Putzi, Hitler’s pianist who whispered the secrets of Nazism to Roosevelt


Thomas Snégaroff records the eventful life of Ernst Hanfstaengl, confidant of the Nazi leader who told his secrets to the President of the United States

He was in places where decisions were made that changed the course of history before and after World War II. He played the piano for Hitler and shared many of his secrets, which he would eventually reveal to US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Yet the figure of Ernst Hanfstaengl (Munich, 1887-1975) remained in the shadows. The French journalist and historian Thomas Snégaroff (48 years old) now sheds light on her by fictionalizing his eventful life in ‘Putzi’. Hitler’s Confidant’ (Seix Barral), who incidentally paints a fresco of the Europe of those years.

Regarded by some as “a traitor” and by others as a “craftsman of evil”, Hanfstaengl was a six-foot-tall man. But, paradoxically, his nickname, Putzi, means ‘little man’, ‘small’ or ‘beautiful’ in Bavarian. The son of a German father and an American mother, he studied at Harvard, ran his wealthy family’s art business in bohemian New York, and was the lover of the writer Djuna Barnes.

Back in Germany, he was very close to Hitler from the inception of the Nazi movement in the 1920s in Munich. Disgraced three decades later, he had the opportunity to go to the other side, cross the Atlantic again, and become an informant for the US president.

“It will never be clear whether he was a villain or a hero. He entered the history of Nazism as an enigma, although we know what role he played in Hitler’s seizure of power in the Weimar Republic,” says Snégaroff, who found the “chameleon” character, a friend of Hearts, Thomas Mann or Chaplin. , by documenting Nazism in the United States and the Fascist International. He was “fascinated” when he discovered “that he had whispered in both Hitler and Roosevelt’s ears.”

Putzi saw in Hitler “an agent of reconciliation between his two worlds”, according to the French writer. At the dawn of Nazism, “he brought Hitler money and connections to very important financial networks that enabled him to turn the Nazi Party magazine into a war machine thanks to propaganda.”

After the failed ‘putsch’ orchestrated in a Munich beer hall in 1923, Putzi comforted Hitler in his darkest hours. He visited him in prison, supplied him with books by American authors and financed the publication of ‘Mein Kampf’. He composed the anthem of the brownshirts and that of the Nazi youth, he was their head of propaganda, and he is credited with the paternity of the ‘Sieg Heil’ salute. “Helene, Putzi’s wife, prevented Hitler from committing suicide by shooting himself by convincing him that the world depended on him,” explains Snégaroff.

But rather than ideology, the deep bond Putzi established with Hilter was cemented in the music of Richard Wagner who Hanfstaengl, an accomplished pianist, performed at home when the future genocide visited him. “Wagner was a great ideologue of Aryan supremacism and anti-Semitism, and Putzi provided Hitler with an ideological link,” emphasizes the journalist.

Putzi’s closeness to Hitler caused other Nazi leaders, such as Joseph Goebbels, to “see him as a rival and contemptuously call him a buffoon.” Goebbels tried to take him out and caused Putzi to fall out of favor and leave Germany in 1937.

He fled to the US and eventually teamed up with Roosevelt. “Hanfstaengl had no defined ideology, but the bond with Hitler was very strong. So much so that even in exile he waits for a warm word from the Nazi dictator to return to the side of whom he always considered a great leader,” says Snégaroff. “He was the only person who personally worked for Hitler and whispered in his ear, but he also whispered in Roosevelt’s ear and told him what he knew about the Nazi leader,” he repeats. Intimacies such as that Hitler was asexual, that he liked to attract women, but was disgusted by contact with the female body.

“His complicity with Roosevelt seemed to put him on the right side of history and save him during denazification, even though the opposite could have happened,” says Snégaroff. “He was neither an agent of evil nor a clown,” says the French writer, who tends to define the controversial Putzi as a “shadow ideologue, a skilled puppeteer who pulled the strings that tied the Fuhrer as long as he could.”

Specializing in issues related to the United States, a Kennedy and Clinton biographer, Snégaroff chose the novel to avoid the rigidity of an essay. «The novelist prefers coincidences and coincidences, which become his great treasure. As Walter Benjamin said, in the novel you see the hand of the craftsman, and I had to make a novel to tell this story, because in Hanfstaengl’s career there are threads that a historian would not be able to follow to the end,” explains he of himself.

Source: La Verdad


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