October 31, 2000 

 

Lida Baarova

Goebbels's screen goddess mistress dies unforgiven

By Louise Potterton in Vienna

ALONE and unforgiven in her native land, Lida Baarova, the Czech film idol who lured Hitler's propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels into a disastrous affair, has died in Salzburg aged 86.

She was never forgiven by her countrymen for her pre-war relationship with Goebbels. As a leading proponent of Nazi racial theories, Goebbels courted Hitler's anger through his affair with an "inferior" Slav. The Fuhrer eventually ordered him to end it.

Austrian police said Baarova probably died of heart failure. A spokesman added: "She had just vegetated, had resorted to drink and was on medication which strongly influenced her life." Her German publishers said her autobiography, The Soft Bitterness of Life, would be published soon. In an interview three years ago in her Salzburg flat, Baarova said her greatest wish was to return to her home country. But she never went back, and there was no official response to her death in Prague yesterday.

Many older Czechs still remember her with affection and suggest she was more naive than evil. Despite Baarova's fondness for memorabilia, she kept no souvenirs of her time with Goebbels. "I've torn up all my pictures of us. Thanks to him I fell into the depths of hell," she said. Friends said the two had enjoyed a passionate relationship, although the former actress prevaricated until the last: "Yes, Goebbels fell in love with me but I didn't love him.

"I was afraid of him and what he would do because I kept turning down his offers, although he always behaved charmingly and was always very nice to me. I remember he once gave me a gold bracelet for Christmas. Hitler made a huge fuss about it. He called Goebbels in and told him to drop me and return to his wife and children. I couldn't take the pressure and I returned to Prague. Goebbels never tried to contact me again."

Her life in Austria was a far cry from how she lived in pre-war Germany. At 20 she was an instant hit with her first German film Bacarole, in 1935. She later starred in numerous propaganda films. Her stunning looks made her the toast of the Nazi elite. But her affair with Goebbels was the turning point in her rise to fame. When Goebbels moved her into his villa, his wife, Magda, complained to Hitler.

Goebbels returned to his family and Baarova fled to Czechoslovakia. From 1943 she lived in Rome and worked on films with de Sica and Fellini, including La Biscara. But when she was arrested in 1945 by American troops and later tried as a Gestapo spy, it left her reputation in ruins.


October 31, 2000 

 

Lida Baarova

 

LIDA BAAROVÁ, who has died aged 90, was a Czech film star greatly admired by Dr Josef Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.

They met at a party in 1934, the year before her first German film Barcarole made her a household name in Germany. In England critics were less impressed. "She did nothing to justify her choice for the leading part", one of them noted, adding loftily that "she possesses the generous build which has lately become popular on the German stage and screen."

Lida Baarová certainly suited Goebbels, who became obsessed with her. "He told me he loved me time and again," she recalled 60 years later, "and I felt his eyes burning into my back every time we were in the same room together." The Fuhrer too, she vouchsafed, was given to staring mutely in her direction; indeed, when he visited her film studio he seemed to her to be mesmerised. Shortly afterwards he invited her to tea.

She arrived at the wheel of her BMW, which (as she remembered) Hitler seemed to consider rather too liberated. On this occasion, however, he found his tongue to the extent of telling her that she reminded him of Gerri Raubel who, he encouragingly explained, had committed suicide on his account. Another time, Hitler told her that she should become a citizen of the Reich: "You could do well for yourself," he promised. But Lida Baarová remained immune to these blandishments, telling him that she preferred to remain a Czech. The tea invitations ceased.

Dr Goebbels's fires, however, burned ever fiercer. He lived only three doors along from the house on Lake Wannsee which Lida Baarová shared with Gustav Froehlich, her co-star in Barcarole. Though Lida Baarová always emphasised the innocence of her relations with Goebbels - "why would I be interested in a 36-year-old father of five when I was a 20-year-old beautiful woman with men falling at my feet?" - somehow Froehlich was never convinced.

