Jewish World Review Sept. 25, 2003/ 28 Elul, 5763
A lesson from Hitler's hideaway
Simon Waldman, director of digital publishing for the Guardian Newspapers, found a glossy three-page spread in a back number of "Homes & Gardens" magazine describing a visit to Hitler's mountain retreat in November 1938. That was the month of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, the beginning of Hitler's pogrom against Jews. Waldman posted it on his Web site for its historical interest.
The editor of Homes & Gardens magazine, more from mortification than from a desire to protect his magazine's commercial interests, cried "copyright infringement" and demanded that the pages be removed from the Net. The Guardian, bereft of the press freedoms we take for granted here, reluctantly complied, noting that "they should be widely available for as many people as possible to learn from them."
That may be what Homes & Gardens was afraid of, because the pages expose the way fashion and style can be manipulated to make a political point. Hitler was depicted as a glamorous figure who "delights in the society of brilliant foreigners, especially painters, singers and musicians." The bloke with the ridiculous mustache was depicted strolling with guests through wood and dale, a kindly, rustic old gentleman innocently enjoying time away from the city at his "bright and airy chalet."
Fashion holds up a mirror to its times and sometimes these mirrors are as distorted as those in an amusement-park fun house. They can be playful and innocent or dreadfully obtuse. Some of us can hear echoes of the editor's obtuseness in the way some people are oblivious today to the terrorist's threat to the West.
Readers of that musty long-past day learned that Hitler was able to replace a humble shack because "his famous book, 'Mein Kampf' ('My Struggle') became a best-seller of astonishing power (4,500,000 copies of it have sold)."
There was no recognition of the book's astonishing muck and hate, with descriptions of the Jewish people as "the spider (that) was beginning to suck the blood out of the people's pores." Nor does it tell how Hitler wrote that the state "must not let itself be confused by the drivel about so-called 'freedom of the press'"
Homes & Gardens was all but overcome by how swell it all was: "There is nothing pretentious about the Fuhrer's little estate. It is one that any merchant of Munich or Nuremberg might possess in these lovely hills." Any merchant, that is, who wasn't Jewish, gypsy, gay, crippled or who might have expressed devotion to democratic ideals.
The kindly old Nazi squire chose the site so he could be near the Austrian border, "barely ten miles from Mozart's own medieval Salzburg." No mention that the Nazis, marching to strident martial music, had already taken over Austria.
There was no hint of the dawning recognition that England might be next. Only two months before the article appeared, Neville Chamberlain had visited Hitler in "Haus Wachenfeld," where he agreed that the Fuhrer could annex Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland, and returned to London with his famous assurance that he had guaranteed "peace in our time."
Many of the British had turned their backs on Winston Churchill, the prophet without honor, who was always going on about the gathering Nazi storm. Many English aristocrats were flattered by the attentions of Hitler, who entertained them royally before the war. They were, as JWR columnist Mark Styne said of Diana Mosley, "turned on by totalitarianism." Fascism was fashion friendly to the beautiful Diana, who wore a diamond broach in the shape of the swastika. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, stylishly vapid but without a throne between them, enjoyed Hitler's hospitality in 1937.
Churchill was enraged by the aristocratic attitudes borne of stylish appeasement by those who couldn't, or wouldn't, see the evil of the "Little Dictator" and face the truth that the Nazis, the fanatical terrorists of their time, were building a war machine to use against civilization.
Fortunately for all of us, he got the last word in his call to arms: "The terrible military machine which we and the rest of the civilized world so foolishly, so supinely, so insensately allowed the Nazi gangsters to build up year by year from almost nothing-this machine cannot stand idle, lest it rust or fall to pieces."
It wasn't the fashionable, after all, who made Britain's finest hour.
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