What was Hitler Like as a Child? And was His Grandfather Really Jewish?
While just about everyone is abundantly familiar with Adolf Hitler’s exploits in the latter half of his life, an often missed part of the once proclaimed “German Messiah’s” history is that of his childhood. So just how did this “boy like any other” grow into arguably one of the most reviled individuals in the history of humanity? Well, put on your lederhosen and grab your machete and time machine, because we are going to be talking about baby hitler, who his parents were, whether he was actually Jewish, the exploits of his youth, what he was like as a child, his creepy high school crush, and much. much more.
Let’s dive into it all shall we?
Adolf Hitler was born in 1889, fittingly for a future bohemian-esk homeless artist, on April the 20th. As for the individuals who changed the world by having sex one time about nine months earlier, these were one Alois and Klara Hitler.
As for Alois, his own origin story is the subject of considerable debate owing to the three primary possibilities being he was either the son of a Jewish man or his wife’s uncle or cousin.
On this, Alois’ mother, Maria Anna Schicklgruber was a poor, unmarried 42 year old servant when she gave birth to Alois on June 7, 1837. When the parish priest asked for the name of the man who had ledered her hosen, she declined to give it, and, thus, Alois was born Alois Schicklgruber.
…And I think we can all agree it’s quite unfortunate he wouldn’t go on to keep that name, as accusing people of being a Schicklgruber on the internet sounds a lot more amusing than a “Hitler”. And to be honest, the thought of a bunch of Nazis running around trying to keep a straight face when saying “Heil Schicklgruber” is endlessly amusing to us. And we’re going to conjecture this may have stopped Adolf’s rise to power altogether. Hitler himself would later remark one of the best things his father ever did for him was to change his last name.
More on this name change in a bit and whether it gives some indication of who Alois’ real father was.
But for now, little did Maria know that her choice to not list the father would someday kick off countless thousands of internet arguments, and see some academics devote parts of their careers to try to figure out whose baby batter she used to make Alois.
On all this, one popular hypothesis on the interwebs is that Hitler’s grandfather was a Jewish man by the name of Leopold Frankenberger. However, most historians dismiss this as there is quite literally not once shred of evidence to support the notion outside of the claim of one Hans Frank, who for a time was the Governor-General of occupied Poland where he was overseeing the mass murder of over 4 million people during his time in office there. Shortly before his execution for these crimes, Frank would claim Hitler had asked him to quietly investigate Hitler’s lineage to try to track down who his biological grandfather was. Frank says he did so and claims Hitler’s grandmother was working for a Jewish man named Leopold Frankenberger at the time she got pregnant with his father. And, curiously, that she had received money from him for some 14 years after Alois was born, with it conjectured that he paid her during this time lest she reveal he’d knocked her up. Thus, if this were true, it would make Hitler’s grandfather a Jew.
Naturally, unlike internet commenters, historians since have dug deep on this one, and haven’t been able to find record of anything of the sort, not even of any Frankenberger living anywhere near there during that period, let alone evidence of such a mythical man being Jewish. Not only that, Jews had been expelled from the region for a few centuries up to that point, only permitted to return a few decades after Alois was born, making it even more unlikely that, regardless of name, she was impregnated by a Jewish man. On top of that, several parts of his story have been proven to be incorrect.
But, I mean, if you can’t trust the word of a mass murdering Nazi about to be executed for war crimes few others in history have managed to match, and probably pretty pissed at his former boss for him being in that position at the time, who can you trust?
The generally considered far more likely father of Alois was one of the brothers Johann Georg Hiedler or Johann Nepomuk Hiedler. As for Georg, he would go on to marry Maria Schicklgruber when Alois was five. Further, a couple decades after Georg’s death, Alois and Georg’s brother Nepomuk would, in 1876 when Alois was 39 years old, officially claim Georg and Alois were biologically father and son. With the help of a couple family members corroborating the notion, they got the Church to recognize this on the birth certificate, hence the name change. However, for what reason isn’t clear, the spelling when the switch was made was changed from Hiedler to Hitler.
Some, however, conjecture the real father was not Georg, but his brother Nepomuk. The speculation on this one comes from the fact that when Maria died when Alois was 10, rather than stay with Georg, Alois went to live with and was raised by Nepomuk. Further, when Nepomuk died, he also left Alois most of his estate in his will. Thus, some conjecture that Nepomuk was the real father and had never claimed the boy as his own officially because he was married to one Eva Maria when Alois was born.
That said, at the time the two had the birth certificate changed, Nepomuk’s wife had been dead for a few years. And as for the official reason given by the family for why Nepomuk, not Georg, had raised Alois, at the time of Alois’ mother’s death, Georg was financially destitute, and deemed not capable of caring for the boy because of it. Further, now a bachelor at a time men rarely had much to do with day to day raising of children, having his brother’s wife help raise the boy would have likely been deemed preferable.
And as for Alois’ being willed most of Nepomuk’s estate upon his death, Nepomuk otherwise had only daughters. Thus, it is speculated that as Nepomuk had no male heir, and as he had more or less raised Alois, he chose Alois for this role, which also appears to have been the motivation to get his birth certificate changed so that Alois could carry on his name as well.
Of course, from all this, it’s entirely possible that neither of Johann Georg nor Johann Nepomuk Heidler were actually Alois’ biological father, and they had simply wanted to get the name right for the legacy. But if so, and the father was anyone else, then it is truly lost to history as no viable alternative is known.
