Revealed: Hitler's Private World (2004)
Channel Five / History Channel
Lip readers reconstruct what Hitler talks about when he's chillaxing Hitler's Private World. A piece of amateur film captures three men dressed in informal suits, chatting pleasantly in the summer sunshine of an alpine terrace. One complains light-heartedly about the volume of work he has to get through. The other two smile sympathetically. The scene is timeless and benign. Or is it? The tableau takes on a more sinister quality when we learn that the sun terrace is part of the Berghof – German fascist dictator Adolf Hitler’s mountain retreat. The seemingly innocuous conversation takes place at the height of the Second World War; its three participants are Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich and Karl Wolff, three of the main players of the SS - the Nazi killing machine responsible for the murder of millions.
This is not a dramatic reconstruction. Instead, it is real history playing out before our eyes, and the nearest we may ever get to a Nazi fly-on-the-wall documentary. Modern ingenuity and technologically advanced computer forensics have enabled us to eavesdrop on the unguarded conversation of the Nazi elite.
For sixty years, Hitler’s large personal collection of amateur film - much of it filmed by his companion Eva Braun - has lain forgotten in the archives, of limited interest because it lacked the accompanying recorded sound essential to historical understanding. This long neglected celluloid treasure trove has now been analysed by a computer programmed to lip-read with astonishing accuracy. Not only can it understand what is being said straight to the camera, it can pick up the conversations of people standing in profile, and discern accent and emphasis. The result, when dubbed by an actor with a similar voice to Hitler, is to put the words back into his mouth. This is a fascinating but unsettling experience, largely because we are used to seeing Hitler in performances that have been carefully stage-managed by the Nazi propaganda machine. This is also a convenient image, because it makes it easier for us to categorise him as a monster, irretrievably different from us. The Hitler who emerges in this documentary is manifestly human, and therefore infinitely more disturbing. We watch him chatting about everyday subjects, joking with Berghof servants, playing with children and patting dogs, and smiling easily as he teases women guests about a movie they watched in the Berghof’s private cinema: "I hear you didn't like the film last night. I suppose you want to see Gone With the Wind!" We also pick up fascinating insights into the rivalries and schisms of the Nazi elite, watch Hitler complain about his health, and hear his last filmed words, spoken while inspecting a troop of boy soldiers in the rubble outside the Berlin bunker, ten days before his suicide. For the first time, it is possible to see directly what Hitler was like as a man. Armed with this uncommon knowledge, we are able to analyse more effectively the hold he had on the courtiers who paid homage to him at the Berghof, and on the German nation.