September 21, 2020

how the Nazi public relations machine reinvented the domestic image of the Führer and deceived the world


On March 16, 1941, as European cities burned and Jews were led into ghettos, The New York Times Magazine published an illustrated story about Adolf Hitler’s retirement in the Berchtesgaden Alps.

Adopting a neutral tone, correspondent C. Brooks Peters pointed out that future historians should appreciate the importance of the “private and personal domain of the Führer”, a space where discussions on the war front were interspersed with “walks with his three dogs shepherds along majestic mountain trails. ”

For more than 70 years we have ignored Peters’ claim to take Hitler’s domestic spaces seriously. When we think of Hitler’s political power scenarios, we are more likely to imagine Nuremberg’s Zeppelin Field than his living room.

However, it was through the architecture, design, and media representations of their homes that the Nazi regime fostered the myth of a Hitler who privately behaved like a homebody and good neighbor.

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

A radical change

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

But when Hitler became chancellor, especially after the Mein Kampf royalties made him a wealthy man, he spent a lot of energy redesigning and furnishing his residences: the Old Berlin Chancellery; his Munich apartment and the Berghof, his mountain house in Obersalzberg.

The time he made those renovations in the mid-1930s coincided with Hitler’s public makeover as a statesman and diplomat, a transformation that was also promoted by Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda films.

The rougher facets of the anti-Semitic extremist and mass agitator were smoothed out, creating a sophisticated new personality that emerged in a carefully designed home environment. Through silk curtains and porcelain vases, Hitler’s designers suggested the existence of a refined and peaceful inner world.

Gerdy Troost, Hitler’s interior decorator, played an important role in conveying an image of her client as a cultured and tasteful man. Inspired by British design reform movements, she emphasized the quality of materials and craftsmanship rather than the striking display.

Hitler was a committed customer and admired his taste, although they sometimes clashed over his tendency towards greatness. Troost was a respected and feared woman in Nazi Germany, even though stories written about that period have ignored her. However, new file sources they reveal his surprising influence on Hitler and his importance within elite Nazi circles.

Hitler’s chalet

Overlooking Germany on one side of the mountain and Austria on the other, Berghof it was the most public property of Hitler’s private houses and had a powerful influence on the Nazi imagery of the empire.

Hitler and his publicists drew inspiration from the mountain images of Germany’s literary and artistic movements, especially Romanticism, to mythologize the Führer and make him a mystical leader who at the same time submerged and embodied the terrifying and magnificent forces of nature.

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

Between the expansion of the Lebensraum and the pure mountain air, a place where the sun shone and blond children played, the Nazis encouraged the Germans to imagine a wonderful future if they sacrificed their pockets and liberties instead.

To the foreign press he was a Bavarian gentleman

The rise of celebrity culture in the 1920s and 1930s triggered a voracious appetite for information about the daily lives of the rich and famous. Hitler’s team quickly caught on and took advantage of public hunger to promote very common public relations strategies today.

Journalists writing for the English press gobbled up the propaganda, feeding a false image of Hitler by publishing brilliant stories of the Führer, even when they contrasted with a different and disturbing reality.

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

In that admiring piece, written by the foreign correspondent Otto Tolischus, the heavens were not depicted as a means of causing destruction, but as a rare mole of meditation, beauty, and simple living.

The article described how the leader of Germany, surrounded by alpine peaks and in communion with nature, contemplated the Reich and delighted in eating chocolate. There was no mention of Hitler’s attack on Guernica or the suffering of its victims, a fact that Pablo Picasso later immortalized.

In November 1938, shortly after the annexation of Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, and the same month that the Night of the Broken GlassHomes and Gardens magazine published an article titled “Hitler’s Mountain House” in which he attributed Berghof’s design to the Führer. The article applauded his liking and described his private life as a setting of refinement, peaceful dinners, and pleasant friendships.

Days before the signing of the Nazi-Soviet pact in August 1939, The New York Times Magazine published another enthusiastic article on the residence, recounting the Führer’s healthy domestic life, his unpretentious hospitality and passion for sweets. .

Life, Vogue, and other widely circulated publications also offered their readers the opportunity to view brilliant and detailed photographic essays of Hitler’s rooms.

However, stories in the British press that admired Hitler’s noble tastes and activities evaporated when hostilities began. With German warplanes bombarding the nation’s cities and towns, the British quickly lost interest in how Herr Hitler was drinking tea.

The American public took longer to admit that he had been scammed, reflecting the broader ambivalence that dominated the country over his involvement in another war.

During the final weeks of the war in Europe, Allied air forces bombarded the Berghof and Hitler’s SS troops set fire to it as they withdrew. Local residents and American and French soldiers looted what survived.

In 1947, the ruins had become a destination for many curious tourists. However, the authorities were concerned about Hitler’s followers who made the pilgrimage to the site to pay tribute to their fallen leader. With the approval of the US Army, which was occupied by Obersalzberg, the Bavarian government demolished what remained of the Berghof. Later they planted trees in that area.

In 2008 an official sign was placed identifying the location of Hitler’s home. It offers a brief history of residency in English and German that debunks the simplistic and widely-held view of its domestic role:

“Hitler spent more than a third of his time in power here. Important discussions and political negotiations were held here and crucial decisions were made, leading to the catastrophes of World War II and the Holocaust, causing the death of millions of people.”

The Conversation

Never more

Hitler’s successful home makeover, created by his designers and advertisers, underscores the need to take a much more critical stance on industries that focus on home or lifestyle news, which can have enormous influence. .

In recent years, the Western media has flattered Asma al-Assad, the First Lady of Syria, and has said that she exercises a refined and domestic influence on her husband. Although some of these media, including Vogue magazine, have tried to remove traces of those articles on the Internet, the stories continue proudly published on President Bashar al-Assad’s website.

But we must not forget that, behind a person’s home, there is often more than meets the eye.

Despina Stratigakos She is a professor of architecture at Buffalo, The State University of New York.

This article was originally published in The Conversation. You can read the original in English here.

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