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THE EXAMINED LIFE

Hitler at home

IN NOVEMBER 1938, the British decorating magazine Homes & Gardens published a breezy three-page spread on Haus Wachenfeld, a "bright, airy" chalet in the Bavarian alps stocked with potted cacti and caged canaries and commanding "the fairest view in all Europe." The "Squire of Wachenfeld," a droll raconteur fond of cut flowers, antique furniture, and gourmet vegetarian meals, was one Adolf Hitler. His mountain hideaway, the Homes & Gardens writer notes with concern for the Fuhrer's well-being, is "the only home in which Hitler can laugh and take his ease."

But not everyone is laughing. In September, British journalist Simon Waldman stumbled upon the Homes & Gardens puff piece, posted it to his personal website, and dropped a note to the shelter rag's current editor. In response, Homes & Gardens promptly charged Waldman with infringing on its copyright and forced him to remove the offending pages.

Late last month, according to the Oct. 24 edition of the US Jewish weekly The Forward, 68 leading Holocaust scholars and educators signed a petition urging Homes & Gardens to stop restricting public access to the pages in question, and to publicly apologize for casting Hitler in a positive light at a time when he was openly directing the persecution of his country's Jewish population. After learning that the Haus Wachenfeld photos were propaganda shots taken by Hitler's press secretary, and not the property of Homes & Gardens, Waldman put the pictures back online. (An electronic version of the entire Homes & Gardens spread can be viewed at www.wymanInstitute.org, the website of a Holocaust studies institute.)

Laura Leff, a journalism professor at Northeastern University and one of the petition's signatories, told Ideas that any attempt by a magazine to "use copyright law to suppress embarrassing information is appalling." Leff said she is using the Homes & Gardens article to teach students that sometimes journalists can gather information that is "completely accurate, but because of the subject material -- in this case, portraying Hitler as a gardener and a gourmet in 1938 -- it's not really the appropriate tone to take."

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