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.
Here an excerpt of Hitler’s speech of February 26, 1924, before the court (in English, see link below):
[As the Putsch ended], I wanted to hear nothing more of this lying and libellous world, but in the course of the next few days, during the second week [of my arrest], as the campaign of lies which was being waged against us [by the Bavarian government] continued, and as one after another was arrested and brought to Landsberg prison, honest men whom I knew to be absolutely innocent, but whose sole crime was that they belonged to our Movement, men who knew nothing whatsoever about the events, but who were arrested because they shared our philosophy and the government was afraid that they would speak up in public, I came to a decision. I would defend myself before this court and fight to my last breath. Thus I have come into this room, not in order to explain things away, or lie about my responsibility; no indeed! In fact, I protest that Oberstleutnant Kriebel has declared that he bears responsibility for what happened. Indeed, he had no responsibility for it at all. I alone bear the responsibility. I alone, when all is said and done, wanted to carry out the deed. The other gentlemen on trial here only negotiated with me at the end. I am convinced that I sought nothing bad. I bear the responsibility, and I will shoulder all the consequences. But one thing I must say: I am not a crook, and I do not feel like a criminal. On the contrary! …
If I stand here before the court [accused of being] a revolutionary, it is precisely because I am against revolution and against crimes. I do not consider myself guilty. I admit all the factual aspects of the charge. But I cannot plead that I am guilt of high treason; for there can be no high treason against that treason to the Fatherland committed in 1918 [by the Republican Revolution].
It is impossible to prove that I began to commit high treason during the events of 8 and 9 November , for the important points are my attitude and my whole activities which went on months before. Treason cannot arise from a single act, but in the preliminary conversations and planning for this act. If I really committed high treason thereby, I am astonished that the men with whom I planned all this [i.e. the Bavarian politicians], are not sitting in the dock beside me. I cannot plead guilty, since I am aware that the Prosecuting Attorney is legally obligated to charge everyone who discussed with us, and planned to carry out those acts; I mean Messrs von Berchem, von Aufsaß, Kahr, Lossow, and Seißer and others. I must consider it an oversight that the Prosecuting Attorney has not charged these gentlemen too. And as I stated before, admit all the facts, disputing only the guilt, so long as my companions here in the dock are not increased by the presence of the gentlemen who wanted to the same things as we, and who in conversations with us planned to do the same thing—all of which I will be glad to tell the court, in the absence of the public! So long as these gentlemen do not stand here beside me, I reject the charge of high treason. …
I do not feel like a traitor, but as a good German, who wanted only the best for his people.
And, on March 27, at the trial’s conclusion:
The action on 8/9 November did not miscarry. I would have considered it a failure if even one mother had come to me and said, “Herr Hitler, you have my child on your conscience; my child too fell that day.” But I assure you most solemnly: no mother ever said that to me. On the contrary, ten, hundreds, and ten thousand [men and women] have come, and have joined our ranks. An event which has not occurred in Germany since 1918 happened on that day: joyfully, young men went forth to death, to a death which one day will be hailed like the saying on the Obelisk: “They too died for the liberation of the Fatherland.” That is the most obvious sign of the success of that 8 November: for afterwards, the German people were not more depressed, but rather a wave of young Germany rose up, and joining together everywhere, and in powerful organizations, announced their new-found will. Thus, we see in this 8 November a great triumph, not only did it not produce depression, but it became the means for our Volk to become terribly enthusiastic to an extreme degree, and therefore I now believe that one day the hour will come when these masses who today bear our Swastika, and walk the streets carrying our swastika banners, will unite themselves with the very units which opposed us on 8 November. I thus believe that the blood which flowed on that day is not doomed to divide us forever.
When I learned, on the third day [of my arrest], that it was the Green Police [i.e. the riot-control police of Munich] a feeling of joy welled up within my soul; at least it had not been the German army which had shot us down! I rejoiced that it was not the German army, which had befouled itself. Instead, the German army remained as it had been, and with certain exceptions, we could still express the conviction that one day the hour would come in which the German army, officers and men, would stand on our side, and the old Quartermaster-General of the World War [Ludendorff] could rejoin this military unit …
The army which we have been building grows and grows, from day to day, from hour to hour, faster than ever, and in these very days we can express the proud hope that in the near future these wild groups will become battalions, and the battalions will grow to be regiments, and the regiments to be divisions, and the old colours of the Empire will be picked up out of the slime, and our old flags will whip in the wind, and reconciliation will be attained, just as on the day of the last judgment! And we ourselves will be ready and willing to join in that reconciliation.
And then, my Lords, then out of our graves, our bones will appeal to that higher court which rules over all of us. For you, my Lords, will not speak the final judgment in this case; that judgment will be up to “History,” the goddess of the highest court, which will speak over our graves and over yours. And when we appear before that court, I know its verdict in advance. It will not ask us: “Did you commit high treason?” for in the eyes of history, the Quartermaster-General of the World War, and his officers, who desired only the best, are considered to be only Germans who wanted to fight to defend their fatherland.
You may speak your verdict of “guilty” a thousand times over, but “History,” the goddess of a higher truth and a higher court, will one day laughingly tear up the charges of the Prosecution, and will laughingly tear up the verdict of this court, for she declares us to be innocent!
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”.
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.
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 John Heineman reports, by early November 1923, the political and economic conditions in Bavaria – and much of Germany – was chaotic. In Munich, Minister-President Kahr – endowed with dictatorial powers – had declared a state of emergency and suspended the elected Bavarian Parliament. He began negotiations with a number of anti-Republican groups but seemed prepared to wait for the right moment to declare Bavarian independence and restore the monarchy.
Having fired the enthusiasm and expectations of his followers up to fever pitch in the days after the German Day in Coburg, Hitler could not wait because he suspected the economic crisis would not last forever. With the appointment of [new Secretary of Treasury] Schacht there were signs that the national government in Berlin was getting ready to move on the hyper-inflation. Once conditions returned to normal, Hitler knew he may have lost his opportunity forever. He decided, therefore, to manipulate the situation so that Kahr and his co-conspirators, General von Lossow (Reichswehr commander of the Bavarian District) and Colonel von Seisser (head of the Bavarian Landespolizei [paramilitary State Police]) would be forced to join him. For the evening of 8 November, these three leaders had scheduled a public meeting in the Bürgerbräukeller, a big Munich beer cellar, in order to protest the growth of Bolshevism in Germany and, perhaps, start their own takeover. Kahr was to speak and all the leading citizens of Munich were to be present. Hitler secretly surrounded the hall with some six hundred armed SA men, bursting in and interrupting Kahr’s speech, to announce “the beginning of a national revolution. Exiled Nazi Otto Strasser described the beginnings of the failed Beer Hall Putsch in “Hitler and I”, first published in 1940:
The conspirators [Hitler, Goering, Röhm, Gregor Strasser, Hess, Streicher, Frick and possibly Himmler], met every evening in the private rooms of the Bürgerbräu [Bürgerbräukeller], a Munich brasserie and restaurant, which also had a big hall for public meetings.
Hitler therefore decided to force their hand. The date of the putsch was originally fixed for the 10th and 11th of November, . But at the last moment, learning that von Kahr was holding a meeting at the Bürgerbräukeller at which he was to make a speech on the programme of the Bavarian Monarchists, Hitler altered the date. November 8 was solemnly fixed as the historic date of the German Revolution.
Hitler’s instinct ought to have told him that it would have been better to have left these aged servants of a decrepit regime out of it. Both Kahr, Lossow and Seisser had served under the Kaiser. In spite of incessant discussions, which dragged on for week after week, no serious steps had yet been taken by Hermann Goering. But Hitler wanted action, and with a handful of followers proposed taking the risk of compromising the great German national revolution forever.
Hitler had six hundred men. Gregor Strasser, warned late, assembled three hundred and fifty stormtroopers at Landshut and led them to Munich. General Ludendorff, who had not been kept informed of what was going on, was at Ludwigshöhe, where a motorcar was hurriedly sent to fetch him.
On the fatal day Adolf wore a frock-coat, on which he pinned his Iron Cross. He proposed bursting into the hall at the head of his men while paramilitary detachments surrounded the building, whereupon von Kahr, before even beginning his speech, would be forced to surrender to the insistence of the heavily armed putschists. ‘He cannot help joining us,’ Hitler said to Scheubner-Richter, whose mission it was to fetch General Ludendorff to Munich. ‘Once Kahr is persuaded the others will follow.’
Strong in this conviction, Adolf gravely got into the car that took him to the Bürgerbräukeller. At the entrance the young fanatic with the Iron Cross kept asking to speak to Governor Kahr, but the dense crowd refused to let him pass. He was pale and trembling, and looked like a madman. Inside the hall the meeting had already begun and von Kahr had started his speech.
Hitler hesitated, but it was too late to go back. He listened, and could hear the steps of his faithful shock-troops. ‘Clear the vestibule!’ he ordered the policeman on duty at the entrance. Impressed by the Iron Cross, the policeman obeyed. A few minutes later the stormtroopers marched in. Adolf waited for them with his eyes closed and his hands in his pockets, where there was a revolver. He felt the eyes of his young men upon him, but he had not yet decided what to do if his coup failed and the triumvirate refused to march with him.
Like a maniac he burst into the hall, where three thousand Bavarians, seated before their beer-mugs, were listening to the unctuous oratory of von Kahr. Adolf jumped on to a chair, fired his revolver at the ceiling, and shouted, his hoarse voice half-quenched with excitement:
Herr von Kahr had spoken for half an hour. Then there was movement at the entrance as if people were wanting to push their way in. Despite several warnings, the disturbance did not die
Eventually, steel helmets came into sight. From this moment on, the view from my seat was rather obscured. People stood on chairs so that I didn’t see Hitler until he had come fairly near along the main gangway; just before he turned to the platform, I saw him emerge between two armed soldiers in steel helmets who carried pistols next to their heads, pointing at the ceiling. They turned towards the platform, Hitler climbed on to a chair on my left. The hall was still restless, and then Hitler made a sign to the man on his right, who fired a shot at the ceiling. Thereupon Hitler called out (I cannot recollect the exact order of his words): “The national revolution has broken out. The hall is surrounded.” Maybe he mentioned the exact number, I am not sure. He asked the gentlemen Kahr, Lossow, Seisser to come out and guaranteed their personal freedom. The gentlemen did not move. The General State Commissioner [Kahr] had stepped back and stood opposite Hitler, looking at him calmly. Then Hitler went towards the platform. What happened I could not see exactly; I heard him talk to the gentlemen and I heard the words: Everything would be over in ten minutes if the gentlemen would go out with him. To my surprise the three gentlemen went out with him immediately….
The official Bavarian Political Police Report on the Events of 8 November 1923 then described the happenings as follows:
After the three gentlemen had entered the room, Adolf Hitler called out: “No one leaves the room alive without my permission.” At the door a member of the bodyguard walked up and down continually, holding a pistol. Then Hitler turned to Excellency von Kahr with the statement: “The [new] Reich Government has been formed, the Bavarian Government has been overthrown. Bavaria is the springboard for the Reich Government. There must be a Reich governor in Bavaria. Pöhner [the Police chief of Munich and sympathetic to the Nazis] is to become Minister-President with dictatorial powers. You will be Reich Governor. Reich Government—Hitler; national army—Ludendorff; Lossow—army minister; Seisser—police minister.
“I know this step is a difficult one for you, gentlemen, but the step must be taken, it must be made easier for the other gentlemen to make the leap. Everybody must take up the post which he is allotted. If he does not, then he has no right to exist. You must fight with me, achieve victory with me, or die with me. If things go wrong, I have four bullets in my pistol, three for my colleagues if they desert me, the last bullet for myself.” While saying this, he put the pistol which he had been holding all the time to his head. While he was speaking to Excellency von Kahr, he noticed Major Hunglinger [General Seisser’s aide] in the room and motioned with his hand for him to leave.
