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Hitler at home: how the Nazi PR machine remade the Führer’s domestic image and duped the world

On March 16, 1941 – with European cities ablaze and Jews being herded into ghettos – The The New York Times Company (NYSE:NYT) Magazine featured an illustrated story on Adolf Hitler’s retreat in the Berchtesgaden Alps.

Adopting a neutral tone, correspondent C Brooks Peters noted that historians of the future would do well to look at the importance of “the Führer’s private and personal domain,” where discussions about the war front were interspersed with “strolls with his three sheep dogs along majestic mountain trails.”

For more than 70 years, we have ignored Peters’s call to take Hitler’s domestic spaces seriously. When we think of the stage sets of Hitler’s political power, we are more apt to envision the Nuremberg Rally Grounds than his living room.

Yet it was through the architecture, design and media depictions of his homes that the Nazi regime fostered a myth of the private Hitler as peaceable homebody and good neighbor.

In the years leading up to World War II, this image was used strategically and effectively, both within Germany and abroad, to distance the dictator from his violent and cruel policies. Even after the war began, the favorable impression of the off-duty Führer playing with dogs and children did not immediately fade.

A radical makeover

Nazi mythologies about Hitler’s origins emphasized his poverty and homelessness as a young man, as well as his disdain for creature comforts.

But once Hitler became chancellor – and particularly after the royalties from Mein Kampf made him a wealthy man – he focused considerable energies on the redesign and furnishing of his residences: the Old Chancellery in Berlin; his Munich apartment; and the Berghof, his mountain home on the Obersalzberg.

The timing of these renovations in the mid-1930s coincided with Hitler’s public makeover as a statesman and diplomat, a transformation also promoted by Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda films.

The rough edges of the extreme anti-Semite and agitator of the masses were sanded away through the creation of a new, sophisticated persona that emerged in carefully crafted domestic surroundings. With silk curtains and porcelain vases, Hitler’s designers suggested an internal world that was both cultivated and peaceful.

Gerdy Troost, Hitler’s interior decorator, played an important role in conveying an image of her client as a man of taste and culture. Inspired by British design reform movements, she emphasized quality of materials and craftsmanship over showy display.

Gerdy Troost’s understated influence can be seen in this 1936 postcard of the living room in Hitler’s Berghof chalet.
Heinrich Hoffmann Collection, Picture Archive, Bavarian State Library

Hitler was an engaged client, and he admired her taste, although they sometimes clashed...


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