These images are chilling, bordering on surreal: as World War II raged on December 18, 1941, Adolf Hitler presided over a Christmas party in Munich. The color-enhanced images were captured by Hugo Jaeger, one of Adolf Hitler’s personal photographers. Mr Jaegar buried the photos in a glass jar at the end of the war and they remained hidden there for 10 years until 1955 when he transferred them and around 2,000 other images to a bank vault.
The Nazi Christmas was far from traditional. After taking power in 1933, Nazi ideologues initially renamed the Christmas festival Julfest, and propagated its Germanic origins as the celebration of the winter solstice. These ideologists also claimed that the Christian elements of the holiday had been superimposed upon ancient Germanic traditions. They argued that Christmas Eve originally had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ, but instead celebrated the winter solstice and the ‘rebirth of the sun’, that the swastika was an ancient symbol of the sun, and that Santa Claus was a Christian reinvention of the Germanic god Odin.
Accordingly, holiday posters were made to depict Odin as the “Christmas or Solstice man”, riding a white charger, sporting a thick grey beard and wearing a slouch hat, carrying a sack full of gifts. Other changes were made to the manger, which was replaced by a Christmas garden containing wooden toy deer and rabbits; Mary and Jesus were also depicted as a blonde mother and child.
The Christmas tree was also changed. The traditional names of the tree, Christbaum or Weihnachtsbaum, was renamed in the press as fir tree, light tree or Jul tree. The star on the top of the tree was sometimes replaced with a swastika, a Germanic “sun wheel” or a Sig rune. Christmas carols were also updated. The words to “Silent Night” were amended so that it made no reference to God, Christ and religion. Words were also changed to the hymn “Unto Us a Time Has Come” so as to remove references to Jesus. The modified version of the hymn was in use for several more years in post-war Germany.
As a sign of appreciation, Heinrich Himmler frequently gave SS members a Julleuchter (“Yule lantern”), a kind of ornate Germanic candlestick, some of which were made at Dachau concentration camp. Housewives were prompted to bake biscuits in the shape of birds, wheels and swastikas for their children.
(Photo credit: Hugo Jaeger — The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images).