A Tug on the Ear (May 16-June 1, 1943)
[The actress Gretchen Kuntz, impersonating Eva Braun as part of the strategy of the Dove Society, a resistance group bent on rattling the dictator so as to inhibit his conduct of the war, goes with Hitler to a banquet in Munich, but, as usual, is not allowed by “The Boss” to sit with him at the head table, Hitler’s way of concealing what everyone knew, that he had a mistress. Instead, Gretchen sits with her sister Gretl and her fiancé at a separate table, while Mitzie Steeber, an aspiring actress chosen to play a “Hitler hostess” on this occasion, is next to the Führer. During the banquet, Mitzie looks over at Gretchen and notices something, a physical trait that reminds her of an actress she once worked with in Cologne. When she foolishly confronts Gretchen with the fact, she thereby inadvertently threatens to expose the false Eva. Gretchen handles the meeting of the two women rather well, but still, Mitzie’s raising the idea that they have met before, unsettles her, and will lead to drastic action by the Dove Society to preserve their secret.]
At public gatherings, partly to conceal what everybody knew, that his mistress was in the crowd, Hitler would usually be seen in the company of these “Führer hostesses,” ambitious young actresses or singers glad for the chance to be seen in the company of the great man and no less eager to advance their careers. Speculation was rampant about just what they were expected to do, beyond smile politely at the formal dinner at which Hitler would speak, and smile again over sweet cakes and coffee at the informal session afterwards with Nazi bigwigs and local dignitaries. The women themselves often fueled the rumors with hints about wild orgies in the Führer’s bedroom or, alternately, comic accounts of his awkwardness as a lover.
Hitler addressed such a gathering of Munich’s elite at the City Hall on May 30, 1943. Goebbels had asked Mitzie Steeber, the aspiring actress and Stefan Maditz’s girlfriend, to be the official Führer hostess for the occasion. Eva, as usual, would accompany Hitler to Munich, promising that at the banquet she would be content to sit with her sister Gretl and her finance at a distant table. Goebbels was pleased with her new attitude, for in the past Eva had complained bitterly about her second-class status, often making her feelings known to several of the women at the Berghof, including Hitler’s secretary Trudl Junge and his Viennese dietician. In the incestuous world surrounding him, word would invariably get back back to the Führer.
“There will be no incident,” Goebbels had assured The Boss the afternoon of the speech, as they went over last-minute details of citywide events culminating in that evening’s banquet.
After a meager life as an actress in drafty rehearsal rooms and bare-bones theatres, Mitzie knew she had arrived as she entered the ornate reception room of Munich’s City Hall. Preserved in perfect detail, the gold leaf repainted just the week before on the statuary depicting the city’s historic and cultural leaders, the hall positively glittered. Walking at Hitler’s side, in front of the ten dignitaries and special guests who would constitute the main table, Mitzie imagined herself taking the stage of the Theatre Berlin, before a standing-room-only audience, every woman in the crowd wishing she were in her place, every man lusting after her in her long gown, deep red with the daintiest white fringe at the hem, imported from Paris and delivered just two days earlier by one of Goebbels’s assistants who, the morning of the banquet, had taken her to the most sought-after hair stylist in Munich.
Mitzie defied the stereotypical buxom German woman, whether young or not so young. She was slender, almost impossibly so, her thin face perfectly set off by her shoulder-length brown hair. With her slim hips and long legs she looked like an athlete, a long-distance runner. Her actress friend had nicknamed her “Frenchie,” and indeed she might have come out of a Parisian fashion salon, if any still existed. Tonight she was the foil to Hitler, she knew that: his mythical gravity would be set off by her beauty, her youth, the juxtaposition of that resplendent gown with his sober black suit, his only adornment the Iron Cross which he wore on all such occasions.
As she sat by the Leader, at the center of the main table, raised two feet above all other tables in the cavernous room, she surveyed the expectant crowd. An elderly woman pointed at her, then whispered in the ear of a young man, perhaps her grandson. The grandson in turn leaned back in his chair and began chatting with a young woman at the next table, who then pointed to Mitzie while pulling a companion to her side, the two girls, their heads now together, sharing what Mitzie imagined was both rapture and envy at Hitler’s stunning companion. Perhaps there would be other evenings like this. Both girls smiled at her.
