A brave but abortive attempt to throw a new light on the Mother of the Nazi Nation.
Meike Ziervogel’s debut novel is a bold endeavour to draw a psychological profile of the most infamous of Nazi women, Madga Goebbels, wife of Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
Combining fact and fiction under the unifying female perspectives of Magda’s embittered mother and her eldest daughter, Helga, Ziervogel creates a multi-layered portrait of destructive mother-daughter relationships and life in the Nazi ruling circles.
This short, daring and often crude novel goes far beyond Magda Goebbels’ explanatory note that she took the children with her because they were ‘too good for the life that would follow.’
Ziervogel purposes to explain how a woman can murder her own children by exploring Madga’s abusive relationship with her unloving mother and zealously Catholic father, and her unhappy marriage to Joseph Goebbels.
Magda finds solace in her obsessive religious adoration of The Führer. Adolph Hitler is depicted as “the Holy Spirit”, a caring figure that offers Magda her calling as “Mother of the Nazi Nation”. There is a pervasive note of sexual and spiritual deviation in Magda’s adulation for Hitler.
One of the most troubling passages in the novel is a description of Madga envisioning sleeping with Joseph under the benevolent eye of a Christ-like Hitler: “She offers her body to Joseph and her spirit to Him, and she feels completeness and belonging”. Magda Goebbels, Joseph Goebbels and Adolph Hitler are cast as a harrowing Nazi Holy Trinity.
Magda often verges on the grotesque. The use of ‘Dear Gretchen’ to begin the diary account of Helga’s experience of life confined in Hitler’s bunker turns her story into a pantomime of Anne Frank’s diary by drawing an unwelcome parallel with Frank’s own ‘Dear Kitty’. It seems that in appropriating iconic depictions of Nazi occupation, Ziervogel is striving to offer a deeper understanding of both victims and perpetrators of the Holocaust.
The novelist attempts to overcome the commonly accepted portrayal of Magda as the Medea of the Third Reich, by demonstrating she is the product of a sadistic convent education, her husband’s propaganda, and the parental care offered by The Führer.
Despite the author’s best efforts, Magda fails to humanise its heroine and to provide a plausible explanation for her religious obsession with Hitler and the atrocious murder of her children. Magda is a frustratingly ineffective attempt to reinvent the story of a woman history remembers as monstrous.