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 January 7, 2000

[Pictures added by this website]


The shame of my ties with Hitler

Eva Braun's cousin breaks her silence about her times with Hitler's mistress in an interview with SIMON FINCH.

FEW of her friends know the secret Elizabeth Winkler (not her real name) has guarded closely since the end of World War II. Then, barely in her 20s, Ms Winkler remembers watching American troops entering her German homeland and vowing never to reveal her true identity. But now, more than 50 years on, her past remains unresolved and she has at last decided to talk publicly about a life bound up with one of history's most notorious supporting actresses, her cousin Eva Braun.

Ms Winkler provides a first-hand account of a figure who has become a legend, the myths surrounding her having grown with each passing year.

Not only did Ms Winkler holiday with her cousin while the latter's boyfriend was conquering France, she was also invited to stay at the Berghof, Hitler's Bavarian mountain retreat above Berchtesgaden.

The two women ended up living together there for the last half of 1944, just months before Braun died next to Hitler in his Berlin bunker, with the Russian forces barely 100 metres away.

Now in her mid-70s, Winkler is recognisable in the tomboyish teenager seen in Braun's home movies. The curls of tawny hair are still cut to the same length, though now her angular face shows signs of strain. She evidently remains anguished by her association, if at one remove, with the man who has become the embodiment of evil in Western minds.

Passionately anti-Nazi, Ms Winkler reluctantly agreed to go back, after a gap of half a century, to what remains of the Berghof complex, to be filmed for a TV documentary.

Once there, she confided her unease at the abiding cultural fascination with Hitler. Yet she remains loyal to the memory of her cousin, an exciting role model for the impressionable and rather awkward teenager, whose first recollection of Braun is when, at the age of nine, she saw in a newspaper a picture of her cousin with words she could not understand.

"I didn't know what a mistress was, or who Hitler was. When I showed it to my parents [Ms Winkler's mother and Braun's were sisters], they said: 'Oh, close it, close it', and that was all."

They were shocked when, in the summer of 1940, Ms Winkler chose to spend a month with her glamorous cousin, knowing full well her association with Hitler.

The young women lived in the Munich mansion Hitler had bought Braun and, with victory apparently around the corner, they enjoyed the city's intoxicating atmosphere. It was also a time, Ms Winkler says, when Braun "taught me to accept and enjoy my nascent femininity. It was an important time in my life and she intuitively knew how to help me".

However, the most intense period of their relationship was still to come. In the summer of 1944, Braun again invited Ms Winkler to stay, this time at Hitler's Berghof retreat. Her parents would not hear of it, but finally agreed to a compromise: Ms Winkler could see Braun, but only in Munich.

"When I arrived," she recalls, "an SS escort was waiting; Eva had surreptitiously arranged for them to take me on to the Berghof. I didn't know what to do, but I felt I couldn't let her down and I had to see her again."

By complying with Braun's wishes, Ms Winkler felt she had betrayed her parents and had little else left to lose. She moved in with her cousin and for a time lost all contact with the rest of her family.

During this period, Hitler was mainly at his headquarters on the eastern front, the so-called Wolf's Lair. But, Ms Winkler recalls, he "phoned from time to time and even asked after me. He was anxious to know how we were getting on together."

Looking back, Ms Winkler sees now how isolated life had become. Hitler's obsession with security, heightened by the assassination attempt of July 20, meant the women's movements were closely monitored.

"When we went out of the house, SS men walked behind us. We couldn't leave without them and we never knew whether they were listening in on our conversations. It was a time of secrecy. You couldn't even trust your friends."

It was in this atmosphere of intrigue and paranoia, Ms Winkler says, that Braun finally "woke up" and began to take an interest in the war.

"One day she told me to go to the tea house and listen to a radio that had been left there. 'Listen to the BBC, Hilversum [a Dutch resistance broadcaster] and Beromunster [a Swiss station]', she told me."

Ms Winkler dutifully kept notes of the bulletins, unaware that in Nazi Germany the penalty for unauthorised reception of such broadcasts was death.

Her cousin vacillated: "Sometimes she thirsted for details, but on other occasions things got too much to bear and she didn't want to know." Their last days together were spent back in Munich. The city was facing heavy Allied bombardment and the women would spend many hours in the cellar of Braun's house.

"We were sitting there and the bombs came and suddenly she got out her little chest and inside was some jewellery. She took it out and said: 'That's for you.' I told her not to be so silly, but she said she no longer had any need for it. It was the moment when I knew she would go to Berlin and die with Hitler. That came to me in a flash."

Eva Braun

Pictures from a roll of film found in the ruins of the Berghof in 1945 (from this website's archives)

Her cousin rarely spoke openly about Hitler - "Things were much more formal then, you didn't talk about boyfriends" - but, looking back, Ms Winkler sees in the relationship a classic story of exploitation. Yet she realises Braun was party to the abuse and even swept her up in it: "In her traumatic state, Eva used me. But there is always another side to these things - I let myself be used, too."

After the war, Ms Winkler slowly picked up the pieces of her life. Shortly before her wedding in 1953, she revealed the truth to her fiance: "I am sorry, I am the cousin of Eva Braun. If you want to leave me, please go." He didn't, but asked her to promise never to tell any children they had. Ms Winkler's three offspring found out the truth only in the late 1980s, after the death of her husband.

The interview is drawing to a close.

'To this day, I can't believe she really loved him," Ms Winkler says finally. "I can't believe such a beautiful young woman loved this man." She grimaces. "This is my first and last interview."


The Guardian


Related items on this website

Observer, Oct 7, 2001: Hitler was gay - and killed to hide it, book says
October 1999 story: Hitler secretly gay --historian (Joachim Fest)
David Irving's comments on this allegation

see also The Sydney Morning Herald

© Focal Point 2001 e-mail:  write to David Irving