Christmas with Hitler

What was Christmas like with Hitler?

The answer comes from a Michigan communications professor, who's created a disturbing web collection showing the Third Reich's attempt to convert the holiday into military propaganda. But Christmas of 2008 also finds authentic reminders of the Nazi era turning up on eBay and YouTube. The question is uncomfortable, inappropriate — and morbidly fascinating. And fortunately, some comedians on YouTube have supplied the last word.

Randall Bytwerk teaches communications at Calvin College, and his web exhibit of Nazi propaganda offers an actual glimpse of the murderous dictator at Christmastime.

"Hitler had thousands of Autobahn workers as his guests in the Berlin Sportpalast at Christmas 1938," explains an upbeat pamphlet called Everybody's Hitler!. "Note the Christmas trees... Hitler's enemies lie when they say that Christmas has been abolished in Germany." (After invading France, the Nazis were assuring its Alsace province that der Führer still celebrated the holiday.)

Another photo shows a decorated tree behind a festive Christmas dinner for Hitler and his soldiers. The blitzkrieg isn't mentioned, but the site does remind us that later — of course — the pamphlet was translated into Dutch.

Professor Bytwerk shows that during the Nazi regime, Hitler's culture department continued producing a Christmas booklet with magical stories, festive songs, and lavish illustrations. (The 1944 edition was 200 pages long.) Several pages quoted the fanatical Christmas Eve speeches of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
On this evening we will think of the Führer, who is also everywhere present this evening wherever Germans gather... The flag and the Reich shall remain pure and unscathed when the great hour of victory comes.

Like Santa Claus, Hitler is everywhere — and he probably sees you when you're sleeping, and knows when you're awake. The book even includes an apparent Christmas card from der Fürhrer himself displaying a red flower with an inspiring Christmas quote: "All nature is a gigantic struggle between strength and weakness, an eternal victory of the strong over the weak."

Another site actually shows Santa paying a visit on Nazi officers and their girlfriends in Christmas of 1944.

But the Nazis ultimately had an insidious agenda for the holiday, and Hitler's propaganda department could show Bill O'Reilly what a real war on Christmas looks like. "The Nazis were out to transform Christmas from a Christian holiday to a celebration of the family in a National Socialist context," writes professor Bytwerk. In 1943 the Nazis released a 64-page pamphlet for Advent which never mentions Jesus. A drawing of lonely soldiers is captioned:
Through your bravery, you give us at home a lovely Christmas season. Each child, as he sees the candle's glow and sings the songs, thinks of you, full of thanks.

The most disturbing entry is a Christmas story about three men lost in the woods — a king, a soldier, and a wood-cutter. Bright stars light a poor woman's hut where she holds her newborn child. She advises her visitors that children fulfill the promise of the future, and the three visitors offer him gifts. "Nazi propaganda intended to remove as much of the Christian content of Christmas as possible," writes professor Bytwerk, "turning it into a family festival with German racial overtones."

There's a page for each day of the month, but each entry is intensely secular, like a sample children's letter to a soldier on the front. ("Mother is already baking for the soldier's package... We think of you so often, especially when we hear the news on the radio...") One YouTube user has even found a clip of a documentary showing Goebbels' Hitler Youth propaganda for Christmas of 1942.

More than 65 years later, it's still a painful subject, and in 2006 the German magazine Spiegel uncovered a bizarre incident:
Germans shopping for Christmas trinkets have been shocked recently to discover row upon row of Santa Clauses looking to all the world as if they are giving the Hitler salute — right arm, straight as an arrow, raised skyward. Never mind that St. Nick is carrying a bag of toys and wearing a silly red hat complete with a white pom-pom. Shoppers were sure — these Santas were Nazis.

It's still possible to buy Nazi artifacts on eBay, including Nazi-era coins and stamps — but not in every country. "This item cannot be sold in Germany, Italy, France, or Austria," reads one page description, "as stated in Ebay Rules." But the web has found more than one way to remember a dark moment in world history. In fact, 2008 ends with Hitler starring in his very own humiliating meme.

There's at least half a dozen videos on YouTube swapping in silly subtitles for Hitler's dialogue in an intense movie called Downfall. The original film chronicled Hitler's final 12 days in a bunker in Berlin, receiving bad news from subordinates as his military crumbles.

But now web wise guys have the dictator ranting insanely over trivial slights — poor attendance at Burning Man, the subprime mortgage crisis, getting his avatar banned from World of Warcraft, or struggling to upgrade Windows Vista. Inevitably, last week someone appropriated the meme to show Hitler complaining about the cost of buying Christmas presents.

