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PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE THIRD REICH
PHILIP E. MANCHA
Scholars and laymen have considered National Socialism historically unique. Certainly the wealth of documentary evidence about Nazi Germany, most of it textual records in the National Archives and numerous other state and private collections throughout the world, is unparalleled. One consequence of this bulk of documentation has been the flood of monographs, articles, and doctoral dissertations about Nazi Germany. This abundance of documentation also demonstrates, as never before, the complexities of motivations and events at work on the participants of history. Simple explanations of men and events do not stand the test of evidence in any study of Hitler's regime.
Historical complexity can be clearly seen in the person of Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler's private photographer. Hoffmann was known as Reichsbildberichterstatter (official Reich photographer) yet no such official position existed. Hoffmann became wealthy through his close association with Hitler, yet he received no salary from the Reich treasury. The Heinrich Hoffmann Publishing House was a private firm, yet it quarreled successfully with the powerful Propaganda Ministry of Joseph Goebbels.1
Hoffmann himself was known as a photographer of talent in Europe by the end of the First World War, yet in 1922 he chose to marry
his fortunes to an obscure Bavarian politician whose influence was then limited primarily to Munich.
Historical research has been enriched by the complex personality of Hitler's court photographer. The Hoffmann collection is visual evidence of the Nazi phenomenon from a gifted eyewitness who was, at the same time, an active participant in the upper leadership of the regime.
Heinrich Hoffmann was born on September 12, 1885, in Fürth, Bavaria. His father had an avid interest in photography, and when the family moved to Regensburg in 1912, he opened a photography studio. Early in life young Hoffmann demonstrated an interest in his father's profession and began his career as an apprentice in his father's studio.
ments created during the years of the Third Reich, postwar sworn affidavits of Nazis who had been tried by Allied courts or who were scheduled for trial at a future date, opinions of the Allied court that tried Hoffmann, and miscellaneous correspondence and memorandums of persons who had an interest in Heinrich Hoffmann's case or his collection. The postwar creation of the Hoffmann File suggests the possibility that the documents contained in the file reflect the thoughts and assumptions of its creator. The author was acutely aware of the possibility of an inherent bias of the file while writing this article and has sought to avoid reflecting a built-in point of view.
1 Affidavits of Fhr. von Doernberg, July 28, 1948, Franz X. Schwartz, May 23, 1947, and Hugo Fischer, Oct. 31, 1948, Hoffmann File, Audiovisual Archives Division Reference File, National Archives Building. The Hoffmann File consists of photocopies of docu
Hoffmann met with astounding success when he moved out on his own. He photographed many of the sovereigns of Europe, including Nicholas II of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm II. Successful portraits of Edward VII of England and Enrico Caruso added luster to Hoffmann's reputation, and his photographs appeared in most of the illustrated papers of Europe. He became a society photographer during a stay in Paris; in London he was the assistant of E. O. Hoppe, then a well-known photographer.
Hoffmann's reputation was based largely on his success with individual portraits and with pictures of crowds, items eagerly sought by many European newspapers. World War I and its conclusion provided young Hoffmann with an abundance of subject matter. In 1919 he donned a red armband and entered Munich, then controlled by the first communist government on German soil.2 Many unique photographs of the Red Republic can be found in the Hoffmann collection at the National Archives.
Like many of his contemporaries, Heinrich Hoffmann was shaken by the aftermath
of World War I. His political stance became intensely conservative, so much so that he joined the National Socialist Workers Party (N.S.D.A.P.) on April 20, 1920.3 Thus, the respect and honor properly due an Alten Kämpfer or “old fighter” further adorned the position he later assumed in the National Socialist regime.
Hoffmann failed to see the financial profit to be derived from the National Socialist movement until 1922. According to Baldur von Schirach, who later became Hoffmann's son-in-law and leader of the Hitler Youth, an American
offered $100 for a single photograph of the "wild man from Bavaria." The satirical weekly Simplicissimus, well known for its slashing caricatures, sponsored a contest entitled “What does Hitler look like?" No artist on the Simplicissimus staff had ever seen a photograph of Hitler. Later, an American agency offered $20,000 for the exclusive rights to all photographs of Hitler. Through Dietrich Eckart, a poet and an early patron of Hitler, Hoffmann discovered that Hitler did not like to be photographed.
2 Baldur von Schirach, “Ich glaubte an Hitler," Der Stern, June 26, 1967, p. 103.
3 Spruchkammer Decision, May 31, 1950, Annex p. 2, Hoffmann File.
Hoffmann became determined to photograph Hitler. His motivation appears to have been a mixture of professional pride, financial greed, and patriotic fervor. He felt an obligation to satisfy the curiosity of the growing number of people who wanted to know what Hitler looked like. He was aware of this growing market and the financial rewards that might ensue if he could successfully gain Hitler's confidence. Lastly, having joined the party two years earlier, Hoffmann found Hitler's ideas congenial. He believed Hitler destined for greatness and wanted to record the life of the man for posterity.
Hoffmann lived in the Schwabing district of Munich where Hitler had his headquarters, and his studio on the Schellingstrasse was directly across the street from the editorial office of Voelkischer Beobachter, the official news organ of the Nazi party. From his window Hoffmann could observe Hitler entering and leaving the building. One day while Hitler was conferring with his newspaper staff, Hoffmann
his camera near the exit of the building. When Hitler left the Voelkischer Beobachter, his bodyguards refused to allow Hoffmann to take any pictures, seized
his camera, and exposed his plates. Hoffmann protested loudly, but Hitler seemed to ignore the confusion.
Later, Hermann Esser, an early propagandist of the party who maintained a close friendship with both Hoffmann and Hitler, was married. Because the young couple was low on money, Esser asked Hoffmann to hold a reception at the photographer's residence. Hitler was a witness at the wedding and the honored guest at the reception. To Hoffmann's surprise, Hitler remembered the incident in front of the Voelkischer Beobachter. Oddly enough, the man who owed his rise in large part to innovative propaganda techniques seemingly failed to recognize the persuasive value of photography. He defended his bodyguards by telling Hoffmann, "I cannot permit myself to be photographed until I am politically established.” Unknown to Hitler, Hoffmann's men were taking a picture of the Führer during the wedding reception. Hoffmann invited Hitler into his laboratory while
coffee was being served. An assistant appeared and handed Hoffmann an envelope containing the photograph taken a few minutes earlier. Hitler was astonished. Hoffmann held the glass negative to the light and said, “... always sharp for 20 thousand dollars,” and destroyed the negative. The incident was the beginning of a long and lasting relationship between Hoffmann and Hitler.4
Hoffmann now began a successful cultivation of the Führer's favor. Schirach relates how Hitler frequently visited the Hoffmann residence and became “almost a second father" to Henriette, later Schirach's wife, and to Hoffmann's son, Heinrich. When Frau Hoffmann died in 1928, Hitler stood by her grave holding the hands of the two children.5
4 The information about Hoffmann's crucial encounter with Hitler was taken from Schirach's article, pp. 97-104.
5 Ibid., p. 103.