Preceding Blog Entry: In Austria Before the War – Adolf Hitler’s Parents


Gnothi Seauton
(Know Thyself)

The Oracle of Delphi

And love’s the noblest frailty of the mind.
John Dryden “The Indian Emperor”, Act 2, Sc. 2


The Youth of Adolf Hitler

Our protagonist thus enters the stage and a few remarks are in order. There is little in the available sources regarding Hitler’s childhood and adolescence that has not been subjugated to interpretative efforts in the furtherance of the one or other psychological or political theory. Ian Kershaw observed that …

The historical record of Adolf’s early years is very sparse. His own account in Mein Kampf is inaccurate in detail and coloured in interpretation. Post-war recollections of family and acquaintances have to be treated with care and are at times as dubious as the attempts during the Third Reich itself to glorify the childhood of the future Führer. For the formative period so important to psychologists and “psycho-historians”, the fact has to be faced that there is little to go on which is not retrospective guesswork. (1)

That the early familiar environment, the experiences of youth and adolescence, are of paramount importance in the gestation of the adult mind is a commonplace, yet even in regard to the basics of Adolf Hitler’s family life a lot of speculation remains. Ian Kershaw, for example, arrives at a more critical judgement of his father Alois Hitler than many earlier biographers did – the question of course is what would he have expected from an Austrian Customs officer in the age of nationalism?

Klara and Alois Hitler Sr.

Family life, was, however, less than harmonious and happy. Alois was an archetypal provincial civil servant – pompous, status-proud, strict, humourless, frugal, pedantically punctual, and devoted to duty. He was regarded with respect by the local community. But both at work and at home, he had a bad temper which could flare up quite unpredictably. … He took little interest in bringing up his family and was happier outside rather than inside the family home. (2)

Our knowledge of early Hitler family affairs experienced an unexpected amelioration when Anton Joachimsthaler published 1989 in Munich his work “Correction of a Biography – Adolf Hitler 1908-1920”. [FN1] He presented many previously unknown or hard-to-find documents, unearthed police files, personal letters, paintings and drawings, photographs of Hitler’s war and post-war friends, their activities and much more. Of particular importance are military documents of the immediate post-war period, which suggest that Hitler developed his political convictions not, as he claimed in “Mein Kampf” and some historians have incautiously taken for granted, in Vienna before the war but in post-war Munich, and second, that his initial political sympathies in this era may have belonged to the Social Democrats. These interesting discoveries will be discussed in their proper context.

[FN1] Original Title: “Korrektur einer Biographie – Adolf Hitler 1908-1920”. In 2000, he presented an extended version, “Hitler’s Weg begann in München” [‘Hitler’s Path began in Munich’], that provided additional documentation. See Bibliography for details.

Most of Joachimsthaler’s findings relate to Hitler’s period before and after WW I in Munich, but some are relevant to his earlier life. Anton Joachimsthaler published, for example, the Legalisirungs-Protocoll of Alois Hitler discussed in the preceding chapter, and there will be a few more references to his work before we follow Adolf Hitler to Munich.

At this point in our account, Baby Adolf is being baptized, two days after he entered this world, by Father Ignaz Probst in the Catholic Church of Braunau. His name was given as Adolfus Hitler and is so recorded on the birth certificate. The family resumed life in the Gasthaus Pommer, comfortably, as far as we know. It seems that Klara, who has been promoted from chambermaid to nurse, from nurse to mistress, and from mistress to wife, acquainted herself well. At first, she had continued to address her husband as “uncle”, and remained shy for a time; but eventually, she found contentment in her homely duties, her devotion to the elder children Alois Jr. and Angela, and the care for the younger ones that arrived at regular intervals. The early deaths of her first three children, however, caused a crisis in the household, and Klara required some time to overcome the successive tragedies. She did not become pregnant for two years after Otto had died, only a few days after his birth, in the autumn of 1887.

The Braunau Customs Station, Alois Hitler’s place of work.

Alois’ life revolved around the usual quarters very much: the Customs station at the river bank, the inns, and the beehives that were his hobby since childhood. He continued his work in good standing and was promoted again in 1892 when Adolf was three years old. The family moved to his next duty station, Passau, fifty miles downriver.

