Ask Bizarre - Two more questions about Hitler
Mazzy: I've read in a couple of places that after the attempt on his life on July 20, 1944, Hitler had several of the conspirators executed in extremely unpleasant fashion, and had their final agonies filmed for his viewing pleasure. How much truth is there in this? Does the film survive in some dusty archive, or was it destroyed?
Colonel von Stauffenberg
DR MIKE: As is well known, a largely ineffectual group of German army officers, Christians and anti-Nazis attempted to assassinate Hitler when the war in the east started to go seriously wrong, successfully planting a bomb in his bunker in East Prussia. Hitler survived, somewhat shaken, because the bomb was placed against a concrete table support which absorbed most of the blast.
The assassination attempt was probably the first time Hitler realised a significant number of his own people wanted him out of the way, and he reacted with great savagery, vowing to round up and wipe out all those who had dared to plot against him.
It was a simple matter to work out who had planted the bomb. Colonel von Stauffenberg, the bomber, had left Hitler’s bunker shortly before the explosion. And the second part of the conspirators’ plan, an abortive attempt to mount a military coup in Berlin, flushed out many of his confederates.
The Gestapo were ruthless in arresting anyone they thought could possibly have been involved and torturing them in their quest for information. A number of detailed confessions were extracted in this way, and in consequence several dozen plotters, many of them senior army officers opposed to the increasingly prominent role the Nazi party and its military wing, the SS, were playing in the running of the war, were hauled before the Nazis’ People’s Courts where the proceedings were modelled on the Soviet show trials of the 1930s.
The ‘trials’ were, predictably, a disgrace. The defendants were provided with lawyers who effectively acted as auxiliary prosecutors, and were deliberately dressed shabbily in ill-fitting clothes. As a further refinement, their belts and braces were confiscated and they were forced to stand throughout the proceedings, so several spent their trial clutching their trousers to prevent them falling down around their ankles. ‘You dirty old man,’ court president Ronald Freisler shouted at former Field Marshal von Witzleben at one point, ‘why do you keep fiddling with yourself?’
Most of the trials were concluded by 8 August 1944, and on Hitler’s personal orders both the proceedings and the executions which followed two hours later were filmed. The intention was to show the movie to other army officers and Nazi officials as an awful warning, but historians believe Hitler’s own sadistic desire to see his would-be assassins killed also played a part in the decision to film the executions.
Hitler had given orders that the guilty ‘must be hanged like cattle’, and the executioners took him at his word. They condemned men were herded into a bare cell at Ploetzensee Prison and hanged with piano wire from meathooks which had been suspended from the ceiling. This ensured a slow and very painful death. One witness who saw the film later described how ‘the men dangled and strangled, their beltless trousers finally dropping off them to leave them naked in their death agony.’
Hitler is known to have viewed the film, which had been rushed off to the developers, on the evening of the executions together with his propaganda chief, Goebbels — who was so affected by it that he had to shield his eyes to prevent himself from fainting.
The eventual fate of the execution footage is unknown. According to Allen Dulles, the then CIA chief, thirty miles worth of footage of the trials and the executions was exposed, and later cut to about 8 miles to produce a feature-length version which was shown to audiences of army officers. The officers exposed to it found it repellent and frequently had to be ordered into the rooms where it was being screened. Many made their feelings about the film clear by turning their backs on it or, in the case of cadets at the training school at Lichterfelde, by walking out when the screening began. In the circumstances, this was brave of them, and as a result, the film was withdrawn from circulation.
The original footage of the show trials survived, and later formed part of the evidence at the war crimes trials at Nuremburg. The footage of the executions has never been found and it has been assumed that Hitler ordered it to be destroyed to prevent it falling into Allied hands.
Patricio Lopez Guzman: Part of the Hitler mythology is that he was a painter in his youth, I was wondering if any of his painting have survived? if they have, where could one see them?
Hitler's painting trunk
DR MIKE: Hitler was a painter of mediocre landscapes — he had major problems with the human form, which led to the rejection of his application to a Viennese art school before WWI. He painted little after becoming Supreme Warlord of Germany, but his total output has been estimated at 2000-3000 works, and a substantial number of them have survived. The recently-deceased Marquess of Bath owned the world’s largest single collection — 60 works — and in 1984 photographs of all the Fuhrer’s known canvases were gathered together and published by a Texan art collector called Billy Price.
Price’s book, which cost him $100,000 to produce, is called Adolf Hitler: the Unknown Artist, and it was privately published in Houston. It contains illustrations of 725 pieces. Copies are now extremely scarce and sell for around $350.
However it probably isn’t worth your while to spend too much time tracking a copy down. Hitler was a very poor artist — one biographer describes his work as ‘of negligible intrinsic merit’, explaining that ‘Hitler took a layman’s view of modern art; Impressionists, Expressionists, Cubists and Dadaists were ‘scribblers, canvas scrawlers, mental defectives or cultural Neanderthals’, and he banned them when he came to power.
Hitler’s extremely limited technical ability has certainly proved a godsend to forgers, moreover, and it’s reckoned a large proportion of the paintings now attributed to him are actually fakes, produced to feed a thriving memorabilia market on which an original Hitler can command well in excess of £5000. Billy Price, in particular, fell victim to a rogue named Konrad Kujau, the very same man who was behind the notorious Hitler Diaries fraud. Well over 170 of the pictures in his book, says Robert Harris in his bestselling account of the saga, Selling Hitler, ‘have the whiff of a genuine Kujau about them’.