“I was unable to understand how the wives of all those sitting in the dock not only could meet them every day at home, sit with them at the same table and share their joys and sorrows, but also could whisper tender words to them, accept their caresses and love them and give birth to their children. I have never doubted that the wives were in the know about the criminal acts of their husbands”. From Tatyana Stupnikova’s book titled “Nothing but the truth. Nuremberg Trials. Memoirs of a Translator”.
There is no doubt they knew everything. But how did they feel about their husbands’ “work” and views? Different ways. The spectrum is quite broad. At one end, there was Margarete Ley, the second and possibly not official wife of the head of the German Labour Front Robert Ley. She was an outspoken anti-fascist who left her husband in 1938, taking her children with her. At the other, well, it’s difficult to pick anyone. Too many wives became сlose associates or inspirations for Nazi criminals, including Magda Goebbels, Margarete Hess, and Anneliese von Ribbentrop.
By the way, the latter did not incur any punishment and even retained her huge fortune as a member of the Henkel family of industrial magnates. This was not the case with the completely apolitical Emmy Goering, who was imprisoned and convicted. Her property was confiscated and she lived out her last days in a very modest manner.
It wasn’t only Frau Goering who had a chance to taste camp rations. In the spring and summer of 1945, the families of many prominent figures of the Third Reich were arrested by US Army counterintelligence. The women were sent to a prison-style camp, while their children were dispatched to orphanages. Later on, some children were taken by relatives, while others were returned to their mothers. The only grounds for imprisonment were family ties to a Nazi criminal. The defendant Hans Frank wrote in a letter to the American judge at the Nuremberg Trials, Francis Biddle about his arrested sister, who “never showed any political activity and was not even a member of the Nazi Party”. According to Frank, his sister’s main occupation was caring for their old mother.
Upon learning of counterintelligence activities, the governor of the Nuremberg Prison, Colonel Burton Andrus became furious. He established the most severe detention regime for his prisoners, and it was difficult to suspect him of loyalty to the Nazis. He sent a written protest directly to the headquarters of the US Army’s High Command in Germany, demanding the immediate release of women and children. Andrus adhered to practical considerations, thinking that otherwise, a legal defence team would present such evidence to the court that the Americans themselves would have to take their seats in the dock. The protest proved effective and the families were freed.
Those women had something else in common, namely, their affection for Adolf Hitler. Henriette von Schirach wrote in her memoirs that “Hitler was the centre of our lives”. They were always in front of him. He introduced his accomplices to their future brides, married them off, helped them reconcile, and even took part in the baptism of their children.
Magda Goebbels spent more time with the Fuhrer than with her own husband. After Rudolf Hess flew to Scotland in 1941, which looked like a betrayal, Hitler continued to look after his wife. He did not marry until his last day, keeping his romantic interest, Eva Braun, as a mistress, even though the Third Reich needed a “first lady”. Hitler encouraged a rivalry for this status between Emmy Goering and Magda Goebbels.
To please their leader, some of the Nazis close to Hitler married Aryans - tall blue-eyed blondes - just for the sake of their "exterior". Yet, almost all of them turned out to be exemplary wives. Some remained faithful until the end of their days to the husbands, who had long before died on the gallows. Moreover, some women, coming out from behind their killer husbands, became careful keepers of their ideology and even icons of neo-Nazism.
Her husband was Hermann Goering, Vice Fuhrer, chairman of the Reichstag. After Goering was sentenced to death at the Nuremberg Trials, he took poison on 15 October 1946, a few hours before the appointed time of execution.
Hermann and Emmy Goering married in 1935, when both were 42 years old. Emmy was an actress (it was rumoured that in her youth she had worked as a prostitute) and a fully formed persona in her own right. Before meeting Goering, she was not on friendly terms with the Nazis, and upon becoming "first lady", she did not interfere in the affairs of the Third Reich. She joined the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP), more commonly known as the Nazi Party, for the sake of formality. After her wedding, she was given a membership card at the request of Heinrich Himmler.
