Anja Klabunde's biography focuses on Magda Goebbels's three major relationships - the first with Victor Chaim Arlosoroff, who emigrated to Palestine in 1924 and became a prominent Zionist leader before being assassinated in 1933; the second, her brief and unhappy marriage to the industrialist Gunther Quandt; and the third, her marriage to Josef Goebbels, who became Nazi minister for propaganda. Magda's story is related against the backdrop of the wider events unfolding in Germany and Europe.
She was born in 1901 to Auguste Behrend, a servant girl in Berlin. Her father, an engineer named Oskar Ritschel, married Auguste but the marriage failed and Auguste later remarried. Magda's stepfather was a Jewish businessman, Max Friedländer. They lived in Brussels, where Magda attended a convent school. When the first world war broke out, they returned to Berlin as refugees.
At school in Berlin, Magda met Lisa Arlosoroff. Lisa's brother, Victor, was heavily involved in Zionist activities. Magda attended meetings with him and became fascinated by his passion for Zionism.
In 1917, she visited her father in Bad Godesberg. Ritschel was a wealthy and cultivated man, and Magda was introduced to the world of the haute bourgeoisie . This prompted her desire to go to finishing school in Goslar in 1919. When she returned to Berlin the next year for Victor's 21st birthday party, she was disappointed to find out that he had developed a close relationship with another girl. It seems that she was envious and felt like an outsider in the home of her formerly close friends.
The next day, while Magda was trying to find a seat on the crowded train back to Goslar, two gentlemen invited her to join them. One of them was Quandt. The industrialist courted Magda and asked her to marry him. He required her to drop Friedländer's name and to convert to Protestantism. She agreed with alacrity and married this man, 20 years her senior, with whom she was not in love. But although she gave birth to a son, Harald, the marriage soon ended.
It was at this time that she began to frequent an exclusive club, the Nordic Ring, where she came into contact with the ideas of the Nazis. She also attended a Nazi rally, where she was fascinated by a speech by Goebbels. She was mesmerised by his passion, commitment and intensity. She joined the Nazi Party in 1930 and worked in its newspaper archive.
In November 1930, Magda bumped into Goebbels on the stairs, and they fell in love "at first sight". Goebbels was emotionally intense and Magda felt loved, desired and needed. The following year, she met Hitler at tea at the Hotel Kaiserhof. They made a strong impression on each other.
Her subsequent marriage to Goebbels gave her proximity to power and influence. She had become part of the Nazi movement. She talked of being ready to die with Goebbels should the party fail, placing little value on herself as an individual and making her life and fortunes dependent on the success of Nazism. She wanted to be "one of the first ladies of Germany" and staked everything on this desire.
But, of course, it came at a price. She spent many unhappy years with Goebbels, putting up with his numerous affairs. In 1938, he told to her that he was in love with the Czech actress Lida Baarova. Magda was shocked and wanted a divorce, but Hitler would not permit a public scandal and she remained married to Goebbels on the condition that he gave up Baarova.
Magda's body took the strain of six pregnancies and births in quick succession and she spent much of her time in hospital or taking cures in Dresden. She became increasingly depressed as the war went on. But she was so dependent on Goebbels that she could not leave him, even though she discovered new affairs. He also depended on her, needing to tell her of political developments.
Magda unquestioningly accepted anti-Semitism as a raison d'état of the Nazi regime, and Goebbels informed her about events in the east and the annihilation of the European Jews. In 1945, Magda confided to her friend Ello Quandt that "so many unspeakably cruel things happened under a system that I too represented". But she remained committed: she said she owed her husband "loyalty and comradeship beyond death" and that they would have to take the children with them "because they are too beautiful and good for the world that's coming". After killing their six children on May 1 1945, Magda and Josef Goebbels committed suicide.
The book does not say a great deal about Magda's relationship with her children. Nor does it go into detail about her public role as "mother of the Reich", nor her relationships with other prominent Nazi wives.
Klabunde relies quite heavily on Hans-Otto Meissner's earlier biography of Magda, but also uses to good effect the memoirs of Auguste Behrend. Her interview with Max Flesch, who was well acquainted with Lisa Arlosoroff, adds to our knowledge of Magda's experiences. Klabunde's interpretation of events in this biography includes dramatic scenes "to heighten certain impressions". In addition, she has chosen to let the "witnesses of contemporary events have their say". All this makes for a compelling read.
Lisa Pine is senior lecturer in history, South Bank University.
Author - Anja Klabunde
ISBN - 0 316 85912 5
Publisher - Little, Brown
Price - £20.00
Pages - 367