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Posted Saturday, October 17, 1998


Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

THE TIMES, October 17 1998
High-living Hitler was obsessed with money and corruptly amassed a fortune. Roger Boyes on a new study of the Führer that nails the image of an abstemious Nazi lifestyle


How tax dodger Adolf became a millionaire


THE SPARTAN image of Adolf Hitler, cultivated by Nazi propaganda and widely believed to this day, was bluff according to a new book, which demonstrates that the dictator became a multimillionaire and did his best to cheat the taxman.

Wulf Schwarzwoeller, the independent German historian, paints a portrait of Hitler at odds with the commonly accepted version of an impoverished, struggling painter whose demagogic energy propelled him to the head of the Nazi movement. As the ruler of the Third Reich, runs the popular legend, he led an almost monastic existence; his fanatical drive for world domination eclipsed normal financial or personal ambitions.

HitlerNot so, says Herr Schwarzwoeller in Hitlers Geld. Hitler was obsessed with money and, while he may not have dug as deeply into the honeypot as other member of the Nazi inner circle, he was willing to go to extraordinary lengths to amass a personal fortune.

At first, Hitler was more adept at spending than making money. His father Alois, who worked his way up the ladder to become a senior customs officer, bought and sold two houses for a profit, and when he died, at the age of 66, his widow Klara inherited the substantial sum of 5,000 Austrian crowns which, with a generous pension, made her relatively well off.

Young Adolf became a coffee house dandy, his tailors' bills paid by his doting mother. In Vienna, in the summer of 1906, his mother paid his hotel bills and for tickets to the opera over two months. When he returned to Linz, announcing his intention to become a composer, his mother bought him a grand piano and paid for expert tuition.

Picture from our Website archives]

Hitler thus grew up with a sloppy attitude to money. His rough times in a Vienna workingmen's hostel -- after the death of his mother and rejection by the Academy of Fine Art -- evidently triggered his determination to become rich.

After the First World War, developing his skills as a political speech-maker for far-right groups, he discovered a talent for finding rich patrons. Some did little more than pay his coffee house bills. Others, like Helene Bechstein, of the piano dynasty, wanted to remodel him and paid for a dinner jacket and patent leather shoes. They so took Hitler's fancy that he wore them throughout the day.

In the autumn of 1920 he worked up a passion for Mercedes limousines and tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade his cash-strapped party to pay for one. Eventually, Hitler got his Mercedes as a gift, perhaps from Frau Bechstein or from the car manufacturer himself (Hitler later claimed to have sent his own design ideas to Mercedes in Stuttgart). The car was at the heart of a row with the Munich taxman, who could not understand how Hitler was able to live such a good lifestyle -- by the late 1920s he was living in a nine-room apartment in Munich -- on such a low declared income.

According to Herr Schwarzwoeller's research, Hitler received his first tax warning in May 1925. He was ordered to submit a declaration for 1924 and the first quarter of 1925. Grudgingly he replied: "I had no income last year and earned nothing in the first quarter. I have been living off bank loans." He claimed that the Mercedes was also had on credit.

For the last quarter of 1925 he submitted a declaration. Income: 11,231 marks. Professional expenses: 6,540 marks. Interest payment to bank: 2,245 marks. Taxable net income: 2,446 marks. The car, he said, was needed for his work as a political author, as was his private secretary -- Rudolf Hess, who earned 3,000 marks a month -- a bodyguard and a chauffeur. "I have neither property nor capital, I don't smoke or drink, my meals are eaten in the most modest of restaurants," he complained to the tax office. The taxman did not believe him, disallowed half his expenses and continued to pursue him. In 1933, when Hitler came to power, the tax demands dried up and, one can safely assume, the careers of various tax inspectors took a downward turn.

But the taxman was on to something. By 1929 Hitler's tax declarations no longer claimed deductions for interest payments. Somebody, presumably, had paid off his debts. Mein Kampf, written in prison (where he led a very cushioned life, thanks to his various patrons), was given as his main source of income. His royalty cut was high -- 15 per cent -- but the sales figures were initially modest. In 1925 he sold 9,273 copies and turnover only picked up in 1930 when he sold 54,006.