But either way, with what is known, most historians generally consider that one of the brothers was Alois’ father, with the only matter of significance as to which one being that Alois’ future third wife and mother to Adolf Hitler, Klara, was Nepomuk’s granddaughter.
So if Nepomuk was Alois’ father, that would make Klara Alois’s niece and, interesting to note, the couple apparently did call each other niece and uncle while they were together. Of course, things don’t get much better if Alois was Georg’s son either, as this would have made Nepomuk both Adolf’s great grandfather and grandfather. *SAM: cue hillbilly banjo music here :-)*
And, in fact, how closely related Alois and Klara were officially caused them some issue. You see, after some time of Klara being Alois’ mistress while he was married to his second wife Franziska Matzelsberger, Franziska died. At this point, Alois and Klara decided to get hitched immediately, as she was pregnant at the time by Alois. But the church wouldn’t allow it at first because of their supposed biological relationship.
In any event, as a boy Alois would apprentice as a cobbler. But after advancing his skills in the trade in Vienna for about five years, at the age of 18 in 1855, he applied for and got a job with the Imperial Finance Ministry as a customs service clerk, and ultimately worked his way up to a senior customs official, taking himself and his family from relatively poor to upper middle class. A quite significant accomplishment in the region at the time, especially for someone with so little education.
As for marriages, Alois was married three times as alluded to, the first when he was 36 and the woman in question, Anna Glassel, was 50, with the marriage apparently primarily for her money and the fact that she was the daughter of one of his bosses. They were ultimately separated 7 years later owing to Alois’ countless affairs. During the marriage, he also had fathered at least one son with another woman, the aforementioned Franziska Maltselberger, which wasn’t even his first known illegitimate child. But in any event, after his first wife died in 1883, about a year after the birth of his son, Alois Jr, with Franziska, the then 45 year old Alois went ahead and married the 21 year old Franziska, as previously noted. He then knocked her up right quick again, with their second child, Angela, born just two months after they got married.
On the side, he also seems to have continued to have countless affairs, apparently taking to heart the age old adage of any good store shelf restocker- “See a hole, fill a hole.”
Which brings us once again to his third wife, Klara, who was 16 when she found herself working for Alois when he was still married to his first wife. Later, she was fired when his future second wife, but current mistress, demanded he get rid of the servant girl. However, once wife #2 got sick with tuberculosis, Klara was re-hired as a housekeeper and caretaker for Alois and Franziska’s children. At this point, and possibly before, Alois was apparently like “Don’t mind if I do!” and began sleeping with his niece or cousin Klara, who got pregnant with the couple’s first child, Gustav, right around when Franziska died.
And it is at this point we should really acknowledge how much this generation of the Hitler family could have had their own reality TV show.
But going back to Alois’ and Klara’s issues with getting married, they tried basically immediately upon wife #2’s death, but were denied on account of their supposed genetic relationship being too close. Thus, Alois had to apply for a waiver from the church, which was granted and the two were quickly married after on January 7, 1885.
Unfortunately for Klara, things didn’t exactly start off as she’d hoped, with Alois simply going to work right after the exceptionally short ceremony. With this, and indeed, her entire rather brutal and ill-treated marriage, Klara would write, “What I hoped and dreamed of as a young girl has not been fulfilled in my marriage. It cannot be otherwise … but does such a thing ever happen?”
According to historian Robert G.L. Waite, “Even one of his closest friends admitted that Alois was ‘awfully rough’ with… [Klara] and ‘hardly ever spoke a word to her at home’.”
Klara was also unlucky in children, with 4 of her 6 littles dying in adolescence: Gustav and Ida tragically dying of diphtheria only a few weeks apart from December of 1887 to January of 1888; her newborn baby Otto dying of what was reported as swelling of the brain; and her son Edmond at five years old of the measles. The past everybody- where you could expect half your children to die before adulthood as a matter of course, with Klara getting a bit more unlucky than most, with only Paula and Adolf surviving adolescence.
This now brings us to Klara, and what she was like. Seemingly having a very different disposition from her husband, Klara was generally described as a soft spoken, gentle, and highly religious woman. Her physician, Dr. Eduard Bloch, would go on that she was “a simple, modest, kindly woman.” Her daughter Paula would state her mother was, “a very soft and tender person.” She was also variously described as submissive and quiet, and extremely dedicated to raising her surviving children and her two stepchildren. And as to her relationship with Adolf, as you might imagine from a mother who’d seen 4 of her 6 biological children die in their youth, Dr. Bloch would describe, “I have never witnessed a closer attachment.”
As for Adolf, he would write in Mein Kampf, “I had honoured my father, but loved my mother.” And, indeed, according to Hitler, he kept a picture of her with him at all times, and one was even found in the bunker after Hitler managed near the end of WWII to do what so many others had failed at- landing a headshot against Hitler.
This all brings us to Adolf’s origins and what he was like as a child. As mentioned, Adolf no middle name Hitler was born in 1889 on the stoner’s holiday of April 20th, in a town called Braunau am Inn. And for all you time travelers out there, he was born on the second floor of the Pommer inn at 6:18pm. I think you know what to do.
…Maybe just bring another baby with you to clandestinely swap out, as that poor Klara only seeing 2 of her 6 children survive to adulthood already, and having to deal with Alois to boot.
