There’s no doubt that Adolf Hitler will be remembered as one of the most tyrannical monsters in modern history. Born in 1889 in Austria, Hitler had an inauspicious working-class childhood and spent his early adult years working casual labour and trying to enrol in art school. When World War I broke out in 1914, Hitler volunteered to fight in the Bavarian Reserve Infantry. Fighting on the Western Front in France and Belgium, Hitler was twice injured on the battlefield and left the war as a decorated veteran. He remained with the army until 1920 when he turned his full-time attention to his membership in the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). He quickly became known as an engaging, skilled orator and he captivated audiences with speeches about Germany’s economic hardship and he blamed politicians, Marxists and Jews for the great country’s decline. In 1923, Hitler was imprisoned for 5 years for high treason after he unsuccessfully attempted to lead the NSDAP to a national revolution. Hitler served only a little bit more than a year of his sentence, and when he was released he was more determined than ever to lead the NSDAP to political glory. The Stock Market Crash in 1929 and the subsequent global economic downturn provided Hitler with the opportunity to capitalise on the spirit of the downtrodden masses, and the now extremist Nazi Party became the second-largest party in German parliament in the 1930 elections. Hitler’s political popularity was unrivalled and after he was foolishly given the Chancellor position by his rivals in 1933, his power became absolute. Assuming the title ‘Fuhrer of the Third Reich’ in 1934, Hitler revitalised German industry and infrastructure and started a rearmament process which would lead the country to war in 1939. It was a truly meteoric rise to power, but even though Hitler’s life has been poured over and revisited by many historians over the years, there are some little-known facts about the German leader that most people may not know about.
10. He Was a Dog Lover
photo: Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F051673-0059 / CC-BY-SA
Hitler was apparently a big old softie when it came to dogs. While fighting in WWI, Hitler grew attached to a small terrier which chased rats in the German trenches. He named it ‘Fuschl’ (Little Fox) and the pair were said to be inseparable. However, Fuschl was stolen at a railway station some years later and Hitler was distraught when he couldn’t find the dog again. In 1941, Hitler was gifted a German Shepherd pup which he named Blondi. Blondi accompanied the German leader everywhere (much to the annoyance of his mistress Eva Braun who preferred the company of her two Scottish terriers) and even stayed in his underground bunker during the latter stages of the war. In fact, Joseph Goebbels even went as far to say that Blondi was the “apple of [Hitler’s] eye” and that it was afforded many privileges – such as sleeping at the foot of Hitler’s bed – that no other “human would dare to claim”. Hitler bought Blondi a companion named Bella and in the spring of 1945 they had a litter of pups. However, upon hearing of the violent death of his ally Benito Mussolini, Hitler administered cyanide capsules to his beloved dog in a presumed effort to prevent it from falling into Allied hands. He was apparently inconsolable until he and Eva Braun also committed suicide later that day on April 30th.
9. A British Soldier Spared his Life in WWI
Some of the great ‘What if’ stories in history concern hypothetical situations where Hitler is killed before he can assume complete power in Germany. However, many people don’t realise that this scenario very nearly happened. On September 28th 1918, British private Henry Tandey was fighting in the 5th Duke of Wellington Regiment in Northern France near the village of Marcoing. As Allied troops advanced on the retreating German forces, a wounded German soldier wandered in front of Tandey’s line of fire. Tandey was reluctant to shoot an unarmed, injured enemy combatant so he spared the man’s life and let him wander off. It turns out that this man was Adolf Hitler. Hitler was serving as part of the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment at the time, and he would be temporarily blinded by a mustard gas attack a month later and spend the rest of the war in a military hospital. Tandey emerged from the war as the most decorated private soldier. When Hitler was meeting with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 over the Czechoslovakian dispute, he showed the British prime minister a Fortunino Matania painting which depicted a scene from the Kruiseke Crossroads in 1918. Hitler had been shown a copy of the painting by a member of his staff, Dr Otto Schwend, and he instantly recognised the man in the forefront as the man who spared his life on the battlefield. Hitler apparently shared this anecdote with Chamberlain during the proceedings of the Munich Agreement and the legend of the encounter grew and grew. Although some historians dispute whether it really happened (one popular theory is that Hitler recognised Tandey in the painting as one of Britain’s most highly decorated soldiers and sought to build his own myth by claiming that he was spared on the battlefield by the man), Tandey – who said he did spare some injured enemy combatants but wasn’t absolutely certain one was Hitler – struggled with the stigma of being the man who failed to kill Hitler before he became the Fuhrer.
