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Central European History from Antiquity to the 20th Century

Category: Adolf Hitler

The “German Workers’ Party”

Anton Drexler
Anton Drexler

Alfred Rosenberg was born 1893 in Tallinn (Reval), Estonia, and had studied engineering and architecture in Riga and Moscow. He fled the Bolshevik October Revolution and emigrated first to Paris, then moved to Munich. He was a fanatic pro- German, anti-Soviet, anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic theorist from a small-bourgeois background comparable to Adolf Hitler. It was his opinion that the Russian October Revolution was the result of a Jewish-Capitalist-Bolshevik conspiracy, and did his best to convince the burghers of Munich of imminent danger. Upon making his nightly rounds in the pubs, cafés and tavern of the town, he heard about an author and poet who was believed to share many of his dreams and prejudices. Rosenberg strove to make his acquaintance.

This man was Dietrich Eckart, a sanguine beer-garden and coffee-house philosopher, who often sat in taverns drinking for hours while reciting poems in Attic Greek. He came from a family of some means in the Upper Palatinate, former court-counselors and civil servants, and although his early years as poet and playwright in Leipzig, Berlin and Regensburg were less successful than he wished, the contacts of his family made him, on the occasion of his return to Munich in 1915, the pet poet of the aristocracy. His easy access to the salons of the nobility would later come in handy for Hitler. He was a multi-faceted man; on the one side he was a morphine addict and had spent time in a few mental institutions, on the other side, his new translation of Ibsen’sPeer Gynt” was given at the Royal Theatre in Berlin and became his great artistic success, considered the standard for many years to come. He was a nonconforming anti-Semitist and Pan-Germanist and published his own weekly political magazine AUF GUT DEUTSCH [“In True German”, ¶] since December 1918. At its heights, the paper had a respectable circulation of about 30,000 copies, which made it one of the most influential anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic and Pan-German newsletters in Bavaria. One day in the summer of 1919, he received a visitor.

Rosenberg appeared, without introduction, at Eckart’s apartment. The poet was impressed by what he saw in the doorway; an intense, dead-serious young man. Rosenberg’s first words were: “Can you use a fighter against Jerusalem?” Eckart laughed. “Certainly!” Had he written anything? Rosenberg produced an article on the destructive forces of Judaism and Bolshevism on Russia. It was the beginning of a relationship that would affect the career of Adolf Hitler. Eckart accepted Rosenberg as a “co-warrior against Jerusalem” and soon his articles on Russia began appearing not only in Eckart’s paper but in another Munich weekly, DEUTSCHE REPUBLIK [“German Republic”, ¶]. The theme of these articles was that the Jew stood behind the world’s evils: the Zionists had planned the Great War as well as the Red Revolution and were presently plotting with the Masons to take over the world. [John Toland, Adolf Hitler, Anchor Books 1992. ISBN 0-385-42053-6. pp. 78-79]

But even Rosenberg’s aid could not surpass the real problem that Eckart as well as other nationalists, anti-Semitists and Pan-Germanists in Munich and Germany shared, the fact that the right-wing was hopelessly atomized in a multitude of little parties, clubs and fraternities; the lack of someone able to address the broad masses was felt most critically. One of these tiny political groups in Munich was a fellowship formed by a man called Anton Drexler.

Anton Drexler was one of those rather simple-minded workmen who believe that the poor, the exploited, and the oppressed will always be vindicated in the end. His father was a Social Democrat, and he remembered vividly being taken on May Day to a Social Democrat outing in the woods near Munich when he was a child. In those days the names of Ferdinand Lassalle and August Bebel were still revered by German workingmen, who remembered that it was the Social Democrats who had wrested from Bismarck the highly developed social legislation that was the envy of workingmen all over the world. Drexler came out of the soil of Social Democracy as a plant grows out of the earth. He belonged to the working class, and it would never have occurred to him that there was any other class worth belonging to. [Robert Payne, The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, Praeger Publishers 1973, Lib. Con. 72-92891, p.134]

After his journeyman years, he returned to Munich and was employed in October 1902 by the Royal Bavarian Central Railway Repair Works as a blacksmith and toolmaker. He volunteered for the Bavarian Army in August 1914, but the railroad office refused to release him for service. The war awakened his political conscience, and on March 7, 1918, he founded a “Workers’ Council for a Good Peace”. In the fall of the same year, Drexler met Karl Harrer, a sport reporter of the “München-Augsburger Abendzeitung“, a local newspaper. The two decided on the foundation of another little club, the “Political Workers’ Circle“, which met once or twice a week to discuss solutions for the world’s major issues. Harrer, politically better connected than Drexler through his membership in the Thule Society, insisted that the topics of their weekly discussions were duly recorded for posterity, including the names of the attendees. The protocol for December 1918 to January 1919 read:

Meeting on 12/05/1918, Topic: “Newspapers as the Tools of Politics”, Speaker: Harrer. 12/11/1918, Topic: “The Jew, Germany’s greatest Enemy”, Speaker: Harrer. 12/17/1918, Topic: “Why the War Happened”, Speaker: Harrer (Harrer, Drexler, Lotter, v.Heimburg, Girisch, Kufner). 12/30/1918, Topic: “Who Bears the Guilt for the War?”, Speaker: Harrer (Harrer, Drexler, Girisch, Brummer, Sauer, Kufner). 01/16/1919, Topic: “Why we had to Win the War”, Speaker Harrer (Harrer, Drexler, Girisch, Kufner, Brunner). 01/22/1919, Topic: “Were we able to Win the War?”, Speaker: Harrer (Harrer, Drexler, Girisch, Kufner). 01/30/1919, Topic: “Why was the War Lost?”, Speaker: Harrer (Harrer, Drexler, Girisch, Brummer).

[Anton Joachimsthaler, Hitler’s Weg begann in München 1913 -1923, F.A. Herbig, München 2000. ISBN 3-7766-2155-9 , p. 249]

Drexler quickly realized that Harrer’s omnipresence, so to say, and his penchant for intimate audiences was not very likely to awaken the workers’ interest in the circle’s political agenda. He resolved that a regular party must be founded.

“One week before Christmas 1918, I explained during a circle meeting that the salvation of Germany was unlikely to be found within such a small circle as we were; that we needed a new party, a ‘German Socialist Workers’ Party,’ without Jews Thus it came to the decision to go public and form a new party (GermanSocialist Workers’ Party). The word ‘socialist’ was then dropped. The bylaws and guidelines of the ‘German Workers Party‘ were written by me.” [Joachimsthaler, p.250]

Thus it came to pass that on Sunday, January 5, 1919, Drexler and Michael Lotter, the circle’s record keeper, founded the “German Workers’ Party” in a room of the Munich tavern “Fürstenfelder Hof”. Drexler brought twenty-four prospective members, chiefly colleagues from the railway repair shop, to the constitutive session and was elected steward of the new party’s Munich chapter. Karl Harrer was appointed – perhaps in his absence, the sources contradict each other – national chairman of the fledgling organization, and the assembly unanimously voted for the adoption of the party statutes as composed by Drexler. The same then gave the new party’s inaugural address, which showed his humanitarian impulses: the party should strive to end the divisive class warfare and internationalism promoted by the Bolsheviks in favour of a national and patriotic socialism. Details were to follow.

There had been a bit of a problem regarding the christening of the new party; the original proposal of “German National Socialist Party” was popular, but another party with similar teachings had chosen exactly this name a few months earlier in Bohemia, and, incidentally, the Bohemians’ emblem featured a swastika. Hence the epithets “national” and “socialist” were dropped, and the name “Deutsche Arbeiter-Partei” (DAP, German Workers’ Party, ¶) adopted. Drexler explained his liking for the name as an integrative statement: himself a slightly higher educated member of the working class, he proposed that skilled workers should not be considered simple workmen anymore but should have a legal right to be counted among the aspiring middle classes. The middle classes themselves should be enlarged, at the cost of the “capitalists”. Drexler was an incurable romantic.

