The Work I Did
by Brunhilde Pomsel, Bloomsbury, 240pp £16.99
The value of this memoir, written from interview recordings made in 2013 by the author, then aged 102, is that it shows, both by what it says and by what it omits, what it was like to be an ordinary young German woman in Berlin during the War.
Pomsel’s fame rests on her secondment in 1942 to the ministry of propaganda, run by Joseph Goebbels. One should point out here that she functioned among a pool of secretaries, never worked for Goebbels personally, only his underlings, and was never involved in matters of real importance.
What the reader discovers is a rather shallow young woman, kind-hearted but unreflective, not personally anti-Semitic but generally content to go along with the crowd. Always pragmatic, Pomsel joined the Nazi Party as she knew it would help her job prospects. It was also easier to believe the propaganda that Jews were being resettled on the empty farmhouses in eastern Europe as their German populations vacated them, rather than imagine a worse alternative. Still, it is hard to believe her entirely when she states: “All those things that happened to the Jews on a mass scale from 1943 onwards, I only found out about [later].”
Pomsel probably reflected the opinion of her contemporaries concerning the White Rose protest. “It was stupid of them to do things like that,” she writes. “If they’d kept their mouths shut, they’d still be alive today.”
Captured by the Russians in 1945, Pomsel was imprisoned for five years. Although acknowledging that she was “very superficial in those days, very stupid”, her concluding recorded thoughts were: “No, I don’t feel guilty. Absolutely not. Why would I?”
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