Curiosity for Hitler and the Nazi party is a slippery slope. Entering anything about Hitler’s past into Google feels like you’re being placed on a watch list for extremists.
Or you might be considered for employment in the White House with President Donald Trump, who is hiring key members of the alt-right, an American conservative movement centered on white nationalism; also known as Neo-Nazis and white supremacists. How did that happen? Philosopher George Santayana’s quote about history comes to mind, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
It’s time for a refresher. Hitler’s Secrets is a 6-part documentary series where academics investigate the man behind the monster. We’ve become so accustomed to Hitler as just a picture in history books that we’ve distanced ourselves from him as flesh and blood; he didn’t arrive as the fully formed dictator who would become one of the most hated people in history. The series features rarely seen archive material, and state-of-the-art colourisation, which helps bring the footage to life. It’s surreal seeing a young Hitler as just a face in a crowd during key moments at the turn of the 20th century.
Ultimately, this series provides a fresh perspective on Hitler and explains how he was able to go from jobless loner to a ruthless dictator loved and feared by millions. It could also help explain how someone can go from a reality television star to President of the United States of America.
Hitler’s Secrets works through the historical beats of Hitler’s childhood in Austria; his service to the German army in World War I; and failure to get acceptance to art school that led to life as a beggar on the streets of Vienna. The series does its homework with the assistance of leading experts on Hitler’s early life to establish the foundations of a man who had suffered a series of setbacks throughout his young life but always manage to re-brand himself and develop a dangerous cult of personality.
All this culminates in “brand Hitler”, a series of personas he trialed once he got into politics and became the leader of early incarnations of the Nazi party. Hitler tries to blend in with German high society, often wearing top hats, tuxedos and occasionally dressing like a dandy, but he fails to fit in due to poor etiquette. You begin to understand the theatricality Hitler used to project the ideal of his beliefs and how hard he tried to get traction in the early days. The only talent he had perfected during this time was his public speaking skills, for which he is well documented as a natural.
Hitler tries to lead a revolution in 1923 with the help of his political party but gets arrested, charged with treason and is placed on trial with the death penalty hanging over his head for his crime. During the trial he is given a platform for his views as he defends himself that is recorded by the press and makes its way to the German public. Hitler understands the benefit of being on a stage; his theatrical intuition kicks in. Hitler is found guilty and sentenced to 5-years prison where he develops fans from all levels of society who regularly visit him and provide support. During this time he dictates his autobiography to an assistant and it’s published as Mein Kampf, translation: My Struggle. The book paints Hitler as a messiah as he invents his own mythology as if inspired by those operas and German history books.
During his jail time Hitler realises the path to power must be obtained legally. He gets out of jail early on good behaviour and formulates a plan to unify the Nazi Party and take power as an elected official. Hitler puts his branding cap on again and decides to ditch his outlaw image as a revolutionary.
Hitler hires a paparazzi photographer to assist with a makeover. They do a photoshoot as they work together to trial the best outfit, poses and gestures that match his aspirations as the Fuhrer; a word picked intentionally for its meaning as a ‘guide’ or ‘prophet’. Hitler’s Secrets uncovers new photos from the shoot, thought to have been destroyed at Hitler’s request, but the photographer kept every single picture. You can see markings on the photos where Hitler has crossed out rejected looks. A body language expert examines the photos to explain how Hitler was able to identify the strongest way to project and the uniform he would adopt. Hitler’s Secrets uncovers the effort that went into the act of becoming ‘The Fuhrer’; he was able to project largeness and a lot of charisma for a short guy. These are the building blocks of Hitler’s climb to power and understanding how he cultivated his own mythos for the German people to get swept up in.
Hitler’s Secrets will get you thinking about the immaculate presentation of modern political figures and the totems they employ as props to aid their cause. What role does a red ‘Make America Great Again’ cap play? Are blue ties essential for all Australian politicians? In the quest for power, its show time.
Hitler's Secrets airs on SBS every Saturday night at 8:35pm. Watch the first episode, streaming on SBS On Demand: