You may well have seen the recent coverage of this book in the press and elsewhere. The emphasis was on a bit of mild ridicule of the Fuhrer by showing him wearing shorts or silly hats and practicing the odd rant. The fact that Hitler was intensely aware of controlling his image is hardly news and he is not the first or last leader to go down that route. They all do it. What this fascinating book does is bring a lot of this aspect of his rise and fall to life. Nearly seventy years after his death, Adolf Hitler remains as intriguing as ever. So, imagine in 1955, at a time when his madness was still painfully fresh in the hearts and minds of millions how this memoir of Heinrich Hoffmann was received. It mingled with the Paul Brickhill classics and so many other works we still admire, however dated they have become. They all synch together in a very pleasing way.
If the author had never met the man and had continued his stunning career as a photographer of all and sundry, his tale would still be worth reading. Hoffmann may blow his own trumpet a wee bit, but he was the photographer to kings, princes, and the glitterati of the first half of the 20th Century. His archive of images ran into the millions and he grew to be rich and moderately famous. An assistant to the inspirational pioneer EO Hoppé in London, our hero might well have stayed in the UK and built an empire there. Instead he returned to Germany, progressed through the tumult of WW1 into the chaos of the Weimar and there he came into contact with an idealist with a growing following – Adolf Hitler. The rest, as they say, is history.
If the world of photography is one you orbit and a wandering ‘back story’ to the immolation of Nazi Germany is of interest, then this book is a must. Whether you finish with any sympathy for Heinrich Hoffmann is a moot point. His fabulous archive was scooped up by the Americans and his fortune lost. These days a portion of his work has been relocated to its original home in Bavaria and there is no doubt that just about any of the best known photographs of Hitler that we have all seen were taken by Hoffmann. His other work is of equal importance and fascination. He was a master of his art, a shrewd business man and probably as important to the history of photography as any other snapper you can name from the last century. Hoffmann carefully paints himself as being independent of the Nazi machine and nothing more than a personal friend of Hitler. This rings true. I suppose from this distance the concept of Hitler having mates is an odd one.
I like this book on so many levels, quite rightly it does nothing to limit my revulsion of the Nazis, but it fills in a few of the blanks about Hitler himself. It makes him a little less of the caricature he has grown to be. Is this a good thing? I don’t know. Is Hoffmann worth a bit of your time? Absolutely, this is an excellent read.
HITLER WAS MY FRIEND. The Memoirs of Hitler’s Photographer.
Published by Frontline Books