In October 1943, Adolf Hitler’s private secretary Martin Bormann fell head over heels with a woman he flirted with at a ball.
The woman, Manja Behrens, was a dental assistant turned actress, who’d appeared in a couple movies. Although Bormann was married, he pursued Behrens relentlessly until she finally gave in.
A few months later, Bormann was forced to confess to his wife, Gerda, that he’d fallen “madly in love” with his mistress. Gerda, instead of being stung, had a novel solution. Why not establish a polygamous household together?
“One year [Manja] has a child, and the next year I do, so that you will always have a wife that is mobile,” Gerda gushed to her husband. “We’ll put all the children together in a house on a lake.”
She went so far as to suggest a contract be drawn up, granting the mistress the same rights as the lawful wife. Gerda even thought a law should be passed in Germany “which would entitle healthy, valuable men to have two wives.”
For Bormann, a man with an “unrestrained libido” that he satisfied “without regard to social convention,” this was a perfectly acceptable idea.
But the threesome didn’t last long. Manja struggled with the arrangement and left, choosing instead to work 15-hour shifts at an armaments factory.
Bormann’s tale is just one of the many bizarre romantic Nazi relationships detailed in “Nazi Wives: The Women at the Top of Hitler’s Germany” (St. Martin’s Press) by British historian James Wyllie, out Nov. 3.
“I think rightly so historians have been focused on what their husbands were up to,” Wyllie told The Post. But, “the wives were very interesting.”
Take Ilse Hess, the wife of Rudolf Hess, deputy fuhrer. She was the daughter of a respected doctor who was killed during WWI. While still a schoolgirl, she first met the then-26-year-old Hess when they were both staying at the same hostel.
Ilse was smitten and pursued him, but Hess resisted. He was still a virgin and had a tortured relationship with his body and desires, at times craving a “monk-like existence.”
The couple dated for several years during which Hess “showed absolutely no interest in sex,” the author writes. The two were bound by a shared love of classic German culture and poetry.
The pair first saw Hitler speak around 1920 and were immediately under his spell. “We are anti-Semites,” Ilse wrote a friend. “Constantly, rigorously, without exception.”
In 1927, while Ilse, Hess and Hitler were dining at a cafe, Ilse was musing about what she’d do in the future. Hitler took her hand, placed it on Hess’ and suggested they marry. Although Hess described Ilse as a “loyal friend,” the two agreed to get hitched and pulled the trigger in December 1927.
They moved into a small Munich apartment together, but Hess’ aversion to sex remained. Ilse complained to a friend that she felt like a “convent girl.”
Heinrich Himmler was also averse to bedroom intimacy. “Sex both scared and fascinated him,” the author writes.
Like Hess, the head of the SS remained a virgin into his late 20s after reading a book that suggested young men should channel their sexual energy into more useful pursuits. Celibacy was also a way to make a “virtue out of his abject failure with women,” Wyllie writes.
One woman who didn’t reject him was Margarete Boden. She had been a nurse on the Western front during WWI, and that experience likely damaged her. She met Himmler on a train in 1927, began corresponding with him and the two married the next year. The union would bring her mostly misery.
“She was an enigmatic woman,” Wyllie said. “She was very closed off. She was defensive and paranoid and ultimately unhappy most of the time. I think she wanted a more ordinary husband than she got.”
She and Himmler dreamed of becoming farmers and bought a rural plot of land outside of Munich where she grew crops and tended to chickens, geese and rabbits. She was often unwell and was badly injured in a 1939 accident when her home’s water heater exploded.
‘Sex both scared and fascinated him.’
– historian James Wyllie on Nazi big Heinrich Himmler
Despite Himmler’s initial aversion to sex, he had trouble staying faithful. In 1938, he fell “hopelessly” in love with his secretary, 26-year-old Hedwig Potthast — nicknamed Bunny.
Bunny and Himmler schemed to find a way that they could be together. When she gave birth to their son in 1942, he rented a cottage outside Berlin for her.
Margarete eventually found out about her husband’s love child. “Sometimes I cannot believe what I live through. We poor women,” she wrote in her diary. “Surrounded by lies and betrayal.”
Magda Goebbels, who was known as the “First Lady of the Reich,” was also deeply unhappy with her husband.
She had been raised in a broken family after her parents got divorced when she was 3. She grew up in Brussels, attending a Catholic school. She married a businessman at 18 and got divorced a few years later.
In 1930, she attended a Nazi rally and was struck by the fiery propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. She soon landed a job in his office, and they began a romantic relationship in February 1931. “It’s like I’m dreaming,” Goebbels wrote. “So full of satisfied bliss.”
There was one obstacle to their growing relationship: Hitler. Magda met the Fuhrer in 1931 and she was immediately entranced by him. He returned the infatuation.
Hitler wanted to pursue a relationship with her, but in order to keep it secret, he came up with a strange proposition. To keep her close, he’d have Magda marry Goebbels. She enthusiastically accepted.
“Magda was intelligent, very sophisticated, very capable and really fell tragically in love with Hitler more so than her husband, but understood the only way to be close to Hitler was to embrace being the first lady of the Third Reich,” Wyllie said.
Magda and Goebbels married in December 1931, though he was uneasy over her adoration of the Fuhrer. “She loses herself a bit around the Boss,” he wrote in his diary. “I am suffering greatly. I didn’t sleep a wink.” (Historians think it’s unlikely Magda and Hitler ever consummated their relationship.)
But Goebbels was also a dog in his personal life. He pursued director Leni Riefenstahl, and stuck his hand under her dress once while sitting next to her at the opera.
He struck up an affair in 1938 with actress Lida Baarova. He confessed the relationship to his wife over tea and asked if the three might be able to co-exist. Magda reluctantly agreed and Goebbels soon booked a trip for the three of them aboard a yacht.
An increasingly unhappy Magda wanted a divorce, but Hitler forbade it.
“He was really touchy about the idea that any of his close compatriots got divorced,” Wyllie says, because it would be bad for the party’s image.
Magda ultimately resigned herself to her husband’s philandering. She turned to Buddhism to combat her unhappiness and amused herself by playing tricks on his various mistresses. She prank called one, telling her that Goebbels would send a car for her at a deserted crossroad at 11 p.m., then left the woman waiting for an hour before telling her husband what she’d done.
Of all the wives, Magda’s life had the most tragic ending. In April 1945, she and her husband, along with their six children, were hiding in Hitler’s Berlin bunker as Soviet troops surrounded the city.
Afraid of the fate that awaited her, she poisoned her children, then she and her husband killed themselves.
Margarete Himmler, with her daughter, escaped to the Austrian-Italian border region at the war’s end and was later arrested and held in internment camps. She was released and lived a quiet life in Germany before dying in 1967.
Gerda Bormann escaped to South Tyrol, fleeing Germany with eight of her nine children in a school bus. She died of cancer in 1946 at age 36.
Ilse Hess was also captured and spent time in an internment camp. She was set free and opened a hotel in southern Germany in the 1950s. She spent much of the rest of her life fighting to get her husband out of prison and stayed an unrepentant National Socialist till her death in 1995.
“What’s uncomfortable about her is that if you wrote her life story without saying the word ‘Nazi,’ you’d think she was a remarkable woman who fought for her beliefs and her husband her whole life,” Wyllie said. “But she was a Nazi and it’s terrifying.”