Tuesday, 17 March 2015

'Witnesses to a Downfall': Hitler’s last days as described by his Hairstylist.

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The seemingly inexhaustible spate of literature on the Third Reich continues unabated with the soon to be published Memoirs of Friedrich Schmeed. Schmeed, the best-known barber in wartime Germany, provided tonsorial services for Hitler and many highly placed government and military officials. As was noted during the Nuremberg Trials, Schmeed not only seemed to be always at the right place at the right time but possessed 'more than total recall,' and was thus uniquely qualified to write this incisive guide to innermost Nazi Germany. Following are a few brief excerpts: In the spring of 1940, a large Mercedes pulled up in front of my barbershop at 127 Koenigstrasse, and Hitler walked in. “I just want a light trim,” he said, “and don't take too much off the top.”
I explained to him there would be a brief wait because von Ribbentrop was ahead of him. Hitler said he was in a rush and asked Ribbentrop if he could be taken next, but Ribbentrop insisted it would look bad for the Foreign Office if he were passed over. Hitler there upon made a quick phone call, and Ribbentrop was immediately transferred to the Afrika Korps, and Hitler got his haircut. This sort of rivalry went on all the time. Once, Goring had Heydrich detained by the police on false pretences, so that he could get the chair by the window. Goring was a dissolute and often wanted to sit on the hobbyhorse to get his haircuts. The Nazi high command was embarrassed by this but could do nothing. One day Hess challenged him. “I want the hobbyhorse today, Herr Field Marshal,” he said. "Impossible. I have it reserved!" Goring shot back. "I have orders directly from the Fuhrer. They state that I am to be allowed to sit on the horse for my haircut." And Hess produced a letter from Hitler to that effect. Goring was livid. He never forgave Hess, and said that in the future he would have his wife cut his hair at home with a bowl. Hitler laughed when he heard this, but Goring was serious and would have carried it out had not the Minister of Arms turned down his requisition for some trimming shears. I have been asked if I was aware of the moral implications of what I was doing. As I told the tribunal at Nuremberg, I did not know that Hitler was a Nazi. The truth was that for years I thought he worked for the Austrian phone company. When I finally did find out what a monster he was, it was too late to do anything, as I had made a down payment on a new kitchen and some office furniture. Once, toward the end of the war, I did contemplate loosening the Fuhrer's neck-napkin and allowing some tiny hairs to get down his back, but at the last minute my nerve failed me.
At Berchtesgaden one day, Hitler turned to me and said, “How would I look in sideburns?” Speer laughed, and Hitler became affronted. "I'm quite serious, Herr Speer," he said. "I think I might look good in sideburns." Goring, that obsequious clown, concurred instantly, saying, "The Fuhrer in sideburns—what an excellent idea!" Speer still disagreed. He was, in fact, the only one with enough integrity to tell the Fuhrer when he needed a haircut. "Too flashy," Speer said. "Sideburns are the kind of thing I'd associate with Churchill." Hitler became incensed. Was Churchill contemplating sideburns, he wanted to know, and if so, how many and when? Himmler, supposedly in charge of Intelligence, was summoned immediately. Goring was annoyed by Speer's attitude and whispered to him,"Why are you making waves, eh? If he wants sideburns, let him have sideburns." Speer, usually tactful to a fault, called Goring "a hypocrite and an order of bean curd in a German uniform." (Goring swore he would get even, and it was rumoured later that he had special S.S. guards toss Speer's bed.) Himmler arrived in a frenzy. He had been in the midst of a tap-dancing lesson when the phone rang, summoning him to Berchtesgaden. He was afraid it was about a misplaced car load of several thousand cone-shaped party hats that had been promised to Herr Rommel for his winter offensive. (Himmler was not accustomed to being invited to dinner at Berchtesgaden, because his eyesight was poor and Hitler could not bear to watch him bring the fork up to his face and then stick the food somewhere on his cheek.) Himmler knew something was wrong, because Hitler was calling him 'Shorty,' which he only did when annoyed. Suddenly the Fuhrer turned on him, shouting, "Is Churchill going to grow sideburns?" Himmler turned red. "Well?" Himmler said there had been word that Churchill contemplated sideburns but it was all unofficial. As to size and number, he explained, there would probably be two, of a medium length, but no one wanted to say before they could be sure. Hitler screamed and banged his fist on the table. (This was a triumph for Goring over Speer.) Hitler pulled out a map and showed us how he meant to cut off England's supply of hot towels for shaving. By blockading the Dardanelles, Doenitz could keep the towels from being brought ashore and laid across anxiously awaiting British faces. But the basic question remained: Could Hitler beat Churchill to sideburns? Himmler said Churchill had a head start and that it might be impossible to catch him. Goring, that vacuous optimist, said the Fuhrer could probably grow sideburns quicker, particularly if we marshalled all of Germany's might in a concentrated effort. Von Rundstedt, at a meeting of the General Staff, said it was a mistake to try to grow sideburns on two fronts at once and advised that it would be wiser to concentrate all efforts on one good sideburn. Hitler said he could do it on both cheeks simultaneously. Rommel agreed with von Rundstedt. "They will never come out even, Mein Fuhrer." he said. "Not if you rush them." Hitler became enraged and said that it was a matter for him and his barber. Speer promised he could triple our output of shaving cream by the Autumn, and Hitler was euphoric.

