My artist book “Home Story” draws its inspiration from the publication “I was Hitler’s Maid” written by Pauline Kohler and published in 1940 by John Long, London. The American edition from the same year was called “The woman who lived in Hitler’s House”.
“Home Story” seeks to imagine the spaces of Hitler’s Berghof where many important international diplomatic meetings took place in the lead up to the Second World War and where Kohler’s pre-war story is centred. It is also an exploration of ‘fake news’.
Kohler’s narrative is set in the Berghof in Obersalzberg near Berchtesgaden, a key site related to the Hitler story, and a place that achieved a mythic status in the minds of both the Germans and the Allies during World War Two. As a maid, Kohler serves tea and food during numerous international diplomatic meetings that took place at the Berghof. She describes details of conversations and the characters of the leaders and diplomats, as well as describing life in the house in general. As she moves quietly through the building doing her duties cleaning and organising we get a picture of the internal architecture, the daily routines and other activities of the house.
Why this project?
I came to this project after being invited to create a work for an exhibition in Melbourne based upon books censored in Australia from before the turn of the 20th to the beginning of the 21st century. I chose this title from a long list because it related to Munich where I am now living. And, it gave me an opportunity to engage with the history of my new environment.
The John Long publication is supposedly a biography of an ex-employee named ‘Pauline Kohler’. Between 1940 and 1948 the story was published worldwide in at least seven different languages including Chinese. During my research, I found out that the book was part of a black propaganda campaign (today ‘fake news’) used to discredit Hitler in the allied world. The problem was that in prudish Australia the book was censored because of its sexual content. The British government fought the Australian censorship board in 1939 and sales of the book were eventually allowed to go ahead, but not before having a lengthy court case.
Reality or Black Propaganda (fake news)
“I was Hitler’s Maid” became the starting point for “Home Story”, my conceptual journey through the architecture of the Third Reich. In the light of the suggestion that this book is black propaganda the question of who the “real” Pauline Kohler was became another focus of my project. I began to search the historic record for images and names of people who could have potentially supplied real information about the goings-on in the Berghof, that was then woven together with imaginary ideas. For instance, in the book the Berghof gets given several new rooms which do not exist on the original plans. I became fascinated by how the dramatic alpine landscape also became a player in the political landscape of the day. From the main window in the Berghof, apparently the biggest domestic window in the world at the time measuring 5 metres high by 9 metres long, there was a powerful view of the Untersberg. The landscape was coerced by the architecture and brought inside to play a quiet role on the political stage.
Hand-printed lithography and monoprint. Hand-bound multi-Leporello.
Artist: Penelope Richardson
Size: 28 cm x 20 cm
See the Berghof Project
More info about the book