The future Johanna Maria Magdalena Goebbels was born on 11 November 1901, in Berlin. Her mother, Auguste Ritschel was briefly wed to one Oskar Behrend, an obscure businessman and Magda’s father before divorcing him to marry the much wealthier Jewish financier, Richard Friedlander.
Magda was fond of her step-father and enthusiastically adopted his name and continued to use it right up to her first meeting with Joseph Goebbels despite its obvious Jewish connection.
Her early life was conventional in every respect for someone of her class. She attended convent school and was a regular and by no means reluctant church-goer. She was considered bright and intuitive despite her academic performance being no more than adequate. But then she wasn’t expected to pursue a career but merely to marry early and well, and this she did on 14 January 1921, when she wed the wealthy industrialist Gunther Quandt.
Quandt had worked hard to court Magda but had caused some friction when he insisted that when together she, use her mother’s name Ritschel and not refer to herself as Friedlander. Magda largely ignored the request.
On 1 November 1921, Magda gave birth to a son they named Harald but despite this the marriage was never a happy one. Their union may have delighted Magda’s mother but it had never done much for her and she was more attracted to her eighteen year old step-son Helmuth than she was to her husband something she did little to hide.
Despite the inauspicious start to their married life together Gunther tried hard to impress his wife taking her to the best places and showering her with gifts but she had been raised in an environment of elegance and sophistication and such things did little to excite her.
As time wore on with Gunther often away on business trips they saw one another only rarely and even when they were together they argued violently, often in public.
Gunther was convinced Magda was seeing other men in his absence and hired private detectives to keep her under surveillance but regardless it was obvious that they were no longer compatible and in 1929 they divorced. Once separated their differences in wedlock were soon forgotten and friendship blossomed, they were to remain on close terms for the rest of their lives.
Now single again, Magda was once more able to enjoy the high life had she chosen to do so but with no need to work and no responsibilities to speak of she was bored. As far as Berlin high-society was concerned however she remained a good catch, rich, well-connected, desirable and available.
Despite never previously having shown any interest in politics she was persuaded by a friend to attend a Nazi Party Rally. Out of a growing sense of ennui if nothing else she agreed. To her great surprise she found herself mesmerised by the main speaker – the short, club-footed, somewhat camp, and theatrical Joseph Goebbels.
She joined the Nazi Party shortly after in September, 1930.
It wasn’t long after being introduced to Goebbels that they started courting.
The fact that at the time she was believed to be having an affair with the Jewish political activist Haim Arlossrof seemed to bother neither party, though it did appear to bother Arlossrof, and it was rumoured that upon learning of her relationship with Goebbels in a fit of jealous rage he had tried to shoot Magda but had been so upset with tears welling in his eyes he had missed his target.
Magda it would seem was no paragon of Aryan virtue at least as far as the Third Reich was concerned but then she was never a Nazi out of conviction.
Magda married Joseph Goebbels on 19 December 1931, at Gunther Quandt’s farm in Mecklenburg. Adolf Hitler was present as a witness, and it was to be neither her husband nor her children who were to be the great love of her life, but the Fuhrer.
She had fallen hopelessly in love with Hitler but he was unavailable and it was said Joseph Goebbels was the next best thing. At least he provided her with access to the future Fuhrer.
As far as Goebbels was concerned, she provided him with the money and social status he so desperately yearned for but there were still one or two loose ends to be sorted out.
On 16 June 1933, Haim Arlossrof was murdered by unknown assassins as he strolled on a beach in Tel Aviv with his wife. Not long after Magda’s step-father Richard Friedlander was arrested and sent to Buchenwald Concentration Camp where he died in 1938.
With the skeletons in Magda’s closet removed the Goebbel’s could busy themselves with becoming Nazi Germany’s First Family.
The Nazi’s were keen to increase the birth rate and early on passed the Law for the Encouragement of Marriage which provided a one thousand mark loan to newly-weds that was reduced by 25% for every child they had. As soon as the fourth child was born the loan was wiped off altogether and the mother would be presented with a medal- the Cross of Honour of the German Mother.
Magda had been awarded with her medal. In fact she was to have six beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed children, an example to every woman in Germany. Her husband Josef was delighted confiding in his diary:
“The mission of women is to be beautiful and bring children into the world. After all, the bird pretties herself for her mate and hatches eggs.”
Magda would not have disagreed saying that:
“If a German girl must choose between marriage and a career, she will always be encouraged to marry because that is what is best for a woman.”
As a couple they appeared to be the very epitome of a good Nazi marriage and neither could have been happier. They were not only setting the standard for Germany but were providing the Fuhrer what he desired.
But the image was far from the truth, and it was not a marriage made in Nazi heaven.
Goebbels was a notorious womaniser but then it was rumoured that Magda herself was not exactly chaste. But it was to be an affair that Goebbels had with the Czech actress Lida Barova that was to prove a step too far.
