Many strange, contradictory and often largely unsubstantiated rumours have arisen about Hitler, both in life and death. Of course many of these are little more than propaganda created by his enemies, in seeking to discredit him as a volatile madman.
Frequently these supposed ‘Hitler facts’ involve lewd allusions to his sexuality, issues of health and hypochondria, and not least his tenuous relationship with religion.
A particular favourite amongst mythologists is his alleged dearth of certain reproductive organs; this, however, would appear to owe more to the derogatory wartime songs of Allied soldiers than any firm evidence.
Another popular myth surrounding Hitler is his association with the occult and black magic, a subject addressed at length in a plethora of publications, many of which cite his fascination with ‘the Holy Lance’.
Both his time as a struggling artist in Vienna, and his encounters with Jews earlier in life, provoke considerable intrigue, as commentators seek to gauge the extent that these experiences shaped the thoughts of the future fascist dictator. Many, for example, have drawn attention to his Jewish heritage (his great-great-grandmother was a Jewish maid).
Military History Monthly has trawled through the wilderness, seeking to separate fact from fiction. We have selected a few of the more likely, yet equally beguiling, facts regarding the complex, tyrannical dictator.
1. Inspiration from cheerleaders
The Nazi rallying call, “Sieg Heil!” was inspired by American football cheerleading techniques, supposedly imported by his friend Ernst Hanfstaengl, who studied at Harvard. Hanfstaengl was so impressed by the rousing qualities and camaraderie inherent at American sporting events, that he passed this on to Hitler, who would in turn seek to emulate the atmosphere at his rallies.
2. The vegetarian dictator
Vegetarianism would not be typically associated with a man known for merciless killing on such a vast scale. However, Hitler’s dietary disposition did not stem for moral implications. Supposedly, Hilter made the decision to become vegetarian following the autopsy of former girlfriend (and niece) Geli, who committed suicide by shooting herself in the heart.
Incidentally, she was not the only women in his life to attempt suicide, in another bizarre association with Hitler: The British born Unity Mitford shot herself in the head upon the announcement of war, and of course, Eva Braun (who had earlier attempted suicide, following the Fuhrer’s neglect of his mistress) famously killed herself along with Hitler in his Berlin Bunker, once defeat was imminent.
3. The Swastika
An Etruscan pendant, 700-650 BCE
For roughly six months during his childhood, Hitler’s family lived in the vicinity of a large Benedictine monastery. It’s coat of arms was adorned with a prominent swastika – a possible inspiration in later life.
A Native American basketball team, circa 1909
In fact, it is widely known that the swastika symbol has been used for thousands of years, in various incarnations. Dating back to the Bronze Age, it has been been a staple in cultures from India to Scandinavia, before finally being claimed by the Nazi cause in the twentieth century.
The name itself comes from the Sanskrit, combing su (‘good’) and asti (‘to be’), meaning ‘good luck’. The symbol was used by the British in WWI, adorning coupons and stamps of the British Saving Scheme.
4. Avoiding military service
Before the outbreak of World War I, in May 1913, the future dictator actually fled Vienna for Munich, seemingly in attempt to avoid military service. He was arrested in January of the following year, facing a fine and a year’s imprisonment if found guilty of seeking to circumvent enlistment.
Having studied Hitler’s handwriting in 1937, the psychologist Carl Jung concluded that “Behind this handwriting I recognise the typical characteristics of a man with essentially feminine instinct.”
6. Man of the Year
On 2nd January 1939, Hitler was declared Time Magazine’s ‘Man of the Year 1938’. However, far from a celebration of the man, Time noted that “Hitler became in 1938 the greatest threatening force that the democratic, freedom-loving world faces today.” The article continues: “The man most responsible for this world tragedy is a moody, brooding, un-prepossessing, 49-year-old Austria born ascetic with a Charly Chaplin mustache [sic].”
7. The Moustache
Hitler was advised to lose his trademark moustache by Dr Sedgwick, his press secretary, in 1923. Hitler’s steadfast response was that “If it is not the fashion now, it will be later because I wear it!”
Much discrepancy has arisen over the true origin of Hitler’s infamous moustache. His love of Charlie Chaplin is often cited as the chief inspiration. His contemporary Moritz Frey, however, claimed it derived from a more practical consideration, harking back to his time as a soldier during the Great War – an order from a superior officer to trim his whiskers to accommodate the regulation gas mask.
Nevertheless, the short, stubby style was fairly popular in the region of Austria where Hitler grew up. Others suggest it acted predominantly as a visual aide, in creating the instantly-recognisable larger than life persona; the ‘toothbrush’ has certainly become synonymous with oppression and fascism, even over half a century later. In 2010, a British comedian created a stage show specifically to raise the issue of its symbolic potency juxtaposed with its slapstick origins, seeking to claim it back for comedy.
8. Hitler the Prankster
Allegedly, Hitler was a serial prankster, often playing jokes on his ministers and generals. This would backfire on him tremendously, when a stunt on Hanfstaengl (who believed he was being set up for a suicide mission, whilst headed to Spain on a plane full of Gestapo men), let him to escape to Switzerland. He would then seek refuge with the Allies, revealing vital information on his former friend and leader.
9. Sweet Tooth
Hitler had an incredibly sweet tooth, eating up to two pounds of chocolate per day, and even adding sugar to red wine before consuming it.
10. Very superstitious?
The superstitions of great dictators often rouse much interest. A secret profile compiled by the OSS in 1942 found that Hitler would never remove his coat in public, however hot he may have been. Whether this stemmed from a particular superstition, or simply his greater mission to maintain his ordered, authoritative presence remains to be substantiated.
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