Translated from the Third Reich original.
BIRTH AND BOYHOOD
MIDWAY between Vienna and Munich lies Linz on the Danube, in Upper Austria. One changes here to a small branch line on the railway tending north, and comes presently to a beautiful hilly and wooded district called the “Waldgebiet.” The character of the country gives it the name. The foothills and mountains are covered with forest, only broken here and there by the fields and patches of cultivation which have been cleared by Bavarian peasants who with toil and hardihood have wrung a frugal living from the soil in this region for over a thousand years. It has, indeed, bred a sturdy and dogged race, used generations long to a fierce fight with the forces of nature. Every clod of soil, every foot of arable land had to be wrested from the forest at the cost of human sweat and sinew. The country folk of the Waldgebiet have gone back no whit to-day from the toughness of their ancestors, neither in physique nor character.
One observes in the rugged weather-beaten face of a man of these parts, bright defiant eyes like those of a falcon under a rugged forehead, and finds himself in the presence of a typical “German,” wrought by a lifetime of struggle to the temper of stoutest finest steel. The realisation forces itself upon one what it is that has enabled these people to resist the hardships of a thousand years. They have isolated themselves here in the recesses of the forest from easy access, and the race’ has been kept absolutely clear of any Slavonian admixture. In the WaIdgebiet to-day, albeit a part of the racial “mish-mash” of the one-time Austrian Empire, the Bavarian dialect is spoken, and life is wholly German still.
In the Upper Austrian Waldgebiet, utterly lost to the world, lies a tiny village called Walterschlag.
In one of the white wooden houses in the recesses of this forest, and to a father and mother wearing the lovely old German costumes of Grimm’s fairytale pictures, a baby was born in 1672 who bore the name of Stephan Hitler. He grew up in the Waldgebiet, and came in time to possess the cottage and the clearing which had been his father’s, when the latter died. Stephan’s son, Johannes, followed him; there was an Uncle Martin-all “Bauern,” small peasant proprietors of the soil, and WaIdgebiet peasant farmers at that.
Martin Hitler’s son Georg, however, became the village miller. It was but a poor living he made, very toilsome, and with little result. When he grew too old to carry on any more, he had not enough put by to prevent his becoming a charge on the little community in general.
This Georg, however, possessed a son, Alois, with a streak of originality and ambition in him. Something marked him out among the village children. At the age of thirteen Alois Hitler had made up his mind to clear out of the still and lonely forest and see something of life outside and the big world for himself. He bundled his few little possessions together, and set off on foot for Vienna “to make his fortune,” three gulden in his pocket from his mother.
This was in the year 1850. We see a sturdy youngster clad in short leathern breeks, curiously laced at the knee, with green suspenders and an embroidered band across the breast over a linen shirt, low thick heavy nail-studded shoes, and a green Jäger hat with a tuft of chamois hair – a “Gemsbart” – in it, trudging through the sombre aisles of the pine forest as hundreds and hundreds of boys, from Whittington’s time onward, have trudged to the great city with dreams all about their heads.
Vienna in 1850 was a very different place from what it is to-day. The young Emperor Francis Joseph, then only about twenty years of age, had not long acceded to the throne abdicated by his uncle. There had been, in this big outside world, a short-lived revolution going on, and Kossuth’s attempt to wrest Hungary away had already called down upon the Emperor’s youthful head the terrible curse of the Countess Karolyi which was to pursue him, and the strange Habsburg House, relentlessly for nearly seventy years, and who knows-perhaps to this very day.
Vienna in 1850 was the brilliant capital of an extraordinary Empire which was never a nation at all in the same sense as geographical and national characteristics and aspirations made a nation of the French or of the English. Austria-Hungary. was just a medley of races which chiefly detested each other, bound loosely together for the convenience of the rest of Europe as Napoleon left it, and unified only by the fact that the Habsburgs, everywhere, were dominant. The Vienna to which young Alois Hitler came in 1850 was the Vienna so soon to be graced by that strange figure of imperial beauty, moodiness and tragedy, the Empress Elizabeth. He, however, cannot be presumed to have had much to do with the great world of the Ballplatz and the Ringstrasse. At that time and in that place humanity was held only to “begin at the baron.” The peasant boy from the Upper Austrian hinterland was absorbed by the common folk living in the old picturesque, but ever windy Gassen of the working-class parts of the city.
