From 1936 until the end of the Second World War, Hugo Jaeger worked as a personal photographer for Adolf Hitler. Jaeger was granted unparalleled access to Hilter and traveled with him for years and unlike those of Hitler’s main photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, his photos were in color. Jaeger was one of the few photographers who were using color photography at the time, especially Agfacolor, which was invented in the same year he began photographing Hitler.
In 1930, he befriended Martin Bormann, who would soon become a Nazi bigwig. Six years later, Bormann introduced Jaeger to Adolf Hitler who initially didn’t like Jaeger’s color work (“a poor technical imitation of nature”, the former painter said. However, soon the clarity of the images won him and he told Jaeger to stick with color: “Be totally rock-hard convinced that German industry and science will steadily perfect it.”
Hitler gave Jaeger a pass that essentially allowed him to go wherever he wanted to take his pictures. He made around 2,000 colour photographs of the German dictator and various events connected with the Nazis, from the rallies in Nuremberg to the invasion of Poland. On weekends, he was often invited to Hitler’s home to show his slides to guests.
At the end of the war, he was in Munich, and was fearful that American soldiers would confiscate or destroy his pictures of such a wanted man. Packing them in a bag, he hid them in a cellar coal pile along with his last bottle of brandy. The Americans came, poked in the pile, found the bag and the bottle and opened both. The first thing they came upon in the bag was a little ivory gambling top—a put-and-take top. The soldiers paused, spun the top. then settled down happily to the brandy and a game of put-and-take, ignoring the pictures.
Afterwards, Jaeger packed his slides into dozens of preserving jars, carried them to the edge of town and systematically buried them over the area of a square mile or so. As he went, he made a map: “From the railroad switch, 263 ties west, then 15 meters north….” Several times in the next few years he dug up the jars, dried them out, repacked and reburied them. They were all in fine condition when he dug them up for good in 1955 and stored them in a bank vault. He sold them to LIFE magazine in 1965.