Hitler's Father Alois ca. 1890

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/18)