Collector: Hitler Photo Marks War's Start

By Tammy DanielsPrint | Email
This photo is believed to have been taken days before the start of World War II. Hitler is at right.
NORTH ADAMS - A bunch of sour-faced men in suits in a grainy black and white photo are standing around another who is gesturing excitedly, his right hand a blur of white. Some stand with their arms crossed, others with their hands in their pockets. It's an unremarkable snapshot but for Darrell K. English it's the smoking gun, the most incriminating photo of the 20th century. "I equate this with someone being in Ford's Theater, with a camera, the night Lincoln was shot," said English on Friday. Why? Because when you look closely at the picture you realize that the man who's gesturing is Adolf Hitler and those surrounding him, his notorious henchmen. English says the photograph was taken Aug. 22, 1939 - 10 days before the invasion of Poland. Essentially, it's the day World War II began in Europe, the day that Hitler called his commanders to his mountain retreat, the Berghof, to tell them that months of German maneuvering and mobilizing were about to unleashed on Europe. "We know when it was taken, we know what was said during that meeting," said English. "Now we have an actual photograph of the actual date and the actual happening." The story goes that this was where Hitler made his infamous remark "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" when speaking of the coming destruction of the Polish people. While most historians discount that remark, it is a fact that an all-day meeting was held Aug. 22, 1939, between Hitler and his commanders detailing the invasion. "Basically, he's saying, 'we're invading Poland in 10 days and my Death's Head units have been given the orders to kill every man, woman and child," said English. This is beginning of the end for the more than 50 million people who would die in the war and the Holocaust, he said. Hitler had just received word that Josef Stalin was agreeable to a nonagression pact, which would be signed two days later. The pact cleared the way for Germany to invade Poland and divide it and neighboring countries with the Soviet Union. The treaty would stand until June 22, 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. English said the men in the room can be matched with records of the meeting. Among them are rarely photographed Gestapo head Heinrich Mueller, SS leader Walter Schellenberg and Chief of Staff Martin Boorman. The photograph was taken by Heinrich Hoffmann, the Fuehrer's favorite photographer. His personal stamp is on the back along another in German of "not for publication." The mark 44 03/28 is written, possibly a index number, said English. A penned scrawl across the back says it was found in a house on the German border. English has had the photo for eight or nine years; he got it from someone in the National Security Agency who, in turn, got it from another intelligence officer. He also has a "what if" picture, also taken by Hoffmann, of Hitler with his savior, Ulrich Graf. Graf, his bodyguard in the early 1920s, took nearly a dozen slugs meant for Hitler in the Beer Hall Pustch of 1923. He survived the shooting and died in 1960. "What if he'd been too slow?" mulled English. "The world would have been different." The photo was picked up by a GI sometime after the war. On the back it says, "Hitler's dead. Don't know where Graf is but I'm living in his house. Not bad." English is a well-known collector of World War II-era materials; his collection has appeared in numerous books, magazines and exhibitions, including the annual Holocaust exhibit at Clarksburg School and in the recent WGBY documentary "From the Factories to the Front Lines: Our Stories of World War II." The WGBY documentary was made as a local aspect of Ken Burns' seven-hour documentary "The War," premiering on PBS stations on Sunday night. English is hoping the Burns documentary will do for World War II what his "Civil War" did for that era - spark a renewed interest in an important period of American history. And he's hoping that interest will be a catalyst in helping found a museum for the thousands of posters, pictures, uniforms, badges, letters, weapons, etc., in his possession. "People ask me all the time what I have in my collection," he said. "I tell them, if I told you, you wouldn't believe me." English feels he's a custodian of the historical artifacts in his possession, and that they should be placed where others can see them and where they can be used in research. It's to keep alive the experiences of those who lived through that era and to make sure they are not forgotten by the next generation, he said. Meanwhile, the photograph of Hitler at the war's start will rest in its Plexiglass holder, tucked away until a permanent place can be found for it. "It's chilling when you realize what you're looking at," said English. "This is as close to pure evil as you're going to get. These guys all sat here and plotted this whole thing out. You don't get much more dramatic than that."
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