Early life and education
Hobsbawm was born in 1917 in Alexandria, Egypt. His father was Leopold Percy Hobsbaum (né Obstbaum), a merchant from the East End of London of Polish Jewish descent. His mother was Nelly Hobsbaum (née Grün), who was from a middle-class Austrian Jewish family. Eric's early childhood was spent in Vienna, Austria and Berlin, Germany. A clerical error at birth altered his surname from Hobsbaum to Hobsbawm. Although the family lived in German-speaking countries, Eric grew up speaking English as his first language. His childhood spent in Austria and Germany also created the widespread belief that Hobsbawm was a refugee who had left Germany for England in 1933, though he was English by birth because of his father.
In 1929, when Hobsbawm was 12, his father died, and he started contributing to his family's support by working as an au pair and English tutor. Upon the death of their mother in 1931, he and Nancy were adopted by their maternal aunt, Gretl, and paternal uncle, Sidney, who married and had a son named Peter. Hobsbawm was a student at the Prinz Heinrich-Gymnasium Berlin (today Friedrich-List-School) when the Nazi Party came to power in 1933. That year the family moved to London, where Hobsbawm enrolled in St Marylebone Grammar School (now defunct).
Hobsbawm attended King's College, Cambridge, from 1936, where he joined the Communist Party "in the form of the university's Socialist Club." He also took a double-starred first in History and was elected to the Cambridge Apostles. He received a doctorate (PhD) in History from Cambridge University for his dissertation on the Fabian Society. During the Second World War, he served in the Royal Engineers and the Army Educational Corps.