Heller. Camera directed by Othmar Schmiderer. Produced by Danny Krausz and Kurt Stocker. Edited by Daniel Pohacker.

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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