Passau in 1892

The change of residence was to exert a profound influence upon young Adolf. Braunau was a provincial, sleepy border town, which had only provided a tiny footnote to German history. During the Napoleonic wars, the book trader Johannes Palm was executed in Braunau by French troops, for having written a pamphlet critical of the French emperor. The tract was titled “Germany in the Hour of her Deepest Humiliation”; Napoleon took umbrage, and the author was fusilladed. The execution remained a fixture of German nationalist complaints and was remembered with a vengeance in 1870/71.

The former Imperial town and Episcopal see Passau was of a different calibre. In the Middle Ages, the Prince-Bishop of Passau had ruled over the important market, bishopric and county at the confluence of the Inn and Danube Rivers; splendid churches, castles and palaces bore witness to the glory days of the town. Although Passau was on the German bank of the river and border, the Austrian Customs inspection was located, by the mutual disposition of the respective governments, on German territory, where, by a favourable happenstance, the inns closed an hour later at night.

Yet for the family in general, and Alois in particular, the change of posting seems not to have been entirely welcome. Alois had lived seventeen years in Braunau, where he had buried two wives and had developed affection for the small town. There was also the fact that in Braunau he was necessarily a bigger fish than in the much larger Customs office in Passau, and, in addition, the position in Passau was a provisional appointment only, subject to confirmation by his superiors.

It was perhaps only for the youngest member of the family, Adolf, three and a half years old, that the new town was an unmitigated success; he was in the impressionable age in which a child leaves home for the first time and is unfailingly altered by the first impressions of the new environment, the sight of the buildings, the sound of the language.
For the rest of his life, Adolf Hitler would speak the distinctive dialect of Lower Bavaria that was spoken in Passau. He insisted later that, from his time in Passau onwards, he had always felt more German than Austrian, and the old town’s cultural and historic pedigree certainly provided a different impression than sleepy Braunau. In all probability, he spent two carefree years in Passau.

When he was almost five years old, his mother gave birth to another son, Edmund. Only a week later, the father, obviously having satisfied the expectations of his peers, was promoted and transferred again: from the provisional appointment at the German border to a new post in Linz, the provincial capital. Because of little Edmund, the rest of the family remained in Passau for another year, which gave Adolf, freed from paternal supervision, lots of opportunities to roam about town. He enjoyed twelve months of freedom, and it was perhaps in this picturesque town, that commanded buildings in Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance style galore, that his lifelong interest in architecture awoke. Since he was not yet in school, time was on his side.

In addition, he had his mother for himself when his elder siblings were at school. Not only the Freudian faction of psychologists has commented at length upon Hitler’s devotion to his mother and hostility versus his father. Hitler was aware of his feelings and never thought of hiding them. All sources agree that he carried photographs of his mother at all times, until the last days of his life. In the cauldron of the final Russian attack on Berlin in April 1945, more than fifty years later, a framed photograph of his mother was the sole decoration of his bunker bedroom. Of his father, he spoke with fury or contempt.

As one would expect, it has been argued that a fixation on his mother as the unattainable ideal of womanhood destroyed his future relations to women; that he would subconsciously compare every other woman to his mother and consequently find them all wanting. A related theory held that he, unable to overcome this frustration, would develop homosexual tendencies. This theory perhaps confuses his friendship with Erich Röhm and the latter’s predilection for young and slim SA men with authenticity; anyway, no facts support the meretricious, not meritorious, theory. Hitler’s adult love life, as far as it will surface in this account, was less determined by his actual feelings for the young ladies themselves but his functions as revolutionary, party leader, chancellor and warlord that took up most of his time. Hitler met many women, and some were his mistresses, one of whom he married, in the end. Most, however, are best described as his “fans”, ardent supporters of his cause and person, socialites like Winifred Wagner, Unity Mitford or Helene Hanfstängl, who did him many favours and introduced him to the salons of the “better society”. He did go through a somewhat tragic love affair later in his life, which will be discussed in its proper place. Manifestly true is the observation that he was able to mobilize German women in his support as they had supported no other politician before him, but, then again, we don’t know how much of this support was based on erotic or maternal instincts. But the female vote was one of the pillars of his eventual success.

