Hitler at home: how the Nazi PR machine remade the Führer’s domestic image and duped the world

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Hitler at home: how the Nazi PR machine remade the Führer’s domestic image and duped the world
geralt / Pixabay

Despina Stratigakos, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

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On March 16, 1941 – with European cities ablaze and Jews being herded into ghettos – The New York Times Magazine featured an illustrated story on Adolf Hitler’s retreat in the Berchtesgaden Alps.

Propaganda
Image source: Pixabay

Adopting a neutral tone, correspondent C Brooks Peters noted that historians of the future would do well to look at the importance of “the Führer’s private and personal domain,” where discussions about the war front were interspersed with “strolls with his three sheep dogs along majestic mountain trails.”

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For more than 70 years, we have ignored Peters’s call to take Hitler’s domestic spaces seriously. When we think of the stage sets of Hitler’s political power, we are more apt to envision the Nuremberg Rally Grounds than his living room.

Yet it was through the architecture, design and media depictions of his homes that the Nazi regime fostered a myth of the private Hitler as peaceable homebody and good neighbor.

In the years leading up to World War II, this image was used strategically and effectively, both within Germany and abroad, to distance the dictator from his violent and cruel policies. Even after the war began, the favorable impression of the off-duty Führer playing with dogs and children did not immediately fade.

A radical makeover

Nazi mythologies about Hitler’s origins emphasized his poverty and homelessness as a young man, as well as his disdain for creature comforts.

But once Hitler became chancellor – and particularly after the royalties from Mein Kampf made him a wealthy man – he focused considerable energies on the redesign and furnishing of his residences: the Old Chancellery in Berlin; his Munich apartment; and the Berghof, his mountain home on the Obersalzberg.

The timing of these renovations in the mid-1930s coincided with Hitler’s public makeover as a statesman and diplomat, a transformation also promoted by Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda films.

The rough edges of the extreme anti-Semite and agitator of the masses were sanded away through the creation of a new, sophisticated persona that emerged in carefully crafted domestic surroundings. With silk curtains and porcelain vases, Hitler’s designers suggested an internal world that was both cultivated and peaceful.

Gerdy Troost, Hitler’s interior decorator, played an important role in conveying an image of her client as a man of taste and culture. Inspired by British design reform movements, she emphasized quality of materials and craftsmanship over showy display.

clost

Gerdy Troost’s understated influence can be seen in this 1936 postcard of the living room in Hitler’s Berghof chalet.
Heinrich Hoffmann Collection, Picture Archive, Bavarian State Library

Hitler was an engaged client, and he admired her taste, although they sometimes clashed over his tendency toward the grandiose. A woman both respected and feared in Nazi Germany, Troost has been overlooked in histories written about the period. However new archival sources reveal the surprising extent of her influence over Hitler and her prominence within Nazi elite circles.

Hitler’s chalet

With views of Germany on one side of the mountain and Austria on the other, the Berghof was the most public of Hitler’s private homes, and it exerted a powerful hold on the Nazi imagination of empire.

Hitler and his publicists drew on mountain imagery from Germany’s literary and artistic movements (particularly Romanticism) to mythologize the Führer as a mystic leader who immersed himself in – and embodied – the terrible and magnificent forces of nature.

At the same time, the mountain served as a means to humanize Germany’s leader through his contact with animals as well as with children. In officially produced postcards, magazines and books, Germans consumed fantasies about an ideal domestic life rooted in the natural landscape.

clost

‘The Führer as Animal Lover.’ Hitler feeds a deer in a photograph snapped by his offical photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann.
Heinrich Hoffmann Collection, Picture Archive, Bavarian State Library

In the expansive Lebensraum and pure mountain air, where the sun shone and blond children frolicked, the Nazis encouraged Germans to envision a blissful future in exchange for sacrifices to their pocketbooks and freedoms.

To the foreign press, a Bavarian gentleman

The rise of celebrity culture in the 1920s and 1930s created a voracious appetite for information about the daily lives of the rich and famous. Hitler’s team was quick to realize and exploit the public’s hunger, pioneering PR strategies that are commonplace today.

