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The phrase Herr Hitler is sometimes used in English. For example, Churchill used it in this speech, and according to Google NGrams, at the peak of World War II, one in six uses of the word Herr in the English-language corpus was followed by Hitler.

Would Herr Hitler have been valid German? Or do heads of governments and/or states have a different honorific than Herr or Frau?

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    What would make you think that heads of state (if not royal) or government get any different honorific than other people in a democratic country? Compare Mr Cameron, Monsieur Hollande, herra Stubb and more. – Jan May 15 '15 at 15:58
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    @well, for one - Germany was not exactly democratic at that time – Gerhard May 15 '15 at 17:29
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    @Gerhard Thanks for prompting me to see what I believe to be the true intent of the question — see my answer below. – Jan May 15 '15 at 18:39
  • @Andrew: I’m reluctant to change the second half of your question from Or do heads etc. to Or did heads etc. to be more fitting with what I assume to be the intent of the first. – Jan May 15 '15 at 18:41
  • @Gerhard: Man spricht Deutsch auch außerhalb des deutschen Staatsgebiets und auch in privaten Räumen - von daher tut es wenig zur Sache wann Deutschland demokratisch war und wann sich jemand dazu geäußert hat. – user unknown Jan 2 '18 at 7:43
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It is valid. This is also valid:

Herr Gauck (deutscher Bundespräsident)
Frau Merkel (deutsche Bundeskanzlerin)
Herr Fischer (österreichischer Bundespräsident)
Herr Faymann (österreichischer Bundeskanzler)
Frau Sommaruga (Schweizer Bundespräsidentin)
Frau Casanova (Schweizer Bundeskanzlerin)

But you could also say:

Herr Bundespräsident Gauck
Frau Bundeskanzlerin Merkel
Herr Bundespräsident Fischer
Herr Bundeskanzler Faymann
Frau Bundespräsidentin Sommaruga
Frau Bundeskanzlerin Casanova

In case of Hitler it would have been

Herr Reichskanzler Hitler

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    Or Doktor Merkel ;) – Carsten S Jan 1 '18 at 17:27
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    @CarstenS: Well, "Frau Doktor Merkel" would be the typical form of address in German in that case. – O. R. Mapper Jan 1 '18 at 23:59
  • @O.R.Mapper, you are right, even though it always seems superfluous to me. – Carsten S Jan 2 '18 at 13:05
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I just realised something very interesting in your question that changes the answer I would have given earlier. The way I first read the question — ‘Is Herr Hitler valid German?’ — calls for a very short and simple answer that Hubert has already given: Yes, it is perfectly valid to address everybody, be they head of state/government or tramp, descendents of nobility (abolished 1918) or a cleaning person with Herr/Frau and their name. It’s the expected polite way to talk about strangers.

But then I noticed that your question reads:

Would Herr Hitler have been valid German?

and alongside with Gerhard’s comment I noticed you might have been asking for something different.


The general point still stands whether the year be 1938 or 2015: addressing the head of state as Herr Gauck or Herr Hitler is correct, polite and not too formal. Neither Hitler nor Gauck are or were of any branch of nobility to the best of my knowledge, so the addresses would not be convoluted by anything that was lawed out of practice in 1918.

But in 1938 nobody in the Reich would have said Herr Hitler openly — and if they had, the Gestapo would have started watching them closely. Hitler loved to be addressed as Führer und Reichskanzler or just simply Führer — a title he created more or less for his own use so he could feel more noble. This title spread across everyday usage and people would use Mein Führer to address him — or der Führer when talking in third person.

Actually saying Herr Hitler — or worse, addressing him as such — would have demystified the character propaganda had built up, reducing him from being the ‘saviour’ to just a normal person. So Churchill and others obviously deliberately took the — correct — form to signify that even Hitler is just a man and not the god he wanted to be.

Chances are that the true background of this usage has since been forgotten, and simple Herr Hitler drifted into common use as a phrase — not unlike Helmut Schmidt always calling the same person Adolf Nazi. Ironically, it remaines correct and the old implications are no longer recognised even by Germans.

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    Abhängig vom Kontext kann es auch heute eine bewusste Herabsetzung sein, Herrn Gauck einfach als Herrn Gauck anzureden und nicht als Herr Bundespräsident. Die Frage ist, ob das Protokoll den Titel erfordert oder der Sprecher/Schreiber bewusst, aber freundlich, das Protokoll verlässt - auch das ist möglich. Einen ähnlichen Fall gab es in den 90ern in der Bundesliga, als sich Otto Rehhagel über das denkwürdige Nicht-Tor von Bayern gegen Nürnberg äußerte und dem Reporter gegenüber, ironisch äußerte: "Ja, der Herr Helmer!". (In diesem Jargon sagt man gewöhnlich einfach: "Ja, der Helmer!". – user unknown May 16 '15 at 3:26
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    "But in 1938 nobody would have said Herr Hitler — and if they had, the Gestapo would have started watching them closely." - talk about grammar police! – Andrew Grimm May 16 '15 at 8:34
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    Deutsch gesprochen wurde auch damals außerhalb der Verfügungsgewalt der Gestapo, ob in der Schweiz, unter Emigranten oder in den Privaträumen von Leuten, die Hitler keinen großen Respekt entgegenbrachten. "Führer Hitler" kenne ich nur aus dem Film "Stonk", wo man sich auf krampfhafte und lächerliche Weise versucht rauszureden, wieso die Tagebücher die, zugegebenermaßen, heute schlecht lesbaren Initialien FH tragen, statt AH in Sütterlin, Fraktur oder wie das sonst heißt - habe den Link gerade nicht zur Hand. Sonst ist mir das noch nie begegnet. – user unknown Jan 2 '18 at 7:51
  • @use Stimmt, ich hätte präzisieren sollen, dass ich vom deutschen Reich gesprochen habe. Doch den Einwand mit den Privaträumen kann ich nicht unwidersprochen stehenlassen: Es ist ja gerade das Wesen einer totalitären Diktatur wie derjenigen der Nazis, dass man nie gewusst hat, wer genau einen ausspionieren würde, und es gibt genug Beispiele, in denen die Kinder die eigenen Eltern verpfiffen. Ich denke, dass du Recht hast, was »Führer Hitler« betrifft; genau kann ich das auch nicht sagen. Ich erinnere mich dunkel an eine Guido-Knopp-Doku, in der das vorgekommen sei, habe aber auch keinen Beleg. – Jan Jan 2 '18 at 13:59
  • @Jan: Die unbestrittene Existenz von Kindern, die ihre Eltern verpfiffen haben, belegt nicht, dass es keine Kinder gab, die ihre Eltern nicht verpfiffen haben, oder Eheleute, gute Freunde, alte Genossen sich gegenseitig. Fragwürdig, ob die Bezeichnung "Herr Hitler" im Privaten der Gestapo oder einem Verräter genügt hätte, tätig zu werden. – user unknown Jan 2 '18 at 20:56
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It just occurs to me that people usually don't use a title at all when they refer to a historical person. You can even see this in the answers to this post.

Using "Herr Hitler" today would definitely convey second thoughts. In a neutral text, one would use only "Hitler" without title or article, and this would be true for any other publicly known person.

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From a purely linguistic viewpoint, Herr Hitler would have been absolutely acceptable. It was and still is the normal formal way to address a male person. That would already answer your question in the headline.

From a political/social viewpoint, you would have, however, made your point clear after ~1933 that, when addressing Hitler as normal "Herr", you would not want to accept him as "[mein] Führer" (no surname) that nearly everybody else in Germany used to address him with (I would assume this used to be the intention Churchill followed when he addressed him as "Herr Hitler").

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