When the family followed the father to Linz in 1895, Adolf’s carefree life drew to a close. His father practised education by the standards of authoritative Austria and based his pedagogy on the cane – as it was the custom of the age. His stern character clashed easily and regularly with the imperfections he was wont to observe in the conduct of his two sons. From the spring of 1895 on, after Alois had decided to retire from His Majesty’s Customs Service, and spent most of his time at the family home, he had even more opportunity to correct the comportment of the children and hence father and sons collided even more often. Alois then bought a farm about thirty miles or fifty kilometres south-west of Linz, in the small village of Hafeld in the community of Fischlham near Lambach in Upper Austria. (3)

Rauschergut

Hafeld was a tiny hamlet of about two dozen houses and harboured perhaps a hundred souls. If one remembers the hilly settings of “The Sound of Music”, one has a good impression of how the settlement must have looked like. A sub-alpine village high on a crest, between trees, orchards and meadows, accommodated the nine acres of Alois’ farm on a gentle ascension. The house, called the “Rauschergut” was pretty and substantial, laid out on a slight slope; split-level, Californians would call it, and featured a small apple orchard, stables for the cows and horses, and that great prerequisite for kids´ play on a farm, a hayloft. A rivulet completed the picture.

Fischlham Church

Yet there was one problem. Alois was a farmer by heart; he was an ardent beekeeper, loved the physical side of farming and the husbandry of animals. But he lacked a green thumb, or, perhaps, the soil wasn’t good. One theory has advanced that his retirement from public service was less than voluntary, but, again, nothing in the record supports such an allegation. He retired with full pension rights, and there is nothing to conclude that he was anything but a well-respected man; no indication that the move to Hafeld might have had ulterior motives. Yet another factor compromised the idyll for his younger son: life handed Adolf a new challenge by his enrolment in elementary school.

From September 1895 on, Adolf and Angela were scheduled to visit the tiny Volksschule, the primary school, in the village of Fischlham, three miles away. For the first time in his life, Adolf was separated from his mother and the village children, who had been his playmates. Adolf and Angela had to walk to school and back every day, about one hour in fine weather, much longer in winter. Due to the diminutive size of the population it served, the school in Fischlham was divided into two summary classes only, one for the boys and one for the girls.

The school (more pictures here)

One of the teachers, Herr Mittermaier, remembered the children in general, as pupils of the school, and Adolf in particular, because he was one of his students. He could clearly remember, he said, many decades later, that both of them kept the contents of their knapsacks in “exemplary order”, and that Adolf was “mentally very much alert, obedient, but lively.” (4)

In the first year, Adolf earned the highest marks for deportment, something he was not truly known for later. In “Mein Kampf”, he remembered:

“It was during these times that the first ideas formed in my breast. All that playing around in the open, the long way to school and my companionship with the rugged boys sometimes caused my mother grief and suffering, but that did not prevent me from being the opposite of a stay-at-home boy. And while I had hardly any thoughts of a future career at this time, I definitely had no sympathy for the direction my father’s career had taken. I imagine that even my talent for speaking in public came about through the more or less savage arguments that I often had with my school buddies. I had become a little ringleader and learned quite easily and well at school, but in other respects, I became quite difficult to handle.” (5)

Indeed, this passage seems to have been written straight from the heart. If true, it might evidence that, even as a boy, he was able to relate and defend his own ideas. What all sources agree on is that he was the ringleader at play, whether it was Cowboys and Indians or Boers versus Englishmen, a boy terror with a fast mouth, and busy with mischief. To Alois Jr., Hafeld proved a rough environment. The closeness of village life led to frequent arguments with his father. Alois Sr. worked long hours every day, but the barren soil rendered most of his labours fruitless and caused him frustration that all too readily turned to anger. In addition, Klara had given birth to little Paula in the fall of 1898, and the household now comprised five children. The distress over the farm may not have much improved the father’s patience.

Since he had given up his profession, Alois was very much of a presence on the farm and in the village, looming over his family with stern and unforgiving authority. As far as physical punishments are concerned, the sources disagree. The sons both complained about the beatings the father supposedly provided, Adolf remarked, “with a hippopotamus whip.” (6) On the other hand, Adolf’s future warden and burgomaster of Leonding, Josef Mayrhofer, who knew the family well, claimed that Alois’ bark was worse than his bite. We must keep here in mind that beatings, in liberal amounts and with frequent repetition, were deemed a disciplinarian’s panacea, instilling morale, obedience and character.