A waiter, white cloth draped over his left arm, inches below a red swastika above his elbow on a matching jacket, raced over and, looking at the Führer as if seeking permission, asked, “A glass of champagne for Miss Steeber?”
“Yes, a small one,” Hitler spoke up.
Watching the Führer the entire time, and pouring slowly as if to prolong being in his presence, the waiter bowed, then hurried back to his buddies on the sidelines, there to share the details of the encounter, doubtless going over and over those precious few words that had passed between them.
Sitting at the head table with the Führer were the Goebbels, the Himmlers, the director of the Munich Grand Opera Company, and several city officials. To Mitzie’s immediate right sat Karl Valentin, a well-known Munich comedian, one of Hitler’s favorite performers. Valentin was barely five feet tall, swarthy in complexion, with a rakish nose that, in combination with his angular head, formed the long side of a triangle. Looking at Valentin, most people were glad they weren’t him.
Hitler paid Mitzie scant attention, and early in the evening Valentin had joked with the actress that they had been invited as the “token theatre people.” While polite, she had little to say to the comedian. Instead, she toyed with her glass of champagne which, despite the Führer’s orders, was refilled numerous times as the evening wore on.
Mitzie now saw the logic behind the dark red color of her gown. It matched that of the twenty banners hung ten to a side from the vaulted ceiling, each bearing a black swastika. Speer had devised special lights for each banner, hidden behind slender dark green linden trees in ornate black pots. Behind each pot, a fan, tilted upward, allowed the banner to unfurl so that the diners became soldiers on a field of battle, their flags held high waving in the wind, waiting for the signal to charge against what Mitzie imagined would be an enemy clad only in shabby uniforms, dispirited and without banners.
Flushed with drink, her heart pounding beneath the sheer top of her gown, she tried to shake off the warning of an actress friend who had also served as a Führer hostesses: she would get a call from Goebbels later in the evening, instructing her to come to the Führer’s apartment.
“What happens there?” she had asked.
“Happens? What doesn’t happen?”
“Come on. Don’t play with me. Tell me what happens. Give me some detail. I’ve got to prepare.”
“Like preparing for a part?”
“Look, all that I’ll say is that what happens, or what may happen–for, god knows, it might be different in your case–but when I was his hostess what happened was gross and funny. That’s it–gross and funny. And humiliating. That’s all I’ll tell you. You’ll have to find out for yourself. If I say more, who knows–you might turn me in.”
As she sat there between the Führer and Valentin, pretending to be part of the lively discussion at the main table, Mitzie tried to rid her mind of her friend’s enigmatic “humiliating” by thinking, instead, of Goebbels’s promise to cast her in the film Süss the Jew. She would play the glamorous sister of Süss, a Nazi stereotype of the filthy, lecherous Jew who tortures the hero. She had been hoping for the role of the hero’s sister. But a Jewess? Still, it was a “glamorous Jewess,” in the casting director’s own words. And she’d get four scenes, while the hero’s sister had only two, and short ones at that.
I don’t give a damn about politics, or the Jews, she rationalized. I–Mitzie hesitated as the cliché formed–I live for my art! But she knew her art was not of a very high order. At least not at present. She was a run-of-the-mill actress, not especially insightful, not like the great actresses of the German stage. She had mastered the tricks of her craft, the pregnant pause, the specific gesture to underscore her delivery, the two slow steps before turning for an exit line, but she had never explored the deep well of feelings and emotions, the profound subtext beneath the actual lines, that better actors knew almost as a matter of instinct. Her tricks had, until now, been enough to get her fairly steady, if poor paying work in second-rate theatres. But here was her chance, if not to be a great actress, at least to associate with them. And to be part of the Reich cinema, so vital to the nation in these difficult times, as Hitler himself had pronounced. In addition, a director from Berlin had called offering her a position in his repertory company’s cycle of plays for the Schiller Festival. A film and a stage role. For that she could endure whatever Hitler had in store. However humiliating. When she saw Eva Braun at a table halfway across the room, Mitzie smiled at the idea that Hitler’s mistress, while present, could not be seen in his company. She envies me, she thought.
Hitler permitted the comedian Valentin far greater leeway with his jokes than other actors, and so everyone at the main table turned to Göring, expansive with his drinking, and pounding on his ample belly, when he boomed out, “Tell it, tell it, my little Valentine, tell it to the rest of them!”
