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At home with Hitler

by: Leslie Bunder - Last updated: 2003-11-03

At home with Adolph Hitler

Hitler relaxing

When Simon Waldman started browsing through a 1938 issue of Homes and Garden magazine, little did he realise that he would be embroiled in one of the biggest discussions on the internet.  

How did a popular magazine get involved with Nazi leader Adolph Hitler and give him praise in an article that read like German propaganda?

While being shown a copy of the November issue of that year by his father-in-law in which his own father had designed a featured bungalow, Waldman flicked through the rest of the magazine and caught sight of an article "Hitler's Mountain Home".

The head of newspaper group The Guardian's digital operations, Waldman was taken aback by what he was seeing and reading.

The three-page article showed pictures Hitler's chalet in the Bavarian Alps and offered a feature on the German leader complete with gushing comments such as "(He) delights in the society of brilliant foreigners, especially painters, musicians and singers. As host, he is a droll raconteur."

Hitler himself is even quoted in the article saying: "This place is mine, I built it with the money I earned."

It also revealed how Hitler cooks well for his guests and is, at best with hindsight an editorial error of judgement to give such lavish coverage and at worst, actual German propaganda published in British media.

In November 1938 Hitler was well started in his plans for occupation and preparation for war and other horrors. It was only two years since he took over the Rhineland and a mere few months since another takeover, this time Austria, while Czechoslovakia also fell to him. In the months following this article, the burning and looting of Jewish owned property would take place during Kristallnacht.

So when Waldman discovered the article he decided that he would put it up on his online diary realising the historical importance of it.

"I scanned the pages of the article, and put them up on my (not frequently visited) weblog. Nothing really happened, and I forgot about it," he says.

"In August, I revamped my weblog, and wrote about the software I was using in the pages of Guardian Online. I also gave a bit of prominence again on my site to the Hitler scans. Within a week or so, I noticed I was getting about 10,000 page impressions a day on the Hitler pages. Given that I was used to about 300 on a good day on the whole site, this was quite remarkable. I emailed Isobel McKenzie-Price, the editor of Homes and Gardens, which is now published by the Time Warner-owned publishing giant, IPC. I told her about the piece, asked if she or anyone there knew anything about it, and whether they had any other copies." he added.

And then things started to happen. Two weeks after sending out the e-mail to McKenzie-Price, Waldman got a response. ""This piece, text and photographs is still in copyright and any unauthorised reproduction is an infringement of copyright. In the circumstances I must request you to remove this article from your website," is what she said to him by email.

Waldman was somewhat shocked by the tone of the message and pointed out that it is of historical interest and that if indeed he takes it down, it has already been copied by countless other sites, plus of course he did not make any commercial gain by running it.

His emails with IPC were published on his weblog and within days of letting people know what was going on, Waldman was branded a Nazi sympathiser as well as having to be on the receiving end of other pro-nazi supporters emails.

The photos themselves within a short period of time had appeared on a number of sites across the world including the UK, USA and Israel and even Holocaust revisionist David Irving decided to use them on his site.

While the debate over the copyright went on with IPC claiming they owned the photos, Waldman heard from an expert in the subject. As with many weblogs, people can post messages and there was a message from Eric Brock.

He said:  "For the record, none of the photos in the article are original to the article. All were published previously in Germany and are in the public domain."

Brock, a Jewish Louisiana-based historian pointed out the photos were taken by Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler's official publicity photographer and that the magazine had actually got them from the Nazi press office. According to Brock, even though the article appeared in 1938, some of the photos were taken years before.

Hoffman had taken many photos of Hitler over the years, some of them even used on postage stamps and Hoffman's offer infamous claim to fame is that he introduced his assistant to Hitler - Eva Braun.
With that fact found out, Waldman ran the photos again and then discovered a group of 60 holocaust scholars organised by the Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies had signed a petition asking for IPC to make the article publicly available. Among those signing was leading Holocaust educator Elizabeth Maxwell.

Waldman then received a statement IPC had sent to the Wyman Institute, it said: "After extensive research there is no way of ascertaining where copyright ownership lies after 65 years. Therefore, it is not in our gift to either agree or withdraw use of these images and words."

Waldman was vindicated and could once again run the article complete with photos. While IPC and Wyman Institute still debate over an apology, Waldman is taking it easy over what he wants out of it for the stress and hassle.

"I have asked IPC if they will let my father-in-law have a free subscription to his favourite magazine, Practical Boat Owner, as compensation for the way they treated me. I'm still waiting to hear back."

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Simon Waldman