Billions of words, hundreds of books, scores of movies and plays and countless articles—in newspapers, magazines and online—have been written about Adolf Hitler. Most of those writings have tried, at some point, to explain or at least examine how a nondescript, failed artist was able to bend millions of people to his will, overrun a continent and pull much of the globe into a catastrophic world war.
That Hitler was a galvanizing speaker is evident to anyone who has ever heard recordings or seen footage of him in action. That his blather about “Aryan” racial superiority and a Thousand Year Reich appealed to Germans who felt subjugated by other Western powers after World War I is beyond dispute. That his reliance on scapegoats—Jews, communists, homosexuals, Slavs and others—helped cement his control of a regime headed by gangsters, degenerates and sociopaths is both a confirmation of the power of propaganda and a distressing commentary on the primal hatreds lurking beneath the veneer of “civilized” societies.
Whatever the true, core source of his malevolent charisma, there’s simply no getting around the fact that, for more than a decade in the middle part of the 20th century, men, women and children were drawn, in droves, to Hitler and his message. Here, LIFE.com offers color pictures by Hitler’s personal photographer, Hugo Jaeger, that testify to the Führer’s mass popularity, and the often frenzied response he was able to elicit from otherwise staid citizens of the Reich.