What do we have to keep in mind, in the recapitulation, about the peculiarities of the Great War’s gestation? We may remind ourselves that neither politicians nor generals realized the sheer dimension of the disaster they unleashed. They understood that it was to be a huge war, but they still thought essentially in the dimensions of 1812 and 1870, big wars, to be sure, especially that of 1812, and destined to become even bigger by conscription, but that Napoleon’s Grande Armée of 1812 would easily be outsized by a factor of ten or fifteen and that ten million fatalities would eventually be counted nobody dared to suggest in 1914.
It was exactly because of the enormity of the conflagration that an intensive discussion was to ensue over the responsibility for its outbreak, the issue of “war guilt”. This topic remains intensively argued to this day, but in 1919, as we will see, it was quickly institutionalized by way of individual peace treaties, which tended to reflect the noble motives of the victors that so favourably contrasted to the evil schemes of the losers. As it was to be expected, the victors liked the results very much, the losers much less.
It took not much political savvy to doubt the usefulness of the blame game and the reparation demands which resulted – and would be so catastrophically exploited by Hitler’s propaganda – Marshal Foch himself famously called the Treaty of Versailles not peace but a “twenty-year armistice”, and was not far off: twenty years, nine months and nineteen days after the First World War had ended, the Second broke out. In retrospect, the motivations were simple – territorial demands, economic interests, and underlying psychological malaises, and in each case, the result – the decision for war – was a mixture of at least two of these elements.
France sought to regain Alsace-Lorraine – the defeat of 1871 had literally stunned the nation, and, perhaps even more urgently, she sought to renew the national unity that had been torn asunder by the Dreyfus affair. The Great War would provide the illusion of such unity for the time being – l’union sacrée, proclaimed by Poincaré in parliament on August 4 – yet that France could not truly regain this indivisibility proved itself for the worse in 1940 when the French Right opted rather to suffer German occupation than to allow a Second Commune. But since the country had succeeded since 1904 “to convince leading members of the Liberal government in London that France’s security was a British national interest,” (150) she was assured not only of the assistance of the greatest land power, Russia, in the impending war, but could also count on the support of the biggest sea power. A repeat of 1871 seemed to be out of the question.
Great Britain’s policy remained – obviously – the perpetuation of divide et impera, the prolongation of the concert-of-powers system that prevented the rise of a continental hegemony. It was a lucky happenstance, perhaps, that this coincided with a certain interest in the weakening of Germany’s industry as a competitor in global trade. England had no stated territorial interests, although she would be suspiciously quick in accepting, after the war, as “mandates” from the League of Nations the former German colonies of Namibia and Tanzania. A discussion remains whether Edward Grey’s, the British Foreign Secretary, three principal moves that ended in England joining the war, of whose acuity he seemed to have been well aware, were results of his bumbling or cunning. In his memoirs, Grey wrote: “I remember saying more than once, to colleagues inside or outside the Cabinet that it did not matter whether the decision was to go to war or to demand conditions from Germany. Conditions meant war just as surely as a declaration of war. Respect for the neutrality of Belgium must be one of the conditions, and this Germany would not respect.” (151) [FN 32] This argument can be made, of course, only in hindsight.
[FN 32] Albertini remarks: “This shows that Grey knew beforehand what would be the outcome of his three moves. The first was that of 31 July when though the situation was beyond repair [sic] he asked Paris and Berlin to ‘engage to respect the neutrality of Belgium so long as no other power violates it’. The second was on 1 August, when with Cabinet consent he warned Germany that ‘if there were a violation of the neutrality of Belgium by one combatant while the other respected it, it would be extremely difficult to restrain public feeling in this country.'”
Austria-Hungary’s motivations were almost entirely psychological – the Danube Monarchy dreaded Slavic nationalism as well as Hungarian separatism, had no concept for the integration of the numerous ethnic minorities, and was in shocking internal disorder – parliament had to be dissolved in 1907, and she essentially became a military dictatorship during the war. Only a great victory promised hope for the future – provided that it was possible at all to preserve “Kaiser Franz Joseph’s unique but anachronistic inheritance” – the breaking apart of which the European equilibrium could not – and did not – survive. (152)
Russia was in a similar political situation – the attempted revolution of 1905 was in no way forgotten – as the future was to tell – and any influx of patriotism the war was to bring figured hugely in her political computations, but her leadership had a truly strategic and territorial vision. To gain control of the Straits and hence access to the Aegean, Adriatic and the rest of the Mediterranean Seas would not only multiply her economical opportunities but also extend the influence of her navy – the budget of which since 1913 exceeded that of Germany – to the coasts of the Balkan and Asia Minor – the resurrection of an [Orthodox] Christian Byzantine Empire would reverse the progress of Islam into Europe.
Related Posts on the last phase of the war and the armistice negotiations:
But one day all was over, and in Spring and Summer 1919 the delegations of the belligerents met in Paris to conclude the peace treaties. The most important of these – with Germany – was to be signed in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, where on January 18, 1871, the victorious Germans had proclaimed the Second Empire.
Since all nations except the United States were completely exhausted from the war, everybody looked upon President Woodrow Wilson as Arbiter (and Saviour) Mundi, as the cartoonists were quick to notice.
In anticipation of the victorious conclusion of the war – through American supplies and troops – European politicians, pros and amateurs alike, had drawn up maps for the future. Most of those had as a common element the partitioning of Germany – a sort of time travel back to 1789 – as to disarm the German menace for all time. They all looked somewhat like this:
On the historical assessment of what finally transpired in the Treaty, there is a useful introduction on Wikipedia and, of course, stacks of literature – hence this post will not deal with details. A tentative agreement seems to form that the peace conditions were not as harsh as later German, especially Nazi German, propaganda made them out – which of course did not help in 1939.
As one would surmise, the German delegation was quite unhappy about the proposed treaty. Minister-President Philipp Scheidemann and his cabinet, the first German postwar government, resigned in opposition to the treaty on June 20, 1919. He was replaced by Gustav Bauer. The decisiveness of the hesitant German government was much improved when the Allies issued an ultimatum stating that Germany would have to accept the treaty or face an invasion of Allied forces across the Rhine within 24 hours. On June 23, Bauer relented and sent his plenipotentiaries.
The place of the signing was, as mentioned, fraught with history. The German National Assembly voted for the treaty by 237 to 138, and the result was wired to Clemenceau just hours before the deadline. German foreign minister Hermann Müller and colonial minister Johannes Bell travelled to Versailles to sign the treaty on behalf of Germany. The treaty was signed on 28 June 1919 and ratified by the Weimar National Assembly on 9 July by a vote of 209 to 116. (see Wiki)
The eventual territorial changes are depicted below:
In the early afternoon of November 9, 1923, the Nazis‘ wannabe-putsch had miserably failed at the Odeonsplatz in Munich under the guns of the Bavarian police. Adolf Hitler had dislocated his left arm as he fell on the pavement. Walter Schulze, head of the Munich SA Medical Unit, led him to Max-Joseph Platz, where they mounted Hitler’s old Selve 6/20 and fled southbound.
After some errant manoeuvring, the car finally drove to Uffing at the Staffelsee Lake, to the house of the foreign press chief of the NSDAP, Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstängl. The landlord was not at home – he had not been on Odeonsplatz, but on a special mission in Munich’s Neuhausen district and was picked up by Heinrich Hoffmann, the party photographer, and brought to his apartment, whence he planned his escape to Austria.
In Uffing, the refugees were taken care of by Putzi’s wife Helene Hanfstaengl, but the idyll did not last long – on Sunday, 11 November in the afternoon, the criminal police appeared and seized Hitler. He was first taken to Weilheim, the county seat, from where the magistrate examining the case transferred him to the custody of the state prison at Landsberg am Lech, where he arrived Monday at 11 o’clock.
The trial of Ludendorff, Hitler and the other defendants began on the morning of February 26, 1924, in the Munich Central Infantry School at Blutenburgstraße. 368 witnesses were heard in total. Lots of correspondents from all over the world and hundreds of spectators crowded the hall. Two battalions of police sealed the Mars- and Blutenburgstraße off with barbed wire and Spanish riders.
The trial never lost the character of a horse trade. Right at the beginning, the three lay judges Leonhard Beck (born May 6, 1867 in Schwandorn), Philipp Hermann (born October 21, 1865 in Nuremberg, † January 10, 1930 in Munich) and Christian Zimmerman told the court that they would agree to possible convictions only on the condition that any sentences would be suspended. To prevent the immediate disintegration of the trial and subsequent referral to the proper court in Leipzig, the court had to accept.
Ludendorff was acquitted and Hitler, Weber, Kriebel and Pöhner sentenced to a minimum sentence of five years of “Festungshaft” imprisonment and fines of 200 gold marks. Since pre-trial detention counted towards the time of incarceration, Frick, Röhm, Wagner and Brückner were immediately released on probation.
The term “Festungshaft” meant, according to the Reich Penal Code of 1871, imprisonment without compulsory labour and was a special provision for capital crimes on the occasion of duels or political crimes, in which “honourable reasons” were assumed – in contrast to greed, jealousy or other “lower” motives.
A few days after the end of the trial, Hitler, Herrmann Kriebel and Dr Friedrich Weber returned to Landsberg prison. The only other inmate in custody was the murderer of former Bavarian minister-president Kurt Eisner, Anton Count von Arco auf Valley, but he was released on probation on April 13, 1924, and pardoned in 1927. He had already been evicted from his old cell # 7, which Hitler took over.
Hitler, Dr Weber, Kriebel, Emil Maurice and Rudolf Hess, who arrived in May, were brought to five cells that formed a separate wing of the building, where a common day room was available as well. The men met there almost every day for social gatherings.
A rather interesting point of view was first published on December 19, 2015, in an article by Sven Felix Kellerhoff, Chief Editor of the Department of History of the German newspaper “Die Welt“. Prisoners of the “Festungshaft” category had the privilege of self-sufficiency (at their own expense) and hence the judicial guard Franz Hemmrich, who was responsible for their orders, noted in the second half of 1924:
“Notable was his consumption of butter (34 kilograms), sugar (45 kilograms), eggs (515 pieces), potatoes (50 kilograms) and lemons (88 pieces). Otherwise, Hitler also ordered noodles (black and white vermicelli, spaghetti, macaroni), peas (one kilogram), onions (2.5 kilograms), rice (3.5 kilograms), salad oil, vinegar essence, soup cubes, coffee beans (5 pounds), condensed milk (one can), vanilla and cinnamon (50 grams). “
Other purchases, however, shattered the image of the teetotaller, that Hitler claimed all his life in public:
“More interesting, however, is what Hitler ordered in addition: beer. 62 bottles in July, 47 in August, 60 in September and 47 were delivered in October. For November, there are hardly any entries while 34 bottles accrued in Decemberuntil one week before Christmas. These were half-litre bottles; thus, Hitler drank an average of just under a litre a day. That the beer was actually intended for him, can be concluded from the fact that Hemmrich noted specifically, if occasionally one of the then three daily bottles was intended for Hitler’s friend Emil Maurice, later SS-member No. 2.“
It may, therefore, be concluded that a circle of merry men knew how to spend the days of their imprisonment in a rather liberal fashion. Of Hitler’s literary work on his book “Four and a half years of a fight against falsehood, stupidity and cowardice” – whose bulky title he later renamed “Mein Kampf” on the advice of a publisher – party legend claimed later, that the author dictated the text to Rudolf Hess freewheelingly in the style of an ingenious rhetorician, but recent findings indicate that he probably typed the text himself on the old portable typewriter which can be clearly seen in cell picture # 2.
The treatment given to Hitler and his fellow prisoners regarding visits was, however, truly extraordinary. The director, senior government councillor Otto Leybold, described the men as “nationally-minded men” and for that reason authorized the admission of visitors far beyond the normal level. Until his release, Hitler received no fewer than 330 visits. The Historical Lexicon of Bavaria relates:
In addition to lawyer Lorenz Roder, the most frequent visitors were Berlin piano manufacturers Edwin Bechstein(1859-1934) and his wife Helene, Erich Ludendorff, Max Amann (Hitler’s war sergeant, 1891-1957), and Hermione Hoffmann.
Since the beginning of April, Kriebel and Dr Weber enjoyed the privilege of “receiving visits of their closest relatives without surveillance,” which extended to members of their sprawling families. From his own family environment, Hitler was visited only by his half-sister Angela Franziska Raubal from Vienna and her minor children Leo (1906-1977) and Angela Maria, called “Geli” (1908-1931). They were allowed to speak to their half-brother and/or uncle on 17 June and 14 July 1924 for a period of just under three and four hours, respectively, without supervision. In addition, Leybold had approved that Hitler was allowed to conduct confidential discussions with political friends regularly without the presence of a prison guard.
One probably will not err in characterizing the conditions of detention as rather mimicking a men’s pension than a prison. The inmates reckoned with their release on probation after serving the minimum detention period of nine months, estimating their release approximately on October 1, 1924. To their detriment, the Munich prosecutor found out that the prisoners had established smuggling of their correspondence, which torpedoed the earliest release date. Director Leybold was then asked for a written recommendation, which turned out quite surprisingly positive (here the German PDF of the document from a transcript in the Bavarian State Archives). After this hymn of praise – which allows us a few insights into the thoughts of the good Mr Leybold – their release on probation on 20 December 1924 was only a matter of form.
Many relevant documents relating to Hitler’s detention were considered lost for years until they were offered for sale in July 2010; an action prevented, however, by the State of Bavaria, by seizure.
As it was to be expected, after 1933 the Nazis made Hitler’s cell and prison a national shrine – with much fanfare and millions of postcards; a “place of pilgrimage to the German youth” – in the words of Reich Youth Leader Baldur von Schirach – where the hard time of the leader was to be honoured and kept in awe. [PDF in German by Manfred Deiler with pics] The city of Landsberg eventually crowned the adulation; in 1937 she declared the room the “National Sanctuary Hitler Cell”.
After Alois Jr., the eldest child, had left the apparently not so cosy household of the Hitler family, the freedom the elder son now enjoyed came at a high price for the younger, Adolf, who became the foremost recipient of the father’s pedagogic exercises. It was around this time that Alois Sr. conceded defeat in the agricultural campaign at Hafeld and sold the underperforming farm in the hope of finding a more congenial life in the small town of Lambach, about six miles or ten kilometres away. The family’s first residence there, the Leingartner Inn, was situated on the opposite side of the town’s dominant architectural feature, the old Benedictine monastery.
Lambach had a quite modern primary school in which Adolf did well. In the school year of 1897/98, he scored the best mark, a “1”, in a dozen subjects. He also participated in the monastery’s boys’ choir, where he, probably for the first time in his life, saw a swastika. The depiction was part of a previous abbot’s coat of arms, a huge specimen of which was fastened to the stone arch over the abbey’s entrance, which the boys had to pass under on the way to choir practice. The monastery, dating from the eleventh century, was known for well-preserved frescoes and paintings by medieval masters. The second architectural highlight of the town was the Paura Church, which featured a triangular design, with three altars, gates and towers.
The school was located just aside of the monastery, and the busy church calendar with its many festivities strongly attracted the youngster. He was fascinated with the monks and priests, the celebrations, and the abbot’s presidency over the ceremonial community, the memories of which never left him. In Mein Kampf, he reminisced:
“Again and again I enjoyed the best possibility of intoxicating myself with the solemn splendour of the dazzling festivals of the church. It seemed to me perfectly natural to regard the abbot as the highest and more desirable ideal, just as my father regarded the village priest as his ideal.” (10)
Whether Alois Hitler, habitually championing the causes of sexual liberation and, perhaps, alcoholic intoxication, still regarded priests as ideals may be doubted. But since he had been raised in the bosom of the Catholic Church, he paid his respects, at least to a degree, and visited services on Easter, Christmas and on August 18, the Emperor’s birthday.