Although Drexler and many of his work colleagues were anti-Semitic, the only reference in the statutes and bylaws that pointed in this direction was a declaration that “religious teachings contrary to the moral and ethical laws of Germany should not be supported by the state.” This was, comparatively, rather tame. In the wake of the foundation, Drexler wrote a small pamphlet summarizing his political thought, called “Mein Politisches Erwachen” – My Political Awakening – which he distributed at party meetings and among his colleagues in the railway shop.

For a time, Harrer’s original circle remained in existence, although an executive council was established which acted simultaneously as the new party’s presidium. Still, the attractiveness of the party to Munich’s workers remained modest – a report of the general meeting of July 12, 1919, lists twenty-one persons present, the one of August 14 thirty-eight. The meetings of the executive circle continued in the intimacy of the usual five or six participants.

It is not entirely clear, however, how Captain Mayr‘s unit I b/P came into the possession of a typewritten invitation, dating of September 3, to a meeting of the DAP on September 12, 1919, 7:30 pm, to be held at the “Sterneckerbräu” tavern near the Isartor, one of Munich’s old town landmarks. The flyer announced that Engineer Gottfried Feder, our old acquaintance from the university lectures, would speak on his favourite theme of the breaking of the interest slavery, in particular of “How and by which means can we eliminate Capitalism?”

On the evening of September 12, 1919, Adolf Hitler set out to visit a meeting of the recently formed DAP. What turn would history have taken had Hitler visited, on this day, a different group on Mayr’s list, perhaps the “Society of Communist Socialists” or the “Block of Revolutionary Students”? No one knows. But it was to the Sterneckerbräu that Hitler directed his steps. The tavern was one of the smaller beer halls in Munich, and the side room, in which the meeting took place, the “Leiberzimmer”, could seat perhaps fifty or sixty people. The protocol of September 12 lists twenty-five party members and eighteen guests present, one of them Adolf Hitler. The scheduled speaker of the day had been Dietrich Eckart, who fell ill, and had to be replaced by Gottfried Feder. Hitler and most likely everybody else in the room knew Feder’s lecture from earlier occasions. Drexler recalled:

“Dietrich Eckart fell ill and our meeting had to be postponed. Then Gottfried Feder spoke, and subsequently Professor Baumann, a guest. Baumann was a democrat. … Baumann said that Tyrolia should unite with Bavaria, but not with Germany!

To this Hitler responded sharply, and gave a short but intense reply in favour of a Greater Germany, which excited me and all of us so much that I thanked him very much for his contribution and asked him to take home a copy of my pamphlet ‘Mein Politisches Erwachen’, to read it … and, if he agreed with it, to come back in a week and work with us, because we could dearly use people like him.” [Joachimsthaler, p.252]

Famous became Drexler’s line “This Austrian’s got a gob! We need him!” Hitler’s depiction of the evening, characteristically, does not reflect on Feder’s or, for that matter, Baumann’s theories; enraptured, Hitler noted that “… I realized that I could speak!” He claimed that he remembered only two scenes from his visit: that Baumann left the room like a wet poodle and that he still had no big impressions of the party. But then he presents a meticulous description in “Mein Kampf” of the events that presumably happened early the next morning. Lying on his barracks cot, he watches mice hunting for the crumbs of bread that he threw on the floor.

[Hitler] had gotten into the habit of passing the hours before dawn “watching the droll little beasts chasing around after these choice morsels. I had known so much poverty in my life that I was well able to imagine the hunger, and hence also the pleasure, of the little creatures.”

At about five that morning he was still awake on his cot following the antics of the mice, when he remembered the pamphlet that Drexler had forced upon him. Hitler was surprised to find himself enthralled from the first page. “Involuntary I saw my own development come to life before my eyes.” The ideas and phrases of the little book kept intruding into his thoughts the following day. He was struck by the phrases “National Socialism” and “new world order”, as well as the prediction that a new political party would capture the disillusioned and disinherited among not only the workers but civil servants and the solid lower middle class.But his interest waned quickly and he was surprised to receive a postcard informing him that he had been accepted as a member of the German Workers Party. He was requested to attend a committee meeting the following Wednesday. He had no intention of joining a ready-made party since he wanted to found his own and he was about to send off an indignant refusal when “curiosity won out” and he decided to have another look at the queer little group. [Toland, p.87]

It is intriguing, and a bit peculiar, how Hitler describes his initial unwillingness and lack of interest, only to submit, as he suggests, to providence; it was Germany’s destiny that made him return. He also goes through some pain to point out that, unlike Drexler’s, his political views were not founded upon a worker’s perspective of the world: he, Hitler, was an artist, a member of the highest class.

The date and place of the committee meeting that saw Hitler’s second visit and presumed party entry is usually given as September 17, 1919, in the “Altes Rosenbad”, although Drexler later dated it to November 16 in the “Helenen- Bad” inn. Since this was a meeting of the party’s venerable ‘Executive Committee’, and not of the whole party, Hitler was perhaps not too surprised to find only four people sitting on a table in the corner. Drexler enthusiastically welcomed Hitler and explained that the chairman, Karl Harrer, was to arrive any minute.

After His Excellency appeared, an evening transpired typical of every small club: the minutes of the previous meeting in the Sterneckerbräu were recited, and the assembled honoraries accepted a report from the treasurer declaring that the present wealth of the party, in cash at hand, amounted to seven marks and fifty penning. Letters from like-minded groups were read and discussed, and replies composed.

Hitler was shocked. He wrote: “Terrible! Terrible! This was club life of the worst manner and sort. Was I to join this organization?” [Toland, p.88]

After the formal part of the evening had passed, Hitler asked a few questions, specifically how the party planned to acquire new members. Was there a program? Did the party print leaflets? Did it advertise? The answer to all these inquiries was a timid negative. No organization existed, no stationary, not s single rubber stamp; but a lot of good intentions. Hitler wrote that he left uncommitted – perhaps – and went pregnant for two days pondering the all-important question whether to join or not.

He clearly perceived the DAP for what it was, a pathetic club of middle-aged men caressing their intolerances and nursing their prejudices; it had no similarity to the efficiently organized political machine of the future. But practical aspects recommended the German Workers Party, for some of its weaknesses might as well turn out blessings in disguise: the total absence of form and structure allowed Hitler to forge his imprint upon the nascent movement with ease; the very fact of the party’s incompleteness guaranteed him the necessary malleability.

The smallness of the party was its charm, Hitler finally decided. The DAP was only one of many groups attempting to amalgamate nationalism with socialism, but Hitler quickly realized that persons like Drexler and Harrer weren’t fighters, unable to oppose a determined attempt at a takeover. If he were able to attract new members, the old guard could be outvoted and retired, and the party could be shaped according to his own image.

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/18)

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Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Adolf Hitler down and out in Vienna – Part I

Adolf Hitler's Residence Chit of August 21, 1909, registered as "Writer" at Sechshauserstrasse 56, Second Floor, Room 21, c/o Mrs. Antonie Oberlechner, District XIV
Adolf Hitler’s Residence Chit of August 21, 1909, registered as “Writer” at Sechshauserstrasse 56, Second Floor, Room 21, c/o Mrs. Antonie Oberlechner, District XIV

Sometimes a man feels as if the very fortunes of his life are hinged upon a fragile pendulum, which follows wholly foreordained yet enigmatic movements. It is a mystery, the more confusing since we cannot determine, at any given time, our own position on this cosmic scale without invariably changing the oscillation’s period or direction. In other words, we may find out where we presently are, but not whether we are moving upor down on the scales of fortune, for each of our actions or omissions has an impact on our future that we cannot truly calculate. When Adolf Hitler quit on his friend August Kubizek in the fall of 1908 and disappeared in the capital’s uncounted crowds, he challenged Fortuna by his personal defiance.

