Look Back in Anger — Nazism in 1930s

This year marks the 75th Anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War. Iconic Photos look back at how it all began — and how we covered it. 

Hitler’s first appearance in Iconic Photos date from 1914, when a figure allegedly identified as Adolf Hitler was seen outside Field Marshals’ Hall listening to the announcement of the First World War. After the war, his rise in a defeated and dejected Germany was meteoric. In 1926, he became the Führer of the National Socialists; the then-37-year old was also already a millionaire, thanks to his book Mein Kampf.

His party won the plurality in the elections of 1933. On January 30th 1933 when President Paul von Hindenburg, hero of a World War, called upon Hitler, villain of another, to be German Chancellor. Less than a month later, the Reichstag burnt down in a pivotal event which paved the way for the rise of Nazi consolidation. Hitler fingered Communist agitators as arsonists; civil liberties were suspended, and countless politicians and journalists were locked up, and the communist party was outlawed. When Hitler visited Tanneberg — the site of a famous battle in which East Prussia was liberated from the Russians during the First World War by Hindenburg — later that year, the ceremony was uncomfortably patriotic and militarist. Germany rearmament began on those blood-soaked fields.

A strong re-emerging Germany was on display in pomp and splendor of Berlin Olympics in 1936. There were a few hitches for the Nazis, like  Jesse Owens winning 100 m sprint and smashing Hitler’s theories of racial superiority, but the Olympics were a great success for Germany. The next year, the Fuhrer welcomed the Duke of Windsor, the ci-devant Edward VIII, to his Obersalzberg retreat.

Hitler’s plans for a Greater Germany were sown years ahead. Already in 1934, he has orchestrated the murder of Austrian dictator Engelbert Dollfuss, who was vehemently against Nazism, and set Austria on the course that would eventually led to its capitulation to his Third Reich in the Anschluss of 1938.  A few months later, British Prime Minister was in Munich to sign the Anglo-German Non-Aggression Declaration. Sudetenland was transferred from Czechoslovakia to Germany in an attempt to satisfy Hitler’s desire for Lebensraum.

A little over a year later, emboldened German troops were in Warsaw, having divided Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union, and the world was in a cataclysmic world war yet again.

When Hitler Met His End

“For seldom had so many millions of people hoped so implacably for the death of one man” wrote Time magazine. The magazine was of course writing about Adolf Hilter, whose death was announced by the Hamburg radio at about 10.30 pm on May 1st 1945, almost 66 years to the hour of bin Laden’s death-notice.

There were many karmic similarities between the ignominious ends of this and last century’s greatest villains. Bombed out or driven away from the nations they cynically manipulated, both men would met their demise surrounded only by a dwindling loyal cadre. The armies they wronged would carry the photos to figure out how a fugitive Hitler or bin Laden might disguise himself.

There were conflicting reports on Hitler’s last days, his power and sanity during the cornered days under the Reich Chancellery, and unsurprisingly there were conflicting reports on his death too. The West believed, based on testimonies by those who were in the bunker with him, that Hitler had shot himself; the Soviets only revealed in the late 1960s that Hitler took a cyanide pill. Hitler was identified by his dental records; the Soviets buried the body, but the East German government dug it up, burned it, and thrown the ashes into a river.

On its cover, Time magazine featured a portrait of Hitler with a bloody X through it — starting a powerful tradition that the magazine carried through its coverage on the demise of the Empire of Japan, Saddam Hussein, al Zarqawi, and now bin Laden (above). [Bin Laden cover was commissioned years ago, back in 2002.]

While it took the Internet only a few minutes to fake bin Laden’s final photo, it took the world of 1945 quite a while to come up with a photo of a man who vaguely resembled Hitler (ab0ve).

the origins of this video are murky

And an event of this scale required conspiracies too. Lack of photographic evidence surrounding Hitler’s death fuelled allegations that the Fuhrer had indeed escaped. A German submarine that escaped the Allied blockade to arrive in South America further escalated these rumors. No matter how or where he met his end, Adolf Hitler as a political force died in 1945. The Nazis would gain a place in popular culture, but more often than not, only as delusional and self-important vaudevillians.

