Preceding Posts: In Austria Before the War [Hitler’s Parents]
Children of the Lesser Men [Adolf Hitler’s Childhood]
The Flights of Fancy [Adolf Hitler in School]
Adolf Hitler’s Boyhood Friend [August Kubizek]
The Love Goddess [Stefanie Rabatsch, née Isak]
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 up or 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 anonymous crowds, he challenged Fortuna by 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.
Such men are on the mercy of the seasons, for warm days give them 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 around 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 [Hitler] 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.” (1)
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 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 message. She had already taken in another lodger. Gustl found a new domicile, in a nearby 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 [FN1] – 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”. (2)
[FN1] Franz Jetzinger et al. have argued that Gustl could have easily found out Adolf’s new address via the Meldeamt, the Registration office. This is not entirely accurate, because these files were not public and generally available only to the police, courts and the military. Cf. Jones, J. Sydney, p. 291 [Infra]
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 new room was bigger and thus more expensive 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 of whence the money came for the higher rent.
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 he may have spent some time 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 Schröder, 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)
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. (4)
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 Vienna’s amusement park “Prater“, 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 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.” (5) The sheer size of vagrancy in the Austrian capital was beyond belief – the journalist Max Winter bequeathed us more than 1500 articles on the phenomenon:
“ In the single week between January 10th and 16th, 1901, the six warming rooms of the Vienna Charity Association were visited in daytime by 29,202 men, 17,291 women and 39,801 children – that is, a total of 86,294 people within seven days. During night-time, 4641 men, 259 women and eleven children, together 4911 people, visited the rooms in addition.”https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/undercover-im-wiener-elend-vor-150-jahren-wurde-der.871.de.html?dram:article_id=467195
So arduous was his pecuniary distress that he had to sell his art materials and most of his clothing; an endeavour 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”.
The Asylum, “which in consideration for the decent citizens was built behind the Meidlinger cemetery, far from the residents” (6) 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. (7) Yet the association had to fight windmills in its constant struggle against the three related issues that plagued the poor: poverty resulted in homelessness, homelessness resulted in disease, and disease resulted in a 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 were relegated to perpetual poverty. Many of the losers came 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. Worse, they lacked the kind of survival instincts that apply to a city, as opposed to those applicable at their rural places of origin.
The Meidlinger shelter was a sturdy affair, offering refuge for about one thousand souls. Unlike other charities it allowed occupants to stay for one 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.
Much as he disliked it, Hitler had to pass through the ritual of admission; establishing 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 of 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 showers 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.” (8)
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 and 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 and 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. [FN2] 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 allotment. Thus, the first danger of having to return into the cold was banned and Hitler began to appreciate his new acquaintance.
[FN2] Brigitte Hamann provides an excellent overview about the sources on Hitler’s years in the Men’s Hostel, and discusses in which instants Hanisch can be trusted and when not (“Hitler’s Vienna“, see quotes below, p. 184 ff.).
Reinhold Hanisch came from the Sudetenland, the northern, German part of Bohemia, being born January 27, 1884, at Grünwald (Mšeno nad Nisou) 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. (9)
After a few days of listening to Hanisch, Hitler had memorized the basic rules of street life, and they developed 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 a snack 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 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.” (10) 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 of profiting 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 direly 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. (11)
There was the tricky issue that the two prospective entrepreneurs did not have a licence, 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 regard 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. (12) “The money probably saved his life, for it gave him renewed hope at a time when he had little to hope for.” (13)
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. Had 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.” (14) 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 self-centred; 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 possible 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, but 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.
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. She cites from a report by Viennese journalist Ernst Kläger, who, disguised as a beggar, 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.
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 Francis Joseph 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 Joseph’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 [doubtful, see FN1] 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.”
[FN1] The average monthly wage in 1910 was 54 Kronen (Austrian National Bank). Werner Maser gives the following examples of salaries: “At that time a lawyer’s salary, after one year’s practice in court, was 70 crowns per month, that of a teacher during the first five years of his career, 66 crowns. A post office official earned 60 crowns, while an assistant teacher in a Vienna secondary school before 1914 received a monthly salary of 82 crowns.” (Werner Maser, Adolf Hitler: Legend, Myth and Reality, NY 1971, p.43)
“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.
Hygienic conditions were exemplary: a house doctor practised 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 × 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. (15)
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 about six Kronen food and lodging per 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.” (16) 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 vowed 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. (29)
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.” (30)
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. (31) 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, (33) 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. (34) 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. (35)
From the little we know, the third rejection perhaps did not surprise him any more, 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 to go to school.” (37) 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.
