December 1941 was not a good time for Adolf Hitler — and you can see it on his face in these remarkable color photos taken by his official photographer, Hugo Jaeger. The war was supposed to have been over by this point — but the Russian campaign was turning into a fiasco and the Americans had now entered into the fray. Adolf, it would appear, was having a hard time getting into some Christmas cheer.
The pictures are definitely surreal — and even a bit pathetic. While he was setting the world ablaze, Hitler organized a Christmas party for his generals in Munich. Earlier that spring, when the Russian campaign was launched, he had promised everyone that the war would be over by Christmas. Instead, he had to spend it with his generals while contemplating an uncertain future.
The photos were part of an enormous stash of color transparencies made by Hitler's personal photographer, Hugo Jaeger, and buried in glass jars on the outskirts of Munich in 1945, near the war's end. Advancing Allied forces had almost discovered the pictures during an earlier search of a house where Jaeger was staying (a bottle of cognac on top of the transparencies distracted the troops), and Jaeger — justifiably terrified that the photos would serve as evidence of his own ardent Nazism — cached them in the ground. A decade later, he exhumed the pictures; 10 years after that, he sold them to LIFE, which published a handful in 1970.
The caption accompanying the one frame from the Christmas party that was published by LIFE in April 1970 offers a possible explanation for Hitler's glum expression in that photo (3rd photo):
"In 1941, Hitler gave this Christmas party for his generals. Though he dominated his officers and came to despise them, Hitler never felt socially at ease with them — they had better backgrounds and education. He never invited them to dinner, aware that they looked down on the old comrades he liked to have around."
As for the religious views of Hitler himself, the evidence is conflicting: In public statements he sometimes praised Christianity (once calling it "the foundation of our national morality"), but in private conversations — including one recalled by the Third Reich's official architect, Albert Speer — the Führer is said to have abhorred the faith for what he deemed its "meekness and flabbiness." Hitler did, however, fervently worship one thing above all else: the so-called Aryan race. And by the time Hugo Jaeger took the photos seen here, Hitler and Heinrich Himmler, commanding general of the SS, had articulated and launched their plan for creating a "master" race — via, in large part, the mass murder of Europe's Jews and other "undesirables": the "Final Solution".