Archive for April 14th, 2016

Adolf Hitler’s X-rays @Stanford

Thursday, April 14th, 2016
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68007_Treasure008-2It’s April. Spring is in the air and blossoms are everywhere. What better time to think about Adolf Hitler and his skull? The exhibit is a favorite at Hoover Institution’s Library and Archives at Stanford – certainly one of the archivists’ most popular show-and-tells. Stanford students love it.

Whatever bits and pieces were missing from Hitler’s psyche and body, Stanford can definitely prove that indeed he had a skull.

These X-rays of Hitler’s skull were taken in September 1944. That was a few months after Claus Von Stauffenberg‘s attempted assassination of the Führer on July 20. Hitler had escaped with only singed trousers and a perforated eardrum, alas – but he still wasn’t feeling up to snuff a few months later. He had headaches and ringing in his ears. So the German doctors took X-rays.

The acquisition of this … treasure? … came about this way: After the war, the Allies interrogated all who had been in Führer’s circle, including his doctors. 

Enter Colonel William Russell Philp, a career military officer, serving in the first and second world wars. Philp was largely responsible for recreating the counter-intelligence corps of the West German government after World War II. And he gathered lots of records.

In the 1980s, the colonel was remarrying. His wife-to-be asked him to please clean out the cellar. Where to put all the stuff he had accumulated? He gave the Hoover Library Archives a call.

68007_Treasure010-2It was a trove indeed: included in the cellar were intelligence reports, interrogation reports, maps, and photographs relating to Adolf Hitler, the German military structure, national socialism, various aspects of German society during and immediately after World War II, various military campaigns of World War II (particularly preparation for the invasion of Normandy), denazification, and post-war reconstruction in Germany.

And yes, the X-rays of Hitler’s skull.

So what does it show? Bad sinuses and bad dental work, perhaps.

You, too, can see Hitler’s X-rays if you visit the Stanford campus – they’re kept in off-site storage, so you need to make a request in advance.

Hitler, of course, wasn’t the only one to have an odd posthumous story about his head. Consider this short blogpost a grisly postscript to our story on the curious and complicated story of  Vladimir Lenin‘s brain, here. (Hint: Joseph Stalin needed a hobby.) As I noted then: “A team of physicians insisted that his brain receive scientific study.  Not surprisingly, Russians needed scientific proof that Lenin was a genius. This was decided while the body was still warm.” That story also had a few whiffs of Hitler. And since this is a book blog, you can read all about Walt Whitman‘s brain here. It was kept in some sort of a jam jar until it broke, and a cultus formed around it.

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(Photos from the Colonel William Russell Philp Collection, Hoover Library and Archives)