Sunday, April 27, 2014

Hitler's Maid

Elisabeth Kahlammer
Elisabeth Kahlammer.

Dictators always seem to have women about who see them through to the end - which is usually not a very pretty sight - and then just go off and live their lives. That was the case with Moammar Khaddafy, for instance, who had a Russian girl hanging around with him until he sent her away a short while before his bloody passing. It also was the case with Adolf Hitler.

In Hitler's case, he had a whole passel of young women - nurses, secretaries, maids, Eva Braun - around until things went south, and in some cases they stuck around even after he committed suicide. As these support staff reach the end of their lives in the 2000s - the ones, obviously, who survived, unlike Braun - they have had an occasional tendency to step forward and tell their stories (though many took their stories to the grave, too).

Telling all as they get older is not a new phenomenon for the Hitler girls. It was done, for instance, by daredevil aviatrix Hanna Reitsch in the 1970s. Reitsch, realizing her days were running short (she died a few years later), donned her Third Reich medals with pride in 1976, put on a broad smile and gave a lengthy filmed interview heavy on her experiences as a test pilot but woefully short on her interactions with Hitler. You can hear the pride in her voice as she talks about the Third Reich. Reitsch was the poster child for unrepentant former members of the regime.

It has taken much longer for most of the other girls in the bunker to reach that point, though. Only in the 2000s did many of these young girls of the 1940s reach that age where they felt comfortable popularizing their Hitler experiences because their own years were running short. Unfortunately, they, too, like Reitsch, tend to have little of significance to say about Hitler personally, though they give some interesting background color.

Elisabeth Kalhammer née Marchtrenkerin, 89 in 2014, needed a job in 1943. The war might have been going badly, but a girl still had to eat. Apparently extremely naïve, Kalhammer innocently answered a job ad: ‘Maid wanted. Location: The Berghof on the Obersalzberg.’

Now, who might that employer be? It was no secret in 1930s Germany who lived at the Berghof. But Elisabeth was just an uneducated peasant girl who likely have never ventured further than 10 kilometers from her home. This was common for the time, especially up in the mountains. It is not inconceivable that she would have known who Hitler was and that he was a powerful and rich man by hearing people talk, but not know anything else about him, such as where he lived or his reputation for starting wars.

Kalhammer only realized later that she would be working for Herr Hitler in the laundry and sewing rooms. Perhaps the three SS guard posts through which she had to pass on her first day was a tip-off? There were 21 other maids on staff, all sworn to secrecy, and one can tell from how long they have kept their silence how serious they were about that promise.

Elisabeth Kahlammer

Anyone looking for insights into Hitler's 1944 Ardennes strategy or the response to D-Day is sure to be disappointed by the likes of Kalhammer. Her major contribution to history? That Hitler enjoyed eating a special ‘Fuhrer Cake’ – an apple cake strewn with nuts and raisins – at night. This comports with a general understanding that Hitler liked to stay up late and sleep in, and he probably indulged after his daily midnight war briefing. Service staff like Kalhammer were not permitted to speak to Hitler or listen in on his conversations, much like modern-day pop stars who order the little people not to look them in the eye.

So, we get some trivia you won't find elsewhere. Another tidbit from Kalhammer is that Hitler's girlfriend Eva Braun ran the Berghof like an empress, and that the staff greeted Braun with "Heil M’lady’, kind of an odd form of greeting. Obviously, Braun did not mingle with the servants. Kalhammer liked Braun, who turned out to be a big fan of propaganda actress Marika Roekk. Braun wasn't quite as popular later in the Berlin bunker, where people resented her presence as people will when powerful people lose power. But, in Berchtesgaden, Eva Braun ruled the roost.

Kalhammer worked at the Berghof for two years - until it was bombed into rubble at the very end of the war - and then disappeared into the mists of history like all the other girls. She probably lived thereafter at her parents' home until she got married. Hey, steady work is good to find even when your world is collapsing around you! She did not make it to Berlin for the bunker scene, there was a completely separate support staff there. But at least Kalhammer made this final effort to tell her story, and is to be commended for that.



  1. Dear Mr. Bjorkman, Please do consider the following aides of Hitler for your future photographic essays - (a) Heinrich Hoffman - Hitler's personal Photographer, (b) Hans Baur - Hitler's personal Pilot, (c) Erich Kempka - Hitler's personal Driver and (d) Dr. Theodore Morell - Hitler's personal Doctor. I am very sure you will be able to unearth many rare photographs and bring to light various aspects of Hitler's peculiar personality for aficionados of your site. Regards, Raja

    1. Thanks for the suggestions, Raja. I do have a couple of pictures of them scattered about here and there, but they each deserve more attentions. I will give them more attention in future posts. James