One thing his son clearly kept in mind was the swastika he had discovered on the abbot’s coat of arms. The original bearer of the coat, Abbot Theoderich von Hagen, had been the prior of the monastery in the middle of the preceding century, and the swastika symbol was not only featured on his coat but was found at many places in the structure as an element of decoration. The swastika, also known as the equilateral cross or crux gammata, is an attribute of prosperity and good fortune, widely used by cultures ancient as well as modern. The word is derived from Sanskrit swastika, meaning “conducive to well-being“. It was a favourite symbol on ancient Mesopotamian coins and appears frequently in medieval Christian, especially Byzantine, art, where it is known as the gammadion cross. It is also found in South and Central America, used by the Maya, and in North America among the Navajo and related tribes.
The German word for swastika is “Hakenkreuz”, the ‘Hooked Cross’. In the case of the venerable abbot, it was perhaps a pun on his name, for in German his name Hagen, and Haken, the hook, are pronounced almost identically.
Lambach, however, was not the kind of town to stop Alois’ wanderlust, and in the late fall of 1898, he bought a small house in the town of Leonding, a south-western suburb of Linz. The house stood opposite the church, was not too big but had a nice garden, about one-half acre in size, abutting the cemetery wall. Leonding housed perhaps three thousand souls, but its proximity to Linz made it a somewhat livelier place than the number of inhabitants alone might suggest.
Adolf and Angela had to change school again, for the third time in four years, but Adolf did well at the small school in Leonding. Yet the family atmosphere apparently did not change much, for better or worse, and Paula reported that her brother remained the chief target the father’s temper tantrums were directed at. She remarked:
“It was him who
challenged my father to extreme hardness and who got his sound thrashing every
day. He was a scrubby little rogue, and all attempts of my father to thrash him
for his rudeness and to cause him to love the profession of an official of the
state were in vain.
How often, on the other hand, did my mother caress him and try to obtain with her kindness, where the father could not succeed with harshness.” (11)
Thus, if the sister blamed the
father’s violence, she also attested to her brother’s being a “scrubby
little rogue”, which we may take as a hint that the father’s educational
manoeuvres were not entirely unwarranted.
The first two years in Leonding passed by, and Alois seemed to adjust better to the lifestyle of a retiree. He worked in the garden mornings for an hour or two, visited his beloved bees, and then proceeded to pay his dues at one of the inns, for a glass of wine. In the afternoon the schedule repeated itself; the Gasthaus session, however, was finished punctually at the time for dinner at home.
An important witness for this time is the mayor of Leonding, Josef Mayrhofer. He portrayed Klara as a most friendly and nicely dressed woman and explicitly stated that he never saw or heard of Alois beating the children, although he often enough threatened them with the whip. The truth may, as so often, lie somewhere in the middle, for corporeal punishment was widely accepted in this age.
Out of the blue, on February 2, 1900, Edmund, six years old, died of the measles. There are indications that the sudden death of his little brother shocked Adolf to the core, and may have contributed to the school problems which began soon thereafter. It seems that no other event in his young life had a comparable impact on Adolf. His scholarly success diminished dramatically, and problems with his discipline escalated.
Our photograph right, taken in the fall of 1900, in the first grade of the Unterrealschule, the Junior Technical High School in Linz, depicts a strangely mutated child: the boy faces the camera morosely, sullenly sulking, mumpish and dumpish, as if a flame had gone out. During primary school, he had always been near the academic top of the class but now his scholastic efforts and consequently his achievements dropped quickly. By his own account, his personal yearnings for academic laurels were diminished by the sudden discovery of a talent he had been unaware of yet: that of drawing.
Yet after school hours, if not drawing, he remained the lively leader of the pack, in all probability neither worse nor better than a typical schoolboy. Since his family had moved to four different locations within the first few years of his life and had thus provided him with an intimate knowledge of faraway places, he became the indispensable authority in all foreign matters. We can imagine him natter to his chums for hours, as he did later to his dinner guests.
He always found topics to talk about. All through his life, the observations agree, he was buried in books and this habit had begun early. He read all the time, and if the latest tome he had ingested was one of James Fenimore Cooper’s, he felt like Natty Bumppo, alias Hawk-Eye or Leatherstocking; if the last volume had been one of Karl May’s adventures, he was Old Shatterhand or Winnetou, chief of the Apache. Young boys have read adventure books and built fortresses in the woods since the dawn of time, and young Adolf was initially no exception. All boys pass through the heroic age, and so they should, but in young Adolf’s case, a deviation of the norm occurred. Juvenile obsessions diminish into the background of half-forgotten childhood memories when the ascent of puberty shifts priorities; when girls, cars and beer replace the heroes of the past. For Adolf, however, some childhood dreams persisted, like his veneration for the books of Karl May.
Virtually unknown outside of the German-speaking people, Karl May was the son of a poor family from the Erzgebirge, the Ore Mountains, the low mountain ridge separating Saxony and Bohemia. The son of a weaver, he became an elementary school teacher before a conflict with the law, a conviction for petty theft, sent him for seven years to prison. Upon his release in 1874, he embarked on a career as a writer. He started out with short stories, which eventually grew larger and were serialized; like Alexandre Dumas’s “The Count of Monte Christo” had found success in France. May soon graduated to full-length novels, chiefly fictitious traveller’s tales.
While he eventually wrote about almost every corner of the globe, most of the stories concentrate upon his and a bunch of trusty sidekicks’ fictional adventures in the Wild West of the USA and Mexico of the 1860s and 1870s respectively the Ottoman Empire’s Balkan, Arabian and Turkish provinces. His alter ego was, in the case of the Wild West, “Old Shatterhand”, a trapper, surveyor and know-it-all, and in the East, “Kara Ben Nemsi”, a mixture between Sir Henry Morton Stanley and jack-of-all-parades. In the 1960s a few of his tomes were turned into movies, featuring second-tier Hollywood stars like Stewart Grainger or Lex Barker in hilarious German-Italian co-productions, with Yugoslavian extras playing the assorted Indian braves.
In the German-speaking countries around the turn of the century, Karl May became an improbable success and a veritable household name. A whole printing house was dedicated solely to his oeuvre, followed by a museum. An open-air theatre was built to give dramatizations of his yarns, and the movies are a staple of weekend-afternoon child pacification. Total sales of his works exceed 100 million copies.
Most of his seventy novels and story collections follow unpretentious recipes. Mr May, as trapper Old Shatterhand, accompanied by his friend and blood-brother Winnetou, chief of the Apache Indians, encounters a party of strangers somewhere on the prairie, who, for the one or other reason, arouse his suspicion. After parting from their company, the heroes return, clandestinely, at night, and listen in on the fishy characters’ fireside chat, hidden by the bushes that grow handily around the suspects’ fireplace. The evildoers invariably engage in a lengthy and detailed discussion of their criminal enterprise, but, armed with the knowledge of their plan, our friends are able to thwart the heinous plot, as the laws of suspense prescribe, in the last minute. They save the prospective victims from bodily and/or financial harm and, at the end of the tale, ride together into the sunset.
For variety, evil Indian tribes may be replaced by Arabian criminals or Turkish gangsters. Books like those of Karl May have, of course, fired puerile imagination for centuries; in literate societies, they are an indispensable part of the male coming of age. In Hitler’s case, however, Karl May’s novels continued to form a part of his reality all through his life, he was unable to outgrow them. By his words, and the reports of his staff, he read the complete seventy novels at least four times in his life. He found time in his first year as chancellor of Germany, in 1933, to read them once again. His ideas of tactics and in particular of military intelligence were partly formed by his favourite literature; he did, in fact, more than once encourage his generals to read Karl May. One may hope they found enough bushes around their opponents’ campfires, for cover.
A quite linear way led young Adolf’s sense of adventure from the Wild West to the military. He admitted that when he found, by accident, a few illustrated magazines depicting the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 in the attic, he became an instant fan of the patriotic struggle. At this time, it was official Austrian policy to ignore the events of these years: first, because their army’s defeat at Königgrätz in 1866 by the Prussians still rankled, second, because Austria had played no part in the success of 1870/71, and, third, because the Austrian government was unwilling to acknowledge German efficiency in general, and the more so because it contrasted so unfavourably to its own bumbling ways. Adolf himself admitted that:
“It was not long before the great historic struggle had become my greatest inner experience. From then on, I became more and more enthusiastic about everything that was in any way connected with the war, or, for that matter, with soldiering.” (13)
The fascination with all things military that was to remain with him all his life had begun. The neighbours in Leonding were used to see Adolf and his associates playing war all day and night, the boy with the characteristic forelock urging on the action.
The year that had begun so baneful with Edmund’s death brought more trouble to Adolf in the fall. In September 1900, he had transferred to the Unterrealschule in Linz. Comparable to a junior technical high school, it was a four-year school with an impetus on science, mathematics and modern languages, preparing its students for careers in the modern industry fields of engineering, design and production. It was a feeder school for industry and trade, not for aspiring university students. For those pupils, Austria, like Germany, had the Gymnasium, in which the prospective earners of academic degrees were treated to a classical curriculum that included Latin and Greek. The Realschule did not offer ancient languages or courses in philosophy; it taught practical subjects to the children of the lesser men.
How it felt in general to be a student in a contemporary Austrian school we are being told by Stefan Zweig, who remembers his days in a gymnasium in Vienna.
It was not that our
Austrian schools were bad in themselves. On the contrary, after a hundred years
of experience, the curriculum had been carefully worked out and, had it been
transmitted with any inspiration, could have been the basis for a fruitful and
fairly universal education.
But because of their
accurate arrangement and their dry formulary our lessons were frightfully
barren and lifeless, a cold teaching apparatus which never adapted itself to
the individual, but automatically registered the grades, “good”,
“sufficient” and “insufficient”, depending on how far we
complied with the “requirements” of the curriculum.
It was exactly this lack of human affection, this empty impersonality and the barracks-like quality of our surrounding, that unconsciously embittered us. We had to learn our lessons and were examined on what we learned. For eight years no teacher asked us even once what we personally wished to learn, and that encouraging stimulus, for which every young person secretly longs, was totally lacking. (14)
It was the normal procedure of the age that the father of the student chose in which type of institution to enrol his offspring after he or she finished elementary school, and, not surprisingly, Alois chose the more practically oriented Realschule over the more cerebral Gymnasium for his son; perhaps in the hope that its more utilitarian education would improve, at length, the boy’s willingness to pursue the career of a civil servant.
The virtues of the civil service were proverbial in the Hitler household. It was necessary that one child should be prepared for the bureaucracy, almost as noble sons once were destined for army and Church. Yet, when the actual decision had to be made, the old man ran into unexpected resistance. A serious conflict erupted between father and son because the boy refused to cooperate in Alois’ plans. He claimed that he had no interest in an official’s life; nothing his father could propose, through either commands or blandishments, succeeded in changing his stand. The struggle between father and son gradually became more
serious. Alois became increasingly bitter and intransigent. And Adolf’s whole
manner of life was profoundly changed.
During the years in Realschule(1900-1905), he emerged as a solitary, resentful, and uncooperative youth who sullenly went through the motions at home and failed in school. After compiling an excellent record in Volksschule, he slipped from one mediocre term to another, either failing completely (1900-1901) or barely skating by. The whole experience deeply affected his later development. It barred his way to higher education and left him with a full measure of unhappy confusion and resentment about himself, his family and his future. (15)
Most of the school reports of these years have been preserved. They are somewhat confusing to the outsider, hence here a link to a useful summary.
Until the third century BC, the people living in the north and middle of the European continent – mostly Celts and Germans – appeared on the political map of the known world only by proxy: by virtue of the trade undertaken by the seafaring people, whose commercial and military interests then centred upon the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Of pivotal importance to this age were the great ports, for they not only provided safe havens from the volatility of the sea but served as commercial hubs or, should the need arise, as gathering points for the men-of-war.
The principal harbours of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea were then among the greatest and most busy towns of the age: Athens and its harbour Piraeus, Ephesos and Miletus in western Anatolia, the ports of Rhodos, Cyprus and Crete, Sidon and Tyrus in Palestine, Trapezos and Chersonesos in the Black Sea, and always Alexandria Egypta, with her famous lighthouse and the greatest library of the world: these were the naval and thus political heavyweights of the period. At this time, the Levant and Northern Africa were far more fertile than they are today: the fabulous wheat harvests along the Mediterranean Africa coast and Sicily provided for many centuries most of the grain that fed southern and western Europe, her coastal cities and hinterlands.
From the sixth to the fourth century BC, the Greek and Phoenician town states around the Eastern Mediterranean Sea engaged in a rapid colonial expansion westward. Among many smaller settlements and ports, towns as famous as Massilia, today’s Marseille, Neapolis, i.e. the “New Town“, today’s Naples, and Gades, today’s Cadiz, were founded at this time. One Phoenician community settled near today’s town of Tunis at the African coast, vis-a-vis from Sicily, and from this promontory began the economic exploration of the West, of Spain, Italy and southern France. In these lesser-known parts of the Mediterranean Sea, large profits beckoned.
From the fifth century BC onward, Carthage, as the new settlement became known, established herself as the dominant trading force in the western parts of the Mediterranean Sea by founding new colonies that extended as far as the Atlantic coast, and the Iberian Peninsula was thus linked with the consumers of Greece, Syria and Egypt. In the third century BC, however, her ongoing expansion into the Italian markets was checked by an indigenous opponent, the young city-state of Rome. We know little of Rome’s actual, as opposed to legendary, origins, although archaeological work recently begun on Palatine Hill may soon deliver clues. The primary saga of Rome’s establishment, however, is a well-known tale which draws on various popular elements of foundation myths. The twins Romulus and Remus, sons of the war god Mars and the Vestal Virgin Rhea Silva, were abandoned after birth but found, floating down the Tiber River in a basket, by a she-wolf that nursed them to boyhood. They were subsequently adopted by a shepherd and his family, and, in the year 753 BC founded a small settlement on the Palatine Hill, overlooking the Tiber River, and in the distance, perhaps five leagues away, the blue waves of the Tyrrhenian Sea. [FN1]
[FN1] As usual, the elements of the myth do not truly fit and are hardly of original quality (Floating basket, anyone? See Moses and Osiris). By definition, a virgin should not give birth, and why a god and such an honourable lady did not have the pocket change to rear twins properly, must be left to the reader’s imagination. Legend says it was because of an evil prophecy – which promptly came true.
A somewhat different account tells the story that the twins descend from a visit of the heroic Aeneas of Troy on the shores of the Tiber, who arrived after a somewhat complicated journey from the cinders of his home town and a stopover in the arms of Dido (at Carthage) in middle Italy and thus bestowed a claim of noble ancestry to the fledgeling village. He married a certain Lavinia after killing her boyfriend Turnus and eventually becomes the ancestor of the twins (see Wiki)
At any rate, peace in the hamlet foundered soon, by virtue of some unexplained family business which led to the murder of Remus by Romulus, as in Cain and Abel. Soon after the ordeal, Romulus was able to welcome new blood. To improve the population count, Romulus declared a zone between the two summits of near-by Capitoline Hill a habitat for fugitives; and it may tell us something about law and order in early Roman history that Romulus soon found numerous prospective citizens; men ejected from their tribes for various offences.
While it seemed that crime was as popular and profitable career then as it is today, and Romulus experienced few problems in attracting new associates, it was female company that proved a rare occurrence on the settlement’s campfires and many lecherous thoughts were addressed at the misty hills belonging to the tribe of the Sabines, who were known for an abundance of female members. Given the criminal backgrounds of many of the new Roman citizens, it was no surprise that a solution to the problem was found only within the confines of war; when battle raged in Rome between the Romans and the Sabines, the women brought it to a close. Livy writes:
“[The women], from the outrage on whom the war originated, with hair dishevelled and garments rent, the timidity of their sex being overcome by such dreadful scenes, had the courage to throw themselves amid the flying weapons, and making a rush across, to part the incensed armies, and assuage their fury; imploring their fathers on the one side, their husbands on the other, “that as fathers-in-law and sons-in-law they would not contaminate each other with impious blood, nor stain their offspring with parricide, the one their grandchildren, the other their children. If you are dissatisfied with the affinity between you, if with our marriages, turn your resentment against us; we are the cause of war, we of wounds and of bloodshed to our husbands and parents. It were better that we perish than live widowed or fatherless without one or other of you.” Livy, Ab urbe condita 1.13
Together with the poaching of any girl they chanced upon in the woods or the coastline, adult entertainment was finally secured and the procreative challenge solved.