Alois Jr. alleged that the punishments happened on an irregular schedule, independent of cause and effect, which, if it were true, would indicate that alcohol played a role. Sometimes, he said, there were beatings for Adolf as well, or the dog, and he alleged that, on occasion, Klara also fell victim to her husband’s grim. If such scenes truly happened, they may have had strong psychological implications for young Adolf. Alois Jr. characterized his father as follows:

“He was imperious and quick to anger from childhood onward and would not listen to anyone. My stepmother always took his part. He would get the craziest notions and get away with it. If he didn’t have his way, he got very angry. … He had no friends, took to no one and could be very heartless. He could fly into a rage over every triviality.” (7)

Alois Jr.

Yet the elder son kept his own opinions, and was in the habit of defending them, and “after fierce fights with his father, fourteen-year-old Alois Jr. left the home in Hafeld and was disinherited.” (8) The family house, however, did not remain the only place where Alois Jr. found trouble. Four years later, in the year 1900, he was arrested, convicted of theft and sentenced to five months in jail. He received another such sentence later, this time for eight months. Like his possible grandfather Johann Georg Hiedler, he became a vagrant and earned meagre wages as a waiter in various countries: from Austria to Germany, from Germany to France, and from France, in 1909, to Ireland. Dublin, however, could not hold him any longer than other towns had, and the following year, 1910, finds him in Liverpool, where he became the proprietor of a small restaurant.

It was in this town that he married the buxom Irish lass Elizabeth Dowling, who bore him a son whom he named William Patrick. In early 1924, Alois Jr. went back to Germany, albeit without his family whom he, perhaps, considered an unnecessary burden. He resettled in Hamburg, but the old Hanseatic town got the better of him: a second marriage, undertaken without a prior divorce from Elizabeth, sent him to prison again, for bigamy, six months this time.

Paula Hitler

After his half-brother Adolf’s career had taken off in 1933, Alois materialized in Berlin, where he opened a bar and restaurant on the Wittenbergplatz, near the heart of the city’s nightlife. His eventual clientele, most of them Nazis, SS or SA officers, knew exactly what his family relations were. Although it could never be determined exactly whether these excellent connections now helped or not, the customers of Café Alois believed in them and the establishment was a success. Alois survived the war and his brother, but the prominence of the family name may have got a bit too close to him, or perhaps some of his former wives were on the hunt for outstanding alimony payments: at any rate, Alois Jr. changed his name to Hans Hiller and disappeared from history, although he lived until 1956. Adolf’s younger sister Paula was a quiet and docile girl. She never appeared in the limelight, never married, and lived in obscurity until her death in 1960.

The urge to change places frequently, Alois Jr. had certainly acquired from his father. His friend August Kubizek remembered what Adolf had told him about the family’s movements:

During his [Alois Sr.] period of service in Braunau, there are recorded twelve changes of address; probably there were more. During the two years in Passau, he moved house twice. Soon after his retirement, he moved from Linz to Hafeld, from there to Lambach – first in the Leingarner Inn, then to the mill of the Schweigbach Forge, that is to say, two changes in one year – then to Leonding. When I first met Adolf he remembered seven removals and had been to five different schools. (9)


(1) (2) Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1889 – 1936: Hubris, W.W. Norton & Company 2000, ISBN 0-393-32035-9 (pbk.), p. 11

(3) (8) Hamann, Brigitte, Hitler’s Vienna, 1st Ed. Oxford UP 1999, Tauris Parks 2010, ISBN 978-1-84885-277-8 (pbk.), p.8, 8

(4) (6) (7) Toland, John, Adolf Hitler, Anchor Books 1992, ISBN 0-385-42053-6 (pbk.), p. 8,9,9

(5) Hitler, Adolf, Mein Kampf [German Edition], Eher Verlag, Munich 1924, p.3

(9) Kubizek, August, The Young Hitler I Knew, Arcade Books 2011, ISBN 978-1-61145-058-3 (pbk.), p. 54


To Be Continued: Schooldays in Lambach, Leonding and Linz

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

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