I remember a line about Leni Riefenstahl, the German filmmaker who always maintained that she was unaware of the darker side of the Nazi regime she worked with. She claimed to the end — and she lived past 100 — that her films “Triumph of the Will” and “Olympia” were simply documents of their era. All that other stuff? Awful, but not her concern.
To which New Yorker reviewer Terrence Rafferty wrote, “If you believe her, she’s one kind of monster; if you don’t, she’s another.”
Riefenstahl was the subject of a documentary, “The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl,” made in 1993. Now another documentary about a worker for the Nazi elite, Brunhilde Pomsel, is being released. It’s called “A German Life.”
Pomsel, now 105, was a secretary for Nazi propaganda minster Joseph Goebbels, but like Riefenstahl — echoing “Hogan’s Heroes” character Sgt. Schultz — she says she knew nothing.
“I know no one ever believes us nowadays — everyone thinks we knew everything. We knew nothing, it was all kept well secret.” She refuses to admit she was naive in believing that Jews who had been “disappeared” — including her friend Eva — had been sent to villages in the Sudetenland on the grounds that those territories were in need of being repopulated. “We believed it — we swallowed it — it seemed entirely plausible,” she says.
The Guardian’s Kate Connolly interviewed Pomsel at length. What emerges is a woman who talks about just doing her job — proud she could keep a secret, sympathetic to her “well kept” boss, and “dumbstruck” when Goebbels and his wife Magda killed themselves and their children in the bunker.
After the war, she became a secretary for a German TV broadcaster — she always was a fast typist — and mostly kept her distance from the past. After all, she says, “I didn’t do anything other than type in Goebbels’ office.”