Let's get some facts straight:
The source for the whole discussion is the current exhibition of the Deutsches Museum Berlin
(DHM) called "Hitler und die Deutschen
" (transl. Hitler and the Germans). In one section of the exhibition, the organizers try to illustrate Hitler's rise from an unknown soldier to the Führer
- and all the propaganda around it. Some basic information can be found on the homepage of the DHM
The photo we're discussing here is part of this exhibition, where the caption reads "Möglicherweise handelt es sich bei diesem Bild um eine Fälschung aus der NS-Zeit.
" (transl. This picture is possibly
[my emphasis] a falsification of the national socialist era, souce
Now here comes the first bend: Several media ran stories along the lines of "Famous Hitler rally picture probably faked", "Odeonsplatz picture declared a fake", etc. In other words, the original message of the caption has been altered drastically: It's quite some distance from "possibly" to "probably" and on to "certainly" (or a degree of certainty that allows to declare something). Let's just keep this in mind.
One more thing: Historiography works with various degrees of certainty. From an academic perspective it is entirely legitimate to draw certain conclusions based on the (systematic study of) certain sources. Historians (critically) assess sources, draw their conclusions, and state their qualified professional opinion.
Now let's see who this guy is who stated his qualified professional opinion, i.e. who alluded to the possibility of the picture being a forgery. It's historian Gerd Krumeich, who is one of the leading German scholars in WW I studies. He has written his doctoral thesis in this field, was the head of several a research projects on WW I, and held the chair of Modern History at the Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf from 1997 to 2010. Even a brief glance into his extensive list of publications (see here
) shows that he is part of the scientific community, which entails that he has been exposed to academic criticism for decades.
What did he do?
First, he was skeptical of the timeframes surrounding the publication of the picture: According to Hoffmann, he talked to Hitler about Odeonsplatz in 1929. Hoffmann scrutinized the five plates he had from the rally, but did not find Hitler in any of them. Some weeks later, again according to Hoffmann, a sixth plate surfaced - and contained the face of the Führer
. In 1930, the "Illustrierter Beobacher
", a national socialist propaganda magazine co-founded by Hoffmann, who was still a key photo contributor, featured a photo of the rally, but not the one containing Hitler. The question that one may ask is why a propaganda medium doesn't make use of a fantastic propaganda photo. The photo was not published until two years later, just prior the the Reichspräsident
election - after Hitler had been attacked during the election campaign for his possible lack of patriotism. Now the photo fitted perfetly, the caption read: "Adolf Hitler, der deutsche Patriot
" (Adolf Hitler, the German patriot). Enough to qualify the photo as fake? No.
Next, by studying various versions of the picture, Krumeich came to learn that Hitler's hair looked different in different versions of the photo, leading the historian to assume that at least some parts of the pictures were retouched.
Third, he examined other pictures that were taken on that day on Odeonsplatz and didn't discover Hitler in any of them, even not in those covering the area where Hitler stood according to the published photo.
Fourth, another scholar, Thomas Weber from Aberdeen University, has studied film footage of the rally and has come to the conclusion that Hitler may well have been there, but that nonetheless Hoffmann retouched the photo in question to put Hitler in a more prominent spot. A man somewhat resembling Hitler can indeed be spotted on the film, but closer to the Theatinerkirche than on the published picture. His book "Hitler's First War. Adolf Hitler, the Men of the List Regiment, and the First World War" has recently been published by OUP (see here
So, where do we stand now? In his article "Der Erste Weltkrieg im propagandistischen Kalkül von Joseph Goebbels
" (transl. First World War in Joseph Goebbel's propagandistic calculations), published in "Nationalsozialismus und Erster Weltkrieg
" (transl. National Socialism and First World War), ed. Krumeich, Bernd Sösemann, renowned expert on mass communication and propaganda, states that "etliche starke Indizien zusammengetragen, die den Gedanken an eine Manipulation nahe legen
" (transl. several strong pieces of evidence [were] gathered, which certainly allow to think of manipulation). Nothing more, and nothing less.
Having understood the genesis of the caption of the photo in the exhibition, i.e. having understood the source of the discussion, allows us to go on. And in doing so, some claims made in this thread so far have to be criticised:
- The claim that the picture cannot be faked as there are also moving images of the rally has to be re-considered in the light on Weber's findings. The same counts for the claim that "later footage shows him [Hitler] very very clearly". (In addition, it should be noted that known images of the 1914 Hitler don't really resemble the Odeonsplatz-Hitler.)
- The claim that is was impossible to fake the photo using photo technology and photo faking techniques of the late 1910s and early 1930s is yet to be backed by substantial sources.
- The claim that the hypothesis was first posted in a German periodical/tabloid as well as the claim that it is against German law "to say otherwise" are both factually incorrect. No one in Germany gets "locked up" for their scientific findings.
- The claim that only the examination of the original photo plate may lead to reliable results does not consider other promising approaches.
DHM (online): Hitler und die Deutschen, URL
Die Welt (online): Berühmtes Hitler-Foto möglicherweise gefälscht, URL
Klartext Verlag (online): Gerd Krumeich, "Nationalsozialismus und Erster Weltkrieg", URL
List of publications Bernd Sösemann (online): Gesamtbibliographie, URL
List of publications Gerd Krumeich (online, pdf): Schriftenverzeichnis, URL
Oxford University Press (online): Thomas Weber, "Hitler's First War", URL