The book made Hitler a millionaire, but he had to wait for the cash to roll in. In 1933 sales exploded to 854,127 and until 1944 never faltered.

There was also a blurring of Hitler's personal fortune and party funds -- so much so that the party was beginning to ask questions in 1925 about the true sources of his income.

It was jewellery, from Frau Bechstein -- an emerald necklace with platinum and diamonds, a ruby set in platinum, a diamond, a 14-carat gold ring -- that served as security for a loan of SwFr60,000 which allowed Hitler to buy the Völkische Beobachter newspaper.

The paper later became a party asset and it is clear that Hitler did not personally profit, although he cashed in with unsually high fees for his articles and the reprinting of his speeches.

Other money earners for Hitler included a clever use of copyright. Every time his photograph or image was used on a postage stamp some cash came his way. Albert Speer remembered seeing Hitler receiving a 50 million marks cheque -- worth about £3100 million today -- for postage stamp rights. Herr Schwarzwoeller says there were probably several such payments.

Speeches collected in book form also generated a good income. Hitler has a soft spot for main-chance middlemen like his personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffman, who made money for both of them by selling reproduction rights to Hitler's watercolours. Once scorned by gallery-owners in Vienna, these paintings were in big demand after Hitler came to power. Hoffman became one of several art scouts for Hitler, searching and buying up paintings for his personal use.

Hitler's dream was to create a cultural centre for Europe in the sleepy Austrian town of Linz where he had spent his early years. By the end of the Second World War, Hitler had a personal collection of 10,000 paintings and other pieces of art, worth at least DM1 billion (£3350 million) at today's prices.

"Packed in cases, stored in dark cellars and mine shafts, Hitler amassed the biggest private art collection that any person had ever possessed," Herr Schwarzwoeller said. The paintings included Canaletto's Santa Maria Della Salute and Van Dyck's Jupiter and Antiope. Many had been surrendered by Jews buying their freedom to emigrate. These works were then auctioned. The payment for the paintings and for property in Bavaria came not from Hitler's usual sources of income but from a slush fund set up by industrialists such as Gustav Krupp to express "gratitude to the Führer" 

In 1936 Hitler complained to Speer that the building work on his holiday home in the Bavarian Alps was costing him a fortune: "It's all so expensive -- I've used up all the income from my book." That was a lie. He was earning up to two million marks a year tax-free for Mein Kampf and at the time of his suicide he had seven million marks waiting to be collected from the publishers' bank account.  

Herr Schwarzwoeller estimates that almost 100 million marks a year was paid into the special Hitler account by industrialists during the 12 years of the Third Reich. The fund administrator was Martin Bormann. He took Eva Braun shopping for clothes and jewellery, paying with money drawn on the slush fund account; he also bought property for Hitler in the Alps and who paid off the mortgage on Hitler's Munich apartment.

Hitler's millions no longer exist. After the war his fortune was regarded as a Nazi asset and confiscated along with his art treasures. Those works not returned to their rightful owners were held by the Americans until 1951 and then placed under the supervision of the Bavarian Finance Ministry. Bavaria owns Hitler's former home in the Alps and all rights to Mein Kampf.

The book is still banned in Germany and the Bavarian Finance Ministry jealously guards the overseas copyright, threatening legal action against pirate editions. Hitler made provision for his half-brothers and sisters, but they were dead by the time the will was declared legally valid. "Until today," says Herr Schwarzwoeller, "many people say that, despite the horror Hitler inflicted on the world, one could always make one point in his favour -- that he was not corrupt, that unlike his colleagues he did not enrich himself, that he led a modest life. Now it is time to discard that once and for all." 

© 1998 The Times Newspapers Ltd
Our opinion
IS nothing sacred?, some will say. This Website has however seen the regular pay slips that show that until the last week of the war regular Adolf Hitler personally paid the Hoffmann Photo laboratories for the regular monthly salary of Eva Braun, whom he formally married the day before they committed suicide in April 1945. The pay slips are now in private hands.

Incidentally, the phrase in paragraph 2, about "an independent German historian," is laughable. There is no such animal, at least not living within the jurisdiction of the German courts.

The above news item is reproduced without editing other than typographical

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