The Work I Did: A Memoir of the Secretary to Goebbels is a book published by Thore D. Hansen in 2018, based on memoirs shared by Brunhilde Pomsel for the 2016 documentary, Ein Deutsches Leben. Brunhilde Pomsel was a secretary and stenographer in the Reich Minister of Propaganda during World War 2. She died in 2017, aged 106, and may have been the last survivor with inside access into the Third Reich.
This book is a rather short account of Ms. Pomsel’s life, starting with her childhood (she was born in 1911!) and youth, her employment at the Reich Broadcasting Corporation, from where she got a job at the Ministry of Propaganda. She shares her experience there, and her interactions with her boss, Joseph Goebbels – regarding whom she is pretty indifferent. We learn about how German people viewed Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime, about the worsening conditions in Germany as the end of the war was closing in, and about her Soviet captivity. In the final pages of the book, Brunhilde Pomsel reflects on everything that happened, as well as on herself and her actions, while sharing her experience of living in such a different world after going through more than 100 years of life.
I thought Brunhilde Pomsel was honest, although quite unapologetic. She insists she did not care for politics, and many of her peers were not interested in it either. She doesn’t think she deserves to be blamed at all, but does ask herself if maybe she was naive, or maybe she was stupid. She denies any knowledge about the Holocaust, which is the main reason for most 1 star reviews the book gets on sites like Amazon. I think that is unfair, and the book deserves to be rated a bit higher than the average of 3.5 stars it has on most websites. As I have said in my review of Hitler’s Last Witness, I doubt that information on the atrocities committed against Jewish people and other minorities were common knowledge, even in government offices. So, personally, I believe her. Maybe you can fault her for not actively seeking to discover information, but that would seem pretty harsh to me.
I did, and I have to say this, have a problem with the foreword by Thore D. Hansen, and this may become a recurrent theme in my reviews of books about German people involved in politics, military or administration during WWII. That is because, for the life of me, I can not understand why some of these respected scholars insist on imposing their own judgements, views and agendas on the books and on the readers.
Thore D. Hansen isn’t too harsh with Ms. Pomsel. He condemns her, but also shows some understanding about the context and nuances which made her work for the Minister of Propaganda. He did make an accusation which I found very peculiar: that she obeyed orders and didn’t read classified documents which she handled, from which she could have supposedly learned about the Holocaust. He calls that “blind duty and obedience”. It seemed like a weird accusation to make. But, leaving that aside, Mr. Hansen feels the need to promote his own political agenda and is unapologetic about it (which I guess is at least honest). He makes this book to be a warning against Donald Trump, comparing his administration with the Nazi regime, and calls the ex-US president a far-right racist and extremist, among other things, while urging us to stand up against right wing politics (I may or may not agree, that is not the point). In addition to the foreword, he even writes an entire chapter at the end of the book to make sure we don’t forget what he wants us to think.
Overall, good, short, easy read, and a valuable memoir, so it’s definitely worth a tiny bit of your time to learn more about life in World War Two Germany and inside the higher circles of the Third Reich.