Hitler is the human symbol of evil, but his rise to power in Germany in the 1930s obviously can’t be explained by reference to that alone. There must have been some deep, underlying appeal to the man himself. In 1940, in a review of Mein Kampf, George Orwell (!!!), who was not yet the famous author he would become, wrote:
But Hitler could not have succeeded against his many rivals if it had not been for the attraction of his own personality, which one can feel even in the clumsy writing of Mein Kampf, and which is no doubt overhwhelming when one hears his speeches. I should like to put it on record that I have never been able to dislike Hitler. Ever since he came to power—till then, like nearly everyone, I had been deceived into thinking that he did not matter—I have reflected that I would certainly kill him if I could get within reach of him, but that I could feel no personal animosity. The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him. One feels it again when one sees his photographs—and I recommend especially the photograph at the beginning of Hurst and Blackett’s edition, which shows Hitler in his early Brownshirt days. It is a pathetic, dog-like face, the face of a man suffering under intolerable wrongs. In a rather more manly way it reproduces the expression of innumerable pictures of Christ crucified, and there is little doubt that that is how Hitler sees himself. The initial, personal cause of his grievance against the universe can only be guessed at; but at any rate the grievance is there. He is the martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrificing hero who fights single-handed against impossible odds.
As Orwell points out, Hitler’s appeal was largely symbolic, and, just as with every American president from FDR to Nixon to Reagan to Obama, he understood that public presentation has to be carefully staged and place a premium on non-verbal, one might even say precognitive aspects to politics and ceremony. In the preface to Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote, “I know that men are won over less by the written than by the spoken word, that every great movement on this earth owes its growth to orators and not to great writers.”
Hitler understood the power of oratory, and his success in that arena was not accidental; it was the product of a great deal of practice and careful adjustment. Heinrich Hoffmann was Hitler’s personal photographer, who took an astonishing two million pictures of the Führer. Here we see a series of photographs by Hoffmann of Hitler practicing his exaggerated hand gestures to be used in future speeches. Hitler actually characterized different effects for the various poses, such as “gebieterisch” (domineering) or “kämpferisch” (pugnacious).
After he saw the negatives, Hitler ordered that the photos be destroyed, but Hoffmann hid them away. After the seizure of his archives, they were released to the public.
via Downtown Camera