The US National Archives is digitizing nearly 1,300 images from glass photo negatives created by Hitler’s personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann.
Richard E. Schneider carefully spread the broken pieces of the glass photo negative on the light table at the National Archives and, wearing green rubber gloves, put them together like the parts of a puzzle.
A ghostly image emerged that Schneider recognized. “The face, and the mustache, and those eyes,” he said. It was Adolf Hitler, sitting stiffly in an upholstered arm chair, his German shepherd at his side.
He wore pinstriped pants, a dark suit coat and a tiny swastika lapel pin. His hair was combed back, and he looked as if he was headed to the opera. A piano, suggesting refinement, sat in the background, and light illuminated one side of his blank face.
It was an eerie likeness, apparently dating to 1923, when Hitler was 34, that could be one of the earliest ever published of the famous German leader in public life.
And it is one of 1,270 images that Schneider has just digitized from a trove of 41,000 glass negatives created by Hitler’s personal photographer and key propagandist, Heinrich Hoffmann.
Hitler is surrounded by members of his leadership. Joseph Goebbels, his chief propaganda minister, is on Hitler's right. Rudolf Hess, an early associate, stands in the top row on the far right. The man sitting in the chair on the far right is thought to be Heinrich Himmler
Most have probably never been seen before with this clarity, he said.
“What makes this digitization project special is that the ensuing image has been reproduced from the original negative, rather than it being a copy or copy of a copy,” Schneider said in an email. “This results in unmatched quality.”
Adolf Hitler speaks at a rally defended by SA-men
Plans are to make the photographs available online soon, according to Billy Wade, a supervisory archivist.
Many of the fragile glass plates were broken and had to be reassembled. “There were more shattered plates of [Hitler] than perhaps any other subject," Schneider said. "I don’t know if that was purposeful or coincidental.”
A National Socialist rally in Germany
Adolf Hitler with his photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann
Hitler in a photo album that belonged to his girlfriend Eva Braun