Hitler's father Alois Hitler Sr. (1837–1903) was the illegitimate child of Maria Anna Schicklgruber. The baptismal register did not show the name of his father, and Alois initially bore his mother's surname Schicklgruber. In 1842, Johann Georg Hiedler married Alois's mother Maria Anna. Alois was brought up in the family of Hiedler's brother, Johann Nepomuk Hiedler. In 1876, Alois was legitimated and the baptismal register changed by a priest to register Johann Georg Hiedler as Alois's father (recorded as "Georg Hitler"). Alois then assumed the surname "Hitler", also spelled Hiedler, Hüttler, or Huettler. The Hitler surname is probably based on "one who lives in a hut" (German Hütte for "hut").
Nazi official Hans Frank suggested that Alois's mother had been employed as a housekeeper by a Jewish family in Graz, and that the family's 19-year-old son Leopold Frankenberger had fathered Alois. No Frankenberger was registered in Graz during that period, and no record has been produced of Leopold Frankenberger's existence, so historians dismiss the claim that Alois's father was Jewish.
Childhood and education
Adolf Hitler as an infant (c. 1889–90)
Adolf Hitler was born on 20 April 1889 in Braunau am Inn, a town in Austria-Hungary (in present-day Austria), close to the border with the German Empire. He was christened as "Adolphus Hitler". He was the fourth of six children born to Alois Hitler and his third wife, Klara Pölzl. Three of Hitler's siblings—Gustav, Ida, and Otto—died in infancy. Also living in the household were Alois's children from his second marriage: Alois Jr. (born 1882) and Angela (born 1883). When Hitler was three, the family moved to Passau, Germany. There he acquired the distinctive lower Bavarian dialect, rather than Austrian German, which marked his speech throughout his life. The family returned to Austria and settled in Leonding in 1894, and in June 1895 Alois retired to Hafeld, near Lambach, where he farmed and kept bees. Hitler attended Volksschule (a state-owned school) in nearby Fischlham.
The move to Hafeld coincided with the onset of intense father-son conflicts caused by Hitler's refusal to conform to the strict discipline of his school. His father beat him, although his mother tried to protect him. Alois Hitler's farming efforts at Hafeld ended in failure, and in 1897 the family moved to Lambach. The eight-year-old Hitler took singing lessons, sang in the church choir, and even considered becoming a priest. In 1898 the family returned permanently to Leonding. Hitler was deeply affected by the death of his younger brother Edmund, who died in 1900 from measles. Hitler changed from a confident, outgoing, conscientious student to a morose, detached boy who constantly fought with his father and teachers.
Alois had made a successful career in the customs bureau, and wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. Hitler later dramatised an episode from this period when his father took him to visit a customs office, depicting it as an event that gave rise to an unforgiving antagonism between father and son, who were both strong-willed. Ignoring his son's desire to attend a classical high school and become an artist, Alois sent Hitler to the Realschule in Linz in September 1900.[b] Hitler rebelled against this decision, and in Mein Kampf states that he intentionally did poorly in school, hoping that once his father saw "what little progress I was making at the technical school he would let me devote myself to my dream".
Like many Austrian Germans, Hitler began to develop German nationalist ideas from a young age. He expressed loyalty only to Germany, despising the declining Habsburg Monarchy and its rule over an ethnically variegated empire. Hitler and his friends used the greeting "Heil", and sang the "Deutschlandlied" instead of the Austrian Imperial anthem.
After Alois's sudden death on 3 January 1903, Hitler's performance at school deteriorated and his mother allowed him to leave. He enrolled at the Realschule in Steyr in September 1904, where his behaviour and performance improved. In 1905, after passing a repeat of the final exam, Hitler left the school without any ambitions for further education or clear plans for a career.
Early adulthood in Vienna and Munich
The house in Leonding
in Austria where Hitler spent his early adolescence (photo taken in July 2012)
In 1907 Hitler left Linz to live and study fine art in Vienna, financed by orphan's benefits and support from his mother. He applied for admission to the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna but was rejected twice. The director explained his drawings showed "unfitness for painting" and suggested Hitler was better suited to studying architecture. Though this was an interest of his, he lacked the academic credentials as he had not finished secondary school. On 21 December 1907, his mother died of breast cancer at the age of 47. In 1909 Hitler ran out of money and was forced to live a bohemian life in homeless shelters and Meldemannstraße dormitory. He earned money as a casual labourer and by painting and selling watercolours of Vienna's sights.