Robert Payne portrays the impact of being on one’s own in a big town:

When a man sinks into poverty and misery in a vast city, many strange things happen to him. If he is without family or friends and has no roots, he very quickly becomes the prey of delusions.

Mysterious voices speak to him, a stranger suddenly glancing at him in the street will fill him with panic, and he believes that a scrap of newspaper blown by the wind to his feet conveys a message from some higher powers.

In his loneliness and terror, he learns that he has entered a savage country of strange customs and inexplicable cruelties, a country in which he is a foreigner possessing no right or privileges, at the mercy of everyone and most of all at the mercy of officials, a hunted creature who feels no security even when he is alone at night in the darkness of his own room.

We know much more about these lonely, alienated people than we did fifty years ago, perhaps because modern society creates more of them. We know the complicated contrivances they invent to maintain a sense of human dignity, and we can trace step by step how the shreds of human dignity are torn from them or salvaged in unpredictable ways.

Panhandling Veterans
Panhandling Veterans

Such men are on the mercy of the seasons, for warm days give them a spurious courage and winter reduces them to shivering incoherence. They talk interminably to themselves, and cling desperately to their fantasies. The blue stain on the wall, the stone picked up long ago, the string tied round the middle finger, all these become fetishes without which life would become unendurable.

We know too that poverty has its own in-built compensations. In “Down and Out in Paris or London”, George Orwell describes the strange, dull euphoria that comes with extreme poverty.

“You discover boredom and mean complications and the beginnings of hunger, but you also discover the great redeeming future of poverty: the fact that it annihilates the future.

Within certain limits, it is actually true that the less money you have, the less you worry. When you have a hundred francs in the world you are liable to the most craven panics.When you have only three francs you are quite indifferent, for three francs will feed you till tomorrow, and you cannot think further than that.

You are bored, but you are not afraid. You think vaguely, “I shall be starving in a day or two -shocking, isn’t it?” And then the mind wanders to other topics. A bread and margarine diet does, to some extent, provide its own anodyne.

But there are many consolations to poverty, and even apathy becomes exhausting in time. For a nineteen-year-old youth who dreamed of becoming a great artist, the consolation was more likely to be found in fantasies of his own towering eminence in the arts, to the discomfiture of all those who had hindered his progress.”

After having participated in the autumnal manoeuvres of his regiment, August Kubizek (Adolf´s only friend then) returned to Vienna in late November 1908. He had of course informed his friend of his arrival and thus was baffled when Adolf never showed up at the train station. Gustl concluded that only something of utmost importance, without doubt some sort of emergency, could have compelled his friend’s absence and rushed to the Stumpergasse.

Frau Zakreys, the landlady, had no idea where Adolf was. He had given her notice on November 18, paid up the rent until the end of the month and disappeared without leaving a forwarding address or a message. She had already taken in another lodger. Gustl found a new domicile, in an inn, and heard nothing more from his friend for many years to come. When he was in Linz over the Christmas holidays, he visited the Raubals, but Angela (Adolf´s half sister) almost brusquely informed him that they had no idea´where Adolf lived and blamed August for supporting Adolf’s artistic dreams.After this Kubizek had no more contact with the Hitler family until,twenty-five years later, his boyhood pal had become the new chancellor of Germany.

At this time, and still today, every change in address had to be brought to the attention of the police, essentially as a means to keep track of the men of military age. Adolf registered his new address with the police on November 19, 1908, as Room # 16 ,Felberstrasse 22, c/o Frau Helene Riedl, in the XVth District, right at the Westbahnhof, where he lived until August 21, 1909, as a “Student”.

It was obvious that the second Academic rejection had put Hitler in a funk, and it is quite possible that he simply did not have the nerve to tell Gustl of the repeated failure. One thing about the move, however, remains a mystery: the newroom was bigger and thus cost more than the habitat at Frau Zakreys. It has been speculated that the sudden flight from the Stumpergasse was pursued to hide something or someone from Gustl, perhaps a girl. But for a dearth of proof we can only hypothesize about Hitler’s reasons, as we must when we face the question whence the money came for the higher rent.

The cost of the Felberstrasse apartment, whether he used it alone or not, may have put too much of a strain on Hitler’s finances, which were by now most probably limited to the twenty-five crowns orphan assistance he still received each month. He moved again, on August 21, 1909, this time as a “Writer”,to Sechshauserstrasse 56, 2nd Floor, Room 21, c/o Frau Antonie Oberlechner, in the XIVth District. It was very close to the Felberstrasse but probably cheaper, for the Sechshauserstrasse was a thoroughfare with lots of street noise and trolley traffic.

This is the period in Hitler’s life we know least about. Something decisive must have occurred in addition to the second Academy fiasco. We do know that he spent about eight months in the Felberstrasse room, including his twentieth birthday on April 20, 1909. Decades later, a few of his neighbours have come forward with dim memories of a polite young man who appeared somewhat distant, occupied with his own affairs. There was a café nearby he used to visit, the Café Kubata, and from there we have some vague indicators that, at least some time, he spent in female company. Maria Wohlrab, née Kubata, said that she saw him often in the company of a girl which was, perhaps, named “Wetti”or “Pepi”. Frau Christa Schroeder, from the 1920s on Hitler’s long-time secretary, insisted that her chef had mentioned to her, more than once, that he had a “beloved” at that time in Vienna named “Emilie”.The cashier at the Café Kubata later remembered that she liked the young man because “he was very reserved and quiet, and would read books and seemed very serious, unlike the rest of the young men.” (3)

Things did not improve, it seems. Less than four weeks later, on September 16, 1909,he left Sechshauserstrasse without registering a forward address. He must have been close to the end of the rope: for about three months his tracks are lost within the multitudes of Vienna’s poor, in the anonymity of the homeless and indigent.

The days of his vagrancy forced him, alike the myriads that shared his fate, to seek shelter from the cold of the impending winter in parks, alleys, doorways and ditches. A favourite place was, as mentioned earlier, the Prater amusement park, which was mostly inactive in winter and provided lots of benches for which the competition was intense. He may well, as many others did, have tried to sleep in coffee houses, bars or flophouses, in the waiting rooms of the train stations or the warming rooms of the city’s charities. In Mein Kampf, he admitted that “even now I shudder when I think of these pitiful dens, the shelters and lodging houses, those sinister pictures of dirt and repugnant filth and worse still.” So arduous was his pecuniary distress that he had to sell his art materials and most of his clothing; a sale that was ill-suited to the falling temperatures. To add insult to injury, the winter of 1909/10 turned out the most frightful in decades and one day Hitler had to admit defeat to Vienna’s weather gods: one cold December evening, he showed up in the workers’ suburb of Meidling; more precisely in the long row of derelict wretches who waited for admission to the Asyl für Obdachlose, the “Asylum for the Homeless”.

Continue Part II

Continue Part III

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/18)

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Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Adolf Hitler down and out in Vienna – Part II: Meidling

Asyl für Obdachlose (Asylum for the Homeless) Vienna, Untere Meidlinger Strasse 3, built 1908
Asylum for the Homeless, Vienna, Untere Meidlinger Strasse 3, built 1908

Back to Part I

The asylum, “which in consideration for the decent citizens was built behind the Meidlinger cemetery, far from the residents”, but near the southern railway station, had only been opened in 1908. Together with a similar institution in the 3rd District, it was operated by the “Shelter Association for the Homeless“, a charity which financed itself by private donations and received an annual subsidy from the city. Yet the association had to fight windmills in their constant struggle against the three related issues that plagued the poor: poverty resulted in homelessness, homelessness resulted in disease, and disease resulted in loss of employment. Imperial Vienna, we mentioned it, was at that time a metropolis of over two million inhabitants, the sixth-biggest town on earth, and certainly more than a quarter million of its denizens was relegated to perpetual poverty. Many of the losers had come from the outer provinces of the empire, the East or the South, and lacked a suitable command of the German language, which in turn decreased their chances of employment. For worse, they lacked the kind of survival instincts that apply to a city, as opposed to those applicable at their rural origins.

