Magda Goebbels

Rochus Misch

Johanna "Magda" Ritschel, the daughter of Oskar Ritschel and Auguste Behrend was born in Berlin on 11th November, 1901. The couple were married later that year. However, they were divorced in 1904. In 1906 she went to live with her father, who was working as an engineer in Cologne.

Magda went to the Ursuline Convent in Vilvoorde. Her mother married a Jewish businessman named Richard Friedländer and moved with him to Brussels in 1908. Magna had regular contact with both her parents. However, on the outbreak of the First World War, both families moved back to Berlin. Later that year Magna's mother divorced Friedländer. In 1918 she fell in love with Günther Quandt, a rich German industrialist who was twenty years older than Magna.

In 1919 Magda entered Holzhausen Ladies' College near Goslar. She married Quandt on 4th January, 1921, and her first child, Harald, was born later that year on 1st November. The marriage was not happy and she became involved with her 18-year-old stepson Helmut Quandt. However, he died of complications from appendicitis in 1927. The couple were divorced in 1929. Seven-year-old Harald would stay with his mother until he was fourteen, he would return to his father's custody. Quandt provided for Magna so generously that she could look forward to a future without financial cares.

Magda began attending meetings of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). After hearing Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels make speeches, she became a member on 1st September 1930. Later that year she went to work for Goebbels. According to Ralf Georg Reuth, the author of The Life of Joseph Goebbels (1993): "Magda Quandt fascinated him. Elegant in appearance and calmly assertive in bearing, she embodied a world that had hitherto remained in Goebbels's inner circle... She had grown up in very comfortable circumstances and had graduated from a convent school." However, Magda's parents both disliked him intensely and she came under "horrendous pressure" to break off the relationship.

Magda married Goebbels on 19th December 1931, in Mecklenburg, with Hitler as a witness. Goebbels spoke about her "entrancing beauty" and her "clever, realistic sense of life". Goebbels claimed that together they spent "completely contented" evenings, after which he was "almost in a dream... so full of fulfilled happiness". Over the next few years they had six children: Helga, Hildegard, Helmut, Holdine, Hedwig and Heidrun.

Magda suffered from poor health and on 23rd January, 1933 she was hospitalized. He wrote in his diary: "God keep this woman for me. I can not live without her." Later he added: "To the clinic. Magda much better. The fever has abated. She is so happy that I am there. We talk much of our love, and how good we will be to one another, when she is healthy again. I have grown so with Magda, that I really can not exist without her."

During the Second World War her first son, Helmut Quandt, became a Luftwaffe pilot. Magna trained as a Red Cross nurse, however her health was never good enough to use her skills with the armed forces. Toby Thacker, the author of Joseph Goebbels: Life and Death (2009), has argued: "Magda continued to play the public role demanded of her, to the extent of doing some factory work as a contribution to the total war effort. Magda was a dedicated Nazi, and shared Goebbels's public faith in final victory; privately she must, like him, have worried about the direction of events, and the consequences this would have for the whole family." During this period Magda began suffering from severe depression.

Otto Dietrich
Adolf Hitler, Magda Goebbels and Joseph Goebbels.

On 16th January 1945, following the defeat in the Battle of the Bulge, a small group, including Magna, Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler, Eva Braun, Rochus Misch, Julius Schaub, Christa Schroeder and Johanna Wolf, moved into the Führerbunker in Berlin. It was Misch who had the responsibility of directing all of the direct communication from the bunker. The situation became so desperate that on 22nd April, Hitler sent his two secretaries, Schroeder and Wolf, away. Schroeder later recalled: "He received us in his room looking tired, pale and listless. "Over the last four days the situation has changed to such an extent that I find myself forced to disperse my staff. As you are the longest serving, you will go first. In an hour a car leaves for Munich."

Rochus Misch recalled how on 30th April, 1945, Hitler locked himself in his room with Eva Braun: “Everyone was waiting for the shot. We were expecting it.... Then came the shot. Heinz Linge took me to one side and we went in. I saw Hitler slumped by the table. I didn’t see any blood on his head. And I saw Eva with her knees drawn up lying next to him on the sofa – wearing a white and blue blouse, with a little collar: just a little thing.”

Magna and Joseph decided to commit suicide. Magna wrote a letter to her son, Helmut Quandt: "My beloved son! By now we have been in the Führerbunker for six days already - daddy, your six little siblings and I, for the sake of giving our national socialistic lives the only possible honorable end... You shall know that I stayed here against daddy's will, and that even on last Sunday the Führer wanted to help me to get out. You know your mother - we have the same blood, for me there was no wavering. Our glorious idea is ruined and with it everything beautiful and marvelous that I have known in my life. The world that comes after the Führer and national socialism is not any longer worth living in and therefore I took the children with me, for they are too good for the life that would follow, and a merciful God will understand me when I will give them the salvation... The children are wonderful... there never is a word of complaint nor crying. The impacts are shaking the bunker. The elder kids cover the younger ones, their presence is a blessing and they are making the Führer smile once in a while. May God help that I have the strength to perform the last and hardest. We only have one goal left: loyalty to the Führer even in death. Harald, my dear son - I want to give you what I learned in life: be loyal! Loyal to yourself, loyal to the people and loyal to your country ... Be proud of us and try to keep us in dear memory."