If the Revolutions of 2011 are any guide, Islamic radicalism will probably follow this route too in a few years’ time.

Hitler practices his speech

Adolf Hitler, in these photos taken by his personal photographer, rehearses gestures intended to look spontaneous while listening to a recording of one his speeches. In 1927, when Heinrich Hoffman took these action shots, Adolf Hitler has already restored the Nazi party to the political significance (just one year after becoming its Führer). The 38-year old was also already a millionaire, thanks to his book Mein Kampf.

The impoverished failed artist had already come a long way, but he had his sights on a bigger price. He carefully cultivated his image as the party leader using the propagandistic value of photographs. Hoffman, Hitler’s good friend and exclusive photographer, captioned it: “Adolf Hitler rehearses supposedly spontaneous gestures while listening to a recording of one of his previous speeches”. The photos undermined the myth of Hitler’s “natural” oratorial skills and Hitler ordered Hoffman to destroy the negatives since they were “beneath one’s dignity”.

Hoffman didn’t and they were published in Hoffmann’s memoirs Hitler was my Friend (1955). In the book was a photo of Hitler wearing glasses (something the dictator also forbade publishing during his lifetime). Hoffmann, who introduced Hitler to his then-studio assistant Eva Braun, survived the war and spent four years in prison for Nazi profiteering. He died in 1957, aged 72.


[* Initially people were tricked into buying the book: they thought it was a revealing autobiography or an account of the Beer Hall Putsch. From the royalties, Hitler was able to afford a Mercedes while still in prison. He spent years evading taxes, and waived his taxes himself when he became the dictator. After Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, millions of copies were sold (ten million by the end of the war), but mostly to the German government, which purchased six million copies to be given as gifts at weddings, graduations, and birthdays. Before 1939, all the royalties abroad went to Hitler too.

In addition to evading the taxes, Hitler also charged the German government for the right to reproduce his likeness on the stamps, postcards and posters. Following Hoffmann’s suggestion, both he and Hitler received royalties from all uses of Hitler’s image, which made the photographer also rich.]

Edward and Wallis with Hitler


In 1936, Edward VIII abdicated to marry the woman he loved, a divorcee Mrs Wallis Simpson.However, the Guardian claimed that the king’s decision was due to Mrs. Simpson being a Nazi sympathizer and this was totally unacceptable to the prime minister at the time, Stanley Baldwin. The former Austrian ambassador, Count Albert von Mensdorff-Pouilly-Dietrichstein, who was also a second cousin once removed and friend of George V, believed that Edward himself favoured German fascism as a bulwark against communism.

In 1941, while they were holidaying in Florida, the exiled former king and his consort, now the Duke and the Duchess of Windsor, were spied upon by the FBI on the orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. These FBI files, written in the 1940s and now released under America’s Freedom of Information Act, detailed that the Duchess might have been passing secrets to a leading Nazi with whom she was thought to have had an affair and that His Majesty’s Government had known for the fact for some time.

Following Edward’s accession, the German embassy in London sent a cable for the personal attention of Hitler himself. It read: “An alliance between Germany and Britain is for him (the King) an urgent necessity.” In October 1937, the Windsors visited Nazi Germany, met Hitler at his Obersalzberg retreat (above), dined with his deputy, Rudolf Hess, and even visited a concentration camp. The camp’s guard towers were explained away as meat stores for the inmates. The visit was against the advice of the British government and during the visit the Duke gave full Nazi salutes.

At the outbreak of war, the duke served as a military liaison officer in Paris. Hitler made an abortive attempt to bring Edward and his wife to Nazi-sympathetic Spain, and greatly alarmed, the British establishment finally packing the duke off to the Bahamas from 1940-45. Deeply disenchanted by the society that had spun him, the Duke made his Nazi sympathies explicit, once telling a journalist that “it would be a tragic thing for the world if Hitler was overthrown”. In another break from his usual unassuming boyish behavior, he remarked, “After the war is over and Hitler will crush the Americans. We’ll take over. They (the British) don’t want me as their King, but I’ll be back as their leader.”