8. He Didn’t Quite Conquer the Eiffel Tower
An iconic photograph taken during the Nazi invasion of France depicts Hitler and a group of his high-ranking officers posing in front of the Eiffel Tower. However, the leader didn’t quite get the satisfaction of scaling the landmark himself. When the German army occupied Paris in 1940, French resistance fighters were quick to cut the elevator cables which went from the base of the structure to the summit platform. If Hitler wanted a photo opportunity at the top of the Eiffel Tower, he would have had to climb 1710 steps to the top. This goes a long way to explaining why all photographs of Hitler depict him on the ground standing in front of the Paris skyline, rather at the very top (it probably didn’t help that he was allegedly scared of heights, too). When it became clear that the Germans were going to lose the city to Allied forces in 1944, Hitler ordered General Dietrich von Choltitz to demolish the tower along with the rest of the city. However, the Nazi military governor of Paris refused to carry out the order and French resistance fighters were once again flying their national flag at the top of the Eiffel Tower even before the city was liberated.
7. He Banned the Nobel Prize in Germany
A popular misconception about Hitler is that he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, but this was apparently a joke made at the German leader’s expense. Erik Brandt, a member of Swedish parliament, put Hitler’s name forward for the prize in 1939 as a sarcastic response to Neville Chamberlain being nominated that year for his appeasement efforts between Germany and Czechoslovakia in the name of ‘world peace’. The joke nomination was quickly withdrawn, but this wasn’t the first time Hitler had been angered by the Nobel Prize. In 1936, German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky received the award for acting as a whistle-blower on Germany’s secretive rearmament process. Von Ossietzky had been arrested in 1933 for espionage and treason and he was imprisoned in a concentration camp when he was awarded the Nobel Prize. Angered that this outspoken critic of the Nazi party was being celebrated on the international stage (the decision was hugely controversial, even outside of Germany), Hitler banned any other Germans from receiving the prize and introduced the German National Prize for Art and Science as a replacement in 1937.
6. He Hated the Three Stooges
Although Charlie Chaplin’s movie ‘The Great Dictator’ is widely remembered for its cutting criticism of Hitler’s rise to power, he wasn’t the first Western entertainer to belittle the German leader. American slapstick trio The Stooges released ‘You Natzy Spy!’ in January 1940 (nine months before the release of Chaplin’s Hitler-based comedy) and the inept on screen brothers (who were incidentally Ashkenazi Jews) were the first to satirize Hitler and the Nazi Party on cinema screens. Hitler was said to be so vexed by this scathing parody that the Stooges – along with other Western entertainers who had mocked him – made it to his own personal death list. The entertainment industry had the last laugh when Groucho Marx danced the Charleston for 2 minutes on the remains of Hitler’s bunker when he was visiting East Berlin in 1958.
5. He Started a Huge Anti-Tobacco Movement in Nazi Germany
Hitler was once a heavy smoker, but he kicked the habit and declared tobacco a waste of money and a health risk. When the Nazi party seized power in the 1930s, Hitler pushed for an anti-tobacco campaign throughout Germany and encouraged research into the dangers of smoking. Smoking was banned on public transport, the tobacco tax was increased, anti-smoking propaganda was published and smoking advertisements were restricted in public. The German army also had their cigarette rations decreased and health lectures were organised for soldiers to better educate them of the health implications. Interestingly, tobacco sales in Nazi Germany actually increased between 1933 and 1939, but smoking did decline amongst military personnel during the war. Although Hitler made his own personal distaste for smoking well-known, there was a somewhat more ulterior motive for his attitude. Reproductive policies were an important part of the Nazi Party’s core beliefs, and German research into the effects of tobacco consumption revealed that it affected female reproduction and led to a higher rate of stillbirths, miscarriage and infertility.