Hermann Goring placed a wiretap on Lida Baarová's telephone, and enjoyed spreading scandalous stories about her and Goebbels in the highest Nazi circles. Himmler also liked to tell how there were lines of women waiting to swear how Goebbels had coerced them: "I've turned the choicest statements over to the Fuhrer." Goebbels himself felt the necessity to tell his wife Magda about his infatuation. Magda complained to Emmy Goring that her husband was "the devil incarnate". But she did not stop there, inviting Lida Baarová round to accuse her to her face of having an affair with her husband. "Don't worry," Lida Baarová returned, "I'm not interested in him."

Magda Goebbels was no more convinced than Gustav Froehlich had been, and in 1938 complained about her husband to the Fuhrer, who ordered Goebbels never to see Lida Baarová again. Goebbels's lust was strong, but his devotion to the Fuhrer still stronger. He sighed as a lover; he obeyed as a Propaganda Minister.

Meanwhile, the jealous Gustav Froehlich was rumoured to have struck Goebbels in the face, and challenged him to a duel. Hitler, furious at the scandal, banned Lida Baarová's films and expelled her from Berlin. Wisely, she escaped to Prague. As for Goebbels, he restored himself to favour when he organised Kristallnacht in November 1938, an orgy of destruction in which thousands of Jewish shops were looted, and hundreds of synagogues burned.

Lida Baarová was born Ludmila Babkova in Prague on May 12 1910, and made her first film, The Career of Pavel Camrda in 1931. Three years later she was signed up by a German company and cast in Barcarole as the innocent sexual pawn of squalid male intrigue. Of the other Czech and German films in which she appeared in the 1930s, Vavra's Virginia and Krska's A Fiery Summer are the most notable.

Her flight to Prague in 1938 did not long afford security, for in March 1939 the city was invaded by Hitler's troops. Expelled in 1941, she went to Italy, where she made several films before the Gestapo returned her to Prague in 1945. With the return of peace she served 16 months in prison on account of her Nazi past.

Free again, she found herself ostracised as an actress; in 1949, for instance, Anton Walbrook loudly withdrew from a film when required to appear in a scene with her. Soon after that she withdrew to Argentina. But she was soon back and appearing in Italian films, including Fellini's I Vitelloni (1953). In 1958 she moved to Salzburg, where she found stage work. In 1970, Rainer Werner Fassbinder gave her a part in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.

Long assumed dead, she was suddenly rediscovered in the 1990s, and in 1995 made a documentary of her life, Lida Baarová's Bittersweet Memories. Latterly she suffered from Parkinson's disease. If she ever felt guilt about her past, she rigorously suppressed it. "There's no doubt that Goebbels was an interesting character," she observed in 1997, "a charming and intelligent man and a very good storyteller. You could guarantee that he would keep a party going with his little asides and jokes."

But she was not entirely without regrets. Her involvement with the Nazi elite meant that she had turned down offers to go to Hollywood. "I could have been as famous as Marlene Dietrich," she believed. Lida Baarová married first, in 1949 (dissolved 1956) Jan Kopecky, and secondly, in 1970, Kurt Lundwall, a gynaecologist 20 years her senior.


January 21, 2001

Love triangle: Baarova, left, gained the affection of Goebbels to the point that he wanted to divorce his wife, right, but Hitler forbade it

 

Goebbels mistress tells tales from the grave

 

By Peter Conradi

THEIRS was one of the most dramatic and dangerous love affairs of the Third Reich. A glamorous Czech actress who became Josef Goebbels's mistress and fled Germany after his wife denounced them to Hitler has described her turbulent relationship with the Nazi propaganda chief for the first time.

In her autobiography, The Sweet Bitterness of My Life, to be published posthumously in Germany next month, Lida Baarova writes of life in the Nazi upper echelons, where elegantly dressed ministers mingled with the film world elite.

The actress, who died alone in poverty in November aged 86, reveals that Goebbels's wife, Magda, proposed a ménage à trois to save her marriage but Hitler ordered an end to the two-year affair on the grounds that it could damage the Nazis' image as guardians of traditional family values.

It was Hitler who first fell for Baarova, then 20, during a visit in 1934 to a film set in Berlin. Three days later she was summoned to tea at the chancellery. He said she reminded him of somebody both "beautiful and tragic" in his life. To her horror, she later realised this was Hitler's former lover and half-niece, Angela Raubal, who was found dead in her Munich flat in 1931, aged 23, after shooting herself in the heart with a pistol.

