Monday, May 02, 2011
A Portrait Of Familial Bliss
This cozy family portrait, from 1938, depicts Magda Goebbels with Harald Quandt, Magda’s son by her first marriage, and five of her children with Joseph Goebbels (a sixth was to follow in 1940).
The photograph was pure propaganda. It was intended to portray Magda and her children as the embodiment of family ideals under National Socialism. Until May 1, 1945, on which date Magda and Goebbels murdered the six Goebbels children and afterward took their own lives, the Goebbels clan was a constant feature of German magazines and newsreels, invariably presented as the perfect German family.
Such depictions did not reflect reality. Goebbels, a perpetual philanderer, was anything but a family man. In fact, it was in 1938, the year the photograph was made, that Magda first pressed for a divorce from Goebbels, claiming that her husband’s many affairs made it impossible for her to continue the marriage.
Hitler forbade a divorce. Hitler wanted the façade of a happy, thriving Goebbels family to be maintained—and not solely for propaganda purposes.
It would, Hitler ruled, reflect poorly upon himself for one of his chief ministers—and his only minister with a large family—to be involved in a marital breakup.
Hitler’s decree that the Goebbels family remain together was accepted—and, to assuage Magda’s hurt feelings, the German leader saw to it that a Czech film actress with whom Goebbels had become deeply infatuated was escorted out of the country.
In the photograph, Magda’s smile looks forced—and the children appear to be profoundly unhappy if not outright miserable. Harald, only seventeen years old in 1938, looks old enough to be Magda’s father.
That Goebbels himself was not included in the photograph—and Goebbels indeed generally was included in such photographs—suggests that the sitting occurred during a period in which the Goebbels marital fortunes were at a particularly low ebb.
The deaths of everyone in the photograph except Harald occurred sixty-six years ago yesterday.
Had the Goebbels children been allowed to live normal life spans, most—perhaps all—would be alive today.