One of last people close to Nazi leadership was subject of film last year, but felt no sense of guilt for Hitler’s crimes.
Brunhilde Pomsel revealed shortly before her death that the love of her life was a Jew with whom she planned to escape Germany forever
Pomsel died in her sleep in Munich on Friday night, said Florian Weigensamer, a director and producer of a documentary feature about her life.
Pomsel, who had accompanied the Goebbels into Hitler’s bunker in the dying days of the Nazi regime, described being “dumbstruck” on hearing the news. She told the makers of the documentary, A German Life, which is due to open in British cinemas later this year: “I will never forgive Goebbels for what he did to the world or for the fact that he murdered his innocent children.”
It was possibly the closest she got to expressing any regret for her role in the Nazi death machine. Her job required her, alongside everyday administrative tasks, to systematically alter statistics, such as reducing the numbers of German soldiers who had been killed in the war and increasing the number of rapes said to have been perpetrated on German women by Red Army soldiers. But still she concluded more than seven decades later: “Really, I didn’t do anything other than type in Goebbels’ office.”
Pomsel called it an “act of foolery” that she ever decided to work for Goebbels. But her typing speed was excellent, and so was the pay, so “only an infectious disease would have stopped me” from becoming a secretary to the Nazi propaganda minister, she said.
She insisted she had simply acted like most Germans by not resisting the regime. “Those people nowadays who say they would have stood up against the Nazis – I believe they are sincere in meaning that, but believe me, most of them wouldn’t have,” she told the Guardian in her last interview in 2016.
She described how, after the rise of the Nazi party, “the whole country was as if under a kind of a spell. I could open myself up to the accusations that I wasn’t interested in politics, but the truth is the idealism of youth might easily have led to you having your neck broken.”
Pomsel’s health had deteriorated rapidly following a fall in the months since the film’s release at Munich film festival last July.
During the last months of her life she was interviewed further by the film-makers for a book to accompany the documentary. “Her attention span had waned, but she was still up to date with events in the world from Turkey to the USA,” Weigensamer said.
“She was very proud that the film was made about her, even if parts of it were very unpleasant for her, but she thought it was important that she left something behind which will be shown in schools,” so as to educate young people on the dangers of dictatorships.
Speaking about what she called the “ghastly developments” in world affairs, Pomsel said she only hoped “the world doesn’t turn upside down again as it did then”.
Although she called herself an “apolitical person, who has never fought for anything”, she had followed current affairs closely in old age. She said recently: “Hitler was elected democratically, and bit by bit he got his own way. Of course that could always repeat itself with Trump or Erdoğan.”
Despite the 30 hours of interview on which the film is based and hours of conversation that followed for the book, she withheld a crucial detail of her own biography until shortly before her death, Weigensamer revealed.
“She told us about the love of her life, Gottfried Kirchbach, who was Jewish, with whom she planned to escape Germany forever,” he said.
Kirchbach went to Amsterdam to arrange a new life for the couple. Pomsel visited him there regularly, until one day he told her she was endangering her life because her frequent visits had come to the attention of the Nazi authorities. “She never saw him again. A doctor advised her to abort the child of theirs she was carrying, because she had a serious lung complaint and she might have died.”
Weigensamer said that even towards the end of her life Pomsel expressed no sense of guilt, “except towards people she said she should have taken better care of”. One of those was her best friend Eva Löwenthal, a vivacious, red-haired Jewish girl. Only in 2005 did Pomsel enquire about her friend’s fate, discovering she had been murdered in Auschwitz towards the end of the war.
“She remained true to herself until the end, only seeing her own fate, never seeing it in terms of the societal dimensions or putting it into its historical context,” Weigensamer said. “There were no insincere confessions.”