Steven Heller | Essays

Souvenirs as Nazi Propaganda

Part three in a three part series: Steven Heller on the design practices of the Third Reich. The first essay “The Master Race’s Graphic Masterpiece” and the second “Hitler’s Poster Handbook,” can be read here and here.

Adolf Hitler made money off design. Thanks to his personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler earned one pfennig every time his face was used on a postage stamp and received royalties from all the postcards, posters and photographs using his picture that were sold to the public — and the public was encouraged to buy many and often. The funds were donated to the Nazi party, which helped pay for Hitler’s lavish mountain retreat, among other more mundane things. Actually, the majority of the royalties were derived from souvenirs — and what could be more mundane?

These souvenirs were primarily designed, produced and sold by Hoffmann, who in 1924 became Hitler’s documentarian and image manager. He alone was franchised to make and sell pictures, a business that became quite lucrative. By 1929 Hoffmann opened branch offices in Berlin, Vienna, Frankfurt am Main, Paris and The Hague. He further ingratiated himself with Hitler when he hired as shop assistant, a woman who dramatically impacted his future. Her name was Eva Anna Paula Braun, the 17 year old daughter of a Munich school teacher — yes, that Eva Braun.

The annual catalogs produced by Hoffmann’s attelier were printed in the hundreds of thousands. His work was sought-after throughout the Reich, if only for his exclusive access to his subjects. Of course, Germans were encouraged to distribute the hundreds of souvenirs he produced. And Nazi leaders were, obviously, pleased to be considered as subjects suitable for framing. The product range extended from every possible formal portrait of Hitler and top leaders, to informal photos of Hitler with children (in fact, many pages were devoted to “kinder”), portfolios of high quality graveur images for display and framed examples of Hitler’s watercolor art were among the replenished stock.

When Hitler became Reichschancellor in January 1933, Hoffmann’s fortunes took another positive turn. He then published his most successful book, in a series of photographic books, Hitler, Wie Ihn Keiner Kennt (The Hitler Nobody Knows), showing the leader in his home and among the people. This title made both men very wealthy. It was followed by many other profitable projects, published in thousands.

Hoffmann was an intimate of Wilhelm Ohnesorge who became Minister of the Post. Together they conceived a deal whereby Hitler was paid his postal royalty. Hitler was indebted to Hoffman and his relationship grew when Hoffmann’s daughter Henriëtte married the Hitler Jugend leader Baldur von Schirach. In 1938 Hitler appointed Hoffmann “Professor” out of respect for his craft and his artistic abilities.

Image management was profitable in many overt and covert ways. For certain fees, Hoffmann preselected works of art displayed at annual official art exhibitions at the Haus der Deutschen Kunst (House of German Art) in Munich. In 1940 he was even elected as a delegate to the Reichstag from the district of Düsseldorf-East. The world was his oyster, until . . .

The Allies imprisoned Hoffmann and tried as a Nazi “profiteer” in 1947 for producing his postcards and books. He was sentenced to ten years in prison and they confiscated nearly all of his personal fortune and his photographic negatives. He died in Munich in 1957, and his family has petitioned for the rights to his work without success.

Posted in: Graphic Design, Science

Comments [6]

with due respect, this is some pretty thin beer. if we're going to post this kind of charged material, i would think it should be justified by more than 250 or so words.
mark lamster

let me just follow up that initial comment, for fear it be read as snarky or mean-spirited, which it was not.

these are some extraordinarily difficult images, and i worry about a devaluation of their power, their terror, what they contributed to. when i come to d.o. and see such a provocative image, my response is visceral, and if i'm going to be asked to have that experience, i'd hope the payoff would be commensurate. given just how much steve does know about this material, i wished he had shared more, given me something a little bit more than a souvenir.
mark lamster

Mark, I agree that such charged material should not be flagrantly presented.

And my Swastika book is all about the devaluation of the symbol.

I feel my 250 or so words actually did address this without diminishing the impact of these images, which are curiously ephemeral

If this were the only piece I wrote on the subject, I'd agree that it was more Nazi Fetish than solid commentary, but it is part three of a grouping that starts with IDENTITY then PROPAGATION and then SOUVENIRS. The latter being the most trivial, yet perhaps the most dangerous.

I hope this is clear. If not, my book IRON FISTS, goes into more detail. Steve Heller


i will add to this bibliography my own book, "GRAND ILLUSION: The Third Reich, the Paris Exposition, and the Cultural Seduction of France," (University of Chicago Press, 2010) which addresses the ways in which the Nazis employed architecture, design, cinema, art, and the mass rally as aesthetic form to advance their diplomatic and militaristic goals. Hoffmann's role in mediating the participation of the Nazis at the 1937 Paris Exposition is a key component. In the book, I also address the topic of "fascinating fascism" from a historical perspective.

Karen Fiss
Karen Fiss

I second that Ms. Fiss' book is an excellent work. Thank you.
steven heller

Steven Heller's excavations and analysis of the nazi propaganda machine could not be more timely. Anyone interested in current events, branding and political messaging – from Cairo to Tripoli to Madison - cannot help but be fascinated with the divergence in the reporting of corporate controlled lamestream media and the alternative sources on the Internet. It's happening now and in real time – Faux News palm trees in Madison anyone? Ignore the lessons of history on which Mr. Heller sheds new light at your own peril. This is the master of American design history capturing the Zeitgeist of our times at its most relevant.
Carl Wohlt

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