Saturday, August 16, 2003

[8/16/2011] Woody Allen Tonight: Hitler's barber remembers! -- Part 1 of "The Schmeed Memoirs" (from "Getting Even") (continued)


"Speer was, in fact, the only one with enough integrity to tell the Führer when he needed a haircut. 'Too flashy,' Speer said now. 'Sideburns are the kind of thing I'd associate with Churchill.' Hitler became incensed. Was Churchill contemplating sideburns, he wanted to know, and if so, how many and when?"
-- from "The Schmeed Memoirs"

"The Schmeed Memoirs" appeared originally in The New Yorker of April 17, 1971.

(from Getting Even)
Part 1

The seemingly inexhaustible spate of literature on the Third Reich continues unabated with the soon to be published Memoirs of Friedrich Schmeed. Schmeed, the best-known barber in wartime Germany, provided tonsorial services for Hitler and many highly placed government and military officials. As was noted during the Nuremberg Trials, Schmeed not only seemed to be always at the right place at the right time but possessed "more than total recall," and was thus uniquely qualified to write this incisive guide to innermost Nazi Germany. Following are a few brief excerpts:

In the spring of 1940, a large Mercedes pulled up in front of my barbershop at 127 Koenigstrasse, and Hitler walked in. "I just want a light trim," he said, "and don't take too much off the top." I explained to him there would be a brief wait because von Ribbentrop was ahead of him. Hitler said he was in a rush and asked Ribbentrop if he could be taken next, but Ribbentrop insisted it would look bad for the Foreign Office if he were passed over. Hitler thereupon made a quick phone call, and Ribbentrop was immediately transferred to the Afrika Korps, and Hitler got his haircut. This sort of rivalry went on all the time. Once, Göring had Heydrich detained by the police on false pretenses, so that he could get the chair by the window. Göring was a dissolute and often wanted to sit on the hobbyhorse to get his haircuts. The Nazi high command was embarrassed by this but could do nothing. One day, Hess challenged him. "I want the hobbyhorse today, Herr Field Marshal," he said.

"Impossible. I have it reserved," Göring shot back.

"I have orders directly from the Führer. They state that I am to be allowed to sit on the horse for my haircut." And Hess produced a letter from Hitler to that effect. Göring was livid. He never forgave Hess, and said that in the future he would have his wife cut his hair at home with a bowl. Hitler laughed when he heard this, but Göring was serious and would have carried it out had not the Minister of Arms turned down his requisition for a thinning shears.

I have been asked if I was aware of the moral implications of what I was doing. As I told the tribunal at Nuremberg, I did not know that Hitler was a Nazi. The truth was that for years I thought he worked for the phone company. When I finally did find out what a monster he was, it was too late to do anything, as I had made a down payment on some furniture. Once, toward the end of the war, I did contemplate loosening the Führer's neck-napkin and allowing some tiny hairs to get down his back, but at the last minute my nerve failed me.

* * *

At Berchtesgaden one day, Hitler turned to me and said, "How would I look in sideburns?" Speer laughed, and Hitler became affronted. "I'm quite serious, Herr Speer," he said. "I think I might look good in sideburns." Göring, that obsequious clown, concurred instantly, saying, "The Führer in sideburns -- what an excellent idea!" Speer still disagreed. He was, in fact, the only one with enough integrity to tell the Führer when he needed a haircut. "Too flashy," Speer said now. "Sideburns are the kind of thing I'd associate with Churchill." Hitler became incensed. Was Churchill contemplating sideburns, he wanted to know, and if so, how many and when? Himmler, supposedly in charge of Intelligence, was summoned immediately. Göring was annoyed by Speer's attitude and whispered to him, "Why are you making waves, eh? If he wants sideburns, let him have sideburns." Speer, usually tactful to a fault, called Göring a hypocrite and "an order of bean curd in a German uniform." Göring swore he would get even, and it was rumored later that he had special S.S. guards french Speer's bed.

Himmler arrived in a frenzy. He had been in the midst of a tap-dancing lesson when the phone rang, summoning him to Berchtesgaden. He was afraid it was about a misplaced carload of several thousand cone-shaped party hats that had been promised Rommel for his winter offensive. (Himmler was not accustomed to being invited to dinner at Berchtesgaden, because his eyesight was poor and Hitler could not bear to watch him bring the fork up to his face and then stick the food somewhere on his cheek.) Himmler knew something was wrong, because Hitler was calling him "Shorty," which he only did when annoyed. Suddenly the Führer turned on him, shouting, "Is Churchill going to grow sideburns?"

Himmler turned red.


Himmler said there had been word that Churchill contemplated sideburns but it was all unofficial. As to size and number, he explained, there would probably be two, of a medium length, but no one wanted to say before they could be sure. Hitler screamed and banged his fist on the table. (This was a triumph for Göring over Speer.) Hitler pulled out a map and showed us how he meant to cut off England's supply of hot towels. By blockading the Dardanelles, Doenitz could keep the towels from being brought ashore and laid across anxiously awaiting British faces. But the basic question remained: Could Hitler beat Churchill to sideburns? Himmler said Churchill had a head start and that it might be impossible to catch him. Göring, that vacuous optimist, said the Führer could probably grow sideburns quicker, particularly if we marshalled all of Germany's might in a concentrated effort. Von Rundstedt, at a meeting of the General Staff, said it was a mistake to try to grow sideburns on two fronts at once and advised that it would be wiser to concentrate all efforts on one good sideburn. Hitler said he could do it on both cheeks simultaneously. Rommel agreed with von Rundstedt. "They will never come out even, mein Führer," he said. "Not if you rush them." Hitler became enraged and said that it was a matter for him and his barber. Speer promised he could triple our output of shaving cream by the fall, and Hitler was euphoric. Then, in the winter of 1942, the Russians launched a counter-offensive and the sideburns came to a halt. Hitler grew despondent, fearing that soon Churchill would look wonderful while he still remained "ordinary," but shortly thereafter we received news that Churchill had abandoned the idea of sideburns as too costly. Once again the Führer had been proved right.


* * *

TOMORROW IN WOODY ALLEN TONIGHT: In the concluding excerpts from his memoirs, Schmeed recalls the Führer's final tonsorial decline

PLUS (!): In Part 1 of "Count Dracula," the Count makes a grave miscalculation


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