Ernst Franz Sedgwick Hanfstaengl (rhymes with Engel’); was borne in 1887 in Munich, the
Bavarian town, birthplace of Nazism, and known, also, as the Athens of Germany. His
father, an art dealer, was German, his mother was American. At the age of 18, in 1905, the
6′ 7” tall young man entered Harvard. Later, he run the Fifth Avenue subsidiary of the
family business in New York. and each morning practiced his piano playing in the New York
Harvard Club, where a young senator (D) of the State of New York, Franklin Delano
Roosevelt, listened to him playing on the grand piano of the club, as he (FDR) was having
his breakfast. Hanfstaengl met also another member of the Roosevelt clan, Teddy Roosevelt.
In 1921, Hanfstaengl returned to Germany. Next year, in November 1922, Truman Smith,
the US Military Attache’ in Berlin, approached "Hanfy" Hanfstaengl, the former
Harvard scholar, and told him that "He should attend a gathering in a beer-cellar in
Rosenheimer Street where a certain Hitler would give a speech." Also, Smith added:
"The fellow has the right melody on his tongue, which the hungry Germans are eager to
hear – national and social (melody)." So, "practically as a Munich informer of
the Americans, to whom he subsequently reported, Hanfy went to the gathering."
Hanfstaengl’s impression at the beer-cellar was that compared to the best orators of
that time that he knew in the US, namely Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, as well as
senator Thomas P. Gore (grandfather of Gore Vidal), Hitler was a "higher-carat uncut
dimond who needed only to polish his ideas, in order to find his real message."
A year later, on November 8, 1923, Hitler made his putsch and Hanfstaengl was by his
side in the famous "Burgerbraukeller" (Beer – Hall). Next day Hitler and his
followers were marching in Munich. When the police started firing, after Hitler’s
followers shot and killed 4 policemen, Hitler sprained his shoulder by a fall on the
pavement and "30 seconds after the police had started firing, in defense, he fled and
went into hiding… in the villa of Ernst Hanfstaengl, south of Munich… in the meantime
he (Hanfstaengl) fled to Austria."
Two days later. on November 11, Hitler is arrested in the Hanfstaengl villa. According
to Hanfstaengl, Hitler would have killed himself "with a bullet in his head, if the
courageous Mrs Hanfstaengl, an American woman, had not disarmed him with a jujitsu
According to the official report of the arresting officer Belleville: "Mrs
Hanfstaengl wordless led First Lieutenant Belleville to a room door, remained standing for
a moment, examining First Lieutenant Bellville with a long glance, then opened the door
and said: ‘Please’. In the room stood Hitler in white pyzamas, his arm in a sling…
Hitler stared at him in a completely absend-minded manner. At the announcement, that he
came to arrest him, Hitler stretched his hand towards him and declared that he was at his
disposal. He requested only to be protected from mobbing."
Hitler stayed in prison from November 11, 1923 to December 20, 1924. After his release
Hanfstaengel, also known as Putzi among the Hitler gang, tried to "polish"
Hitler, the "uncut dimond". "In vain Putzi exerted himself: The
Americanization of Hitler was a hopeless undertaking. He was interested in skyscrapers, in
the horsepower of automobiles, and in the manpower of the Ku-Klux-Klan…"
During the 11 years that followed, up to 1934, Hanfstaegl was Hitler’s personal pianist
and his Foreign Press-Secretary for the Third Reich. The piano playing function was very
important to Hitler and very much appreciated by him. "You are the purest orchestra,
Hanfstaengl", raved Hitler. Hanfstaengl played over and over the Wagnerian staple
while Hitler "dozed off" or "whistled and conducted."
Then after the "Night of the Long Knives", in June 1934, and the execution by
Hitler of Rohm and 77 leading Nazis plus 100 lesser ones, Putzi Hanfstaengl lost his
access to Hitler. Three years later, in 1937, the 50 year old Hanfstaengl was ordered to
put on a parachute and jump over the Spanish civil war "red teritory" in Spain.