In any event, as for this birthplace, Hitler would note in the opening of Mein Kampf, “It has turned out fortunate for me to-day that destiny appointed Braunau-on-the-Inn to be my birthplace. For that little town is situated just on the frontier between those two States the reunion of which seems, at least to us of the younger generation, a task to which we should devote our lives and in the pursuit of which every possible means should be employed. German-Austria must be restored to the great German Motherland.”
This all now brings us to his youth. Let’s just say Hitler’s childhood was not ideal in some ways to the extreme, but in others at least quite stable from a family finances and opportunity perspective, something that is somewhat noteworthy given that could not be said for most of the ancestry on either of his parent’s side.
But as for the not ideal parts, for all his success in career and rising from the peasantry to solidly upper middle class, Alois was also a noted alcoholic and, as alluded to, an extremely strict authoritarian who by accounts enjoyed beating his wife and children with some frequency. And even in one case, beating Adolf so severely that he supposedly slipped into a coma for a couple days.
Adolf’s sister, Paula, would write of this, “It was my brother Adolf who especially provoked my father to extreme harshness, and who got his due measure of beatings every day. He was a rather nasty little fellow and all his father’s efforts to beat the impudence out of him were in vain.”
Paula also would recount a time when in an attempt to stop one severe beating, Klara draped her body over Adolf to take the blows from her husband instead. She also stated that many times Klara and herself would attempt to pull Alois away from Adolf when the beatings became too extreme.
She goes on, ““If there were ever quarrel[s] or differences of opinion between my parents, it was always on account of the children. It was especially my brother Adolf who challenged my father… How often on the other hand did my mother caress him and try to obtain with her kindness what the father could not succeed [in obtaining] with harshness!”
Of course, Paula would also note when she was 8 and Adolf 15, that Adolf liked to “correct” her in the same way as their father, writing, “Once again I feel my brother’s loose hand across my face.” That said, she seemingly very much viewed Adolf as a father figure at this point, and felt he was just doing his duty in this to help raise her right.
Needless to say, Adolf didn’t exactly have strong affections for his father, nor for alcohol seemingly on account of his father’s alcoholism. With Hitler writing, “I know what a devil alcohol is! It really was — via my father — the worst enemy of my youth.” He would also write in Mein Kampf seemingly referencing his father, “It ends badly if the man goes his own way … and the woman, for the children’s sake, opposes him. Then there is fighting and quarreling, and as the man grows estranged from his wife, he becomes more intimate with alcohol. He is drunk every Saturday … When at length he comes home on Sunday … night, drunk and brutal, … God have mercy … I have seen this in hundreds of instances.”
As Adolf grew, the two clashed more and more. Things particularly became heated when Adolf was determined to become an artist and his father was just as determined that he instead follow in his footsteps working for the customs office. Of this, Hitler stated that the employees at said office looked to him like, “monkeys in cages.”
He would go on, “I yawned and grew sick to my stomach at the thought of sitting in an office, deprived of my liberty; ceasing to be master of my own time.”
And that, “His decision was extremely simple … ‘Artist, no, never as long as I live!’ But since his son … had apparently inherited his father’s stubbornness, the same answer came back at him … My father did not depart from his ‘Never!’ and I intensified my ‘Oh, yes!’ The consequences, indeed, were none too pleasant. The old man grew embittered, and … so did I. My father forbade me to nourish the slightest hope of ever being allowed to study art. I went a step further and declared that if that was the case I would stop studying altogether.”
This all brings us around to academics. Owing to his father’s career and later Adolf’s poor showing in school, he and his family moved around several times in his youth, and, perhaps thankfully given how Alois seems to have treated his family, he was away from home for quite a bit of this.
Things changed, however, when Alois retired in June of 1895 and bought a farm near Hafeld. He then proceeded to spend his days drinking and tending to his bees, as a rather avid hobbyist beekeeper.
This retirement did not work out well for the members of his household, however. Historian Philip Gavin stated, “This meant a double dose of supervision, discipline and regimentation under the watchful eyes of teachers at school and his strict father at home. His father, now 58, had spent most of his life working his way up through the civil service ranks. He was used to giving orders and having them obeyed and also expected this from his children… The oldest boy, Alois Jr., bore the brunt of his father’s discontent, including harsh words and occasional beatings. A year later, at age 14, young Alois had enough of this treatment and ran away from home, never to see his father again. This put young Adolf, age 7, next in line for the same treatment.”
That said, in the early going, Adolf seems to have excelled in school, was a member of the church choir, and had many friends and otherwise was a pretty typical kid. With one of his favorite pastimes apparently being playing cowboys and indians, inspired by the works of James Fenimore Cooper and Karl May, which he read avidly. He also apparently enjoyed playing cops and robbers and various wargames with his friends.
On the note of Karl May’s books, the aforementioned historian Philip Gavin writes, “May, who had never been to America, invented a hero named Old Shatterhand, a white man who always won his battles with Native Americans, defeating his enemies through sheer will power and bravery. Young Hitler read and re-read every one of May’s books about Old Shatterhand, totaling more than 70 novels. He continued to read them even as Führer. During the German attack on Soviet Russia, he sometimes referred to the Russians as Redskins and ordered his officers to carry May’s books about fighting Indians.”
