- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

His home, his furniture, his pets and a tomato garden: The admiring press was eager to cover the casual lifestyle of Adolph Hitler shortly before World War II - and it was these “fluff” stories that helped propel him to power says Despina Stratigakos, an architectural historian at the University at Buffalo.

She has a new book titled “Hitler at Home,” to be published in late September that reveals all. News outlets from home magazines to the New York Times portrayed the Nazi leader as a “country gentleman” and cultured statesman with a mountain chalet - unaware that the image was propaganda created by an inner circle of experts for political ends.

“They were able to engineer a complete transformation of Hitler’s public persona. They accomplished this by focusing on his private life - by showing him playing with his dogs and with children, and at home in architectural spaces designed to evoke a feeling of warmth,” says Ms. Stratigakos. “By the end of the 1930s, news stories around the world described him as a caring, gentle individual with great taste in home decor.”

The public of the time felt they knew the “true Hitler,” behind the Fuhrer.
“These news stories filled your head with positive images of Hitler. I was shocked at the extent of it and how late they appeared,” the historian says.

She cites a New York Times magazine article recounting day-to-day life at Hitler’s mountain chalet near the Austrian border, full of flattering descriptions handwoven rugs, traditional decor and “quiet cheerfulness.” The Fuhrer favored chocolate, his tomato garden and an afternoon nap, the story said. It was published Aug. 20, 1939 - 12 days before Germany invaded Poland, nine months after the violent anti-Jewish pogroms of Kristallnacht and six years after the first Nazi concentration camp opened at Dachau.

The article was one of many.

“All kinds of publications — from serious political journals to LIFE and even American Kennel Gazette, a dog magazine — were covering this story about the ‘real’ Hitler,” Ms. Stratigakos says, noting that photographs of all this were the most popular images purchased by the press in Germany and abroad.

Hitler’s creative team used home life and architecture as a tool for manipulation: “They crafted spaces that, like movie sets, evoked the right emotions. Then, they invited reporters in for tours where they experienced Hitler in a setting that felt exclusive and emanated domesticity and warmth. Politicians were also invited, and in some cases, similarly duped,” Ms. Stratigakos adds.

The frequency of stories fell off once the war took hold, but fascination with Hitler’s private life remained.

“The 1930s marked the rise of celebrity culture, in the era of talking movies, radio and new lifestyle magazines. People developed a strong desire to know what the private person was like behind the public facade. Hitler’s propagandists took advantage of the new celebrity culture and even helped to shape it,” the historian notes.

“Journalists seek out these behind-the-scenes stories because people demand it,” she says. “This still holds true today, and I believe that we need to be much more critical of the industries that focus on home or lifestyle news. They really do have influence.”

Her forthcoming book will be published by Yale University Press.

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