Kahr declared to Herr Hitler: “You can arrest me, you can have me shot, you can shoot me yourself. Whether I live or die is unimportant.” Whereupon Hitler turned to Colonel von Seisser who accused him of not keeping his promise [not to attempt a putsch.] Hitler replied: “Yes, that’s true, but I did it in the interests of the fatherland. Forgive me.”
Herr von Lossow tried to say something to the other two gentlemen. But this was prevented by a shout: “You gentlemen are not allowed to talk to one another.” Lossow then stepped back to the window, disgusted with the proceedings. While looking out between the curtains, he noticed in front of every window a group of armed men, some of whom looked into the room with their guns at the ready. Hitler, who clearly saw the unpleasant impression this made, waved them away with his hand. Excellency von Lossow asked: “What is Ludendorff’s attitude to the affair?” Hitler replied: “Ludendorff is ready and will soon be fetched.” Hitler then left the room. He got no answer during this time, either from Herr von Kahr or from the other gentlemen….
Historian von Müller continued:
The general mood—I can of course only judge from my surroundings, but I think that this represented the general feeling in the hall—was still against the whole business. One heard: “Theatrical!” “South America!” “Mexico!” That was the prevailing mood. The change came only during Hitler’s second speech when he entered about ten minutes later, went to the platform and made a short speech. It was a rhetorical masterpiece. In fact, in a few sentences it totally transformed the mood of the audience. I have rarely experienced anything like it. When he stepped on to the platform the disturbance was so great that he could not be heard, and he fired a shot. I can still see the gesture. He got the Browning out of his back pocket and I think it was on this occasion that the remark about the machine gun was made. When things did not become quiet, he shouted angrily at the audience: “If you are not quiet, I shall have a machine gun put up on the gallery.” In fact he had come in to say that his prediction of everything being over in ten minutes had not come true. But he said it in such a way that he finally went out with the permission of the audience to say to Kahr that the whole assembly would be behind him if he were to join. It was a complete reversal. One could hear it being said that the whole thing had been arranged, that it was a phoney performance. I did not share this opinion because Kahr’s attitude seemed to contradict it. Seeing him at close quarters, one got the impression of confusion, of great dismay….
Then war hero Ludendorff appeared, according to the Bavarian Political Police Report of the Meeting:
Ludendorff then entered the room in a hat and coat and, without asking any questions, with obvious excitement and with a trembling voice, declared: “Gentlemen I am just as surprised as you are. But the step has been taken; it is a question of the fatherland and the great national and Völkisch cause, and I can only advise you, go with us and do the same.” … Shortly after Ludendorff, Pöhner entered the room. Hitler, Ludendorff and Weber [leader of a paramilitary group called Freikorps Oberland] now began a process of urgent persuasion. Excellency von Kahr, in particular, was besieged on all sides. Moved by the feelings previously described, Lossow at last gave Ludendorff the consent he wanted with the dry comment, “All right.” After some hesitation. Colonel von Seisser also nodded his agreement. Then Hitler, Ludendorff, and Dr Weber, with Pöhner also, worked on Excellency von Kahr with coaxing and pleading. Lossow and Seisser were asked to take part in the coaxing, but neither replied. … Hitler could no longer go back, whatever the position of Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser might prove to be. Hitler kept bringing this out with statements like: “The deed has been done, there is no going back. It has already passed into history.”
After long urging, Kahr declared: “I am ready to take over the destiny of Bavaria as the representative of the monarchy.” Hitler insisted that this statement should be made in the hall. Herr von Kahr replied that after the way in which he had been led out of the hall he refused to go back into the hall. He wanted to avoid any public fraternizing. But Hitler insisted with the words: “You will be carried shoulder-high. You will see what jubilation will greet you: the people will kneel before you.” Kahr replied: “I can do without that.” They then went into the hall.
BAVARIAN POLITICAL POLICE REPORT
Karl Alexander von Müller reported further:
An hour after Hitler’s first appearance the three gentlemen came back into the hall with Hitler and Ludendorff. They were enthusiastically received. On the platform Kahr began to speak first without being requested to and gave the speech which was printed word for word in the papers. Ludendorff too, in my opinion, spoke without being requested to, whereas Lossow and Seisser only spoke after repeated requests—I can’t remember the words, but only the gestures—on Hitler’s part. If I am to depict the impression made by the gentlemen on the platform, I would say that Kahr was completely unmoved. His face was like a mask all evening. He was not pale or agitated; he was very serious, but spoke very composedly. I got the impression that there was a melancholy look about his eyes. But that is perhaps being subjective. Hitler on the other hand, during this scene was radiant with joy. One had the feeling that he was delighted to have succeeded in persuading Kahr to collaborate. There was in his demeanor, I would say, a kind of childlike joy, a very frank expression which I shall never forget. Excellency Ludendorff by comparison was extremely grave; when he came in he was pale with suppressed emotion. His appearance as well as his words were those of a man who knew it was a matter of life and death, probably death rather than life. I shall never forget his expression. It was such that when I heard in town on the following day the rumor that he had been killed, I said to myself: That’s what he looked like last night. Lossow’s expression was very different; there was something detached, relaxed about his whole attitude. I don’t want to make a party point but, if I am to describe it, it struck me that he made a slightly ironical fox face. A certain impenetrable smile never left his features. Seisser was pale and upset. He was the only one who gave the impression of personal agitation, of external agitation. His words were merely a variant of Lossow’s. The report in the papers of the words of these two gentlemen was not correct: it was somewhat touched up.
Yet, momentarily unbeknownst to the present public, the endeavour was already collapsing; Hitler’s triumph was premature. A few hours earlier, Ernst Röhm, the head of the Munich SA, had occupied Army headquarters in Munich where he was received with sympathy by the junior officers. But the Reichswehr’s senior officers remained loyal to the Republic, and when General Lossow returned to his headquarters following his release, he immediately ordered military reinforcements to the Bavarian capital, where they surrounded the building which Röhm had occupied. Upon his release, Kahr too revoked his agreement with Hitler, saying he had been forced to make it at gunpoint. A little after midnight, it was clear to all in the Bürgerbräukeller that there would be no March on Berlin. Would a march on Munich suffice instead?
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 twice: “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.
The official police report also blamed the Putschists for opening fire:
The column of National Socialists about 2,000 strong, nearly all armed, moved on through the Zweibrückenstraße, across the Marienplatz towards the Theatinerstraße. Here it split up, the majority going down the Perusastraße to the Residenz, the rest going on along the Theatinerstraße.
The police stationed in the Residenz tried to cordon it off as well as the Theatinerstraße by the Preysingstraße. Numerous civilians hurried on ahead of the actual column in Residenzstraße and pushed aside the police barricade. The ceaseless shouts of “Stop! Don’t go on!” by the state police were not obeyed. Since there was the danger of a break-through here, a police section, originally in the Theatinerstraße, hurried round the Feldherrenhalle [War Memorial] to give support. They were received with fixed bayonets, guns with the safety catches off, and raised pistols. Several police officers were spat upon, and pistols with the safety catches off were stuck in their chests. The police used rubber truncheons and rifle butts and tried to push back the crowd with rifles held horizontally. Their barricade had already been broken several times. Suddenly, a National Socialist fired a pistol at a police officer from close quarters. The shot went past his head and killed Sergeant Hollweg standing behind him. Even before it was possible to give an order, the comrades of the sergeant who had been shot opened fire as the Hitler lot did, and a short gun battle ensued during which the police were also shot at from the Preysingpalais and from the house which contains the Café Rottenhofer. After no more than thirty seconds the Hitler lot fled, some back to the Maximilianstraße, some to the Odeonsplatz. General Ludendorff apparently went on towards the Odeonsplatz. There he was seen in the company of a Hitler officer by a police officer barring the Briennerstraße, who went up to General Ludendorff and said to him: ‘Excellency, I must take you into custody.’ General Ludendorff replied: ‘You have your orders. I’ll come with you.’ Both gentlemen were then accompanied into the Residenz.
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.
Sometimes a man feels as if the very fortunes of his life are hinged upon a fragile pendulum, which follows wholly foreordained yet enigmatic movements. It is a mystery, the more confusing since we cannot determine, at any given time, our own position on this cosmic scale without invariably changing the oscillation’s period or direction. In other words, we may find out where we presently are, but not whether we are moving up or down on the scales of fortune, for each of our actions or omissions has an impact on our future that we cannot truly calculate. When Adolf Hitler quit on his friend August Kubizek in the fall of 1908 and disappeared in the capital’s anonymous crowds, he challenged Fortuna by personal defiance.
Robert Payne portrays the impact of being on one’s own in a big town:
When a man sinks into poverty and misery in a vast city, many strange things happen to him. If he is without family or friends and has no roots, he very quickly becomes the prey of delusions.
Mysterious voices speak to him, a stranger suddenly glancing at him in the street will fill him with panic, and he believes that a scrap of newspaper blown by the wind to his feet conveys a message from some higher powers.
In his loneliness and terror, he learns that he has entered a savage country of strange customs and inexplicable cruelties, a country in which he is a foreigner possessing no right or privileges, at the mercy of everyone and most of all at the mercy of officials, a hunted creature who feels no security even when he is alone at night in the darkness of his own room.
We know much more about these lonely, alienated people than we did fifty years ago, perhaps because modern society creates more of them. We know the complicated contrivances they invent to maintain a sense of human dignity, and we can trace step by step how the shreds of human dignity are torn from them or salvaged in unpredictable ways.
Such men are on the mercy of the seasons, for warm days give them spurious courage and winter reduces them to shivering incoherence. They talk interminably to themselves and cling desperately to their fantasies. The blue stain on the wall, the stone picked up long ago, the string tied around the middle finger, all these become fetishes without which life would become unendurable.
We know too, that poverty has its own in-built compensations. In “Down and Out in Paris or London”, George Orwell describes the strange, dull euphoria that comes with extreme poverty.
“You discover boredom and mean complications and the beginnings of hunger, but you also discover the great redeeming future of poverty: the fact that it annihilates the future.
Within certain limits, it is actually true that the less money you have, the less you worry. When you have a hundred francs in the world you are liable to the most craven panics. When you have only three francs you are quite indifferent, for three francs will feed you till tomorrow, and you cannot think further than that.
You are bored, but you are not afraid. You think vaguely, “I shall be starving in a day or two -shocking, isn’t it?” And then the mind wanders to other topics. A bread and margarine diet does, to some extent, provide its own anodyne.
But there are many consolations to poverty, and even apathy becomes exhausting in time. For a nineteen-year-old youth [Hitler] who dreamed of becoming a great artist, the consolation was more likely to be found in fantasies of his own towering eminence in the arts, to the discomfiture of all those who had hindered his progress.” (1)
After having participated in the autumnal manoeuvres of his regiment, August Kubizek (Adolf´s only friend then) returned to Vienna in late November 1908. He had, of course, informed his friend of his arrival and thus was baffled when Adolf never showed up at the train station. Gustl concluded that only something of utmost importance, without doubt, some sort of emergency, could have compelled his friend’s absence and rushed to Stumpergasse.
Frau Zakreys, the landlady, had no idea where Adolf was. He had given her notice on November 18, paid up the rent until the end of the month and disappeared without leaving a forwarding address or message. She had already taken in another lodger. Gustl found a new domicile, in a nearby inn, and heard nothing more from his friend for many years to come. When he was in Linz over the Christmas holidays, he visited the Raubals, but Angela (Adolf´s half-sister) almost brusquely informed him that they had no idea where Adolf lived and blamed August for supporting Adolf’s artistic dreams. After this Kubizek had no more contact with the Hitler family until, twenty-five years later, his boyhood pal had become the new chancellor of Germany.