He bound himself apprentice for a couple of years to a shoe-maker, but when his time was out, resolved to try, yet again, for something better. Nothing but poverty and struggle seemed to offer him as a handworker in imperial Vienna.
The boy’s ambition was by no means satisfied by this. Away back at home in the forest it had seemed to him that the village priest’s position was a pretty good one, but now he saw that to become a State official offered still more distinction. Such then became the goal of Alois Hitler’s striving desires to become a non-commissioned officer of the Austrian Customs. With all the purpose and tenacity born in a boy of the Waldgebiet he struggled forward to this end, and indeed, he did succeed at last in qualifying for and obtaining a post in this force.
Years ago, as he left Walterschlag, Hitler had sworn never to turn up there again until he had made something of himself – got somewhere – but now, when this really seemed to have been accomplished the young fellow was proud and free to recall the girl he had left behind him ! So now he said good-bye to Vienna, returned home, married Klara Pölzl, the daughter of a neighbour there with whom he had been playmates, and found himself appointed as Customs officer to the small Austrian frontier town of Braunau on the Inn.
A daughter was born to the couple, and then, a good many years later, came a boy.
Barely two months before, mysterious and shocking tragedy had overtaken the Crown Prince Rudolph at his hunting box at Meyerling in the forest not many miles north of Vienna. The whole German world was still ringing with the scandal and wrought up to a fever pitch of curiosity about it.
To recall it, and in connection with the absolutely obscure and unimportant birth of a child to an equally obscure and unimportant functionary in the Customs Service is to contrast the world into which Adolf Hitler came on April 20th, 1889, with the world as he was to refashion it forty-four years later. An heir had appeared, but it was not such an heir as had disappeared! The consequences of the death of Rudolph were to be as nothing compared to the consequences of the birth of Adolf Hitler.
This little Adolf was a likely youngster, true to stock and type, who throve lustily under his mother’s care.
But few particulars, really, are available about his childhood. The Führer himself has made only the scantiest reference to matters of purely family or biographical interest in Mein Kampf, and obviously attaches little importance to them. It were gratuitous to seek for more, and indeed, vain at present now that the German frontier is closed against Austria, and when the Hitler relatives in Austria are in concentration camps.
No relatives have the same name now. The Reichskanzier’s elder sister, a widow, Frau Angela Raubal, keeps house for him in the Salzburg mountains in the famous retreat Haus Wachenfeld (of which more later). His mother, Frau Clara Hitler, had a sister who married a farmer somewhere near Linz, and it is her children, among them Herr Ludwig Schwatz, farmers also, who are the cousins and relations in Austria to-day.
We know this much, that in the course of a few years, Alois Hitler was posted to a more important town, Passau, at the junction of the Inn and the Danube. Foreseeing, however, that he might constantly be shifted from pillar to post, and being unwilling to incur the expense of removing his household every time, Hitler bought a small holding, a “Bauerngut,” in a village called Hafeld, and there established them in modest comfort. For himself he remained in Passau, perforce contenting himself from time to time with such visits to Hafeld as time and duty permitted.
Here, then, in Hafeld, near Passau, young Adolf grew to boyhood. His mother looked after the little farm, and no doubt the child ran wild about the lovely country-side, played in the meadows and paddled in the brook with others of his age. Hafeld is one of those villages which appear to be bigger than they really are, owing to the houses being widely separated from each other by fields or fruit gardens. The Hitler house stands on a little elevation. It is a pretty, small, one-story house absolutely hidden in an orchard. Another orchard runs up by the side. Like all the other dwellings in Hafeld it has stabling built on to it for one or two horses or cows, and over this is the hayloft – always a happy hunting-ground where children are concerned.
When Alois Hitler reached the age of sixty he was pensioned off. Doffing the two-peaked hat of officialdom, he reverted to the old garb of the WaIdgebiet, and betook himself to his little place at Hafeld, there to revert to the life and occupations of the “Bauer.” Hence his son wrote of him many years later: “So it came about that after a long life of work and duty, my father reverted to his original standing.”