Rome’s early days as a kingdom are shrouded in the veils of oral tradition, because no records exist and only a few inscriptions remain. It is believed that the spot was initially chosen because of a ford, where the river could be crossed, and the hills provided an easily defensible position. What appears to be different from the usual kingdoms around is that the king did not reign because of his descent from a royal family or a god but by authority through the use of imperium, formally granted to the king by the Comitia Curiata with the passing of the Lex curiata de imperio at the beginning of each king’s reign.
[FN1] see Wiki: “The traditional version of Roman history, which has come down to us principally through Livy (64 or 59 BC-AD 12 or 17), Plutarch (46–120), and Dionysius of Halicarnassus (c. 60 BC – after 7 BC), recounts that a series of seven kings ruled the settlement in Rome’s first centuries. The traditional chronology, as codified by Varro (116 BC – 27 BC), allows 243 years for their combined reigns, an average of almost 35 years. Since the work of Barthold Georg Niebuhr, modern scholarship has generally discounted this schema. The Gauls destroyed many of Rome’s historical records when they sacked the city after the Battle of the Allia in 390 BC (according to Varro; according to Polybius, the battle occurred in 387/6), and what remained eventually fell prey to time or to theft. With no contemporary records of the kingdom surviving, all accounts of the Roman kings must be carefully questioned.”
Around 500 BC, the town state began to change its political organization from a run-of-the-mill monarchy to a republican oligarchy. This was due, it seems, to the influence of the Etruscans, a peculiar people whose pale of settlement reached from Rome north-westward to the vicinity of Pisa, and whose culture displayed no similarity to any of their neighbours, except, perhaps, for the fact that they used an alphabet traceable to the Greek.
The Etruscans were either destroyed or assimilated by the Romans in the third century BC, yet it appears that their laws were an early influence on the first Roman laws, which were written, the legend goes, on twelve clay tablets sometime around 450 BC. With the Roman conquest of the principal Etruscan town of Veii in 396 BC under the leadership of Marcus Furius Camillus [FN1], their culture vanished, and the same year is commonly accepted as the beginning of the Roman expansion. Incorporating Etruscan and other local customs and fashion, the Roman state developed its own cultural identity. In the pictures below, we present a few scenes of typical Roman life.
[FN1] Marcus Furius Camillus is said to have been elected dictator five times, was granted four triumphs and received the honorific “Second Founder of Rome”.
The following years generated fair amounts of local hostilities, which were somewhat amplified in 387 BC by a roving Celtic tribe, the Senones, led by their chieftain Brennus southbound from Gallia Cisalpina. At that time, the population of the wide valley of the Po River was Celtic as well, and forays along the coasts were not uncommon. King Brennus’s men plundered their way southward to Rome, which they sacked: with the exception of the top of Capitoline Hill, whose sleeping sentries were alerted, in the nick of time, by the chatter of a handful of geese. The attack on the hill and its gold cache was thus deflected, although the Senones took everything that moved and left for further adventures. The geese, since then, enjoyed a protected habitat on Rome’s principal hill, fed well by grateful citizens – only to be slaughtered and cooked at the next holiday, perhaps. Sic transit gloria mundi.
After the Senones had vanished, local warfare was speedily reinstated and concentrated upon the Samnites, Rome`s south-eastern neighbours. It took three campaigns to subdue them [343 -290 BC], and with the subsequent success against Tarentum [282 -272 BC], the victorious republic extended her tenure over the whole Italian boot: from Ariminum, today’s Rimini, in the north-east, where the northern piedmont of the Apennines mountains meets the Adriatic Sea, to Regium, at the tip of the boot. These conquests more than tripled the size of the Roman territory, and the increasing trade volume on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea brought the republic at length into contact, and soon into conflict, with the established naval superpower of the time – Ancient Carthage.
Around the year 250 BC, the Phoenician (=Punic) sphere of dominance comprised the African coast from the Great Syrte of Lybia all the way to today’s Moroccan coast; the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and the Baleares and Spain from the Ebro River in the north-east to the Rock of Gibraltar, and even a few colonies on the Atlantic Ocean, Gades, today’s Cadiz, being the most important of them (see map, areas in grey).
The conflict between Rome and Carthage first centred on the island of Sicily, fabulously wealthy then, and in the long run scattered skirmishes turned into open warfare. For the first time in her history, Rome had to fight a naval war, and it took a few attempts to get things right. It helped that around 260 BC an unknown Roman engineer conceived a mechanism that enabled Roman infantry, the pride of the nation, to participate in sea battles (in which the Phoenicians were reported to be masters). A plank (called “corvus”,`raven´) that could be lowered onto an enemy ship allowed Roman legionaries to enter the opposing vessel and fight the way they were used to, on foot, with spear and sword. In 260 BC, the Battle of Mylae, north-west of Messina, brought Rome her first naval victory.
A second victory, at the Ecnomos promontory in 256 BC, allowed a Roman expeditionary force in the strength of four legions to set foot on the African continent. Their advance on Carthage was checked, however, by a hastily collected force of Punic mercenaries in an action near today’s Tunis, and the mauled Roman legions, which suffered from logistic problems to boot, did not have the strength to continue the campaign and were quickly forced to return. This tactical success, however, could not save the island of Sicily for Carthage, which became the first Roman “provincia” in 241 BC.
An uneasy truce ensued but lasting peace was out of the question, given the awareness of both sides that only the winner would continue to harvest the fruits of trade. In 227 BC Rome acquired the islands of Sardinia and Corsica from a weakened Carthage; at this time the Romans began to call the Mediterranean Sea “mare nostrum“, our sea.
By 219 BC a new generation of Punic soldiers, more familiar with land warfare than their fathers had been, was ready to renew hostilities. One specific young officer showed great promise in all things military and was entrusted with the command over the whole Punic army in the twenty-fifth year of his life. As the qualities of a man are often best judged by his enemies, we shall contemplate what Titus Livius, his Roman adversary, wrote about Hannibal:
“The old soldiers fancied they saw Hamilcar [his father] in his youth given back to them; the same bright look, the same fire in his eye, the same trick of countenance and features. But soon he proved that to be his father’s son was not his highest recommendation. Never was one and the same spirit more skilful to meet opposition, to obey or to command. …
He entered danger with the greatest mettle, he comported himself in danger with the greatest unconcern. By no difficulties could his body be tired, his ardour dampened. Heat and cold he suffered with equal endurance; the amount of his food and drink was gauged by natural needs and not by pleasure. The time of waking and sleeping depended not on the distinction of day and night.
What time was left from business he devoted to rest, and this was not brought on by either a soft couch or by quiet. Many have often seen him, covered by a short field cloak, lying on the ground betwixt the outposts and sentinels of the soldiers. His clothing in no wise distinguished him from his fellows; his weapons and horses attracted everyone’s eye. He was by long odds the best rider, the best marcher. He went into battle the first; he came out of it the last. He served three years under Hasdrubal’s supreme command, and left nothing unobserved which he who desires to become a great captain ought to see and do.” (1)
Legend has it that Hannibal’s father Hamilcar had obliged the son to swear by oath to remain at all times an enemy of Rome. Under the son’s command, Carthage decided to carry the war to the opponent’s own turf, and the gold of the state was liberally spent on the equipment of a fresh army. Carthage opened the second round of hostilities by attacking and seizing Saguntum, a Spanish town that was an ally of Rome, and the Roman senate consequently declared war [Second Punic War, 218 – 201 BC]. Hannibal now faced the strategic choice whether to attack Rome by land or by sea.
The invasion of a defended coast from the sea is one of the most difficult military manoeuvres, and since Hannibal could not ignore how quickly and efficiently the Romans had adapted to naval warfare, he judged the invasion of Italy from the sea an enterprise doomed to fail. The only other way to reach the enemy on his own turf was by land, through Spain and France; a route fraught with the obstacles of the Pyrenees and the Alps. The advantage of the strenuous approach, however, was of tactical nature: it promised surprise, the most cherished of military commodities.
The newly assembled Punic army, including not only the standard infantry and cavalry units but a corps of thirty-seven elephants as well, set out for Italy in 219 BC. The first part of the exercise was the easiest and most comfortable, with the exception of a little mal de mer it brought on for the landlubbers: by ship from Carthage to Mastia [later called “Carthago Nova”, today’s Cartagena]. There the land campaign began. For the greater part following the coastlines, Hannibal’s forces marched over 1,000 miles, or 1,600 kilometres, to their destination. Having hugged the seashore as far as Narbonne in southern France, they changed direction at the Rhone River, which they followed northwards. When they reached the confluence of Rhone and Isere, they branched out eastwards and passed today’s Grenoble and Frejus in traversing the French Alps, touching Italian soil when they descended into the valley of the Po near today’s Torino.
Alas, the exercise proved costly: of the 60,000 troops that had left Mastia, only 26,000 were left to greet Italia; more than half of the horses and sixteen of the precious elephants had perished in the journey. Nevertheless, Fortuna was on Hannibal’s side: when he descended the Alps with his damaged force, he encountered a congregation of Celtic tribes who had their own bill to square with Rome and Hannibal was able to add about fifteen thousand Gauls to the common cause. Surprise was fully achieved. The Roman legions were protecting the beaches of Sicily from Punic invasion, not the rocks of the Alps, and had to be rushed north at best speed. Their hectic advance led them straight into an ambush Hannibal had laid at the Trebia River (218 BC), north-east of Genova, and the Romans were soundly beaten. This victory and the advance of winter, in which campaigning was impossible, permitted the Punic army and their allies to rest, re-equip themselves and stock up supplies, and allowed their commander a thorough planning of the next engagement.
In the spring of 217 BC, a well-replenished Punic/Gallic force began its drive towards Rome. Around the halfway mark of the march, near Lake Trasimene (217 BC), they encountered another hastily approaching Roman army, and a second ambush drove the legions into disarray and retreat. The second defeat in a row astonished the Senate and People of Rome, who had been too long accustomed to hear good news only from the battlefields. Recognizing the qualities of their opponent, caution was urged and obeyed. A reorganization of the available forces resulted in the establishment of a new army in the strength of fourteen legions; altogether over 70,000 men, the largest armed body Rome had ever sent into the field. The command over the forces of the republic was entrusted to the patrician senator Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, who was in addition appointed to the office of “dictator“, which gave him not only unlimited “Imperium”, the power of command, for six months, but also indemnified him, a priori, from any legal consequences of his actions or omissions.
Fabius advanced cautiously, being informed by his spies of his opponent’s every move, up to a point where his vanguard could barely see the Punic outposts, yet he was sure that their advancement would be reported to Hannibal. At this point, he ordered the legions to stop for the day and erect the standard fortified overnight camp, almost in sight of the enemy. Fabius’s lieutenants, aware that they outnumbered the opposition, recommended various plans of attack for the coming day, which were all denied.
Since it had been the habit of Roman armies for centuries to attack the enemy once contact was established, and Hannibal was aware of this fact, Fabius’s unorthodox behaviour baffled the Punic captain. He decided to break up his own position and move a few miles away, there to reorganize his army for the battle he expected for the next day. But the battle never materialized: Fabius shadowed Hannibal’s every move, but anytime the Punic army proceeded to leave camp and close ranks in anticipation of battle, the Roman legions moved a few miles away and built another god-damn camp. It was very frustrating. The same thing happened the next day and the day after. For weeks and months, the game proceeded, and Fabius acquired the not so glorious nickname of “Cunctator“, the “Hesitater”. While his “Fabian” tactics, as they are still called today, did not earn him a victory, he did not suffer defeat, either.
Consequently, nothing much happened in the next six months, and when his imperium ran out, Fabius handed the control of the legions to his successors, the chief magistrates of the year 216 BC, consuls Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro. These men and their lieutenants, aware of the fact that they commanded the finest army Rome had ever fielded and that they vastly outnumbered the invaders, were only too cognizant of the glory that the successful delivery of the country from Punic evil would entail. Subsequently, they set out to chase Hannibal down and to compel him to battle. Rumour had it that the Punic army was somewhere near the southern Adriatic coast, and the legions began their approach. Hannibal was indeed discovered in Apulia, about fifty miles north of the “spur” of the Italian boot, in the vicinity of a small town called Cannae.
A few days after his spies had informed him about the strength and commanders of the Romans, Hannibal ordered his troops to deploy and the day of confrontation dawned. He arranged his outnumbered force in a slight crescent, but placing his cavalry, a few lightly armed but swift foot-soldiers and the few remaining elephants at the flanks of the arc. When the Roman infantry, perhaps amused over this silly arrangement, formed a wedge and struck right into the heart of Hannibal’s position, the Phoenician centre retreated, which further inspired the attackers’ confidence. When the full weight of the Roman attack was poised upon the midst of the Punic line, Hannibal ordered his centre to retreat a bit more, which drew the Romans further in. When the legions were thus fixed in the midst of his infantry, he ordered the flanks to proceed forward-inward and trapped the whole Roman army in a double encirclement.
In the subsequent slaughter, tens of thousands of legionaries expired on the field of Cannae and only a very modest fraction of the great army, less than ten thousand souls, made it back to Rome to report. Livy wrote, “Forty-five thousand and five hundred foot, two thousand seven hundred horse, there being an equal number of citizens and allies, are said to have been slain.” As a result of these losses, Rome could not deploy forces big enough to challenge Hannibal for years to come, simply because there were not enough men of the required age and possessions left. At this time only propertied Roman citizens, who had to pay for their own weapons, armour and supplies, served in the legions. Most of these men were now buried at Cannae.
“Never when the city was in safety was there so great a panic and confusion within the walls of Rome. I shall, therefore, shrink from the task, and not attempt to relate what in describing I must make less than the reality. The consul and his army having been lost at the Trasimenus the year before, it was not one wound upon another which was announced, but a multiplied disaster, the loss of two consular armies, together with the two consuls: and that now there was neither any Roman camp, nor general nor soldiery: that Apulia and Samnium, and now almost the whole of Italy, were in the possession of Hannibal. No other nation surely would not have been overwhelmed by such an accumulation of misfortune.” – Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, xxii.54, on the Roman Senate’s reaction to the defeat.
“Few battles of ancient times are more marked by ability… than the battle of Cannae. The position was such as to place every advantage on Hannibal’s side. The manner in which the far from perfect Hispanic and Gallic foot was advanced in a wedge in echelon… was first held there and then withdrawn step by step, until it had the reached the converse position… is a simple masterpiece of battle tactics. The advance at the proper moment of the African infantry, and its wheel right and left upon the flanks of the disordered and crowded Roman legionaries, is far beyond praise. The whole battle, from the Carthaginian standpoint, is a consummate piece of art, having no superior, few equal, examples in the history of war.” (1a)
Hence, Rome could not afford to go back to the offensive for more than a decade and was restricted to employ defensive measures, denying Hannibal reinforcements and supplies from Carthage. This worked to a degree, and for the next thirteen years, 216 to 203 BC, the Punic army meandered around the Italian countryside, without any opportunity to strike a decisive blow at the enemy. Rome’s defensive policy bore its first tender fruit when an expeditionary corps was able to reconquer Sicily, the important grain source, and a second detail wiped out the Punic towns in Spain. The latter force was commanded by the young Publius Cornelius Scipio.