“Yes, we could use a joke or two,” the more saturnine Goebbels added.
“Well, did you hear the one about the three women?”
On cue, everyone at the table, except Hitler, chimed in, “No. Tell it to us!”
“You asked for it. Well…three women, a German, a Jew, and a Polack, all give birth to seven pound baby boys at the same time. Now the nurse gets them mixed up, can’t tell which baby belongs to which mother. But Herr Göring himself comes to the rescue.”
“Our Hermann,” the Mayor exclaimed.
“Yes, our Hermann.”
“How? How, tell us, Herr Valentin!”
“Well, the Reichsmarschall marches into the nursery and lines up the three babies in a row. He then clicks his heels, raises his arm in a salute and shouts, ‘Heil Hitler!’ And do you know what happened?”
“No,” the guests, now under the actor’s spell, said as one. Though she found the little man repulsive, Mitzie herself had to admire his skill, wishing she could hold an audience like this.
“Well, when Herr Göring cried “Heil Hitler,” the German baby snapped to attention, the Jewish baby shit in its pants, and the Polish baby–” and here he hesitated.
“Wait, I know the rest,” Mitzie interrupted.
“Tell us, Miss Steeber, please,” Valentin shot back, more than a little annoyed at the young actress’s breaking his routine.
“The Jewish baby shit in it pants and the Polish baby played in it.”
Hitler beamed at Mitzie, and she was secretly thrilled at the attention, however brief.
Still irritated by Mitzie’s interruption, Valentin whispered a few indecent jokes to Goebbels about the ambitious actress, with double entendres on her “abilities.” Mitzie only heard snatches of what they were saying and, in an attempt to regain her confidence, looked back at the table where Eva Braun sat, relishing the fact the she, the sophisticated beauty, was the one sitting next to the Führer, rather than his slightly plump mistress, with a face that, while wholesome, reminded her of the bland expressions of the peasants in the small town where she was born.
Mitzie could see the animated faces of Eva Braun and her sister, though she was too far distant to hear the conversation. Had Eva Braun also looked over at her? Envying her? This lowly shop girl who, by mere accident, had caught the great man’s attention. Nothing but a photographer’s assistant with little formal education, whereas she had attended the prestigious Berlin Academy of Acting and now, thanks to Goebbels, was on the verge of her first success as an actor, on stage and in film. So what if Valentin was making jokes at her expense? He was nothing more than a joke teller, while she was . . . an actor.
When the comedian rudely broke into Mitzie’s reverie, she bristled at the implication of his opening remark.
“Well, Miss Steeber, since we are fellow actors, you might even call us the token theatre people here this evening, I though you might appreciate a little joke, one just between us.”
“No, no thank you, Mr. Valentin. I prefer–”
But before she could turn away, he grabbed her arm and hissed in her ear, “Don’t’ think you’re too good for me! Too good for a joke. We all know just why you’re here. And if you don’t, you’re dumber than I thought. Now, you listen to my joke or I’ll make a scene.”
Mitzie put her fork down, and drained her champagne glass, which the ever-alert Nazi waiter immediately refilled. “OK, you little shit. Tell it to me, but if you try this again, I’ll complain to the Führer!”
“Fair enough, little lady. Well, here goes. Hitler visits a lunatic asylum. All the patients give him the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute. But as he passes down the line he comes across a woman who isn’t saluting. ‘Why aren’t you saluting like the others?’ Hitler screams. ‘Mine Führer, I’m the nurse,’ comes the answer. ‘I’m not crazy like the rest of them.’”
Mitzie leaned toward Valentin, which he first took as a sign of approval, and whispered, “And what if I tell the Führer what you just told me?”
“He doesn’t take me seriously. Gives me liberties no one else gets. That’s why he keeps me with him. But you? You’re here tonight, gone tomorrow. There are dozens to take your place.”
With that, Mitzie turned away and, once more, as a way of bolstering a self-image now threatened by the little man, stared at Eva Braun, enjoying the fact that she could look down on her from the elevated main table.
While she had surely seen Eva Braun make the gesture earlier in the evening, this time it registered on her. When Eva cocked her head back to laugh at a joke, she pulled lightly on her right ear lobe three times, in the same way that someone, in the midst of laughing, places a hand on their cheek, or runs fingers through their hair, a very specific, natural gesture punctuating the response. The combination of the tugs at the ear and the cocked head intrigued her, for she knew she had seen those gestures somewhere before. As she was trying to make a connection, Hitler touched her elbow and she turned toward him, her heart racing.
