It’s hard to imagine Adolf Hitler as anything other than a monster, which is why the photograph of him hugging a little girl who called him “uncle Hitler” is such a jarring image.
The history of the photograph reveals an even more unsettling narrative. Hitler was the man who oversaw and initiated the murder of six million Jews, and the little girl, Rosa Bernile Nienau, was Jewish.
Despite this, their friendship continued for five years, until top Nazi officials intervened, reports BBC.
The photo was taken in 1933. Rosa and her mother had joined the crowds outside Hitler’s Alpine retreat, Berghof, on his birthday. When Hitler learned that he and Rosa shared a birthday, she and her mother, Karoline, were invited to meet him.
According to The Washinton Post, the photograph is inscribed by Hitler himself in dark blue ink.
“The dear and [considerate?] Rosa Nienau Adolf Hitler Munich, the 16th June 1933,” the inscription says in German, referring to the location where he signed the photograph. Nine edelweiss flowers and a four-leaf clover — applied by Bernile, as she was known — also adorn the photograph.
Rosa became known as “the Führer’s child” at a time when the Nazi leader was being portrayed to the world as a kindly father figure. His personal photographer would go on to snap many pictures of the pair over the years, such as the one featured above and below.
The never before seen photographs have gone up for auction, with the one taken in 1933, selling to an unnamed buyer for $11 520 (R166 327).
The black-and-white, 11¾” x 9½ image, taken by Heinrich Hoffmann, shows a smiling Hitler embracing the young blond girl, Rosa Bernile Nienau, about 6, in 1933 at his mountainside retreat, the Berghof, in the Bavarian region of Germany.
Hitler’s face is turned to his right, dipping to the top of her head, while she’s looking directly at the camera, her mouth open, eyes lit up, and grinning widely.
Like many of Hoffman’s images, this one was deployed for propaganda purposes. Rosa and “uncle Hitler” exchanged letters until 1938. In his book, Hitler’s Alpine Headquarters, James Wilson writes that Hitler knew early on that the little girl’s grandmother was Jewish, making her a quarter Jewish and therefore considered Jewish under Nazi law.
At one point, one of Hitler’s henchman discovered her roots and forbade her and her mother from visiting the retreat. But the “Party busybody” didn’t tell Hitler, according to Wilson’s book. After a while, Hitler wondered what happened to his favorite child. Eventually, he learned she’d been blacklisted from the property. The Fuhrer was not happy.
“Hitler was furious with those who had denounced his little friend. He told Hoffman, ‘There are some people who have a positive genius for spoiling all my little pleasures,’ ” according to Wilson’s book.
Another high-ranking official would go on to intervene and halt Hitler’s correspondence with Rosa completely in 1938.
Five years later, Rosa died of polio at the age of 17 in a Munich hospital.
By then, millions of Jews had died in the Holocaust.
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