Heinz Linge, the author of With Hitler to the End (1980), was in the Fuhrer-bunker: "For Dr Joseph Goebbels, the new Reich Chancellor, it was not apparent until now that he and his wife Magda would commit suicide in Berlin this same day. After the experiences of recent days and weeks hardly anything could shock us men any more, but the women, the female secretaries and chambermaids were 'programmed' differently. They were fearful that the six beautiful Goebbels children would be killed beforehand. The parents had decided upon this course of action. Hitler's physician Dr Stumpfegger was to see to it. The imploring pleas of the women and some of the staff, who suggested to Frau Goebbels that they would bring the children - Helga, Holde, Hilde, Heide, Hedda and Helmut - out of the bunker and care for them, went unheard. I was thinking about my own wife and children who were in relative safety when Frau Goebbels came at 1800 hours and asked me in a dry, emotional voice to go up with her to the tormer Fuhrer-hunker where a room had been set up for her children. Once there she sank down in an armchair. She did not enter the children's room, but waited nervously until the door opened and Dr. Stumpfegger came out. Their eyes met, Magda Goebbels stood up, silent and trembling. When the SS doctor nodded emotionally without speaking, she collapsed. It was done. The children lay dead in their beds, poisoned with cyanide. Two men of the SS bodyguard standing near the entrance led Frau Goebbels to her room in the Fuhrer-bunker."

Otto Dietrich
Helga, Hilde, Helmut, Holde and Hedda Goebbels in 1940.

Hugh Trevor-Roper, the author of The Last Days of Hitler (1947) has argued: "First, the six children were poisoned with capsules long prepared for the purpose. Then, in the evening, Goebbels called his adjutant, Guenther Schwaegermann. 'Schwaegermann,' he said, 'this is the worst treachery of all. The generals have betrayed the Fuehrer. Everything is lost. I shall die, together with my wife and family. You will burn my body. Can you do that?' Schwaegermann promised to do so, and Goebbels took leave of him, only pressing upon him a silver-framed photograph of the Fuehrer from his writing-desk. Frau Goebbels' also said goodbye. Then Schwaegermann sent Goebbels' driver and SS orderly to fetch petrol for the burning."

Rochus Misch was also a witness to the deaths of Magna and Joseph Goebbels and their six children on 1st May, 1945. Goebbels told him: “Well, Misch, we knew how to live. Now we know how to die." Misch claimed: "Then he and Frau Goebbels processed arm-in-arm up the stairs to the garden... The children were prepared for their deaths in my work room. Their mother combed their hair - they were all dressed in white nightshirts - and then she went up with the children. Dr Nauman told me that Dr Ludwig Stumpfegger would give the kids 'candy water’. I realised what was going to happen immediately. I had seen Dr Stumpfegger successfully test poison on Blondi, the Führer’s dog.”

Primary Sources

 

(1) Magna Goebbels, letter to her son Helmut Quandt (28th April, 1945)

My beloved son! By now we have been in the Führerbunker for six days already - daddy, your six little siblings and I, for the sake of giving our national socialistic lives the only possible honorable end... You shall know that I stayed here against daddy's will, and that even on last Sunday the Führer wanted to help me to get out. You know your mother — we have the same blood, for me there was no wavering. Our glorious idea is ruined and with it everything beautiful and marvelous that I have known in my life. The world that comes after the Führer and national socialism is not any longer worth living in and therefore I took the children with me, for they are too good for the life that would follow, and a merciful God will understand me when I will give them the salvation... The children are wonderful... there never is a word of complaint nor crying. The impacts are shaking the bunker. The elder kids cover the younger ones, their presence is a blessing and they are making the Führer smile once in a while. May God help that I have the strength to perform the last and hardest. We only have one goal left: loyalty to the Führer even in death. Harald, my dear son - I want to give you what I learned in life: be loyal! Loyal to yourself, loyal to the people and loyal to your country ... Be proud of us and try to keep us in dear memory.

(2) Ralf Georg Reuth, The Life of Joseph Goebbels (1993)

It was Magda who saw to the murder of her own children. She had already conferred several times with the SS doctors Ludwig Stumpfegger and Helmut Gustav Kunz of the Reich Chancellery staff about how the children could be killed quickly and painlessly. Now, on the afternoon of 1st May, she had Kunz sent to her in the bunker. The decision had been made, she told him, and Goebbels thanked him for helping his wife "put the children to sleep." Around 8:40 p.m. Kunz gave the children morphine injections. He left the room with the three sets of bunk beds and waited with Magda Goebbels until the children were asleep. Then she asked him to give them the poison. Kunz refused, however, and was then sent by Magda Goebbels to fetch Stumpfegger. When Kunz came back with him, Magda was already in the children's room. Stumpfegger joined her there, and came back out with her after four or five minutes. In all likelihood she herself had broken the glass cyanide capsules, which she had received from Dr. Morell, in the mouths of Helga, Hilde, Helmut, Holde, Hedda, and Heide.