In his soft Austrian accent he informed her that he had to leave the banquet for a few minutes to attend to “unfortunate but pressing business,” and then added, “But Magda Goebbels, will take my place. You will find her a delightful companion.” He rose, kissed her hand for everyone to see, and seconds after he left, Mrs. Goebbels sat down beside Mitzie. In love with Hitler herself, she would not prove a delightful companion, and the twenty minutes until the Führer’s return were filled with cold, perfunctory table talk, during which Mitzie continued to wonder when and where she had seen those gestures, the tugging on the ear and cocked head, every time Eva Braun laughed.
Meanwhile, Gretl had good news for her sister. She and Hermann Fegelein, a young soldier just back from the Eastern front, were now engaged. Fegelein would be moving to Berlin, where he would serve as Himmler’s personal representative to the Führer. Genuinely touched by Gretl’s joy, enjoying playing the older sister relishing the good news, she lavished on the couple all the clichés endemic for such an event.
“So, both sisters have a soldier as a sweetheart,” she said gaily.
“Yes, sister, yes, but mine, mine is going to rise higher than a corporal.”
“Gretl, watch what you’re saying,” a drunk Fegelein broke in.
“Why, my little soldier?”
“He’s The Boss, the Führer. No one is higher than that.”
“Hermann, your one fault is that you have no sense of humor.”
“There’s no room for jokes these day,” he replied glumly.
“Oh, don’t go and spoil the evening. We’re sisters–we talk about such things. We laugh. Not like you.”
“Come on, you two, no lovers’ quarrels tonight.”
“It’s just that I worry–”
“Then don’t worry. Here, let’s have another round of drinks.”
Pointing toward the head table, where Hitler was retaking his seat, Fegelein broke in with, “Doesn’t it bother you, Eva, that … well look there, that young woman sitting next to him. Don’t you worry about that?”
“No, Hermann, no, I don’t.”
“Because I know she means nothing to him. She’s just there for show.”
“And what do you mean by ‘show’?”
“Hermann, stop it. She’s my sister.”
“What do I mean?”
She almost choked on the cliché she now had to utter. “Unlike her, I mean everything to him.”
Just then, the elderly couple seated on the opposite side of the table interrupted.
“Will you young people keep it down? We’re not interested in your babbling.”
“That’s because you’re jealous, you old farts. I bet you ran out of things to say fifty years ago. Now you just sit there, stupid, with nothing to talk about.” Fegelein pushed back his chair and was about to charge around to their side, when Gretchen grabbed him.
“Come on, brother-in-law. We’re all tense these days. Now, Gretl, Hermann, what plans have you made so far for the wedding? And how can I help?”
The lovers, embarrassed by their quarrel, could only manage a sullen “Well.”
“Hey, if you need a photographer, I’m your girl!”
With that the three fell to happy, albeit shallow conversation. Or rather the two women talked while Fegelein continued to ply himself with liquor.
“Eva, if I can’t find a suitable German designer for the wedding dress, could you help me import one from Paris?”
“That, my dear sister, would not please the Führer. You know what he thinks of the French. Now an English designer, he’d consider that, but you know as well as I do that their taste is too, too–”
“Antique?” Gretl suggested, as the sisters laughed before taking a quick look at Fegelein, now sound asleep, head resting on the table, precariously near his half-eaten dinner. A second glance at the elderly couple drove the sisters to giggling. The old man and woman sat there in stony silence, arms crossed, their faces an impossible blend of contempt and jealousy, obviously waiting for the Führer’s speech and the evening to be over.
“Despite what Hermann said, I want to apologize for him.”
“No need to apologize, Gretl.”
“It’s the drinking. He’s not the same when he’s–”
“Everyone drinks too much. Beside, he just got back from Russian. You know what that must have been like.”
“I know.” Gretl pressed her head against her sister’s shoulder. She could feel the tears staining her skin. She pitied this woman, weeping, seeking her comfort. How wonderful and how different it was to have a sister. As she stroked Gretl’s hair, she repeated, “It’s alright, darling. Everything will be fine. Just give it time,” until she calmed down.