Considering this as an order for his execution, he managed to escape to Switzerland and
from there to England, where in 1939, after Britain got into the war, he was imprisoned as
an enemy alien.
A letter from Hanfstaengl to Franklin D. Roosevelt resulted in the British
"reluctantly lending" Hanfstaengl to the Americans and so Hanfy found himself
under custody in an old villa in the area of Washington. One of his guards was US Army Air
Corps Seargent Egon Hanfstaengl, Hanfy’s own son! Also FDR sent his friend a Steinway
grand piano. In 1944 Hanfstaengl was sent back to England and in 1949 was released and he
returned to his birthplace in Germany where he was "denazified" and classified
to the Category of "Exonerated." Hanfy, of Harvard, etc, died in 1975, at the
age of 88.
Now (in 1999) Christian von Bentheim in California, is hoping to raise money for a
10-million dollar Hollywood production based on Hanfstaengl’s memoirs "Between the
White House and the Brown House" that were published in 1970. The title of the film
will be: "The Populist", the populist being Hitler.
Also, the historian Christof Mauch has written a new book, "The Shadow War against
Hitler: The Third Reich in the Gun Sight of the American Intelligence Services
1941-1945", which deals with the Hanfstaengl case under the light of new, up to
now unknown, US secret documents.
Finally, reflecting on the Hanfstaengl story, one could raise the following questions:
- What did Hanfstaengl mean by the word "Americanazation"? Can such a term be
used in rational discussion? Which America are we talking about (as Noam says)?
- When fleeing, when arrested and the weeks after that, Hitler had the shit scared out
of him. He fled in "30 seconds", he asked for protection against possible
"mobbing" by the crowd, and he thought of killing himself in his prison cell.
What happened in that prison and Hitler turned back into being his usual
"arrogant" self and had the guts to write "Mein Kampf" in that prison?
Who were the people that visited him there for the period of a year? Is it far-fetched to
deduce that the institutions that saw Hitler as a useful "tool" for their goals
contacted him in the prison?
I think that if there are any ZNetCommentaries readers in the Munich area, they could
start searching the archives of the Visitors Books in Landsberg prison. Who knows, there
might be something there.
- Besides Hanfy of Harvard, there is another "illustrious"case of an
"Anglo" influence on Hitler. That was the British wife of a son of Wagner’s
grandaughter who was very "close" to Hitler. Is it worth to search for an
"Anglo" influnce on Hitler?
 Widmann, Carlos, "Play it again, Putzi", DER SPIEGEL, No. 10/8 March,
1999, p. 60. (DER SPIEGEL is the most important German weekly magazine)
 Ibid, p.60
 Gritschneder, Otto, "Bewahrungsfrist fur den Terroristen Adolf H."
(Probation for the Terrorist Adolf H.), Verlag C.H. Beck, Munich, 1990, p.28.
 Widmann, p.58
 Gritschneder, p.33,34
 Widmann, p.60
 Ibid, p.58
 Mauch, Christof, "Schattenkrieg gegen Hitler. Das Dritte Reich im Visier der
amerikanischen Geheimdienste 1941-1945", Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart, 1999.
 According to the, mostly unknown, testimony of Alois Maria Ott, Institute
psychologist, who visited Hitler on November 19, 1923, eight days after his arest, in Room
7 of the hospital of Landsberg prison, Hitler was "completely demoralized." He
had started a hunger strike and was about to be force-fed in the prison hospital. Hitler’s
words were: "I had enough, I am ready, if I could have a revolver I would get hold of
it." After talking to Hitler for many hours, Ott managed "to calm him down and
persuade him to stop the hunger strike." Gritschneder, p.34,35
—————————– Nikos Raptis is the author of the books: "Let Us
Talk about Earthquakes. Floods and…the Streetcar" and "The Nightmare of the
Nukes". He, also, translated into Greek and published Noam Chomsky’s "Year
501" and "Rethinking Camelot." He lives in Athens, Greece.