After the war, the duke and duchess returned to France. He died there in 1972, while the Duchess lived on until 1986.

Baby Adolf

babyadolf babyjohn http://earthstation1.simplenet.com

(l. to. r: the fake picture, the real John Warren, the real Adolf Hitler)

In 1933 a picture supposedly showing Adolf Hitler as a baby began circulating throughout England and America. The child in the picture looked positively menacing–its fat mouth twisted into a sneer, with dark, squinted eyes and a greasy mop of hair. The image was distributed by Acme Newspictures, Inc. and appeared in many newspapers and magazines. In October 1933 the Chicago Tribune printed it alongside a photo of the adult Hitler addressing 500,000 farmers and storm troopers, above the caption, “Two Pictures of Hitler.”

However, the picture did not actually show Hitler; the German consulate in Chicago wrote a letter to the Tribune, sending also a copy of an authentic photograph of Reichs-Chancellor. Subsequent investigation by Acme Newspictures found that the hoax came from the syndicate’s London bureau, through Austria. In 1938, one Harriet Downs of Ohio recognized it as a photo of her son by a former marriage, John May Warren. However, in the original image the son looked cute, bright, and wholesome. An unknown hoaxer had evidently darkened the shadows around the child’s face and also distorted it to give him a more sinister look.

Tragically, the young John Warren died a few months after Acme issued its correction, when he fell from his bicycle and pierced his heart on a milk bottle. Soon, the Second World War would break out and the picture would endure almost a legendary status as the manifestation of evil Hitler. As the Winnipeg Free Press summed it up when it ran the picture, “This is a picture of a man who controls the destiny of a mighty nation, as he appeared when he was not quite one year old. Do you think this photo is prophetic of the figure he has become? The picture is one of Adolf Hitler, who was born in 1889.”

Hitler in Paris


Upon the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1940, Adolf Hitler posed in front of the Eiffel Tower with his architect Albert Speer (left) and his favorite sculptor Arno Breker. Breker’s monumental neo-Classical figures vividly expressed Nazi racial ideology.

Before the Nazi occupation, the lift cables were cut by the French so that Adolf Hitler would have to climb the steps to the summit of the Eiffel. The parts to repair them were allegedly impossible to obtain because of the war. Hitler indeed stayed on the ground. It was said that Hitler conquered France, but did not conquer the Eiffel Tower. Some German soldiers had to climb to the top to hoist the swastika, but the flag was so large it blew away just a few hours later, and it was replaced by a smaller one. A Frenchman scaled the tower during the German occupation to hang the French flag. In August 1944, when the Allies were nearing Paris, Hitler ordered General Dietrich von Choltitz, the military governor of Paris, to demolish the tower along with the rest of the city. Von Choltitz disobeyed the order. The lifts of the Tower were working normally within hours of the Liberation of Paris.

Hitler was a big fan of Paris (despite his eventual demand to have the city burnt down). He rose from the seat of his car as it slowly circled the Place de la Concorde before dawn to see the city he fantasized since boyhood. He climbed up to top of the Parvis du Sacré- Coeur, and looked down at the city he envisioned to recreate in the heart of Berlin.


Armenian Genocide



In 1915, the decaying Ottoman Empire launched a pogrom against eastern Turkey’s Armenian population, falsely accusing them of supporting a Russian invasion. Orthodox Christians who played a big entrepreneurial role, the Armenians had always been distrusted inside the Ottoman Empire. On the night of April 24th, over 250 Armenian academics and intellectuals were rounded up and executed — a beginning of a grotesque prosecution that left up to 1.5 million dead.

It was also one of the century’s first atrocities to be photographically covered; in addition to anonymous photographs, there are signed and documented photographs that supported eyewitness accounts. A German military officer Armin T. Wegner, stationed with the 6th Ottoman Army, took a series of photographs of dying and dead Armenians. When it was discovered that he was taking photos, the Turkish authorities sent him to work on cholera wards, hoping he would inevitably perish. He survived and left for Constantinople with photographic plates hidden in his clothes. Back in Germany, he sent an open letter to President Wilson appealing for an independent Armenian state.

