Historical story

What kind of boss was Adolf Hitler?

He avoided paperwork like fire. He tormented contractors and subordinates with hours of monologues. He was capricious at times:he handed out flowers to some, and arrested others on the spot. Like many of the worst bosses, he felt that he was allowed to do anything. Also in the office.

His party comrades were the first to find out about how to work with Hitler. It was already clear then that he would be a non-standard boss. Even the way he chose his associates proved it.

Murderers, pimps, perverts, drug addicts, or ordinary adventurers were on an equal footing with others as long as they served specific purposes - an American correspondent in Germany in the 1930s wrote about them, William L. Shirer. And he explained: This principle [Hitler adopted] to all his associates regardless of their unclear past or present.

Not very busy party leader

The higher the future dictator, however, in the political hierarchy of Germany, the more he had to adapt to the norms prevailing in the world of politics, diplomacy and business. This meant, among other things, the necessity to take over administrative duties.

The first time he had to face them was when he was the head of the NSDAP in the party office in Munich. At every step he expressed his contempt for bureaucratic procedures. He also didn't really care about meeting deadlines. Only exceptionally, he showed up punctually at the workplace. And even when he was already there and saw clients, he would suddenly leave, leaving an unsettled matter and a confused client with important documents.

In 1933, Hitler had to change from rally politics to a cabinet. However, he did not want to give up the freedom to do what he wanted for the sake of power. Even while posing for a photo with his newly formed cabinet, he couldn't help but gag with Vice-Chancellor von Papen (Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-15348 / CC-BY-SA 3.0).

When Hitler was appointed Reich Chancellor in January 1933, this disrespectful attitude to office work seemed to have changed. Initially, the highest official in the state was very diligent in his work. In his office, he appeared punctually at 10 o'clock and held a meeting with the most important associates. He also read, albeit with reluctance, the files provided to him and prepared himself very carefully for government meetings. He showed respect to the officials working in the Chancellery for their knowledge. However, he soon began to organize his work in his own way.

A chancellor who is never at his desk

British journalist Sefton Delmer asked Hitler what it was like to be chancellor of the Reich. The latter replied shortly:

I discovered one very interesting thing. All this running a government requires no work at all. Absolutely none. Everything is taken care of by others (...) I just put my name on the piece of paper that was given to me, and that's it.

The article is based, among others, on the famous book by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger entitled "Diplomacy" (Bellona 2017).

Of course, the Führer was not so naive and presumably made a joke with the Brit. In fact, however, working as Germany's first official did not suit him very well. I can't imagine anything scarier than spending time in the office over the files every day - he once told his associates. Another time he complained about the bureaucracy: Every day I found piles of files on my desk and as long as I did not pore over them, they did not get smaller .

In order to avoid office work, he finally worked out a different formula:he started ... visiting the country. This meant frequent departures for his employees as well. Especially when he decided to inspect somewhere closer and used the car, his black Mercedes was followed by a whole cavalcade of additional vehicles . They included the security of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, but also the police, adjutants, doctor, secretary and butler.

Hitler definitely preferred landscapes, preferably mountains, to sitting in the capital. In this photo from 1936, we see him with colleagues in Obersalzberg (Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F051620-0043 / CC-BY-SA 3.0).

He also tried to limit the working time in the Law Firm as much as possible. He only spent four days a week there, and the long weekends thus obtained he spent in Munich or Berchtesgaden. Maybe that is why the seasoned diplomat and clerk Henry Kissinger in his memorable work titled "Diplomacy" did not give Hitler the highest mark for administrative skills:

As head of government, Hitler did not act by analysis but by instinct. Considering himself an artist, he hated a regulated, sedentary lifestyle and was constantly in motion. He did not like Berlin, and he found some relief in his Bavarian residence, where he hid for months, although even there he was quickly bored.

Because he despised systematic work and ministers hardly found access to him, the policy was implemented in outbursts. What flowed from his insane outbursts was immediately realized. What required sustained systematic efforts was pushed aside.

Hitler over the papers? This is an extremely rare sight for its employees. Especially since he does not look at them in the office ... Photo from 1936 (Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1973-034-42 / Heinrich Hoffmann / CC-BY-SA 3.0).