"Those of you that think I am being unreasonably cheap better leave now..." a furious Hitler warns his staff.

Magically, the footage has been re-titled again and again, forcing Hitler to endure every possible insult of fate, and this latest video shows him being slowly bankrupted at Christmastime — by requests for iPads and 3DTVs.

See Also:
A Christmas Conspiracy
Christmas 2.0: Subverting the Holidays with YouTube
Death at Christmas
Five Awful Thanksgivings in History

Elvis Presley’s Strangest Christmases

He's the biggest kid, with the biggest toys, and he loved Christmas like he loved life — a little too much. Maybe Elvis will wander into a truck stop this Christmas Eve, toting his gun and demanding a fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich.

But if not, we can celebrate the holiday sharing six legends of his rock and roll excess in December, as a poor boy from Tupelo grappled with three all-American holiday obsessions: stars, Christmas, and money.

1. Elvis Gone Wild
At 22, Elvis had struck it rich. For Christmas in 1957, he bought his mother one of every electrical appliance (according to one Elvis Christmas site) — plus, a cashmere coat. Unfortunately, five days before Christmas he also received an unwelcome card from the army — telling him he'd been drafted.

The next Christmas, Elvis's mother had died, and he was living in a German hotel and hitting on a 19-year-old German girl named Elisabeth. (He crashed her parent's house for Thanksgiving, then told them in December that he wanted to hire her as his secretary.) Yes, Elvis slept with her — and a bunch of other girls — and he was starting to live large, according to the biography Careless Love. Elvis rented a sporty BMW, bought a Cadillac from the company commander, showered money on the local orphanage for a Christmas party, and discovered amphetamines.

Elvis served for two years (after getting a three-month deferment to finish filming King Creole). But in December of 1958, after a hard day of working with his platoon, one of the soldiers picked up a guitar and starting singing Christmas songs. "One by one others joined in," according to the biography, "and then the soldier with the guitar asked Elvis if he would like to take part too. 'Yeah, all right' said a subdued Elvis...and he led the soldiers in song." Elvis went into a personal rapture when he got to "Silent Night," and one sergeant remembered all the other voices dropping out for the King.

"'Those going on pass didn't interrupt. They simply walked silently be Elvis, touched his shoulder, and walked out the door. Not another word was spoken after the song until Elvis broke the spell.
"Merry Christmas, everyone" he said.
"Merry Christmas, Elvis!" they replied in unison.

2. Head in the Clouds
Elvis's religious fervor got stronger, and for Christmas in 1964, he put a new headstone on his mother's grave — and experienced a miracle. He was searching for a spiritual solace, at one point announcing to his wife Priscilla that he'd now "withdraw myself from the temptations of sex." Within a few months, 29-year-old Elvis was driving his entourage across Arizona for the filming of Harum Scarum. ("Elvis brings the big beat to Baghdad.") And he suddenly spotted a mystical face in the clouds. Unfortunately, it was Joseph Stalin.

"That's Joseph Stalin's face up there..." Elvis whispered to his spiritual advisor Larry Geller. "[W]hat's he doing up there?" Geller himself remembers that the clouds did look like Joseph Stalin — and then that the miracle had happened.
Before I could answer, the cloud slowly turned in on itself, changing form and dimension until the image faded and gradually disappeared. I knew we had witnessed something extraordinary and turned to say so, but stopped when I saw Elvis staring into the cloud, his eyes open wide and his face reflecting wonder... Elvis' expression was the one that you read of in the Bible or other religious works: the look of the newly baptized or the converted.

Elvis violently screeched the bus to a halt, crying "It's God! It's God...! The face of Stalin turned right into the face of Jesus, and he smiled at me, and every fiber of my being felt it."

Elvis later decided that he wanted to become a monk, and according to the Careless Love, "the guys all fumed at this latest evidence of the boss's weirdness and almost perverse dedication to the bizarre."

And that night in the Mojave desert, their motor home caught on fire.

3. Elvis's last Christmas
Two days after Christmas in 1976, 41-year-old Elvis was heading to Wichita, Kansas after finishing his run at the Las Vegas Hilton. Elvis looked "very tired and quite sad," one fan reported, and according to biographer Peter Guralnick, Elvis had even asked minister Rex Humbard if he should abandon show business altogether to devote himself to god. (Then Elvis started talking excitedly about Armageddon...) Humbard remembers that he politely "took both his hands in mine, and said 'Elvis, right now I want to pray for you.' He said 'Please do,' and started weeping."

