The publishers of the New Yorker’s complete series on DVDs realized most readers would be overwhelmed by the shear volume of it all, so they included a book with the first page of their more interesting articles. As a starting point, the reader could pick through these and read the full version on the DVD. One of them was a 1936 Profile piece on Adolf Hitler, the year most of us were born and before he became the poster-boy for evil incarnate.
Hitler, at that time, sounded a lot like Ralph Nader. A confirmed bachelor with few friends, he was idealistic and regimented in a strange, but admirable, way. He was then Reichsfürer and lived in the palatial Reichskanzlerpalais on Berlin’s Wilhelmstrasse, but he lived a Spartan life. He disliked servants and kept only a skeleton crew of five, four of whom were old political cronies, more like his entourage than his servants. None was a valet. He was a vegetarian, a nondrinker, nonsmoker, and celibate. At the time, there were rumors that he was homosexual, but this is doubtful. More likely, he was simply asexual. He sensibly slept the same length of time each night, so that if he went to bed late, he slept late the next morning. He was obsessively modest, and no one ever saw him in his pajamas. He appeared for breakfast already dressed only fifteen minutes after getting out of bed, usually wearing black trousers and a standard German khaki military lounge jacket with no insignia. He never wore jewelry. He was always fanatically neat, clean and tidy. Virtually all of his clothes were military uniforms that lasted longer than he did. He consciously selected a second-rate tailor.
His breakfast was gruel, a kind of porridge soup made of browned flour, butter, and caraway seeds, seasoned with salt and a little vinegar. For variety, he had oatmeal. He never touched fish, ate one piece of bread at a meal, favored vegetables, greens, and salads, drank lemonade, liked tea and cake, and loved a raw apple. He could easily change his plans and always arrived deviously at an event for the sake of his safety. He lunched at 2 pm, the normal time in Berlin, often in the palace with guests. They were served soup, hearty meat and potatoes, a vegetable, and a salad, all served at once, German fashion. Because of his diet, Hitler only joined them for a light desert, such as stewed fruit and a pastry. He hated banquets and disapproved of them as “emphasizing the difference between riches and poverty.” When in Munich, he ate at a small favorite restaurant from his earlier days. In other cities, he preferred familiar restaurants that were rarely the best or most expensive.
He loved films. He had a projector installed in the palace and often viewed them while sitting on the floor in the dark. When he found a particularly good one, he would invite guests who would appreciate it, and he would watch it again with them. He took pains to match the right guests with the films. He watched all of the weekly newsreels of himself.
He loved to laugh in company and enjoyed corny jokes. He delivered his own jokes dead-pan. He could be charming with women, but only when he chose to be. He adopted the old-fashioned gesture of kissing their hands. Conversations excited him, but if he became too worked-up, he could become violent. Otherwise, his principle gesture was a shrug of the shoulders. His only close friend was Rudolf Hess. In case of Hitler’s death, Herman Göering was assumed to be his replacement.
In my art appreciation class at Penn State, our professor pointed out it was impossible for anyone to properly see the Mona Lisa anymore. The painting had become such a familiar icon that we are overwhelmed by its celebrity. The same is true of Hitler. In this article it is surprising to to see him as a real personality, a curiously strange one, to be sure, but hardly threatening. How could anyone who loves a raw apple be threatening?