Photographing Adolf Hitler’s Body Language

Adolf Hitler was known for many things, including his body language. He often made erratic, almost violent gestures as he spoke. Many believed that this was simply one of his quirks, something he did at the spur of a moment while he was speaking. In truth, almost all of Adolf Hitler’s body language was planned beforehand, and he decided which movements to use by employing the help of a private photographer.

His photographer’s name was Heinrich Hoffman. Hitler and Hoffman had numerous sessions together in which Hitler would practice various motions and gestures to see which appeared the strongest. Some of his gestures were certainly more appealing than others, as he tried such a wide range of motions when practicing his body language that some of them inevitably would have appeared awkward in the context of an impassioned speech. One picture, for instance, shows Hitler standing with his hands open as he looks toward the sky and makes a facial expression which appears almost frightened or confused. His hands are positioned as if he has just thrown a basketball.

Hitler was not unaware that some of these pictures were rather odd. He found many of them embarrassing, and in an attempt to salvage his image he had Hoffman destroy any photos he would not use, along with the negatives. He wanted his body language to appear strong at all times, and did not want anyone to know about his extensive practice. Hoffman denied Hitler’s request, however, so many of these pictures still exist today, the Mail Online reports.

It is not surprising that Hitler had these pictures taken, nor is it surprising that he wanted them destroyed. His speeches were a large part of his propagandist campaign to win approval, and the body language he employed while speaking is no exception. He wanted to seem authentic, but he had to practice his authenticity and ensure that no one knew how painstakingly he crafted his image.

Hitler’s body language was one of his defining characteristics, and Heinrich Hoffman played a large role in creating it. Not only did he save the photos against Hitler’s wishes, but he eventually published them in a book entitled Hitler Was My Friend. While Hitler likely would have been enraged had he known about Hoffman’s betrayal of his demands, Hoffman unwittingly did historians a service by providing them a window into the mind of a madman, even if that window only looks into how he created his body language.

Ian Harvey

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