A bewildered reporter at the Memphis Press-Scimitar watched the last show in Vegas, and wrote that "one walks away wondering how much longer it can be before the end comes, perhaps suddenly, and why the King of Rock 'n' Roll would subject himself to possible ridicule by going onstage so ill-prepared.

"And yet they keep coming back, and they will pack his next road tour... Once a king, always a king. Maybe that's it."

"And just maybe they're still coming because they think it might be the last time around."

4. I Fought the Law
Even at the peak of his popularity, Elvis wistfully remembered his days of obscurity. In 1954, Elvis was a struggling 19-year-old superstar wannabe facing his first brush with the law (according to an interview he gave in 1966). Elvis had been the singer for a three-man combo, and one cold December night was driving back from Shreveport, Louisiana when a highway patrolman pulled him over for speeding. "It was cold," Elvis later told a reporter, "and I was sleepy. I woke up, and the officer asked, who are you?"

After hearing Elvis's name, "The officer looked puzzled. Of course he had never heard of me. Hardly anyone had. I thought, 'Here goes my Christmas money for a traffic ticket.'"

Instead, the officer waved them off with a warning, and relieved, the singer and his band performed a strange ritual. "After the officer left, the three of us got out of the car and counted our money by the car headlights. It was mostly in dollar bills. Man, that was the most money I'd ever had in my pockets at one time!

"I blew the whole bundle the next day for Christmas presents."

Elvis took a moment to remember the night 12 years later, just a few months before the filming of Paradise, Hawaiian Style. "There is a lot of difference in Christmases today and when we were growing up in East Tupelo," he told the reporter.

"[But] honestly, I can't say these are any better...."

5. Elvis's Revenge
Elvis had a dream on Christmas Eve just 19 months before his death — that no one who worked for him really cared about him; that they just wanted his money. According to biographer Guralnick, on Christmas morning Elvis spilled the details with a sympathetic nurse. "He had dreamed that he had gone broke, and when he needed them they walked out on him." Elvis and the nurse stayed up talking until 3 a.m., and by the time he came downstairs, nearly all of his friends had left.

So on Christmas day, Elvis tried treating his friends to a trip on his private jet, the Lisa Marie. As he was handing out jewelry to his posse, Elvis's drunken aunt Delta suddenly shouted at one of them " You ain't no damn friend of his! And I got a good mind to take this .38 I got in my purse and just shoot you dead!'" Looking at another hanger-on, she said "And you ain't worth a shit either, you wall-eyed son of a bitch... All you sons of bitches are here for the same thing. You just want his damn money!"

Elvis advised his friends she was drunk, but that night at 2 a.m., began beating on her trailer door with a cane. "His hair was messed up, and he was wild-eyed and red-faced..." remembered Elvis's cousin Billy, who had grabbed a gun before consoling the king about his Christmas day humiliation. ("He was out of his mind, he was so mad...")

But maybe Elvis had already gotten the ultimate revenge in 1971. Five years before his death, Elvis gathered his posse into his den, according to a gossip item Guralnick quotes in Careless Love. Each hanger-on remembered the previous year, when Elvis had given out several new Mercedes — and this year Elvis was promising them "maybe a little something special."
With a sly grin on his face, the singer turned to his father, Vernon Presley, and asked "Where are the envelopes, please?"

Vernon reached into his coat pockets and produced the envelopes. "Well, it's been a mighty lean year," said Elvis, whose income probably exceeded $4,000,000 in 1971. As the envelopes began to be opened, the room fell silent. His special gift for 1971 was a 50-cent gift certificate to McDonalds.

But Elvis was just kidding, and later gave them all thick envelopes loaded with cash. And a few days later, Elvis rented an entire movie theatre downtown just so he could watch Shaft.

That was also the year Elvis recorded his final Christmas album.
I've seen and I've done most everything
That a man can do or see.
But if I could only borrow one dream from yesterday
I'd be on that train tomorrow.
I'd be home on Christmas day

6. Resurrection

Did Elvis fake his death to escape a grueling show business life? For 30 years, the legend persisted, until one night the question was settled on an episode of American Idol. In August of last year Ryan Seacrest introduced "a duet you thought was impossible," resurrecting the ghost of Elvis from December of 1968 so he could sing with Celine Dion.

It was either a holographic monstrosity or a touching remembrance, as the legendary entertainer belted out the showstopper from his comeback special one last time. Though he would've been 73, somehow Elvis's image and voice transcended death itself — and kept on earning more money for other people. (Eight weeks ago, Sony records even used the same trick to release 12 new Elvis Christmas Duets.) From the great beyond, Elvis sends a final "Merry Christmas, Baby," and American Idol had probably identified the song you'd most expect to hear after re-animating the king of rock and roll.
We're lost in a cloud
with too much rain.
We're trapped in a world
That's troubled with pain.

