The reinvention of Hitler as a family man

Hitler at Home
by Despina Stratigakos
Yale, £20

The author, an architectural historian, has chosen to make a detailed investigation of an aspect of Hitler’s life not much known about: his domestic arrangements in Munich, where he lived between 1920 and 1929; in the Chancellery in Berlin; and at the Berghof, a chalet in the Alps.

As always with Hitler, a carefully cultivated public image was entirely at odds with the reality. As Stratigakos comments: “Seduction and terror went hand in hand during the Nazi regime.”

After the suicide in 1931 of his half-niece, Geli Raubal, who had been living in his spacious Munich flat, Hitler’s image was deliberately transformed by his team to quash the rumours surrounding him of perversity and violence. Heinrich Hoffman, Hitler’s official photographer, reinvented his public perception from that of a dangerous demagogue to a cultured country gentleman, with his book of photographs, The Hitler Nobody Knows. Using the Bavarian mountains surrounding the Berghof as his background, Hoffman showed both a benign Führer in lederhosen with an alpenstock, and a Wagnerian man of destiny, surrounded by the suitably dramatic landscape.

Of course it was all a gigantic hoax played on the German people. The other longstanding residents of the Obersalzberg were brutally removed by threats and intimidation, so that the modest chalet, bought by Hitler in 1933, could be turned into a Nazi stronghold, with barracks, stores and houses for guests and ministers.

The portrait of the genial squire of Berchtesgaden reflected the cynicism and effectiveness of Nazi propaganda: vegetarian, teetotal, surrounded by books and dogs, with a strong work ethic.

Paul Troost, Hitler’s first architect, and his wife, Gerdy, oversaw the domestic decorations in the Chancellery and at the Berghof. Troost died in 1934; thereafter Gerdy, who hero-worshipped Hitler, carried on her husband’s legacy. Yet she did have the courage to defend the lives of the Jewish craftsmen with whom she did business. Bombed and looted in 1945, Obersalzberg briefly became a ghoulish place of pilgrimage.