Goebbels and the not-so-great German novel

In 1923, the future Nazi minister for propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, wrote a novel. Eighty years later, a carbon copy bearing the author’s corrections and amendments, came up for auction in Connecticut. 158 pages long, Michael Voormann: A Man’s Fate in the Pages of a Diary is written as a diary and is both autobiographical and a tribute to Goebbels’ friend, Richard Flisges, to whom the novel is dedicated.

Goebbels and the First World War

Bild 183-L04035One imagines there’s a degree of envy here – born on 29 October 1897, Joseph Goebbels was old enough to fight in the First World War but was rejected due to his clubfoot. (Throughout his life he had to wear a special shoe to compensate his shorter leg.) After the war, he sometimes liked to pretend that his disability was in fact a war wound. In his novel, Michael, in common with Flisges, sees active service on the Eastern Front during the Great War; Michael’s war record a reflection of Goebbels’ wishful thinking.

Michael returns to a democratic Germany, seeking revolution and answers, but not sure where to find it. Michael is a socialist and a Christian, attempting to write a play about Jesus (as indeed Goebbels had) in which he describes Jesus as one of the greatest men to have lived.

Goebbels in Love

While at college, Michael falls in love with a Hertha Holk (based on Goebbels’ first but unrequited love, Anka Stalherm, whom he met at Heidelberg University, from where he would receive a doctorate in literature). After their split up, Michael finds works in the mines and just as things are coming together for him, is killed in a mining accident – a fate that had befallen Flisges in July 1923.

One recent review of Michael describes its characters as ‘never rising above their basic two-dimensionality; they are cardboard cut-outs whose greatest glory is to become sounding boards for the author’s lugubrious philosophizing’.

Goebbels’ parents had hoped he’d become a priest (as did Stalin’s mother of her son). But Joseph dreamt of being a writer and wrote numerous plays, poems and articles but Michael was his only novel. His literary aspirations however fell well short of his expectations – Michael was eventually published in 1929 by the Nazi’s own publishing house, Eher-Verlag, but merely on the back of Goebbels’ growing status within the party. Back in the early twenties, unable to make a living as a writer, Goebbels was forced to find employment, working on the stock exchange and as a bank clerk, both of which he loathed.

Both great and simple

Goebbels joined the Nazi Party in 1922, seduced, as many were, by the charisma of its leader, Adolf Hitler. But for a couple of years, Goebbels sided with the more socialist side of the party, a division that momentarily threatened to split the movement. ‘I no longer fully believe in Hitler,’ Goebbels confided to his diary. Hitler went on the offensive and through a mixture of bullying and charm, healed the rift. Goebbels was left reeling and utterly in awe of Hitler. From then on, he devoted his life to his leader and remained loyal to the last. ‘Adolf Hitler, I love you because you are both great and simple at the same time. What one calls a genius.’

In 1926, just four years after joining the party, Goebbels was made Gauleiter of Berlin and, in 1929, appointed the party’s propaganda minister where he edited a weekly newspaper called Der Angriff (The Assault). In 1933, following Hitler’s assumption of power, he became the Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.

Goebbels married Magda Ritschel on 19 December 1931, with Hitler as a witness. They were to have six children, all of whose names began with an H in honour of Hitler.

Following Hitler’s suicide on 30 April 1945, Goebbels succeeded him as chancellor, a post he was to retain for a single day. With the Red Army bearing down on Berlin and defeat inevitable, Goebbels and his wife couldn’t bear the thought of their children living in a post-Hitler world. Thus, on 1 May, they drugged up their children, aged four to twelve, on morphine, then, with the help of a doctor, crushed ampules of cyanide into their mouths. The girls had ribbons tied in their hair. A couple of hours later, Magda and Goebbels walked out into the Reich Chancellery garden. Goebbels shot his wife and then himself.

In 1987, the novel was published for the first time in English, published by Amok Press.

The auction house, Alexander Autographs, had hoped the book would sell for $10,000 to $12,000 (£6,400 to £7,600). However it remains unsold. But it did sell Hitler’s accounts book, a 175-page handwritten ledger covering his expenses during the last year of his life.

White Venus-1Rupert Colley.

Rupert Colley’s enthralling novel, set in Nazi-occupied France, The White Venus, is now available.

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