The Meidlinger shelter was a sturdy affair, offering refuge for around one thousand souls. Unlike other charities it allowed occupants to stay for a week only (a stipulation that could be circumvented), but it offered an advantage most other places lacked: it would take in whole families and their children, not only single men. It promoted self-help as well: everybody, health permitting, was called upon to aid in the cleaning and maintenance of the building, to keep operating costs at a minimum. The building was not too dreary, thanks to its recent pedigree; there were washing facilities, showers and numerous toilets, all of them kept spotlessly clean. Two meals a day were supplied, soup and sandwich, for breakfast and supper; the dormitories featured the usual military-style cots, lined up with the precision of a battalion on parade. During daylight hours the occupants were expected to leave the shelter, preferably in search of employment; loitering was frowned upon and could easily lead to eviction.

One of Hitler's better efforts - a scene on a lake
One of Hitler’s better efforts – a scene on a lake

Much as he disliked it, Hitler had to pass through the ritual of admission; to establish membership in the community of misery. The shiverlings began to line up outside of the main gate when darkness fell, around 5 pm, and when the doors of the institution opened, two rows of bodies filed in quietly: men to the right, woman and children to the left. Hitler received, as everybody else did, a ticket that entitled him to the statutory one-week lodging and was assigned a brass cot in one of the dormitories. It must have been exceedingly onerous for a man who was used to his privacy as much as Hitler was to face one’s first experience with public shower and delousation procedures. His proud sense of individuality must have vanished at the latest when he joined the herd of occupants heading to the mess hall for dinner. As John Toland observed, “it would be difficult for anyone but another recipient of institutionalized charity to understand the shame suffered by a proud young man on his first day within the gates of such an establishment.”

For a man so much accustomed to his freedom, the asylum certainly felt like a prison. One can imagine how he sat, completely lost, on a cot in a large hall with hundreds of strangers, each of whom was more familiar with the situation than he was. It was perhaps his impersonation of a lost kitten that convinced his cot neighbour, an on-and-off servant and waiter named Reinhold Hanisch, to take care of him, to show him the ropes. Although Hanisch by himself is a problem as a witness – when he met Hitler he had already been to jail more than once, lived habitually under false names, used doctored birth certificates and in later years counterfeited Hitler paintings – some parts of his memoir that the American magazine The New Republic printed in 1939 – ­posthumously – under the title “Reinhold Hanisch: I was Hitler’s Buddy”, ring true, among much that has been proven false or at least misleading. Unlike Hitler, Hanisch was a professional utilizer of charity-assisted lifestyles, was familiar with the inner workings of the asylum and every other such house in Vienna and also an expert in the general survival strategies of vagrants. He proved his value instantly: one of the first tricks he taught Hitler was how to circumvent the lodging limitation; all one had to do was buy, for a few pennies, the unused portions of the admittance cards of those occupants who, for a variety of reasons, left without having used up their allotments. Thus the first danger of having to return into the cold was banned and Hitler began to appreciate his new acquaintance.

Reinhold Hanisch came from the Sudetenland, the northern, German part of Bohemia -­ at least some believe so, for he often listed himself as being born in Grünwald near Gablenz – but had travelled extensively and thus was able to tell his new friend many stories about Germany, Adolf’s promised land. Hanisch also hedged a few dreams of becoming an artist and immediately recognized a related soul in Hitler. Hanisch had seen and could relate the tales of towns and castles, cathedrals and monasteries, mountains and rivers.

To make things more entertaining for Adolf, it turned out that Hanisch had worked in Braunau for some time, and they began to exchange reminiscences of the town. As it frequently happens, common knowledge and common interests breed trust, and soon they talked incessantly. That is, until Hanisch found a new job and moved, on December 21, 1909, to Hermanngasse 16 in the IInd District, and, on February 11, 1910, on to Herzgasse 3/4, in the Xth District.

After a few days of listening to Hanisch, Hitler had memorized the basic rules of street life and they made up a kind of daily routine. In the morning they set out on the rather long walk to St. Katherine’s Convent near Adolf’s old haunts at the Westbahnhof to queue up for the soup the nuns passed out at noon, then on to one of the warming rooms operated by the philanthropic societies or into the relative warmth of a railway station. In the afternoon, they would be trying to sneak up on some food at the Salvation Army before heading back to the asylum in time to be among the first in the waiting line. Occasionally men were sought for a day or two of work in ditch digging, snow shovelling or luggage handling at a train station, but Hanisch had quickly realized that Hitler was too weak for these incidental jobs. Neither did Adolf have any talent for begging, although he acquired from an asylum comrade the addresses of “soft touches”, prospective donors. He received “specific instructions for each customer; for example he was to greet an old lady on the Schottenring with a “Praised be Jesus Christ”, and then say he was an unemployed church painter or a woodcutter of holy figures. Usually she gave two Kronen for such a story, but Hitler only got religious platitudes for his trouble.” The nuns of St. Katherine’s were one of the few reliable addresses in town.

A la longue, Hanisch realized that, while practically all the outcasts of the capital did beg, very few did paint, and derived a plan how to profit from Adolf’s artistic abilities. We do not know exactly when the idea came up; either during the two months Hitler spent at the Asylum in Meidling or later at the Men’s Hostel in the Meldemannstrasse, but, at any rate, Hanisch convinced his friend that the best way to make some dire needed cash was to paint small scenes or postcards and sell them. When Hitler objected that he had no more painting utensils, was too shabbily dressed to sell anything and not a great salesman to boot, the plan was amended and the labour divided: Adolf would do the painting and Hanisch the selling, for a fifty per cent commission.

There was the tricky issue that the two prospective entrepreneurs did not have a license, but Hanisch assured his friend that such petty regulations could be outflanked by moving their point of sale into the dim and grey, smoke-filled taverns of the city, of which Hanisch, having worked in many, had an encyclopaedic knowledge. In regards to the painting materials, Hanisch proposed to apply to the generosity of Adolf’s family. The Cafe Arthaber, conveniently located near the Meidling train station, was known to provide pen and paper for the vagrants if they paid the universal entry fee – the price of a cup of coffee. Adolf wrote a letter, either to Aunt Johanna or to Angela, and a few days later a fifty crown note arrived poste restante. “The money probably saved his life, for it gave him renewed hope at a time when he had little to hope for.”

All the petty possessions he had accumulated in the preceding years had long since disappeared. It is quite possible that an irate landlady seized some in lieu of rent, but in his pitiful state of existence before the asylum, he may simply have lost most of them, out of sight, out of mind. All the books, manuscripts, paintings, sketches, maps and drawings were lost; gone were the dressy overcoat, top hat and walking stick. Has August met this destitute figure, he might not have recognized him. The young, almost elegant Bohemian had vanished; all that was left was a piece of human flotsam, the debris of the young boy that had urged his playmates to chase the redskins. Only fragments remained of the son Klara had so loved.

The crash of his dream world sent pulses, like ripples, to the outer rims of his consciousness; the remnants of his former self may have caught glimpses of unfamiliar surroundings, seeing but not realizing how he had arrived there. As if arising from hibernation, Adolf found himself in a place of perplexing strangeness and laboured to re-establish the mental cohesion of time and place. In a 1913 letter he wrote: “The autumn of 1909 was for me an interminably bitter time. I was a young man with no experience, without financial assistance, and too proud to accept it from just anyone, let alone beg for it.” The bitter feeling was real enough, but the last clause was a lie: his true problem with begging was that it did not work for him.

