83 years after they happened, a few moments, rare image fragments of life inside Hitler’s Germany have just surfaced in a Hungarian archive for found and donated public photography. The images hold the misplaced mass fervour of an entire nation in microcosm. It’s all there, the all pervading evil, still as fresh as it was then.
They were taken by an anonymous civilian photographer.
It’s March 16, 1938. Berlin. The Führer has returned triumphant from Vienna today. It’s a huge moment for the little man who is back on German soil and is feeling chuffed with himself after his Anschluss, Germany’s occupation & annexation of Austria. He’s made his life’s dream, a reality. He’s standing up in the lead car of a motorcade which is snaking through a city in the throes of a rising fascist fatherland frenzy. Our photographer is standing about 20 feet back from the road on Stresemannstrasse facing a beerhall on Anhalter strasse, a speck in the crowds that line the streets of Berlin. Tens of thousands who want to glimpse him, greet him, salute him as he passes.
The photographer waits, camera in hand. Any moment now. He or she isn’t here to cheer or salute, but hopes instead to snap him, to get him on film as he flies by seig-hailing like a motherfucker. He always stands up in his open top car, so the people can see him, So there’s a chance, they’ll have to be quick.
Hitler is sliding rapidly through the swastika festooned city in his shiny black motorcade. Saluting and waving his way towards our nameless photographer standing on Stresemannstrasse. The sound of the masses is rising and the Mexican wave of nazi salutes is approaching the photographer fast. Getting louder. The camera is readied. For a second or two everything is tip toed neck-craning, awed yelling, fervent saluting and, within the tiny window of time that the Führer passes, there’s our photographer, pointing the camera in the general direction of the moving target.
The sea of nazi arms move left to right, palms down, fingertips pointing upward, following Hitler’s progress. Pointing toward him. Within this, the photographer fires off 1, 2, 3 shots, and he’s gone.
The photographer succeeds. Only just, but they got him. Twice. The first and the third shot.
If only it had been with a bullet.
Our photographer will take a couple more snaps on that March day in Berlin, and a good handful more in April and May.
– 16 March 1938, Stresemannstrasse, Berlin –
He’s tiny in frame but our photographer got the bastard.
It’s hard not to imagine our photographer’s can’t-wait-to-get-my -photos-back anticipation, picking up the prints from a Berlin photolab and rushing home with them. Getting out a magnifying glass.
Did I get him?
There he is!
Or perhaps they were sure they’d missed him and never realised they’d shot Hitler.
Nothing. Missed him. He’s lost behind a sea of heads and outstretched, saluting arms.
You can see the windscreen of the car following his.
The people in it are sitting down.
Got him again.
Our photographer would have been reasonably proficient with a camera. We can know that much.
There was no such thing as automatic film winding in 1938. In the few seconds as Hitler passed, to get off 3 shots the photographer would have had to shoot then manually wind the film on before being able to aim the camera, and shoot again.
Very much like Lee Harvey Oswald sitting in his awkward perch in the Texas Book Depository 25 years in the future.
Aim. Shoot. Reload.
Aim. Shoot. Reload.
Either while they were waiting for Hitler’s cortege to arrive, or after it had slid past and off up Stresemannstrasse, our photographer took another 5 shots.
So 8 shots in all, in Berlin, on 16 March 1938.
The anonymous photographer has a few more images to give us.
Between March & May, 1938, they exposed other frames on their roll of film:
– 9 April 1938 – Berlin –
– 10 April 1938 – Berlin –
After German troops had been occupying the country for a month, a referendum on the Anschluss with Germany was held in German-occupied Austria on 10th April 1938.
The ballots featured a large circle for ‘yes’ votes and a small one for ‘no’ votes. This was described as “a ‘subtle’ hint to the people, to help them understand which way to vote.”
The official result was reported as 99.73% in favour, with a 99.71% turnout. Political enemies (communists, socialists, etc.) and Romani or Jewish Austrian citizens – roughly 360,000 people or 8% of the population – were not allowed to vote.
– 1938, unknown month –
So far, and their own small, civilian way, our anonymous photographer has touched on two huge stories from inside Berlin. Hitler’s return to Germany after occupying & annexing Austria and the subsequent Anchluss referendum farce.
They’ll go on to cover more, snapping for us the anti-semetic graphiti daubed on a Jewish restaurant and on a shoestore (date unknown) and (on 2 May 1938) showing us how Hitler’s trip to Rome to meet Mussolini for the the pair’s second meeting, affected Berlin traffic.
– 2 May 1938, Leipziger Strasse, Berlin –
Hitler’s motorcade is on the move again. This time he’s headed to the Rome to meet fellow fascist & Italian supremo Mussolini, the Duce. It won’t be the first time the pair have met. They first met 5 years ago, in Venice when Hitler was a just a rising star fascist and Mussolini visited Berlin a year before in 1937. Now the Führer is indebted to Mussolini due to the Duce’s non-intervention in the Austrian Aschluss and he’s tralling to Rome.
This all means that, on 2 May 1938, our photographer is sitting in a tram on Leipziger Strasse, stuck in the heavy traffic caused by Hitler’s entourage moving through the city once more. Perhaps out of boredom with the delay, our photographer snaps a shot inside the tram, then a two more while leaning out of the window. Finally he takes one one more picture out on the street, of the crowds gathering to goodbye to their leader as he passes them once more, en route to Rome.