Hans Georg Kohler
Freelance journalist for Modern Times based in Berlin.

HISTORY: Goebbels’ selfproclaimed apolitical secretary tells her version of the historical events. The result is an important document for posterity, but is this all we need?

The Austrian documentary A German Life mainly consists of interviews with the at the time 104-year-old Berlin-born Brunhilde Pomsel. Pomsel was one of the few who was present in Hitler’s bunker during the last fateful days in Berlin. The intimate interview is divided into chapters of partly shocking recordings, including footage from the ghetto in Warsaw.

The recordings, filmed by Germans, show shattered skeletons, naked Jewish bodies, women, children and men sliding down into a mass grave on a wooden sled. At the bottom of the huge ditch, they are stacked like logs of wood to make the most out of the space. A woman who is sliding down has a terribly painful facial expression that is terrifying and at the same time lifelike – even though she is clearly dead. Tortured to death by the hermetically sealed ghetto in Poland’s capital.


Pomsel was employed as a secretary for Josef Goebbels in the propaganda department in Berlin, during the last three years of the war, after having worked a period
of time for the National Socialist parliamentary broadcasting. Previously, she worked for a Jewish lawyer (Dr. Hugo Goldberg) who received less and less clients during the aggressive growth of Anti-Semitism during the 30s. Pomsel sighs heavily when she tells about life in Nazi Germany. She begins the interview by asking a question to the camera: “Is it bad if people try to do something for themselves that is good for them, in the position they have been given – but at the same time realize that they harm other people? But one does not think that far, we were thinking short-term and indifferently.”

World War I. Brunhilde Pomsel was born in 1911 and grew up in Berlin during the 1920s, where she graduated as a stenographer. She remembers her father’s mobilization as a soldier during the World War I and his return after four years. “The world was different at that time – we were not particularly open to each other, but we lived closely together with a particular proximity between the family members. If we were naughty, we got punished – you didn’t get far with love and understanding. The strict, Prussian, dutiful obedience was imprinted in us from childhood,” says Brunhilde. It is impossible to understand the world at that time, today, she claims, and asks: “Should I blame myself for not having been politically conscious? No, rather the contrary. If I had been a politically conscious person, that would quickly have become my end.” She admits that she was a young coward back then, naive and stupid, and not interested in politics but rather concerned with superficial matters, such as nice clothes and a good salary. She portrays her boss Goebbels as elegant, distinguished, well-dressed, short and limpy. A brilliant actor.

«The strict, Prussian, dutiful obedience was imprinted in us from childhood. You didn’t get far with love and understanding.»

A furious “dwarf” who acted as a political demagogue, although he was polite in the office. And so it continues. We learn about everyday life in Nazi Germany, where most people were concerned with family and friends, safe surroundings and a well-paid job that gave them the opportunity to enjoy daily life. A close Jewish girlfriend of Brunhilde Pomsel even accompanied her to the German National Socialist Labor Party South of Berlin, which she was paid ten Reichsmark to do.

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