The neo-nazi origins of an email hoax
15 February 2012
It popped into my email inbox the other day. Maybe it popped into yours. It was one of those Powerpoints that go viral, that everybody passes on to their list. You know the sort of thing: cute dogs, outrageous wedding pics, extreme feats of engineering. But this one was different. It was introduced with these words:
A real piece of history.
These color pictures were taken by a Life Magazine photographer between 1939 and 1940 in Berlin and were lost for over 70 years because the American photographer disappeared at the beginning of the war, along with his Roliflex camera.
Shown here are the originals (used at that time in the production of magazines). The majority are 6”x 9”. They were found by a nurse in a Berlin hospital, who kept them put away during all these years.
After her death her daughter returned them to the current editors, who retain the copyrights to Life Magazine, which has not been published since the early 70s. Some of these are so vivid for being over 70 years old, and so large that you almost feel as if you're standing there.
Ah, long lost photos, who can resist them? I opened the doc and the title page, oddly, was in French and English:
Photos rares du 3e Reich conservées par la revue Life
History you don’t get to see often
They turned out to be early professional colour photos, mainly of Adolph Hitler and his retinue. Here was Hitler at the height of his power and popularity: with Mussolini; reviewing troops; basking in the adulation of the masses; launching the Volkswagen car; with his generals; relaxing in chintzy lounge chairs with Eva Braun. All the pomp and ceremony of “the new Germany”, the victorious, self-confident, expanding, Germany of 1939 and 1940. Germany before the disastrous May 1941 decision to invade the USSR. Germany before Stalingrad, the Final Solution, the Thousand Bomber Raids. Germany before the fall.
And then I smelled a rodent, because I knew I’d seen some of these photos before. And I remembered that back in 2007, there had been a similar hoax with, perhaps, a similar purpose. Somebody had circulated some allegedly never-before-seen photos of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbour, which had supposedly laid undeveloped in an old Box Brownie. It was a cute yarn, but the pics turned out to have been taken by a US Navy photographer and to have been available in the archives. The hoax was a stirring call to paranoid vigilance and dumb American patriotism at a moment when the wisdom of the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions was increasingly falling into question.
So I visited the Hoax Slayer website and a very different story about the Hitler photos emerged.
Far from being the work of an American Life Mag photographer, the pics were actually taken by Hugo Jaeger, Hitler’s personal photographer and a committed Nazi. In 1945, with the Allies closing in on Berlin, he hid his precious negs and went to ground. In 1965, he sold them to Life. Many have since been publish.
So why the elaborate fiction about the recent discovery, the American photographer, the Berlin nurse and her dutiful daughter?
This is just the cover story, the bait to get you to open the Powerpoint, but why would anybody want you to admire these snaps of the Third Reich at a fleeting historic moment before its downfall?
The answer I think, is this: a new racist right is rising across Europe, and even, here and there, winning political office. They are mostly admirers of Hitler, Mussolini, and the lesser fascist operators of what was once, fleetingly, a Europe-wide fascist brotherhood. Amazing as it might seem, they seek historical legitimacy by humanising Hitler.
Anvers Breivik, the Norwegan mass-murderer is the standard-bearer of Europe’s new Brownshirts, and now he’s on trial and expressing not an ounce of remorse. In fact, he’s calling on the fascist militants hiding in the cracks of European society to boldly follow his example and violently drive out the leftist, multiculturalist “traitors”. Is it just a coincidence that at this time somebody wants you to wonder at the “new”, “reborn” Germany of 1939 and 1940? I think not.