Previous to this, however, the family had spent two years in Lambach, a small town between Linz and Salzburg with some important-looking buildings. Adolf, now eight or nine years old, was sent to school at the eleventh-century Benedictine Monastery there. Here it was that he learnt the rudiments of music. He figured as a chorister on occasions of festive or of religious solemnity, and naturally aspired to become a prior. Hitler, senior, need not have disturbed himself so much about this notion as he seems to have done. New ideas, new contacts, new experiences soon drove all thought of this sort out of Adolf’s head.
It is interesting to recall these singing practices of his at Lambach, though, in view of the Reichskanzler’s well-known passion for music. A good sketcher, indeed, he did become, and a man of immensely wide and deep reading, but the monastery probably represents all the technical instruction he ever had the opportunity of receiving in music. The modern monastery is a widespread picturesque building in simple and restrained Renaissance style, with a deep roof and a well-proportioned clock tower and belfry rising in the midst over an ornate main entrance. It consists of three stories, with rows of eight plain windows the whole length of the façade.
In the courtyard of this institution there is a well with a massively built stone archway over it, the keystone of which displays a shield with a date, 1860, on the upper half, and a swastika below. The swastika figured elsewhere at Lambach, noticeably as the central device in a coat of arms surmounting an elaborately carved Prie-dieu. The Superior here in 1859 had adopted the swastika, and it may be that the force of this boyhood association had something to do with the Führer’s thought of it when designing the flag for his Party, later. But it is well known that his final decision to adopt the swastika for the symbol of his movement resulted chiefly from his intensive study of racial development in the history of the world.
The house in which the Hitlers lived in Lambach was but a stone’s-throw from the school. It was a solidly built well-designed block of buildings on the corner of the Linzerstrasse and the Kirchengasse, facing an irregular picturesque square.
The next milestone was reached for Adolf when, rummaging one day through his father’s collection of books, he came across some bound copies of an old illustrated newspaper of the time of the FrancoPrussian War. He seized upon these with avidity and made off into the fields, to lie upon his stomach in the sun by the singing brook, as was his wont, there to pore over the fascinating pages undisturbed.
The story gripped the boy’s imagination and filled it with heroic aspiration. And to this encounter may be ascribed the beginning of Hitler’s Kampf after union with Austria. The first thing that occurred to the child, poring over the story of ’70? and ’71, was why had Germany to fight alone?
Why hadn’t the Austrians fought too? Were they not also Germans?
The figure of Bismarck claimed a passionate hero worship, and then it dawned upon this little Austrian Adolf that not every German could pride himself on belonging to the Reich! Disturbing as this was, the problem proved far too abstruse at that period for him to unravel. But it stayed with him, and occupied his thoughts and worried him, for there seemed no jot of difference to him between an Austrian and a German, or rather between one German and another German – with just a frontier between.
With the idea of sending Adolf to the Realschule in Linz, Hilter moved to a village called Leonding, in the neighbourhood of that place. Linz at this period was the chief town of Upper Austria, very beautifully situated on an open plain on both sides of the Danube. Ambitious as he was for the boy, he judged it better to send him to the Realschule than to the Gymnasium, deeming it waste of time to spend years over the dead languages, and imagining that Adolf’s newly evinced turn for drawing would be better fostered in the more practical type of school. He had set his heart on his son obtaining a desk of some sort in one of the Ministries, “becoming something,” as he himself had become, and considered everything to that end.
It never entered into his head to consult Adolf’s own inclinations. A boy of his age was not entitled to have anything at all to say in the matter, but just to do as he was bid, and allow his father to know best. Alois Hitler belonged to the old school of authoritative martinet parents, and like many another, was destined to encounter fierce, tenacious Opposition.
It suddenly appeared that Adolf had no intention whatever of embracing the career designed for him. He was going to be an artist! At eleven he decided that, and launched himself with characteristic impetus into a terrific, if tacit, struggle on the question. It was a case of will against will, neither ready to yield one inch. Adolf was lightning quick at school, and learned with astonishing facility. This fact afforded him ample leisure to spend his time otherwise than at his desk. He was forever running about in the woods, glorying in fresh air and freedom, and hardening his resolve never to shut himself up in a stuffy office all day, say what his father might!
