Lee Miller in Hitler’s Bathtub

Lee Miller, covering WWII for Vogue teamed up with the American photographer David E. Scherman, a Life magazine correspondent on many assignments. The above photograph by Scherman of Miller in the bathtub of Adolf Hitler’s house in Munich is one of the most iconic images from the Miller-Scherman partnership. The New York Times had this to say: “A picture of the Führer balances on the lip of the tub; a classical statue of a woman sits opposite it on a dressing table; Lee, in the tub, inscrutable as ever, scrubs her shoulder. A woman caught between horror and beauty, between being seen and being the seer.”

The night after Miller visited Dachau, on April 30, 1945 — Hitler had committed suicide in Berlin just earlier that day — Miller and Scherman entered Munich with the American 45th Division that was liberating the city. They happened upon a dilapidated and normal-looking apartment building on Prinzenregentplatz 27, and realized, upon entering, that it was Hitler’s Munich apartment. It was here that Chamberlain signed away Czechoslovakia.

They billeted there for three days, surrounded by china and line marked with swastikas and the initials A.H. Scherman slept in Hitler’s bed; Miller had her picture taken at the Führer’s desk. Scherman recalled that while Miller bathed, an angry lieutenant banged on the door, towel and soap in hand. It is believed that there was also a similar photograph with the roles reversed: Scherman as the subject, and Miller as the photographer. The duo later headed to a villa belonging to Eva Braun three blocks away, also napped on the bed and tried the telephone marked ”Berlin.” Miller wrote to her Vogue editor Audrey Winters:

I was living in Hitler’s private apartment when his death was announced, midnight of Mayday … Well, alright, he was dead. He’d never really been alive to me until today. He’d been an evil-machine-monster all these years, until I visited the places he made famous, talked to people who knew him, dug into backstairs gossip and ate and slept in his house. He became less fabulous and therefore more terrible, along with a little evidence of his having some almost human habits; like an ape who embarrasses and humbles you with his gestures, mirroring yourself in caricature. “There, but for the Grace of God, walks I.”

When the photo came out, it was considered an extremely poor judgement. For some, Miller posing nude in the tub of one of the most repulsive men in history was nothing more than a ill-timed reflection of the adage, “To the victor goes the spoils”. For others, it represents the power of life over death, “The living do what they can and the dead suffer what they must”. Lee Miller herself shied away from the controversies but reprouding the image very rarely and noted that she was merely trying to wash the odors of Dachau away.

(A commenter below has alerted to me about a missing negative from this series, which allegedly shows Miller undressing/getting into the tub. It was burnt in the darkroom, and Anthony Spencer has tried to recreate it in a large-scale print, “It cries itself to sleep” (1973). I haven’t managed to get hold of it myself.)

A less famous variant

59 thoughts on “Lee Miller in Hitler’s Bathtub”

  1. As much as I adore your blog, I have to make a note – saying that an American division was ‘liberating’ Munich (or any other German city) in 1945 is, frankly, totally absurd.

    1. How many “shots” have you had?..The 45th Inf Div (my father was in that Div 175th Infantry) liberated many towns in Germany in 1945…Munich being one..also you might recall a “resort” nearby called Dachau that the 45th also liberated…What is the basis for your strangely ill informed comment?

      1. If we are going to bring up grandparents, I might as well say my grandfather was german and that although he didn’t approve of Hitler, he was very scared when the americans arrived. And rightly so, something that haunted him until he passed away was the memory of a group of american soldiers unloading a van a german POWs and executing them in the street. I’m not saying most allied soldiers were not heroes and fighting a just cause but there were many atrocities committed on both sides of the war. My grandmother also saw many horrors when the russians arrived in germany. Liberating the losing side (although it was from an evil dictator) was not as glamorous as you might think. My grandparents said that soldiers would treat them as if they were responsible them being very young civilians who were too poor to even help themselves.

  2. I am the rights manager of the Lee Miller Archives. It has been brought to my attention that the image above have been illegally used on your website.
    Although we appreciate your enthusiasm and interest in Lee Miller’s work displaying her work with no credit line, at this size and no permission contravenes the copyright law. We require you to remove the image from your website immediately.
    You should note you are also forbidden to store these images on an electronic retrieval system, or use them in any way in connection with any other public purpose.
    I look forward to receiving your reply by return.

    1. Oh and another thing. What is this photo doing in your Lee Miller Archives? It isn’t by Lee Miller. It is by the photographer. Do you represent him or his estate? As a visual journalist I live people ripping off my work and then saying it is their copyright because some twit wrote a few words about it.

    2. I’m happy no one has listened to you Kerry. It’s a good thing this is available for the public to see. Is it you wish to have it taken out of circulation and keep it to yourself?

      1. People miss the point on copyright! Anyone who has the copyright should be asked for permission to reproduce it or, at the very least acknowledgement should be given as to whose image it is and who owns the copyright. Just because you can Google it doesn’t mean it’s “free” for all.

  3. I’m writing an article about Lee Miller and I was just wondering if any one knew anything about the missing negative from this series. Spencer Anthony has made a large-scale print for his work “It cries itself to sleep”. I haven’t seen it myself. It is supposed to show Miller undressed setting up the situation. Does anyone know where I can find an example of it or more information?

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  13. Reblogged this on cabinetroom and commented:
    I went with a friend last night to see the Man Ray Portraits exhibition that has just started in London. There are lots of amazing shots of Lee Miller, of course, which reminded me of the one of her in Hitler’s bathtub. This wasn’t taken by Man Ray, but it is beautiful and amazing in its own way.

  14. […] In turn, there is the memorable, inconceivable, photograph, taken by David Scherman, of her washing herself in Hitler’s bath at the time it was announced that Hitler had shot himself […]

  15. I trust the article’s writer doesn’t mean Neville Chamberlain signed away Europe in Hitler’s apt..a bit infra dig wouldn’t you say?…That “Peace in our time”scrap of paper was signed @ the Brown House (Party HQ) in Munich…

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  19. […] Zumal die Fotoredakteurin Isabel Lott noch dieses grandiose Bild gefunden hat. Es zeigt einen Sergeant der US-Army im Mai 1945 in der einstigen Wohnung Hitlers in München, “Mein Kampf” lesend.  Es stammt von dem Fotografen David E. Sherman, der in der gleichen Wohnung auch noch seine Kollegin Lee Miller ablichtete, als sie in Hitlers Badewann saß. Ein Bild, das zu einer Ikone wurde. […]

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