A day with Hitler

Despite the avoidance of office duties of the head of the Reich Chancellery, the Reich Chancellery maintained a relatively stable work schedule until 1939. Everything was subordinated to the rhythm of the Chief's day. In the morning, the butler woke him with a special electric bell, knocked on the door and reported what time it was. By the way, he got to know the boss's mood.

Hitler took a bath, shaved, ate breakfast. On the way from the private apartments to the office, discussed with the adjutants who he would take that day and whom to "send away" . In his office, he listened to press reviews and current official affairs, then held talks with ministers, diplomats and other important people.

Even guests invited to dinner at the chancellor had to adapt to him. The meal took place at different times, because as dignitaries stated, Hitler's punctuality could never be counted on . Not only that, it was impossible to sit down at the table until the boss read an excerpt from the latest news. No wonder that in the silence in the room - the reading dictator must not be disturbed! - you could hear stomach rumbling…

It was worth waiting, however, because after lunch the boss's mood usually improved, and the guests who were invited to further talks had a good chance to get their affairs positive. It was used not only by people, but also by ... squirrels in the garden of the Chancellery, which the Chief fed him with his own nuts.

One of the last points of the day with Hitler was the screening of the film. Well, unless the Führer talked ... Photo from 1935 (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1990-1002-500 / CC-BY-SA 3.0).

The meetings lasted until supper, which was held around 8 pm. Usually followed by a movie screening, and then went to the smoking room, where conversations continued over sandwiches and drinks. It took a lot of skill for the invitees to behave properly during this part of the day. They themselves were usually sleepy and tired at this time of the day, but only then did Hitler regain his energy.

The inadvertent introduction of chats about the experiences of the war or the "fighting period" could therefore turn into long-lasting memories or monologues that no one dared stop . They sometimes lasted up to 2-3 hours at night. Only then were the guests "released":the slightly tired Chief said goodbye, discussed the audiences for the next day, drank herbal tea and went to sleep.

Remote work and night work

His associates, whom he took with him to a private residence near Berchtesgaden, had to get used to an equally unusual style of work. Usually he slept until 11 o'clock, then there was breakfast and the obligatory walk to the tea house in the village below the villa. There, over cookies and hot drinks, he gave lengthy lectures to companions and subordinates on various topics:art, travel, dog breeding, astrology, and even his reluctance to hunt and eat meat, which he called "corpse-eating".

The article is based, among others, on the famous book by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger entitled "Diplomacy" (Bellona 2017).

Conversations with adjutants and dignitaries took place after returning to the villa and lasted until supper. Later, it was time for a movie and a late-night chat. Not everyone liked such an organization of work. After a few days like this, I felt exhausted and empty from the constant waste of time - complained to Albert Speer.

The worst situation was the situation of Hitler's closest employees, who had to be with the Commander all the time. The group of those "lucky ones" included four personal adjutants, three military adjutants, three secretaries, two butlers, a personal pilot, a driver and an intendant with his wife who ran the "Führer's household". Since their boss did not respect working hours, settling for improvisation, aides and secretaries for their boss had to be available around the clock, not just eight hours.

The chancellor sometimes called the typists late at night, because then, as he claimed, he would come up with the best ideas. In addition, when things went wrong, he quickly got irritated . It was felt, among others, by the butlers who had to tie him a bow-tie or a tailcoat. It had to be done really fast, in about 25 seconds. After this time, the fly had to be ready, otherwise it would get disgraceful and start shifting from foot to foot - his associates recalled.

Ernst von Weizsäcker, secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, did not always have to catch Hitler on the run. Although at summit meetings like this, he did not settle current matters ... Photo from the lobby of the conference in Munich, Hitler first from the left, Weizsäcker second from the right (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H28788 / CC-BY-SA 3.0).

Government decisions were issued orally and very often on the run. Their proper interpretation and use became a real art, in which officials under the Reich's Leader excelled. This is how Ernst von Weizsäcker, Secretary of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, recalled this period:

For the ministries, the trick was to take advantage of the hour or minute in which Hitler - sometimes throwing a few words - made some decision, which would then take on a life of its own with the status of "By order of the Führer" .