At this time, and still today, every change in address had to be brought to the attention of the police [FN1] – essentially as a means to keep track of the men of military age. Adolf registered his new address with the police on November 19, 1908, as Room # 16, Felberstrasse 22, c/o Frau Helene Riedl, in the XVth District, right at the Westbahnhof, where he lived until August 21, 1909, as a “Student”. (2)
[FN1] Franz Jetzinger et al. have argued that Gustl could have easily found out Adolf’s new address via the Meldeamt, the Registration office. This is not entirely accurate, because these files were not public and generally available only to the police, courts and the military. Cf. Jones, J. Sydney, p. 291 [Infra]
It was obvious that the second Academic rejection had put Hitler in a funk, and it is quite possible that he simply did not have the nerve to tell Gustl of the repeated failure. One thing about the move, however, remains a mystery: the new room was bigger and thus more expensive than the habitat at Frau Zakreys. It has been speculated that the sudden flight from the Stumpergasse was pursued to hide something or someone from Gustl, perhaps a girl. But for a dearth of proof, we can only hypothesize about Hitler’s reasons, as we must when we face the question of whence the money came for the higher rent.
This is the period in Hitler’s life we know least about. Something decisive must have occurred in addition to the second Academy fiasco. We do know that he spent about eight months in the Felberstrasse room, including his twentieth birthday on April 20, 1909. Decades later, a few of his neighbours have come forward with dim memories of a polite young man who appeared somewhat distant, occupied with his own affairs. There was a café nearby he used to visit, the Café Kubata, and from there we have some vague indicators that he may have spent some time in female company. Maria Wohlrab, née Kubata, said that she saw him often in the company of a girl which was, perhaps, named “Wetti” or “Pepi”. Frau Christa Schröder, from the 1920s on Hitler’s long-time secretary, insisted that her chef had mentioned to her, more than once, that he had a “beloved” at that time in Vienna named “Emilie”. The cashier at the Café Kubata later remembered that she liked the young man because “he was very reserved and quiet, and would read books and seemed very serious, unlike the rest of the young men.” (3)
The cost of the Felberstrasse apartment, whether he used it alone or not, may have put too much of a strain on Hitler’s finances, which were by now most probably limited to the twenty-five crowns orphan assistance he still received each month. He moved again, on August 21, 1909, this time as a “Writer”, to Sechshauserstrasse 56, 2nd Floor, Room 21, c/o Frau Antonie Oberlechner, in the XIVth District. It was very close to the Felberstrasse but probably cheaper, for the Sechshauserstrasse was a thoroughfare with lots of street noise and trolley traffic. (4)
Things did not improve, it seems. Less than four weeks later, on September 16, 1909, he left Sechshauserstrasse without registering a forward address. He must have been close to the end of the rope: for about three months his tracks are lost within the multitudes of Vienna’s poor, in the anonymity of the homeless and indigent.
The days of his vagrancy forced him, alike the myriads that shared his fate, to seek shelter from the cold of the impending winter in parks, alleys, doorways and ditches. A favourite place was Vienna’s amusement park “Prater“, which was mostly inactive in winter and provided lots of benches, for which the competition was intense. He may well, as many others did, have tried to sleep in coffee houses, bars or flophouses, in the waiting rooms of train stations or the warming rooms of the city’s charities. In Mein Kampf, he admitted that “even now I shudder when I think of these pitiful dens, the shelters and lodging houses, those sinister pictures of dirt and repugnant filth and worse still.” (5) The sheer size of vagrancy in the Austrian capital was beyond belief – the journalist Max Winter bequeathed us more than 1500 articles on the phenomenon:
“ In the single week between January 10th and 16th, 1901, the six warming rooms of the Vienna Charity Association were visited in daytime by 29,202 men, 17,291 women and 39,801 children – that is, a total of 86,294 people within seven days. During night-time, 4641 men, 259 women and eleven children, together 4911 people, visited the rooms in addition.”
So arduous was his pecuniary distress that he had to sell his art materials and most of his clothing; an endeavour ill-suited to the falling temperatures. To add insult to injury, the winter of 1909/10 turned out the most frightful in decades and one day Hitler had to admit defeat to Vienna’s weather gods: one cold December evening, he showed up in the workers’ suburb of Meidling; more precisely in the long row of derelict wretches who waited for admission to the Asyl für Obdachlose, the “Asylum for the Homeless”.
The Asylum, “which in consideration for the decent citizens was built behind the Meidlinger cemetery, far from the residents” (6) but near the southern railway station, had only been opened in 1908. Together with a similar institution in the 3rd District, it was operated by the “Shelter Association for the Homeless“, a charity which financed itself by private donations and received an annual subsidy from the city. (7) Yet the association had to fight windmills in its constant struggle against the three related issues that plagued the poor: poverty resulted in homelessness, homelessness resulted in disease, and disease resulted in a loss of employment. Imperial Vienna, we mentioned it, was at that time a metropolis of over two million inhabitants, the sixth-biggest town on earth, and certainly, more than a quarter-million of its denizens were relegated to perpetual poverty. Many of the losers came from the outer provinces of the Empire, the East or the South, and lacked a suitable command of the German language, which in turn decreased their chances of employment. Worse, they lacked the kind of survival instincts that apply to a city, as opposed to those applicable at their rural places of origin.
The Meidlinger shelter was a sturdy affair, offering refuge for about one thousand souls. Unlike other charities it allowed occupants to stay for one week only (a stipulation that could be circumvented), but it offered an advantage most other places lacked: it would take in whole families and their children, not only single men. It promoted self-help as well: everybody, health permitting, was called upon to aid in the cleaning and maintenance of the building, to keep operating costs at a minimum. The building was not too dreary, thanks to its recent pedigree; there were washing facilities, showers and numerous toilets, all of them kept spotlessly clean. Two meals a day were supplied, soup and sandwich, for breakfast and supper; the dormitories featured the usual military-style cots, lined up with the precision of a battalion on parade. During daylight hours the occupants were expected to leave the shelter, preferably in search of employment; loitering was frowned upon and could easily lead to eviction.
Much as he disliked it, Hitler had to pass through the ritual of admission; establishing membership in the community of misery. The shiverlings began to line up outside of the main gate when darkness fell, around 5 pm, and when the doors of the institution opened, two rows of bodies filed in quietly: men to the right, woman and children to the left. Hitler received, as everybody else did, a ticket that entitled him to the statutory one week of lodging and was assigned a brass cot in one of the dormitories. It must have been exceedingly onerous for a man who was used to his privacy as much as Hitler was, to face one’s first experience with public showers and delousation procedures. His proud sense of individuality must have vanished at the latest when he joined the herd of occupants heading to the mess hall for dinner. As John Toland observed, “it would be difficult for anyone but another recipient of institutionalized charity to understand the shame suffered by a proud young man on his first day within the gates of such an establishment.” (8)
For a man so much accustomed to his freedom, the asylum certainly felt like a prison. One can imagine how he sat, completely lost, on a cot in a large hall with hundreds of strangers, each of whom was more familiar with the situation than he was. It was perhaps his impersonation of a lost kitten that convinced his cot neighbour, an on-and-off servant and waiter named Reinhold Hanisch, to take care of him and to show him the ropes. Although Hanisch by himself is a problem as a witness – when he met Hitler he had already been to jail more than once, lived habitually under false names and doctored birth certificates, and in later years counterfeited Hitler paintings – some parts of his memoir that the American magazine The New Republicprinted in 1939 – posthumously – under the title “Reinhold Hanisch: I Was Hitler’s Buddy”, ring true, among much that has been proven false or at least misleading. [FN2] Unlike Hitler, Hanisch was a professional utilizer of charity-assisted lifestyles, was familiar with the inner workings of the asylum and every other such house in Vienna and also an expert in the general survival strategies of vagrants. He proved his value instantly: one of the first tricks he taught Hitler was how to circumvent the lodging limitation; all one had to do was buy, for a few pennies, the unused portions of the admittance cards of those occupants who, for a variety of reasons, left without having used up their allotment. Thus, the first danger of having to return into the cold was banned and Hitler began to appreciate his new acquaintance.
[FN2] Brigitte Hamann provides an excellent overview about the sources on Hitler’s years in the Men’s Hostel, and discusses in which instants Hanisch can be trusted and when not (“Hitler’s Vienna“, see quotes below, p. 184 ff.).
Reinhold Hanisch came from the Sudetenland, the northern, German part of Bohemia, being born January 27, 1884, at Grünwald (Mšeno nad Nisou) near Gablenz, but had travelled extensively and thus was able to tell his new friend many stories about Germany, Adolf’s promised land. Hanisch also hedged a few dreams of becoming an artist and immediately recognized a related soul in Hitler. Hanisch had seen and could relate the tales of towns and castles, cathedrals and monasteries, mountains and rivers.
To make things more entertaining for Adolf, it turned out that Hanisch had worked in Braunau for some time, and they began to exchange reminiscences of the town. As it frequently happens, common knowledge and common interests breed trust, and soon they talked incessantly. That is, until Hanisch found a new job and moved, on December 21, 1909, to Hermanngasse 16 in the IInd District, and, on February 11, 1910, on to Herzgasse 3/4, in the Xth District. (9)
After a few days of listening to Hanisch, Hitler had memorized the basic rules of street life, and they developed a kind of daily routine. In the morning they set out on the rather long walk to St. Katherine’s Convent near Adolf’s old haunts at the Westbahnhof to queue up for the soup the nuns passed out at noon, then on to one of the warming rooms operated by the philanthropic societies or into the relative warmth of a railway station. In the afternoon, they would be trying to sneak up a snack at the Salvation Army before heading back to the asylum in time to be among the first in the waiting line. Occasionally men were sought for a day or two of work in ditch digging, snow shovelling or luggage handling at a train station, but Hanisch quickly realized that Hitler was too weak for these incidental jobs. Neither did Adolf have any talent for begging, although he acquired from an asylum comrade the addresses of “soft touches”, prospective donors. He received “specific instructions for each customer; for example, he was to greet an old lady on the Schottenring with a “Praised be Jesus Christ”, and then say he was an unemployed church painter or a woodcutter of holy figures. Usually, she gave two Kronen for such a story, but Hitler only got religious platitudes for his trouble.” (10) The nuns of St. Katherine’s were one of the few reliable addresses in town.
A la longue, Hanisch realized that, while practically all the outcasts of the capital did beg, very few did paint, and derived a plan of profiting from Adolf’s artistic abilities. We do not know exactly when the idea came up; either during the two months Hitler spent at the Asylum in Meidling or later at the Men’s Hostel in the Meldemannstrasse, but, at any rate, Hanisch convinced his friend that the best way to make some direly needed cash was to paint small scenes or postcards and sell them. When Hitler objected that he had no more painting utensils, was too shabbily dressed to sell anything and not a great salesman to boot, the plan was amended and the labour divided: Adolf would do the painting and Hanisch the selling, for a fifty per cent commission. (11)
There was the tricky issue that the two prospective entrepreneurs did not have a licence, but Hanisch assured his friend that such petty regulations could be outflanked by moving their point of sale into the dim and grey, smoke-filled taverns of the city, of which Hanisch, having worked in many, had an encyclopaedic knowledge. In regard to the painting materials, Hanisch proposed to apply to the generosity of Adolf’s family. The Cafe Arthaber, conveniently located near the Meidling train station, was known to provide pen and paper for the vagrants if they paid the universal entry fee – the price of a cup of coffee. Adolf wrote a letter, either to Aunt Johanna or to Angela, and a few days later a fifty crown note arrived poste restante. (12) “The money probably saved his life, for it gave him renewed hope at a time when he had little to hope for.” (13)
All the petty possessions he had accumulated in the preceding years had long since disappeared. It is quite possible that an irate landlady seized some in lieu of rent, but in his pitiful state of existence before the asylum, he may simply have lost most of them – out of sight, out of mind. All the books, manuscripts, paintings, sketches, maps and drawings were lost; gone were the dressy overcoat, top hat and walking stick. Had August met this destitute figure, he might not have recognized him. The young, almost elegant Bohemian had vanished; all that was left was a piece of human flotsam; the debris of the young boy that had urged his playmates to chase the redskins. Only fragments remained of the son Klara had so loved.