Yet occasionally the tranquillity was interrupted. One of the reasons for Hanisch’s temporary disappearance from the hostel had been money: Hitler had finished a better than usual painting of the parliament building, which Hanisch, as usually, did sell but, inexplicably, forgot to give Hitler the share and vanished without a trace. On August 4, 1910, Siegfried Löffner, who knew about the affair, recognized Hanisch on the street, and, after attempting to convince Hanisch to pay his debt, an argument ensued. Eventually, the police arrived, and Hanisch was detained because he could not establish his identity. Löffner then filed the following statement at the Wieden, IVth District, police station:
Siegfried Löffner, Agent, XXth District, 27 Meldemannstrasse, states: “I learned from a painter at the men’s hostel that the arrested man [Hanisch] sold pictures for him and had misappropriated the money. I do not know the name of the painter, I only know him from the men’s hostel, where he and the arrested man always used to sit next to each other.” (38)
A day later, August 5, 1910, Hitler was asked to appear at the local police station in Brigittenau to give a statement. Meanwhile, the police had found forged identity papers in Hanisch’s possession that gave his name as Walter Fritz. Adolf testified:
Adolf Hitler, artist, b. 4-20-1889 in Braunau, resident of Linz, Cath., single, XXth District, registered at 27 Meldemannstrasse, states: “It is not true that I advised Hanisch to register as Walter Fritz, all I ever knew him as was Walter Fritz. Since he was indigent, I gave him the pictures I painted, so he could sell them. I regularly gave him 50% of the profit. For the past approximately two weeks Hanisch has not returned to the hostel and misappropriated my painting Parliament, worth c. Kronen 50, and a watercolour worth Kronen 9. The only document of his that I saw was his workman’s passbook issued to the name Fritz Walter. I know Hanisch from the hostel in Meidling, where I once met him. Adolf Hitler.” (39)
The trial took place on August 11. It was the first time Adolf Hitler was present in a criminal court as a witness. His beef with Hanisch, however, had been over the alleged embezzlement, not a false identity. That he did testify against Hanisch in the matter of the false papers was simple retaliation, and his testimony played a material role in the identity count of which Hanisch was convicted and received a seven-day jail sentence. But on the embezzlement charge, Hanisch had to be acquitted, perhaps because the money trail or its absence could not be proven either way, which raises the suspicion that Hitler may have lied in his statement of August 5. Summa summarum, Hitler first engagement in a court of justice included perjury and fraud, not an auspicious beginning to his relationship with the law.
By now he sold everything he painted. His choice of subjects had always been classically conservative, some might say boring, and this taste remained with him all through his life. There are few instances in which his small bourgeois outlook on the world becomes as obvious as in his taste in art, and although he lived in a time that revolutionized the arts, he did not pay any attention. He despised or was ignorant of the Secessionist painters, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, or Oskar Kokoschka; he disliked the compositions of Arnold Schönberg, Anton von Webern or Alban Berg, who introduced twelve-tone music and serialism; he never read Rilke, Zweig or Hofmannsthal. All his life he remained a captive of the artistic perceptions of the nineteenth century. Yet his taste coincided with what the good burghers of Vienna coveted, and so his paintings followed the eternal laws of demand and supply.
We do contrast here a few examples of the masters mentioned above – strikingly revealing how deep Hitler was stuck in the aesthetics of the past century.
As one would assume, the part of the conversation in the hostel’s reading rooms that did not revolve around women centred on politics. As far as the former topic is concerned, his old flame Stefanie might still haunt his dreams, or perhaps the elusive Emilie (see below), but he had no interest to mingle in the conversations of lonely men fabulating about the women they’ve known and the monies they’ve squandered, ingredients of fading memories, solitary men mourning irretrievable losses. Politics was a different thing altogether. Since Brigittenau was a worker district, the Social Democrats commanded a clear majority and their sympathizers were well represented in the Männerheim. Yet as far as Hitler’s political ideas, if any, in Vienna are concerned, the little our sources report is contradictory, and Hitler’s assertions in Mein Kampf, again, not truly credible. He claimed to have “learned to orate less, but listen more to those with opinions and objections that were boundlessly primitive,” (41) which would seem to characterize his opinion of the socialists. But no documents suggest that Hitler was at this time truly interested in politics, and, except for his Pan-Germanism, what he truly thought of Jews and socialists we do not know.
In early 1913, a young man from Moravia, Karl Honisch, took up residence at the hostel and became acquainted with Hitler. He was approached by the NSDAP in the 1930s to write up his memories. Clearly, the result must be taken cum grano salis, for he could not allow himself to write anything negative. As it would be expected, he portrays an abundantly politicizing Hitler, yet is silent on details.
“But if finally the opinions he heard really rubbed him the wrong way, he all of a sudden had to contradict. It then frequently happened that he would jump up from his chair, throw brush or pencil across the table, and explained his views in an extremely hot-tempered way, not even shying away from strong expressions; his eyes were ablaze, and again and again he threw back his head to throw back his hair, which kept falling over his forehead.” (42)
Honisch felt called upon to point out the good sides of his then-comrade, who was now head of the government and certainly not a man one would want to affront.
