Up for auction: Photo of Hitler embracing young girl he knew was Jewish
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Up for auction: Photo of Hitler embracing young girl he knew was Jewish

Rosa Bernile Nienau became known as the Fuhrer’s ‘sweetheart’; Nazi leader maintained contact with her until 1938

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A photograph of Adolf Hitler together with Rosa Bernile Nienau, a Jewish girl, taken at Hitler's home, the Berghof, in the Bavarian Alps, April 20, 1932. (Alexander Historical Auctions)
A photograph of Adolf Hitler together with Rosa Bernile Nienau, a Jewish girl, taken at Hitler's home, the Berghof, in the Bavarian Alps, April 20, 1932. (Alexander Historical Auctions)

A photograph showing Nazi leader Adolf Hitler embracing a young Jewish girl as they celebrated their joint birthday, and which he later personally autographed for her despite knowing she was Jewish, has been put up for auction.

The photo is being offered by the Alexander Historical Auctions in Chesapeake City, Maryland, in the US and will go under the hammer on November 13, when it is expected to fetch up to $12,000.

According to the auction house, the photograph was taken at Hitler’s home in the Bavarian Alps on April 20, 1933, and shows a smiling Hitler with his arm around Rosa Bernile Nienau, 6, as she beams at the camera.

The picture was snapped by Hitler’s official photographer Heinrich Hoffmann. Hitler later personally signed the photo, in dark blue ink, writing, “The dear and considerate Rosa Nienau, Adolf Hitler Munich, the 16th June 1933.”

“Hoffmann took a number of photos that day showing Hitler with the young girl, and they became favorites of Hitler, Hoffmann, and the German public,” the auction house said.

Later that year Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany and by the following year had consolidated his position as fuhrer.

Yet when Hitler penned the fond message, he had already been told that Nienau had Jewish roots. Her maternal grandmother was Jewish, which under Nazi law at the time made her one-quarter Jewish and therefore unacceptable. Under Jewish law, Nienau was fully Jewish.

At the time, the Nazi regime was setting up the first concentration camps and was  persecuting the German Jewish population. Two years after Hitler signed the photo, the Nuremberg Laws were passed, depriving Jews of many of their civil rights.

Detail showing Hitler’s hand-written message on a photograph of himself together with Rosa Bernile Nienau, a Jewish girl, taken at Hitler’s home, the Berghof, in the Bavarian Alps, April 20, 1932. (Alexander Historical Auctions)

Hitler insisted on maintaining contact with Nienau as well as taking more photos with her. From 1933 to 1938 Nienau and her mother Karoline visited Hitler several times, and the young girl sent many letters to the man she came to refer to as “Uncle Hitler.”

Hitler often posed for photographs with children for propaganda purposes, and Nienau became known as “the fuhrer’s child” or “sweetheart,” the auction house said.

“Research shows that even early on, Hitler became aware of the girl’s Jewish heritage but chose to ignore it, either for personal or propaganda reasons,” it said.

Bill Panagopulos, the auctioneer, said, “The signed version is a never-before publicly seen piece, Adolf Hitler inscribing a warm photograph showing him with a charming little girl whom, amazingly, he knew to be a Jew.

“The shocking thing about this piece is it seems he had a genuine affinity for the young girl,” he added, according to media reports.

The unlikely relationship began when Nienau and her mother, recently widowed at the time, joined crowds outside the Berghof on April 20, Hitler’s birthday. Hitler came out to meet the gathering and when he found out that he shared his birthday with Nienau he invited her inside for strawberries and cream, posing for photographs.

Adolf Hitler’s private secretary and top aide, Martin Bormann, is seen in this undated file photo. (AP Photo)

The Bundesarchive has 17 letters from Neinau to Hitler and his aide Wilhelm Bruckner. In one she asks about knitting the Fuhrer a pair of socks to follow on her successful gift of a pair the year before, the Daily Mail reported.

Eventually, Hitler’s private secretary Reichminister Martin Bormann, a powerful figure in the Nazi regime, found out about Neinau’s Jewish ancestry and forbade her and her mother from meeting the fuhrer. Bormann also prohibited photographer Hoffman from publishing further photos of Neinau with Hitler.

Hoffman later wrote a memoir, “Hitler, As I Saw Him,” in which he said Hitler at first overruled Bormann’s ban against using images of Neinau, saying, “There are people who have a true talent for spoiling my every joy.” A 1955 first edition of the memoir is included in the lot sale.

Nienau eventually died of polio in Schwabing Hospital Munich on October 5, 1943. She was 17.

In February 2017 the Alexander Historical Auctions sold Hitler’s telephone for $243,000 (NIS 900,000).

AFP contributed to this report.

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