The Domesticity of Evil: Hitler’s Home in American Magazines Before and After the War

Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler
In the late 1930s, the Nazis gave Adolf Hitler a PR makeover.

In the late 1930s, the Nazis gave Adolf Hitler a PR makeover. Features were published in countless magazines, both German and American, that outlined his home decor, daily activities, and his favorite foods. But this image came crumbling down at the end of WWII and in 1945 when Lee Miller posed in Hitler’s bathtub.

Heinrich Hoffmann Collection, Picture Archive, Bavarian State Library

‘The Führer as Animal Lover.’ Hitler feeds a deer in a photograph snapped by his official photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann.

In the early 1930s, German news outlets latched onto the idea of selling papers and magazines with scenes of Hitler’s domestic life to a curious public.


In a letter on June 5, 1940, Edward Bernays wrote to Henry Luce, owner of Life magazine, advising him against publishing a puff piece on Adolf Hitler. Bernays warned, “America is prone to hero worship,” and “if Hitler should be successful [in his plans for war and genocide] it may be with our admiration for success, a man may well turn a present hate into admiration.” In other words, Life Magazine should not make a hero out of this individual.

The piece was not published, but countless others just like it were in the pre-war years. In her 2015 book, Hitler at Home, Despina Stratigakos charts the Nazi’s propaganda campaign to rebrand Hitler from a middle-aged bachelor with few family ties, to a country gentleman. What is most interesting is how American publications such as The New York Times, New Yorker, Life Magazine, The Washington Post, and Vogue all published fluff pieces on Hitler’s home decor and mountain lifestyle from 1934 until as late as 1941, and then had to grapple with these mistakes in subsequent years.

Heinrich Hoffmann Collection, Picture Archive, Bavarian State Library

A 1936 postcard presents a view of the Alps from the Berghof’s Great Hall.

In the early 1930s, German news outlets latched onto the idea of selling papers and magazines with scenes of Hitler’s domestic life to a curious public. As they published images and articles that chronicled what Hitler ate for breakfast, or what kind of curtains he had, the public clamored for more. The Nazi’s embraced the opportunity in order to counteract some bad press Hitler was receiving: the curious death of his niece, the embarrassing 1932 Nazi election losses, and his lack of a romantic partner. The Nazis and German media created a mask of glamour and relatability for Hitler. In the public’s mind, how could a man who enjoys playing with his dog in the country be so bad?

In May 1937, the New York Times Magazine published a piece titled, “Where Hitler Dreams and Plans,” by Otto Tolischus. This article and its form became the standard outline for articles on Hitler’s home life. It described Hitler’s home in Obersalzberg, Berghof. The article chronicled Hitler’s daily routine and noted that the writer found the Führer to be a typical, shy, kind gentleman. It incorporated imagery of Hitler looking out into the mountains from his home, setting the scene as a romantic wooded landscape that was a getaway from the business in Berlin. In one caption, describing the gorgeous mountain scenery, Tolischus writes that the landscape helps Hitler come up with “new ideas for the application of his ideology.” The ideology – of anti-Semitism and world domination – is nowhere to be found in the article. Ironically, Tolischus even quotes a pacified Hitler who is against starting any wars. It reads, “war, [Hitler] insisted, was the last thing he would take on his conscience: it is terrible for the vanquished and the victors.”

Heinrich Hoffmann, Obersalzberg, Berghof, Adolf Hitler’s Residence
Wikimedia Commons

Heinrich Hoffmann, Obersalzberg, Berghof, Adolf Hitler’s Residence

Great Hall, Obersalzberg, Berghof, Adolf Hitler’s Residence
Wikimedia Commons

Great Hall, Obersalzberg, Berghof, Adolf Hitler’s Residence

Vogue (U.S.), August 15, 1936, feature on the homes of Hitler, Mussolini, and Eden.
Condé Nast

Vogue (U.S.), August 15, 1936, feature on the homes of Hitler, Mussolini, and Eden.

In 1936, Vogue also followed suit and published a feature on the houses of three “makers of foreign policies”: Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Anthony Eden. An image with the caption, “Where Hitler dines,” shows a gemutlich dining room with wooden chairs, floral curtains, and a grandfather clock in the corner. On a bench lays a cushion with an embroidered swastika.

As the 1930s became the 1940s and the Nazi regime spread across Europe, American publications began to show Germany in its true light. Towards the war’s end, Vogue hired photojournalist Lee Miller to chronicle the war’s devastation. Miller took photos of the concentration camps and helped expose Vogue’s readers to the consequences of the ideologies that Vogue had whitewashed less than a decade before. It was also Miller who, in 1945, gave the world one of the last glimpses into Hitler’s home.

It was April 30th, 1945. In Berlin, Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide. In a meant-to-be kind of moment, in Munich, Miller and her partner David E. Scherman along with soldiers of the 45th division discovered Adolf Hitler’s apartment, a modestly decorated flat plastered with the monogram “AH.” The pair had just come from photographing the Dachau concentration camp, and so Lee Miller took a “leisurely, overdue bath in Hitler’s tub while an angry lieutenant of the 45th, soap in hand, beat on the locked door outside. Sherman and Miller then set up this choreographed shot of her in the bath that played with Hitler’s home life, the idea of cleanliness, and female empowerment.

The black and white photograph shows Miller in the center of the frame in the bathtub. She is nude, classically so, just like the Venus statuette that is placed on the table beside her. But Miller’s body differs in her protective and instinctual pose, with her arms crossing over her shoulders. On the left back wall, there is a framed portrait of Adolf Hitler, standing triumphantly with his hands on his hips. A handheld shower head is mounted to the back wall. And on the floor we see a recent addition to the scene: Miller’s muddy combat boots.

© Courtesy Lee Miller Archives

David E. Scherman, Lee Miller in Hitler’s bathtub.

This is not a leisurely bath; it is a strange and perverse act. But in taking this photo, Miller flips the script. No longer does taking a bath equate with the idea of cleanliness, especially when the bath belongs to a man as wicked and evil as Adolf Hitler.

Hitler believed that German society needed to be “cleansed,” and the Nazis developed racial health policies that began with the mass sterilization of European Jews. Knowing this, after just visiting Dachau and seeing the horrors of Hitler’s doing, Miller stomps her combat boots on Hitler’s white bath mat, metaphorically transporting the evidence of Hitler’s mass murdering actions into his own place of cleanliness. The shower head is darkly ironic, relating to the gas chambers disguised as showers in which millions of Jews and other minorities were murdered. Furthermore, the boots and all symbols that represent Hitler in the photograph—the framed portrait, the idealized European statue, the electrical box (possibly used by Hitler to summon servants)—are all placed cautiously on the corners of the composition. By doing this, Miller gives herself more power in the image than she gives to Hitler; he is secondary and inconsequential in comparison to Miller.

Despite Hitler’s second-tier power in relation to Miller, this image, just as the articles on Hitler’s home life, intensify the realness of Hitler. He was an evil man, but technically speaking, ordinary in every way. American publications wrote about him to sell papers and magazines to a curious public in the late 1930s, not unlike what the German media did in the early 1930s. The Nazis and their sympathizers fed the public’s curiosity with propaganda to glamorize and humanize Hitler. But in Miller’s depiction, she instead took Hitler’s propaganda-filled home life and reinforced it with the evil character that he truly was, rubbing the loss of his battle in his metaphorical face and physical space.

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