Yet in a sense the marks of this winter never vanished. In the description of their friendship, August had painted the portrait of a slightly strange, somewhat exotic, a little awkward and sometimes violent young man, who was nonetheless permanently active, if only in a self-centred way; writing, composing an opera, drawing, painting and rebuilding Linz. Now, less than twelve months later, his friend was destitute of mind and body. He had lost weight and his health was doubtful. It has been advocated and indeed seems likely that the innumerable ailments, big and small, that plagued him in later years were rooted in this cold winter, which exacerbated his earlier affliction of the lung and may have weakened his immune system as well.

But not only was he physically exhausted, his spirit had suffered as well. For long spells he retained the stare common to visionaries and beggars; concentration was sporadic, reason elusive, his passions dull, unless something bothered him. Then he could still erupt in flames, in fierce and biting crescendo arguing, ranting, raging; only to sink back quickly into the comforting anodyne of apathy. He was on the verge of defeat when Hanisch picked him up, but he eventually adapted to the outcast life and gradually things improved.

The Meidlinger asylum however, while having provided a safety net in the days of calamity and ire, was no place to start Hitler & Hanisch, Postcards Un-Incorporated. A location had to be found which not only allowed long-time tenure but also provided a space where Hitler could paint during the day. Hanisch identified such a place in the Männerheim, the Men’s Hostel, in Brigittenau, Vienna’s newest, the XXth District.

Continue to Part III

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/18)

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Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Adolf Hitler down and out in Vienna – Part III: Brigittenau

The Männerheim at Meldemannstraße 25 - 29, Vienna
The Männerheim at Meldemannstraße 25 – 29, Vienna

Part I

Part II

We shall ask Brigitte Hamann (“Hitler’s Vienna”, 1st Ed. Oxford UP 1999, Tauris Parks 2010, ISBN 978-1-84885-277-8) to introduce us to the facility where Adolf Hitler was to live from February 9, 1910 to May 24, 1913:

The six-story men’s hostel in Vienna-Brigittenau, 25 – 29 Meldemannstrasse, was among the most modern in Europe. Opened in 1905, it was funded by the private Emperor Franz Joseph I Anniversary Foundation for Public Housing and Charitable Institutions, which was financed through donations, receiving significant contributions from Jewish families, particularly from Baron Nathaniel Rothschild and the Gutmann family. The hostel was administered by the City of Vienna. The first blueprints caused a stir during an exhibition in the Künstlerhaus (Artists’ House). The hostel was not to have common sleeping areas but individual compartments for each of its up to 544 guests, excellent hygienic conditions, and many social events to enhance “education and sociability.”

Brigittenau, at the outskirts of the city, had many new industrial plants, a great need for labourers, and the most rapid population growth in all of Vienna’s districts. Its population increased from 37,000 in 1890 to 101,000 in 1910. Most new residents were young single men who worked in the new factories and, because there were no cheap apartments, found places to spend the night as lodgers in overcrowded workers’ apartments.

This new men’s hostel was supposed to decrease the number of lodgers and thus protect the compromised morals of their host families. The foundation’s principal trustee, Prince Carl Auersperg, pointed this out on the occasion of Emperor Franz Josef’s visit in 1905: “In particular, this men’s hostel seeks to give an actual example of the … chance to effectively fight the pernicious phenomenon of lodging, to offer single labourers a home instead of the dull and overcrowded emergency quarters, providing not only an affordable place to stay but also providing the opportunity to nourish body and mind.”

Rent for one sleeping place was only 2.5 Kronen per week, an amount a single handyman or craftsman with an annual income of 1,000 Kronen could afford. In Vienna the hostel was thus praised as “a miracle of a divine lodging place on earth” and “a marvel of elegance and affordability.”

Viennese journalist Ernst Kläger, disguised as someone seeking shelter, spent a night at the hostel and wrote an article about it. The area between downtown Vienna and Brigittenau, beyond the Danube Canal, was desolate. … Finally Kläger found the new hostel.

“A large electric arc lamp over the gate guides those who are stumbling up the hill of dug-up soil. Compared to the other, smaller houses around and the bare factory buildings in the back, the shelter looks proud. I open the door and to my surprise find myself in a vestibule which no good hotel would put to shame. I am embraced by comfortable warm air.” The men’s hostel had both electric and gas lights and was heated by a modern, central low-pressure steam heater. At the counter the reporter had no difficulty in obtaining a ticket for one night for thirty Kreuzers (sixty Hellers; one Krone had 100 Hellers, i.e. cents). Kläger described the dining room in the upper mezzanine: “Again I am pleasantly surprised by the elegance of the room, which is lighted by two arc lamps and whose walls are covered halfway up with pale green tiles.”

Then he tried the dirt-cheap food and found the meals “all very good.” The occupants spent only an average of half a Krone per day for food in the hostel – for breakfast, dinner, and snacks – in other words, only approximately fifteen Kronen per month.

Kläger watched the lodgers: “The door opens constantly, and someone in a bad suit, usually a bag under his arm, enters. One could tell that most occupants were incredibly tired.” Because most of them worked during the day, it was quiet in the afternoon. Yet in the evening “it was lively, gregarious, but by no means boisterous, until around ten-thirty.”

There were kitchenettes with gas rings and kitchen utensils for those who wanted to prepare their own food. Cooking teams were formed: one of the unemployed would remain in the hostel, go shopping, and cook for some of the labourers, and in return could eat for free. Initially Hitler tried to cook, but with little success, for according to Reinhold Hanisch, the Upper Austrian milk soup he proudly offered had curdled and turned out more like cheese.

Kläger made his rounds through the shelter and reported: “Right next to the dining room is a large, very nicely furnished reading room with two sections, one for smokers and one for non-smokers. It has dailies and a nice library which is available to the lodgers. Most books are easy-to-digest novels and writings on popular science. There are also desks with the necessary utensils for doing one’s correspondence.” On Sunday afternoons there was entertainment plus the opportunity for continuing education through concerts and lectures. On the lower mezzanine there were laundry and shoe-shining rooms, luggage and bicycle racks, and a cobbler and tailor room.

Residency Card from Sechshauserstrasse, Summer 1909
Residency Card from Sechshauserstrasse, Summer 1909

Hygienic conditions were exemplary: a house doctor practiced for free, offering outpatients services in a “sick room” for minor illnesses. As in all shelters, there was a disinfection room for delousing the newcomers. Apart from lavatories, there were also a shaving room and a shower room with sixteen showers, twenty-five footbaths, and four bathtubs. One bath was twenty-five Heller, about a third of the price in a public bath. All this bore fruit in the cholera year of 1910; the dreaded disease spared the fully occupied men’s hostel.

The sleeping wing, comprising the four top floors, was opened at 8:00 pm and had to be vacated by 9:00 am. It consisted of long rows of tiny, separate sleeping compartments, each measuring 4.6 x 6.9 feet. There was enough room for a bed, a small table, a clothes rack, and a mirror. Permanent guests had their sheets changed every seven days, and one-night guests every day, as in hotels. As an extra convenience, each compartment had a door with a lock and a light bulb. It was probably the first time Hitler had electric light in his room.

Hitler, however, was not prone to sing the praises of the hostel in his later years, for the Führer legend had him sleeping in parks and ditches, which he had done, but only for a few months before moving into the hostel and soon doing comparatively well. For the basic difference between the asylum and the hostel was that the former was the last step, perhaps, before starving or freezing to death, while in the latter, at least in theory, a man could convince himself that he was on the way to a better future. One might be poor but still harbour a ray of hope.

Here we must return to the problem of Reinhold Hanisch’s veracity. He claimed that he followed Hitler into the hostel a few days later, and since Hitler had filed his new address at the Männerheim with the police on February 9, Hanisch would have to have arrived soon afterwards. We do know that Hanisch was frequently seen in the hostel, and did indeed pick up Hitler’s paintings to sell them, but he was still registered at that time at Herzgasse 3/4 in the distant Xth District. The records for Adolf are clear: with one small interruption, he stayed at the Männerheim from February 9, 1910 to May 24, 1913, thirty-nine months. He might have left on errands here and there, but for more than three years the building on Meldemannstrasse was his home – for 2.80 Kronen a week. Poor as the occupants undoubtedly were, the administration tried hard to keep up their dignity. The men could take correspondence courses, apply for the Social Democratic Party’s job placement program, or read the bibles provided by the Catholic Homeless Association. “Ruhe and Ordnung”, silence and order, were strictly enforced, as was a dress code. All in all, the Männerheim provided a calm, monastic atmosphere in which Hitler nicely fit in, except for some political arguments.


