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.)