vintage, nostalgia and memories


May 4, 2012

Hitler at 50: Rare Color Photographs from a Despot's Birthday in 1939

Here's a series of color pictures taken by Hugo Jaeger from the over-the-top celebrations in Berlin marking Hitler's 50th birthday (April 20, 1939), as well as some of the ludicrously gaudy gifts bestowed on the German leader by his Nazi peers and sycophants.

Seen today, Jaeger's photographs elicit an unsettling sense of both dismay and dread: dismay at the sheer scale of the tribal, nationalist madness that, not so long ago, convulsed a "civilized" nation of millions; and dread at the horrors that, we know, such madness would soon unleash.

The automobile engineer Ferdinand Porsche (in suit), Adolf Hitler and, immediately to Hitler's left, the head of the German Labour Front, Robert Ley, admire Hitler's birthday gift on his 50th birthday: a convertible Volkswagen.

A rally in celebration of Adolf Hitler's 50th birthday, Berlin, April 20, 1939.

A rally in celebration of Adolf Hitler's 50th birthday, Berlin, April 20, 1939.

The Ost-West-Achse (East-West Axis) in Berlin, site of a massive rally and parade in celebration of Adolf Hitler's 50th birthday, April 20, 1939.

German troops goose-step past the reviewing stand during a massive rally and military parade in celebration of Adolf Hitler's 50th birthdayBerlin, April 20, 1939. (Hitler can be seen in center, reviewing troops.)

Guests of honor at a rally and military parade in celebration of Adolf Hitler's 50th birthday, Berlin, April 20, 1939.

Heavy artillery passes the reviewing stand during a military parade in celebration of Adolf Hitler's 50th birthday, Berlin, April 20, 1939.

Rally and military parade in celebration of Adolf Hitler's 50th birthday, Berlin, April 20, 1939.

Banners hang from buildings in honor of Adolf Hitler's 50th birthday, Berlin, April 20, 1939. The words on the banner, Wir danken dir ("We thank you"), reference a famous Bach cantata, Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir ("We thank you, God, we thank you"), but are obviously addressed to Hitler.

Adolf Hitler shakes hands with one of his personal photographers, Heinrich Hoffmann, while his doctor, Theodor Morrell (right) waits to greet the Fuhrer on Hitler's 50th birthday, April 20, 1939, in Berlin.

Some of Adolf Hitler's 50th birthday gifts stored in a room at the Reich Chancellery, Berlin, April 1939.

The automobile engineer and designer Ferdinand Porsche (in suit) presents Hitler with a convertible Volkswagen for Hitler's 50th birthday, Berlin, Germany, April 20, 1939.

Some of Adolf Hitler's 50th birthday gifts — including flower vases emblazoned with swastikas — stored in a room at the Reich Chancellery, Berlin, April 1939.

Adolf Hitler receives a model of a Condor airplane as a gift on his 50th birthday, Berlin, April 20, 1939. Beside Hitler (left) stands Capt. Hans Bauer, his personal pilot.

Solid gold model of the Haus der Deutschen Kunst (a celebrated German museum), a gift from Luftwaffe commander — and future suicide at the Nuremberg war crimes trials — Hermann Goering to Adolf Hitler on Hitler's 50th birthday, April 20, 1939.

The automobile engineer and designer Ferdinand Porsche (in suit) presents Adolf Hitler with a model car during celebrations for Hitler's 50th birthday, Berlin, April 1939.

A hand-worked castle inlaid with precious stones given to Adolf Hitler on his 50th birthday, Berlin, April 20, 1939.

Berlin's Brandenburg gate and colonnades are lit up at night in honor of Adolf Hitler's 50th birthday, April 20, 1939.

(Photos: Hugo Jaeger—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

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