Adolf Hitler, the notorious dictator, responsible for the deaths of millions of people, is seen in rare footage discovered in Germany, dining with friends and playing with children. Two rolls of 16mm silent film in rusty cans were found in the attic of the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, which had become a place of pilgrimage for the opera-obsessed Fuhrer during his 12 years as ruler of the Third Reich. The films, one of them 4 minutes long, the other, little less than 11 minutes, were shot in 1936 by a 16 year-old Wolfgang Wagner, a grandson of Richard Wagner. They show Hitler in a series of informal settings with the Wagner family.
The footage has excited researchers who say that it adds another dimension to Hitler, one that seems to humanise the monster, responsible for the Holocaust and perhaps the world’s most destructive war. Sylvia Krauss, director of the Bavarian State Archive and supervisor of the estate of Wolfgang Wagner, who died in 2010, discovered the films in December. ‘One views the scenes with a certain anxiety,’ she said. ‘You can see Hitler in completely unknown poses. Not the statesman Hitler we know but one where he comes across in a very friendly way.’
Hitler was obsessed with Wagner’s music and befriended the Wagner family early in his political career. The Wagner children would come to call him ‘Uncle Wolf’, Wolf being a nickname allowed only to the closest of the Nazi inner circle. The films were shot three years after Hitler assumed power. He was childless throughout his life and the Wagner children were surrogates for him. He can be seen playing and joking with them at the Villa Wahnfried, the family residence in Bayreuth, The footage also shows Hitler sketching Weiland Wagner, Wolfgang’s brother, who died in 1966.
‘That these children were surrogates, we have known for a long time but these films bring that to life,’ Miss Krauss said. ‘Winifried Wagner, Wolfgang’s mother is seen in conversation with Hitler. She holds Hitler’s hand, she is beaming. Other friends of the Wagner family featured includes the conductors Heinz Tiedjen and Wilhelm Furtwangler. Hitler’s favourite architect Albert Speer is captured with the clan enjoying a dinner after a festival performance.’
It’s worthy of note that Furtwangler was the subject of a book published by Quartet. Quartet published in 2010 an unusual and engrossing account of Hitler’s rise to power, written in novel form by one of Germany’s leading television directors: Young Hitler by Claus Hant. 150 pages of intriguing appendices substantiate the novel’s provenance amongst the ashes of a demoralised and bankrupt Germany, Young Hitler also provides a unique perspective, but unlike the film archive, is available here.
Read about what our Chairman, Naim Attallah has to say about the book here.