Goebbels, Baarová and Hitler: “Those who make history do not have the right to a private life.”


I’m not sure what suddenly made me think of Josef Goebbels and Lida Baarová, perhaps some sort of free association that afflicts history buffs.

The story of Goebbels’ affair with Baarová is well-known, but I’m still fascinated to learn that even in 1938 it was front page news in the Chicago Tribune.

When the Czech actress Lida Baarová, who has died aged 86, first went to Berlin in 1934 and began mixing with leading Nazis, she felt as if she was in heaven. The regrets came later. Six decades on she told me of the offers to go to Hollywood, which she had turned down. If she had got out of the clutches of the Nazis, she observed, she could have been as famous as Marlene Dietrich.

Perhaps. But at the time she basked in the attention she received from Adolf Hitler’s followers, particularly his propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels. She will be best remembered for the affair she had with him, which threatened his career, rather than for her acting.

Up to a point, Goebbels’ incessant womanizing was of no concern to Hitler, even when involving an “inferior” Slav like Baarová. However, things changed when Goebbels threatened to become a living refutation of Nazi “family values” propaganda. Hitler was compelled to act.

A year later, Goebbels’ infatuation pushed matters to a head. While Magda Goebbels had appeared willing to accept Baarová as a mistress, one of a series of Goebbels’ actress flings, he was now asking for divorce and was apparently willing to give up his top Nazi post and leave Germany to be with his lover. He apparently suggested a post as ambassador to far away Japan.

Goebbels’ bid for a divorce and offer of resignation prompted a furious intervention from Hitler. He rejected both requests and told his minister that those who made history did not have the right to a private life. He forced Goebbels to promise he would never see Baarová again– a promise he kept. In a final telephone call Goebbels told Baarová that he loved her.

Just about everything we know about Hitler as an obsessive crackpot supports the idea that he’d feel exactly this way: “Those who make history do not have the right to a private life.”

Of course, many of us would say that the private lives of public officials have nothing at all to do with politics. What did Bill and Monica have to do with the Clinton administration’s ruinous tilt toward neoliberalism?

And yet it’s entirely likely, as with Hitler’s intervention to separate the parties involved in Goebbels’ love life, that similar personnel decisions (reshufflings, appointments, terminations) with wider ramifications often are taken for petty reasons pertaining to private lives.

A boss might not be able to fire underlings having a fling, but he or she might reassign the parties to different areas of the company. And, speaking of terminations, not every divorced couple can continue working near each other.

Isn’t Fleetwood Mac the exception that proves the rule?

Now we happily return to our regular Goebbels programming, though not before we ask:

What would have happened in WWII if Goebbels would have been with Baarová in Japan?

That’s right; I was wrong. Goebbels got his ideas for propaganda from American advertising, not the other way around.

It can’t happen here: A timely documentary film about Nazi “propaganda mastermind” Joseph Goebbels.