Nicholas Stargardt

The Great Imitator

Hitler: Ascent 1889–1939

By Volker Ullrich (Translated by Jefferson Chase)

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Was Hitler ever – intentionally – funny? The answer, surprisingly enough, is yes. After hosting Mussolini in Berlin in September 1937, the Führer helped his entourage let off steam by mounting a full-scale parody of the Duce: ‘His chin thrust forward, his legs spread and his right hand jammed on his hip, Hitler bellowed Italian or Italian-sounding words like giovinezza, patria, victoria, macaroni, belleza, bel canto and basta.’ For a dictator who only spoke German, the act exceeded Hitler’s ordinary range and the court architect, Albert Speer, noted that the laughter was more than polite: the performance ‘was indeed very funny’. 

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