A scion of the noble Cornelius family, Scipio had joined the military at an early age and soon distinguished himself in battle. At the scandalous age of only twenty-six years, [FN2] in 210 BC, he was given the command in Spain, which he conquered and turned into a Roman province. He was elected consul in 205 BC, at the age of thirty-one, and developed a plan to circumvent Hannibal by attacking Carthage directly. He invaded Africa successfully via Sicily and was able to beat a small Punic corps in the Second Battle of Tunis, 203 BC. As a consequence of the Roman threat to Carthage, Hannibal was recalled in the same year with the remnants of his force and ordered to prepare for a showdown with the Roman wunderkind.
[FN2] Military command in the early Roman republic was a prerogative of the consuls, who were mostly in their forties or older and had already collected military and political experience in other public offices.
The subsequent Battle of Zama, about a hundred miles south-west of Carthage, decided the Second Punic War. The Roman prodigy revealed that he had learned from his predecessors’ mistakes at Cannae, and used an enveloping manoeuvre of his own design to defeat the enemy. Hannibal had to flee Africa and spent the rest of his life in Grecian and Asian exile. Carthage capitulated and was forced to accept a choking peace in which they had to cede Spain and lost all ships, merchantmen as well as men-of-war, to confiscation. Reparations were fixed at 10,000 gold talents, more than 100,000 kilograms, or seventy times the amount of the world’s annual gold production.
The protracted Iberian and Punic wars had changed the economy, and hence the whole society, of the winner. Scipio’s successes had added two provinces to the realm, Nearer and Further Spain, which proved particularly valuable for the copious amounts of metals yielded by its mines; copper and silver in particular. The two new provinces were to be governed by praetors, magistrates ranked just below the consuls, of which an additional two had to be elected each year just for this purpose.
Another huge economic side effect was the expansion of Roman slavery. It had been fuelled since the beginning of the Roman expansion by the taking of prisoners of war, who were enslaved wholesale. Antiquity considered slavery a normal form of human existence. A discussion of this subject is planned for a separate post – here a few classic paintings by Jean-Léon Gérôme on the subject:
The extended war had also necessitated the establishment of a proper arms industry, something Rome had not possessed at a time when every legionary’s equipment was custom-made. The new weapons industry largely depended upon slave labour, which for the first time amounted to a majority of the Roman workforce. Slave labour was also the economic foundation of the newly evolving latifundiae, huge farms which, in theory, belonged to the Roman people as a whole but were in fact let to patrician families for negligible rents under an absentee ownership system. Although Carthage’s days as a competition for Rome were over, its spectre provided a useful bane for fear-mongering Roman politicians. A case in point was Cato the Censor, one of the most obnoxious men of Roman history, if we believe the historians.
Marcus Porcius Cato [234-149 BC], known as the “Elder Cato” or “Cato the Censor”, became a prominent Roman politician against all odds. He had served in the Second Punic War under Scipio, and, by marrying a rich and noble if ugly daughter of good family, qualified for the Senate despite his inferior pedigree. During his youth and adolescence, he had been dreadfully lampooned by the status- and ancestry-conscious sons of Roman nobles because of his rural origins: his family were farmers at Arpinum, a small town south-east of Rome known for its cheese but not much else.
He made up for these frustrations by dedicating much of his later career as a censor to retaliation against his former tormentors. The office of censor invested the holder with the authority to let state contracts for building or tax farming, a duty in which corruption was hard to avoid. But it was the second duty of the censor on which Cato had cast a longing eye: the censor controlled access to and membership in the Senate. There was a means test which required every senatorial candidate to show a minimum fortune of a million sesterces or an equitable area of farmland, and a senator who once fell short of the minimum for any reason could be evicted from the august body – although senators gravitated to fiscal, if not political, solidarity and it rarely occurred that they allowed one of their own to be disqualified. But the censor could also dismiss a senator upon a showing of unacceptable moral conduct, and nobody was truly surprised when Cato declared practically all conduct ethically unbecoming. He hounded the arch-aristocratic Cornelius family relentlessly, and when he was able to ruin Scipio’s brother Asiagenus, the hero was said to have died of a broken heart.
Except for his terrorizing the nobility, Cato’s main contribution to the political debates was an undying hatred of Carthage – or perhaps of mankind in general – which he promoted by invariably ending his senatorial sermons with the phrase “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam” [‘In addition, I think that Carthage should be destroyed.’]. He trampled on everybody’s nerves like an ancient hybrid of Rush Limbaugh and Ralph Nader until the Senate in 147 BC resolved to destroy Carthage.
The subsequent “Third Punic War” was little more than a completely unnecessary slaughter of a defenceless people. Carthage had never recovered from the Second War and was no threat to anybody save for Cato’s hysterics and the jealousy of another member of the Cornelius family, a grandnephew of the hero of Zama, who saw in a third campaign a risk-free opportunity to crown himself with military glory.
His full adult name was Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus Numantinus, and his name told much of his biography. He was born in 185 BC as a son of Lucius Aemilianus Paullus, a famous general and statesman, and adopted into the Scipio branch of the Cornelius clan. Like his granduncle, he was elected consul while technically being underage, in 147 BC, and was entrusted with the command against Carthage, whose defenceless people he massacred and buildings he razed in 146 BC. For this heroic act, he received the additional cognomen of “Africanus”, i.e. conqueror of Africa. He was re-elected to the consulship in 134 BC and convinced the Senate to send him to one more campaign. The adversary, or perhaps the victim, was the Spanish town of Numantia, the last former ally of Carthage. The town had resisted Roman attacks for over fifty years, but after a siege of eight months, Scipio’s army breached the walls, and the disgraceful spectacle of Carthage was repeated. Scipio had the males killed without exception and the females sold into slavery, and subsequently received another cognomen, that of Numantinus, destroyer of Numantia.
Such a man could not avoid making enemies, even in his family. When his brother-in-law, the famous tribune Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus attempted to introduce a land bill in the senate – see below – which would give impoverished veterans a small piece of land to retire on at the end of their service, Scipio turned out his most bitter opponent. When Gracchus was found dead soon thereafter, Scipio could not dispel suspicion, and when he suddenly died in 129 BC, aged only forty-six, his wife, Tiberius Gracchus’s sister, was believed to have poisoned him.
While the political and social structures of the republic had been relatively stable in the centuries between 500 and 130 BC, the following hundred years, until 30 BC, brought great social change amid geographical expansion and, in the end, beheld the replacement of senatorial rule by the principate of Augustus and his successors. Because many institutions, designations and customs of the Roman Republic and early Empire were to exercise influence on political models of the next two thousand years, they shall be briefly reviewed before we proceed.
In addition to the politics described in the two posts above, another application of the Roman sense of organization could be observed in the realm of the military. A large part of Alexander’s temporary military superiority had resulted from his innovative use and the tactical flexibility of the Macedonian “phalanx“, an originally Greek form of infantry deployment. The fighters of a phalanx formed a compact body with overlapping shields, from which long spears protruded. The regulative genius of the Romans invented a similar formation but went a step further; they created a unit, the legion, which included all the men, instruments, and supplies to fight a war on its own, and became the predecessor of the modern “division“.
A legion was composed, as far as active soldiers were concerned, of ten “cohorts“, each cohort consisting of six “centuries“, which numbered, confusingly, eighty men, not a hundred. One cohort thus accounted for 480 men (6 x 80), and a legion of ten cohorts hence totalled 4,800 combatants. It employed, however, also non-combatants: artisans, smiths, engineers, cooks, medics and the like in a strength of about 1,200 heads as well as an artillery unit but not, surprisingly, much cavalry. Rome never deployed as much cavalry as other nations did, mindful of the supply problem; Caesar, for example, in his conquest of Gallia, used German cavalry, not Roman riders. If there was a cavalry unit attached to a legion, it was fielded by allies and had its own tactical command.
The decisive geostrategic factors which counted for much of Rome’s military superiority, however, were the roads, which had been built with military necessities in mind. They ran as straight as possible over bridges, passes and tunnels. Roman infantry was used to a daily march of about sixteen miles or twenty-five kilometres but could make forty kilometres a day in a pinch. The legions hence enjoyed the advantage of the “inner lines” more often than not; they could move troops and thus project force in a province or at a border faster than the enemy could.
Last not least, education mattered. While Rome was never given to inventing much philosophy and scholarship and never made schooling a legal obligation, it appropriated Greek culture and spread it over the western parts of the known world, which had never experienced the Grecification of the East that Alexander’s empire had provided. The sons of the better Roman families were schooled by Greek pedagogues who delivered a two-step education: the first part was called the trivium [“the three ways”], and taught the foundations of what Rome considered civilized human intercourse: grammar, rhetoric and logic, and the successful candidate would be awarded the character of a bacchalaureatus, a bachelor’s degree. The trivium exists until today in the sense that basic knowledge is held to be “trivial“; it should be known to everybody who claims an education.
The second part of the curriculum was composed of the quadrivium [“the four ways”] and consisted of the study and mastery of arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy and astrology, which were a single field of study then. Upon completion of the studies, the pupil would be awarded a degree of magister artium, master of the arts. The teachings of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle were studied in Rome, Athens and Alexandria for centuries, until the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I decreed the closing of all academies in AD 529. The advent of a new religion, Christianity, caused the replacement of education with dogma, and Edward Gibbon angrily noted that “in the revolution of ten centuries [AD 500 — 1500], not a single discovery was made to exalt the dignity or promote the happiness of mankind. Not a single idea has been added to the speculative systems of antiquity, and a succession of patient disciples became in their turn the dogmatic teachers of the next servile generation.” (2)
Indeed, not only intellectual stimulation decreased with the eventual triumph of Christian doctrine, so did progress in general. With the exception of Alexandria, Rome was unsurpassed in her infrastructure and remained for centuries the best-organized community on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Her houses were built, two thousand years ago, with concrete as their principal material, and apartment blocks called “insulae” (islands), reaching heights of up to a hundred feet. Aqueducts carried fresh water from the mountains into the city, which had an underground sewer system and offered dozens of communal bathhouses and public latrines on major street corners.
The markets of Rome offered goods as varied as spices from Taprobane, today’s Sri Lanka, rugs from Persia, amber from Germania or sheep wool from Britannia. Roman banks used cheques and money transfers, sold communal obligations, and leased or financed goods on credit very much like today. It was said that Julius Caesar’s good friend Marcus Licinius Crassus, immortalized in the English language as the godfather of the word “crass”, employed fifty scribes alone to tally his possessions. In many respects, the achievements of the Imperial Roman civilization would not be surpassed until the second half of the nineteenth century.
As briefly mentioned above, civil strife began to plague Rome from 130 BC on, concentrating on the relations between rich and poor. The trouble had begun with the Gracchi brothers, relatives of the Cornelius clan. Their ancestry was as patriotic and famous as it could be: their mother Cornelia was the daughter of Scipio Africanus, the hero of Zama, and Aemilia Paulla, sister of the conqueror of Greece; their father was Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, consul in 177 and 163 BC and censor in 169 BC. Their sons, however, displayed shockingly plebeian tendencies. The elder, Tiberius, stood for and was elected a tribune of the plebs in 133 BC; he brought in a law to change the way Rome handled the ager publicus, the lands taken from enemies after defeat, which were legally the property of all Roman citizens. In contravention of the law, affluent senators had established a hold on these areas, which they rented for little money from the censor and added to their latifundiae, the great farms that operated on slave labour. Tiberius Gracchus brought a law in the Comitia Plebis that would parcel out these lands to veterans or even the poor. The aristocrats were convinced that he had gone mad, communist, or both, and when he tried, against the custom, to run for a second term of tribuneship, a gang of senators behaving badly clubbed him to death on the steps of the senate house.
His brother Gaius, ten years younger, successfully ran for the tribuneship ten years later, in 123 BC. He was not only willing to give his brother’s land law another try; he had his mind set on a comprehensive reform of the Roman commonwealth. His proposals envisioned free grain for the poor, a reform of military service, public works, a new judicial system, Roman citizenship for the allies and tax reform. It was a challenging program, and the patricians, who felt their power threatened, pulled out all the stops they had, legal or illegal, to ward off the reforms. Gaius, like his brother, had to run for the tribuneship again, in 122 BC, but unlike Tiberius, he did get re-elected and continued the reform package. The senators had figured him out by then, and in his third campaign defeated him by handing out unprecedented bribes. As soon as they began to dismantle his laws, Gracchus tried to putsch, was defeated, and committed suicide. All his reforms were then recalled.
Yet it proved impossible to push the toothpaste back in the tube. Twenty years later, Lucius Appuleius Saturninus, another three-time tribune elected in 103, 100 and 99 BC, reintroduced Gracchian ideas to the legislative debate and associated himself early with Gaius Marius over the question of securing land for Marius’s veteran legionaries. At the end of 100 BC, insufficient grain harvests in Sicily and Africa caused widespread famine around the Mediterranean coasts and public uproar in Rome. Saturninus used the riotous assemblies to run for tribune yet again and was elected. He swiftly passed a grain law in the Comitia Plebis, which entitled the plebeians to receive free grain from the state.
The problem with the law was that absolutely no grain was to be had, free or not free, and the treasure refused to pay for no grain. Saturninus blamed the situation, as one would expect, on a senatorial conspiracy; the Senate struck back and accused him of treason. Saturninus’ demise was similar to the death of Tiberius Gracchus, delivered by another gang of young patricians led by one Lucius Cornelius Sulla: they lured Saturninus and his sycophants into the senate house, locked them in, climbed on top of it and killed their opponents with a rain of tiles from the roof. This stopped the land law for a while.
Yet the social issues refused to die, and because war was to occur too frequently in the next decades, the problem of reorganizing and rewarding the legions only gained in importance. Soon it centred on the persons of Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who led opposing factions of the citizenry through the next thirty years, from 108 to 78 BC – which brought the defeat of Germanic invasions, some further extensions of Roman possessions and the first extensive Roman civil war. In a wider context, the eighty years from 110 to 30 BC induced the change from Republic to Principate and Empire.
Gaius Marius [157-68 BC] was a hayseed from Arpinum, which we have encountered above as the town of good cheese and birthplace of the Elder Cato. His status as homo novo, a “new man”, in ancestry-worshipping Rome initially relegated him, despite his wealth, to a place in the legions, where he had a career solid enough to carry him to one year’s service as a praetor. His further ambitions were, however, checked by his most undignified pedigree until he, most probably in return for a financial consideration, was allowed to marry a patrician Julia of the Caesares branch. [FN2] The Julii Caesares were one of the oldest families in town: they traced their ancestry back to the kings of Alba Longa, a town even older than Rome, ten miles to the south. They had that streak of stubborn dignity that does not bid well for financial success: relying on the income of their small agricultural possessions, they could not compete in the bribing race for political offices. The patriarch of the mostly blond-haired family was thus assured of a seat in the Senate, but the family had not produced a consul since the fourth century BC; offices were simply too expensive.
After a so-so career, Marius received the province of Further Spain (Hispania Ulterior) to govern in 114 BC, where he killed off a few brigands and returned to Rome, his already considerable fortunes miraculously augmented. A few years later, in 109 BC, he was sent as a senior legate to the assistance of then-consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus in his campaign against Jugurtha. Mr Jugurtha was a Numidian, i.e. Berber troublemaker, and the inefficient campaign of Metellus failed to neutralize him for a few years. Marius won the consulship in 107 BC, returned to Africa, and with the aid of his young quaestor Sulla eventually defeated Jugurtha. Competition and finally civil war between these two men, Marius and Sulla, was to determine Rome’s fate for the next thirty years.
Yet Marius perceived Rome’s underlying military problem. The traditional system was based on property requirements for those citizens eligible to serve in the legions, of whom, in an age of increasing economic inequality, fewer and fewer were to be found. [FN3] On the other hand, tens of thousands of Rome’s poor were ineligible.
Thus, Marius came up with the concept of the probably first professional standing army, paid by the state and thoroughly trained. Details please see Wiki – Marian Reforms. The drawback of the reforms, however, was that the legions lost their character as free men fighting for the Republic – they became dependent on their general. The loyalty of the legions shifted away from the Roman state and towards the generals who led the army, as soldiers now had a direct financial incentive to support their generals’ ambitions.
