Hanna Reitsch: shaping the image of a third reich heroine
Goss, Maureen Frances Tennyson
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Hanna Reitsch was a renowned German aviator and media celebrity during the Third Reich. She was also one of the last people to see Hitler alive. Largely based on her post-war testimony, the Allies established he has died. Because of her celebrity status, however, rumors circulated that she had flown him out of Germany. An extraordinary aviator, Reitsch was the first woman helicopter pilot, the first woman to fly in a glider over the Alps, the only woman to fly a glider-version of a V-1 bomb, and the first woman to fly a Messerschmitt Me 163 rocket plane, which she also tested as a glider. Both Nazi and democratic media portrayed her as a mythical figure, a superhuman who could fly any aircraft. This thesis examines the mythology surrounding Reitsch, who died in her bed in 1979 at age 67. It establishes several aeronautical feats attributed to her were achieved instead by other people. Because she was the celebrity, however, she received the credit. The thesis scrutinizes her as a woman in a regime that was characterized by machismo and encouraged women to concern themselves solely with Kind, Kuche und Kirche (children, the kitchen and the church). Because of her will and talent, she, like the film director Leni Riefenstahl, ignored restrictions and flourished. Reitsch was awarded the honorary title Flugkapitan (Flight Captain) and the two Iron Crosses. She also advised Hitler on a controversial suicide mission involving V-1 bombs. Finally, the thesis questions her lack of remorse of her actions during the Nazi regime. Reitsch claimed she never had never been political and had always only been a pilot. Several of her actions are shown to have been highly political. The thesis was based on research of Reitsch's estate files in the Deutsches Museum in Munich; public files on her in the Deutsches Museum, the U.S. Library of Congress, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, and the U.S. Archives; newspaper and magazine articles about her; and readings of her published autobiographies, as well as those of her colleagues. The author also interviewed many of Reitsch's relatives, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances in Germany and the United States.
Dissertation (Ph.D.)--Boston University, 1996