Journalists writing for the English-language press gobbled up the propaganda, fueling a false image of Hitler by publishing glowing stories of the Führer, even in the face of disturbing counter-realities.

On May 30, 1937 – a month after German planes bombed Guernica, Spain – The New York Times Magazine published a front-page article on Adolf Hitler’s idyllic mountain retreat.

In this admiring piece, penned by foreign correspondent Otto Tolischus, the skies were depicted not as a means of delivering destruction, but as a rarified topos of meditation, beauty and the simple life.

The article described how, surrounded by Alpine peaks, Germany’s leader communed with nature, contemplated the Reich and indulged his sweet tooth for chocolate. Hitler’s attack on Guernica and the suffering of its victims, later memorialized by Pablo Picasso, went unmentioned.

Hitler

A 1936 postcard presents a view of the Alps from the Berghof’s Great Hall.
Heinrich Hoffmann Collection, Picture Archive, Bavarian State Library

In November 1938, shortly after the annexation of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland – and the same month as the Night of Broken Glass – Homes and Gardens published a feature titled Hitler’s Mountain Home, which credited Hitler with the design of the Berghof. Applauding his taste, the article depicted his private life as one of refinement, gentle repasts and congenial friendships.

And days before the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in August 1939, The New York Times Magazine published another enthusiastic article about the residence, one that again chronicled the Führer’s wholesome domestic life, unpretentious hospitality and love of sweets.

Life, Vogue and other widely circulated publications similarly offered readers the chance to pore over glossy photo essays of Hitler’s rooms.

But stories in the British press admiring Hitler’s gentlemanly tastes and pursuits evaporated with the start of hostilities. With German war planes bombarding the nation’s cities and towns, the Brits quickly lost interest in how Herr Hitler took his tea.

American audiences, on the other hand, were slower to admit they had been conned, which reflects the country’s broader ambivalence about involvement in another war.

During the final weeks of the war in Europe, the Berghof was bombed by the Allied Air forces and set aflame by Hitler’s departing SS troops. What survived was looted by local residents and American and French soldiers.

By 1947, the ruins had become a destination for throngs of curious tourists. Authorities were more troubled by Hitler’s loyalists, who made pilgrimages to the site to pay homage to their fallen leader. With approval from the American military, which occupied the Obersalzberg, the Bavarian government demolished what remained of the Berghof; the area was subsequently replanted with trees.

It was only in 2008 that an official sign was posted that identifies the former location of Hitler’s house. In English and German, it gives a brief history of the residence, one that shatters the widely propagated, simplistic view of its domestic function:

Hitler spent more than a third of his time in power here. Important political discussions and negotiations were conducted here and incisive decisions were made, which led to the catastrophes of the Second World War and the Holocaust, causing the death of millions.

Hitler’s successful domestic makeover – engineered by his designers and publicists – underscores the need to be far more critical of the industries that focus on home or lifestyle news, which can have enormous influence.

In recent years, Western media have fawned over Asma al-Assad, Syria’s First Lady, depicting her as a refining, domestic influence on her husband. While some of these outlets, including Vogue, have attempted to scrub online traces, the stories remain proudly posted on President Bashar al-Assad’s website.

When it comes to someone’s home, there’s often more than meets the eye.

The Conversation

Despina Stratigakos, Associate Professor and Interim Chair of Architecture, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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24 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for proving me correct. You’ll want to note that “ignorance” is not bliss….it’s captivity at the least and destruction a the worst. Sadly, you won’t know that until you and/or your children are one or the other or both. Wake up; there’s still a small window of opportunity to save yourself.

  2. Had you been paying
    attention ( a serious deficiency with liberals), you would have noticed that
    I’m not a NeoCon. I’m far too smart to be that or a Republican and
    certainly are above the IQ level required to be a Democrat. You would have also
    noticed that your belief system is based on propaganda, rhetoric, and demagoguery
    rather than historical and empirical evidences which are required for
    “bottom line” truth that amounts to true freedom in America. Your
    position is predicated on “cut and paste” facts the likes of whose
    context has been violently contorted and whose details have been truncated to assure
    deception (just exactly like the NeoCons which should make you feel proud). In
    other words, you can castigate me and my position and accuse me but you cannot
    prove me wrong. You can “cherry pick” “facts” and skew
    figures and ignore history precisely like Calvinist ignore the blatant facts
    that militate against their doctrines. They cling desperately to their
    brainwashing like good Democrats do to theirs.

