The busi­ness of the Civil Ser­vice is the orderly man­age­ment of decline.

Wil­li­am Arm­strong

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.

Eth­no­lin­guist­ic Map

All 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.

Each 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 unex­pec­ted.

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.

This 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.

Peas­ants of the Wald­vier­tel

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.

The Remains of the Ham­let Strones

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.

Pho­to­graph rumoured to show Alois’ Birth­place
Weitra Today

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.

Nobody 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:

As 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 trade.

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.

Braunau City Centre

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’ 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)

Döller­sheim, Church and Cemetery

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)

Leg­al­is­ier­ungs-Pro­to­coll by Not­ary Josef Pen­kner (Joachim­sthaler, Ant­on, “Hitlers Weg begann in München 1913 – 1923”, Herb­ig-Ver­lag, ISBN 3−7766−2155−9, p. 15

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.

Alois’ Work­place – the Cus­toms Sta­tion at the Inn River Bridge ...

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:

Most Revered Epis­copate!

Those 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:

The 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.

Braunau am Inn, 27. Octo­ber 1884 

Alois Hitler, Bride­groom – Klara Pölzl, Bride” (11)

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.

Braunau, Church

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 Gasthaus Pom­mer in 1934 (with Nazi Flag), in which the couple also took res­id­ence

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)

At 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.

In 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.

Birth Cer­ti­fic­ate
Baby Adolf
Announce­ment of Birth in the loc­al news­pa­per ...

(© John Vin­cent Pal­at­ine 2015/19)

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