They scarcely argued it out. “You’re going to be an official, my boy,” insisted old Hitler, and would have enlarged on the theme. “I’m not,” exploded Adolf, “I’m going to be a painter! ” But it was useless to try and explain. “Never, as long as I’ve a ha’porth of authority in my own house,” countered the father, to which all the reply he got was You just wait and see!”
Here, then, was where the mother stepped in to heal the breach. These altercations, as obstinate on the one side as on the other, somewhat disturbed the peace of the family for more than a year. It was only because he hated to see his mother distress herself that young Adolf would “shut up” with as good a grace as he did. He devised another means of bringing it home to his father that his mind was set on painting and on nothing else. Purposely he neglected his schoolwork in order that the everrecurring plaints of “insufficiency” recorded on the pages of his exercise-books, might convince his parent that he meant what he said – he would never become an office quill-driver. But for all this young Adolf could not help coming out top of the class always in the three subjects which did happen to interest him, in drawing, in geography, and above all, in history.
He seems to have had a teacher in the latter subject with a singular and original gift for lifting it right out of the dreary atmosphere of the schoolroom. At this time Austrian boys were trained to take an interest in dynastic history by way of stimulating their allegiance to the Habsburg idea. Hitler writes, many years afterwards, in Mein Kampf, of his history master with the greatest possible appreciation and gratitude. This Professor, Dr. Leopold Pötsch, seems to have taken much the view of this subject that Mr. H. G. Wells has always claimed for it in any modern scheme of education.
History for Adolf Hitler was by no means a story of the past, of very dead and gone people, and of happenings long since finished. History was made for him the very basis of the present, with living relationships reaching forward to the future. Adolf’s school history began that fundamental and farreaching preparation in his mind which was to issue later in no less portentous a guise than the “Weltanschauung,” upon which the structure of his State is to be built up. He was, demonstrably, a very thoughtful boy. And here again at this point in his development we find the beginnings of that militant nationalism which latterly has so astounded our postwar world.
He has already been cracking his brains over obstructions which are merely territorial and not racial, as between Austrian Germans and German Germans, and now we find him distinguishing between the national feeling of an entire people and a mere dynastic patriotism. As has been already remarked, Austria was never at any time a “nation,” merely the happy hunting-ground of a dynasty reaching back to the seventh century.
Austria existed only for the Habsburgs, as Vienna existed for the Court. All this clarified itself in the boy’s mind very sharply and distinctly. He saw plainly enough that there could be no question of an Austrian nationality to become enthusiastic about in a great sprawling country inhabited by Czechs, Slavs, Ruthenians, Serbs, Croatians, Rumanians, Poles, Magyars, Italians and Gypsies, all in various stages of culture and civilisation some way behind that of the fortieth part of this numerical whole, the German Austrians just across the borders of the, Reich.
It belongs to the history of the period to show how the Hungarians and the non-German races in the unwieldy Dual Monarchy were restive under the administratively Germanising tendencies of the Government. While the idea of nationality and any inclusion in the German Reich was obnoxious to the Austrian Government, which itself did not repose upon a national basis, nevertheless, under the “Bach” system every effort was made to Germanise the Croats and Hungarians most unacceptably to themselves.
The steady opposing growth of non-German feeling and tendency waxed ever stronger and stronger until, indeed, it was this which, together with the growing pan-Slavistic propaganda of Romanoff Russia, set the spark to the gunpowder in Europe in 1914. The heir-apparent to the throne of Austria, the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, a nephew of the childless old Emperor, was hated by dominant cliques in Government circles on account of his alleged pro-Czech and pro-Croatian sympathies, and his suspected intention of admitting Slavs to a greater share of political power when he should attain the throne.
All this, of course, is common property and past history, but to recall it here and now serves to show what were the formative influences brought to bear upon the mind of that singularly receptive boy, young Adolf Hitler. He brought the test of his history lessons under Dr. Pötsch to bear upon the everyday events and current talk of his own world, and unconsciously laid the groundwork for future activities in the political sphere as yet undreamed of.
The thing, of course, only came home to him then in concrete example.