His pictures were to hauntingly anticipate photographs that were to follow during the Second World War, in the Killing Fields of Cambodia, and the Rwandan Genocide. In fact, outside Turkey, it was considered to be a ‘genocide’ avant la lettre — the organized, state-sponsored killing of a people with an intended purpose of putting an end to their existence. Attempted annihilation of the Armenians was only the beginning of a long series of violence and mass murders that marred the ensuing century as ethnically, linguistically, and religious diverse empires withered away into smaller, more nationalistic states.

Soon, other ethnic groups inside the Ottoman Empire would also be threatened out of their homes too. On exodus of Greeks from Anatolia, the historian Niall Ferguson reflects, “What better symbol of the decline of the West than the brutal expulsion of the Hellenic civilization from Asia Minor, except possibly the abject failure of the heirs of the Athenian democracy to do anything to prevent it?” Indeed, international nonchalance over the Armenian genocide emboldened Hitler. In his August 1939, he asked rhetorically, “Who after all is today speaking of the destruction of the Armenians?” in a chilling harbinger to Holocaust of his own making. “The world believes only in success,” he added, justifying his potential invasion of Poland and all the horrors that calamitous event would unleash.

Reichstag Fire


A pivotal event which paved the way for the rise of Nazi dominance over Germany burned brightly on the night of February 27th 1933. At 9:25 pm, a Berlin fire station received an alarm call that the Parliament (the Reichstag) was ablaze. The fire apparently started in the Session Chamber, and by the time the police and firefighters had arrived, the main Chamber of Deputies was engulfed by flames.

At that time, Hitler was having dinner with Joseph Goebbels at the latter’s apartment in Berlin. When Goebbels received a phone call informing him of the fire, he regarded it as a “tall tale” at first and only after the second call did he report the news to Hitler. Hitler, Goebbels, the Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen and Prince Heinrich Günther von Hohenzollern were taken by car to the Reichstag where they met by Hermann Göring. Göring told Hitler “This is a Communist outrage! One of the Communist culprits has been arrested”. Hitler called the fire a “sign from heaven”, and claimed the fire was a Fanal (signal) meant to mark the beginning of a Communist Putsch.

A sign from heaven indeed. Whether it was orchestrated by the government or not, the culprit of the Reichstag Fire had been predetermined since Hitler came to power four weeks before. Inside the building, the police found a naked man, a Dutch insurrectionist by the name of Marinus van der Lubbe. He had, more or less by accident, set fire to the building’s most vulnerable spots — the huge curtain at the back of the meeting hall and the bone dry oak panelling behind. Within minutes, the giant hall was ‘an inferno of burning benches and lecterns.’

Although van der Lubbe had no ties with the German communists, Hitler demanded that all KPD (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands) parliamentarians be arrested and hanged immediately. Civil liberties were suspended, and countless political and journalistic heavyweights were locked up. Van der Lubbe was found guilty and beheaded. In total, fifty one anti-Nazis disappeared; the movements of the left were robbed of their leadership at a single blow. With the communist delegates gone, the Nazis became the majority party from a plurality party. On the next election a week later (March 5th), the Nazis consolidated their victory.


Last Days of Adolf Hitler


The last official photo of Adolph Hitler prior to his suicide (April 30, 1945). He is shown greeting and decorating one of the boy soldiers used in the last days of the defense of Berlin.


Above, the last known photograph of Adolf Hitler alive. He is standing outside his Führerbunker in Berlin entrance surveying bomb damage.


Memorial Celebration at the Tannenberg Monument


A rare photo of Adolf Hitler with a top hat, by Times Wide World Photo. Left to right: Reichchancellor Adolf Hitler, Reichspresident Paul von Hindenburg, and Prussian Ministerpresident Hermann Goering.

August 27th 1933. Tannenberg. East Prussia, Germany: A solemn celebration arranged by the German government took place at Tannenberg monument which was erected in memorial to the famoous battle by which East Prussia was liberated from the Russians during the world war by Hindenburg. Hitler’s this visit was the occasion for a great patriotic gathering. On January 30th 1933 when Hindenburg, hero of a World War, called Adolf Hitler, villain of the next one, to be German Chancellor, and the monument acquired greater importance after Hitler came to power in Germany as a symbol of the glory of the German Armed Forces.  When Hindenburg died, the monument was made a mausoleum for him against the Field Marshal’s wishes.