“But look at her, Eva. Look how she’s laughing at his jokes. Tossing her hair back like that. For his benefit! She’s trying to seduce him. Surely you have to feel something!”
“You’re right. It drives me crazy. It hurts,” she cried, pressing her hand against her heart. Moments before playing the loving sister had seemed pleasurable, and almost real; now she had to fake being the petulant mistress forced to the sidelines, wishing she were that younger, radiant woman at the head table.
“Come on, Gretl. We both need to lighten up.”
“I know. I know. It’s just that–”
“Hey, did I tell you the joke Goebbels told me about Göring?”
“No, tell it to me. Tell me something funny.”
“Here goes.” With the old couple now straining to hear, she raised the volume for their benefit. “You know how proud Göring is of his medals, and his fancy uniforms, and all his official titles.”
“Well, the Führer told me that Mrs. Göring found her husband waving a baton over his underwear in the bedroom and asked him what he was doing. Know what he replied?”
Sudden a second “no” came from the far end of the table.
“Göring replied, ‘You ask what am I doing, Mrs. Göring? I am promoting my underpants to overpants.’”
As the sisters laughed, they heard the old man exclaim, “I don’t get it.”
“You old coot,” his wife exclaimed, “Underpants to overpants. Overpants! Get it?”
When the old man started laughing, the sister could hardly contain themselves.
“I always said you could tell a joke, Eva.”
“And what’s more, I’ve made two convert,” she replied, pointing to the old couple, who were now hugging each other in their merriment, overturning a bottle of wine in the process.
As she cocked her head back and tugged on her ear, she noticed that Mtizie was once more looking in her direction, but assumed she was just flaunting her superiority. She could not know that even now Mitzie was beginning to remember where she had seen those gestures before.
”Will you excuse me for a second, Gretl? I need to take a break.”
“Of course, I’ll stay here just in case anything happens,” her sister replied, looking over at Fegelein who was now snoring loudly, much to the distress of the old couple, just now recovered from the Göring joke.
When Mitzie saw Eva leave the table, she excused herself, and caught up with her in the hallway. Something about the woman, about cocking her head back, and tugging her ear lobe. She needed to see her close up.
When she saw Mitzie approach, Gretchen decided to play the haughty mistress jealous of a younger rival, a role, she felt, the younger woman might find pleasing but one that for her was a sham in the most pathetic sense of the word. She would give Mitzie a chance to play opposite her–the younger woman acting as if she were ignorant of Eva’s exact relationship with Hitler.
“Enjoying yourself this evening?”
“Not as much as you’re going to.” She let the woman pale considerably before adding, “I’ve heard they’ve flown in Hans Beckman–that world-class pastry chef from Czechoslovakia.”
“Oh, I don’t care for chocolates.”
“You prefer something else? I can check with the kitchen. I know a few of the boys there quite well–gets the aftertaste out of your mouth.”
Insulted, Mitzie turned to leave, but then rejoined the fray.
“Were you–you’ve got a beautiful skin tone–I was wondering, have you ever done any modeling?”
“Only at night in the Führer’s bedroom. As you will soon do, shall I assume?” she smiled cattily. “I hope you enjoy your night.”
“The same to you.”
The two stood facing each other, immobile. Noticing that Mitzie’s eyes had welled up with tears, she now regretted being the jealous mistress, the cat fighter. Since, for her, the encounter now unfolding was only a scene out of a play, would it detract from her performance if she apologized? Adjusting her part to the mistress who tolerates her lover’s indiscretions because, say, she knows they are just transitory, and that he always returns to her? That an evening with a Führer hostess was ultimately just a way to keep up appearances, part of the play which Hitler staged. After all, he had once taken acting lessons from a member of the Theatre Berlin as a way of enhancing his delivery during speeches.
Just then, a portly woman, very drunk, staggered toward them, promptly threw up on the floor, then sank to her feet, clutching at her heart.
The two women instinctively raced to help her.
“Madam, are you alright!”
“Can we help?”
“Alright? I’ve never been better. Just drank too much. I like vodka but vodka don’t like me. It’s the Russians who did it.” With this she burst into a cackle, as they helped her to her feet.
“My gown! Look at my gown. It’s ruined”
“Let’s get her to the bathroom and see if we can clean this up,” Mitzie suggested.
