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The Guardian

London, Monday, November 3, 2003


Homes & Gardens ...At home with the Führer

Simon Waldman came across a copy of Homes and Gardens from 1938 which featured an article about Hitler's house, and posted it to his weblog. This started a bizarre series of events that saw him embroiled in legal wrangles and denounced as a Nazi sympathiser

ONE evening in May, my father-in-law proudly took out an old magazine. It was a November 1938 edition of Homes and Gardens, featuring a modernist bungalow built in Wraysbury, on the banks of the Thames, designed by his father, Henry Carr. The 65-year-old magazine was, and still is, one of his proudest family heirlooms, but he had only ever looked at the article on his father's house. I started to flick through it and found something quite remarkable.

As a result of this casual browse through an old magazine, I have struck up a friendship with an amateur historian in Louisiana, been involved in a copyright tussle with the UK's biggest magazine publisher, been branded a Nazi sympathiser, been written about in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune and the Jerusalem Post, and become the subject of a petition from 60 Holocaust scholars as well as protests from David Irving.

My discovery was an article headlined "Hitler's Mountain Home" -- a breathless, three-page Hello!-style tour around Haus Wachenfeld, Hitler's chalet in the Bavarian Alps. In it, the author, the improbably named Ignatius Phayre, tells us that "it is over 12 years since Herr Hitler fixed on the site of his one and only home. It had to be close to the Austrian border". It was originally little more than a shed, but he was able to develop it "as his famous book Mein Kampf became a bestseller of astonishing power".

The great dictator, it seems, was quite the interiors wizard:

"The colour scheme throughout this bright, airy chalet is light jade green. The Führer is his own decorator, designer and furnisher, as well as architect... [Hitler] has a passion about cut flowers in his home."

And he is seldom alone in his mountain hideaway, as he "delights in the society of brilliant foreigners, especially painters, musicians and singers. As host, he is a droll raconteur... "

Oh, and look who's practising his archery in the garden: "It is strange to watch the burly Field-Marshal Göring, as chief of the most formidable air force in Europe, taking a turn with the bow-and-arrow at straw targets of 25 yards range."

And on it gushes, all accompanied by various photos of Hitler and friends admiring the view, examining plans for the house, and one delightful shot of Adolf relaxing on a deckchair with "one of his pedigree Alsatians beside him".


November 1938 was two years after Hitler had occupied the Rhineland and six months after "union" with Austria. He had just taken Czechoslovakia and Germany was weeks away from the horrors of Kristallnacht. Yet here was a British interiors magazine treating the architect of all this as if he were the Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen of his day.

I scanned the pages of the article, and put them up on my (not frequently visited) weblog. Nothing really happened, and I forgot about it. In August, I revamped my weblog, and wrote about the software I was using in the pages of Guardian Online. I also gave a bit of prominence again on my site to the Hitler scans. Within a week or so, I noticed I was getting about 10,000 page impressions a day on the Hitler pages. Given that I was used to about 300 on a good day on the whole site, this was quite remarkable. I emailed Isobel McKenzie-Price, the editor of Homes and Gardens, which is now published by the Time Warner-owned publishing giant, IPC. I told her about the piece, asked if she or anyone there knew anything about it, and whether they had any other copies.

Two weeks later, I received an email from McKenzie-Price saying:

"This piece, text and photographs is still in copyright and any unauthorised reproduction is an infringement of copyright. In the circumstances I must request you to remove this article from your website."

This wasn't quite what I'd expected. But as I am responsible for the commercial side of the Guardian's websites, I am all too aware of copyright issues, and so begrudgingly accepted their stance. I sent a reply saying I was happy to take the pictures down, as I respected their claim for copyright. But

a) as I wasn't making any money from it, I thought they were being a bit heavy-handed,

b) as this was an important historical document, with much to tell us about both the past and present, they should really try to give it an official home on the internet, making all the copyright information clear, and

c) that as it had already been online for several months, it was very likely to have been copied by other sites, so getting me to take it down wouldn't be the end of it.

I never received a response.

I posted our correspondence on my site. Suddenly, I was deluged with comments from all sorts of people. Some were supportive, some dismissive. There was one accusing me of being a Nazi sympathiser wanting to promote Hitler as a decent human being, and threatening to report me to the Anti-Defamation League. (I'm Jewish, so this was mildly insulting.) There were a few bits of shocking anti-semitism from some neo-Nazis; and some very, very detailed debate about copyright. And, as I had predicted, the pages had already been copied and appeared on sites around the world -- mainly in Israel and the USA. Unfortunately, one of these belonged to the Holocaust revisionist David Irving.

Journalists started to take an interest. The New York Times wrote about my copyright struggles, then syndicated it to the International Herald Tribune and the Jerusalem Post. Wired News covered it on the internet, with a link to my site. And a US talk show host I've never heard of, Jeff Rense, wrote about it on his alternative news site (, which sent thousands more people in my direction. Strangely, the story passed most of the UK media by. In all of this coverage, I was rather distressed to find David Irving arguing with me to make the article available. Not my ideal partner.

Then, one Friday, I was checking my website for comments, and I saw one from an E J Brock, which read:

"For the record, none of the photos in the article are original to the article. All were published previously in Germany and are in the public domain."

The next few hours saw a flurry of emails between myself and my new friend: Eric Brock, a Jewish Louisiana-based historian and amateur collector of Nazi memorabilia. It turned out that the photos were actually taken by Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler's official publicity photographer. Homes and Gardens hadn't actually taken any photos, they had just called them in from the Nazi's press office. Some of them were taken years before the article had appeared.

Heinrich Hoffmann took thousands of publicity shots of Hitler. Most importantly for his bank balance, he took the photos of Hitler that appeared on Germany's stamps during the war, and Hitler kindly let him have a royalty on each stamp. As a result, after the war, he was imprisoned for being a Nazi profiteer. (There was another reason why Hitler favoured Hoffmann. He introduced the Führer to his assistant, a delightful young lady called Eva Braun.)

I put them back up on my site and quipped that if only I could find out that the text was written by Joseph Goebbels, then I'd be able to publish that as well. Two weeks later, I received an email from Rachel Zuckerman, a journalist on the US Jewish newspaper, Forward. She told me that a group of 60 holocaust scholars organised by the Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies had signed a petition asking for IPC to make the article publicly available.

This took the whole story to a new level. IPC was no longer dealing with an irritating bloke with a blog, and it was no longer a simple matter of copyright. It was the subject of a full-on assault from the US Holocaust lobby. I was glad someone other than David Irving was now demanding it. After weeks of silence and guarded statements to journalists, IPC was prodded into action. I received an email from IPC, who forwarded me a statement it had sent to the Wyman Institute. It conceded that

"after extensive research ... there is no way of ascertaining where copyright ownership lies after 65 years. Therefore, it is not in our gift to either agree or withdraw use of these images and words."

For me, this prompted a mix of victory and fury. Yes, I could put the scans back up on my site, but it was clear that they simply hadn't made any detailed checks on copyright when I first contacted them, and had hoped it would all go away with a single stern email. Fortunately for me, in this internet age, such clumsy tactics don't work. Their attempt to squash the problem had simply amplified it. The Wyman institute, however, is still not entirely happy. It is glad that the article is now widely available, but would like an apology from IPC. The two sides are still in negotiations over this.

Personally, I have asked IPC if they will let my father-in-law have a free subscription to his favourite magazine, Practical Boat Owner, as compensation for the way they treated me. I'm still waiting to hear back.

Simon Waldman is the Guardian's director of digital publishing.

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited



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