“The Man who Saved Hitler”: How Hitler Hijacked a British War Hero’s Reputation

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The Man Who Saved Hitler

In 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was in Germany to negotiate the Munich Pact, a last attempt to prevent further conflict in Europe. During the negotiations, he was invited by Adolf Hitler to visit the German chancellor’s private retreat in Bavaria, Berchtesgaden. Chamberlain was encouraged to explore the  Fuhrer’s sanctuary, and it was while he was in Hitler’s study that he noticed something curious. For hanging on the wall was a copy of Matania’s “The Menin Crossroads.”

 Such a relic of British bravery was a strange thing to hang on the wall of Germany’s leader- especially as their defeat in First World War had been so calamitous for the Germans. Hitler noticed Chamberlain looking at the painting- and was more than happy to explain its presence. Hitler revealed that the picture had a particular significance for him. For Adolf Hitler claimed to be the wounded soldier Tandey had refused to shoot at Marcoing Bridge. While in hospital after the armistice, the future Fuhrer had come across the news report of Tandey’s heroism- and recognized him as the man who had spared his life.

Hitler had acquired “The Menin Crossroads” in 1937 through Dr. Otto Schwend, a member of his staff. Schwend had met, treated and befriended Lieutenant Colonel Earle of the Green Howards at a medical post at the Menin crossroads in 1914. The enemy soldiers stayed in touch after the war and eventually Earle sent Schwend a postcard of the painting, possibly as a memento of the beginning of their friendship. Realizing the significance of the picture to Hitler, Schwend asked for a copy, which Earle obligingly sent.

“That man came so near to killing me that I thought I should never see Germany again,” the Fuhrer told the British prime minister, pointing out Tandey in the picture. ” Providence saved me from such devilishly accurate fire as those English boys were aiming at us.” He ended by asked the prime minister to pass on his regards to Tandey.

On his return home, Chamberlain reputedly phoned Tandey at his home, to pass on Hitler’s message. Tandey was out, but his nephew took the call- and somehow, the press caught hold of the story. The quiet, anonymous life of Henry Tandey was shattered. The story, sensational at the best of times, was given an extra edge by the fact war was looming- a war that might never have been thought of but for the former Private Tandey’s act of kindness.

In August 1938, The Coventry Herald included an interview with Tandey. However, the publicity-shy former soldier was unable to deny or confirm the rumor. “According to them, I’ve met Adolf Hitler,” Tandey told the paper. “Maybe they’re right, but I can’t remember him.”

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