THE FORMATIVE YEARS
Adolf Hitler was born at half past six on the evening of 20 April 1889, in the Gasthof zum Pommer, an inn in the small town of Braunau on the River Inn which forms the frontier between Austria and Bavaria.
In the summer of this same year, 1889, Lenin, a student of nineteen in trouble with the authorities, moved with his mother from Kazan to Samara. Stalin was a poor cobbler's son in Tiflis, Mussolini the sixyear-old child of a blacksmith in the bleak Romagna. The three republics Hitler was to destroy, the Austria of the Treaty of St Germain, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, were not yet in existence. Four great empires-the Hapsburg, the Hohenzollern, the Romanov, and the Ottoman-ruled over Central and Eastern Europe. The Bolshevik Revolution and the Soviet Union were not yet imagined: Russia was still the Holy Russia of the Tsars.
Hitler's family, on both sides, came from the Waldviertel, a poor, remote country district, lying on the north side of the Danube, some fifty miles north-west of Vienna. In this countryside of hills and woods, with few towns or railways, lived a peasant population cut off from the main arteries of Austrian life. It was from this country stock, with its frequent intermarriages, that Hitler sprang. The family name, possibly Czech in origin and spelled in a variety of ways, first appears in the Waldviertel in the first half of the fifteenth century.
Johann Georg Hiedler, the presumed grandfather of the future chancellor, seems to have been a wanderer who never settled down, but followed the trade of a miller in several places in Lower Austria. In the course of these wanderings hepicked up with a peasant girl from the village of Strones, Maria Anna Schicklgruber, whom he married at Dollersheim in May 1842.
Five years earlier, in 1837, Maria had given birth to an illegitimate child, who was known by the name of Alois. According to the accepted tradition the father of this child was Johann Georg Hiedler, but when he married Maria, he did not bother to legitimize Alois, who continued to be known by his mother's maiden name of. Schicklgruber until he was nearly forty. Alois was brought up at Spital in the house of his father's brother, Johann Nepomuk Hiedler.
In 1876 Johann Nepomuk took steps to legitimize the young man who had grown up in his house. He called on the parish priest at Dollersheim and persuaded him to cross out the word illegitimate' in the register and to append a statement signed by three witnesses that his brother Johann Georg Hiedler had accepted the paternity of the child Alois. In all probability, we shall never know for certain who Adolf Hitler's grandfather, the father of Alois, really was, or whether he was Jewish, as had been suggested. From the beginning of 1877, twelve years before Adolf was born, his father called himself Hitler, and his son was never known by any other name until his opponents dug up this long-forgotten village scandal and tried, without justification, to label him with his grandmother's name of Schicklgruber.
Alois left his uncle's home at the age of thirteen to serve as a cobbler's apprentice in Vienna, but he did not take to a trade, and by the time he was eighteen he had joined the Imperial Customs Service. From 1855 to 1895 Alois served as a customs officer in the towns of Upper Austria. He earned the normalpromotion and as a minor state official he had certainly moved up in the social scale from his peasant origins. In the resplendent imperial uniform of the Hapsburg service Alois Hitler appeared the image of respectability. But his private life belied appearances.
In 1864 he married Anna Glass, the adopted daughter of another customs collector. There were no children and, after a separation, Alois's wife, who was considerably older and had long been ailing, died in 1883. A month later Alois married a young hotel servant, Franziska Matzelberger, who had already borne him a son out of wedlock and who gave birth to a daughter, Angela, three months after their marriage. Within a year of her daughter's birth, Franziska was dead of tuberculosis.
This time he waited half a year before marrying again. His third wife, Klara Polzl, twenty-three years younger than himself, came from the village of Spital, where the Hitlers had originated. The two families were already related by marriage, and Klara herself was the granddaughter of Johann Nepomuk Hiedler, in whose house Alois had been brought up as a child. She had even lived with Alois and his first wife for a time at Braunau, but at the age of twenty had gone off to Vienna to earn her living as a domestic servant. An episcopal dispensation had to be secured for such a marriage between second cousins, but finally, on 7 January 1885, Alois Hitler married his third wife, and on 17 May of the same year their first child, Gustav, was born at Braunau.
Adolf was the third child of Alois Hitler's third marriage. Gustav and Ida, both born before him, died in infancy; his younger brother, Edward, died when he was six; only his younger sister, Paula,born in 1896, lived to grow up. There were also, however, the two children of the second marriage with Franziska, Adolf Hitler's half-brother Alois, and his half-sister Angela. Angela was the only one of his relations with whom Hitler maintained any sort of friendship. She kept house for him at Berchtesgaden for a time, and it was her daughter, Geli Raubal, with whom Hitler fell in love.
When Adolf was born his father was over fifty and his mother was under thirty. Alois Hitler was a hard, unsympathetic, and short-tempered man, and his domestic life suggests a difficult and passionate temperament. Towards the end of his life he seems to have become bitter over some disappointment, perhaps connected with an inheritance. When he retired in 1895 at the age of fifty-eight, he stayed in Upper Austria.
The classic biography of Hitler that remains, years after its publication, one of the most authoritative and readable accounts of his life. Here in an abridged edition.