Filled with fear of death, Goebbels was chain-smoking, his face covered with red blotches. Apparently still hoping for a miracle, he kept asking about the military situation. When time ran short, and the Soviets could be expected to storm the bunker at any moment, he made his adjutant Schwagermann promise to cremate both his and his wife's bodies. Then he took leave of those remaining in the bunker. He was clearly struggling to maintain his composure, which he tried to demonstrate with all sorts of bathetic flourishes. "Tell Donitz," he is reported to have instructed the chief pilot of Hitler's squadron, "that we understood not only how to live and to fight but also how to die."

The last details regarding the deaths of Joseph and Magda Goebbels will probably always remain unclear. It is certain that they poisoned themselves with cyanide, but it is not known whether Goebbels also shot himself in the head. Nor do we know whether they died in the bunker or outside at the emergency exit, where the Soviets found their bodies.

(3) James P. O'Donnell, The Berlin Bunker (1979)

Goebbels sat down at his office desk to record what he knew would be his last speech to the German nation. During the recording, Russian shell bursts brought down plaster from the ceiling, and, General Reimann, who was present, took shelter under a desk. But Goebbels flicked the plaster from his manuscript and kept right on with the speech. It was then put into cans, to be broadcast as close as possible to the end, although it was actually broadcast several days before Hitler's death.

Sometime between the recording of the radio speech, and his appearance next morning, Saturday, at his last staff conference, Goebbels momentarily lost his composure. Although only forty-seven, the strain was now telling both on his frail body and his overloaded emotions. The twenty-two senior ministry officials, who had been seeing Goebbels every day were shocked to see him so suddenly haggard, his eyes bloodshot, his temples twitching. His complexion, normally tawny, seemed to have turned to chalk overnight, a ghostly effect in the candlelight, for all windows had been boarded up against the danger of flying glass. At the conference Goebbels launched into a vitriolic monologue - the theme of which was that the Fuehrer was surrounded on all sides by traitors.

This thesis, familiar enough in the Bunker, was quite new to the mandarins of the Propaganda Ministry. Goebbels made a scathing attack on German generals, the soldiers, the civilian population. One of the star propagandists, radio commentator Hans Fritsche, dared to talk back to Goebbels. "Herr Minister, what you say is just not true. While there may have been a few traitors here and there, the record reveals that the German people have shown this regime more good will than any people in history."

The unprecedented contradiction infuriated Goebbels. He dropped the mask. "The German people? What can you do with a people whose men are no longer willing to fight when their wives are being raped? All the plans of National Socialism, all its dreams and goals, were too great and too noble for this people. The German people are just too cowardly to realize these goals. In the east, they are running away. In the west, they set up hindrances for their own soldiers and welcome the enemy with white flags. The German people deserve the destiny that now awaits them." His hectoring tone was an echo of Hitler's strident remarks on the same topic. They were both vibrating, as it were, on the same frequency.

When, therefore, on Sunday, April 22, Hitler invited Goebbels to join him in the Bunker, he was ready to accept. He could accomplish nothing more above ground. Goebbels felt it was his task now to be at the Fuehrer's side. We have already seen how Goebbels persuaded Hitler not to commit suicide at this time, and how he got permission to make the radio announcement that `the Fuehrer is in Berlin and will die fighting with his troops in the capital.' When this was over, he and his family (he sent his mother and younger sister trekking west with the refugee flow) moved into the Bunker for good. His fate was now inextricably connected to that of his chief. Initially reluctant to spend much time in the Bunker. Goebbels was soon to become just as much a permanent hostage of this upside-down world as the Fuehrer himself.

(4) Heinz Linge, With Hitler to the End (1980)

For Dr Joseph Goebbels, the new Reich Chancellor, it was not apparent until now that he and his wife Magda would commit suicide in Berlin this same day. After the experiences of recent days and weeks hardly anything could shock us men any more, but the women, the female secretaries and chambermaids were 'programmed' differently. They were fearful that the six beautiful Goebbels children would be killed beforehand. The parents had decided upon this course of action. Hitler's physician Dr Stumpfegger was to see to it. The imploring pleas of the women and some of the staff, who suggested to Frau Goebbels that they would bring the children - Helga, Holde, Hilde, Heide, Hedda and Helmut - out of the bunker and care for them, went unheard. I was thinking about my own wife and children who were in relative safety when Frau Goebbels came at 1800 hours and asked me in a dry, emotional voice to go up with her to the tormer Fuhrer-hunker where a room had been set up for her children. Once there she sank down in an armchair. She did not enter the children's room, but waited nervously until the door opened and Dr. Stumpfegger came out. Their eyes met, Magda Goebbels stood up, silent and trembling. When the SS doctor nodded emotionally without speaking, she collapsed. It was done. The children lay dead in their beds, poisoned with cyanide. Two men of the SS bodyguard standing near the entrance led Frau Goebbels to her room in the Fuhrer-bunker. Two and a half hours later both she and her husband were dead. The last act had begun.