The Goerings were a happy and loving couple. Three years later, Emmy gave birth to a baby named Edda who the propaganda machine elevated to the status of “Nazi princess”. Much has been written about the luxury in which the family lived (Edda was presented with several masterpieces in honour of her birth). The fact that all of the luxury was stolen didn’t bother Emmy. She saw her mission as comforting her husband in his time of trouble, and pacifying his insolent nature.
This skill came in handy when, at the height of the war, Goering fell out of favour with Hitler, who allegedly demanded that the Reichstag chairman’s entire family be killed. Unlike Emmy, Goering himself did not believe it, thinking that such an order was initiated by the “vile pig” Martin Bormann.
Emmy told US Army psychologist Gustave Gilbert, who visited her during the Nuremberg Trials, that her husband was infuriated Hitler could suspect him of betrayal. She added that Goering was so furious and used such stern language about Hitler that she was even afraid the guards would shoot her husband on the spot.
“I asked the guard to forget what he had heard. This soldier told me that yes, he would, but that he believes my husband is right. Disloyalty! God knows what sacrifices my husband had to make just out of loyalty to the Fuhrer! He lost his health, his fortune, and his first wife as a result of the 1923 coup. He supported Hitler in everything. He helped him come to power. And in a show of gratitude for all this, he received an arrest warrant and an execution order. Besides this, they even wanted to shoot my child! When we learned about Hitler's suicide, Hermann noted with bitterness that the most difficult thing for him is that he would never be able to tell Hitler in person how unfairly he treated him”, she added.
In Emmy's eyes, Hermann was the embodiment of nobility. She considered his stance at the Nuremberg Trials exemplary and she reproached other defendants, adding, “If at least someone had acted like a man by standing up and saying: ‘Yes, I supported the Fuhrer. Here I am standing in front of you – treat me as you want’. It’s a shame now to hear how many Germans pond their chest, claiming they never supported Hitler and that they were forced into the party. There’s sheer hypocrisy all around and it’s disgusting! It is now clear to me that, seeing how many Germans turned their backs on Hitler, trying to conceal their connection to him and fearing the victors, he decided to strike a pose. He hated Hitler for everything he had done, but as for loyalty to him, Hermann was a fanatic. In this we were at odds”.
Emmy argued that Hitler was mentally ill, referring to his “iron determination and endless desire to push forward to achieve his goal”. There was “no compromises and no respite, which was not the case with previous years. In the long run, he [Hitler] was clearly mentally damaged”.
Hermann was another matter: “God, how different the fate of Germany could have been if he had become the Fuhrer before the war. There would have been no war at all. There would have been persecution either. You know my husband. He was not a person who was consumed with hatred. He himself lived, and let others live”.
“I parted with her with the feeling”, Gustave Gilbert writes, “that Goering’s guarded sweetheart still dearly loved her knight in shining armour, who placed her in an ivory tower, from where it was more convenient to look at the deeds of her hero and honor his boisterous nature. And the harsh realisation of the fact that her hero was a servant of the chief murderer did not dispel her illusions about her husband”.
Even after the announcement of the death sentence, Emmy believed that Goering would be pardoned because he was such a great personality in her eyes. She was sure he would be sent to some island like Napoleon.
In 1948, Frau Goering and her 10-year-old daughter Edda were arrested by the Americans. The court sentenced the widow to partial confiscation of her property and one year in a labour camp. Emmy's behaviour in the camp was remembered by the staff because she installed pictures of her beloved Hermann everywhere, often resulting in her being punished. In 1967, she published a book with the telling title "On My Husband's Side".
Her husband was Alfred Jodl, the Chief of the Operations Staff of the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht)’s High Command. He was sentenced to death at the Nuremberg Trials and executed on 16 October 1946.
Lieutenant General Alfred Jodl arrived in Nuremberg as a newly-married man. A month before the surrender of Germany, he entered into a legal marriage with his late wife's friend Louise.
