Journal of Surrealism and the Americas, Vol 5, No 1 (2011)

Waste Management: Hitler’s Bathtub

Laurie J Monahan

Abstract


Photographer and war correspondent Lee Miller incongruously appeared bathing in Hitler’s bathtub in Vogue in 1945. Part of a series of articles and photographs Miller produced for Vogue during WWII, the photograph has recently been interpreted as Miller’s way to mark the Allied victory over the Nazis, registering her defiance and literal occupation of Hitler’s most personal of spaces. Laurie Monahan argues against such certainty, noting that the power of the images Miller produces from this period lies not in victory or defeat but in the absolutely disturbing contradictions that appear in the encounter. Present at the liberation of Dachau and subsequently lodging in Hitler’s Munich headquarters, Miller is forced to ask whether these traumas can be contained or managed through victory. Can we so easily condemn our enemies while assuring ourselves that we are entirely unlike them? Central to those assurances is the need to convince ourselves of the superiority of our values, our actions, and our ethics in the face of events that reveal death, fear, and the most sinister elements of human behavior – in short, to classify what constitutes the good and the bad. Miller’s images, with their sustained ambiguity, force us to ask these questions anew as we realize that even the terms of victory are not adequate for the purpose.

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