“[Hitler] … used to sit in his place day by day with almost no exception and was only absent for a short time when he delivered his work, and because of his peculiar personality. Hitler was, on the whole, a friendly and charming person, who took an interest in the fate of every companion.” (43)
“Nobody allowed himself to take liberties with Hitler. But Hitler was not proud or arrogant; on the contrary, he was good-hearted and helpful … and [if a comrade needed a short-term loan] I saw him several times starting such collections with a hat in his hand.” (44)
It was perhaps in late 1912 that several circumstances caused Hitler to contemplate a change of residence. One reason was the new Austrian army law that, although reducing the obligations of new draftees to two years of peacetime service, plus ten years in the reserves, increased the yearly intake of recruits from 103,000 in 1912 to 159,000 in 1914 and thereby was likely to prompt increased activities of the local draft boards. (45) It is clear that, by moving to Vienna, Hitler had evaded his draft board in Linz since 1909, when, at twenty years of age, he had been required to present himself for military service. It is obvious that he had no intention to serve in the forces of the detested Habsburg monarchy, and it seems that in this period his plans for an eventual emigration to Germany in general and to München in particular – he had talked about such a move as early as 1910 to Hanisch and Neumann – approached maturation.
Another reason was that he was through with Vienna; he knew the city inside out, like the face of a long-time lover, from the polished elegance of the buildings along the Ringstraße to the slums of the outer districts. He saw the Sword of Damocles hanging over the Habsburg Empire, kept from dropping only by the emperor’s fragile health. But why not set out for the Holy Grail right now? Hitler had a third, excellent reason to wait; as Ian Kershaw reports, at the occasion of his twenty-fourth birthday on April 20, 1913, he became eligible to receive his patrimony.
On 16 May 1913, the District Court in Linz confirmed that he should receive the sizeable sum, with interest added to the original 652 Kronen, of 819 Kronen 98 Heller, and that this would be sent by post to the “artist” Adolf Hitler at Meldemannstrasse, Vienna. With this long-awaited and much-welcome prize in his possession, he needed to delay his departure for München no longer. (46)
In February 1913, the nineteen-year-old pharmaceutical apprentice Rudolf Häusler took up residence at the Männerheim and made Hitler’s acquaintance in the reading room. (47) Häusler was interested in music and the arts, had painted himself, and Hitler took the youth under his wings. As Adolf had, Häusler had suffered under a tyrannical father who, in the bargain, was a Customs official, as Alois Hitler had been. The sire had thrown the offspring out of his house and Rudolf could only visit his mother, whom he, like Adolf, adored, and his siblings in the old man’s absence. To these sneaky visits he eventually brought his older friend Adolf, who, it would appear, made a good impression upon the mother, as Brigitte Hamann found out:
Ida Häusler, who was fifty at the time, a self-confident, educated woman from a good family, was glad that her unruly son had found a well-bred older friend, trusted Hitler, and was supportive of their friendship. Furthermore, she generously invited the obviously destitute young man to eat with them. Häusler’s seventeen-year-old sister Milli [Emilie] soon had a crush on Adi, who liked the comfortable, clean bourgeois atmosphere which resembled that of his former home in Linz. Father Häusler remained invisible. (48)
That we knew little about Rudolf Häusler until 1999, when Brigitte Hamann located his daughter Marianne Koppler, nee Häusler, interviewed her and published her finds in the book “Hitler’s Vienna” [see below], shines the proverbial light on the completeness and reliability of our sources on the early years; all the more so for Häusler apparently was the closest friend Adolf had since August Kubizek. [FN2] Not surprisingly, the fact that Hitler met an Emilie in the Häusler household, Rudolf’s sister, has led to speculation whether this Emilie could be identical with the girl Hitler’s secretary Christa Schroeder referred to in her memoirs; when she once opined that Emilie was an ugly name, Hitler allegedly said: “Don’t say that. Emilie is a beautiful name; that was the name of my first love!” (53)
[FN2] Anton Joachimsthaler discovered the earliest record of Rudolf Häusler in articles written by Thomas Orr for the München “Revue” Magazine, vols. 37/1952 to 8/1953. (49) Orr had learned of and interviewed a few alleged witnesses in Hitler’s old München neighbourhood and mentions Häusler but did not make the connection to Frau Koppler. For reasons that are not clear until today, Hitler never mentioned Häusler, nor did the Popps, the landlords of the room in which he lived together with Hitler in München for almost nine months. This has prompted Brigitte Hamann to speculate whether the two friends and the Popps, for unknown motives, concluded a pact of silence. (50) Häusler had early contacts with the Nazis: Joachimsthaler has him as a member of the NSDAP since June 1933 [the Austrian NSDAP since September 1, 1938], (51) although Frau Hamann cites an affidavit from the Austrian Ministry of the Interior that he had only been a membership candidate from 1938 to 1944. (52) Clear is that he worked for the DAF, the Nazi labour union, from December 1938 on, and was the manager of the Vienna NSDAP office from 1940 to 1945. He died in Vienna on July 26, 1973.