In Nuremberg, Frau Jodl became a local attraction. She actively corresponded with her husband, talked with a lawyer, and attended court sessions. She jumped up from her seat and waved her to her husband, loudly calling his name. In the end, the judges demanded that the exuberant lady be removed for violating rules of discipline.
Louise used every opportunity to justify her husband in the eyes of humanity. “He used to come home very late, and he was exhausted and his voice was hoarse”, she said in an interview with a British journalist. “I understood without words that he tried, and again in vain, to convince Hitler. I could only try to comfort him and just give him a break. So, at the end of the day, we talked about all kinds of cute stuff, you know, including weather and dogs”.
Frau Jodl bombarded then-US President Harry Truman with telegrams, asking him to help commute Jodl’s sentence. And when those attempts failed, she began to seek his rehabilitation.
Louise Jodl was a loyal fighter for the Third Reich, holding a low position in a military department. She was not especially enthusiastic about Nazism, but the Nazi regime was built on those exactly like her: an honest, disciplined, and obedient German woman.
Her husband was Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, who committed suicide on 1 May 1945.
Medea of the 20th Century and the female incarnation of Nazism - this is how Magda Goebbels was called after her death. During her lifetime, she was described as a devil with the face of an angel.
During her school years, Magda wore the Star of David around her neck. She was raised by her Jewish stepfather, to whom she was strongly attached. When her mother divorced her husband, Magda took her stepfather's surname.
She was very much in love with a Jewish youth from Ukraine, Chaim Arlozorov, a future figure in the Zionist movement. Their affair continued for many years, even after Magda joined the NSDAP and Chaim moved to the Palestinian Authority, only occasionally visiting Europe.
Magda betrayed her stepfather and he died in the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1939. As for Arlozorov, he was assassinated by hitmen from Berlin in Tel Aviv in 1933.
Magda found herself in Nazi society by chance as she did so for fun. She was almost 30 years old when she heard Joseph Goebbels speak, something that prompted her to join the party the next day and offer her services as a secretary. Joseph and Magda were married a year later.
Her son from her first marriage remained with his father. He served in the Luftwaffe and was captured in 1944, which saved his life.
There was gossip about Magda Goebbels and Adolf Hitler, who openly admired her appearance and called her the ideal German woman. Hitler was also angry with Goebbels over his adultery despite his having such a beautiful wife.
Magda demonstrated a fanatical personal devotion to Hitler, working a lot with him as an assistant and a secretary, and giving all her children names beginning with the same letter as the Fuhrer's surname - "H". She was believed to have said the following: “I love my husband, but my affection for Hitler is stronger because for him I am ready to sacrifice my life. It’s only when I realised that he could not love any woman, I gave my consent to marry Dr Goebbels, so I could now be closer to the Fuhrer”.
When the German military entered a losing streak and even optimists suspected the end of the Third Reich was in the offing, Magda began to get sick. Her mental health and physical condition could not withstand such a burden. She decided that only death would be salvation from the impending disaster. But Magda Goebbels was not going to die alone. On the eve of her suicide, she wrote to her eldest son: “The world that will come after the Fuhrer’s end is not worth living in. Therefore, I’m taking my children with me in order to leave. I can’t let them live in the new world. Merciful God will understand why I decided to take on my own salvation”.
On 1 May 1945, a day after Hitler's death, Magda and Josef Goebbels (probably with the help of a doctor) gave their six children morphine injections. After the kids fell asleep, the couple put potassium cyanide capsules into the children’s mouths and an hour later, when it became clear that they were dead, their parents also took cyanide.
Traces of a struggle were found on the body of their eldest child, with experts suggesting the 12-year-old girl understood that she was being killed.
Her husband was Julius Streicher, Gauleiter of Franconia and editor-in-chief of the anti-Semitic newspaper Der Sturmer, who was also an ideologue of racism. He was sentenced to death at the Nuremberg Trials and executed on 16 October 1946.
Adele Streicher's passing appearance in Courtroom 600 made a great impression on eyewitnesses. Everyone racked their brains: how could this charming young woman tie her life to such a disgusting creature? The company of pornographic publisher Julius Streicher, rumoured to be a pervert, was disdained even by his accomplices.