First of all in the village school, when it came to singing the Austrian National Anthem, this Waldgebiet youngster and other intrepid spirits of like mind would substitute a German hymn. Whereupon, instant castigation followed, with the inevitable result of toughening their youthful defiance. And then again in Linz in the Realschule: were a boy to dare to turn up with a cornflower stuck behind his ear – the symbol of Germanic sympathies – the Herr Direktor was down upon him at once like a cartload of bricks, and he was sure of a couple of hours’ detention.
If on the occasion of some local junketings a few poor German acrobats from across the border were to make a bid for popular favour, the schoolboys had to use every precaution not to get found out if they hobnobbed with them. If anybody “peached” the delinquents incurred the disgrace of having a mark made against their names for “bad behaviour.” The bad behaviour, young Hitler soon realised well enough, was neither here nor there: what mattered was his “Deutschtum.” Here, then, and thus early was one point of departure for his universal Kampf.
Adolf’s keen study of the Franco-Prussian War and his intelligent interest in history made him even at this age thoroughly conversant with the politics of Middle Europe throughout the preceding century. This fact must be well realised if we are to understand the schoolboy’s heat on this question of “Deutschtum,” and his ardour about “nationality.” Otherwise he comes before us a prig, as a somewhat doctrinaire and precocious youngster. He was not that, in the least, but a boy of flaming enthusiasms and all-devouring intelligence.
It may not be beside the point briefly to refresh the English reader’s memory of an involved period of continental politics.
The question of the inclusion of Austria with Germany had been a more or less burning subject of mid-European debate from the time of the German Federation in 1815, (when the Austrian Ambassador occupied the chair of the great Assembly in Frankfurt), down to the present day. This loose German Federation of Central European States centred more and more upon Prussia, especially after the PrussianAustrian War of 1866, ending in victory for Prussia. This and the outcome of the Franco-Prussian War altered the position and the outlook of affairs. In 1879 Austria and Prussia pledged themselves to build up a common future, much after the type foreshadowed by Naumann in his classic work Mitteleuropa, written in 1916.
How strange it is, in the light of to-day, to read such a passage as the following. “For centuries the Empire of the Carolingians… has been non-existent. Neither imperial Austria nor Royal Prussia, when separated from each other, were quite in a position to carry on the imperial tradition because each only possessed a part of the original power. This will be so until it (the Empire) is born again out of the union of the Habsburgs and the Hohenzollerns”(!)
In 1916 the old Emperor Francis Joseph died, and the succession devolved upon an unfortunate man who himself died miserably in exile only two years later, execrated for his efforts to desert Germany, and to make a separate peace with the Allied Powers on behalf of a demoralised and exhausted Austria. These pitiable royalties, and the musty old concepts they stood for, constituted the political world in which a boy, and then a young man, was growing up who was to sweep them into such limbo of the forgotten as has never yet been known. Nothing at first but a schoolboy at Linz, and then yet but an individual bit of cannon fodder, fighting shoulder to shoulder in the trenches with comrades as indistinguishable as himself, Adolf Hitler was as yet-to come !
No one foresaw Hitler. If anyone had told Francis Joseph in 1916 that the Habsburgs were even then petering out and that it did not matter in the least ; if anyone had told the Kaiser William hesitating at Spa in November, 1918, whether or not to flee, that the destinies of the Vaterland were to pass from his incapable hands to those infinitely stronger of one of his soldiers of the line of whom nobody more important than his company officer had as yet ever heard; if anyone so recently as eighteen months ago had told the venerated President of the German Republic that the ex-service man from Munich who had founded such a tiresome and noisy Party, was to be the last hope of a country tottering to its final collapse – Emperor, Kaiser, and President alike would have exploded with incredulous and aristocratic scorn.
If anyone, indeed, in 1903 had told the Herr Direktor of the Realschule in Linz that the boy who had just incurred reproof and punishment for appearing in school with a cornflower stuck in his hair-that this boy was to rule the German world, leader and saviour, be too could not have believed….
But so it was to be. And in consequence of all this historical reading and cogitating came the Austrian “Schulbub” by his concept of the value and dignity of strong national roots and ardent pride. Adolf felt himself German through and through: German to the core. He felt about that cornflower as a British youngster would feel about the Union Jack.