During his time in Vienna he pursued a growing passion for two interests, architecture and music, attending ten performances of Lohengrin, his favorite Wagner opera.
It was here that Hitler first became exposed to racist rhetoric. Populists such as mayor Karl Lueger exploited the climate of virulent anti-Semitism and occasionally espoused German nationalist notions for political effect. German nationalism had a particularly widespread following in the Mariahilf district, where Hitler lived. Georg Ritter von Schönerer became a major influence on Hitler. He also developed an admiration for Martin Luther. Hitler read local newspapers such as Deutsches Volksblatt that fanned prejudice and played on Christian fears of being swamped by an influx of Eastern European Jews. He read newspapers and pamphlets that published the thoughts of philosophers and theoreticians such as Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, Gustave Le Bon and Arthur Schopenhauer.
The origin and development of Hitler's anti-Semitism remains a matter of debate. His friend, August Kubizek, claimed that Hitler was a "confirmed anti-Semite" before he left Linz. However, historian Brigitte Hamann describes Kubizek's claim as "problematical". While Hitler states in Mein Kampf that he first became an anti-Semite in Vienna, Reinhold Hanisch, who helped him sell his paintings, disagrees. Hitler had dealings with Jews while living in Vienna. Historian Richard J. Evans states that "historians now generally agree that his notorious, murderous anti-Semitism emerged well after Germany's defeat [in World War I], as a product of the paranoid "stab-in-the-back" explanation for the catastrophe".
Hitler received the final part of his father's estate in May 1913 and moved to Munich, Germany. Hitler was called up for conscription into the Austro-Hungarian Army, so he journeyed to Salzburg on 5 February 1914 for medical assessment. After he was deemed by the medical examiners as unfit for service, he returned to Munich. Hitler later claimed that he did not wish to serve the Habsburg Empire because of the mixture of races in its army and his belief that the collapse of Austria-Hungary was imminent.
World War I
Hitler (far right, seated
) with his army comrades of the Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment
16 (c. 1914–18)
In August 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, Hitler was living in Munich and voluntarily enlisted in the Bavarian Army. According to a 1924 report by the Bavarian authorities, allowing Hitler to serve was almost certainly an administrative error, since as an Austrian citizen, he should have been returned to Austria. Posted to the Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment 16 (1st Company of the List Regiment), he served as a dispatch runner on the Western Front in France and Belgium, spending nearly half his time at the regimental headquarters in Fournes-en-Weppes, well behind the front lines. He was present at the First Battle of Ypres, the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras, and the Battle of Passchendaele, and was wounded at the Somme. He was decorated for bravery, receiving the Iron Cross, Second Class, in 1914. On a recommendation by Lieutenant Hugo Gutmann, Hitler's Jewish superior, he received the Iron Cross, First Class on 4 August 1918, a decoration rarely awarded to one of Hitler's Gefreiter rank. He received the Black Wound Badge on 18 May 1918.
Adolf Hitler as a soldier during World War I (1914–1918)
During his service at headquarters, Hitler pursued his artwork, drawing cartoons and instructions for an army newspaper. During the Battle of the Somme in October 1916, he was wounded in the left thigh when a shell exploded in the dispatch runners' dugout. Hitler spent almost two months in hospital at Beelitz, returning to his regiment on 5 March 1917. On 15 October 1918, he was temporarily blinded in a mustard gas attack and was hospitalised in Pasewalk. While there, Hitler learned of Germany's defeat, and—by his own account—upon receiving this news, he suffered a second bout of blindness.
Hitler described the war as "the greatest of all experiences", and was praised by his commanding officers for his bravery. His wartime experience reinforced his German patriotism and he was shocked by Germany's capitulation in November 1918. His bitterness over the collapse of the war effort began to shape his ideology. Like other German nationalists, he believed the Dolchstoßlegende (stab-in-the-back myth), which claimed that the German army, "undefeated in the field", had been "stabbed in the back" on the home front by civilian leaders, Jews, and Marxists, later dubbed the "November criminals".
The Treaty of Versailles stipulated that Germany must relinquish several of its territories and demilitarise the Rhineland. The treaty imposed economic sanctions and levied heavy reparations on the country. Many Germans saw the treaty as an unjust humiliation—they especially objected to Article 231, which they interpreted as declaring Germany responsible for the war. The Versailles Treaty and the economic, social, and political conditions in Germany after the war were later exploited by Hitler for political gain.