Whether residing in the hostel or not, Hanisch set up their business. The first step was to place Adolf and the art materials recently obtained through Angela’s or Aunt Johanna’s charity into the reading room, non-smoker section. There was a long oak table close to the window, which provided the natural light Adolf needed. The company now supplied the “market for postcard-sized paintings to be sold in taverns or to art dealers, who acquired them not so much for their artistic value as for filling empty frames.” Soon Hitler had realized which motifs were in demand, mostly local sights and nature, and his postcards and small paintings sold rather quickly.

For a few months, the partnership blossomed. Hanisch was easily able to find buyers in the maze of the backstreets, the lanes that meandered between dark taverns and paltry shops, newsstands and tobacconists, but also in the wine gardens of the Prater, and the art shops in the better quarters of the capital. The sums realized initially hovered between five and ten Kronen, which were split fifty-fifty. A business routine slowly established itself and Hitler’s life stabilized, although he still possessed only a single change of clothing.

The reading rooms were the place where the more educated occupants met, of which there were quite a few, former students of the Austrian schools and colleges. They discussed politics and art, money and women, as lonely men do. Some tried to entice neophytes to whatever political cause they believed in, and workers were tolerated in the discussions if they appeared salvageable from the poison of socialism. Sometimes Hitler tried to moderate the debates, as arbiter elegantiarum; this was perhaps a family trait, for we remember his father’s obituary mentioning that Alois was wont to “pronounce authoritatively on any matter that came to his notice.” At other times he just listened, hulked over his work on the long oak table. …

After a couple of months in which the postcard operation worked as planned, something went wrong, but, alas, we do not know what truly happened. Out of the blue, one day Hanisch failed to find his associate at the oak table. Hitler had left the building accompanied by his (Jewish!) friend Josef Neumann: rumour had it that they planned to emigrate to Germany. When they eventually returned, a week later, Hitler avowed that they had only been on a protracted sightseeing trip through the capital. It would seem possible that Hitler and Neumann had tried to open a business sideline: due to the latter’s familiarity with the Jewish side of Vienna’s art trade, Neumann might have been a better business agent than Hanisch. After a week they were back, but Hitler appeared penniless and self-absorbed, as if shocked. His personal relations to both Hanisch and Neumann, who left the hostel on July 12, 1910, were to end soon.

Could the incident be explored, it might offer tantalizing insights. Helene Hanfstaengl, society-sage and wife of Hitler’s first foreign-press agent Ernst Hanfstaengl, and a no-nonsense woman in her own right, reported that Hitler told her more than once that his loathing of Jews was “a personal thing”, and that the genesis of this hate occurred in Vienna. Adolf’s sister Paula later testified to her opinion that his “failure in painting was only due to the fact that trade in works of art was in Jewish hands.”

Perhaps this is the proper place to inquire into the reality of Hitler’s anti-Semitism during the Männerheim years. Hanisch reports, not happily, that at least three Jewish hostel occupants were Hitler’s friends, the aforementioned Neumann, Simon Robinson, born 1864 in Galicia, a locksmith’s assistant, and Siegfried Löffner, born 1872 in Moravia, a salesman. Another witness from the men’s hostel, Karl Honisch [with ‘o’,not to be confused with Hanisch, ¶] mentions another Jewish man, Rudolf Redlich from Moravia, as an acquaintance of Hitler. (32) Hanisch’s discontent was clearly based upon the fact that they all helped Hitler in selling his paintings. Even worse, Hitler soon began to sell his works directly to art dealers, and thus Hanisch was out of game and money. Many of the traders who bought Hitler’s paintings were Jewish (or of Jewish origin): Jakob Altenberg, who converted to Christianity in Vienna and eventually became a rich frame manufacturer, Samuel Morgenstern, who always dealt directly with Hitler and also introduced him to the lawyer Dr. Josef Feingold, who became a steady buyer, and another dealer, named Landsberger. As Brigitte Hamann sums it up, it would appear that Hanisch was the anti-Semite in these years, not Hitler. It is true that from Mein Kampf onwards, Hitler knitted the legend of his early discovery of the damnable role of the Jews, and the hagiography of the Third Reich elevated this doctrine to the status of Holy Writ, but, indeed, the sources before 1919 are either silent on Hitler’s presumed anti-Semitism or actually contradict the dogma. It is true that Hitler learned from the socialists that political propaganda cannot allow for ambiguity: there must be one enemy and only one. Yet it would appear, as we will see later, that Hitler did not begin to develop a coherent anti-Semitic concept until 1919 at the earliest.

It would seem that in this autumn of 1910 Adolf gave the Academy another shot. He secured an appointment with Professor Ritschel, the curator, and brought examples of his work, but nothing came of it; either because the professor denied him entry or because Adolf did not have the funds for a renewed application.

From the little we know, the third rejection perhaps did not surprise him anymore, but for a time deepened his funk; he became even more of a recluse, neither liked nor disliked by the other hostel occupants, living in a dissonant universe of his own design. …

Meanwhile he had become an institution himself, a part of the hostel’s inventory. His demeanour had changed somewhat and he had recovered some of his old confidence: to the fellow occupants that clustered around the oak table and admired his work in statu nascendi, he confessed that he was only toying around; that he had not yet learned how to paint properly, that they should not take these efforts too seriously. In 1944, he admitted to photographer Heinrich Hoffmann that “Even today these things [i.e. paintings, ¶] shouldn’t cost more than 150 or 200 Reichsmark. It is insane to spend more than that on them. After all, I didn’t want to become an artist, I painted the stuff only to make a living and afford going to school.” If he sought artistic pleasure, he did architectural drawings, not watercolours. In some way, the work gave his life back the element of structure that it had lost when he ditched school; now he spent his days in the sort of dependability developed by men who neither fear nor hope for change.

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/18)

Part I

Part II

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The Love Goddess

Stefanie Isak

When we consider Adolf Hitler’s strange personality, it might not surprise us that the relation to the girl he idolized through puberty in Linz – Stefanie Rabatsch née Isak (28 December 1887 to the 1970s) – was based solely on a form of telepathic contact he claimed he shared with her. As far as we know he never spoke to her, but talked about her at length to his boyhood chum August Kubizek.

Kubizek reported in his memoirs: “One evening in the spring of 1905, as we were taking our usual stroll, Adolf gripped my arm and asked me excitedly what I thought of that slim blonde girl walking along the Landstrasse arm-in-arm with her mother. ‘You must know, I’m in love with her,’ he added resolutely.”

Adolf declined to approach her, telling August he would do so “tomorrow”. In the meantime, he sent his friend on intelligence-gathering missions about Stephanie. Kubizek was able to report that she came from a solid middle-class family, living in the Uhrfar quarter in Linz, that her father had been a public servant before his death and that she was “a distinguished-looking girl, tall and slim. She had thick fair hair, which she mostly wore swept back in a bun. Her eyes were very beautiful”.

Every evening she strolled, on the arm of her mother, around Landstrasse in Linz, where the young girls could trade looks through the store windows with the young men who orbited them, flutter their eyelashes, or acidentally drop a handkerchief.

As I pointed out in “The Little Drummer Boy”:  “Many societies know forms of organized yet unofficial courtship, essentially, like the Spanish paseo, essentially concourses d’elegance, and Imperial Austria had made a science out of it. Even nowadays the annual Wiener Hofball, the Vienna Court Ball, introduces the debutantes of the better families into society, with a lot of ado and white frills on the former royal dance floor. Adolf, however, was not the man to address his longings directly; he pointed out that he had not been introduced to her.”