If true, this could indicate that the relation with Emilie was somewhat more, say, substantial than his earlier infatuation with Stefanie; on the other hand, given his penchant for telepathic love affairs, conceivably any Emilie in Vienna could have been the target of his supernatural affections. Frau Koppler reported that Emilie was the shyest, quietest and most sensitive of the siblings, and “gave the impression of being fearful and in need of protection.” (54) That she, being seldom outside of the house and not making many acquaintances, developed a crush on her brother’s elder friend seems entirely possible; reportedly she asked him to draw something for her scrapbook and received, as Frau Koppler, who saw the drawing in her youth, remembers, a Germanic warrior in front of an oak tree, signed “A.H.”. (55) A few postcards by Hitler were later found in the family papers.
Two reasons, however, argue against Emilie having been Hitler’s physical lover. One, the girl would not be allowed to leave the house without a chaperone, and it seems unlikely that Hitler was to breach the trust he received from the mother. Two, the time frame seems to be the wrong one, for Frau Wohlrab’s and the Café Kubata cashier girl’s memories [supra] place the relation with the mysterious girlfriend into the time when Hitler lived at Felberstrasse, from November 1908 to August 1909, not the early spring of 1913, when he met the Häuslers.
Eventually, Adolf convinced Rudolf to accompany him to München, or, rather, Rudolf’s mother, as he had five years earlier convinced Herrn Kubizek to release August to Vienna. Around May 20 Hitler must have received the patrimony and around this time they paid a farewell visit to the Häusler family. On May 24 they informed the Vienna police of their leaving the men’s hostel, without, however, providing a forwarding address. More likely than not this was Hitler’s idea, a cautionary measure to evade the attention of his home draft board in Linz. But because he had not only not registered in the fall of 1909, but also failed to present himself for recruitment in the spring of 1910, when due, nor in 1911 or 1912, the Linz police issued a warrant for evasion of his military service duty on August 11, 1913. (56)
The next day, Sunday, May 25, 1913, Karl Honisch and a few old hands from the Männerheim accompanied the two friends to the Westbahnhof, where not only the trains to Linz originated but those to Bavaria and thus München as well. Quite probably, the two friends bought the cheapest tickets, third class, Wien Westbahnhof – München Hauptbahnhof (Vienna, Western Railway Station — München, Central Railway Station), 5 Kronen 80 Heller each. (57)
Adolf Hitler left nothing and no one in the city that he felt had betrayed him, and set out for Germany – the Promised Land.
Next Post: Adolf Hitler in Munich before the War
Hamann, Brigitte, Hitler’s Vienna, 1st Ed. Oxford UP 1999, Tauris Parks 2010, ISBN 978-1-84885-277-8 / Quotation Number see Page(s): (2) 134 (6) 152 (7) 153 (13) 156 (15) 158-61 (29) 164 (31) 164 (32) 350 (33) 173-74 (34) 350 (38) 275 (39) 172 (42) 381 (45) 393 (46) 397 (47) 395 (48) 396 (50) 192 (52) 192 (53) 364 (54) 364 (55) 192
Hitler, Adolf, Mein Kampf [US Edition], Houghton Mifflin 1942, (5) 28
Joachimsthaler, Anton, Hitler’s Weg begann in München 1913 – 1923, F.A. Herbig, München 2000, ISBN 3-7766-2155-9, (4) 46 (9) 268 (49) 330, n. 277 (51) 323 (56) 27
Jones, Sydney J., Hitler in Vienna 1907-1913, Cooper Square Press 2002, ISBN 0-8154-1191-X, (11) 141 (37) 275
Kershaw, Ian, The Hitler of History, Vintage Books 1998, ISBN 0-375-70113-3, (46) 68
Österreichische Bundesbahnen (57) https://www.oebb.at/
Payne, Robert, The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, Praeger Publishers 1973, Lib. Con. 72-92891, (1) 79-80 (12) 82-3 (14) 83 (16) 85
Smith, Bradley F., Adolf Hitler – Family, Childhood and Youth, Hoover Institution Press 1979, ISBN 0-8179-1622-9, (35) 140-41
Toland, John, Adolf Hitler, Anchor Books 1992, ISBN 0-385-42053-6, (3) 39 (8) 40 (10) 41-2 (30) 46 (41) 49 (43) 50 (44) 50
(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19) Translations by author