But as long as a man
has the strength to dream
he can redeem his soul
and fly.

The video may not constitute a Christmas miracle worthy of Andy Kaufman.

But it does suggest that maybe Elvis isn't really dead —as long as his fans remember him.


See Also:
Christmas 2.0: Subvering the Holidays with Re-Dubbing
Alvin and the Chipmunks Launch
Atheist Filmmaker Issues "Blasphemy Challenge
A Christmas Conspiracy
They're Dreaming of a Boobs Christmas

Death at Christmas

It's easy to hate Christmas: the endless forced good cheer, the media-driven consumer frenzy, the It's a Wonderful Life fantasy dissolving into a Married... with Children reality.

But no matter how bad your holiday is, rest assured that it could have been far worse.

1. Family Discord.
Home was definitely not the place to be for the family of R. Gene Simmons of Dover, Arkansas in 1987. The clan was rapidly becoming estranged from the family patriarch. Even his favorite daughter, who had borne him a son, had run off and gotten married. It was time for revenge. As each contingent showed up at the dilapidated family mobile home to try to put a happy face on for the holiday, Simmons shot the adults and strangled the children. By Christmas Day, he'd wiped out almost three generations of Simmons, 14 all told. It was the worst family slaughter in American history.

But wait — he wasn't done yet! For an encore a few days later, he went on a shooting rampage through a few former places of employment. He killed two people and injured four more before surrendering to police. He later became the first man executed by lethal injection in Arkansas.

2.The Season of Not Giving.
The holiday-fueled impulse to eradicate one's family isn't limited to the dysfunctional trailer park crowd. H. Sanford Williams was eminently respectable, having been an Army Chaplin, a Methodist Pastor, and finally the head of a charity, the National Retirement Foundation. Alas, the season of sharing had been a bust donation-wise and his foundation was in serious trouble. On Christmas Eve in 1957, the St. Petersburg, Florida man shot and killed his wife and two sons before turning the gun on himself.

3. Xmas Pageant Inferno.
It was the climax of the 1924 Christmas Eve pageant at the Babb's Switch, Oklahoma one-room schoolhouse. The last recitation had ended, the last carol faded. Now Santa himself was handing out bags of candy to all the children. But oh no! Santa brushed against the candle-lit tree. Within minutes, the room was a seething inferno, with 200 men, women, and children trying to force their way out the only exit: a door that opened inward. Thirty-four people died. But thanks to the heroic efforts of Santa and the schoolteacher (both of whom were themselves incinerated), only five children were among the dead.

4. The Deadly Christmas tree.
The substitution of incandescent lights for candles didn't eliminate the tendency of Christmas trees to turn into pyrotechnic yule logs. One of the deadliest of these modern-day holiday firebombs was Niles Street Hospital's 1945 tree. When a nurse unplugged the tree lights on Christmas Eve in the Hartford, Connecticut convalescent hospital, a spark ignited the dry needles. She grabbed a fire extinguisher, but panicked at the sight of the roaring flames and fled. Not only did she not even bother to call the fire department (neighbors, woken by the crackling flames, summoned them several minutes later), she left the front door open to properly ventilate the blaze. The building was completely gutted, and 15 patients and two staff died.

5. The Lethal Midnight Mass.
Christmas Eve midnight mass in Temoaya, Mexico in 1953 had just finished. Three thousand worshippers were peacefully filing out when someone tripped over the wrong wire. There was a bright blue flash, and then total darkness. All sense of peace and goodwill toward men vanished as the crowd transformed into a panic-stricken mob stampeding from the sanctuary. By the time the lights came on a few minutes later, 23 people were dead and over 200 injured.

See Also:
Five Awful Thanksgivings in History
Christmas 2.0: Subverting the Holidays with Re-dubbing
Atheist Filmmaker Launches Blasphemy Challenge
Alvin and the Chipmunks Launch

Timothy Leary’s New Book On Drugs

I always sort of liked Timothy Leary, but I never took many drugs and never really read any of his work. I've sat through a few videos in which he came off as a good-natured eccentric — spaced out, but with a sharp sense of humor.

This book is a surprise. Published by Re/Search, purveyors of books about pranks, punk rock, and body modification, it may not make you want to become an "enlightened" acidhead, but it should leave you with at least one insight: Timothy Leary was a damn fine writer. Who knew?