Of this time before 1900, Hitler would state, “this happy time… school work was ridiculously easy, leaving me so much free time that the sun saw more of me than my room… meadows and woods were then the battleground on which the ever-present ‘antagonisms’.”
Interestingly, also in one of the towns was an ancient Catholic monastery which Hitler loved, as well as the priests there. He even briefly considered someday becoming a priest himself, including having some of his boyhood play being make believing towards this end, giving lengthy sermons and all.
However, he also was noted as being a bit of a troublemaker, a propensity that only increased the older he got. As one of his teachers, Dr. Eduard Huemer would write, Hitler was “stubborn, high-handed, dogmatic, and hot tempered, prone to playing pranks on other boys.”
Things, however, began to change after the death of his little brother Edmund on February 2, 1900 at the age of 6 of the measles, in which Hitler is described, in the aftermath, as becoming significantly more introverted and withdrawn.
Of course, this may have not just been because of his brother, as this was also around the time when the boy was to start thinking about becoming a man, and his career path was being decided, and in a way he didn’t care for as noted. In particular, according to Hitler, his father decided he should go to a school which emphasized science and the like, rather than a school which emphasized more classical things like his passion in the arts.
It was at this point that his formerly good marks faded completely. So much so that after that year, he received unsatisfactory marks in math and history, and had to repeat the year, this time in Steyr, some 50 miles away from home. Hitler would later claim he failed intentionally and that, “I thought that once my father saw what little progress I was making at the [technical school] he would let me devote myself to the happiness I dreamed of [at an art school]”.
While Mein Kampf, where he wrote this is full of questionably accurate elements about Hitler’s childhood, it may be the case that this one was partially accurate, given his formerly good marks in school, his very apparent dislike of his father’s chosen education and career path for him, and his equally apparent general rebellious and stubborn nature. That said, this reasoning also is at least partially a fabrication, for reasons we’ll get to shortly.
But either way, things didn’t really improve much over the next four years. While in the new school his first semester marks showed he excelled at drawing and physical education, he once again got poor marks in diligence, and did abysmally in history, geography, and chemistry, as well as failing marks in stenography, German, and mathematics. Funny enough on those history scores, Hitler would later claim that was his best subject, despite this very squarely flying in the face of reality.
Noteworthy here it was at this point that Hitler’s loyalties seemed to shift from Austria to Germany, which wasn’t uncommon for many Austrian youth born and raised along the border at this time. For Hitler, there may have been a bit more to it, though, using it as yet another way to rebel against his father, who was loyal to the Habsburg Monarchy. Whatever the case, during this period, and with the encouragement of his history teacher, Dr. Leopold Pötsch, Hitler began to become obsessed with German nationalism, with his introduction to operas by German composer Richard Wagner, also all contributing.
But to sum up Hitler’s time in school here, his aforementioned teacher Dr. Eduard Huemer, would in 1923 state, his issues weren’t centered around intelligence, but rather, “He was definitely talented, albeit also lopsided, and while not violent, he was considered rebellious. He was not hardworking either.”
His friend, August Kubizek, who he first met around this time, would likewise ring in, “All his relatives considered him to be a no-hoper who shied away from all hard work.”
No surprise then, he would continue to do poorly in school for the rest of his time there, which turns out wasn’t too long as he dropped out at the age of 16, never to return.
As to how he managed to leave school with such an authoritarian father bent on him becoming a customs worker, well, this comes back to our allusion that Hitler’s poor marks in school couldn’t have just been to spite his father. You see, when Hitler was 13, Alois, at the age of 65, quite suddenly dropped dead the morning of January 23, 1903 of a pulmonary hemorrhage while drinking in the Gasthaus Stiefler inn at 10am, as you do.
As for his father’s obituary, it stated, “The harsh words that sometimes fell from his lips could not bely the warm heart that beat under the rough exterior.”
This all left Adolf, though still just a boy, the oldest male in the household, which while today wouldn’t have any significant meaning for a 13 year old, at the time, being the “man of the house,” even at that age, did. However, unlike many in that position, he didn’t need to quit school and go to work to support his family. Rather, between their current assets, his father’s pension, and death benefits, the family was reasonably comfortable financially.
And in the aftermath, as mentioned, he went to a boarding house in Linz where he continued on in school for a time, though was noted, as ever, as being lazy when it came to school, though somewhat paradoxically, was an insatiable reader, which was one of his favorite pastimes when not drawing.
Also during this time, his behavior at school went off the rails. With no father at home to beat him into submission, he pretty much seems to have taken to doing whatever he wanted, with pranks and insubordination against not just students, but teachers being a regular occurrence for him. So much so that there was strong sentiment among the teachers to kick him out. As for this behavior, one of his teachers later wrote, Hitler “reacted with ill-concealed hostility to advice or reproof; at the same time, he demanded of his fellow pupils their unqualified subservience, fancying himself in the role of leader, at the same time indulging in many a less innocuous prank of a kind not uncommon among immature youths.”
By the summer of 1904, the Linz school ultimately made it quite clear they had no interest in him returning, which was the point he switched to the school in Steyr, where his grades were equally abysmal. And, again, at this point, this couldn’t have been because of his father. While he was offered a make-up exam in the fall, Hitler developed some sort of bleeding lung issue, and while he did seemingly mostly recover by fall in time to take the exam, he chose not to, leaving formal education forever at the age of 16, supposedly claiming his sickness prevented such.
