Spot the Dictator
If we asked you to name the most significant thing about this picture, you’d probably say “The fact that everyone’s wearing the same hat.” However, there are two historically important things about it: First, this was taken on August 2, 1914, at Munich’s Odeonsplatz, and it shows the cheerful reaction of a German crowd in the plaza during the announcement of World War I, because there’s no way something like that could go wrong for them. Remember, at this point words like “Nazi” and “Holocaust” meant nothing to the German people.
The second thing is that within this crowd, there’s a subtle hint of the terror that awaits the country — take a closer look at the man in the circle and see if you recognize him …
“World war? Now there’s an idea.”
Yep, that’s a 26-year-old Adolf Hitler looking stoked that his country is going to war, or possibly asking people if they like his new mustache. He’s two decades away from hijacking the nation into Nazism and leading them into an even more devastating global conflict.
You can’t see his legs, but judging from that haircut, he must have been wearing cigarette jeans.
The photo was taken by Heinrich Hoffmann, who would go on to become Hitler’s personal photographer. In 1932, Hitler visited Hoffmann’s photo lab and mentioned that he was in the 1914 Odeonsplatz crowd. Hoffmann looked in his negatives and, sure enough, found a face that could only belong to the future Fuhrer.
Hoffmann Collection, U.S. National Archives
“Or Charlie Chaplin. But most likely the Fuhrer.”
Recently, German historians have put the authenticity of the photo in doubt, claiming that Hoffmann could have faked it to shut up critics who questioned his boss’ patriotism. While we wouldn’t put something like that past Hitler, those guys will excuse us if we don’t trust the historians in a country where half the children still don’t know what Nazism was.