    My suggestion is that you
    remove the blinders and get out of the Nazi lockstep of socialist “group
    think” and learn to think independently and search for the easily-obtainable
    TRUTH of the entire matter. It will exact only a little of your time thanks to
    Google. In such a case, we both can fight FOR the good of America instead of
    destroying it while THINKING that we are doing it well (which is the very point
    of deception in the first place). Let us find out who our enemies really are
    (like both the Dems AND the Reps) and take the fight to them. I bid you the
    same good day and look forward to fighting with you and not against you.

  3. I know brain dead people that trump your ignorance with facts are extremely hard for you American hating neo-cons to take. Good luck to you and your 30 years of ignorant loud mouthed insults that you think will make America stronger. You are a good part of what is wrong with our country and even 100 years of progressive progress is ignored by you and yours. So I say good day to you and I want you to know that I truly feel pity for your misguided attempts to push American into the cess pool of right wing polictics.

  4. You are living proof that
    the Goebbles brainwashing that is being used by the
    liberal/progressive/socialist/Democrat/anti-American/Constitution-hating/Christian-haters and other scofflaws to destroy our nation is highly effective. You call that which is evil
    “good” and you call that which is good “evil”. You are also
    a sad and ignorant (and loud-mouthed) excuse for someone who purports to
    actually know anything about politics. I suggest you do your homework instead
    of merely carrying your books to school
    because your abhorrence of the truth has exposed your full-frontal
    stupidity. You may want to stop embarrassing yourself in public until that time.
    BTW… I have more than 30 years of political and historical studies under my belt. I doubt if you have but a
    college education (which is usually indicated by someone being brainwashed and
    brain dead). You probably are a puppet of CNN (Communist News Network).

  5. As a huge WW2 buff, I can easily say Yahoo knows as much about Hitler, as my dog knows about space travel. People. Just avoid these articles.

  6. oh, and don’t forget the fawning of the media over our inept Man/Boy Wonder president Barack Hussein Obama. Now that is a con job.

  7. You are a sick puppy and only a moron could say such a thing. Hitler was not only against the Jews, but anyone who didn’t toe the party line. Thank God the brave men of the Allied partnership took on and defeated that evil man and his evil ideology. That scum of a human being is now where he belongs in the pit of hell for all eternity.

  8. God bless Adolf Hitler and National Socialism. The world would be an infinitely better place if the Germans had won and the Jews had lost.

  9. From 1936 to 1941, Hitler invaded Spain (in effect), Czechoslovakia, and Poland. In 1941, he signed a non-aggression pact with Communist Russia. Yet the Times portrayed him as a peace-loving international statesman and homebody. T he “Old Gray Lady” was a vitriolic conservative rag then, and tho it has changed somewhat, still is much of that.

  10. It’s amazing how very few people still support obama, and yet the large media venues continue to pump out apple-polishing news about him. It would be wonderful to return to more neutral and objective news in the US.

  11. BS the Josef Goebbels motto is now the Fox News standard operating procedure. Read what he said and I dare you not to admit that this is exactly how Faux News operates.
    There is no truth, only what people believe to be true. Control people’s
    perceptions of the world and you can control their beliefs. A big lie is as
    believable as a small one, just declare something long enough in an environment
    where alternative views are not heard and it becomes true by belief; evidence
    of truth or falsity is irrelevant. Tell people what they want to hear; give
    them: simple solutions to complex problems, enemies on whom they can blame
    their discontents, promises to satisfy their narrow aspirations, spectacles and
    ceremonies to stir the emotions and suppress critical thinking, manufactured
    news and contrived reports that support the party line.
    Truth Slinger is almost a big a liar as Faux News….. you are a sad ignorant excuse for an American.

  12. It would appear that Josef Goebbels is alive and well in the Obama administration. Point-for-point, there seems to be absolutely no difference between Hitler and Obama that anyone can tell. Just like in Germany, half of the population of America adores this socialist monster who hates us and all that we are and who despises our laws and our heritage.

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