From here, he was a young man without a plan really, and proceeded to stay up late, and rise even later, wander the city, visit museums, occasionally dress fancily, with ivory cane and all, and otherwise living a life of leisure.
While his mother and family did seemingly continually encourage him to, you know, get a job or find a path, he instead decided that nothing about that sounded interesting at all. It is known during this time his mother at one point bought him a piano, which he took lessons in four a few months, but sticking to anything for very long just wasn’t Hitler’s thing. He seems to have had a strong tendency to hyperfocus on some new thing that struck his fancy to an extreme degree, and then suddenly abandon it for something else. He otherwise pursued art and poetry, and attended the theater and opera. His aforementioned friend, August Kubizek, a musician, would also state during this period Hitler was obsessed with the works of Wagner.
As for this friendship, much of what we know of Hitler on the personal side during this time comes from Kubizek’s The Young Hitler I Knew, published in 1955. While elements of it are seemingly exaggerated, there is much that seems very plausible given other known things about Hitler. For example, he states Hitler was convinced he would someday be one of the world’s greatest artists, while Kubizek fantasized about being one of the world’s great musicians.
He also states, once again, that Hitler abhorred work, and avoided it at all costs. Kubizek, in contrast, needed to work to get by and so did so. But after work, he and Hitler would wander around the city attending theater or otherwise Hitler just rambling on about everything under the sun, from politics to architecture to art. Seemingly having no real other friends, Kubizek stated, “He had to speak, and needed someone to listen to him… All he wanted from me was one thing – agreement.” And for Kubizek’s part, he, too, seemingly needed a friend and greatly looked up to Hitler, despite being the older of the pair.
Another interesting thing to note about Kubizek’s and others’ accounts of Hitler in this period was how much of an extreme dreamer he was, and how much he seemingly lived in that fantasy world, not just on matters of being convinced he’d someday be one of the world’s greatest artists, despite not putting in the work to become great, but also in day to day matters. For example, in 1906, Hitler and Kubizek purchased a lottery ticket. And while they waited to see if they’d won, Hitler became convinced it was their destiny, and devised an elaborate future for themselves, in which they’d live together with a middle-aged woman to tend after them, while they pursued their respective artistic crafts using the wealth they’d received from the lottery. The pleasantness of this future for himself, combined with his absolute certainty that they were destined to win, reportedly caused Hitler to explode when they did not, and blame it on mysterious forces working against him.
This tendency to live in his dreams more than reality is something noted countless times in his youth by many who knew him, and seemingly was reflected strongly during the later stages of WWII in his strategies and certainty of victory despite for a couple years there reality showing something very different was happening.
But in any event, perhaps unsurprisingly from this life of extreme leisure, this was a period he would describe as “the happiest days which seemed to me almost like a beautiful dream.”
Of course, towards the end of this, Hitler was almost 18 years old, had still never worked a day in his life, and seemingly did need to make some concrete plans for his future as, while his father had left the family in a solidly upper-middle class lifestyle, with sufficient funds to maintain it for a time, it was rapidly reaching the point in which he’d need to find a way to support himself.
Just such an inspiration struck when Klara funded a trip for Hitler to travel to Vienna where he spent his time visiting art galleries and attending the theater, at which point he decided he wanted to attend the Academy of Fine Arts there.
Unfortunately, all was not well at home at this point, as in January of 1907, Klara was diagnosed with breast cancer. When she was informed of it, Dr. Bloch noted, she “accepted the verdict as I was sure she would – with fortitude. Deeply religious, she assumed that her fate was God’s will. It would never occur to her to complain.”
Dr. Bloch then performed a mastectomy, but the cancer had already spread.
From here, Hitler helped care for his ailing mother until it was time for him to leave for Vienna in September of 1907 where he promptly took the entrance exam for the Academy, which included submitting some of his work, which for Hitler included, as he would later write, “a thick pile of drawings.” Hitler did pass this first round of the application process, out of an original 113 applicants, now down to 70 for 28 entrance slots. In the next round, he was asked to draw on various subjects on the spot over the course of a few hours.
How history may have changed dramatically for millions, and thus also countless hundreds of millions in their later offspring- some of us who would have never then existed and others who don’t exist now who would have- had Hitler done a better job on this exam… or a time traveler gone and bribed one of the examiners to take him. But, alas, it was not to be. And the examiners rejected him in October of that year. As to their specific verdict, they wrote, “Test drawing unsatisfactory. Few heads.”
And if you’re now wondering what his art was like on the whole, Emeritus Dean of Arts at Bristol University, Michael Liversidge, would note Hitler’s work, “They look quite typical of an aspiring student hoping to get into art school… He doesn’t yet have much in the way of technical skill, but it’s not so bad that one can’t imagine him learning – especially when he’s bolder with the charcoal or black chalk. But there’s no latent genius here… Probably if the artist was at school today you wouldn’t encourage him to keep the subject up at A Level.”
As you might have picked up from Hitler’s general perception of his own greatness and destiny, this rejection, particularly at a time when his beloved mother was dying of cancer, came as something of a major blow. He states, he was “convinced that it would be child’s play to pass the examination … I was so convinced that I would be successful that when I received my rejection, it struck me as a bolt from the blue.”
When he then inquired as to more detail about this rejection, he was very frankly told by the Rector of the Academy that he did not have the talent for the school. But, rather, the Rector advised him he’d be better off seeking a career in architecture, which, from his drawings, he seemed to have some talent for. Or, at least, so Hitler claims. He also claimed from this he decided “that I should some day become an architect.”