Yet the unbelievable stupidity of Quintus Servilius Caepio and his loss of 80,000 men at Arausio threw the state, only two years later (105 BC) into another existential crisis (see Detour Three, above) and the panicked Republic, quite unconstitutionally but not unprecedented (see Quintus Fabius Maximus), elected Marius in absentia to a second consulship in 104 BC.
The first order of business for Marius was to take care of the Germanic threat in Gallia and Gallia Cisalpina. After their decisive victory at Arausio, the Cimbri and Teutones had migrated in different directions and eventually split up. Marius was tasked to rebuild the Gallic legions, more or less from scratch. By disregarding the property requirements and building on his recent glory of the successful Jugurthan war, he succeeded in gathering about 30,000 Romans and 40,000 Italian auxiliaries near the town of Aquae Sextiae, today’s Aix-en-Provence near Marseille, and re-establishing the military defence of the province. His former quaestor Sulla accompanied him as his principal legate, indicating that, at this time, their relation was untroubled. While the danger remained, Marius was reelected to the consulship in 103 and 102 BC (with Quintus Lutatius Catulus).
In the summer of 102 BC, about a quarter-million Germans – Teutones and Ambrones – led by their king Teutobod, had crossed the Durance river, east of where it entered the Rhône. Marius’ men shadowed them, and after a few days of manoeuvring, a battle ensued near Aquae Sextiae, which the new legions won decisively. Only about 17,000 Germans survived to be sold into slavery. The famous instance of the slaughter occurred when, as Roman historians recorded, 300 of the captured women committed mass suicide, which passed into Roman legends of Germanic heroism (cf Jerome, letter cxxiii.8, 409 AD:
By the conditions of the surrender three hundred of their married
women were to be handed over to the Romans. When the Teuton matrons
heard of this stipulation they first begged the consul that they might
be set apart to minister in the temples of Ceres and Venus; and then when they failed to obtain their request and were removed by the lictors,
they slew their little children and next morning were all found dead in
each other’s arms having strangled themselves in the night.
That Marius donated the proceeds of the slavery sale to his men and officers, instead of keeping it to himself- to which he was entitled to – only made him the more popular.
In the following summer of 101 BC, the Cimbri finally arrived as well, in Gallia Cisalpina. Most likely, they followed the river Adige after having crossed the Brenner Pass, instead of somewhat illogically turning back west to the modern Vercelli; this way, the location of the battle would be in the modern Polesine instead, possibly near modern Rovigo. It is said that more than 100,000 warriors under the command of the Cimbric king Boiorix descended into the Valley of the Padus (the Po River), where they were met by Marius, who was assisted (or hindered, some said), by his co-consul Quintus Lutatius Catulus.
The outcome of the Battle of Vercellae was never in doubt and the legions had another slaughter-fest. The Cimbri were virtually wiped out and the Germanic threat on the northern border ceased to exist. A grateful Marius granted Roman citizenship to his Italian allies, for which he was criticized, but what could be done? Revoke?
(1) (1a) Theodore Ayrault Dodge., Hannibal, Barnes & Noble 2005, ISBN 0-7607-6896-X (pbk.), p. 120, pp. 378 – 379
And from your city do not Wholly banish fear, For what man living, free from fear, Will still be just? Aeschylus “The Eumenides”, L. 698
Deos fortioribus adesse. The Gods are on the side of the stronger. Tacitus “Histories”, Bk. 4, Ch. 17
Peoples do not, and neither do nations, come into being in a year or two, much less on a single day. Neither do languages and cultures. Consequently, one cannot point to a definitive date on which the natives living north and east of the great rivers of the Danube, Elbe and Rhine became “Germans”. The word “German” itself was not commonly used until, at around AD 100, the Roman historian Tacitus employed the term in a book and thus became godfather to the eventual nation.
The first peoples relevant to this account, who were populating the western and northern reaches of the continent while Rome was still a city-state, were the Celts, or Gauls. Leaving their indigenous settlements in the western heart of Europe around today’s Belgium and central France in the fourth century BC, they migrated for the better part of the next two hundred years over great parts of the continent, the neighbouring isles, and in particular to the south and east: following the Danube river into what are today Austria, Hungary, Serbia and Romania.
Others went north and over the sea. The Celtic colonization of the British Isles and the petty kingdoms they subsequently established are best known to us by the literary influence they extended on the legend, and perhaps the deeds, of King Arthur, the sword Excalibur and the Knights of the Round Table. Written down by Sir Thomas Malory in the fourteenth century and titled “Le Mort D’Arthur”, the tale has become a part of Western culture. T.E. White’s “The Once And Future King” is perhaps the most charming rendering of the epos.
The farthest branches of the Celtic migration expanded as far as Spain, northern Italy and Greece; a few fragments made it as far as Anatolia, then called “Asia Minor”. There they founded the Kingdom of Galatia, with Ankyra [Latin “Ancyra”, today’s Ankara] as its capital, which eventually became a client kingdom of Rome. After frequent clashes between Romans and Celts in the third and second centuries BC, the recurrences of conflict diminished, and subsequent improvement of neighbourly relations eventually gave rise to the spread of Roman civilization into Gallia Transalpina, Gaul on the further side of the Alps. Today’s Provence became the province of Gallia Narbonensis and its great ports of Massilia and Narbo, today’s Marseille and Narbonne, traded goods from near and far. Over a period of roughly a century, a number of adjacent Celtic tribes were introduced to the Roman fold, initially awarded the status of allies, and later that of citizens of Rome.
In 58 BC, Gaius Julius Caesar arrived in “Gallia Comata” (‘long-haired Gaul’), the northern and western unromanized parts of the land, with ten legions, and within seven years transformed all of today’s France, Belgium and the Upper Netherlands into Roman provinces. While he did have temporary problems with the particularly wild tribes of the Belgians, he was aware that the real danger for Rome lurked on the eastern, the far bank of the Rhine; a land where a wholly different and far more ferocious congregation of barbarians skulked in the forests, longing for the riches of civilization. Caution was advisable.
Caesar knew as much about these wild tribes as it was possible to know at this time, as told by his great-uncle Gaius Marius. Not since the days of Hannibal had the Roman Republic faced an adversary able to threaten her very existence; the “German” danger, however, commanded vigilance and preparedness. This was particularly true after the debacle of Arausio, in which Quintus Servilius Caepio had managed to lose the complete Roman army; that the German throng had not proceeded straight into Italy had been pure luck. For reasons unknown, the victorious German tribes had undertaken various detours, first into Spain, then back to northern Gallia, reaching the beaches of Normandy in the summer of 103 BC, but were back, in the fall of the next year, less than fifty miles from Arausio, at Aquae Sextae, today’s Aix-en-Provence.
This time, however, a welcoming committee was ready, commanded by the former hayseed from Arpinum, Gaius Marius, and his newly formed army of “head count” soldiers. That these impoverished fellows would primarily depend on their general for their retirement was a foregone conclusion Marius did not forget for a second and planned his long-term goals accordingly: upon leaving service, his veterans would receive a bit of real estate and a small pension; the veteran might farm a bit, have sons, enjoy the sun, and, if need be, visit Rome and vote for his good friend, the general.
At Aquae Sextae, Marius found out that he was confronted with the Teutones only, who had split from the other tribes and were on their way along the Tyrrhenian Coast to Genova. Marius did not hesitate and led the legions to a complete victory over the disorganized enemy, and about 30,000 women and children who survived their men, fathers and suicide were sold on the slave markets of Massilia, the proceeds going, by tradition, to the general alone.
A year later and with the help, or, as some said, despite the hindrance of his co-consul Quintus Lutatius Catulus Caesar, Marius repeated the success of Aquae Sextiae against the second half of the original German horde, the Cimbri. They were coming down from the slopes of the Alps, which they had crossed by way of the Brenner pass and were on the descent into the riches of the Po Valley when they were checked by Marius’s legions before they could rest or gather supplies. At Vercellae, near today’s Rovigo, the legions won another victory and Marius’s purse pocketed the proceeds from the sale of another 20,000 women and children to the slave markets of Rome [101 BC].
Yet victory did not always smile upon the legions. Less luck than Marius had had fell upon Proconsul Gaius Varus and his three legions a little over a century later (AD 9). He had been dispatched to Germany by Emperor Augustus in return for a few border violations and a couple of plundered villages. The expedition crossed the Rhine and pursued the malefactors into the lands of the Cherusci, around the Weser River, somewhere in the vicinity of today’s town of Bielefeld. The Cherusci were commanded by Arminius, a man who had served in the legions and was familiar with their tactics. He laid an ambush in a particularly dense forest which the legions had to traverse, thereby creating a scenario in which he hoped the biggest advantage of the legions, mutual support in a tight formation, would be nullified. The forest split the legions into small groups: not a single man survived. Varus and his men disappeared without a trace, an occurrence unprecedented in the annals of the legions. Rome concluded that the German danger merited unprecedented attention and decided upon the eventual fortification of the border. Jared Diamond comments on the early relations of Romans and barbarians as follows:
All but a few historical societies have been geographically close enough to some other societies to have at least some contact with them. Relations with neighbouring societies may be intermittently or chronically hostile. A society may be able to hold off its enemies as long as it is strong, only to succumb when it becomes weakened for any reason, including environmental damage. The proximate cause of the collapse will then be military conquest, but the ultimate cause – the factor whose change led to the collapse – will have been the factor that caused the weakening. Hence, collapses for ecological or other reasons often masquerade as military defeats. The most familiar debate about such possible masquerading involves the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Rome became increasingly beset by barbarian invasions, with the conventional date for the Empire’s fall being taken somewhat arbitrarily as A.D. 476, the year in which the last emperor of the West was deposed. However, even before the rise of the Roman Empire, there had been “barbarian” tribes who lived in northern Europe or central Asia beyond the borders of “civilized” Mediterranean Europe, and who periodically attacked civilized Europe (as well as civilized China and India). For over a thousand years, Rome successfully held off the barbarians, for instance slaughtering a large invading force of Cimbri and Teutones bent on conquering northern Italy at the Battle of Campi Raudii [i.e. Vercellae] in 101 B.C.
Eventually, it was the barbarians rather than the Romans who won the battles: what was the fundamental reason for that shift in fortune? Was it because of changes in the barbarians themselves, such that they became more numerous or better organized, acquired better weapons or more horses, or profited from the climate change in the central Asian steppes? In that case, we would say that barbarians really could be identified as the fundamental cause of Rome’s fall. Or was it instead that the same old unchanged barbarians were always waiting on the Roman Empire’s frontiers, and that they couldn’t prevail until Rome became weakened by some combination of economic, political, environmental, and other problems? In that case, we would blame Rome’s fall on its own problems, with the barbarians just providing the coup de grace. This question continues to be debated. (1)
The rise of a threat beyond the banks of Rhine and Danube persuaded the Roman historian Tacitus to investigate the barbarians. Soon he found himself in need of a general classification of the tribes who lived north and east of the rivers, in a land that was covered to ninety per cent by swamps and forests. He christened them “Germani, after a tribe who lived close to the Rhine near Bonna, today’s Bonn, the former capital of West Germany, in his book “De Origine et Situ Germanorum” [“About the Origins and Places of the Germans”], published in AD 98. Tacitus never saw the land and the people he described: he relied on the words of mouth, perhaps of soldiers who had served there or perhaps on talking to the one or other Latin-speaking German he could find in Rome. Yet by virtue of his one being the only book on the subject, it received attention for centuries to come. He compared, not unfriendly, the simple virtues of the Germani, their sense of family, braveness and honour, but also their impressive vices, a certain predilection for rape, pillage and slaughter, with the decadence prevailing in Imperial Rome. He was the first author to describe the customs of the Germani extensively; earlier contact reports had been restricted to a syllabus of the battle and a count of limbs and bodies. As we have seen, the military results were mixed: Marius won, Varus lost, and the protracted campaigns of Drusus, Tiberius and Germanicus during the principate of Augustus [ca. 12 BC-AD 16] ended indeterminate.
After a few invasive campaigns, the Romans confined themselves to defensive measures along the Limes, a fortified line of earthworks, moats and watchtowers that protected the area between the Danube, Rhine and Moenus [today’s Main] Rivers. The final offensives into German territory were undertaken by Emperor Marcus Antonius Aurelius [AD 161-180]. The Germani, however, turned out a rather undistinguished tribe; after they crossed the Rhine in the direction of central France they disappeared in the mists of the past; no one knows what happened to the original Germani. Tacitus was intrigued by the strange political customs of the Germani as outlined by Edward Gibbon:
Some tribes, however, on the coast of the Baltic, acknowledged the authority of kings, though without relinquishing the rights of man, but in the far greater part of Germany, the form of government was a democracy, tempered, indeed, and controlled, not so much by general and positive laws as by the occasional ascendant of birth or valour, of eloquence or superstition. Civil governments, in their first institution, are voluntary associations for mutual defence. To obtain the desired end, it is absolutely necessary that each individual should conceive himself obligated to submit his private opinions and actions to the judgement of the greater number of his associates. The German tribes were contented with this rude but liberal outline of political society. … The assembly of the warriors of the tribe was convened at stated seasons, or on sudden emergencies. The trial of public offences, the election of magistrates, and the great business of peace and war were determined by its independent voice. … For the Germans always met in arms, and it was constantly to be dreaded lest an irregular multitude, inflamed with faction and strong liquor, should use those arms to enforce as well as to declare their furious resolves. (2)
Rome faced the problem that these tribes accepted no higher authority, knew no superior body that could arrange a truce or binding peace, nor declare general war, for that matter, and thus Emperor Domitian at around AD 80 came up with the idea to erect a wall between civilization and wilderness along those borders that were not naturally defended by a river. The line of what would become the Limes originated near the Danube’s northernmost point at Castra Regina, today’s Regensburg in Bavaria, then zigzagged through south-western Germany until it met the Main river, then zigzagged a bit more, over the heights of the Taunus Hills, and ultimately reached the Rhine at Bonna. A few miles ahead, down the river, another extensive Roman settlement was founded, Colonia Claudia, today’s Cologne.
The most decisive change of Roman organization relevant to the fate of the German tribes occurred when, as a reaction to the great migration beginning in the fourth century AD, Emperor Diocletian restructured the administration of the Empire. From now on, the state was not to be ruled by a single man but four. He had associated three colleagues in the exercise of the supreme power; and as he was convinced that the abilities of a single man were inadequate to the public defence, he considered the joint administration of four princes not as a temporary expedient but as a fundamental law of the constitution. It was his intention that the two elder princes should be distinguished by the use of the diadem [the Greek equivalent to a crown] and the title of Augusti, that, as affection or esteem might direct their choice, they should regularly call to their assistance two subordinate colleagues; and that the Caesars, rising in their turn to the first rank, should supply an uninterrupted succession of emperors.
The empire was divided into four parts. The East and Italy were the most honourable, the Danube and the Rhine the most laborious stations. The former claimed the presence of the Augusti; the latter were entrusted to the administration of the Caesars. The strength of the legions was in the hand of the four partners of sovereignty, and the despair of successfully vanquishing four formidable rivals might intimidate the ambition of an aspiring general. In their civil government, the emperors were supposed to exercise the undivided power of the monarch, and their edicts, inscribed with their joint names, were received in all the provinces as promulgated by their mutual councils and authority. Notwithstanding these precautions, the political union of the Roman world was gradually dissolved, and a principle of division was introduced which, in the course of a few years, occasioned the perpetual separation of the Eastern and the Western Empires. (3)
As far as the German tribes were concerned, the most direct result of the reform was that, from now on, Roman policies affecting them were not formulated in distant Rome any more but in the new residence of the Western Caesar in Augusta Treverorum, today’s Trier at the Moselle River, only fifty miles west of the Rhine, or in Constantinople or Antiochia. This fostered particularism and diminished the already weakened unity of Roman executive coordination. The preponderance of military power went to the two most threatened borders along the Rhine and Danube and the Asian border in the provinces of Syria and Cappadocia facing the Parthians. This, in turn, gave the local commanders power that increased with the number of the legions under their personal control. Many of the usurpers of the Imperial purple in the second to fourth century AD were generals from border provinces who claimed their imperial purple through the strength of their legions.