The crash of his dream world sent pulses, like ripples, to the outer rims of his consciousness; the remnants of his former self may have caught glimpses of unfamiliar surroundings, seeing but not realizing how he had arrived there. As if arising from hibernation, Adolf found himself in a place of perplexing strangeness and laboured to re-establish the mental cohesion of time and place. In a 1913 letter, he wrote: “The autumn of 1909 was for me an interminably bitter time. I was a young man with no experience, without financial assistance, and too proud to accept it from just anyone, let alone beg for it.” (14) The bitter feeling was real enough, but the last clause was a lie: his true problem with begging was that it did not work for him.
Yet in a sense, the marks of this winter never vanished. In the description of their friendship, August had painted the portrait of a slightly strange, somewhat exotic, a little awkward and sometimes violent young man, who was nonetheless permanently active, if only self-centred; writing, composing an opera, drawing, painting and rebuilding Linz. Now, less than twelve months later, his friend was destitute of mind and body. He had lost weight and his health was doubtful. It has been advocated and indeed seems possible that the innumerable ailments, big and small, that plagued him in later years were rooted in this cold winter, which exacerbated his earlier affliction of the lung and may have weakened his immune system as well.
But not only was he physically exhausted, but his spirit had suffered as well. For long spells he retained the stare common to visionaries and beggars; concentration was sporadic, reason elusive, his passions dull, unless something bothered him. Then he could still erupt in flames, in fierce and biting crescendo arguing, ranting, raging; only to sink back quickly into the comforting anodyne of apathy. He was on the verge of defeat when Hanisch picked him up, but he eventually adapted to the outcast life and gradually things improved.
The Meidlinger asylum, however, while having provided a safety net in the days of calamity and ire, was no place to start Hitler & Hanisch, Postcards Un-Incorporated. A location had to be found which not only allowed long-time tenure but also provided a space where Hitler could paint during the day. Hanisch identified such a place in the Männerheim, the Men’s Hostel, in Brigittenau, Vienna’s newest, the XXth District.
We shall ask Brigitte Hamann (“Hitler’s Vienna”, 1st Ed. Oxford UP 1999, Tauris Parks 2010, ISBN 978-1-84885-277-8) to introduce us to the facility where Adolf Hitler was to live from February 9, 1910, to May 24, 1913. She cites from a report by Viennese journalist Ernst Kläger, who, disguised as a beggar, spent a night at the hostel and wrote an article about it. The area between downtown Vienna and Brigittenau, beyond the Danube Canal, was desolate. Finally,Kläger found the new hostel.
The six-story men’s hostel in Vienna-Brigittenau, 25 – 29 Meldemannstrasse, was among the most modern in Europe. Opened in 1905, it was funded by the private Emperor Francis Joseph Anniversary Foundation for Public Housing and Charitable Institutions, which was financed through donations, receiving significant contributions from Jewish families, particularly from Baron Nathaniel Rothschild and the Gutmann family. The hostel was administered by the City of Vienna. The first blueprints caused a stir during an exhibition in the Künstlerhaus (Artists’ House). The hostel was not to have common sleeping areas but individual compartments for each of its up to 544 guests, excellent hygienic conditions, and many social events to enhance “education and sociability.”
Brigittenau, at the outskirts of the city, had many new industrial plants, a great need for labourers, and the most rapid population growth in all of Vienna’s districts. Its population increased from 37,000 in 1890 to 101,000 in 1910. Most new residents were young single men who worked in the new factories and, because there were no cheap apartments, found places to spend the night as lodgers in overcrowded workers’ apartments.
This new men’s hostel was supposed to decrease the number of lodgers and thus protect the compromised morals of their host families. The foundation’s principal trustee, Prince Carl Auersperg, pointed this out on the occasion of Emperor Franz Joseph’s visit in 1905: “In particular, this men’s hostel seeks to give an actual example of the … chance to effectively fight the pernicious phenomenon of lodging, to offer single labourers a home instead of the dull and overcrowded emergency quarters, providing not only an affordable place to stay but also providing the opportunity to nourish body and mind.”
Rent for one sleeping place was only 2.5 Kronen per week, an amount a single handyman or craftsman with an annual income of 1,000 Kronen [doubtful, see FN1] could afford. In Vienna, the hostel was thus praised as “a miracle of a divine lodging place on earth” and “a marvel of elegance and affordability.”
[FN1] The average monthly wage in 1910 was 54 Kronen (Austrian National Bank). Werner Maser gives the following examples of salaries: “At that time a lawyer’s salary, after one year’s practice in court, was 70 crowns per month, that of a teacher during the first five years of his career, 66 crowns. A post office official earned 60 crowns, while an assistant teacher in a Vienna secondary school before 1914 received a monthly salary of 82 crowns.” (Werner Maser, Adolf Hitler: Legend, Myth and Reality, NY 1971, p.43)
“A large electric arc lamp over the gate guides those who are stumbling up the hill of dug-up soil. Compared to the other, smaller houses around and the bare factory buildings in the back, the shelter looks proud. I open the door and to my surprise find myself in a vestibule which no good hotel would put to shame. I am embraced by comfortable warm air.” The men’s hostel had both electric and gas lights and was heated by a modern, central low-pressure steam heater. At the counter, the reporter had no difficulty in obtaining a ticket for one night for thirty Kreuzers (sixty Hellers; one Krone had 100 Hellers, i.e. cents). Kläger described the dining room in the upper mezzanine: “Again I am pleasantly surprised by the elegance of the room, which is lighted by two arc lamps and whose walls are covered halfway up with pale green tiles.”
Then he tried the
dirt-cheap food and found the meals “all very good.” The occupants
spent only an average of half a Krone per day for food in the hostel – for
breakfast, dinner, and snacks – in other words, only approximately fifteen
Kronen per month.
Kläger watched the
lodgers: “The door opens constantly, and someone in a bad suit, usually a
bag under his arm, enters. One could tell that most occupants were incredibly
tired.” Because most of them worked during the day, it was quiet in the
afternoon. Yet in the evening “it was lively, gregarious, but by no means boisterous,
until around ten-thirty.”
There were kitchenettes with gas rings and kitchen utensils for those who wanted to prepare their own food. Cooking teams were formed: one of the unemployed would remain in the hostel, go shopping, and cook for some of the labourers, and in return could eat for free. Initially, Hitler tried to cook, but with little success, for according to Reinhold Hanisch, the Upper Austrian milk soup he proudly offered had curdled and turned out more like cheese.
Kläger made his rounds through the shelter and reported: “Right next to the dining room is a large, very nicely furnished reading room with two sections, one for smokers and one for non-smokers. It has dailies and a nice library which is available to the lodgers. Most books are easy-to-digest novels and writings on popular science. There are also desks with the necessary utensils for doing one’s correspondence.” On Sunday afternoons there was entertainment plus the opportunity for continuing education through concerts and lectures. On the lower mezzanine, there were laundry and shoe-shining rooms, luggage and bicycle racks, and a cobbler and tailor room.
Hygienic conditions were exemplary: a house doctor practised for free, offering outpatients services in a “sick room” for minor illnesses. As in all shelters, there was a disinfection room for delousing the newcomers. Apart from lavatories, there were also a shaving room and a shower room with sixteen showers, twenty-five footbaths, and four bathtubs. One bath was twenty-five Heller, about a third of the price in a public bath. All this bore fruit in the cholera year of 1910; the dreaded disease spared the fully occupied men’s hostel.
The sleeping wing, comprising the four top floors, was opened at 8:00 pm and had to be vacated by 9:00 am. It consisted of long rows of tiny, separate sleeping compartments, each measuring 4.6 × 6.9 feet. There was enough room for a bed, a small table, a clothes rack, and a mirror. Permanent guests had their sheets changed every seven days, and one-night guests every day, as in hotels. As an extra convenience, each compartment had a door with a lock and a light bulb. It was probably the first time Hitler had electric light in his room. (15)
Hitler, however, was not prone to sing the praises of the hostel in his later years, for the Führer legend had him sleeping in parks and ditches, which he had done, but only for a few months before moving into the hostel and soon doing comparatively well. For the basic difference between the asylum and the hostel was that the former was the last step, perhaps, before starving or freezing to death, while in the latter, at least in theory, a man could convince himself that he was on the way to a better future. One might be poor but still, harbour a ray of hope.
Here we must return to the problem of Reinhold Hanisch‘s veracity. He claimed that he followed Hitler into the hostel a few days later, and since Hitler had filed his new address at the Männerheim with the police on February 9, Hanisch would have to have arrived soon afterwards. We do know that Hanisch was frequently seen in the hostel, and did indeed pick up Hitler’s paintings to sell them, but he was still registered at that time at Herzgasse 3/4 in the distant Xth District. The records for Adolf are clear: with one small interruption, he stayed at the Männerheim from February 9, 1910, to May 24, 1913, thirty-nine months. He might have left on errands here and there, but for more than three years the building on Meldemannstrasse was his home – for about six Kronen food and lodging per week. Poor as the occupants undoubtedly were, the administration tried hard to keep up their dignity. The men could take correspondence courses, apply for the Social Democratic Party’s job placement program, or read the bibles provided by the Catholic Homeless Association. “Ruhe and Ordnung“, silence and order, were strictly enforced, as was a dress code. All in all, the Männerheim provided a calm, monastic atmosphere in which Hitler nicely fit in, except for some political arguments.
Whether residing in the hostel or not, Hanisch set up their business. The first step was to place Adolf and the art materials recently obtained through Angela‘s or Aunt Johanna’s charity into the reading room, non-smoker section. There was a long oak table close to the window, which provided the natural light Adolf needed. The company now supplied the “market for postcard-sized paintings to be sold in taverns or to art dealers, who acquired them not so much for their artistic value as for filling empty frames.” (16) Soon Hitler had realized which motifs were in demand, mostly local sights and nature, and his postcards and small paintings sold rather quickly.
For a few months, the partnership blossomed. Hanisch was easily able to find buyers in the maze of the backstreets, the lanes that meandered between dark taverns and paltry shops, newsstands and tobacconists, but also in the wine gardens of the Prater, and the art shops in the better quarters of the capital. The sums realized initially hovered between five and ten Kronen, which were split fifty-fifty. A business routine slowly established itself and Hitler’s life stabilized, although he still possessed only a single change of clothing.
The reading rooms were the place where the more educated occupants met, of which there were quite a few former students of the Austrian schools and colleges. They discussed politics and art, money and women, as lonely men do. Some tried to entice neophytes to whatever political cause they believed in, and workers were tolerated in the discussions if they appeared salvageable from the poison of socialism. Sometimes Hitler tried to moderate the debates, as arbiter elegantiarum; this was perhaps a family trait, for we remember his father’s obituary mentioning that Alois was wont to “pronounce authoritatively on any matter that came to his notice.” At other times he just listened, hulked over his work on the long oak table. …
After a couple of months in which the postcard operation worked as planned, something went wrong, but, alas, we do not know what truly happened. Out of the blue, one day Hanisch failed to find his associate at the oak table. Hitler had left the building accompanied by his Jewish friend Josef Neumann: rumour had it that they planned to emigrate to Germany. When they eventually returned, a week later, Hitler vowed that they had only been on a protracted sightseeing trip through the capital. It would seem possible that Hitler and Neumann had tried to open a business sideline: due to the latter’s familiarity with the Jewish side of Vienna’s art trade, Neumann might have been a better business agent than Hanisch. After a week they were back, but Hitler appeared penniless and self-absorbed as if shocked. His personal relations to both Hanisch and Neumann, who left the hostel on July 12, 1910, were to end soon. (29)
Could the incident be explored, it might offer tantalizing insights. Helene Hanfstaengl, society-sage and wife of Hitler’s first foreign-press agent Ernst Hanfstaengl – and a no-nonsense woman in her own right – reported that Hitler told her more than once that his loathing of Jews was “a personal thing“, and that the genesis of this hate occurred in Vienna. Adolf’s sister Paula later testified to her opinion that his “failure in painting was only due to the fact that trade in works of art was in Jewish hands.” (30)
Perhaps this is the proper place to inquire into the reality of Hitler’s anti-Semitism during the Männerheim years. Hanisch reports, not happily, that at least three Jewish hostel occupants were Hitler’s friends, the aforementioned Neumann, Simon Robinson, born 1864 in Galicia, a locksmith’s assistant, and Siegfried Löffner, born 1872 in Moravia, a salesman. (31) Another witness from the men’s hostel, Karl Honisch [with ‘o’, not to be confused with Hanisch] mentions another Jewish man, Rudolf Redlich from Moravia, as an acquaintance of Hitler. (32) Hanisch’s discontent was clearly based upon the fact that they all helped Hitler in selling his paintings. Even worse, Hitler soon began to sell his works directly to art dealers, and thus Hanisch was out of game and money. Many of the traders who bought Hitler’s paintings were Jewish (or of Jewish origin): Jakob Altenberg, who converted to Christianity in Vienna and eventually became a rich frame manufacturer, (33) Samuel Morgenstern, who always dealt directly with Hitler and also introduced him to the lawyer Dr Josef Feingold, who became a steady buyer, and another dealer, named Landsberger. (34) As Brigitte Hamann sums it up, it would appear that Hanisch was the anti-Semite in these years, not Hitler. It is true that from Mein Kampfonwards, Hitler knitted the legend of his early discovery of the damnable role of the Jews, and the hagiography of the Third Reich elevated this doctrine to the status of Holy Writ, but, indeed, the sources before 1919 are either silent on Hitler’s presumed anti-Semitism or actually contradict the dogma. It is true that Hitler learned from the socialists that political propaganda cannot allow for ambiguity: there must be one enemy and only one. Yet it would appear, as we will see later, that Hitler did not begin to develop a coherent anti-Semitic concept until 1919 at the earliest.