I interviewed Leary On Drugs editor, Hassan I Sirius, by email to get the scoop on this new collection of Leary's writing.
Click here for
more information
about the book!

JAYDEN DEVEREUX: I was mostly surprised by the quality of Leary's writing and his seriousness of purpose. How did you go about selecting materials for the book?

HASSAN I SIRIUS: My approach was pretty much exactly what you've just implied. Most of the content was selected for the quality of the writing and for the calm lucidity of Leary's thoughts about drugs. With all the recent positive reports about psychedelic research (Time magazine even had a story titled "Was Timothy Leary Right?") — and with the growing awareness of the destructive nature of drug prohibition, it seemed wise to try to make this a fairly serious contribution to our collective knowledge and thinking regarding drugs, particularly of the psychedelic variety.

Leary wrote a lot of material, some of it frivolous, some of it caught up in the battles and in the hype of a particular time period. And some of that material may not stand up to scrutiny. I think I mostly selected materials that stand on their own. You don't have to understand the sixties or the seventies all that well to get something out of these pieces. They really are pretty much focused on drugs – descriptions of experiences and visions, theories, observations and so forth.

JD: The theoretical material is a bit dense. He had a scientific orientation.

HIS: Yeah. Even when he was living in a teepee at the height of the hippie movement, he never cancelled his subscription to Scientific American. And even though he started using all those eastern Hindu metaphors that became so popular then, he was also seeing it all in terms of genetics and DNA, very early on. It was not that long after the discovery of DNA – less than a decade — and this really impacted on his vision of psychedelic experiences from the start in 1960. You can pretty much find him intuiting evolutionary psychology even in his earlier writings. He went on evolutionary trips, experiencing the emergence of life and its evolution toward humanity. He assumed everybody would have that trip, which is one place where he went a bit astray.

JD: I was able to understand most of it. Most of his arguments for psychedelics don't seem particularly wild. But what I really enjoyed was the stories. Some of those are pretty wild and pretty intense. The political section is almost scary. Can you say a bit about that?

HIS: Yeah, well some of the trip stories are pretty intense too. But you're probably referring to the story involving Mary Pinchot, who was one of President Kennedy's lovers. And it seems pretty clear that she involved Leary in a successful conspiracy to turn JFK on to LSD. The material, in this case, is from his autobiography, Flashbacks. But in Flashbacks, this particular narrative was sprinkled throughout the book as you go through his life chronologically. When you actually isolate the sections about Pinchot and then stitch them together as an entry, it makes a stronger impression.

The other thing you may be referring to is the conversation at the end of the book that Leary had with a hardball Swiss political operative with various intelligence connections while he was in exile from the U.S. government in Switzerland. The entry is almost painful in its sophistication and leaves the book on a solemn note — we are still all prisoners of men who lust for power, from Leary's point of view.

JD: What were Leary's favorite drugs?

HIS: I guess they all had their place. He was a social drinker and he was a social guy… so that amounted to a fair amount of drinking. It's sort of funny – he's always celebrating great moments in the psychedelic revolution with a glass of champagne or something along those lines. Mind you, I don't see anything wrong with it. And he always thought LSD was an extraordinarily marvelous invention. In a 1988 article included in the book, he writes about "good old LSD" and marvels that it's still the best. There's a segment on heroin. He wasn't crazy about heroin, even though he found it pleasant when he tried it… and he makes it clear that he wasn't happy about the dominance of coke and crack in the drug culture during the 1980s.

JD: Do you think he would be happy with all of the psychedelic research going on now?

HIS: He was alive to see it begin again and he commented on it favorably. Yeah, he would be thrilled with the positive reports. People forget he started out examining these drugs in a therapeutic context. On the other hand, he denounced control of drugs by the medical profession, particularly later in his life. He took a libertarian view that adults have a human right to do what they want with their brains. But at other points, it's clear that he prefers the medical model to leaving it in the hands of the drug warriors.

JD: So what does Leary have to say to us now?

HIS: Well, read the book. It's not so much reflective of the politics of the moment – although plenty of lessons about that can be found in there — but most of the material is really reflective of a search for meaning, and self-understanding, and peak experiences that people can find valuable no matter what is going on in the world.

In this book, what you get, mostly, is a very thoughtful and sensitive Leary pondering the meaning of it all.

Click here to buy the book!

See Also:
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Hallucinogenic Weapons: The Other Chemical Warfare
Counterculture and the Tech Revolution
Don't Call It a Conspiracy: The Kennedy Brothers