Adele appearing in the courtroom was not her own initiative because it was Streicher who summoned her as a witness for the defence. After all, before their marriage she worked as his secretary for some time. Adele was in a long red velvet dress, and the audience froze, admiring the witness. When she was asked why she married Streicher on the eve of the war’s end, she answered that “he said he was going to the barricades”. Nothing useful was obtained from her. Experienced lawyers easily guessed Streicher's idea: he hoped that looking at his attractive wife, the judges would soften their position, a scenario that never saw the light of day.
Adele Streicher receded into history. Taking a look at the last few months of life of one of the main Nazi criminals, she disappeared without a trace.
Henriette von Schirach
Her husband was Baldur von Schirach, head of the Hitler Youth and Gauleiter of Vienna, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison at the Nuremberg Trials. He completed his sentence and died a free man in 1974.
Henriette von Schirach worked her way from Nazism-related enthusiasm to a moment of clarity and disappointment. This woman was one of the few wives of criminals who admitted her mistakes and spoke, if not about torment, then at least about twangs of conscience. In 1956, she wrote a book about her past titled “The Price of Glory”.
Henriette von Schirach met Hitler when she was a child, earlier than her husband, head of the Hitler Youth and Vienna's Gauleiter Baldur von Schirach. As it happens, Henriette's father, Heinrich Hoffmann, in 1923 became a close friend and personal photographer of the Fuhrer. It’s difficult to say whether Hitler was involved in young people’s decision to get married, but he was the best man at their wedding - as well as at many other weddings of his subordinates and associates.
“We didn’t want to listen to anything, behaved recklessly, and thought that what we were doing was absolutely right. There were too many festivities and gifts, including gloves with the knitted words ‘Heil’ and ‘Hitler’, and ending with paintings by prominent artists and jewelry, whose origin was discussed by the wives”, according to Henriette.
Once, at the request of famous conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, Henriette turned to Hitler to ask him to allow Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Debussy, and other renowned composers forbidden in Germany at the time to be played. To make the request more convincing, she put a record with Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italien” on the phonograph. Hitler stared at the gramophone as if it was an enemy and demanded the “concert” be stopped. “I failed and Bormann laughed at me”, Henriette later reminisced.
Once during the war, she was visiting friends in Amsterdam. At night she was awakened by female screams and crying from the street. She saw a column of women with bundles and suitcases who then disappeared in the darkness. She learned from her friends that the column included a regular batch of Jewish women being deported. Shortly after, an SS officer offered her to buy jewelry of unknown origin, something that prompted Henriette to pepper Dutch Reich Commissioner Arthur Seyss-Inquart with questions. He, however, preferred to stray from the question.
The incident made a very strong impression on her. Returning to Berlin, she decided to discuss it with Hitler. The conversation took place at a regular reception on Good Friday in 1943.
“The Fuhrer was shocked. At first, he was silent just like the seventeen other men present during the conversation. Then he turned to me and I saw how weak he was […]. I felt sorry for him and at the same time I hated him. He slowly got up and started shouting at me: ‘You are sentimental! Why do you care about these Jewish women! All this is sentimental humanistic nonsense! (Hitler often yelled and the shout was his weapon.) Baldur and I left”.
“Once I received a telegram from my friend Ross, where he informed me that there was a train with Jews in [the town of] Tulln and that I could go there and help. I tried to get the car but it wasn’t there, and that was all. I was too careless and calmed my conscience by repeating what others were convincing me of: there is no train in Tulln”.
“Hitler was the centre of our lives; he directed our work. Our future depended on his will. And suddenly I realised that we ourselves had chosen this path and committed injustices. We loved what should not be loved, and hated what should not be hated. We served the cause of evil and could not go back without dragging all our friends into the abyss”.
Henriette filed for divorce while her husband was serving the sentenced handed down to him at Nuremberg.
