Bathtime. The beauty in the bathtub is Lee Miller, an American-born model and artist—and wartime photojournalist for British Vogue.
The bathtub? Adolf Hitler’s.
The framed photo of Hitler. The nude statuette. The bather’s uniform on the chair. The boots. The muddy bathmat.
It is widely believed that Miller—who moved in modern and avant garde artistic circles that included Picasso and the surrealist Man Ray—deliberately emphasized the mud to rub Hitler’s nose in his imminent downfall.
But another important feature of this photograph is invisible: the photographer. And here he is:
David Scherman, a photojournalist for Life magazine, was Miller’s Jewish lover as well as her colleague.
When it was his turn in the tub, he put his uniform on top of hers on the chair (the bottom uniform is identical in both photos) and she photographed him. To no one’s surprise, the photo of Miller in the tub is, by far, the more widely reproduced and better known of the two images.
As the Economist magazine perceptive notes,
How they set it up. She cannot be shown nude (this is LIFE, not Man Ray); a figurine on the table does the trick. In front of the bath, her combat boots, “the dust of Dachau still on them” according to Scherman. And at the back on the left, the portrait. It is a voodoo gesture, the sort her Surrealist friends would approve of, an all-American blend of sass, violence and sex. Nuts to you, Führer! I am naked in your bath with my Jewish lover, we are taking your picture’s picture, we are stealing your life-force. The date is April 30th, 1945. In a bunker under Berlin, Hitler places a gun to his head.
Hitler did indeed fatally shoot himself in his bunker deep beneath his Berlin Chancellery but, as Miller biographer Carolyn Burke notes, news of Hitler’s death was not broadcast until the evening of April 30, some 12 hours later.
For all that the bathers Miller and Sherman and most of the rest of the world knew, he was still alive, still in charge of the Third Reich, and still the rightful owner of this bathtub.
“How they set it up.”
The photo has indeed been set up, although it is difficult to determine the extent to which it was staged.
When Scherman is in the tub, the Hitler photo is closer to the soap holder; someone moved it, which gives rise to the possibiliity that it wasn’t on the tub at all when they arrived. Miller or Scherman or one of the G.I’s. might have brought it in from another room. The same may hold for the statuette. The question could be settled if earlier photographs of the bathroom emerge.
From trek to tub
War-correspondent colleagues, Miller and Scherman joined the Allied trek from Normandy to Munich in April 1945. They recorded the final days of the Third Reich.
Scherman later wrote that “Lee and I found an elderly gent who barely spoke English, and we gave him a carton of cigarettes and said, ‘Show us around Munich'”.
Their guide ended his tour at Hitler’s residence at Prinzregentenplatz 16, controlled by the American 45th Division, which captured Munich. The 179th Regiment occupied Hitler’s apartment, and its Commanding Officer invited Miller and Scherman to move in. Later they moved into the flat owned by Eva Braun, Hitler’s long-time secret lover and, for a few hours, his wife. She died with him in the Chancellery bunker.
Hitler’s art collection in his Munich flat at Prinzregentenplatz 16 was modest and, to Miller, “mediocre.” She would not have said the same about the other Nazi facility in Munich, the Fuhrerbau, where a large collection of looted art was stored—and, as order broke down in Munich, looted again, this time by German civilians.
Earlier in the war, Scherman was a passenger on a civilian liner, Zamzam, that was sunk by a German surface raider. He took photos of the German ship, concealed the film, and later published them. Those photos enabled the Allies to identify the German ship—and sink it. This blog is here.
Prinzregentenplatz 16 and the Fuhrerbau. Blog post is being prepared.