Adolph Hitler. Hands down, "Der Fuhrer" is the most famous figure of the 20th Century. His face, even in the crudest abstract form, (a black-plastic comb under any nose), is still the most recognizable visage in the entire world.
All through the month of August the news media salted the airwaves and the Internet with blaring reminders that August marks the 100th Anniversary of the start of the First World War. I suspect most of junk reportage was ignored, as the public has been fixated on Gaza, the Ukraine, the I.S.I.S. Caliphate, and Ebola. These past four weeks I planned to write an article on "the most remarkable photograph of the 20th Century" - the exact moment when Adolph Hitler was first photographed at a public event, and nobody recognized him or had any inkling of what he would become. It was on the Odeonplatz in Munchen (Munich), August 2, 1914. Hitler was just "a face in the crowd," joyously cheering the Declaration of War against Russia, and joining in the lusty outburst of German National songs.
This portrait, taken by Heinrich Hoffmann, was published in 1933.
This was how Hitler saw himself and how he wanted to be portrayed.
Below, is one of a sequence of six photographs taken by Heinrich Hoffman, a Munich photographer. Years later Hoffmann was hired as Hitler's personal photographer, and when his boss mentioned have been at the event Hoffman took the negatives into the lab and made poster-size enlargements. He was thrilled to discover that quite by chance he had recorded Hitler's face in the Bavarian crowd. It was a stunning find, and it was first published on March 12, 1932. The photo was syndicated and appeared in an unknown number of periodicals and with sets of cigarette cards which are today in thousands of collections worldwide. In the summer of 1914 Hitler was a complete unknown, but within the week he volunteered for the German Army and was soon in the thick of the fight. An extraordinary man and I agree with George Will who dubbed the picture "the century's most remarkable photograph".
Hoffmann was not alone covering the event. Many German newspapers covered the event, as did at least one newsreel cameramen. It was even featured in the Illustrated London News. I have collected over a dozen images of the crowd, taken in all four directions. In addition I have found four different published versions of the shot printed in the 1930s, in which Hitler is isolated in a circle or vignette.
CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO ENLARGE IT
As everyone should know, the modern German government and most of the German people today are still traumatized by the Nazi period of social, cultural and political domination. Political correctness is expected, and very few Germans are capable of unbiased accounts of Adolph Hitler or of the Third Reich. Some academics go so far as to make false claims which they cannot back up. For decades the Hoffmann photograph was accepted by biographers and historians. Then in December of 2010, the historian Gerd Krumeich, a man whom one London newspaper insisted is "recognized as Germany's greatest authority on World War 1", stepped forward and declared the photo a fake. His precise accusation was that Heinrich Hoffman had doctored the photo, inserting Hitler's face, for the purpose of helping him win an election. The story spread like an infectious contagion because of course Hitler bashing is easy and fun, and it panders to the lazy crowd who cannot seem to find any 21st Century witches to burn.
Krumeich claimed that he had examined many variants of the Hoffmann photo and found minute differences, such as a lock of hair hanging in one and absent in others. That is not surprising as many prints were in circulation and were screened and tinted by individual printers. I include a vignette printed in 1933 as a collectable card. It is tinted in colours and a technician has touched up the moustache to give it more definition, but there are no substantial differences. If Hitler had a hat, it was down at his side. He is not waving it in the air as many in the crowd were doing. More to the point, Hitler had become a practiced politician, and he was hyper-vigilant of his image. He spent hours in front of the mirror perfecting his body language and building a repertoire of facial gestures. Heinrich Hoffmann had photographed his client's theatrics and he had a huge archive of images on file. If he wanted to pull some photo-fakery he could have done a much better job, and he would have had the client looking at the camera, just as others standing next to Hitler are doing. How obvious is that?
Everyone in the crowd understood they were witnessing history, and there were cameras recording faces from all points of the compass. So what was Hitler looking at, while the other men are looking into Heinrich Hoffman's camera lens?
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Hitler was intensely interested in the official proceedings - ie. the declaration of war. He longed for war, and the joy on his face is very apparent. He was at this point in his life disassociating himself with his native Austria, and would petition the government of the King of Bavaria for permission to join his army. Permission was in fact immediately granted.
The Bavarian State Library in Munich has many Hoffman images in its
online catalog, which it will gladly sell to publishers and film makers.
This one, "HOFF 4482" is offered without any editorializing about it
being faked or contrived. It is deemed an authentic record of German history.
The city of Munich was where Hitler found his courage, honed his iron will, and developed his unique form of political brilliance. He was particularly enthralled by the historical symbolism of the Feldherrnhalle and after the war, when he began moulding the NSDAP, he would annually meet with Nazi recruits in the Odeonplatz for oath-taking pageantry which was highly scripted and very photogenic.
I conclude PART 1 of this article with this water colour of the Feldherrnhalle on the Odeonplatz, which was painted by Adolph Hitler. It is more evidence of just how important that ceremonial structure and that unique location were in his thinking process. All my life I have read in biographies and weighty works that Hitler did not have what it takes to become an artist. The truly nasty insisted that had no talent at all, as if the man who orchestrated the murder of six million Jews must be stripped of the merest shred of humanity. That verdict is of course absolute rubbish, shared and repeated by cowards who are afraid to form their own opinions about art and about the man. What Hitler inflicted on Europe after he took leadership of the Nazi Party is another story entirely. Those who make no attempt to understand the man he was before Germany's defeat in the Great War or before the coming of his leadership in the NSDAP, are not worthy of your attention. Young Hitler walked the streets of Munich carrying an artists easel and would not have bothered with a camera even if given one. He had an eye for detail and an ear for a well turned phrase, and on August 2, 1914 he pressed close enough to the great hall to catch the speeches and the military salutes. We are very fortunate that Hoffman preserved his negatives long enough for one of them to reveal something of Hitler during those formative years before he had yet to find his destiny or capture the public imagination.
Ronald J. Jack
August 30, 2014
Ronald J. Jack
August 30, 2014