It is a very remarkable thing, in view of the more recent developments in Austria, that the proclamation made at three o’clock on the afternoon of the fateful November 18th, 1918, when the Austro-German National Assembly met in the Herrenhaus on the Franzenring in Vienna, should have confirmed to the letter all this passionate nationalistic feeling on the part of the youthful Hitler. “At this hour,” said Dr. Renner (the man who drew up a Constitution for Austria after the collapse of the Habsburgs), “the German race throughout the world shall know that we are a single race with a single destiny.” No answer was given in Berlin.
The German Government there was grappling with the hydra of immediate internal problems. Since then the European kaleidoscope has taken on another pattern, but all this brings out for foreigners the force of the impressions and convictions which went to the making of Hitler’s mind as a boy and youth, and latterly as a young ex-service man.
In order to obtain a little first-hand information about Hitler’s school days, the writer took a trip in June, 1934, to Linz, where he attended the Realschule,* and had a chat with some of his former school comrades. It was no easy matter hunting these up, for most of them are by now scattered to the four corners of the earth.
* In the “Realschule,” chief stress is laid on living languages and sciences.
For reasons easily to be understood, it were unwise just now to offer names. Suffice it to say that these following interesting particulars are as authentic as anything else in these pages. In Austria at present, i.e. to the authorities, it is looked upon as a crime to speak favourably of Adolf Hitler, and indeed, it was highly risky for every one of the writer’s informants to talk to him about Hitler at all.
” I met him,” said Herr A., “in 1901, here in the Realschule. We were thirty-two boys all told, all from the same class of life. There was no private school in Linz at that time.
“Hitler didn’t live right in Linz, but just outside, at a place called Leonding. He ate his midday meal somewhere roundabouts, and was generally off home in the afternoon as soon as school was over. That’s how it happened we didn’t see so very much of him, except during school hours, and playing Indians, when he was always on hand.
“We all liked him, at desk and at play. He was no more hefty than the rest of us, but an enterprising little chap. He had ‘guts.’ He wasn’t a hot-head, but really more amenable than a good many. He exhibited two extremes of character which are not often seen in unison, he was a quiet fanatic. The whole class acknowledged this boy as the leader.
“His favourite lessons were history, geography and German. The history master was often astonished at Hitler’s aptitude for this study. – Herr Dr. Huemer was our teacher for German. He always picked on Hitler for Repeater, that is, something would be read aloud to us and then one of the boys had to get up and tell it again in his own words. As a rule Hitler made the Repeat a jolly sight more interesting than the original.
“He was good at gym, too. He topped the gym class as long as he was at school.
“Hitler didn’t bother very much about what he’d got to learn, only over what he wanted to learn! When things were taught which did not interest him he read Cooper’s Leather Stocking or something of that sort; subjects which he liked such as history, however, he followed with close attention.
“The accounts of battles we played out for ourselves, in our ‘Indians’ games, down by the Danube meadows. Hitler loved this sort of thing. He gloried in a scrum, and always made for the most redoubtable enemy, when the two would have a first-class wrestle. Hitler got ‘all het up’ over this.
“He was very hot, too, like most of us youngsters, about being German. The stricter the measures taken by the Government to suppress this feeling about nationality the more dogged we became. Bismarck was for us a national hero. The Austrian authorities, of course, held his memory in the utmost detestation. The Bismarck song, and lots more German hymns and songs of the same character, were forbidden to be sung. It was a crime even to possess a sketch of Bismarck. Although, privately, our teachers felt well enough that we boys were in the right of it, they bad to punish us severely for singing these songs and brandishing our German loyalties.
“Hitler attended our Realschule here for four years, when he suddenly fell ill. Oddly enough I never heard any more of him until I chanced on his name in the paper one day years and years afterwards. It said he was busying hiniself with politics in Munich.
I saw him again in 1926. I went to his lodging there. He was awfully pleased to hear of old Linz again, and told me not to fail to look him up now and again. So, I’ve done so a few times, and always found him friendly, always the old ‘SchulKamerad.'”
Herr X. was kind enough to introduce me to another “old boy ” of the Linz Realschule, Herr Y., who had pretty much the same account to give of Adolf Hitler. One particular stands out.
“Once,” said Herr Y., ” during his school days Hitler stayed for a little time with an old lady in Linz. This old lady herself told the tale of how the boy was always buying candles, and she couldn’t make out what it was he did always to be needing a light at night. She surprised him on one occasion, and found him doubled up over maps, very busy doing something to them with coloured pencils. She asked: ‘Why, Adolf, what on earth do you suppose you are doing?’ and he looked up and smiled and said: ‘Studying maps.'”
