Nazi Germany trivia and strange facts:
The surname ‘Hitler’ did not exist before the 1870s. It was adopted by Adolf Hitler’s father, Alois, apparently as a combination of Heidler and Huttler (the surnames of two relatives). Prior to this, Alois Hitler’s surname was Schicklgruber. Some of Hitler’s political opponents would later refer to him disparagingly as ‘Herr Shicklgruber’.
Hitler was a mediocre artist who painted watercolours, mainly of landscapes, buildings and street scenes. While living in Vienna Hitler also painted postcards, which he sold for modest amounts. Hitler’s paintings are worth large amounts of money today, though more for curiosity than their artistic value.
Hitler had one surviving adult sibling, a sister named Paula. She lived and worked in Vienna during the interwar period, using the adopted surname ‘Wolf’ to conceal her connection with the radical German politician. Paula Hitler died in 1960, aged 64.
Adolf Hitler’s first Deutsche Arbeitpartei membership card listed him as member number 555. In reality he was the 55th member (the party began its numbering from 500, to create an impression of a much larger organisation). Hitler signed his membership card using two ‘t’s in his surname.
Hitler’s 1924 autobiography was transcribed by his supporters, particularly Rudolf Hess, because Hitler could not type, was slow with his hand-writing and was a poor speller. He initially wanted to call his book “My Long Struggle against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice”, however his publisher opted for the shorter title Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”).
The Nazis hardly ever called themselves “Nazis”. The term – an abbreviation for National Socialist – was developed by the German press. Hitler disliked it intensely and it was rarely used within the party itself.
The swastika (or Hakenkreuz) was a common symbol throughout Europe prior to the advent of Nazism. It was used both as a religious symbol in Christian churches and eastern religions, as well as a symbol of good luck. As a choirboy, Hitler had admired swastikas on the walls of his local cathedral. He adapted it by placing it on a background of red (symbolising the workers) and white (symbolising German nationalism).
Before Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, the stormtroopers of the SA carried American-made handguns, stamped with Made in the USA’.
Emil Maurice, Hitler’s head bodyguard and a co-founder of the SS was part-Jewish. Maurice’s Jewish heritage was uncovered by an investigation in 1935. Hitler then granted him ‘honorary Aryan’ status. Several other high-ranking Nazis or military officers had their Jewish heritage ‘overlooked’ or ‘forgiven’ on Hitler’s orders.
Adolf Hitler was well known for his aversion to meat, which allegedly began after he was present at an autopsy. A vegetarian for most of his adult life, Hitler’s cooks were under strict instructions not to add any meat products to his meals. Hitler also planned to introduce post-war policies to wind back Germany’s consumption of meat.
Though he shunned meat, Hitler was a voracious ‘sweet tooth’, consuming large amounts of cake, pastries, chocolate and sugar. He sometimes took as many as five teaspoons of sugar in his tea.
Hitler also abstained from drinking alcohol and greatly disliked people smoking in his presence. People who had appointments with Hitler were advised not to smoke for several hours beforehand, and not to wear clothing or uniforms that smelled of tobacco.
Adolf Hitler’s personal doctor, Theodor Morell, was an unorthodox physician because of his heavy use of drugs (other Nazis called him the ‘Reich Injection Master’). Morell ‘treated’ Hitler with a cocktail of drugs and other substances, often without telling the fuhrer exactly what was being given. Among them were methamphetamine, atropine, caffeine, testosterone, proteins, morphine, e.coli bacteria and various vitamin compounds.
Hitler was an avid cinema buff. He particularly liked Hollywood movies, which he viewed in a private cinema room. The Nazi leader reportedly enjoyed King Kong (1933) Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) and the films of Charlie Chaplin – but his favourite movie of all was said to be the animated Disney feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937).
Hitler had dreams of playing a musical instrument. He had short but unsuccessful lessons in piano and violin, and also dabbled in the flute and harmonica. In the end he settled for whistling, which he did frequently.
One of the NSDAP’s celebrated heroes was Horst Wessel, a 22-year-old taxi driver, amateur musician and university drop-out. In 1928 Wessel joined the SA and became a street-level commander. In 1930 he married a teenage prostitute then was murdered, shot in the face, probably in retaliation for not paying his rent. Despite his apparent unimportance Wessel had been a favourite of Goebbels, who portrayed his murder as a political killing carried out by communists. The Nazi propaganda chief set one of Wessel’s poems to music and adopted it as the NSDAP anthem.
In propaganda, the Nazis explained the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ as a purge of homosexuals and sexual deviants from the SA. Ernst Rohm was indeed homosexual, a fact widely known in party ranks. On the night of his arrest in 1934, Rohm was found in a hotel with a teenage member of the SA, who was allegedly his lover.
The Nazis produced their own range of Christmas decorations and wrapping paper, featuring swastikas and Iron Crosses. Nazi Christmas propaganda also de-emphasised the role of Jesus Christ – who was of course born Jewish.
Connected to Nazi ideas about racial purity was their frequent use of “blood” in slogans and policies: Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil), Deutsche Blutiger (German blood), Blutorden (Blood Order), Blutfahne (Blood Banner) and Blutschande (Blood Shame).
In the mid-1930s Hitler had a close friendship, perhaps even a sexual relationship, with Unity Mitford (pictured, left). A daughter of English nobility, Mitford was obsessed with Hitler: she traveled to Germany, learned German and manipulated her way into his inner circle. Mitford was a self-proclaimed anti-Semite who was described as being “more Nazi than the Nazis”. Ironically, Unity Mitford was conceived in a small Canadian town named Swastika, while her parents were traveling abroad.
In 1937 Hitler played an elaborate practical joke on Ernst Hanfstaengl, one of his advisors, by giving him false orders to parachute into a communist-held area of Spain. Hanfstaengl was so annoyed by this joke that he defected, later supplying important information to the United States.
In 1939 a Nazi-ordered expedition arrived in Antarctica and claimed a portion for Germany, calling it New Swabia. Their intention was to set up a whaling station and possibly a naval base.
Though Hitler frowned upon infidelity, most high-ranking Nazis had at least one mistress. Heinrich Himmler’s affair with a young secretary, Hedwig Potthast, led to an illegitimate child; Himmler ‘borrowed’ money from party funds to set her up in out-of-the-way accommodation.
Himmler also set up a government agency called Lebensborn (‘spring of life’) to provide for children without one or both parents. The government provided financial assistance to single mothers, provided their children were demonstrably Aryan. There was some suggestion that by the early 1940s, Lebensborn had become a ‘breeding program’, encouraging SS officers to impregnate single women before they went off to war.
Leading Nazis, including Himmler and Martin Bormann, wanted to legalise polygamous marriages after World War II. They anticipated that millions of war casualties would create a shortage of available men, so planned to allow war veterans to take two or more wives to maintain the birthrate.
Nazi aeronautics experts developed the world’s first flying wing aircraft, the Horten Ho 229. The flying wing design allowed for longer ranges with greater secrecy. It was later incorporated into US ‘Stealth’ bombers.
According to popular culture, Nazism had close links to mysticism and occultist practices, such as Satanic rituals. The evidence on this is scarce, however both Hitler and Himmler were known to have frequently consulted fortune-tellers.
The Nazis’ ‘Thousand-Year Reich’ lasted just over 12 years.