Magda had been willing to put up with her husband’s sexual indiscretions but an affair with an actress and a racially inferior one at that was an insult and a humiliation not just for her but for the Fuhrer. She confronted Hitler and demanded from him that Goebbels grant her a divorce. If he did not then she would go public about the affair and create a scandal.
Their marriage had been portrayed to the public as the model for family life in Germany, and Hitler himself had attended the wedding. As such, a divorce was out of the question.
After much bickering and arguing in the presence of the Fuhrer that was little short of an embarrassment, Hitler forced reconciliation upon the couple.
He had taken Magda’s side from the outset and had been understanding of her plight and all his scorn was levelled at Goebbels. He would end his affair, the actress in question would be deported, and he would behave with more decorum in the future.
Magda would remain the First Lady of the Third Reich he told her, and Goebbels would spend the rest of his life trying to regain the Fuhrer’s favour.
During the war, Magda lived up to her reputation as the First Lady, she trained as a Red Cross nurse, travelled to work on public transport, and like her husband made herself as visible as possible, but she was no fool and had been heard to remark as early as 1942, that the war was lost. But she confined her criticisms to private conversations.
She was to all intents and purposes a good Nazi.
Once, when questioned, given her background and past history about her husband’s rabid anti-Semitism, she replied:
“The Fuhrer wants it so, so Joseph must obey.”
By mid-April 1945, Magda, Joseph, and their six children were living in the Fuhrer-Bunker beneath the Reich’s Chancellery in Berlin. Hitler, who had always adored Magda’s children, was delighted that they were there. He would often invite them to his private study where they would eat chocolate cake and he would question them about their homework, and balance young Heldrun on his knee tellng him heroic stories whilst Magda looked on with admiration.
During the previous few months Magda had been ill. The stress of trying to keep her young family safe whilst also supporting her husband had taken its toll and she had even spent some time in a sanatorium. It was reported that the left side of her face was partially paralysed, that she was suffering from depression, and would often demand to be left alone.
But now in the Fuhrer-Bunker even with the Red Army no more than a few hundred yards from the door, Magda felt reassured by the Fuhrer’s presence so when she heard that Hitler intended to take his own life she was utterly distraught rushing to his room and banging relentlessly upon the door until he opened it.
Tearfully and hysterically she begged him not to do it, she told him of her undying love, of how the children adored him, and how the world could not exist without him.
Hitler listened quietly for a moment but said nothing before closing the door again.
Magda had to be forcibly dragged away in a state of great distress.
Magda now determined to take her own life and that of her children. It was not the first time that she had spoken of doing so and the Armaments Minister Albert Speer, a close personal friend of Hitler’s had long feared for the life of Magda’s children and now asked her if he could take them out of the Bunker with him?
Magda, staring blankly and refusing to make eye contact replied:
“My life belongs to Josef. The children belong to me.”
She refused to discuss the matter further and Speer’s protestations were ignored.
On the night of 30 April 1945, Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide.
Upon learning of the news Magda and Joseph Goebbels resolved to do the same.
In his Last Will and Testament, Joseph Goebbels wrote that his wife had determined to die alongside him in the Bunker and that were the children old enough to make the decision for themselves they would do the same.
Magda could not bear the thought that her children would grow into adulthood in a world without Adolf Hitler. She wrote to her son Harald, a prisoner-of-war in the United States:
“Our glorious idea is ruined and with it everything marvellous that I have known in my life. The world that comes after the Fuhrer and National Socialism is no longer worth living in and I therefore took the children with me, for they are too good for the life that would follow, and Merciful God will understand me when I give them their salvation.”
At his trial for war crimes the SS Doctor Helmuth Kunz stated that he had been approached by Magda Goebbels to administer morphine to the children to relax them and send them into a deep sleep but he denied poisoning them saying that he told Magda that this was something he could not do. He claimed that it was SS Doctor Ludwig Stumpfegger who had broken into small pieces the cyanide tablets which he then placed in the children’s mouths as they slept.
But Stumpfegger is known to have been hopelessly drunk at the time and the likelihood remains that it was Magda who administered the poison to her own children.
The autopsy report on the children appeared to show that at least one of them was conscious as the poison was administered and the many bruises on the oldest girl Helga’s arms and body show that she put up quite a struggle.
The children who died at their mother’s hand were: Heidrun, aged 4, Hedwig, aged 7, Holdin, aged 8, Helmut aged 9, Hildegard, aged 11, and Helga, aged 12.
Those who remember seeing Magda later that day said that she sat for hours on her own playing solitaire and refusing to acknowledge or speak to anyone. Indeed she rarely looked up from the table.
Late that afternoon Magda and Josef emerged from the Bunker and into the Reich Chancellery’s bombed and cratered garden. It was said that Magda was shaking uncontrollably and unable to take the cyanide tablet that had been provided for her. So Josef shot her in the head before turning the gun on himself. They were both then buried in a shallow grave and the bodies partially burned.
The First Lady of the Third Reich was no more.