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Photographing Hitler

Updated Friday 29th April 2005

Freelance photo-researcher Joanne King explains how Hitler used the talents of photographers like Heinrich Hoffman and Walter Frenz to project a striking image of himself to the German people.

Hitler was one of the world’s most photographed people. From his earliest involvement with the Nazi party he was closely followed by photographer Heinrich Hoffmann, a founder member of the party.

Although Hitler was initially camera shy he soon realised the power of the image and commissioned Hoffmann to create a series of portraits. He also asked Hoffmann to photograph the poses he used whilst making speeches and was able to analyse the results, tailoring his postures to those which looked best on camera.

Hoffmann became the official photographer to the Nazi state when Hitler came to power. He and his assistants took millions of photographs of the Fuerher between 1933 and 1945. He also published albums of the images so that people could purchase photographs of Hitler both as a politician and at ease in his mountain retreat in Bavaria. There is even a picture of Hitler feeding a deer.

In 1936 when Leni Riefenstahl was filming the Olympics she had a young cameraman working with her who would later come to play an important part in recording the inner circle of Adolf Hitler.

Walter Frentz was a friend of Albert Speer, and a keen sportsman. He had started to use a camera to film his fellow canoe enthusiasts. His work with Riefenstahl was noted and during the war he was assigned to the Luftwaffe film unit. He was attached to Hitler’s Headquarters and travelled around with the inner circle, recording them in film. He also made private still photographs which Hitler soon noticed, particularly his work in colour.

So enthusiastic was Hitler about Frentz’s work that he allowed him to photograph all he saw in the headquarters, and also to set up a small private portrait studio where he took formal portraits of medal winners and elite officers.

The results are astounding. We have colour photographs from 1943 to 1945 of Hitler and his inner circle as they travelled around the various theatres of war: informal shots of Hitler and Himmler walking in the snow, Goering in his extravagant fur trimmed overcoat, Goebbels laughing with Hitler, the visits of Mussolini and other allies of the Third Reich.

Perhaps most extraordinary are the portraits of Hitler, playing with his dog, staring forlorn out of a plane window as he digests bad news from the Russian front; or in conference with his officers around a map.

There is also a question: how much did Frentz know about the horrors of the regime to which he was so closely linked?

He always said that his role was to record history rather than to make a judgement, but he also told the story of how he once accompanied Himmler to Minsk where he witnessed executions of prisoners: he then approached an officer in Hitler’s Headquarters, whom he thought he could trust, with photographs of the horrifying event, but the officer asked him to destroy the transparencies and told him never to mention this again.

He was also asked to join the von Stauffenburg plot to assassinate Hitler in July 1944: he declined, but did not inform Hitler of the plot. In the words of his son “He did not regard it as his role to be the killer of the king”.

Some of the last photographs taken by Frentz show Hitler looking at a model with his plans for rebuilding the city of Linz, where he lived as a boy. This was March 1945 when the allies were almost upon Berlin and the war was patently lost. Frentz stayed on in the bunker until April 1945, leaving on one of the last planes, in fact the plane which was supposed to take Hitler away.

He was arrested by the Americans at the Berghof, tried, and after several months of imprisonment, freed. He emerged from the war with a substantial collection of colour and black and white photographs. This archive is now managed by his son Hanns-Peter Frentz, in Berlin, and many of the images will be seen in books and exhibitions over the next few years.

After the war Walter Frentz resumed his career as a cameraman and director of films. He specialised in Natural History.

Joanne King
April 2005

Website of the Frentz Archive: http://www.walter-frentz.de

 

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