It would seem that in this autumn of 1910 Adolf gave the Academy another shot. He secured an appointment with Professor Ritschel, the curator, and brought examples of his work, but nothing came of it; either because the professor denied him entry or because Adolf did not have the funds for a renewed application. (35)
From the little we know, the third rejection perhaps did not surprise him any more, but for a time deepened his funk; he became even more of a recluse, neither liked nor disliked by the other hostel occupants, living in a dissonant universe of his own design. …
Meanwhile, he had become an institution himself, a part of the hostel’s inventory. His demeanour had changed somewhat, and he had recovered some of his old confidence: to the fellow occupants that clustered around the oak table and admired his work in statu nascendi, he confessed that he was only toying around; that he had not yet learned how to paint properly, that they should not take these efforts too seriously. In 1944, he admitted to photographer Heinrich Hoffmann that “Even today these things [i.e. paintings] shouldn’t cost more than 150 or 200 Reichsmark. It is insane to spend more than that on them. After all, I didn’t want to become an artist, I painted the stuff only to make a living and afford to go to school.” (37) If he sought artistic pleasure, he did architectural drawings, not watercolours. In some way, the work gave his life back the element of structure that it had lost when he ditched school; now he spent his days in the sort of dependability developed by men who neither fear nor hope for change.
Yet occasionally the tranquillity was interrupted. One of the reasons for Hanisch’s temporary disappearance from the hostel had been money: Hitler had finished a better than usual painting of the parliament building, which Hanisch, as usually, did sell but, inexplicably, forgot to give Hitler the share and vanished without a trace. On August 4, 1910, Siegfried Löffner, who knew about the affair, recognized Hanisch on the street, and, after attempting to convince Hanisch to pay his debt, an argument ensued. Eventually, the police arrived, and Hanisch was detained because he could not establish his identity. Löffner then filed the following statement at the Wieden, IVth District, police station:
Siegfried Löffner, Agent, XXth District, 27 Meldemannstrasse, states: “I learned from a painter at the men’s hostel that the arrested man [Hanisch] sold pictures for him and had misappropriated the money. I do not know the name of the painter, I only know him from the men’s hostel, where he and the arrested man always used to sit next to each other.” (38)
A day later, August 5, 1910, Hitler was asked to appear at the local police station in Brigittenau to give a statement. Meanwhile, the police had found forged identity papers in Hanisch’s possession that gave his name as Walter Fritz. Adolf testified:
Adolf Hitler, artist, b. 4-20-1889 in Braunau, resident of Linz, Cath., single, XXth District, registered at 27 Meldemannstrasse, states: “It is not true that I advised Hanisch to register as Walter Fritz, all I ever knew him as was Walter Fritz. Since he was indigent, I gave him the pictures I painted, so he could sell them. I regularly gave him 50% of the profit. For the past approximately two weeks Hanisch has not returned to the hostel and misappropriated my painting Parliament, worth c. Kronen 50, and a watercolour worth Kronen 9. The only document of his that I saw was his workman’s passbook issued to the name Fritz Walter. I know Hanisch from the hostel in Meidling, where I once met him. Adolf Hitler.” (39)
The trial took place on August 11. It was the first time Adolf Hitler was present in a criminal court as a witness. His beef with Hanisch, however, had been over the alleged embezzlement, not a false identity. That he did testify against Hanisch in the matter of the false papers was simple retaliation, and his testimony played a material role in the identity count of which Hanisch was convicted and received a seven-day jail sentence. But on the embezzlement charge, Hanisch had to be acquitted, perhaps because the money trail or its absence could not be proven either way, which raises the suspicion that Hitler may have lied in his statement of August 5. Summa summarum, Hitler first engagement in a court of justice included perjury and fraud, not an auspicious beginning to his relationship with the law.
By now he sold everything he painted. His choice of subjects had always been classically conservative, some might say boring, and this taste remained with him all through his life. There are few instances in which his small bourgeois outlook on the world becomes as obvious as in his taste in art, and although he lived in a time that revolutionized the arts, he did not pay any attention. He despised or was ignorant of the Secessionist painters, Egon Schiele,Gustav Klimt, or Oskar Kokoschka; he disliked the compositions of Arnold Schönberg, Anton von Webern or Alban Berg, who introduced twelve-tone music and serialism; he never read Rilke,Zweig or Hofmannsthal. All his life he remained a captive of the artistic perceptions of the nineteenth century. Yet his taste coincided with what the good burghers of Vienna coveted, and so his paintings followed the eternal laws of demand and supply.
We do contrast here a few examples of the masters mentioned above – strikingly revealing how deep Hitler was stuck in the aesthetics of the past century.
As one would assume, the part of the conversation in the hostel’s reading rooms that did not revolve around women centred on politics. As far as the former topic is concerned, his old flame Stefanie might still haunt his dreams, or perhaps the elusive Emilie (see below), but he had no interest to mingle in the conversations of lonely men fabulating about the women they’ve known and the monies they’ve squandered, ingredients of fading memories, solitary men mourning irretrievable losses. Politics was a different thing altogether. Since Brigittenau was a worker district, the Social Democrats commanded a clear majority and their sympathizers were well represented in the Männerheim. Yet as far as Hitler’s political ideas, if any, in Vienna are concerned, the little our sources report is contradictory, and Hitler’s assertions in Mein Kampf, again, not truly credible. He claimed to have “learned to orate less, but listen more to those with opinions and objections that were boundlessly primitive,” (41) which would seem to characterize his opinion of the socialists. But no documents suggest that Hitler was at this time truly interested in politics, and, except for his Pan-Germanism, what he truly thought of Jews and socialists we do not know.
In early 1913, a young man from Moravia, Karl Honisch, took up residence at the hostel and became acquainted with Hitler. He was approached by the NSDAP in the 1930s to write up his memories. Clearly, the result must be taken cum grano salis, for he could not allow himself to write anything negative. As it would be expected, he portrays an abundantly politicizing Hitler, yet is silent on details.
“But if finally the opinions he heard really rubbed him the wrong way, he all of a sudden had to contradict. It then frequently happened that he would jump up from his chair, throw brush or pencil across the table, and explained his views in an extremely hot-tempered way, not even shying away from strong expressions; his eyes were ablaze, and again and again he threw back his head to throw back his hair, which kept falling over his forehead.” (42)
Honisch felt called upon to point out the good sides of his then-comrade, who was now head of the government and certainly not a man one would want to affront.
“[Hitler] … used to sit in his place day by day with almost no exception and was only absent for a short time when he delivered his work, and because of his peculiar personality. Hitler was, on the whole, a friendly and charming person, who took an interest in the fate of every companion.” (43)
“Nobody allowed himself to take liberties with Hitler. But Hitler was not proud or arrogant; on the contrary, he was good-hearted and helpful … and [if a comrade needed a short-term loan] I saw him several times starting such collections with a hat in his hand.” (44)
It was perhaps in late 1912 that several circumstances caused Hitler to contemplate a change of residence. One reason was the new Austrian army law that, although reducing the obligations of new draftees to two years of peacetime service, plus ten years in the reserves, increased the yearly intake of recruits from 103,000 in 1912 to 159,000 in 1914 and thereby was likely to prompt increased activities of the local draft boards. (45) It is clear that, by moving to Vienna, Hitler had evaded his draft board in Linz since 1909, when, at twenty years of age, he had been required to present himself for military service. It is obvious that he had no intention to serve in the forces of the detested Habsburg monarchy, and it seems that in this period his plans for an eventual emigration to Germany in general and to München in particular – he had talked about such a move as early as 1910 to Hanisch and Neumann – approached maturation.
Another reason was that he was through with Vienna; he knew the city inside out, like the face of a long-time lover, from the polished elegance of the buildings along the Ringstraße to the slums of the outer districts. He saw the Sword of Damocles hanging over the Habsburg Empire, kept from dropping only by the emperor’s fragile health. But why not set out for the Holy Grail right now? Hitler had a third, excellent reason to wait; as Ian Kershaw reports, at the occasion of his twenty-fourth birthday on April 20, 1913, he became eligible to receive his patrimony.
On 16 May 1913, the District Court in Linz confirmed that he should receive the sizeable sum, with interest added to the original 652 Kronen, of 819 Kronen 98 Heller, and that this would be sent by post to the “artist” Adolf Hitler at Meldemannstrasse, Vienna. With this long-awaited and much-welcome prize in his possession, he needed to delay his departure for München no longer. (46)
In February 1913, the nineteen-year-old pharmaceutical apprentice Rudolf Häusler took up residence at the Männerheim and made Hitler’s acquaintance in the reading room. (47) Häusler was interested in music and the arts, had painted himself, and Hitler took the youth under his wings. As Adolf had, Häusler had suffered under a tyrannical father who, in the bargain, was a Customs official, as Alois Hitler had been. The sire had thrown the offspring out of his house and Rudolf could only visit his mother, whom he, like Adolf, adored, and his siblings in the old man’s absence. To these sneaky visits he eventually brought his older friend Adolf, who, it would appear, made a good impression upon the mother, as Brigitte Hamann found out:
Ida Häusler, who was fifty at the time, a self-confident, educated woman from a good family, was glad that her unruly son had found a well-bred older friend, trusted Hitler, and was supportive of their friendship. Furthermore, she generously invited the obviously destitute young man to eat with them. Häusler’s seventeen-year-old sister Milli [Emilie] soon had a crush on Adi, who liked the comfortable, clean bourgeois atmosphere which resembled that of his former home in Linz. Father Häusler remained invisible. (48)
That we knew little about Rudolf Häusler until 1999, when Brigitte Hamann located his daughter Marianne Koppler, nee Häusler, interviewed her and published her finds in the book “Hitler’s Vienna” [see below], shines the proverbial light on the completeness and reliability of our sources on the early years; all the more so for Häusler apparently was the closest friend Adolf had since August Kubizek. [FN2] Not surprisingly, the fact that Hitler met an Emilie in the Häusler household, Rudolf’s sister, has led to speculation whether this Emilie could be identical with the girl Hitler’s secretary Christa Schroeder referred to in her memoirs; when she once opined that Emilie was an ugly name, Hitler allegedly said: “Don’t say that. Emilie is a beautiful name; that was the name of my first love!” (53)
[FN2] Anton Joachimsthaler discovered the earliest record of Rudolf Häusler in articles written by Thomas Orr for the München “Revue” Magazine, vols. 37/1952 to 8/1953. (49) Orr had learned of and interviewed a few alleged witnesses in Hitler’s old München neighbourhood and mentions Häusler but did not make the connection to Frau Koppler. For reasons that are not clear until today, Hitler never mentioned Häusler, nor did the Popps, the landlords of the room in which he lived together with Hitler in München for almost nine months. This has prompted Brigitte Hamann to speculate whether the two friends and the Popps, for unknown motives, concluded a pact of silence. (50) Häusler had early contacts with the Nazis: Joachimsthaler has him as a member of the NSDAP since June 1933 [the Austrian NSDAP since September 1, 1938], (51) although Frau Hamann cites an affidavit from the Austrian Ministry of the Interior that he had only been a membership candidate from 1938 to 1944. (52) Clear is that he worked for the DAF, the Nazi labour union, from December 1938 on, and was the manager of the Vienna NSDAP office from 1940 to 1945. He died in Vienna on July 26, 1973.
