Scrapbookpages Blog

April 15, 2014

The origin of the toothbrush mustache, worn by Hitler

An article in Highbrow magazine, which you can read in full here, is highly critical of the iconic Shepard Fairey image of President Obama, sporting a toothbrush mustache. This desecration of the iconic Obama image was seen recently on a street in Montreal.

This quote is from the article:

In the midst of Montreal’s cobblestone streets and colonial mansions is a small, wooden, fold-up table upon which sits the now iconic Shepard Fairey image of Barack Obama. It does not take long for you and your friends to realize there is something odd about this particular incarnation of the poster because there, just above President Barack Obama’s upper lip is a toothbrush mustache worn, most infamously, by Adolph Hitler. There you stand, all three of you American, two Jewish, staring blankly at an image of your president adorned with the facial hair of the orchestrator of arguably the largest genocide in recorded history.
Images, and the words that oftentimes accompany them, have a tendency to take on lives of their own. The mustache sported so famously by Hitler represents many things. It represents fear, violence, extermination, destruction, hate.

I learned the origin of the Hitler mustache and the reason for this style of facial hair in Germany when I visited Dachau in 1997.

The photo below was displayed in the Dachau Museum in 1977. The museum has been completely changed several times since then.

Poster in Dachau Museum in 1997

Poster in Dachau Museum in 1997 shows Himmler with a toothbrush mustache

The photograph above shows a display in the Dachau Museum; the man in the photo is Heinrich Himmler, who started the concentration camp system in Germany in 1933.

Himmler was the 32-year-old Chief of Police in Munich when he announced on March 20, 1933 that a concentration camp would be opened in the abandoned gun powder and munitions factory in the eastern section of Dachau.

In the photo, what looks like a toupee, that doesn’t quite cover his bald head, is really a popular haircut of that time: the sides and back were shaved with only a section on the top left. His Hitler-style mustache was also popular among the Nazis.

The toothbrush mustache style was adopted after World War I when German men shaved off the ends of their handlebar mustaches after Kaiser Wilhelm II, who wore this popular style, was forced to abdicate.

The first photo below shows Hitler, as a soldier in World War I, wearing a handlebar mustache. The second photo shows him after he adopted the toothbrush mustache in protest against the treatment of the German Kaiser after World War I.

Hitler as a soldier in World War I

Hitler as a soldier in World War I

Hitler with a toothbrush mustache

Hitler with a toothbrush mustache

Kaiser Wilheim shown with a handlebar mustache which he was forced to change

Kaiser Wilhelm shown with a handlebar mustache

The reason for the toothbrush mustache is explained in this Wikipedia entry:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toothbrush_moustache#In_Germany

3 Comments »

  1. I’m not sure how accurate the above entry is. My understanding has always been (and I’m unable to locate the sources, is that the Kaiser style ‘stache was popular in many countries, not just Germany, and that during World War I many soldiers clipped the edges in a field-expedient manner to get a better fit from the gas mask. After the war, it became symbolic as a sort of “badge of honor” among frontskaempfer of all nationalities who could easily recognize one another on the street as a fellow soldier. Supposedly, in the late 20s, Hitler contemplated shaving his off, but his “handler”, Ernst Hanfstaengl, talked him out of it, as again, it was a symbol of his identity as and with the common man.

    Comment by schlageter — April 15, 2014 @ 4:09 pm

    • You are correct that this style of mustache was popular in other countries, especially since Charlie Chaplin adopted this style way back in the silent movie days. Chaplin was allegedly a Gypsy, which is confirmed by this article: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2011/feb/17/charlie-chaplin-gypsy-heritage.

      However, when I visited the Dachau Museum in 1997, about half of the museum was devoted to the history of Germany, written in German, on large posters. I purchased a book, at the Museum, which had all of the text on the posters in English. The information on the posters was a big revelation for me. It was all about the fall of Germany after World War I, and the forced abdication of the Kaiser. The Nazis blamed the loss of World War I on the Jews, who organized strikes that shut the country down, causing Germany to lose the war.

      The Dachau Museum has gone through many changes and it is now all about the Jews. The Dachau guidebook was changed so that it tells a different story now.

      Comment by furtherglory — April 16, 2014 @ 6:10 am

  2. I learn more about the Holocaust and associated characters here than anywhere else on the net. Thank you for what you do.

    Comment by BMan — April 15, 2014 @ 3:15 pm


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