Was Magda Goebbels’ Father Jewish?

German historian says he’s uncovered document showing that wife of Nazi minister of propaganda had Jewish ancestry.

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Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, pictured in 1942. Kept extensive diary for more than 20 years.
Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, pictured in 1942. Kept extensive diary for more than 20 years.Credit: AP

A German historian is claiming that Magda Goebbels, the wife of Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, had a Jewish father. The historian, Oliver Hilmes, was looking through archives in Berlin when he found a population registry document in which a Jewish businessman named Richard Friedlander claimed that Magda was his daughter. These findings came to light over the weekend in the German daily Bild, and appear in a new book called “Berlin 1936” published recently in Germany.

Magda Goebbels was called “the First Lady of the Third Reich.” The identity of her father is a mystery replete with holes and confusing facts. Johanna Maria Magdalena Goebbels was born in November 1901 in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. Her birth certificate indicates only her mother’s name, Auguste, while her father remained anonymous. Several sources claim that her father was Oskar Ritschel, a person with whom her mother was having an intimate relationship in those years. In some of these sources Ritschel appears as the mother’s first husband, marrying her around the time of Magda’s birth in 1901.

In Hilmes’ new book, he quotes a 1931 entry from the diary of Joseph Goebbels, Magda’s second husband, in which he says that Magda’s mother had told her that she was never married to Ritschel. If so, who was her father? The plot thickens, since in 1908 the mother married Richard Friedlander, a Jew who adopted Magda as his daughter. In his book, Hilmes emphatically states that “the biological father of this little girl was the Jewish merchant Richard Friedlander. This is the truth that scared the Goebbels household: Magda had a Jewish father.”

In the document found by Hilmes Friedlander testifies that his daughter “Magdalena, born on November 11 1901, is my daughter.” This fits the testimony of Magda Goebbels as well. However, Hilmes doesn’t present any other sources that could confirm his resolute determination that this is an authentic document. In any case Magda’s mother divorced her Jewish husband in 1914.

In 1921, Magda Goebbels married industrialist Gunther Quandt. After the wedding, she accepted his demand to strike the surname of her adoptive Jewish father, Friedlander, off her identity card. The couple had a son named Harald, but they divorced shortly after that. During World War II thousands of slave laborers worked at the Quandt family’s armaments factories. In 1960 the family became the controlling shareholders of carmaker BMW.

Magda and Joseph Goebbels on their wedding day, December 19, 1931. Credit: Bundesarchiv

In 1931 Magda remarried, this time to Joseph Goebbels. The couple had six children, as well as adopting her child from her previous marriage, Harald, who joined the German army in World War II. In 1934 Goebbels wrote in his diary about a “shocking” discovery that rocked the family. It related to his wife, but he provided no details. Hilmes raises the possibility that the archival document he found provides the answer to whatever it was that shocked the Goebbels family at the time.

Whether Friedlander was Magda’s biological father or not, his proximity to her did not help him elude the fate of a Jew in Nazi Germany. He was sent to Buchenwald in 1938, where he was put to forced labor until his death in 1939. His adopted daughter (or biological one, if this document is true) Magda broke off all contact with him.

The Goebbels family, with Joseph and Magda’s six children, were a perfect model Aryan family in Nazi Germany, and a “stain” in Magda’s past was not allowed to blemish the familial lineage in which the two took pride.

In fact, Magda’s past was also stained by her ties to the Zionist leader Haim Arlosoroff. His sister Lisa shared a classroom with Magda Goebbels, who was a frequent guest in the Arlosoroff home.

In “Magda Goebbels,” a book by Anja Klabunde, the author wrote in 2002 that “Magda became like a daughter to the Arlosoroff family. She learned about Jewish customs and traditions in Lisa’s house, including bringing in the Sabbath and blessings over food. Magda liked these traditions and would go to meetings of the Zionist forum she was enthusiastic about the Zionist idea and started wearing a necklace with a Star of David, which Arlosoroff had given her as a gift. Many years later Lisa told friends in Israel that when her brother left Germany in 1923 Magda accompanied him to the railway platform, trying to convince him to stay and breaking out in bitter tears when she failed to do so.” Arlosoroff also referred to his early acquaintance with Magda Goebbels, calling her a “friend.”

Richard Friedlander, December 31, 1936.Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In 1933, when Arlosoroff visited Berlin, this time as the representative of the Jewish Agency, his friends urged him to renew his contact with the friend of his youth, in order to assist in saving German Jews. “They asked me to visit Magda and ask her to persuade her famous father to change his policies toward Jews. An unbelievably foolish idea!” he noted.

Over the years, attempts were made to find a romantic link between Magda and Arlosoroff and there were even claims – never proven – that Goebbels himself was behind Arlosoroff’s murder, motivated by jealousy over an affair between the two. To make things more complicated, Goebbels’s diary shows that Magda wasn’t the only family member suspected of ties with Jews. On May 18, 1931, Goebbels wrote: “A mysterious story about a stranger who warned Magda not to marry me, saying I was Jewish! He pointed to a letter from me in which it was claimed that this person was my Jewish father one could die of laughter when reading such stuff.”

In May 1945, after Hitler had committed suicide, Joseph and Magda Goebbels murdered their children in their sleep and then killed themselves in a Berlin bunker.

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