Propping the old woman over the sink, she did her best to clean off the front of her gown, while Mitzie washed and dried her face, then applied a light make-up. It was then they realized the old woman had passed out.
“Must spend a fortune on cosmetics to cover those wrinkles,” she observed.
“And I just had to change her lipstick. That purple shade looked dreadful, don’t you think?” Mitzie added mischievously.
“Dreadful is the word. Matched those blue veins on her neck.”
As the two shared a laugh, she added, “Let’s move her over to that bench. I don’t know how long I can hold her up like this.”
“Me too. The old dame must be … what … three-hundred pounds?”
“Easy. And that’s just the top half,” Mitzie joked.
As the old woman was reviving on the bench, a maid rushed in. “Madam Spendl. Madam Spendl. Is she OK?”
“She’s just had too much to drink.”
The maid, drawing the two women aside, confided, “She been drinking a lot these days. Lost her husband in Russia. Married thirty years. No children. He’s all she had. Poor dear. And when he passed, well …”
“We understand,” she said quietly.
“The speeches are about to begin. Please, please, go back. I’ll stay with her until she’s better. Thank, thank you, Miss?”
“This is Eva Braun.”
“Eva Braun. An honor, Miss Braun. Heil, Hitler!”
Her stomach turning at the vile phrase, she added a “Heil Hitler” to Mitzie’s.
Just before the two women re-entered the banquet hall, she stopped Mitzie.
“I want to apologize for the way I acted when we first met, Miss Steeber.”
“Please, please call me Mitzie.”
“I was … I was …”
“You don’t need to apologize, Miss Braun.”
“Eva. Eva, if I can call you Mitzie.”
“Given everything that’s happening, Mitzie, we sometimes do and say things that …well… that go against what we really feel, or want to say.”
“I know. I know. As an actress, I sometimes have trouble being my real self when I’m offstage.”
“Well, I hear the introduction from the Mayor. We better get back to our tables.”
During the opening speeches, Mitzie’s mind was elsewhere. The cocked head. The tugs on the ear lobe, not once, but three times, whenever she laughed. Where had she seen that before? A gesture so specific. The cocked head. The tugs on the ear lobe. Three times. As the Mayor droned on in his introduction for Hitler, it suddenly came to her.
During her studies at the Berlin Academy of Acting, Mitzie worked as an apprentice one summer in the box office of an obscure theatre in Cologne. One of the resident actresses had the same curious habit, cocking back her head and tugging at the ear lobe three times whenever she laughed. The director had called her on it when she used the gesture for two different characters in separate plays. Mitzie even remembered a fellow company member coming to the actress’s defense with something like, “The audience isn’t going to notice that. It’s something only a director would worry about.” At length the actress had managed to get rid of the mannerism, but only after some goodnatured kidding from the company. Actors, Mitzie knew from her own experience, frequently fall into such patterns, small physical habits most often having nothing to do with the character at hand. She herself had to learn not to take such big, noticeable breaths before beats, since doing so sent a too obvious signal to the audience.
As she continued to play her role as the glamorous, always-smiling Führer hostess, Mitzie racked her brains for the name of the actress. The one thing she could be sure of was that Eva Braun had made those same gestures tonight.
After Hitler’s speech, the guests left their tables and began socializing while a band played Strauss waltzes. Hitler, as usual, was surrounded by a sea of admirers eager to be in the presence of the god-like orator who had just railed against the enemies of Germany, all the while whitewashing what was happening in Russia, and making vague allusions to secret weapons that would soon turn the war decisively in the country’s favor. Standard fare that never ceased to excite the audience.
When Mitzie saw Eva Braun escort her sister and her fiancé, now relatively sober, to a side door, she waited until Eva waved good-bye and had started to turn back toward the main hall. Making her way with difficulty through the crowd, she caught up with her when she stopped to look in a pocket mirror and adjust her hair.
“Miss Braun? Eva?”
“Ah, Mitzie. That was quite an adventure with the old woman.”
“It was. It was. But I don’t think I could take more than one of those an evening.”
“Still, we made a good team … rescuing her.”
Mitzie decided to take the plunge.
“Eva, did you by any chance have a career in the theatre before … before you knew the Führer?”
She noticed that Eva Braun was startled by the question. Her neck flushed, and she started rubbing her thumb against fingers in her right hand.
“You must be mistaken.”
“I’m sorry, but you remind me so much of an actress I once knew.”