(2) (3) Gibbon, Edward, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Modern Library, First Citation: Mass Market Edition 2005 Second Citation: 4th Edition 2003-4, ISBN 0-345-47884-3, pp. 157 (135); 243 (207)
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?
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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)
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.
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
The business of the Civil Service is the orderly management of decline.
In the Year of the Lord 1889, the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph celebrated his fifty-ninth birthday and forty-first anniversary of his reign over the vast Empire of Austria and Hungary; when he died, in 1916, he had ruled the state for sixty-eight years. The realm was huge – covering over 180,000 square miles or about 450,000 square kilometres. The emperor’s domains stretched, in the east-west axis, from Czernowitz on the Prut River in today’s Ukraine to Vorarlberg near the Swiss border, and, in the north-south axis, from the lower Elbe River near Aussig to Ragusa (Dubrovnik) in southern Croatia, two-thirds down the eastern Adriatic coast.
Ethnically and thus politically, however, these territories were hopelessly divided. The racial diversity of the Imperial population included Germans in Austria, Hungary and the Sudetenland; Czechs in Bohemia and Moravia; Slovaks to their east; Poles in western Galicia and Ruthenians, Catholic Ukrainians, in the eastern part of it; Magyars in Hungary and Transylvania interspersed with some more Germans and Romanians; Slovenes, Friulians and Italians south of the Julian Alps; and finally Croats, Bosnians, Albanians, Montenegrinos and Serbs in and around the Balkan mountains.
these groups fought incessant but mostly inconclusive battles over
appointments, representation and influence
in the empire and its court, while a
laborious civil administration struggled with the actual governance of the
multitudes. The exceptionally long reign of Francis Joseph had much aided the
ossification of the Imperial
structures, which, given the Habsburgs’ reverence for tradition, were
conservative, to say the least; pre-modern, and reactionary.
Yet on the outside things appeared fit for eternity. Stefan Zweig, one of Vienna’s famous sons, describes the peculiar atmosphere of town and country:
When I attempt to find a simple formula for the period in which I grew up, prior to the First World War, I hope that I convey its fullness by calling it the Golden Age of Security. Everything in our almost thousand-years-old Austrian monarchy seemed based on permanence, and the state itself was the chief guarantor of this stability. The rights which it granted to its citizens were duly confirmed by parliament, the freely elected representatives of the people, and every duty was exactly prescribed.
Our currency, the Austrian crown, circulated in bright gold pieces, as assurance of its immutability. Everyone knew how much he possessed or what he was entitled to, what was permitted and what was forbidden. Everything had its norm, its definite measure and weight. He who had a fortune could accurately compute his annual interest. An official or an officer, for example, could confidently look up in the calendar the year he would be advanced in rank, or when he would be pensioned.
family had its fixed budget, and knew how much could be spent for rent and
food, for holidays and entertainment; and what is more, invariably a small sum
was carefully laid aside for sickness and the doctor’s bills, for the
Whoever owned a house looked upon it as a secure domicile for his children and grandchildren; estates and businesses were handed down from generation to generation. When the babe was still in its cradle, its first mite was put in its little bank, or deposited in the savings’ bank, as a “reserve” for the future. In this vast empire everything stood firmly and immovable in its appointed place, and at its head was the aged emperor; and were he to die, one knew (or believed), another would come to take his place, and nothing would change in the well-regulated order. No one thought of wars, of revolutions, or revolts. All that was radical, all violence seemed impossible in an age of reason.
feeling of security was the most
eagerly sought-after possession of millions, the common ideal of life. Only the
possession of this security made life seem worthwhile, and constant widening
circles desired their share of this costly treasure.
At first, it was only the prosperous who enjoyed this advantage, but gradually the great masses forced their way toward it. The century of security became the golden age of insurance. One’s house was insured against fire or theft, one’s field against hail and storm, one’s person against accident or sickness. Annuities were purchased for one’s old age, and a policy was laid in a girl’s cradle for her future dowry. Finally, even the workers organized, and won standard wages and workman’s compensation. Servants saved for old-age insurance and paid in advance into a burial fund for their own interment. Only the man who could look into the future without worry could thoroughly enjoy the present. (1)
This peaceful state of bliss, however, did not necessarily embrace the whole empire; a new age has brought forth anarchists and socialists. Neither was the status of the rural poor much to write home about. Yet law and order were generally held in high regard for the safety and continuity of society they implied. Into this world of order, a son, whom she named Alois, was born, on the morning of June 7, 1837, out of wedlock, to the peasant maid Maria Anna Schicklgruber in the hamlet of Strones in the Austrian Waldviertel.
The Waldviertel, which literally translates as the “Wooden Quarter” or “Forest Quarter”, was one of the Austrian monarchy’s backwaters, a hilly “country of peasant villages and small farms, and though only some fifty miles from Vienna it has a somewhat remote and impoverished air, as if the main currents of Austrian life had passed it by.” (2) It is located slightly north-east of Linz, respectively north-west of Vienna, between the Danube River and the Czech border in the direction of Brno. It is a borderland and has seen its shares of marauding armies over the centuries. German tribes on the way to the treasures and temptations of the Roman Empire had crossed through the land which the Romans called “Noricum”, followed by the Huns, various tribes of Goths, the Hungarians and finally the Turks. It had seen armies in the Thirty-Years-War and the Napoleonic Wars; only after the Congress of Vienna a century of peace graced its gently rolling hills.
The name “Hitler”, variably spelled “Hidler”, “Hiedler”, “Hüttler”, “Hietler”, “Hytler” or “Hittler” was one of the more common names in the district. It is documented as early as 1435, when the Abbot of the Herzogenburg Monastery drew up a deed granting to Hannsen Hydler and his wife property near Raabs, on the Thaya River. (3) The etymology of the name indicates a possible derivation from the German word “Heide” [in English “heather”, relating to a meadow], of which the Waldviertel was full. All of Alois’ life occurred within a radius of one hundred miles of Linz, then as now the capital of the province of Oberösterreich, Upper Austria.
Little is known about Adolf Hitler’s paternal grandmother Maria Schicklgruber. The tiny village of Strones where she lived was far too small to be a parish of its own, and thus baby Alois had to be registered in the slightly bigger village of Döllersheim, a couple of miles to the north-west. It was generally known that the baby was born out of wedlock and therefore was, strictly speaking, “illegitimate”. Many theories have been spun and explanations offered in which this circumstance supposedly played the one or other role in Alois Hitler’s life or in that of his son Adolf, and they are all bunkum. The reality of the Waldviertel dictated that “legitimacy” was a concept the peasants simply could not afford to pay heed to, and which occasioned no advantages in their daily lives. “Illegitimacy” might have been a significant problem for the heir of a throne or the prospective owner of land, a shop or business, but not to farmhands and share croppers. It was a common occurrence, and there is not the slightest indication that Alois ever suffered from an imagined stigma attached to it. There were no empires to bestow on Alois, and his son took them regardless of a court’s permission.
Another disparaging theory was circulated in the early 1930s regarding Adolf Hitler’s parental grandfather. Alois, the rumours held, was the illegitimate son of a wealthy Jewish merchant from Graz named Frankenberger or Frankenreither, who had seduced Maria, who was working as a maid in his household – in a variation of the theme, the merchant’s son was the debaucher, and his father paid for the girl’s discretion.
Such a story, if true, would naturally be a feast for Hitler’s political enemies. After a few Austrian newspapers had come up with it during the German general election campaign of 1930, the allegations resurfaced when Hitler ran for German president against Hindenburg in 1932. At length, Hitler dispatched his legal counsellor Hans Frank to investigate. The lawyer was told that the nineteen-year-old son of a Mr. Frankenberger from Graz was the culprit, whose father had allegedly paid alimonies to Fräulein Schicklgruber for fourteen years; a variance of the story had Mr. Frankenberger and his lecherous son in Linz, not Graz. There was, however, not a shred of evidence available in either town, no trace of payments, and hence the story slowly died. Research in the Austrian and Jewish records of Graz and Linz undertaken after 1945 established conclusively that no Jewish families had been allowed to settle in either town before the 1860s, twenty years after Alois’ birth. Neither were there any Frankenbergers or Frankenreiters at all, and thus the bottom fell out of the story for good.
The first five years of Alois Schicklgruber’s life were spent in Strones with his mother, who married, in 1842, a seldom employed millworker named Johann Georg Hiedler from the nearby hamlet of Spital near Weitra. [FN1] The marriage seems not to have changed much: the couple lived in abject poverty, and after Maria died five years later of tuberculosis 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.
[FN1] The name “Spital” is a common name for Austrian villages and towns, and the village of Spital in Lower Austria, which plays a role here, must not be confused with the town of Spital in Carinthia, whither, for example, historian Marlis Steinert puts Johann Nepomuk Hüttler.
knows who Alois’ 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 of why Alois’ 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 an act?
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. In “Mein Kampf“, son Adolf described his father’s arrival in the Austrian capital as follows:
the son of a poor cottager, he [Alois] could not even in those early days bear
to stay at home. Before he was thirteen, the youngster laced his tiny knapsack
and fled from his homeland, the Waldviertel. Despite all the attempts of “experienced”
villagers to dissuade him, he made his own way to Vienna in order to learn a
This was in the fifties of the last century. It was a bitter decision to take the road and plunge into the unknown with only three Gulden for travel money. But by the time the thirteen-year-old had grown to seventeen, he had passed his apprentice’s examination [as a cobbler], but was not yet content with his lot – quite to the contrary. The long period of hardship, the endless poverty and misery he had suffered, strengthened his determination to give up the trade in order to become something “better”.
Once the village priest had seemed to the poor boy the embodiment of all humanly attainable heights, so now, in the great city, which had so powerfully widened his perspective, it was the rank of civil servant. With all the tenacity of a young man, who had grown “old” in suffering and sorrow while still half a child, the seventeen-year-old clung to his new decision – and he became a civil servant.” (4)
These words must be read with the knowledge that Adolf Hitler was on the record to regard his father with feelings closer to hate than love, but here he attempts to draw a picture of success, which was to contrast sharply to the opinions he shared in private, or at his headquarters’ dinner tables in the Second World War. More than from the laundered account of his father in “Mein Kampf” we can infer, regarding the happiness of the family Adolf grew up in, from the fact that Alois’ first son Alois Jr., Adolf’s half-brother, left this home at the same age of thirteen as his father had, never to return.
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.
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’ 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’ 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”. (5)
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.” (6)
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.” (7)
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. [FN2]
[FN2] 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’ 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.” (9)
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; the village gossip nodding – conclusions confirmed.
Alois had gone through a number of romantic entanglements in his life, and had sampled experience in holy matrimony as well. He had married for the first time on October 1873 at thirty-six years of age, although it seems that at this time he had already fathered a child in a different relation. (8) At any rate, the marriage seems to have been built on reasons superior to love alone: the bride, Anna Glassl-Hoerer, was the daughter of a high-ranking financial officer, an inspector in the Treasury’s Bureau of Tobacco, fourteen years older than her husband and of ill health. Nobody would have been surprised had status and finances played a role in the match.
Due to the frequent changes of assignment, Alois had made it a habit to lodge in Gasthäusern, inns, for the greater part of his life, and these lodgings brought him into daily contact with waitresses, chambermaids, laundresses and tobacco girls, whether he liked it or not. Apparently he did not mind, and he did possess the most important condition to warrant female attention, a steady job and hence a steady income. By the time Anna filed for separation in 1880, perhaps tired of his infidelities, he had quite openly conducted an affair with the waitress of the Gasthaus Streif, a girl named Franziska (Fanny) Matzelsberger, for some time.
Yet the relation to Fanny did not preclude Alois, as it seems, from experiencing an urgent need for another maidservant, and he soon installed another young girl of sixteen years in his mansard under the roof of the inn; a slender, attractive girl named Klara Pölzl. The idea met with the furious opposition from Franziska, who had zero doubt about the nature of the services Klara would be asked to perform for Alois, and she succeeded in having the competition thrown out quickly. In due time Franziska bore a son to Alois Hitler, who was named Alois Junior, on January 13, 1882. When Anna, who had in the meantime obtained a legal decree of separation, died in the following year of consumption, Alois was free to marry Franziska. She soon bore Alois another child, a girl named Angela.
At this time Alois officially decided to accept the paternity of the children and had Alois Jr. and Angela legitimized. It was an outward sign of his striving for recognition and respectability, which were what counted in this deeply authoritative society. He had a gratifying career and money to spend; he earned more than, for instance, the local school principal. He was in his “best years” and loved to have his photo taken, in uniform. A question remains as far as the sympathies of his colleagues at work are concerned; one source describes him as “rigid and pedantic“, yet these would be qualities his employer might favour and may explain his success. In a letter to a cousin who had inquired about a job for his son, Alois drew the following portrait of himself and his profession:
“Don’t let him think that the ‘Finanzwach’ [Fiscal Service] is a kind of game, because he will quickly be disillusioned. First, he has to show absolute obedience to his superiors at all levels. Second, there is a good deal to learn in this occupation, all the more so if he had little previous education. Topers, debtors, card players, and others who lead immoral lives cannot enlist. Finally, one has to go out on duty in all weathers, day or night.” (10)
Characteristically, Alois’ enumeration of “immoral” lifestyles did not include dubious and perhaps illicit contacts to waitresses and chambermaids, nor illegitimate babies. But a shadow soon appeared on his private horizon; a short time after giving birth to Angela, Franziska developed tuberculosis, as Anna had, and was forced to leave Braunau to seek a cure in mountain air. Alois was suddenly left alone with two small children on the top floor of the inn, and since his career as Customs official had not prepared him for the care of toddlers, he reimported Klara as soon as Franziska had left town. Klara Pölzl was actually Johann Nepomuk Hüttler’s granddaughter, and therefore Alois’ niece, in the context of which the closeness of family relations in the Waldviertel may be observed again. One photo of Klara has survived. She was tall and slender, almost as tall as her husband, had very regular and attractive features framed by brown hair; not a beauty but what is called in France a “belle laide”, an interesting girl. The outstanding aspect of her face was certainly her voluminous turquoise eyes. By all accounts she was neat, simple, and loving. Her education was close to nil, but, then again, the sources agree that she behaved correctly in public and had no problems with the role of being the common-law wife of a Customs official. In private, she was known as a most efficient housekeeper, cook, organizer, and nurse to the children.
The community in Braunau accepted her without qualms, which is somewhat surprising: it was one of these little towns in which the neighbours take an interest in everything that is not their business. In the summer of 1884, Franziska died of consumption, as Anna had earlier, and Klara was already pregnant. Alois wanted to marry her, but now the manipulation of the birth certificate backfired: since the former Alois Schicklgruber was now Alois Hitler, he was officially Klara’s uncle and no marriage was possible under the laws of the Austrian Catholic church unless a dispensation was granted. With the aid of the local priest, Alois composed a letter to the Bishop of Linz, which has survived:
who with most humble devotion have appended their signatures below have decided
upon marriage. But according to the enclosed family tree, they are prevented by
the canonical impediment of collateral affinity in the third degree, touching
second. They therefore make the humble request that the Most Revered Episcopate
will graciously secure for them a dispensation on the following grounds:
bridegroom has been a widower since August 10th of this year, as can be
observed from the enclosed death certificate, and he is the father of two minors, a boy of two and a half
years (Alois) and a girl of one year and two months (Angela), and they
both need the services of a nurse, all the more because he is a Customs
official away from home all day and often at night and therefore in no position
to supervise the education and upbringing of his children. The bride has been
caring for these children ever since their mother’s death, and they are very
fond of her.