Whether he actually felt that way or not at the time, he never bothered to put in any work towards this end, nor pursue it in any way, including that this would likely require him to, you know, actually get his high school diploma. But in any event, he didn’t bother to tell anyone at this point he’d failed to get into the art school, and he would later re-apply to it the following year, which he also failed that time as well.
Going back to the first exam failure, shortly after, his mother’s condition had worsened, and he returned home to resume taking care of her, something Dr. Bloch stated Hitler did tirelessly day and night during her treatment. But, unfortunately for Klara, none of the treatments, some of which were quite costly and insanely painful, worked. This included things like re-opening up her chest and applying iodoform to the cancerous tissue there to attempt to burn it off.
Finally, on December 21, 1907 at the age of 47, her body couldn’t take any more, and she passed away. Dr. Bloch would state of Adolf’s reaction, “I have never seen anyone so prostrate with grief as Adolf Hitler.”
As for Dr. Bloch and all his efforts, including reducing his fees to try to help the family, Hitler would write to him, “The Hitler family send you the best wishes for a Happy New Year, in everlasting thankfulness.” And that “I shall be grateful to you forever.”
Why these words and, indeed, Hitler’s attitude towards Dr. Bloch are often pointed to as significant, is that Dr. Bloch was an unabashed Jewish man.
Despite this, even during Hitler’s hate-filled rise, he does seem to have taken special care to follow through with what he promised in those two missives to Dr. Bloch after Klara’s death- seemingly making sure the good doctor received special treatment under his regime until Dr. Bloch and his family immigrated to the United States in late 1938. Even after, at the height of his mission of hate, Hitler still seemed to hold Dr. Bloch in high regard, even publicly, calling him a “noble Jew”. And also that, “if all Jews were like Dr. Bloch, there would be no Jewish question.”
If you’re now wondering what Dr. Bloch thought of Hitler, he stated, “As a youth he was quiet, well mannered and neatly dressed. He waited patiently in the waiting room until it was his turn, then like every 14- or 15-year old boy, bowed as a sign of respect, and always thanked… politely. Like many other youngsters of Linz, he wore short lederhosen and a green woolen hat with a feather. He was tall and pale and looked older than his age. His eyes which he inherited from his mother were large, melancholic and thoughtful. To a very large extent, this boy lived within himself. What dreams he dreamt I do not know.”
And that, “While Hitler was not a mother’s boy in the usual sense, I never witnessed a closer attachment. Their love had been mutual. Klara Hitler adored her son. She allowed him his own way whenever possible. For example, she admired his watercolor paintings and drawings and supported his artistic ambitions in opposition to his father at what cost to herself one may guess.”
But in any event, in the span of a few months, Hitler’s dreams of becoming a great artist had been dashed, as had some of his self confidence in that. Further, his beloved mother had succumbed to cancer, and his family was almost out of money. Hitler states, “What little my father had left had been largely exhausted by my mother’s grave illness; the orphan’s pension to which I was entitled was not enough for me even to live on, and so I was faced with the problem of somehow making my own living.”
Naturally, he found a job and got to work…
Except, no. He once again claims, “I wanted to become an architect and obstacles do not exist to be surrendered to, but only to be broken.” Of course, once again, this seems to have been a narrative Hitler came up with later to make his whole story sound more inspiring.
You see, he not only had a little inheritance, but his Aunt Johanna gave him 924 Kronens, which for reference was about a year’s salary at the time for a teacher. All of this was to be used to pursue his dreams of becoming a great artist, and indeed should have been sufficient to start, as in total he likely could have gotten by for a couple years without needing to work at all…
And so, that’s exactly what he did! Not work at all. Proceeding to spend this time pursuing nothing, and continuing on spending his family’s money while attending theater and otherwise living a life of leisure in Vienna.
Or perhaps that is too harsh as he did, as noted, apply again to the Academy of Arts, but failed. But still chose at no point to pursue other art schools or other forms of education or trade, or to get a job of any sort in the interim or the aftermath- occasionally starting random projects, even attempting to compose an opera at one point, only to always quit before finishing anything. Which, ironically is kind of what he did with the end of WWII if you think about it.
In any event, needing a companion to join him, he did manage to convince his aforementioned friend, Kubizek’s, parents to allow Kubizek to leave the family business and come to Vienna with him so that Kubizek could pursue his dream of studying music. This changed Kubizek’s life forever as, actually having some sense of work ethic, this is exactly what he did, managing to work to get into the Vienna Conservatory and afterwards he became a successful conductor. In contrast, Kubizek stated Hitler tended to stay up to all hours, and then sleep until noon, and seemingly never once made any effort to get a job or pursue anything for long.
And apparently there was some opportunity. One of his neighbors stated at one point, “When the postmaster asked him one day what he wanted to do for a living and whether he wouldn’t like to join the post office, he replied that it was his intention to become a great artist. When he was reminded that he lacked the necessary funding and personal connections, he replied tersely: “Makart and Rubens worked themselves up from poor backgrounds.”