“Yes, in Cologne.”
“I’m afraid you must be mistaken.”
“It’s just that–“
“I was brought up in a strict Catholic family. They’d never allow me to go into the theatre. Or any other form of entertainment for that matter. I’ve spent most of my life in Munich. Before meeting the Führer.”
“I must be mistaken, Eva. I apologize for bothering you.”
“No bother at all. Lovely evening, isn’t it?”
Now uncertain about her identification, Mitzie innocently offered the reason behind her question, though concealing the telltale tugging of the ear which had initially wetted her curiosity.
“You see, I once worked with an actress in a theatre in Cologne who–I mean, she was part of the company. I was just an intern. I did get a few small parts, though. After a while. But you remind me so much of her. ”
“Well, my theatre friends tell me that small parts can lead to bigger parts. If you stick to it. They say.”
“That’s my hope.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t the person you thought I was. Well, it’s been so nice meeting you Miss–I’m sorry. It’s a fault, I am afraid. Meet someone, even spend time with them, and then forget their name.”
“Steeber. Mitzie Steeber,” Mitzie offered, in the same way she used to make sure directors remembered her name after the countless auditions where, until Goebbels’s offer, she had failed to land a single major part.
“It’s been delightful talking to you, Mitzie. And helping that old woman. But’s it’s late and I must leave–unfortunately.”
Hitler did not return to their Munich apartment that night. She figured that he was having a prearranged rendezvous with Mitzie. Somewhere. And knowing the monster’s perversely comic sexual habits, she felt genuine sympathy for the young actress. Mitzie would have to play his Eva Braun tonight, enduring her lover’s indignities.
It was wonderful to lie alone in the bed, without him. She rested her hands on her chest, took in some deep breaths, then let out the air in short puffs, an exercise that she had learned from her mother when she was a teenager.
Her mother would say, “Shut your eyes so that with your inner eye you are looking out into black space. Now, once you establish this, imagine a thin piece of paper, tracing paper, floating twenty feet before you. There is a light breeze blowing and the paper undulates in the current. It is so thin, so porous–so fragile. You can see right through it. Now take a person, an event, anything that has disturbed you recently, something that seemed so important, perhaps threatening or even tragic at the time. Visualize it, and then take this person or event and place it on the thin piece of paper.”
She conjured an image of Mitzie Steeber saying to her, “You remind me of an actress I once knew. In Cologne.”
Then her mother would say, “Notice how that thin, fragile piece of paper can support that person or event that had so bothered you, had seemed so important. You smile at the paradox: something so fragile, so weak supporting something that weighs so heavily in your memory. You smile.”
“And now, make a light wind from behind your head blow in the direction of that paper supporting the person or object or event, slowly pushing it away from you. It becomes smaller and smaller, until it’s just a dot on the horizon. And then, with one final gust of wind, blow it away so that you are now looking once again into black space. Aware only of yourself, your breathing, your heart beat, your own presence. There is nothing but you, and you rejoice in this fact. Now, open your eyes slowly and return to the world refreshed, ready to focus on what you need to do, what is really important–now.”
She could still not place Mitzie Steeber. Though she smiled at the fact that she had been truthful in her denial, that Mitzie had confused Eva Braun with someone else, nevertheless, she worried about the possible consequences of this meeting. A knot grew in her stomach.
She herself was totally unaware of tugging of her ear when she laughed, one of those habits so ingrained that everyone but the person involved knows of it, recognizes it.
She repeated the exercise she had done in Cologne. This time, when she opened her eyes, she was calm. Resolved. Or so she thought.
Outside she heard party-goes on the street. Drunken laughter. A loud man with a gravely voice shouting out the name “Anna,” followed by gross words of encouragement from his buddies. Then women shrieking, and men breaking into a chorus of “Anna, Anna, Anna.” Someone smashed a glass or bottle against the wall. Then another. A police whistle. And the sound of the rioters running away, their shouts of alarm and nervous laughter growing dim. Once more it was quiet.
At three in the morning–Hitler had not returned yet–she woke up from a nightmare. Her mother being torn limb from limb by the Gestapo.
Pouring herself a large whiskey, she felt ill, and oddly jealous. Hitler was with another woman. She should have been relieved–she was, except that she couldn’t place Mitzie. All that she was certain of was the two had met in Cologne.