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Then, in the winter of 1942, the Russians launched a counter-offensive and the sideburns came to a halt. Hitler grew despondent, fearing that soon Churchill would look wonderful while he still remained "ordinary," but shortly thereafter we received news that Churchill had abandoned the idea of sideburns as too costly. Once again the Fuhrer had been proved right. After the Allied invasion, Hitler developed dry, unruly hair. This was due in part to the Allies' success and in part to the advice of Goebbels, who told him to wash it every day. When General Guderian heard this, he immediately returned home from the Russian front and told the Fuhrer he must shampoo his hair no more than three times weekly. This was the procedure followed with great success by the General Staff in two previous wars. Hitler once again over ruled his generals and continued washing daily. Bormann helped Hitler with the rinsing and always seemed to be there with a comb. Eventually, Hitler became dependent on Bormann, and before he looked in a mirror he would always have Bormann look in it first. As the Allied armies pushed east, Hitler's hair grew worse. Dry and unkempt, he often raged for hours about how he would get a nice haircut and a shave when Germany won the war, and maybe even a shine. I realize now he never had any intention of doing those things. One day, Hess took the Fuhrer's bottle of Vitalis and set out in a plane for England. The German high command was furious. They felt Hess planned to give it to the Allies in return for amnesty for himself. Hitler was particularly enraged when he heard the news, as he had just stepped out of the shower and was about to do his hair. (Hess later explained at Nuremberg that his plan was to give Churchill a scalp treatment in an effort to end the war. He had got as far as bending Churchill over a basin when he was apprehended.) Late in 1944, Goring grew a moustache, causing talk that he was soon to replace Hitler. Hitler was furious and accused Goring of disloyalty. "There must be only one mustache among the leaders of the Reich, and it shall be mine!” he cried. Goring argued that two moustaches might give the German people a greater sense of hope about the war, which was going poorly, but Hitler thought not. Then, in January of 1945, a plot by several generals to shave Hitler‟s moustache in his sleep and proclaim Doenitz the new leader failed when von Stauffenberg, in the darkness of Hitler‟s bedroom, shaved off one of the Fuhrer's eyebrows instead. A state of emergency was proclaimed, and suddenly Goebbels appeared at my shop. "An attempt was just made on the Fuhrer's moustache; but it was unsuccessful," he said, trembling. Goebbels arranged for me to go on radio and address the German people, which I did, with a minimum of notes. "The Fuhrer is all right," I assured them. "He still has his moustache. Repeat. The Fuhrer still has his moustache. A plot to shave it has failed."
Near the end, I came to Hitler's bunker. The Allied armies were closing in on Berlin, and Hitler felt that if the Russians got there first he would need a full haircut but if the Americans did he could get by with a light trim. Everyone quarrelled. In the midst of all this, Bormann wanted a shave, and I promised him I would get to work on some blueprints. Hitler grew morose and remote. He talked of parting his hair from ear to ear and then claimed that the development of the electric razor would turn the war for Germany. "We will be able to shave in seconds, eh, Schmeed?" he muttered. He mentioned other wild schemes and said that someday he would have his hair not just cut but shaped. Obsessed as usual by sheer size, he vowed he would eventually have a huge pompadour — "one that will make the world tremble and will require an honor guard to comb." Finally, we shook hands and I gave him a last trim. He tipped me one pfennig. "I wish it could be more," he said, "but ever since the Allies have overrun Europe I've been a little short."

Till next time.
Big love. Mark. X

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