Also before and during this time, Kuzibek states Hitler developed an extreme four year long juvenile obsession with a girl by the name of Stefanie Isak, who he never seems to have bothered to talk to in person. And, note here, while it’s often claimed Stefanie was Jewish, this actually wasn’t the case, though Kubizek and Hitler apparently thought she was by her name. As to that, by all accounts at this stage in his life, as evidenced by Stefanie and Dr. Bloch, as well as other close friends he’d have later after his homeless period, Hitler doesn’t seem to have had any real strong antisemitism as would come later in life.
As for the girl, Kubizek states Hitler first became infatuated with her when he was 16. “Adolf gripped my arm and asked me excitedly what I thought of that slim, blonde girl walking along arm-in-arm with her mother. ‘You must know, I’m in love with her.’”
Hitler then took to standing near a bridge she would cross over most days around 5 pm. As to why he never bothered to go talk to her, Kubizek states, “It would have been improper to address Stefanie, as neither of us had been introduced to the young lady. A glance had to take the place of a greeting. From then on, Adolf did not take his eyes off Stefanie. In that moment he was changed, no longer his own self.”
Or, at least, that seems to have been Hitler’s excuse for not talking to her, because other men seem to have had no issue flirting with the girl, much to Hitler’s chagrin. Kubizek states, “There was a lot of flirting and the young Army officers were particularly good at it… Poor, pallid youngsters like Adolf naturally cannot compete with these lieutenants in their smart uniforms… It annoyed him intensely that Stefanie mixed with such idlers who, he insisted, wore corsets and used scent.”
That’s not to say she didn’t notice him watching her from time to time. Kubizek states, “Stefanie had no idea how deeply Adolf was in love with her; she regarded him as a somewhat shy, but nevertheless remarkably tenacious and faithful, admirer… When she responded with a smile to his inquiring glance, he was happy and his mood became unlike anything I had ever observed in him. But when Stefanie, as happened just as often, coldly ignored his gaze, he was crushed and ready to destroy himself and the whole world.”
He also states at one point during the Linz flower festival in June of 1906, as carriages of girls road by, including Stefanie, “Stefanie had adorned her carriage not with roses as most of the others, but with simple wild blossoms — red poppies, white marguerites and blue cornflowers. A bright glance falls on Adolf. Stefanie sends him a beaming smile and, picking a flower from her posy, throws it to him… Never again did I see Adolf as happy as at that moment.”
Hitler would apparently keep the petals from the flower on his person for many years after.
Nevertheless, despite only occasionally exchanging glances, Kubizek insists Hitler felt the two were destined to be together. As Hitler claimed, “For such extraordinary human beings as himself and Stefanie. There was no need for the usual communication by word of mouth: extraordinary human beings would understand each other by intuition.”
When not hoping to steal a glance at her, he was apparently obsessing over her. Kubizek goes on, “for Adolf, no other woman but Stefanie existed. Stefanie embodied the whole of femininity.”
As many a love struck teen does, he also began to invent all manner of things about her to fit his personal ideal, including that she was likely an exceptional opera singer, something he admired greatly. When Kubizek once told Hitler he couldn’t really possibly know anything about her at all, he states Hitler exploded on him, yelling, “You simply don’t understand, because you can’t understand the true meaning of extraordinary love.”
He also stated he knew she had a great soprano voice because, “‘I followed her closely for some time and I heard her speak.”
Further, when something he learned of her directly contradicted something he believed about her, he simply would come up with a workaround. For example, Hitler loathed dancing, and felt she must hate it too. But when the pair learned that Stefanie danced, Hitler excused the notion, “Stefanie only dances because she is forced to by society on which she unfortunately depends. Once she is my wife, she won’t have the slightest desire to dance.”
Not letting this one go, Kubizek states he then quipped Hitler should take up dance lessons so he could dance with Stefanie. To which Hitler purportedly doubled down on his previous sentiment, “No, no, never! I shall never dance! Do you understand? Once Stefanie is my wife, she won’t have the slightest desire to dance!”
As for his hatred of dancing, he states, “Visualize a crowded ballroom and imagine you are deaf. You can’t hear the music to which these people are moving, and then take a look at their senseless progress, which leads nowhere. Aren’t these people raving mad?”
Apparently becoming impatient with the whole affair, Kubizek also claims Hitler at one point planned out an elaborate kidnapping, “He hit upon a crazy idea: he seriously considered kidnapping Stefanie. He expounded his plan to me in all its details and assigned to me my role. I had to keep the mother engaged in conversation while he seized the girl.”
Things got full on Romeo and Juliet when if such an elopement couldn’t be, Kubizek claims Hitler stated, “He would jump into the river from the Danube bridge, and then it would be over and done with. But Stefanie would have to die with him — he insisted on that. Once more, a plan was thought up, in all its details. Every single phase of the horrifying tragedy was minutely described.”
He also took to writing poetry about her, though according to Kubizek, his efforts were often quite cringeworthy. For instance one where the poem apparently described her thusly, “Stefanie, a high-born damsel, in a dark blue, flowing velvet gown, rode on a white steed over the flowering meadows, her loose hair falling in golden waves on her shoulders; a clear blue sky was above; everything was pure, radiant joy.”
We can only assume this sounds better in German somehow…
Of course, owing to the fact that he never plucked up the courage to actually go talk to her, which likely would have been a severe disappointment to him had he done so as she couldn’t possibly live up to the ideas he had in his head, nothing ever came of his first foray into love. Indeed, the only known time he ever seemingly communicated with her at all was a postcard he sent her after he moved to Vienna. Stefanie apparently had no idea who the postcard was from at the time, but said he wrote, “He was going to return and marry me.” And that she should wait for him.