“When August, in a sudden attack of practical thought, suggested that becoming introduced to her might expedite matters, Adolf chickened. ‘What am I to say if the mother wants to know my profession?’ Indeed, what could he say? That he was an unemployed painter or architect-to-be, a rural hayseed, compared to the young men who orbited Stefanie, being officers, or heirs to shops or factories?”

“Adolf’s condition was serious. Not only did he suffer from an acute attack of adolescent adoration of a pretty pair of legs and a shapely bosom; according to Gustl’s report he instantly developed a neurosis. His sense of reality, which was not his strong suit in the first place, abandoned him completely. He declined to talk to her, or send a letter; he never even waved to her when he saw her in the street; his exertions were limited to sending her enquiring glances. “

Yet then one day the “The Miracle” occurred. Kubizek reports:

“For Adolf came that happiest of days in June 1906, which I am sure remained in his memory as clearly as it did in mine. Summer was approaching and a flower festival was held in Linz. As usual, Adolf waited for me outside the Carmelite church, where I used to go every Sunday with my parents; then we took up our stand at the Schmiedtoreck. The position was extremely favourable, as the street here is narrow and the carriages in the festival parade had to pass quite close to the pavement. The regimental band led the string of flower—decked carriages, from which young girls and ladies waved to the spectators.

But Adolf had neither eyes nor ears for any of this; he waited feverishly for Stefanie to appear. I was already giving up hope of seeing her, when Adolf gripped my arm so violently that it hurt. Seated in a handsome carriage, decorated with flowers, mother and daughter turned into the Schmiedtorstrasse. I still have the picture clearly in my mind.

The mother, in a light grey silk dress, holds a red sunshade over her head, through which the rays of the sun seem to cast, as though by magic, a rosy glow over the countenance of Stefanie, wearing a pretty silk frock. Stefanie has adorned her carriage, not with roses as most of the others, but with simple, wild blossoms – red poppies, white marguerites and blue cornflowers. Stefanie holds a bunch of the same flowers in her hand. The carriage approaches – Adolf is floating on air. Never before has he seen Stefanie so enchanting. Now the carriage is quite close to us. A bright glance falls on Adolf. Stefanie sends him a beaming smile and, picking a flower from her posy, throws it to him.

Never again did I see Adolf as happy as he was at that moment. When the carriage had passed he dragged me aside and with emotion he gazed at the flower, this visible pledge of her love. I can still hear his voice, trembling with excitement, ‘She loves me! You have seen! She loves me!'”

What did Stephanie think of the whole affair? “Franz Jetzinger was able to track down the flower festival committee, found Stefanie in their files, and contacted her. The Love Goddess had eventually married one of the officers, and showed considerable surprise at being interviewed about a boy she barely remembered, and professed not to have any idea of the young man’s infatuation. But after some time she remembered a small but instructive detail: in this summer she had received a letter from an admirer, who had not only declared his undying love but also informed her that he was going to study at the Academy of Arts in Vienna. After his graduation he would return to Linz and ask for her hand. Unfortunately, the letter was not signed, and so she had remained ignorant of the suitor’s identity.”

As it was perhaps to be expected, some “psychohistorians” found ground for speculation based on her birthname, Isak, whom they purported to be Jewish and fabulated on theories that the doomed love affair was instrumental in creating Hitler’s anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, Stefanie was not Jewish (there was no Jewish population worth mentioning in Linz and her father, who was a government official, could not have gained the post if he were Jewish) and Hitler at that time expressed no anti-Semitism – hence the bottom fell out of such speculation for good.

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/18)

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The Boyhood Friend

August Kubizek

As far as we know, Adolf Hitler had one close boyhood friend – the son of the upholsterer Michael Kubizek and his wife Maria, named August. They met in Linz, the capital of Upper Austria, through their shared veneration of the operas of Richard Wagner and became close friends between 1904 and early July 1908, when Hitler suddenly vanished in the homeless crowds of Vienna – as told in “The Little Drummer Boy“.

Much of what we know about Hitler’s life during those years comes from Kubizek. He made notes for the Nazi Party archive and in 1951 published an extended version under the name “Adolf Hitler, mein Jugendfreund” (‘The Young Hitler I Knew, Arcade Books 2011, ISBN 978-1-61145-058-3) through the Leopold Stocker Verlag. Although several errors in his notes have been pointed out, it is the only source for these years that we have.

It was perhaps characteristical of Hitler that he never mentioned his friend in the autobiographical chapters of “Mein Kampf” or in conversation until they met again on 9 April 1938 in Linz. In 1939 and 1940, Hitler invited Kubizek to the Richard Wagner Festivals in Bayreuth. In 1942, when the tide of war had turned against the Third Reich, Kubizek finally joined the NSDAP.

Kubizek was arrested by U.S. troops in the winter of 1945 and jailed until 8 April 1947 without ever being accused of, or much less indicted of, breaking any law. The publication of his book in 1953 allowed a view of young Hitler’s life the public had not been aware of.

He died on 23 October 1956, aged 68.

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/18)

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A Meeting with Consequences

Beer Tavern Sterneckerbraeu Munich, Adolf Hitler's first contact with the Nazi Party Munich

Munich, after the war, September 1919:

“On May 30, 1919, the command over the Military Intelligence Department I b/P was taken over by Captain Karl Mayr. He had served in the General Staff during the war, was intelligent and politically savvy and also a gifted organizer. Prior to his new posting he had been assisting the army guard details and the criminal police of the town as commander of the 6th Battalion of the Munich Watch Regiment.”

On May 30, 1919, the command over the Military Intelligence Department I b/P was taken over by Captain Karl Mayr. He had served in the General Staff during the war, was intelligent and politically savvy and also a gifted organizer. Prior to his new posting he had been assisting the army guard details and the criminal police of the town as commander of the 6th Battalion of the Munich Watch Regiment.”

He began to organize anti-Communist and anti-Semitic propaganda courses in Munich for a selected group of soldiers, who in turn should instruct the returning German army in nationalist propaganda. Corporal Hitler was chosen for the Course 3 B on 10 July through 19 July, 1919. In early July 1919, Mayr’s department I b/P composed its first lists of “propaganda men”, and the list dated July 7 features Adolf Hitler of the 2nd I.R. as number 53. Captain Mayr had met Hitler at Course 3b and was impressed. The group was called the “Enlightenment Detachment”.

In MEIN KAMPF, Hitler claimed: ‘One day I followed an order from superior authority to check out an obviously spurious political association, that under the name “Deutsche Arbeiterpartei” intended to hold a meeting soon, in which Gottfried Feder was to speak as well – I should have a look at the club and report back. … I lived at that time still in a small room at the casern of 2. IR, which still reflected the traces of the revolution. During days I was off, usually at IR 47 or at meetings, giving lessons at other troop details and such. Only at night I slept in my little cell.’

Yet for many reasons, as detailed in the book, the story does not hold up – Mayr sent men regularly out to visit and report on the political scene, and was quite familiar with the DAP.

‘Not only had Mayr during the Räterepublik worked with the Thule Society, in which Karl Harrer, Reichsvorsitzender (Chairman) of the DAP, was a member, his relations to Dietrich Eckart, who had lectured at the Thule Society as well as at DAP functions, were comparably close. In turn, Eckert was in touch with Anton Drexler, who had already – in February 1919 – published articles in the Münchner Beobachter, the paper of the Thule Society, and whom Eckart had seconded during a fierce discussion over the “Jewish Question” in August 1919 in his own paper ‘Auf Gut Deutsch’ (‘In Good German’). Even tighter was the connection between Mayr and Gottfried Feder, who, like Karl Graf von Bothmer, was a member of the inner circle around Dietrich Eckart.’ . . .