Hitler and Mussolini


There are many photos of der Fuhrer and Il Duce, but this photo is unique. Taken in August 1944 by Heinrich Hoffmann, the photo depicts Hitler and Mussolini in their waning days. A year earlier, in June 1943, Mussolini lost a vote of confidence in Italy after confronted by his son-in-law, the army and the king. He was dismissed and arrested–but his arrest threw Italy into chaos, and an anarchy. A special German unit was dispatched by Hitler to rescue Mussolini. The rescue saved Mussolini from being turned over to the Allies, but by this time, Mussolini was in very poor health and wanted to retire. However, Hitler didn’t allow him to do so. In his villa in Lombardy, Mussolini was alone, distant and virtually a puppet of the Germans. 

Hitler was not doing so good in that summer of 1944 either. In 1942, Germans lost the Battle of El Alamein, forever destroying Hitler’s plans to seize the Suez and the Middle East. The defeat in Stalingrad came in February 1943, followed by the Allied invasion of Sicily. Already beset with Parkinson’s disease, and syphilis, Hitler would suffer another ignominy: in July 1944, a confederate Claus von Stauffenberg planted a bomb in Hitler’s Führer Headquarters, the Wolfsschanze (Wolf’s Lair) at Rastenburg, which injured his right arm. [Hitler was wearing a sling for his right arm in above picture].

Petain meets Hitler



In 1940, Marshal Philippe Pétain was a national hero in France for his victory at the Battle of Verdun during World War I. Following the German invasion of France in May 1940, the well-respected eight-four-year old was asked to form a government. Seeing the French army defeated, the “Hero of Verdun” asked for an armistice. With the German army occupying two-thirds of the country, Pétain believed he could repair the ruin caused by the invasion and obtain the release of the numerous prisoners of war by cooperating with the Germans. He, however, opposed Franco-German collaboration advocated by his vice premier Pierre Laval, whom he dismissed in December 1940. When the Germans forced Pétain to take Laval back as premier, he himself withdrew into a purely nominal role. Yet he balked at resigning, convinced that, if he did, Hitler would place all of France directly under German rule.

After Allied landings in November 1942 in North Africa, Pétain secretly ordered his forces to aid the Allies. But, at the same time, he published official messages protesting the landing. His doubledealing was to be his undoing. When Pétain dispatched an emissary to arrange for a peaceful transfer of power, General de Gaulle refused it. Brought to trial in France for high treason, he was stripped for all rank and sentenced to death. The High Court requested that the sentence should not be carried out in view of Pétain’s great age, and later de Gaulle commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment.

Old, disgraced, almost alone but Petain died under house arrest in 1951, at the age of 96. He was neither forgotten nor forgiven by the nation which had hailed him as a hero and denounced him as a traitor. His last request that he be buried along the soldiers of Verdun was refused. Initially, his tombstone was to read ‘No Profession’, but the government relented and allowed his title ‘Marechal of France’ to be put upon it.

The above photograph taken on October 24th 1940 at Montoire was a Scarlet Letter Petain would wear in his last days. The handshake was a matter of protocol but was exploited as an undeniable symbol of collaboration. Again, it was Laval who coerced Petain to go to this meeting. Two days before, Laval had a meeting with Hitler in the same location and he had suggested to Hitler that he met with the Maréchal.

Ironically at Montoire, Petain did his best to balk the German access to the French North Africa. German Minister von Renthe-Finck wrote that Montoire, “constitutes the greatest defeat of German policy …. if there had not been Montoire, there would probably have been no allied landing in North Africa.” Doctor Paul Schmidt, Führer’s interpreter, concludes, “I am inclined to regard the winner of Verdun as the winner in the duel of diplomacy at Montoire.”  But when the secret meeting was announced to the French public on 30 October in a radio broadcast speech, Pétain fatally declared, “I enter, today, into the way of collaboration.”