Nazi Family Values: Disturbing Keepsakes of the Most Inhumane Figures in History
The title of this article is not without irony. Some readers might think of Springtime for Hitler, the intentionally absurd and preposterous Broadway musical at the heart of the classic film by Mel Brooks, The Producers. However, the words are also meant in their most literal sense. Among Nazi memorabilia there exist albums of photographs that once belonged to high Nazi officials. Such albums are visual records of the careers of these officials, as telling as any curriculum vitae, and contain more information than any mere list of “accomplishments” can. Found in the ruins of Berlin at the close of World War II, these and other such albums left Germany through channels both official and unofficial. What matters now, more than sixty-five years later, is not the story of their discovery and transport out of Germany but their ultimate fate. Some were acquired by repositories such as the Hoover Archives, where today they can be consulted by historians and other researchers, especially those interested in what might be called the psychic structure of the Nazi state.
Such items appear to have been of little or no interest to researchers immediately after World War II. Then, historians naturally had larger questions on their minds, not the least of which was the need to establish the broad outlines of what had transpired in such a vast and complex conflict. They sought to understand how such a mass horror as the Holocaust had been organized and implemented, and how the Nazi movement that perpetrated this horror had begun and taken hold in Germany. Their focus was on the usual criteria of who, what, when, where, and why. Personal effects such as the photo albums of Nazi officials were considered curiosities at best, trivial objects in the grander scheme of things.
Documents and photos provide clues to the mental landscapes of these individuals.
These albums now no longer appear to be only minor trophies of war. The complexity of World War II and the Holocaust, and the enduring interest in the study of totalitarian societies, means historians and others continue to write on these subjects and may well do so indefinitely. There are always new facets, new pieces of the puzzle. Documents that reveal details about certain Nazi leaders also provide clues to the mental landscapes of such individuals, persons whose idiosyncrasies are now deemed worthy of study. The photo albums of Hitler’s associates—the extended Nazi family, as it were—now seem compelling rather than superfluous, illustrating more than the immediate scene or persons they depict.