by Dr. Rafael Medoff
In November 1938, the month that the Nazis’ “Kristallnacht” pogroms devastated the German Jewish community, the British magazine Homes & Gardens ran a fawning three page photo-spread lavishing praise on Adolf Hitler’s vacation home in the Bavarian Alps.
The article is the focus of a growing international controversy, because the current editors of Homes & Gardens have pressured a British journalist, Simon Waldman, to remove the article from his web site, where he had posted it earlier this year.
“This bright, airy chalet … commands the fairest view of all Europe,” the Homes & Gardens article declared. “There is a softness of greenery, with snow-white cascades and forest-clad pinnacles … The guest bedrooms are hung [with] the Fuhrer’s own water-colour sketches … The Fuhrer has a passion about cut flowers in his home, as well as for music … This is the only home in which Hitler can laugh and take his ease –or even ‘conduct tours’ by means of the tripod telescope which he himself operates on the terrace for his visitors.”
“The Fuhrer is his own decorator, designer and furnisher, as well as architect,” Homes & Gardens readers were informed. “The curtains are of printed linen or fine damask in the softer shades … The gardens [are] planted with flowering shrubs as well as roses and other blooms in due season,” and the gardeners “are not so much servants as loyal friends” with whom Hitler chats amiably each morning. The article went on to describe the “savoury and rich” dishes served by Hitler’s chef, the “fine wine and liquors” offered to guests, and the “pedigree Alsatians” raised by the Fuhrer in his “model kennels.” On some days, the article revealed, the dogs are “allowed the run of the house” while “the Squire himself [Hitler] will stroll through the woods into hamlets” nearby, where he “gives a ‘Fun Fair’ to the local children.”
Some American periodicals likewise published articles during the 1930s that depicted a kinder, gentler Nazi Germany. A Christian Science Monitor feature about life in the Third Reich in 1933 spoke of its “quietness, order, and civility,” trains that “arrived punctually,” traffic that was “well regulated,” and policemen in “smart blue uniforms.” A New York Times correspondent, speaking on CBS radio that year, emphasized that Hitler was “a vegetarian [who] neither drinks nor smokes” and who was burdened with “the hardest job that ever a man could undertake.” A New York Times columnist who interviewed Hitler in the summer of 1933 wrote of his “curiously childlike and candid” eyes and his voice that was “as quiet as his black tie.”
Homes & Gardens was not the only publication captivated by Hitler’s vacation house. Just six weeks before the Homes & Gardens article appeared in November 1938, the New York Times published a dispatch from one of its Berlin correspondents in which he could barely conceal his admiration for Hitler’s “mountain retreat.” The home “is simple in its appointments and commands a magnificent highland panorama … Herr Hitler in principle detests the big cities, where ‘the houses are thick and the sewers annoy the air.’ He craves moderate altitudes and highland breezes.”
Articles depicting Hitler as a fashionable interior decorator or an affable country gentleman helped dull American and British public consciousness about the Nazi menace. They were also an ominous prelude to media coverage of the Nazi genocide, a topic which will be explored in depth in Laurel Leff’s forthcoming study of the New York Times and the Holocaust, to be published next spring by Cambridge University Press.
It was wrong for Homes & Gardens to whitewash Hitler’s image in 1938, and it is wrong for Homes & Gardens to try to hide the historical record from public view today. The public has a right to know that some segments of the Western media published puff pieces that made Hitler look fashionable and made it harder for people to recognize the Nazi danger.
For that reason, the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, which focuses on how America and its allies responded to the Holocaust, has posted the full original article on its own web site, www.WymanInstitute.org .
There, readers can see for themselves a shameful example of how some segments of the Western press reported on Hitler. And they can ponder the significance of the recent attempts to suppress public access to this disturbing historical document.