Chocolate Cake With Hitler

by Emma Craigie

My turn!” says Uncle Fuhrer, who has been watching us. He wants his photograph taken with me too. I know he wants to put his arm round me, like Papa, and I’m going to have to ignore him really hard to stop him.

“You, Helga Goebbels, are my favourite girl in the whole world,” he says. “f only you were 20 years older!” He leans over me, his smell like the furniture in the servants’ quarters. The photographer is laughing. Papa is laughing. But I don’t take any notice. I turn right away and stare at the camera.

Chocolate Cake with Hitler tells the remarkable story of Helga Goebbels, daughter of the Nazi Party’s head of propaganda, who spent the last ten days of her life cooped up in a bunker in Berlin with Adolf Hitler.

As defeat closes in on the Germans, life in the bunker becomes increasingly fraught. There’s chocolate cake every day for tea with Uncle Fuhrer, but Helga cannot help noticing that all is not well among the grown-ups. Her parents grow more and more tense, the bunker grows daily more empty and, as even the soldiers who have been guarding them take their leave, Helga is faced with a terrible truth. Perhaps her perfect childhood has not been all that it seemed…

One of many 5* Amzon reviews:
It is often sad when a book is drawing to a close; in this book, the dread is tenfold, knowing that it can only end in one, terrible way.
Emma Craigie captures the voice of 12 year old Helda Goebbels beautifully. There is an authentic balance between the known (the focus on food, smells etc), and her glimpses of a world which is now only just beyond her understanding, but about which an adult reader can draw conclusions. Helga overhears many conversations, and the use of locked doors and crowded, messy corridors creates a claustrophobic atmosphere. The repeated anecdotes about Helga’s fear of doctors has the same effect.
Helga’s parents are often just outside the picture as the book reaches its conclusion. This is clever writing, as it avoids the need to present their motivation and actions convincingly. Their backstories are woven into the book, and it closes with letters that they wrote. This is enough.
The book is clearly very well researched. The character information provided at the end shows that even the small details in the book are based on fact. The opening quotation from Hilary Mantel is well chosen, as there were a few events (such as the flyover for Edda Goering’s birth) which I had thought must be too fanciful to be true.
This is a great addition to the ‘fictionalised memoir’ genre, and is the equal of books in that genre by Curtis Sittenfeld, Gaynor Arnold etc.

 

“An extraordinary tale… one of the best debut novesl of 2010”
<em>The Times</em>
“Told with a child-like innocence, it is a poignant insight into the dying days of the Third Reich and the claustrophobic existence of those who stayed behind with ‘Uncle Leader’”
<em>Daily Mail</em>
“Skilfully avoiding both sentimentality and sensationalism, Craigie has written an affecting and unusual exploration of the last days of Hitler”
<em>TLS</em>

About Emma Craigie

Emma Craigie is a writer and teacher. She is also author of Who Was… King Henry VIII (Short Books, 2006). She lives in Somerset with her husband and four children.