Thus, it may be justifiably assumed that they will be well brought up and the marriage will be a happy one. Moreover, the bride is without means, and it is unlikely that she will ever have another opportunity to make a good marriage. For these reasons the undersigned repeat their humble petition for a gracious procurement of dispensation from the impediment of affinity.
Enclosed was a version of the family tree, which presented Alois Hitler as the son of Johann Georg Hiedler, the vagrant, whose brother Johann Nepomuk Hüttler was the grandfather of Klara Pölzl, the bride. We will have the opportunity to encounter a letter or two written by the young Adolf, Alois’ son, in a later post, and they will sound oddly similar in diction and style to the epistle above. Alois’ petition for a dispensation reeks of the same sort of not very sublime deception that he had employed in the “improvement” of his original birth certificate; what John Toland had called the “cunning peasant trick“. The son was to employ similar tactics in his own time.
The addressee, the Bishop of Linz, hesitated, and decided, following proper bureaucratic procedure, to call upon a higher authority. A short summary of the case, including the original letter, family tree and a “testimonium paupertatis“, an instrument of declaring poverty which waived the payment of the usual fees, was forwarded to the Sacra Rota, the department of the Holy See that deals with matrimonial issues. The Vatican apparently cared as much or little about a wee bit of incest in Braunau as the peasants of the Waldviertel cared about legitimacy, and the release was granted three weeks later.
Alois Hitler and Klara Pölzl were married on January 7, 1885. The ceremony took place in the morning, in a hurry, it seems: Klara complained that before noon, “my husband was already on duty again.” (12) Later in the evening, a small banquet in the company of Alois’ Customs colleagues followed at the Gasthaus Pommer.
The marriage hardly changed anything in their lives. The pair had known each other for years, and Klara was accustomed to her duties in the household. She was a simple but quiet, modest and polite woman that never put up demands on her husband, the children, or the community. She was deeply religious and attended services regularly. The family lived without any trace of scandal, even Alois’ private investigations into the lives of the local waitresses and chambermaids seemed to abate. Money was not plenty but sufficient to afford the family a proper living standard, and they played their parts in the community without fail.
If we gaze at Klara’s photograph, taken when she was about twenty-six, we look into the face of a simple but pleasant country girl. The most impressive feature of her face are indeed her luminous, expressive eyes. Robert Payne observed:
In the photograph she looks vulnerable, but not too vulnerable. She was a spirited woman, who could, if necessary, stand up to her husband. She was not beautiful in the conventional sense, but her face suggests an uncommon gentleness and tenderness, an essential goodness. She was one of these women who live for their husbands, their children, and their faith. (13)
She was to bear six children to Alois, four sons and two daughters, of which one each survived childhood. The elder children Alois Jr. and Angela were joined by Adolf in April 1889 and Paula in January 1896. Four children died young: Gustav at the age of two; Ida at the same age; Otto died in the cradle, and Edmund in his sixth year. [FN3]
[FN3] It seems that the fate of the Hitler family was no exception. A boyhood friend of Adolf, August Kubizek, described the early trials of his freshly-married parents as follows: “At first the young couple lived in the house of my mother’s parents. My father’s wages were low, the work was hard, and my mother had to give up her job when she was expecting me. Thus, I was born in rather miserable circumstances. One year later my sister Maria was born, but died at a tender age. The following year, Therese appeared; she died at the age of four. My third sister, Karoline, fell desperately ill, lingered on for some years, and died when she was eight. My mother’s grief was boundless. Throughout her life she suffered from the fear of losing me, too; for I was the only one left to her of her four children.” (14)
this point in time and place, such a mortality rate was considered almost
normal. Children were born and died by the thousands, of measles, diphtheria, pneumonia
and other common childhood diseases; deadly in a time which knew not yet sulphonamides or penicillin. The
family was in the care of Dr. Eduard Bloch, a general practitioner, but the
science of microbiology was not yet invented
and the invisible agents of death prospered unhindered.
general, however, it was a respectable and orderly family which welcomed, at
six o’clock in the evening of April 20, 1889, its newest member, Adolfus.
As it is perhaps a tradition of dramatic events and last acts, a leaden dawn had greeted the day of the coup; it was cold, and scattered snowflakes fell on the sidewalks. The morning light barely had the strength to pierce the depths of the Bürgerbräukeller, in which the prospective putschists had a breakfast of stale bread and cheese, the remains of last night’s buffet.
The morning hours had brought no better plan than to march into the city centre and to appeal to the support of the masses. The clock of the church struck twelve noon, when the sun, like a milky disc, began to break through the layers of morning mist and illuminated the hesitant gathering of troops. They had lost the brass music for lack of payment and a touch of finality surrounded the meeting.
Finally, the marching order was given. The vanguard formed a wedge; somewhat hesitantly, consisting of veterans and the standard-bearers of the party’s swastika banner and the black and white colours of the Empire. In the second group marched the lead: Hitler was flanked on the left by Ludendorff and on the right by Scheubner-Richter. At their sides walked Hermann Kriebel, Ulrich Graf (Hitler’s personal bodyguard), and Hermann Göring, who contributed the fashion highlight of the procession: he wore a helmet painted with a large white swastika and a black leather coat, under which the strong contrast of his blue and gold glowing Pour Le Mérite could not be overlooked. Hitler rejected Göring’s proposal to take some of the arrested city councillors as hostages; to create martyrs for the opposition was not his intention.
Behind the point guard, three groups, four-abreast, marched side by side. On the left side, the elite, a hundred of Hitler’s bodyguards in military outfits with guns and hand grenades; the Munich SA regiment, winner of many beer halls fights in the middle, and to their right the Bund Oberland, Colonel Kriebel’s men.
Behind these paramilitary outfits, a slightly incongruous collection of men attempted to form a semblance of anti-republican unity: whether these men wore old uniforms or not, whether they brandished weapons or not or whether they were trained or not, they presented a swastika band on left arm as their unifying feature. A few infantry cadets, following the motley crowd and bringing up the rear, marched, easily distinguishable, with much more aplomb than the civilians. A short roll call revealed about two thousand men, who slowly closed their ranks and moved toward the Ludwig Bridge to cross the Isar River on their way downtown.
It was only half a mile to the river and ten minutes after they had started, the revolutionary assembly faced a platoon of State Police on the banks of the bridge. The vanguard approached slowly when the police chief in a loud voice – not to be ignored – ordered his men to load live ammunition. He had barely finished the command when a surprise attack of the SA involved both the police and the rebels in a brief struggle; the next minute saw the police line overrun and the rebels moved on north-westward towards the city centre.
The march led through the eastern neighbourhoods of the town, where they were welcomed with applause by many citizens and visitors, who had been mobilized by the rumours that spread like wildfire. The centipede continued to grow when idle spectators joined the train and children ran around the standard-bearers as if a circus were in town. The men made good for the loss of the brass band by singing their favourite hymns; perhaps not perfect, but with a lot of heart and perhaps a little fear.
The troops passed the Isartor, the old eastern town gate, and entered the “Valley”, the thoroughfare that led to the Marienplatz at the city centre. The Valley is always one of Munich’s most frequented streets and this day was no exception. The size of the lindworm had grown considerably and when the train reached Marienplatz, the heart of the city, it was densely populated with supporters and spectators. The crowds chanted patriotic songs and the trams of line 6 were hopelessly stuck. Julius Streicher, editor of the infamous Nazi paper “Der Stürmer“, was at the centre of the square and gave a speech.
Suddenly the centipede hesitated; as if there was confusion about which way to turn. Colonel Kriebel, who had tactical command, was not sure what to do, but indecision ended when Ludendorff turned right into Weinstraße, which led to Odeonsplatz and Feldherrnhalle; to the same place where Heinrich Hoffmann had captured – on August 2, 1914 – a snapshot of the cheering crowd with Hitler at its centre, that celebrated the declaration of war.
Everybody followed the general. Kriebel later said he never thought about it: “If Ludendorff marches there, we go with him.” (18) Ludendorff himself could not remember a conscious decision: ” Sometimes you act in life just instinctively and do not know why…. “(19) It is less than half a mile (700 meters) from Marienplatz to Odeonsplatz. Access to the square was sealed off by police. The next sixty seconds ran in slow motion.
Who exactly then stood facing each other, on that noon of November 9, 1923, on the Odeonsplatz Square in Munich? The numbers can be found in Harold Gordon‘s “Hitler and the Beer Hall Putsch”, Princeton University Press 1972, ISBN 0-691-10000-4, pages 270-272:
The rebels could count on a very considerable number of men from Munich and were reinforced by delegations from many parts of southern Bavaria. They also enjoyed the advantage of the support of the city’s population. However, many of the members of their organizations and trailers were hardly of direct military value. In terms of actually-present troop strengths were approximately as follows:
about 2 infantry companies – about 150 officers and men
All together approximately 4000 men, but dispersed over town.
They faced the following government forces:
(A) Bavarian Police
Blue Police – regular town police – about 250 officers and men
State Police Munich with:
the Personnel of the Bureau and Staff of the Police headquartered at the Army Museum
Central Office of the Munich Police headquarters in the Ettstrasse
First Battalion (First Section) – about 400 officers and men (quartered in the former Royal residence)
Second Battalion (Second Section) – about 400 officers and men (headquartered in the Max II Barracks, at the corner Leonrodstraße and Dachauerstraße)
Third Battalion (Third Section) – about 400 officers and men (Maximilianeum and Türkenkaserne)
About 1 motorized division (Automotive Detachment) – about 75 officers and men (Türkenkaserne)
1 tanks group with 12 obsolete tanks – about 75 officers and enlisted men (Türkenkaserne)
1 Communication Technical battalion (Türkenkaserne)
1 Battalion National Police München Country – about 400 officers and men (Max II barracks)
1 mounted reconnaissance squadron (Fight Season) – about 50 officers and men (Max II barracks)
Except for these units in the city itself, about two more regiments were available, one battalion at the police preschool Eichstätt and various smaller units scattered across the state
(B) Reichstruppen (Federal troops)
At the headquarters of Wehrkreis VII and Seventh Infantry Division (Ludwig and Schönfeld Roads):
First Battalion, Nineteenth Infantry Regiment – 300 men (Oberwiesenfeld)
Headquarters Infantry Leader VII and artillery leader VII (Ludwig and Schönfeld roads) – perhaps 100 men
Seventh Engineer Battalion – about 225 officers and men (Oberwiesenfeld, Pioneer Casern I and II)
Seventh Signal Battalion – about 150 officers and men (Oberwiesenfeld)
Seventh Motor Transport Battalion, Headquarters and First Company – about 100 officers and men
Seventh Transportation Battalion (Mounted), Headquarters and First and Second Company – about 125 officers and men
Seventh Medical Battalion
Fifth Battery of the Seventh Artillery Regiment – about 90 officers and enlisted men (Oberwiesenfeld)
Stadtkommandantur Headquarters (Army Museum) – approx. 50 men
Infantry School – about 350 officers, cadets and men (Blutenburgstraße on Mars Square) (The rest of the Seventh Division and the Seventeenth Cavalry Regiment under the command of General von Lossow would be available within 24 hours for the operation against the rebels if the trains continued to work).
From these figures, we can draw the following conclusion: by the sheer numbers, the putschists were superior, the more so since many of the army soldiers were on unarmed commands; hence of the perhaps 1500 men theoretically available against some 4,000 rebels, perhaps only 800 were ready. The infantry and pioneer schools were not even under Bavarian command but answered to Berlin.
Rebels and police, just maybe twenty feet apart, stood facing each other now.
Here a line of city police blocked the way. But the Putschists surged forward, singing, “0 Deutschland Hoch in Ehren” [‘Oh Germany high in honours’]. Looking down from her hotel room, Frau Winifred Wagner was amazed to see her idol, Hitler, marching down the narrow Residenzstrasse next to Ludendorff. Just ahead in the Odeonsplatz small groups of green-uniformed men were scrambling into a blocking position. There was only room enough in the street for eight abreast.
Hitler locked arms with Scheubner-Richter in preparation for trouble but Ludendorff touched no one, still supremely confident that no one would fire on him. Directly ahead was a cordon of state police under First Lieutenant Michael Freiherr von Godin. Faced with an oncoming mob, Godin called out, “Second Company, double-time, march!” The state police jogged forward but the Putschists did not break, standing off the enemy with levelled bayonets and pistols. Godin used his rifle to parry two bayonet thrusts, “overturning the men behind them with the rifle at high port.” All at once a shot exploded. Godin heard it zing past his head; it killed a sergeant. “For a fraction of a second, my company stood frozen. Then, before I could give an order, my people opened fire, with the effect of a salvo.”
The Putschists returned the fire and panic broke out as marchers and bystanders scrambled for safety. One of the first to fall was Scheubner¬Richter, shot in the lungs. Another was Graf, who had leapt in front of Hitler to take the half dozen bullets meant for him. In falling, the personal bodyguard clutched Hitler, yanking him down so sharply that his left arm was dislocated. On the other side, Scheubner-Richter also helped drag Hitler to the pavement. Ludendorff’s faithful servant, who had been ordered to go home, was bleeding on the asphalt. His friend Aigner, the servant of the dying Scheubner¬Richter, crawled to him. He was dead. Someone stepped over Aigner. It was General Ludendorff marching erectly, left hand in coat pocket, into the line of fire. [FN1]
[FN1] Most accounts picture Ludendorff as courageous for staying on his feet and Hitler as ignoble for dropping to the street even though Hitler’s arm dislocation indicates he was dragged down. Undoubtedly Hitler would have hit the ground on his own, since he was a seasoned front-line soldier. Robert Murphy testified that “both Ludendorff and Hitler behaved in identical manners, like the battle-hardened soldiers they were. Both fell flat to escape the hail of bullets.” Another eyewitness, a watchman, also saw Ludendorff throw himself to the ground and then find cover “behind a corpse or wounded man.” A second watchman corroborated the fact that no one was standing after the volley. (21)
As Hitler sprawled on the ground thinking he had been shot in the left side, comrades tried to shield him. Eighteen men lay dead in the streets: fourteen followers of Hitler and four state police, all, incidentally, more or less sympathetic with National Socialism. Those in the front of the marching column alone knew what had happened. The crows jammed up behind only heard firecracker explosions ahead, then a rumour that both Hitler and Ludendorff were killed. The Putschists scrambled to the rear.
Ludendorff marched through the police cordon and into the arms of a lieutenant who placed him under arrest and escorted him to the Residenz [the former town palace of the Wittelsbachers] … Hitler painfully struggled to his feet, cradling his injured arm. He was in agony as he slowly moved away from the battleground, face pale, hair falling over his face. He was accompanied by Dr Walter Schultze, chief of the Munich SA medical corps, a towering young man. They came upon a small boy lying at the curb, bleeding profusely. Hitler wanted to carry him off but Schulze called to his wife’s cousin (a botany student named Schuster) to take the boy.
At Max Joseph Platz they finally reached Hitler’s old grey Selve 6-20, which had been loaded with medical supplies. An elderly first-aid man named Frankel got in the front seat with the driver while Hitler and the doctor got into the rear seat. Schuster stood on the running board holding the wounded boy. Hitler told the driver to head for the Bürgerbräukeller, so he could find out what was going on. But at the Marienplatz, they came under heavy machine-gun fire and had to change directions several times. They found the Ludwig Bridge blocked and turned back.
By this time the boy had regained consciousness and Schuster dismounted, so he could take the youngster home. The car continued toward the Sendlinger Torplatz. Here they encountered another burst of -fire near the old southern cemetery. Since it was impossible to get back to the beer hall, there was nothing to do but keep driving south towards Salzburg.