Her husband was Rudolf Hess, Third Reich minister and deputy Fuhrer of the NSDAP. He was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Nuremberg Trials. Later on, he refused to petition for clemency and on 17 August 1987, he committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell at Berlin's Spandau prison.
Ilse Hess was born into a nationalist family: her father, a doctor by profession, was killed during an anti-government rebellion in 1920. Ilse met Rudolf Hess and his friend Adolf Hitler around this time. She immediately joined the NSDAP, where she made things hum, and when Hitler was imprisoned, Rudolph and Ilse edited and prepared his book Mein Kampf for publication.
Hess was in no hurry to get married: he moved to tie the knot only six years after meeting his bride, succumbing to Hitler's persuasions. The Fuhrer was a witness at the wedding and the godfather of Ilse and Rudolph’s only child.
Else was a die-hard party member who thought strictly in line with the ideology and morality of National Socialism. She stayed true to her chosen path until the end of her days.
After the war, Ilse Hess did not hide her convictions, communicating with fellow Nazis. She published correspondence with her husband, a prisoner at Berlin's Spandau prison, also giving interviews to right-wing conservative media and speaking at gatherings of her associates. By doing so, she helped create the cult of Rudolf Hess, dubbed the Nazi "martyr".
But that's not all. Ilse Hess, along with several other wives and children of Third Reich leaders, took part in the organisation "Quiet Help", sort of a fund to support other "martyrs". The money was used to pay for the services of lawyers, to harbour fugitives, and to provide material support for the needy “veterans” of the Third Reich.
Her husband was Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer SS and Chief of the German Police. On 23 May 1945, he committed suicide while being interrogated by a British officer.
Margarete Himmler was a caring mother, an exemplary hostess, and an honest worker, but nobody liked her. She was even disliked by her own husband, who did not particularly conceal the fact that he had a second family.
She was seven years older than her husband and according to Himmler's older brother, Margarete was “an unfriendly and tough woman with extremely delicate nerves, a person who did not exude kindness at all and who spent too much of her time groaning”.
The widow of Reinhard Heydrich, a high-ranking SS and police official, described Margarete as “a narrow-minded blonde, devoid of a sense of humour”.
American interpreter Richard Sonnenfeldt, who, during his work at the Nuremberg Trials, managed to communicate with many well-known figures, described his meeting with Margaret Himmler as follows.
“Frau Himmler said that her husband had told her repeatedly that his work was so demanding that he did not want to talk about it at home. Himmler’s pimply teenage daughter was incredulous when reading about her father’s career, which was being serialised in newly appearing German-language papers. When I tried to interview her, she ran crying from the room. I was surprised that Himmler’s daughter had feelings! From Frau Himmler, I got her husband’s SS uniform collar insignia, which I still have, and two pages of his diary, in which he made hard-to-decipher notes in that old-fashioned stilted German Suetterlin script. Frau Himmler was the plainest of women, and I surmised that she must have been glad to find a husband, even one as singularly unattractive as her Heinrich”.
Despite her husband’s high position, and rumours that the almighty Himmler was a henpecked husband, society refused to accept Margarete. Her invitations to receptions were ignored, and attempts to head some women’s public councils were sabotaged.
Unlike the overwhelming majority of other wives, the wife of the Reich Minister of the Interior worked. She began working as an ordinary nurse during the First World War, and in late 1939, she was at the helm of Red Cross hospitals in Berlin, travelling with inspections across the country.
In March 1940, she went to her occupied homeland, Poland. “I have been to Poznan, Lodz, and Warsaw […] Most of the Jewish riff-raff, and Poles didn’t look like people, and the dirt defies description. Imposing order there is incredible work”, German Red Cross Colonel Margarete Himmler wrote in her diary.
After the war, she was tried several times over her past deeds, but she managed to avoid serious punishment. Margarete did not show any Nazi activity in public, but managed to achieve a more important task: she raised the "pimply teenager" Gudrun, helping the girl turn into a "radiant Nazi princess", who became one of the most notorious figures of German neo-Nazism.
By Yulia Ignatyeva