Herr Y. showed me quite a treasure, a little watercolour he himself had once begun, as a boy at school, and which Hitler had finished for him. The subject was a picturesque little mill among the mountains. It was quite obvious where one artist had left off and the other had taken on. “Hitler was the best boy in the drawing class,” said Herr Y., “he used shades in painting which never occurred to us, and painted things so lifelike we were all astonished.”
I went on to Leonding in company with these two friends of Hitler’s boyhood. We traversed the same road that he had trudged to and fro for four years, a green “Rucksack ” on his back containing his books and pencils. For the most part it was steeply hilly, for Linz lies on the Danube plain. Then we came to fields and meadows set here and there with low but massy towers, relics of a Napoleonic day when watch was kept from these over the river below. The Kürnberg towers aloft on the right, crowned by the famous Kiirnberg (Castle) in which the Nibelungenlied is said to have been composed.
We had been walking about an hour when we came upon the outlying houses of Leonding. It is a typical little highland village, only to be found in Bavaria and Upper Austria. In the middle stands the village church, and a few steps further along, just across the street, lies the grass-grown cemetery. Here one discovers the grave of Hitler’s parents.
In the immediate neighbourhood stands the peasant house in which the Hitler family lived. It has often changed hands since, hence the present occupant could tell me nothing of the former owners. Here, however, I came across yet a third school companion of young Adolf. Herr Z. had not much to add. “Sometimes we went after apples together,” he said, “like the rest of the kids hereabouts,” but Hitler never began munching his before everybody else had got one. Otherwise he tossed his over. Sometimes he’d sit on the churchyard wall, staring up at the stars. No one bothered about the boy staring up into the Austrian night….
But to revert.
The tension at home over the question of Adolf’s future was to resolve itself with tragic suddenness. Returning home one afternoon after a visit to a neighbour the father was seized in the street with a heart attack and died in the arms of a passer-by. This was on January 5th, 1903; Adolf was thirteen years old.
The shock had a characteristic reaction on Frau Clara Hitler. She felt herself bound to further her husband’s design for the boy, and so he continued going to school for another three years with officialdom as the goal still before his eyes.
Then Adolf fell ill and was confined to bed for some considerable time with lung trouble. After that the doctor persuaded Frau Hitler that a sedentary life in an office was not going to be the best thing for the boy: in fact, he must not even go back to school for a year. The poor mother had another characteristic reaction, and now promised he should be taught drawing and painting instead.
But even now his hopes were to be frustrated. After a protracted illness Frau Hitler herself died on December 21st, 1908; not before the modest savings amassed by the husband had been exhausted. Nothing remained for Adolf but a negligible “orphanpension,” insufficient to keep body and soul together. The home was sold up, and at eighteen, Adolf Hitler came face to face with the problem of earning his livelihood.
He does not seem to have been in any two minds about what he meant to do.
He was going to Vienna to study art – to join the picturesque and adventurous ranks of those who have been content in every age and centre to live on a crust in a garret, upborne by flowering genius and the glorious comradeship of fellow-students, miserable and enthusiastic as himself.
That he turned his steps to Vienna instead of to Munich, the art capital of Germany, can be accounted for in two ways. During the latter half of the nineteenth century there had been a great flowering of painting and architecture in Vienna. All sorts of princely palaces had recently been erected in that city. It abounded in art galleries and in magnificent collections of pictures from the masterpieces of almost every school in the world, to the works of contemporary men. Vienna was a much bigger capital than Munich, and Hitler had gathered every bit of information he could about the great academy schools there on the Schillerplatz, a stone’s throw from the wonderful Hofgarten and the Opernring.
He could go by steamboat, which would take him about nine hours, or third class on a slow train and be there in seven. It was simpler, and a little nearer than Munich…. Germans living in foreign states along the frontier wanted at that time rather to form a German colony, and so lead to German expansion, than to return to the Reich itself. Young Hitler, for all his militant “Deutschtums,” saw nothing inconsistent in going to imperial Vienna for art, rather than to Munich.