Several more meetings followed, despite the protests of Gustav Fröhlich, a jealous actor with whom Baarova was living. But the Führer did not press himself on her.

 

 

Hitler and his half niece, whom he thought Baarova resembled

 

She and Goebbels first met in 1936 during the Berlin Olympics in the city's opulent Schwanenwerder suburb, where Goebbels had rented a villa near Fröhlich's. Baarova was attracted immediately.

"His voice seemed to go straight into me," she said. "I felt a light tingling in my back, as if his words were trying to stroke my body."

There were other meetings on Goebbels's yacht Baldur, and he invited her to hear him speak at a Nazi congress. He promised to touch his face with a white handkerchief during the speech as a sign of his devotion.

Panicking, Baarova decided to leave town. But as her train waited at the station, a messenger arrived with roses and the minister's picture. "He was a master of the hunt, whom no-body and nothing could escape," she said.

For months Goebbels pursued her relentlessly, inviting her for trips in his chauffeur-driven limousine or visits to his log cabin on the shores of Lake Lanke outside Berlin.

Although their relationship was platonic for a long time, she tried to hide it from Fröhlich. When Goebbels rang he left messages as Herr Müller and hung up if the actor answered. One winter evening in the cabin, however, before a blazing fire he kissed her for the first time, saying: "I have never in my life been so in-flamed with love for a woman."

They met whenever he could get away from his wife. Baarova recalled his mood swings dramatically. Sometimes he amused her with Hitler impressions, at others he expressed doubts about Nazi ideology.

Rumours of their relationship spread after Goebbels bailed out one of Baarova's films. Then Fröhlich arrived home to find them on the road to the villa. He berated Goebbels and left Baarova soon afterwards.

His impertinence did not go unpunished. Goebbels later took revenge by removing his exemption from military service and sending him to war.

In the autumn of 1938, however, Goebbels had telephoned Baarova, saying he had confessed to his wife, and wanted the two women to meet. Magda Goebbels was distraught when they were introduced, and suggested sharing her husband.

"I am the mother of his children, I am only interested in this house in which we live," she said. "What happens outside does not concern me. But you must promise me one thing: you must not have a child by him."

Goebbels appeared with gifts of jewellery for both women as if to cement the love triangle. But Magda told Hitler and Goebbels was summoned to the Führer. "My wife is a devil," he told Baarova.

Early the next morning he rang again, weeping. Hitler had refused his request for a divorce and forbidden him to see her. "I love you, Liduschka," he said. "I cannot live without you."

The propaganda machine swung into gear. Newspapers published pictures of the Goebbels family, and Goebbels rehabilitated himself with Hitler by orchestrating Kristallnacht, an orgy of violence in November 1938 when Jewish property across Germany was destroyed.

Baarova was called to a police station and told she was barred from appearing in films or plays and even from attending social functions. She was pursued by the Gestapo, who organised hecklers to shout "Whore", when she defiantly attended the premiere of her film, Der Spieler (The Player).

Baarova returned to Prague, disobeying an order from Hitler's adjutant to remain in Germany. She was on a Nazi blacklist, however, and it became more difficult for her to work. In 1942 she moved to Italy and resumed her career.

She saw Goebbels one last time at the 1942 Venice film festival. He ignored her. "He must have recognised me, but he did not make a single movement," she said. "He was always the master of self-control."

In 1945 Baarova was arrested by the Americans and briefly imprisoned for collaboration. Goebbels and his wife stayed with Hitler in his bunker, taking their own lives and those of their six children on May 1 as the Russians swept into Berlin.

After two failed marriages, her career faded as Czechs refused to forgive her. She continued to deny the Goebbels relationship until the 1990s, when Richard Kettermann, a German publisher, encouraged her to write about it. Although she was in her eighties when they met, Kettermann said last week he was struck by the warmth she exuded. When she looked back at her relationship with Goebbels, however, her overwhelming emotion was regret.


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© 2000 by Neil Mishalov