Lee Miller: The Woman In Hitler’s Bathtub

Her entire life was an adventure, since she was the only female photographer allowed on the front line in Europe, during World War Two and she documented the liberation of two major concentration camps, Dachau and Buchenwald.

Later on, she married Roland Penrose, a Surrealist artist, but turned herself to alcohol, became depressive and was considered a very cruel mother. She had only one son, Antony Penrose, who during his early life knew nothing about his mother’s work as a photographer in the war. He didn’t find out until after her death in 1977, when the family discovered around 60,000 prints for Vogue, including articles and negatives, all hidden in the attic at their house in East Sussex.

It completely changed Antony’s view of his mother and he pretty much dedicated his life celebrating her extraordinary achievements.

Photographer and Surrealist artist Lee Miller was born in 1907, in New York State. Her father, Theodore Miller, was an engineer and amateur photographer. When she was seven years old, she was abused by a family friend and was infected with gonorrhea, a secret she kept for herself her entire life. Antony and his father found out about it after Lee’s death and it was a very emotional moment for both of them. ‘I wish we’d known – it would have enabled us to understand,’ said Antony’s father.

The also found out that a year after Lee was abused, her father Theodore started taking nude photographs of her and it did not stop until she was well into her twenties. Antony became very suspicious after seeing his grandfather’s pictures of his mother, a collection of photographs, which he describes as “quite creepy and definitely transgress the child-parent boundaries.”

When she was 19 years old and living in New York as an art student, she almost lost her life after stepping into oncoming traffic. She was saved by the founder of Vogue, Condé Nast, who fell in love with her striking beauty and and launched her as a Vogue cover girl in 1927. Shortly after, she became a top model in New York.

On April 29, 1945, she entered the gates of Dachau, alongside the American forces, while they were liberating  the concentration camp, where she took several sets of emotional photographs, The Telegraph reports.

That same day, she followed the GIs into Munich and entered Hitler’s apartment. She decided to have herself photographed in Hitler’s bath, naked, so she simply took off her clothes and stepped in. In the picture you can see her boots, covered in mud from Dachau and which she has trodden all over Hitler’s bathroom.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE