Often, end-of-life statements such as these are suffused with a sense of guilt. But Pomsel is unrepentant. As she holds court, gesticulating wildly, with a broad grin on her face, it seems as if she even takes something restorative from her insistence that she simply acted the same way as most other Germans.Share
“Those people nowadays who say they would have stood up against the Nazis – I believe they are sincere in meaning that, but believe me, most of them wouldn’t have.” After the rise of the Nazi party, “the whole country was as if under a kind of a spell,” she insists. “I could open myself up to the accusations that I wasn’t interested in politics but the truth is, the idealism of youth might easily have led to you having your neck broken.”
She recalls being handed the case file of the anti-Nazi activist and student Sophie Scholl, who was active in the White Rose resistance movement. Scholl was executed for high treason in February 1943 after distributing anti-war leaflets at the University of Munich. “I was told by one of Goebbels’ special advisers to put it in the safe, and not to look at it. So I didn’t, and was quite pleased with myself that he trusted me, and that my keenness to honour that trust was stronger than my curiosity to open that file.”
Pomsel describes herself as a product of Prussian discipline, recalling a father who, when he returned from fighting in the first world war, when she was seven, banned chamber pots from the family bedrooms. “If we wanted to go to the toilet, we had to brave all the witches and evil spirits to get to the water closet.” She and her siblings were “spanked with the carpet beater” whenever they were disobedient. “That stayed with me, that Prussian something, that sense of duty.”
She was 31 and working for the state broadcaster as a well-paid secretary – a job she secured only after she became a paid-up member of the Nazi party – when someone recommended her for a transfer to the ministry of propaganda in 1942. “Only an infectious disease would have stopped me,” she insists. “I was flattered, because it was a reward for being the fastest typist at the radio station.” She remembers her payslip, on which a range of tax-free allowances was listed, alongside the 275-mark salary – a small fortune compared with what most of her friends were earning.
She notes how life for her vivacious, red-haired Jewish friend, Eva Löwenthal, became increasingly difficult after Adolf Hitler came to power. Pomsel was also shocked by the arrest of a hugely popular announcer at the radio station, who was sent to a concentration camp as punishment for being gay. But she says that largely, she remained in a bubble, unaware of the destruction being meted out by the Nazi regime on its enemies, despite the fact she was at the physical heart of the system. (Read more.)