If true, this could indicate that the relation with Emilie was somewhat more, say, substantial than his earlier infatuation with Stefanie; on the other hand, given his penchant for telepathic love affairs, conceivably any Emilie in Vienna could have been the target of his supernatural affections. Frau Koppler reported that Emilie was the shyest, quietest and most sensitive of the siblings, and “gave the impression of being fearful and in need of protection.” (54) That she, being seldom outside of the house and not making many acquaintances, developed a crush on her brother’s elder friend seems entirely possible; reportedly she asked him to draw something for her scrapbook and received, as Frau Koppler, who saw the drawing in her youth, remembers, a Germanic warrior in front of an oak tree, signed “A.H.”. (55) A few postcards by Hitler were later found in the family papers.
Two reasons, however, argue against Emilie having been Hitler’s physical lover. One, the girl would not be allowed to leave the house without a chaperone, and it seems unlikely that Hitler was to breach the trust he received from the mother. Two, the time frame seems to be the wrong one, for Frau Wohlrab’s and the Café Kubata cashier girl’s memories [supra] place the relation with the mysterious girlfriend into the time when Hitler lived at Felberstrasse, from November 1908 to August 1909, not the early spring of 1913, when he met the Häuslers.
Eventually, Adolf convinced Rudolf to accompany him to München, or, rather, Rudolf’s mother, as he had five years earlier convinced Herrn Kubizek to release August to Vienna. Around May 20 Hitler must have received the patrimony and around this time they paid a farewell visit to the Häusler family. On May 24 they informed the Vienna police of their leaving the men’s hostel, without, however, providing a forwarding address. More likely than not this was Hitler’s idea, a cautionary measure to evade the attention of his home draft board in Linz. But because he had not only not registered in the fall of 1909, but also failed to present himself for recruitment in the spring of 1910, when due, nor in 1911 or 1912, the Linz police issued a warrant for evasion of his military service duty on August 11, 1913. (56)
The next day, Sunday, May 25, 1913, Karl Honisch and a few old hands from the Männerheim accompanied the two friends to the Westbahnhof, where not only the trains to Linz originated but those to Bavaria and thus München as well. Quite probably, the two friends bought the cheapest tickets, third class, Wien Westbahnhof – München Hauptbahnhof (Vienna, Western Railway Station — München, Central Railway Station), 5 Kronen 80 Heller each. (57)
Adolf Hitler left nothing and no one in the city that he felt had betrayed him, and set out for Germany – the Promised Land.
The map pictured below was signed by Joseph Stalin and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop on August 23, 1939, when the USSR and Nazi Germany agreed to attack, conquer and divide Poland between themselves. It shows the planned border between Russian and German zones of occupation. It is derived from the Secret Protocol of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, often called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, in which the USSR and Nazi-Germany agreed to split Eastern Europe.
According to the protocol, Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland were divided into German and Soviet “spheres of influence“. In the north, Finland, Estonia and Latvia were assigned to the Soviet sphere. Poland was to be partitioned in the event of its “political rearrangement”: the areas east of the Pisa, Narev, Vistula and San rivers would go to the Soviet Union, while Germany would occupy the west. Lithuania, adjacent to East Prussia, would be in the German sphere of influence, although a second secret protocol agreed to in September 1939 reassigned the majority of Lithuania to the USSR. According to the protocol, Lithuania would be granted its historical capital Vilnius, which was under Polish control during the inter-war period. Another clause of the treaty stipulated that Germany would not interfere with the Soviet Union’s actions towards Bessarabia, then part of Romania; as a result, not only Bessarabia, but Northern Bukovina and Hertza regions too, were occupied by the Soviets, and integrated into the Soviet Union.
The attack started at 4:45 am on September 1, 1939, on the German front – the Russians followed two weeks later, for logistical difficulties.
While the pact came as a rude shock to the world, it is widely unknown that it had been secretly prepared for many months by the Auswärtiges Amt, the German Foreign Office. While they wanted – after the war – to present the legend they had been only doing their job and were certainly not Nazis, their efforts are well documented and I have located them at the Avalon Project at Yale Law School and University. They will be the subject of a subsequent post.
“Every night and every morn, Some to misery are born, Every morn and every night, Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to endless night.
William Blake “Auguries of Innocence”, L. 119
Then as now, the town of München is the capital of Bavaria, one of the oldest German self-governing states – first a duchy, then a kingdom. As European states go, she is of fair to middling size, about 27,000 square miles or 70,000 square kilometres big, slightly smaller than modern Austria or South Carolina but larger than Belgium,Switzerland or West Virginia, and forms the southeastern part of modern Germany. She shares borders with the Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland, and reaches, in the north-west, close to Frankfurt in Hesse. In the south, she harbours a part of the great central European mountain range, the Bavarian Alps, with the Zugspitze peak, at 9270 ft. or 2960 metres her highest elevation (Germany’s too), where, as the saying goes, only eagles dare to fly. . . .
The 19th Century bestowed on the somewhat sleepy town a protracted period of modernization, a side effect of the industrialisation that much accelerated from the 1830s on. The land changed within two generations from its former almost exclusively rural character into a modern industrial state. The first German railway line had been opened between the Bavarian towns of Nuremberg and Fürth in 1835, and only half a century later, in Baden and Württemberg, slightly to the west, Nikolaus Otto,Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz worked on building horseless carriages. The company founded by the latter two, Daimler-Benz, is still one of the finest names in automobile manufacture; Bavaria, of course, is home to the fast cars of BMW and Audi.
Cultural cross-fertilization and a strong artistic inheritance from the Italian Renaissance gave München an almost Italian charm: compared to Prussia, Bavaria was almost an anarchy (the royal family was proof enough, as we will see), but a lovely one and people from near and far came to settle there. The Bavarians still pursue an almost southern tradition of easiness of living, a very un-Prussian flair of dolce far niente. The country prides herself, reminiscent of her tradition, as the purveyor of Libertas Bavariae, Bavarian Liberty; and the land honoured her commitment when, although staunchly Catholic, she provided refuge to over ten thousand French Huguenot, i.e. Calvinist, families, who fled France and the wrath of Catharina de Medici in the seventeenth century after the Edict of Nantes – guaranteeing freedom of worship – had been revoked. The industrious newcomers were an important gain for Bavaria in general and München in particular; a number of streets named after prominent Huguenot families remind of the benefits they brought to town.
In the fourth decade of the nineteenth century, the early reign of Ludwig I, the town began to lose her provincial character; before he had met and fallen for Lola Montez, the King had sponsored a public building program in neoclassical style – the results can still be seen on the boulevards of Ludwig Street and Maximilian Street. The genius of architects Leo von Klenze and Friedrich von Gärtner remains visible in the great number of their designs adorning the town which we all rebuilt according to the original plans after the bombing damage of the Second World War.
With Bavarian charm and a much more gregarious social climate than stiff-necked Prussia, provincial Berlin or mercantile Hamburg, München became a centre of international art and culture by the end of the nineteenth century, second only to Paris; leaving Vienna’s imperial fatigue and London’s faux Westminster grandeur easily behind. . . .
Second only to Paris, München, then harbouring about 600,000 inhabitants, attracted artists from all countries and walks of life, and became, in particular, a vortex for the avant-garde. As far as painting goes, the year 1909 alone had witnessed the establishment of four new artist groups, one of which called itself simply the ‘New Artists Association‘ and included Alexej von Jawlensky and Wassily Kandinsky. In the Café Stephanie at Amalienstraße, one could meet, at any time of day or night, radical intellectuals like Kurt Eisner, Erich Mühsam or Ernst Toller, all of whom rose to prominence after the war. While these artists and philosophers were far too progressive for Hitler’s bourgeois taste, they brought to München artistic flair and fervour unsurpassed until, twenty fateful years later, Berlin entered into the Roaring Twenties. But in 1910 Berlin was a cultural graveyard. Ian Kershaw [Hitler 1889–1936: Hubris (London, 1998), ISBN 0-393-32035-9]observed:
Schwabing, the pulsating centre of Munich’s artistic and Bohemian life, drew artists, painters, and writers from all over Germany and from other parts of Europe as well. They turned Schwabing cafés, pubs and cabarets into experimental hothouses of “the modern”. “In no city in Germany did old and new clash so forcefully as in Munich,” commented Lovis Corinth, one celebrated artist who experienced the atmosphere there at the turn of the century.
theme of decline and renewal, the casting off of the sterile, decaying
order, contempt for bourgeois convention, for the old, the stale, the
traditional, the search for new expression and aesthetic values, the
evocation of feeling over reason, the glorification of youth and
exuberance, linked many of the disparate strands of Munich’s modernist
The Stefan George circle; the scourge of bourgeois morality, playwright and cabaret balladeer Frank Wedekind; the great lyric poet Rainer Maria Rilke; and the Mann brothers – Thomas, famous since the publication in 1901 of his epic novel of bourgeois decline, Buddenbrooks, and whose vignette of homosexual tension, Der Tod in Venedig (Death in Venice) had been published the year that Hitler arrived, and his elder, more politically radical brother Heinrich – were but some among the galaxy of literary luminaries in pre-war Munich.
In painting, too, the challenge of “the modern” characterized the era. Around the very time that Hitler was in Munich, Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc,Paul Klee, Alexej von Jawlensky, Gabriele Muenter, and August Macke were leading lights in the group Der Blaue Reiter, revolutionizing artistic composition in brilliant and exciting new forms of expressionist painting. The visual arts would never be the same.
Here revolutionaries of any ilk and calibre peddled their doctrines and, at the Ludwig-Maximilian University, moved to München in 1826 from Landshut (whither it had been moved from Ingolstadt where it had been founded in 1472), a complete spectrum of political designs was brought to the attention of students and burghers alike. The main campus happened to be in Schwabing as well, providing the students – always on the prowl for new and exotic sensations – with a stage for every imaginable and some unlikely forms of artistic impression. The light-hearted spirit in which even the most outrageous or ridiculous doctrines of art or politics found an attentive audience became the modern articulation of Libertas Bavariae. In the juxtaposition of William Blake‘s verse, Schwabing was clearly born to sweet delight, and unconventional souls from all over the globe flocked to München.
One such unconventional soul was Herr Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov, who was hearing law and politics at the university, where he had inscribed himself as Herr Meyer. Herr Meyer was domiciled in Schleißheimerstraße 106, only a few blocks west of the campus and was better known in his native Russia under the alias ‘Lenin’.
Another unconventional soul, Adolf Hitler, soon frequented the same cafés, pubs and beer gardens in Schwabing, reading newspapers while slowly sipping on a cup of coffee, or peddling his paintings in art shops or simply on the street. Opposite the main University building, a hundred yards past the Siegestor, a quarter-mile of the Leopoldstraße serves as the artists’ outdoor gallery, and until this day the resident painters sell their works there. Adolf was, as we will find out, a bit of a revolutionary himself, but the year 1913 saw him half-frightened and half-intoxicated by the sheer rush of the artistic scene. . . .