4. He Became a Vegetarian in Later Life
A popular fact attributed to Hitler is that he was a life-long vegetarian, but this isn’t strictly true. In conversation he spoke passionately about animal welfare and he apparently talked about the cruelty of animal slaughter at the dinner table to put his guests off their meat-based meals. However, although it is now widely accepted he followed a vegetarian diet throughout the war, this is only thought to have come about during the latter period of his life and wasn’t always thought to be the case. Nevertheless, the Nazi Party did make considerable efforts to ensure that the welfare of animals was protected. Vivisection was banned in Germany almost immediately after the Nazis came to power in 1933 and many other policies were quickly introduced. Hunting was restricted, animal trapping was prohibited and regulations were even introduced to control the live boiling of crabs and lobsters. However, despite this clear effort to further the causes of animal rights and conservation, these new policies and regulations weren’t effectively enforced.
3. He Gave Preferential Treatment to Some Jews
Hitler was a realist when it came to finding exceptions to the Nazi Party’s sweeping, severe anti-Semitic policies and laws. There are several examples of Hitler overlooking the racial backgrounds of some of his officers and making them ‘Honorary Aryans’ for pragmatic reasons. Although such circumstances were exceedingly rare, these ‘mischlings’ (people who had both Aryan and Jewish ancestry) were granted German Blood Certificates and therefore were exempt from discriminatory laws. One of the most famous examples of this was Emil Maurice, one of Hitler’s chauffeurs and a founding officer of the SS. Hitler had been friends with Maurice since 1919, but in 1935 S.S. Commander Heinrich Himmler pushed to expel Maurice and his family from the S.S. after he discovered that his great-grandfather was Jewish. S.S. members had to prove their family’s racial purity history back to at least 1750, but Hitler made an exception for his old friend (much to Himmler’s annoyance) and allowed him to stay. However, there are only two examples of Hitler protecting men who were considered Jews under Jewish law. Hitler’s commanding officer during WWI was Ernst Hess and although he was raised a Protestant his mother was Jewish. Deemed a ‘full-blooded Jew’, Hitler afforded Hess some concessions up until 1941 when he was sent to concentration camp in Milbertshofen for hard labour. Although it’s not known to what extent Hitler personally saw to Hess’ protection before he was sent to the camp, the Fuhrer definitely intervened in the case of the Jewish doctor Eduard Bloch. Bloch had been Hitler’s physician when he was a young boy and he attended to his mother when she was dying of breast cancer. As the Hitler family had little money to spare, Bloch had charged his treatment at a reduced rate and even refused to take any money at all on some occasions. Hitler remembered this act of kindness for years to come and letters written to Bloch from 1937 reveal that Hitler referred to the doctor as a “noble Jew”. Bloch reached out to Hitler in 1938 when his medical practice was shut down and he was consequently given special protection by the Gestapo. Bloch and his wife remained undisturbed until they were able to successfully complete an emigration request to the United States in 1940.
2. He Tried to Nazify Christmas
Unsurprisingly, the fact that Christmas Day celebrated the birth of a Jewish man did not escape Hitler’s attention. Christmas was an important national holiday for the Christian people in Germany, but its origins and meaning clearly clashed with the Nazi Party’s core ideologies and racial beliefs. After assuming power in 1933, Hitler tried to push Christianity aside and instead draw inspiration from old Germanic traditions so he could make the holiday a celebration of the Winter solstice. Essentially taking the ‘Christ’ out of Christmas, the swastika unsurprisingly featured prominently in decorations and festivities for this new ‘Julfest’ (the Nazis argued that it was symbolic of the sun) and Santa Claus was reimagined as a traditional Germanic representation of Odin. The lyrics of many Christmas carols were changed to remove references to Jesus and their meanings were replaced with snowy landscapes and other winter imagery. Despite these efforts, the majority of German people still remembered the traditional holiday for what it always was and they only had to tolerate this new Nazisification in propaganda and during some civil and public celebrations.
1. He Slept Through the Normandy Landings
The Normandy Landings were a major turning point in WWII and they marked the beginning of the successful Allied invasion across German-occupied Europe. During this decisive moment in history, Hitler was fast asleep in his ‘Eagle’s Nest’ retreat. None of Hitler’s officers or generals dared to wake him as they were unconvinced that the Normandy Landings were the Allied’s primary assault. More importantly, they didn’t want to risk facing the Fuhrer’s wrath if they got him out of bed for something unimportant. However, when they finally built up the courage to rouse Hitler with the news, he was apparently also convinced that the Normandy Landings were a diversion for the ‘real invasion’ and it wasn’t until mid-afternoon that he allowed armoured Panzer tank reserves to counter-attack the Allied forces. By then too much crucial time had been lost and the tide of war had changed completely.