‘Yet the fact remains that on September 12, 1919, Adolf Hitler took a tram to the city centre, where the ‘Sterneckerbräu’ was located, the inn where the meeting was to take place. . . . The fact that no less than eight soldiers, all former members of the ‘Enlightenment Detachment’, were among the forty-three people present on September 12 speaks for Mayr’s hand behind the curtain.’

Eights months earlier,on Sunday, January 5, 1919, the abovementioned Anton Drexler and Michael Lotter had founded the “German Workers’ Party” in a room of the Munich tavern “Fürstenfelder Hof”. The protocol of September 12 lists twenty-five party members and eighteen guests present, one of them Adolf Hitler. The scheduled speaker of the day had been Dietrich Eckart, who fell ill, and had to be replaced by Gottfried Feder. Drexler later recalled:

‘Dietrich Eckart fell ill and our meeting had to be postponed. Then Gottfried Feder spoke, and subsequently Professor Baumann, a guest. Baumann was a democrat. … Baumann said that Tyrolia should unite with Bavaria, but not with Germany! To this Hitler responded sharply, and gave a short but intense reply in favour of a Greater Germany, which excited me and all of us so much that I thanked him very much for his contribution and asked him to take home a copy of my pamphlet ‘Mein Politisches Erwachen’, to read it … and, if he agreed with it, to come back in a week and work with us, because we could dearly use people like him.’

‘Famous became Drexler’s line “This Austrian’s got a gob! We need him!” Hitler’s depiction of the evening, characteristically, does not reflect on Feder’s or, for that matter, Baumann’s theories; enraptured, Hitler noted that “… I realized that I could speak!” He claimed that he remembered only two scenes from his visit: that Baumann left the room like a wet poodle and that he still had no big impressions of the party.’

Be that as it may, he joined one week later.

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/18)

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How Mr. Schicklgruber became Herr Hitler

Hitler's Father Alois ca. 1890

Alois Schicklgruber – the father of Adolf Hitler – was born on 7 June 1837 – out of wedlock – to the forty-two year old peasant maid Maria Anna Schicklgruber in the tiny hamlet of Strones, Austria, about 60 miles northeast of Linz.

In the baptismal register at the parish church at Döllersheim, the name of the father was left blank – the priest simply noted “illegitimate”. Alois grew up in the care of his mother in the house she shared with her elderly father Johannes Schicklgruber. A few years later a seldomly employed millworker with the name of Johann Georg Hiedler moved in and married Maria Anna when her son was five years old.

As laid out in “The Little Drummer Boy“, “the marriage seems not to have changed much: the couple lived in abject poverty, and after Maria died five years later of consumption and Johann Georg re-entered the vagrant lifestyle, the child passed into the wardship of Johann Georg Hiedler’s brother Johann Nepomuk Hüttler of Spital, House # 36. This wardship gave rise to a fair amount of village gossip: rumour control asserted that Johann Nepomuk was, in fact, the biological father of the boy.”

“Nobody knows who Alois’s father truly was, and it is possible that Maria did not know herself. In this time and place, sexual relations among farmhands were essentially unregulated, babies born out of wedlock numerous and considered welcome additions to the work force if they survived early childhood. More interesting than idle speculation about the identity of Adolf Hitler’s grandfather is the question why Alois’s original birth certificate underwent rewriting, tampering and forgery in the summer of 1876, when he was already thirty-nine years old.

What had happened in the meantime that could explain such acts? In 1850, at the age of thirteen, Alois ran away from home, a fact that allows an inference or two about the circumstances or happiness of his childhood. He fled to Vienna, where he quickly found employment as apprentice to a cobbler. He finished, as far as we know, the four years standard apprenticeship and became a shoemaker, but soon quit this profession and enlisted in the Austrian civil service. He passed the entrance examination, which seems quite an achievement since he had enjoyed little schooling at home, and was accepted to serve in the Customs division of the Austrian financial administration. 

Meanwhile, the stations of Alois Schicklgruber’s rise to a somewhat respectable position in the Customs department – the highest to which he could aspire, given his limited education – followed the predictable patterns of civil service careers; that is, moving through the ranks and around the country. Originally attached as a most junior servant to the Austrian Ministry of Finance in 1855, he was relatively quickly promoted. In the year 1861 we find him as a supervisor in Saalfelden, Tyrolia, and in 1864 as an assistant in the bigger Customs office in Linz.”

In 1870 he was moved again, to Mariahilf, a change that was sweetened by a promotion to assistant collector. A year later he arrived in the small border town of Braunau at the Inn River, with the rank of Senior Assistant; he grew to like the little town and stayed for almost two decades. In 1875, he was promoted to Assistant Customs Inspector. His career was not spectacular per se, but it was a decent calling for a man of his origins and, apparently, that was what his family thought when they concocted a scheme to bestow upon him a dollop of enhanced respectability.”

On June 6, 1876, Alois and three of his friends – Josef Romeder, who was one of Johann Nepomuk Hüttler’s sons-in-law, Johann Breiteneder and Engelbert Paukh – paid a visit to the public notary Josef Penkner in the small town of Weitra, not far from Alois’s birthplace Strones. The notary was paid to prepare for Alois a “Legalisirungs-Protocoll”, a protocol of legitimization for his birth. The three friends attested that Johann Georg Hiedler, he of the vagrant lifestyle (whom they had known well, they said), had attested to them at various times that he was, in fact, the biological father of Alois Schicklgruber, whom he planned to legitimize one day.

The document was drawn up, the witnesses signed, but for a reason that remains unexplained, the paper featured Alois’s new family name in the form “Hitler”, not as “Hiedler” or “Hüttler”. Beweaponed with this document, the posse made its way to the little town of Döllersheim on the next morning, where they paid a visit to the local priest, Father Josef Zahnschirm, upon whom they played a “cunning peasant trick”.

On the power of the notarized document, and perhaps a contribution to the church funds, Father Zahnschirm agreed to make a few changes to Alois Schicklgruber’s baptismal record. The original birth certificate featured blanks in the space for the name of the father and the field for remarks. The blanks were now filled by entering “Georg Hitler. Cat.rel., Living in Spital” as the father, and under “Remarks” that …

“The undersigned witnesses hereby confirm that Georg Hitler, who was well known to them, acknowledged paternity of the child Alois, son of Anna Schicklgruber, and they requested that his name be entered in the baptismal register. +++ Josef Romeder, Witness, +++ Johann Breiteneder, Witness, +++ Engelbert Paukh, Witness.”

Speculations about this mission abound. Some private family business may have played a role; rumours tied Johann Nepomuk Hüttler, who had been so conspicuously absent in Weitra and Döllersheim, into the drama; “There was village gossip that Alois was his natural son.”

The net result of the clandestine affair was that Alois Schicklgruber was now Alois Hitler. Father Zahnschirm had clearly been lied to when he was told that Johann Georg Hiedler was still alive [“Living in Spital”], but the churchman may have had his own thoughts about the procedure from the beginning, as had, apparently, the witnesses: the priest “forgot” to date and sign for the changes, and the witnesses had turned illiterate, signing with crosses, which could be explained as errors, should the need arise. The climax of the play came when the improved birth certificate was registered at the nearest Austrian chancery in Mistelbach.

The formerly illegitimate Alois Schicklgruber was now Alois Hitler, civil servant and owner of a gold-buttoned uniform – when he, half a year after Johann Nepomuk Hüttler’s death, bought a farm for the proud sum of five thousand florins in cash, village gossip nodded – conclusions confirmed.”

A Footnote: Marlis Steinert followed up on the Austrian government’s subsequent authentication of the fraud: “A correspondence between the priest, the communal administration and the Financial Office in Braunau confirmed the legal validation of the document per matrimonium subsequens [due to Georg’s marriage to Maria Anna five years after Alois’s birth], citing a decree of the Ministry of the Interior in Vienna from September 12, 1868, in which such legitimations should be granted as far as possible.”

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/18)

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