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When Lee Miller bathed in Hitler’s bathtub

April 30, 1945 photojournalist Lee Miller bathed in Hitler’s bathtub. Correspondent for the British FashionMiller took up residence in the Führer’s abandoned apartment in Munich along with a group of soldiers from the 179th Regiment. That morning she was among the first to enter the newly liberated Dachau. At Hitler’s mansion, before she got into the bath, she set up the camera; her then lover, Life photographer David Scherman snapped the shot while she was bathing. Over time, the picture would become famous as a kind of apt visual metaphor for the end of the war. On the same day, Hitler and his new wife Eva Braun took their own lives in a Berlin bunker across Germany. In a letter to her Fashion Editor Miller described Dachau’s «great dusty spaces that had been trodden down by so many thousands of condemned feet—feet that ached and shuffled and repelled the cold and shifted to relieve the pain, and at last became useless except to lead them to the chamber death. » In Scherman’s photograph, some of the same dust got from Miller’s shoes onto Hitler’s white bathroom rug.

Miller has been photographed many times, and not just by Scherman. While she was growing up in Poughkeepsie, New York, her father, an amateur photographer, created a series of candidly sensual portraits of Miller in the nude, which her biographer Carolyn Burke found «disturbing» but in keeping with his idiosyncratic bohemianism. Later, the story goes, Miller was crossing the street in New York one day when she was nearly hit by a car. The man who helped her up was publisher Condé Nast. Like in a fairy tale, her image was soon on the cover Fashion. She was photographed by Edward Steichen, among many others. There wasn’t a word for it back then, but she could be called a supermodel. Eventually, tired of being in front of the camera, she impulsively moved to Paris to study with Man Ray and became his muse, student and collaborator. A recent exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery, «Seeing is Believing: Lee Miller and Friends,» contextualized Miller’s photographs alongside works by artists from her social milieu, including Picasso, Max Ernst, Henry Moore, and the British surrealist and art historian Roland Penrose, whom Miller admired after the war took

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Miller became a war correspondent almost by accident. She became an accomplished fashion photographer and was commissioned by the British Fashion, made haunting, Atgetian images of the London Blitz. But she longed to get closer to the conflict. In 1944 she was accredited by the US forces as a war correspondent and was sent to Normandy in Vogue she commanded in her new tailored Savile Row uniform, which she would wear non-stop all year round. Force, who was expected to feel at home among the sisters, was therefore assigned to photograph the American evacuation hospital near Omaha Beach. Her second assignment, in the French port city of Saint-Malo, was to be similarly out of danger. But thanks to the intelligence wire, she found herself in the middle of a full siege shortly after her arrival.

From then on he was Miller Vogue a woman on the ground, sending back not only photographs but eloquent, hard-hitting messages from the front lines. (Her time covering the war is the focus of the upcoming biopic «Lee,» starring Kate Winslet.) She brought an esthete’s eye to an otherwise incomprehensibly ugly undertaking, creating images that were deeply moving and unforgettably disturbing. In Vienna, she photographed opera singer Irmgard Seefried in dramatic silhouette, singing an aria from «Madama Butterfly» in the twisted ruins of a bombed-out opera house. In Leipzig, she captured the body of the deputy burgomaster’s daughter, who died by suicide during the advance of the Allied troops, in a picture that recalls a painting by Caravaggio or «Self-portrait of a Drowned Man» by Hippolyte Bayard. Miller noted at the time, «The love of death that is modeled on German life has overtaken the regime’s high officials.

In June 1945 Fashion published an uncharacteristically brutal collection of images Miller took at Buchenwald under the garish caption «BELIEVE IT.” With bodies stacked like cords of wood and a bloated SS guard hanging from an iron hook, the spread was an obstreperous foray into the fashion and perfume ads Miller once shot or appeared in. But even for someone like Miller, who witnessed the aftermath of the Holocaust firsthand, it was hard to imagine the evil that was being perpetrated on European Jews. During her few days in Hitler’s apartment, she rummaged through his closets, noted his monogrammed silverware and tablecloths, and snapped a hefty photograph of an American soldier lounging on a deck chair, poring over a copy of «Mein Kampf.» Around midnight on the first of May, news of Hitler’s death reached them via the BBC. «Well, well, he was dead,» she wrote to Audrey Withers from Britain Vogue editor at the time. “To this day he was never alive to me. A visit to Hitler’s house, she continued, made him “less wonderful, and therefore more terrible, along with little evidence of his having any almost human habits; like a monkey that embarrasses and humiliates you with its gestures and mirrors you in caricature. «There but for the grace of God I go.» «

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Scherman’s photo of Miller in the bathtub isn’t exactly glamorous. She does not seem like one of the typical bathing beauties that populate art history, like the one carved in stone or perhaps cheaply reproduced in plaster that sits on the dressing table to her right. (Miller later offered her withering assessment of the Führer’s collection: «The artwork—sculpture, still on a string of exhibition medals—was average, as were the paintings on all the walls.») She is still beautiful, modestly stooped. and scrubs his upper back with a washcloth but looks tired. At Dachau that morning she had photographed piles of bodies in trucks and wagons that had escaped burning only because the camp had run out of fuel five days earlier; skeletal prisoners still stored on their bare bunks, too weak and sick to celebrate their freedom; an SS guard, unfairly calm in death, floating in the canal. Only about a third of her negatives from that April morning survived because Miller visited Fashion offices and went into many of them with scissors. A darkroom assistant at the time later recalled Miller saying, «I don’t want anyone to have to see what I witnessed, but I’m leaving enough to make sure there’s no doubt about what happened.»

It’s tempting to cast Miller’s bath photo as a talisman of triumph, a middle finger, a cleansing ritual. When the monster is defeated, the stench of evil can be removed. But of course it doesn’t really work that way. After the war, Scherman recalled in an interview, Miller became a «victim of the peace,» meaning despair consumed her. Saw. She hid her photographs in the attic of the country house she shared with Penrose and tried to forget. She never talked about the war. Later, her son Antony recalled his shock when he discovered an archive of his mother’s work in the attic after her death: “I knew my mum as a useless drunk. A hysterical type of person who . . . even catching a train at Lewes was a major episode. I couldn’t believe it was the same person who created this material.”

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Miller’s final act provided a kind of redemption. She he started cookingand as with all things she took up in her richly varied life, she doggedly pursued her new passion. She amassed a library of more than two thousand cookbooks. She won awards for her cooking. It has become a veritable encyclopedia of obscure dishes from around the world. She hosted famously surreal parties with strange delicacies such as chicken covered in gold leaf. She adored blenders. Often, when entertaining a rotating cast of famous guests, she would serve food or drinks on a silver tray she had rescued from Hitler’s famous mountain tower near Berchtesgaden. Like the silver in his Munich apartment, the bowl was monogrammed with his initials. But in a note attached to one of her recipes, she recalled, no one noticed. ♦

An earlier version of this article incorrectly labeled the photo.

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