Göring’s display of his Pour Le Mérite decoration had not saved him, and he lay on the pavement with a bullet in his upper thigh. Frau Ilse Ballin, who had rushed from her home to help the wounded, found him bleeding profusely. With the help of her sister, she dragged the heavy burden indoors. The sisters dressed Göring’s wound and were about to summon an ambulance when he weakly asked them to help him get to a private clinic. He could not bear the indignity of the arrest. Frau Ballin, the wife of a Jewish merchant, had pity on him, and thus he escaped prison. (20)
There are, however, reasons to doubt some details of the account above, in particular, the story of the wounded boy. In the years after 1933, party hagiography had Hitler carry the boy out of danger in his own arms; an act that would certainly qualify as a miracle given his dislocated shoulder. Nobody ever offered trustworthy corroboration, and, alas, the boy was never found. Moreover, the story of the getaway by car through hails of machine-gun bullets may appeal mostly to the credulous.
Yet the consequences of Hitler’s mistakes in challenging the power of the state were immediately clear: in less than a minute, in the blink of an eye, the revolution had turned into an exodus and the proposed national campaign had collapsed – in a single volley of bullets. Nullified were four years of dreams, conspiracies and agitation. The two thousand men of the Putschist column had all but evaporated after the salvo; the flower of the rebellion sought salvation in escape.
Mopping up took the police the better part of the remaining day; they found Putschists hiding in places as peculiar as under the flour sacks of a bakery, public toilets on cemeteries, and about a dozen in the closets of a young ladies’ academy. By evening, over a hundred arrests were counted. The rear echelons of the movement, which had preferred the safety of the beer hall to the vagaries of the street, had no desire to link their fortunes to a lost cause: they meekly stacked their rifles on the floor, left the cellar, and vanished in the crowd. Röhm was informed, by one of Lossow’s aides that Hitler was dead and Ludendorff arrested. Further resistance was futile, he realized and gave up.
What had happened, in the meantime, to the other detachments of the coup, those on special missions?
Between the Bürgerbräukeller and the city centre, Gregor Strasser’s SA unit still held the bridge over the Isar; still exchanging hostile stares with the police. The news of the fiasco on the Odeonsplatz reached them soon, informing them that Ludendorff was dead and Hitler wounded and captured. Gregor Strasser now showed some of the experience he had gained in the war. Having no ambition to become a martyr of a failed cause, he shepherded his men into a tactical retreat nimble enough that the police found no gap to attack. The column marched into the direction of the Eastern railway station, when, passing a stretch of woodland, they met a Munich SA detachment busy smashing their rifles against the trees, a pastime Strasser immediately ordered them to cease. The guns, he said, will find their use another day. When the station came into sight, they closed ranks, seized a train, and vanished.
Another absconding SA company, the one that had arrested the city councillors, had already reached the highway leading in south-easterly direction from Munich to Salzburg and the Austrian border. About halfway, at a forest close to Rosenheim, the cavalcade halted, and the prisoners were led into the woods. They must have assumed the worst, and thus were almost ecstatically grateful when they were asked to surrender their clothes rather than their lives. The Putschists climbed into the Excellencies’ festive suits and disappeared quickly, leaving the honourable city fathers to their own resources. The police eventually found them and restored them to their offices.
The situation at the Tegernsee Lake, whither the platoon of Rudolf Hess had taken Minister President von Knilling and the other hostages taken at the Bürgerbräukeller, proved disastrous. Hess had stowed the distinguished servants of the public good into a lakeside villa, which, however, lacked a telephone. Hess left to find one, to report his success back to Munich and ask for further instructions, but when he arrived back at the building he found it deserted: the hostages had persuaded their guards to take them back to Munich. Thus, Hess not only lost his hostages but the truck as well, and found himself stuck forty miles south-east of Munich.
At the Odeonsplatz, the Red Cross had meanwhile taken over and loaded the numerous wounded into ambulances. Scheubner-Richter’s faithful servant Aigner established the deaths of his employer and of his best friend, Ludendorff’s valet, and took it upon himself to inform the families. He later recalled:
“Sick in my soul and totally shattered I returned to our residence in the Widenmayerstrasse.” Frau Scheubner-Richter asked where her husband was. Aigner lied but she insisted on the truth. “I can still remember her words, ‘That’s terrible but that is why one is an officer’s wife.'” (23)
The only man momentarily not in the picture was Putzi Hanfstängl. Just before the revolutionary column had left the beer hall, he had been dispatched to another intelligence mission: to observe and report on the tactical dispositions of police and Reichswehr around the city centre.
“Where only an hour before droves of citizens had surrounded the party speakers in the inner precincts and exulted in the commotion, now the faces of the passers-by showed irresolution. The majority of the public as well of the police, Reichswehr, and Battle League units had thought the troop and police deployments in the city centre parts of the preparations for the “March on Berlin”, but the understanding of the sad reality now precipitated distress and a feeling of futility.
Municipal policemen tore the proclamations of the last evening, signed by Hitler, Kahr, Lossow and Seisser, off the doors and walls of the houses or replaced them with Kahr’s more recent anti-Putsch declaration. The weather joined in the tristesse, with intermittent showers from a leaden sky. It did not look better in the offices of the Völkischer Beobachter whither I retired. The common feelings were confusion and depression, and Rosenberg characterized the prevailing mood with the words ‘The whole story is over now.’ I took this as advice to think of what might come next, and marched home. I had barely arrived when the telephone rang, and my sister Erna informed me excitedly that ‘Sauerbruch (the famous surgeon) just called, and told me that Hitler and Ludendorff, and their men, have left the Bürgerbräu and are marching over the Ludwig Bridge into the Tal.'” (24)
Hanfstängl left the house in the direction of Brienner Strasse, which would take him to the town centre, but soon met scores of men fleeing from it. He was informed that the police had fired, that Hitler, Ludendorff and Göring were dead, and that the day had brought “finis Germaniae”. (25) He turned on his heels to go back home but met, halfway, Esser, Amann, Eckart and Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler’s photographer, in an open car rushing down the road. Hanfstängl joined the posse which retired to Hoffmann’s apartment, which, they surmised, was safest from a police search. On arrival, they began preparations to escape to Austria; each man for himself, they hoped, would be less conspicuous than a group.
Thus, it came to pass that Helene Hanfstängl did not receive a visit from her husband on that day in the family’s recently acquired dacha in Uffing, some thirty miles south of Munich, but from Hitler, her great admirer. He arrived in the escape car, having been diagnosed for the moment with a dislocated shoulder which, Dr. Schulze pointed out, was very hard to fix in a small, erratically moving car. Hitler directed the driver to Uffing.
It may be a telltale sign whither a man turns to when hurt or threatened; whither he directs his hopes of sanctuary. One might have assumed that Hitler would seek to reach Landshut or Rosenheim, places where SA units existed and where local indifference to the state police might have assisted his concealment.
But in this existential crisis he sought to find shelter with the woman he admired and respected most, and, perhaps, unattainably romanced: Helene Hanfstängl, the beautiful, intelligent and sensible socialite; a woman as far removed in personality and manners from his small bourgeois, Lower Austrian roots as could be. She was the one he had trusted with the knowledge of the personal reasons for his anti-Semitism, and he constantly showed up at the Hanfstängl’s town apartment with the flimsiest of excuses; that he was too tired to return to his apartment in the Thierschstrasse, that he had to wait for an important telephone call to reach him at Hanfstängl’s telephone or that someone was to meet him down on the street and would ring the door bell soon. For the rest of his life Helene was a persistent subject of his private conversations. An old hand once reminisced that all his life“he continued to chat about the evils of smoking, the joys of motoring, dogs, the origin of Tristan and Isolde, the beauty of Frau Hanfstängl and Jews.”
The fugitives reached a small forest on the outskirts of the little village of Uffing, where they decided to ditch the car. They proceeded per pedes to the small Hanfstängl cottage where they arrived in the late afternoon. Frau Hanfstängl betrayed no surprise over the sudden visitation and showed at once that she was a practical woman as well as a semi- goddess. She fed the company, assisted Dr. Schulze in provisionally fixing Hitler’s shoulder, and sent the party to bed early.
The company still felt less than rested when the morning dawned; nobody had slept well, either for pain, as in Hitler’s case, or for the tension of expecting the police to show up any minute. After breakfast Hitler asked the medic to return to Munich by train, find the Bechsteins, and ask them to send their limousine, to pick up Hitler discreetly. Dr. Schulze was asked to drive the escape car back to Munich and enlist the aid of a medical acquaintance of his, an assistant of the famous Professor Dr. Sauerbruch. If possible, he should bring him to Uffing to work on Hitler’s arm.
After the departure of the two doctors Hitler tried to reassure his hostess that her husband was safe [he had no idea where he was], then fretted about what might have happened to his comrades. If he got any sleep that night it was shattered early the next morning by the deafening tintinnabulation of bells from the nearby church. It was Sunday the eleventh. Hitler did not appear until lunch. Because of the sling [around his arm], he could not wear his coat and had draped Hanfstängl’s huge dark blue terry cloth bathrobe around him. It brought a smile to his gaunt face. He felt like a pseudo-Roman senator, he said, and he told Helene the story of how his father had ridiculed him as the “toga boy.”
As the afternoon wore on Hitler grew restless and began pacing up and down the sitting room. He became increasingly impatient concerning the Bechstein car. Why the delay? It was only a matter of hours, perhaps minutes, he fretted, before he would be traced to Uffing. At dusk, he asked Helene to close the shutters and draw the curtains, then resumed his moody pacing. (26)
Eventually, the police caught up with him. Ernst Hanfstängl later described their appearance.
First they closed in and searched the property of my mother, outside of the village, for a good hour; even the hay in the loft and the plumeaus on the beds were probed with bayonets. Meanwhile, my house was under observation, and Hitler grew aware that flight would be impossible. (27)
The consequences Hitler drew from the presence of the police, were, if we believe Herrn Hanfstängl’s narrative, likely to guarantee a great if bloody finale. Here we need to digress for a minute. A long time ago, Hanfstängl’s Harvard music teacher, Professor Marshall, had invited his student to dinner at the St.-Botholph-Club in Boston, on the same evening that a guest speaker, a Boston police agent, gave an address on the basic teachings of Jiu-Jitsu, the Japanese art of self-defence.
Chosen to be the lecturer’s object of demonstration, the detective showed me a useful trick to disarm an attacker armed with a revolver, a move that I – years later – taught my wife. … Then, on the evening of November 11, two police trucks full of green uniformed state police — the arrest commando — stopped in front of our cottage in Uffing. When my wife hastened up the stairs to the attic where Hitler hid, she met him, armed with a gun, in the tiny antechambre. “This is the end!” he screamed. “Have these pigs arrest me? I rather be dead!” Yet before he could effect his resolution, my wife applied the Boston cop’s Jiu-Jitsu trick and – in a high arc – the revolver flew into a large flour bin, where it vanished at once. (28)
In a fragment of her diary, Frau Hanfstängl described the story as follows:
“Hitler and his companions got out and hid in the forest while the driver tried to repair the car. It turned out soon, that this would require a mechanic. The three men could not afford to be seen, since the news of the events in Munich had spread in the country like wildfire as well. They hid in the forest. Hitler thought of our house and as soon as it was dark, they went on their way. On the long, arduous march, they avoided main roads and used hidden paths. Since we have a side entrance, their arrival went unnoticed. I took them into the house, locked the door and led them to the first floor. Hitler lamented the death of his friends Ludendorff and Ulrich Graf, who, as he thought, were fallen when the first shots were fired.” [The next day] … “Shortly after 5 pm, the phone rang. It was my mother-in-law, living close by, who, before being interrupted, hastily told us that the police searched her house. ‘Now everything is lost!’ cried Hitler. With one swift movement he grabbed his revolver, which he had placed on a cabinet. I reacted immediately, grabbed his arm and took the gun. ‘How can you give up at the first setback? Think of your followers! ‘ As he sank into a chair, I hid the revolver in a container of flour. Then I took paper and pen and asked him, as long as there would be time, to write instructions for his main followers – a sheet for each should suffice.”
The goddess now scolded Hitler as if he were a schoolboy; reminding him of his responsibilities — the men, the party, and the people — and offered to take quick notes if he wished to send messages to his closest followers before the police showed up. Hitler realized his duties, thanked her sincerely, and began to dictate a short message to his men. Rosenberg would become acting leader of the NSDAP with Amann as his deputy, who should also direct the business and finance matters; together with Julius Streicher and Hermann Esser, the former two were to form a quadrivirate that was to take care of party activities until further notice. He appointed the goddess’s husband to the post of principal solicitor of contributions, uninformed that the latter was on the way to Austria. After finishing the notes and hiding them in the flour bin, Frau Hanfstängl went down to answer the door bell.
The sounds of police cars, shouting, and the barking of dogs filled the air of the quiet village. A trio of constables eventually appeared on the Hanfstängl’s doorstep and were allowed to enter. Helene guided the men upstairs to the small sitting room and opened the door, unveiling Hitler, still dressed in Hanfstängl’s bathroom attire. Without much ado, the policemen took him into custody; so happy to have found their prey at last that they forgot to search the house. They packed their captive into a truck and left immediately for Weilheim, the county centre.
It was almost ten o’clock at night when they arrived at the local court where Hitler was formally arraigned. It was decided that probable cause existed to charge him with high treason, and that the detainee was to be taken immediately to the prison at Landsberg, a small town about forty miles west of Munich. (29)
Since it was thought entirely possible that remnants of the Putschists might try to free the prisoner, the Reichswehr was asked to provide security. They sent an armed detail to Landsberg forthwith, which had, however, not yet arrived when the police column reached the prison compound. The prison of Landsberg consisted of a medium security housing unit for thieves or fraudsters and the like, and a “fortress”, a high-security section for murderers, rapists or political prisoners. Hitler was brought to cell # 7, which was the sole one that had an anteroom for visitors and guards, and which had, until this evening, housed Count Arco-Valley, the assassin of Kurt Eisner.
Since Hitler was accustomed to little space since his days in the asylum and the Männerheim in Vienna and the small rooms he had lived in for most of the last five years in Munich, he betrayed no problems in adapting to the narrowness of his new residence. In fact, his cell was bigger and better lighted than his room in the Thierschstrasse, and the window had a view of the prison garden’s shrubs and flowerbeds. From the first night onward, Hitler found himself in the care of gaoler Franz Hemmrich, who was instructed to look after him in particular and aid him as much as was permissible, and had no other duties. In the outside world, news of the Beer Hall Putsch, as it became known, dominated the newspaper headlines for a few days. For a lack of reliable witnesses, however, most of the articles had to rely on speculation.
(18) (19) (20) (22)  (23) (26) (29) John Toland, Adolf Hitler, Anchor Books 1976, ISBN 1992 0-385-42053-6, pp. 169 – 176
(24) (25) (27) (28) Ernst Hanfstängl, Zwischen Weißem und Braunem Haus, Piper Verlag, München, 1970, ISBN 3-492-01833-5, pp. 5-6, 143 – 149
As we have found with many of the family, her reputation is seriously smeared by the negative picture many contemporary historians have painted of the whole clan. What seems clear is that she was her brother Caligula’s favourite, and the scandalous tongues, of which there were many in Rome, credited her with having an incestuous relationship with her emperor brother – who apparently had more than brotherly feelings for all his sisters, whom he awarded the privileges of Vestal Virgins and had coins issued in their likenesses.
Whether this is true or not, we cannot say. It is possible that Caligula, who was, as we know, of a somewhat disturbed mind, attempted to emulate the pattern of his Roman lineage after the Hellenisticmonarchs of the Ptolemaic dynasty where marriages between jointly ruling brothers and sisters had become generally accepted. His contempt for the Roman elite may have played a part in such a scheme. Since what happened in the royal bedchamber was not a matter of public knowledge, some observers registered that the emperor reserved the female position of honour at the imperial dinners always for Drusilla, not her sisters or his wives, which they took as a sure sign of his despotism.
She died of the one or other epidemic that frequently plagued Rome in these times. Her brother, who reportedly never left her sickbed, posthumously made her an Augusta and had the Senate enact a decree declaring her a Goddess, as Diva Drusilla, on a par with Venus (Aphrodite).
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