The photo was taken by Munich photographer Heinrich Hoffmann at a rally in support of war against Russia in Munich’s Odeonsplatz on August 2, 1914. On the day before the election of the Reich president, the Illustrierter Beobachter published the August 1914 picture with Hitler for the first time, with a magnifying-glass-like enlargement of his face.
The caption read: “Adolf Hitler, the German patriot. When on 1 August 1914 tens of thousands of deeply moved Munich citizens listened to the last notes of the band, suddenly the German anthem washed over the square. In the midst of the crowd stood with shining eyes – Adolf Hitler”. Hitler was superimposed to lend credibility to the image of the Nazi leader as a patriot and a man of the people. The photo went on to become a favorite Nazi propaganda picture, appearing with captions such as “Adolf Hitler: A man of the People”. It was used countless times in newspapers, propaganda papers, biographies and school books.
Hoffmann, who was one of the founders and the main supplier of pictures for the Nazi paper, always claimed he had discovered Hitler in the photo by chance after the future Führer visited his studio in 1929. When Hoffmann was told by Adolf Hitler that he was there during the Declaration of War in 1914, Hoffman scoured and scrutinized every picture he had of that momentous day. Hoffmann then dug out a glass picture negative he’d planned to throw away and found Hitler in the image. “I only needed to search for a very short time, one standing there, yes, it’s him – his hair falls over the forehead”, Hoffmann once said. “His face cannot deceive – it was him”.
However, many researchers claim Hitler’s photographer Hoffmann manipulated the image in order to feature the soon-to-be-dictator. Research has failed to turn up the original negative of the picture. And intense scrutiny of newsreel footage has failed to spot Hitler among the crowd.
Photographs of Hitler taken during the war show him with a large mustache, of the sort that was in fashion at the time. The practice of shaving mustaches down to a “toothbrush” shape seems to have been introduced during the war to allow men to wear gas masks more comfortably; the fashion was unknown before 1914.
If the photograph is correct, then Hitler, almost alone in Europe, wore a toothbrush mustache in 1914, grew a big mustache during the war, and then went back to a toothbrush style after the war, none of which seems very likely. Since he was in Munich in 1914, and his presence in the crowd is entirely in character, while it is possible he was inserted into the photograph by Nazi propagandists, the most likely explanation is that the picture was retouched to make him more immediately recognizable to Germans in the Thirties.
Further evidence that perhaps the whole thing was faked by him and Heinrich Hoffmann can be found in the pages of Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf, published in 1925. He makes no mention of being in the Odeonsplatz on August 2 but does make reference to the following day, when he petitions the King of Bavaria to allow him, an Austrian, to fight for Germany.
Pending definite confirmation, therefore, the photograph is probably best regarded as allegedly, rather than definitely, showing Hitler’s presence in the crowd.