Management through chaos

With time, the improvisation began to turn into chaos over which only Hitler reigned. The situation was aggravated by the fact that after the death of President Paul von Hindenburg, he assumed this office as well, and then began to mix government and party administration. The Party Cabinet (Reichsleitung) duplicated the functions of the Reich government, and the party Reichleiters duplicated the powers of the ministers. Sometimes one and the same person held the same functions in the party and in the government, but sometimes the minister had several party counterparts.

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The press chief of the Third Reich, Otto Dietrich, simply called the situation in the Third Reich the greatest mess that ever existed in a civilized country. Such organization of work was costly, wasteful and, above all, ineffective for effective governance. Also, officials found it harder and harder to find their place in it.

Competence and personnel disputes arose between party and government officials. The only one who benefited from this chaos was the Chief himself. He could be an arbiter in many disputes and keep the party coterie in balance. It also made it difficult to create a political threat to his position.

Order as in the Parteitag? None of these things! In managing his employees, he was guided by the principle that the greater the chaos, the better. Nuremberg, 1937 (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-C12671 / CC-BY-SA 3.0).

The fact that this administrative tangle even worked is a miracle. How did ordinary officials cope in such conditions? One of them stated that in the lower echelons of everyone is doing their job simply to make sure they are not taken over by some other office. It was best just to remain unnoticed. This is how Hitler himself defined his clerical ideal: For me, the best employee is the one who bothers me the least, that is, 95 out of 100 decisions are made by himself .

Ice cold or fits of rage?

What about the closest employees? Adolf Hitler paid special attention to them. He surrounded himself with people he knew and whose loyalty he could count on. The composition of the immediate personnel was changing reluctantly. But even when dealing with them, he was hard to predict.

On a daily basis, he was able to chat, ask about someone's health, give a gift for Christmas or the New Year. However, sometimes it was enough for a trivial reason to fall out of favor and feel an icy coldness in contacts. It happened to his secretary. Christa Schroeder in an interview with the Chief praised too much ... the habit of smoking cigarettes who Hitler was against.

The article is based, among others, on the famous book by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger entitled "Diplomacy" (Bellona 2017).

The icy cold, however, was nothing compared to tantrums. They happened especially when the situation on the fronts was not going according to the Chief's plan. Hitler's fury, however, peaked when Rudolf Hess's aide brought him a letter from his boss.

In this letter, Hess announced his departure to Great Britain to negotiate peace. As Hitler read the letter, an inarticulate animal roar came out. Of course, he took his anger out on his subordinate:he called his adjutant and asked him if he knew what his principal had written. Yes, mein Führer he replied recklessly, and the Chief shouted: Arrest him!

The dictator, as Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel recalled (called "Lakeitel" because of his servility by reluctant generals - a footman), thrashed and screamed circling the room like a rabid lion . Keitel had witnessed such outbursts of anger many times, but he hadn't seen it like that before. In order not to worsen the matter, he himself kept a worthy butler himself and stood at attention, awaiting orders.

Field Marshal (lo) Keitel loyally stood by Hitler even when he was falling into indomitable anger. In the photo, the Führer is looking at the newly erected "Westwalles" fortifications with Wilhelm Keitel behind his back (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H29051 / CC-BY-SA 3.0).

But when he was in a good mood, Hitler could also be nice. This was experienced not only by the commanders and soldiers whom he distinguished, promoted and rewarded, but also by his closest associates. He could send or deliver flowers in person when one of the ladies in his circle was sick. On the occasion of Christmas and New Years, he gave gifts to a large group of companions and associates. One of the Chief's closest employees was supervising that each of the deserved would receive a gift and that it would not be repeated.

Christa Schroeder recalled her first task, which she did for Hitler very pleasantly: Writing to dictation was nothing new for me, so I wrote everything boldly (...) I think he was happy with me, because at the end I was given a chocolatier . So you can regret that the rest of the inhabitants of Europe prepared other "gifts" ...

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