Adolf Hitler and his friend Rudolf Häusler arrived from Vienna on Sunday, May 25, 1913, and immediately set out to find accommodation. They walked down Schleissheimer Straße, north-west of the railway station, and, in the window of a small tailor shop at # 34, noticed a small sign advertising a room to let. They went in, and quickly closed a deal with the tailor’s wife, Frau Anna Popp, to rent a tiny mansard on the third floor. On May 26 respectively 29, they registered with the Munich police, with Hitler estimating the duration of their visit at two years. In Vienna, Hitler had alerted the police to his leaving, as he was required to do, but had left no forwarding address; the police file dryly states “destination unknown”, indicating that Hitler was not keen on his whereabouts becoming known. This would concur with the fact that his earlier ‘disappearance’ in the autumn of 1909 magically coincides with the exact period in which he was obliged to report to the Austrian army. He left Vienna, Sechshauserstrasse 56, c/o Frau Antonie Oberlechner, on September 16, 1909, without providing a forwarding address, and did not re-register with the Vienna police until February 8, 1910, the day he resurfaced and moved into the men’s hostel at Meldemannstrasse. . . .
Adolf Hitler had now arrived in the town that would become his principal residence for the next twenty years; the town he was to christen later the ‘Hauptstadt der Bewegung’, the Capital of the [Nazi] Movement.” For a while, the Popps’ became his family; Robert Payne gives us a mise en scène of life at Schleißheimerstraße 34:
Many years later, when the National Socialists were in power, Frau Popp was asked what she remembered about her lodger. Naturally, she remembered many things to his advantage: he was kind to the children, Peppi and Liesel, and was modest, well-mannered, and self-effacing. He spent the day painting and drawing, and he studied every evening and every night. …
She was one of these inquisitive landladies who examine the possessions of their tenants, and she remembered that his books were “all political stuff and how to get on in Parliament.” She also remembered something that others had observed: his solitude.
He seemed to have no friends, lived completely alone [as mentioned above, for reasons unknown, nobody mentioned Rudolf Häusler before Thomas Orr investigated the neighbourhood in 1952, ¶], refused the Popps’ invitations to share their supper, rejecting all their overtures, and spent whole days in his room without stirring outside. He lived on bread and sausages and sometimes knocked politely on their kitchen door to ask for some hot water for his tea.
“He camped in his room like a hermit with his nose stuck in these thick heavy books,” she said. It puzzled her that he should be both a painter and a voracious reader, and one day she asked him what all this reading had to do with his painting. He smiled, took her by the arm, and said: “Dear Frau Popp, does anybody know what is and what isn’t likely to be of use to him in life?” (4)
The Little drummer boy, p.279-80
The Popps liked him. He knew how to behave, which impressed them, for it seemed to imply that, in reality, beyond the mask they were sure he was wearing, he was someone different, someone better than who he professed to be. He lived on his own planet, not necessarily in the known universe, and had no contacts we know about except that a former resident of the men’s hostel claimed to have met him once in München, in a chance encounter at the railway station. [FN 1] He did paint, though, and he did sell his works; we have a good handful of reports by his customers. The physician Dr Hans Schirmer remembered:
[FN 1]: The name of the man was Josef Greiner, who seems to have been a welsher and a blackmailer. In 1939 and 1947, he published books describing his supposed friendship with Hitler in München and Vienna. Both books were banned, 1939 by the Nazis themselves and the 1947 opus by the occupation authority. Cf. Joachimsthaler (8)
… I was sitting one summer evening in the garden of the Hofbräuhaus, nursing my beer. Around 8 p.m. I noticed a very modest and somewhat coarsely clad young man, who looked to me like a poor student. The young man went from table to table, offering a small oil painting for sale.
Time lapsed, and it was around perhaps 10 p.m. when I saw him again and realized that he still had not sold the picture. When he came near me, I asked him whether I could but it, since his fate troubled me somewhat. He answered: “Yes, please,” and when I asked for the price, he put it at five Marks.
My fortunes at that time … were not great, and since I had in my pockets only the little cash one needed to buy the beer, I gave the young man three Marks and my address, on a prescription form, and asked him to come back, with the painting, to my practice the next day, where I would give him the rest.
He handed me the painting right away and told me he would see me tomorrow immediately after the transaction was finished, he went to the buffet and bought two Frankfurters and a roll, but no beer.” (5)
A merchant in hats, Josef Würbser, was visited in his store.
“It was in April 1914. I was manning the cashier post, in the hat shop Zehme at Marienplatz and Dienerstraße, when a young man came in and asked me whether I would be interested in buying two of his paintings. He needed to sell them in order to buy books for his studies.
Since I dabbled in painting a bit myself, my interest was immediately aroused, and I studied the two paintings, one of which showed the “Old Mayor’s Office” and the other “The Old Courtyard”. I liked the pictures, which showed the beautiful motives in the brightest of colours and bought both of them. I cannot recall the price exactly, but it must have been between fifteen and twenty-five marks.” (6)
The jeweller Otto Paul Kerber recalled:
“A young man came into my store one day in 1912 [it must have been 1913 or early 1914, ¶] and offered me a watercolour of the Munich Residence. I liked the painting and bought this and subsequently a few more paintings of the young man, who came by regularly. As far as I remember, I paid, depending on size and quality, between 15 and 20 Marks per picture.” (7)
Little did they know it then, but most of his customers made the deal of their life, for, in the Third Reich, the paintings sold for up to 5,000 Mark. It remained clear, however, that the attraction was the artist, not the work. Joachim Fest remarks about Hitler’s artistic fancies and idols:
His standards had remained unchanged since his days in Vienna when he paid no heed to the artistic and intellectual upheavals of the period. Cool classicist splendour on the one hand and pompous decadence on the other – Anselm von Feuerbach, for example, and Hans Makart – were his touchstones. With the resentments of the failed candidate for the academy, he raised his own taste into an absolute.
He also admired the Italian Renaissance and early Baroque art; the majority of the pictures in the Berghof belonged to this period. His favourites were a half-length nude by Bordone, the pupil of Titian, and a large coloured sketch by Tiepolo. On the other hand, he rejected the painters of the German renaissance because of their austerity.
As the pedantic faithfulness of his own watercolours might suggest, he always favoured craftsmanlike precision. He liked the early Lovis Corinth but regarded Corinth’s brilliant later work, created in a kind of ecstasy of old age, with pronounced irritation and banned him from the museums. Significantly, he also loved sentimental genre paintings, like the winebibing monks and fat tavern keepers of Eduard Grützner. In his youth, he told his entourage, it had been his dream someday to be successful enough to be able to afford a genuine Grützner. Later, many works by this painter hung in his Munich apartment on Prinzregentenstraße.
Alongside them, he put gentle, folksy idylls by Spitzweg, a portrait of Bismarck by Lenbach, a park scene by Anselm von Feuerbach, and one of the many variations of Sin by Franz von Stuck. In the “Plan for a German National Gallery,” which he had sketched on the first page of his 1925 sketchbook, these same painters appear, together with names like Overbeck, Moritz von Schwind, Hans von Martes, Defregger, Boecklin, Piloty, Leibl, and, finally, Adolph von Menzel, to whom he assigned no fewer than five rooms in the gallery. (9)
His business increased slowly, he obtained steady customers, and some actually ordered in advance. The chemist Dr Schnell, who had a shop at Sendlinger Straße 42 near the city centre and a chemical factory in the northern district of Milbertshofen, (10) remembered that one day a poor young painter came in…
… who apparently had been told by somebody that I had previously helped poor artists. He asked for a bit of support. “I am an architectural painter,” the young man said and offered to paint a small picture for me. On inquiry, he stated his name as Hitler, he was Austrian and in town to become a painter.
“Well then, please paint me the Asam Church next door,” Dr Schnell said. “After eight or ten days, Hitler brought a small painting of the Asam Church, which was surprisingly well done. I paid him the agreed-on Twenty Marks and bought a few more of his paintings, which he always delivered on time. I was also able to pass on further orders, which I received from my acquaintances that saw the picture of the Asam Church. … Then the First World War intervened, and Hitler and the paintings were forgotten. …
When Hitler entered the political scene after the Great War, I wanted to find out whether the politician Adolf Hitler was indeed identical with the pre-war painting student. So once I briefly went to the Hofbräuhaus, where Hitler was addressing a rally and established that he was indeed the same man whose paintings I had bought. …
Much later, after the Nazis came to power, I was once invited by Hitler to the Four Seasons Hotel. He asked how I was doing and how the paintings were, and whether he could do me a favour. One time, between 1934 and 1936, a man from the staff of the “Führer’s Deputy” Hess visited me in the office by the shop, in which Hitler’s town paintings hung, and inquired whether Hess, who was interested in the paintings, could come and see them. Hess then did show up, with two or three other gentlemen, and viewed the pictures. … Later some party office asked for my permission to make photocopies of the paintings, for the party archive, which I granted.” (11)
Based on the testimonies of Hitler’s customers and Frau Popp, who said that he produced a painting every two or three days, Anton Joachimsthaler computed that if he sold, say, ten paintings a month, he could live rather well. In his municipal sales licence, which he needed to peddle his paintings legally and which doubled as a tax form, he entered sales of approximately one hundred Mark per month, which probably was the lowest number he could get away with. Even if he initially earned less than the fifteen or twenty marks that seem to have become the norm after a few months, he must have earned between 150 and 200 Marks per month soon. This was rather decent, compared to the wages of a normal worker, who at this time in München earned between 96 and 116 Marks but had to provide for his family, too. (12)
As in Vienna, it seems that Hitler had more money than he let on, and his professions of poverty in “Mein Kampf” ought to be taken with a large spoonful of salt. Even if it is true that he, as he later claimed, often had only one Mark for his lunch or dinner, this amount must be set in relation to the prices of the time, which were very low. A litre of beer, approximately two pints, was 30 Pfennige (pennies), one egg 7 Pfennige, a pound loaf of bread 16 Pfennige and a litre of milk 22 Pfennige. One Mark went a long way.
As far as we know, his way of life did not deviate much from that of Vienna, which may teach us caution about the tales Hitler later spun of his studies of politics, philosophy and history in pre-war München. In one of the table monologues during the Second World War, he professed art, not politics, as his reason to go to München.
“[I wanted to continue] … to keep working as an autodidact and to add on a period of practical work once I was in the Reich. I went to Munich happily: I had set my goal to learn for three more years and then, at 28 years of age, to apply as a designer at Heilmann & Littmann [a Munich construction firm, ¶].
I would have entered their first competition, and, I believed, they would realize my talent and acknowledge my faculties. I had contributed, privately, to all the current architectural competitions, and when the designs for the new Opera House in Berlin were publicized, my heart started beating, and I told myself, that they were much worse than what I had delivered. I had specialized in stage design.” (13)
None of the orderly archives of these competitions preserved any of the entries Hitler had – privately – contributed, so that, alas, we are precluded from a proper judgement of their artistic value.
His repose in München provided him with a less conspicuous benefit: that he, as he believed, has escaped being drafted into the Austrian army. It was the standard in Austria as in all other European countries, that the young men of a certain age, twenty, in Austria, were called up for the military which kept them, after two or three years of active service, at the beck and call of the reserve units for the next twenty years or so. Hitler had been required to register in the autumn of 1909, exactly when he disappeared. Even if he had had a valid excuse, say, illness, he was required to re-register in 1910 or 1911. Given Hitler’s unfavourable opinion of the Habsburg state, it cannot surprise us that he felt no urge to serve it.
On August 11, 1913, the Linz police issued a warrant for Hitler, alleging draft-evasion. From Hitler’s remaining relatives, perhaps the Schmidts, they found out that he lived in the men’s hostel in Vienna. On inquiry, Vienna reported back to Linz that Hitler had flown out, leaving no forwarding address, but that a few occupants of the hostel remembered that Hitler had spoken of going to München.
Linz thus inquired at München, and on January 8, 1914, was notified that Hitler was indeed registered in München, c/o Popp, Tailor, Schleißheimerstraße 34/111. In the afternoon of January 18, 1914, a troop of the Munich police was sent there to serve Hitler with an Austrian summons for military inspection.