In the end, she didn’t wait for him and instead married one of those officers that had been flirting with her. And Hitler, whether he ever found out about this or not, never returned for her, presumably having grown out of his teenage infatuation at some point.
But bringing us back to his time in Vienna, up to this point we have a young man who seemingly lived more in his dreams than reality; avoided doing any actual work like the plague, outside of occasionally hyper focusing on some project before abruptly abandoning it before completing; was absolutely convinced his natural talents in art would someday make him one of the world’s greatest artists without bothering to put in the hard work that would be needed to become so; had needed to repeat a year in school then promptly dropped out to pursue a life of obsessing over his crush and hanging around with his friend, going to the theater, and otherwise doing nothing productive; both parents dead; and rapidly approaching the point he’d need to do actual work or he’d end up homeless.
Now, if you thought from all this he was bound to end up homeless, you’d be right!
After this second rejection from the Academy of Arts, for what reasons aren’t clear, he quite suddenly abandoned his long time friend. When Kubizek who, again in contrast was successfully pursuing his own dreams of becoming a great musician, left for two months of military training in late 1908, upon his return, he found Hitler had moved out without a word of explanation or forwarding address. Of course, this may well have been because Hitler himself was shortly due to report for service, and was seeking to avoid it, as we’ll get into shortly.
But either way, by the winter of 1909 and 1910, Hitler moved into a homeless shelter, where he, for the first time in his life, earned money, in this case allegedly as a day laborer doing odd jobs like bag carrier at a train station, in order to earn money to eat. That said, a friend and business partner of his, fellow homeless man Reinhold Hanish, would later claim Hitler made this up, stating, “I’ve never seen him do hard work, yet I heard that he had labored as a construction worker. Contractors employ only strong and powerful people.”
Whatever the case, Hitler would later write, “I owe it to that period that I grew hard and am still capable of being hard.”
If only viagra had been around, perhaps much of this negative part of history could have been avoided…
In any event, things would all start to turn around for him, interestingly, thanks to art.
On this, he eventually managed to begin to earn a living via paintings and hand painted postcards, for a time selling them via the aforementioned Reinhold Hanish as his broker. However, after he had a falling out with Hanish over the latter allegedly not paying Hitler his fair share of the sale price, he switched to a Jewish friend he had named Josef Neumann to help him sell his works. On this, Hanish would later claim most of Hitler’s friends, or at least the people he hung out with the most in the shelter, were Jewish, with some of these claims, like with Josef Neumann, later verified. This all once again points to that, regardless of what Hitler himself would later claim, at least at this point, he did not seemingly have any real strong feelings against Jewish people.
But whatever the case here, he managed to scrape by in this way until he moved to Munich in 1913 and began painting similar things there. As for the impetus of this move, he seemingly was attempting to continue to avoid being conscripted into the Austrian Army. However, the authorities eventually tracked him down and he was now in a world of trouble because of this. At least, at first. He was able to talk his way out of it thanks to a letter he wrote explaining why he’d failed to register.
In it, he writes a mix of lies and truth, stating,
“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 kroner and often only a few farthings from my labours, and this was often insufficient to pay for a nights 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 those experiences, and the reminders take the form of frost-blisters on my finger, hands and feet. And yet I cannot remember those days without a certain pleasure, now that these vexations have been surmounted. In spite of want, amid often dubious surroundings, I nevertheless kept my name clean, and 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 only thing which I feel responsible for. It would seem that a moderate fine would be ample penance, and of course I would pay the fine willingly… I request that any further orders should be transmitted to me through the Consulate and beg you to believe that I shall fulfill 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 to hope that I may be able to fulfill my military duties in Salzburg. Although I cannot dare to hope for such a thing, I request that this affair may not be made unduly difficult for me.”
After considering this, they simply required he show up and join the military, which he did follow through on, or at least trying… Curiously, he failed the physical exam for the Austrian army, at which point he was allowed to go back to Munich once again, and the whole thing was dropped.
But his aimless youthful wanderings were about to abruptly end, when Germany threw their hat into WWI when Hitler was 25. And now, somewhat ironically, he finally eagerly turned to the career path his father had so advocated for in civil service, almost immediately volunteering to serve on the German side. Although, being Austrian, he had to get special permission to do so. However he did it, he was eventually in and passed the medical portion without issue this time. And, while he didn’t know it at the time, this, and one particular assignment he got as a soldier after the war, would change his fate, and history for countless millions forever.
This next chapter of the saga of Hitler is coming soon, so stay tuned.
But for now, can we just all stop and appreciate the downright feel good story here of an insanely socially awkward young man, severely abused as a child, orphaned in his teens, predisposed to be extremely lazy and unable to focus on anything for long, all his hopes and dreams for his life dashed at the stroke of a pen by a university admissions board, and then when he doubled down to spend a year trying again, he once again failed- scorned by his one true love, ultimately penniless, living on the streets, with no friends or anyone who cared, who then a little over a decade later shed the extreme awkwardness to become considered one of the greatest public speakers of his region and later the world, and, eventually also one of the most powerful, world shaping individuals in history.
So just remember kids, even when down on your luck and at rock bottom, with seemingly not a hope in the world and nobody who cares, it can all work out if you just be like Hitler…Expand for References
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