“Herr Adolf Hitler, born 1889, domiciled Linz an der Donau, presently staying in Munich, care of Popp, Schleißheimerstraße 34/111, is hereby summoned to present himself for military registration in Linz, at 30 Kaiserin Elisabeth Quay on January 20th, 1914, and in the event of his failure to comply with this summons, he will be liable to prosecution under Paragraphs 64 and 66 of the Law regarding Military Service of the Year 1912.” (14)
the little drummer boy, p. 282
This was no joke. According to the Austro-Bavarian Extradition Treaty of 1831, he could be arrested and delivered to the authorities in Linz in iron fetters if he did not heed the call. Hitler talked to the officer in charge of the delegation, Constable Herle, who demanded a signature for the receipt of the summons. For the benefit of the constable and his crew, Hitler composed an impromptu apology:
“I missed to register myself in the autumn of 1909 but corrected this oversight in February 1910. At this time I reported to the Conscription Office IB in the Mayor’s Mansion, and from there was directed to my home precinct, the XXth. I asked to report right there in Vienna [instead of Linz], signed some protocol or affidavit, paid one Krone and never heard again of the affair. It never entered my mind, however, to evade registration, neither is this the reason for my residing in Munich. I was always registered with the police in Vienna, [FN 2] as I am here in Munich.” (15)
[FN 2] This was an outright lie; we know he was not registered from September 16, 1909, to February 8, 1910. He repeated the lie in the letter to the Austrian authorities (see below), but, luckily, nobody checked the false claim.
The Austrians must have forgotten him, he said, for he was clearly no deserter. We do not know what Herle thought of the story, but in all probability, it was not the first time in his career that he encountered a suspect blaming an error on the authorities. The story Hitler concocted was fishy in itself, and maybe he counted upon the Bavarian officer’s ignorance of Austrian military laws and procedure; the European nations of this age very carefully kept track of their prospective recruits and did not simply “forget” them; the requirement of registering every change of address had been, in fact, created exactly for this military purpose.
Herle arrested Hitler and took him to the police headquarters. On the next morning, the prisoner was presented to the Austrian Consulate General. It appears that he was assisted there by a consular officer or perhaps a paralegal, for he was allowed to present his case in a written statement. This was not quite the normal procedure; perhaps Hitler’s sangfroid began to work.
By then he had fleshed out his tale. First, he claimed, untruthfully, that he had received the summons too late; then he contended that the problem was the fault of the Austrians, who had mistakenly looked from him in Linz when he was actually in Vienna or vice versa. Eloquent in excuse, and strangely lachrymose in tone, his statement reminds the reader of the wheedling style of his father’s letter to the bishop of Linz in the marriage affair, when it describes his toilsome life in München. Fortuna has conserved the document, which allows us a look into the young man’s vexations:
… In the summons, I am described as an artist. I bear this title by right, but it is only relatively accurate. I earn my living independently as a painter, being totally deprived of an income (my father was a civil servant), and I work only in order to further my education. Only a small portion of my time can be spent in earning a living, for I am still educating myself to become an architectural painter.
My income is therefore very modest, just enough to cover my expenses. As testimony, I refer you to my income tax statement, which is enclosed, and I would be grateful if it could be returned to me. It will be seen that my income is estimated at 1200 Marks, which is rather more than I really earn, and does not mean that I actually make 100 Marks a month. Oh no. …
With regard to my failure to report for military service in the autumn of 1909, I must say that this was for me an endlessly bitter time. I was then a young man without experience, receiving no financial assistance from anyone, and too proud to accept financial assistance from others, let alone beg for it. Without support, compelled to depend on my own efforts, I earned only a few Kronen and often only a few farthings from my labours, and this was often insufficient to pay for a night’s lodging. For two long years, I had no other mistress than sorrow and need, no other companion than eternally unsatisfied hunger. I never knew the beautiful word youth.
Even today, five years later, I am constantly reminded of these experiences, and the remainders take the form of frost blisters on my fingers, hands and feet. And, yet I cannot remember those days without a certain pleasure, now that these vexations have been surmounted. In spite of great want, amid often dubious surroundings, I nevertheless kept my name clean, had a blameless record with the law, and possessed a clear conscience – except for that one constantly remembered fact that I failed to register for military service. This is the one thing I feel responsible for. It would seem that a moderate fine would be an ample penance, and of course, I will pay the fine willingly.
I am sending this letter independently of the testimony, which I have signed today at the Consulate. I request that any further orders should be transmitted to me through the Consulate and beg you to believe that I shall fulfil them promptly.
All the declarations made by me concerning my case have been verified by the Consular authorities. They have been exceedingly generous and have given me hope that I may be able to fulfil my military duties at Salzburg. Although I cannot dare to hope for such a thing, I request that this affair may not be made unduly difficult for me.
I request that you take the present letter under consideration, and I sign myself, Very respectfully,
Artist Munich Schleißheimerstraße 34/111 (16)
This letter is an early and excellent insight into the mind of a person who would go on to become a professional deceiver. It is not only the sheer bending of the facts that surprises, but it is also the style of the missive; it reveals that Hitler knew exactly what to write and how.
The letter reeks of the specific style of the age, of the servile lachrymosity employed when one has a problem with the authorities. The submissive, sometimes brown-nosed and sometimes cajoling tone is, by today’s standards, an all too obvious attempt to induce sympathy for one’s pleadings in the face of a stern bureaucrat, who has the power to take drastic measures. It may well be true that bureaucrats, in general, expect Byzantine flattery, and antecedent obedience from the public they serve (and which pays their salaries), but Hitler’s letter almost sounds as if he were trying to poke fun at the addressees. The style is hither awkward and yonder familiar, eerily intimate at times, as if to beg money from a rarely-seen uncle.
Strikingly effective, however, is his argumentation: even before the judgement is cast, he appeals to a higher court, beyond the transient character of Austrian military justice. His crime is not desertion, he claims, his bane was poverty. He will be using a very similar tactic of confessing to a non-existent charge eleven years later when facing trial for the Beer Hall Putsch. As he will then, he now proclaims his guiltlessness; in the words of Robert Payne, “the higher court will pronounce him innocent, for his only crime is poverty; his name is clean, his record blameless, his conscience clear. He claims that his sole ambition in life is to serve the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and as we read the letter we know that he despises this monarchy and all its works, and has not the least intention of abiding by its orders.” (17)
In the event, his attempts to enlist the sympathies of the consular staff were successful: the consul himself agreed to forward Hitler’s letter to Linz, along with one of his own, in which he states that he personally as well as the Munich police believe that Hitler was honest and missed the registration by mistake, not criminal intention. Furthermore, the Herr Consul recommended that Hitler should be allowed to face the military examination board in the border town of Salzburg rather than to have to travel all the way to Linz. Showing rare generosity, the consulate even paid for Hitler’s train fare.
The military command in Linz agreed, and on February 5, 1914, Hitler took a train to Salzburg. In a brief examination, the doctors found Hitler unfit for combat or auxiliary duty and dismissed him without further obligations. That was exactly what Hitler had hoped for, and he went back to Schwabing and his books and paintings with a lighter heart. In “Mein Kampf”, he later claimed that the lively political discussions in the cafes and beer gardens trained his intellect and improved his adeptness of argument. Of paramount importance, he wrote, was his repeated study of Marxism.
“I again immersed myself in the theoretical literature of this new world, attempting to achieve clarity concerning its possible effects, and then compared it with the actual phenomena and events it brings about in political, cultural and economic life. Now for the first time, I turned my attention to master this world-plague.” (18)
Three considerations may cause us to doubt the veracity of the statement. Since Hitler had never been “employed” in the sense that a factory worker is employed, one may doubt how much he truly understood of the realities of collective bargaining, of accident insurance, workman’s compensation, health care or pension plans, the bread-and-butter tasks of labour unions. Second, at the time he supposedly “immersed” himself in the study of Marxism, the Russian October Revolution or any other communist revolution was still years in the future, and no country in the world had a socialist government yet. Thus, one may wonder how exactly Hitler formed his opinion of the “world-plague” and where the “actual phenomena and events” occurred which he said he observed. It appears much more likely that these parts of “Mein Kampf” – written not before 1924 – represent hindsight, and that he afforded himself prescient clairvoyance of the evils of Marxism as early proof of his political genius. Thirdly, it is questionable how much free time painting and selling the pictures left him.
But he came to like Munich as much as he of late despised Vienna. The townspeople had an easy way of living, Hitler liked the Bavarian dialect, which he had picked up as a child in Passau, and the racial and lingual hodgepodge of Vienna that he had learned to detest was completely absent. Even in the very cold winter of 1913/14, when fewer customers than usual could be found on the snow-covered streets and empty beer gardens, he was still high in spirits; Munich continued to shine. [FN 3] Yet it is clear that he did not partake in the social or political life of the town; not a single document, no newspaper clip mentions his name. With the exception of Rudolf Häusler, we know of no other acquaintances. In the last sixty years, all likely archives have been searched: we have, for example, even a letter of a friend, Fritz Seidl, who knew Hitler during the one year at the boarding-house of Frau Sekira in Linz, when they were in first grade at the Unterrealschule; but nothing from Munich – but not a single photograph. (19) In a well-known paragraph of “Mein Kampf”, Hitler praised the town:
[FN 3] “Munich Shines!” was the title of a popular cabaret program.
“If today I am more attached to this city than to any other spot on earth in this world, it is partly due to the fact that it is and remains inseparably bound up with the development of my life; if even then I achieved the happiness of a truly inward contentment, it can be attached only to the magic which this miraculous residence of the Wittelsbachs exerts on every man who is blessed, not only with a calculating mind but with a feeling soul.” (20)
But when he sat in the cafés and read the newspapers, he could not fail to become informed of the latest international tensions. The Balkans occupied the headlines again, as they had when wars had erupted there in 1912 and 1913. In one of the literary more recommendable passages of Mein Kampf, Hitler describes the peculiar atmosphere of early 1914:
“As early as my Vienna period, the Balkans were immersed in that livid sultriness which customarily announces the hurricane, and from time to time a beam of brighter light flared up, only to vanish again in the spectral darkness.But then came the Balkan War and with it, the first gust of wind swept across a Europe grown nervous. The time which now followed lay on the chests of men like a heavy nightmare, sultry as feverish tropic heat, so that due to constant anxiety the sense of the approaching catastrophe turned at last to longing: let Heaven, at last, give free rein to the fate which could no longer be thwarted. And then the first mighty lightning flash struck the earth; the storm was unleashed and with the thunder of Heaven there mingled the roar of the World War batteries.” (21)
The steady worsening of Europe’s international relations since about 1906 will properly be the subject of the following chapters. But in a strange way, all the accounts we have of June and July 1914 agree on its perfect weather, which contrasted so starkly with what was to follow. On these long summer nights, Hitler was still selling the fruits of his brush and pencil in the beer gardens unless he was busy painting the glow of the sunsets. But he was in his mansard, alone, immersed in a book, on the afternoon of June 28, 1914, when his landlady stormed up the stairs and entered his room without knocking on the door.
In tears, Frau Popp informed her lodger that earlier in the day the heir apparent to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Habsburg and his wife Sophie had been assassinated in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, by a young man called Gavrilo Princip, an anarchist with presumed connections to Serbia.
The archduke, a nephew of Emperor Francis Joseph, had arrived in Bosnia three days earlier to inspect the annual military manoeuvres. After the conclusion of the exercise, the prince insisted on paying a visit to the Bosnian capital, although the local administration had received warnings of a plot. Half a dozen conspirators, dispersed over the town’s main thoroughfares, had been waiting for the royal couple, but it was only dumb luck that Princip met the open royal carriage backing out slowly from the wrong end of a one-way street, unguarded. He fired a pistol twice and killed both the archduke and his wife.
Hitler ran down the staircase and joined the crowds that assembled on the streets. In Vienna, a mob already beleaguered the Serbian Embassy. The news from Sarajevo was the sensation of the year.