Monday, February 1, 2010

Dark Secrets of an Austrian Family (2/2)

Moreover, some have claimed that Alois must have had foreign blood flowing in his veins, because he was the first social climber of his clan. Mostly peasants and lower artisans populated the Waldviertal, the northwestern region of Lower Austria where Döllersheim is located. Alois impressively rose to become a customs inspector through a determination and ambition that did not distinguish those in his family or community.

So who was the father of Hitler’s father? Maria Schicklgruber married Johann Georg Hiedler five years after the birth. Almost 40 years later Alois Schicklgruber changed his name to Hitler, a variation of Hiedler, and had Johann Georg written into the baptismal certificate as his father. The official Nazi genealogy recognized Hiedler as the Führer’s paternal grandfather. However, Hiedler never legitimized his son during his lifetime and in fact Alois moved in with his uncle after the death of his mother. Very curious. Why didn’t Hiedler’s name appear on the original birth certificate? Why didn’t he ever legitimize his son, who until 1876 went by the name of Alois Schicklgruber? Why was Alois raised in another home?

As it turns out, Hans Frank’s story does not hold up to scrutiny. First of all, there is no evidence of a Jewish family living in the entire Waldviertal. Also, Frank alleged that letters were exchanged between Hitler’s grandmother and the Jewish family, but they have never turned up. Also, Hitler’s alleged response to Frank’s discovery has problems. For example, Frank has Hitler saying that he spoke to his grandmother about the situation, but she had died decades before Hitler’s birth. Another fanciful claim independent of the Frank story that Alois was the son of Baron Rothschild, of the famous Jewish banking family in Vienna, has no basis in fact.

Johann Georg Hiedler could indeed have been Hitler’s paternal grandfather. But I personally favor another candidate not unknown to historians, Johann Nepomuk Hiedler a.k.a. Hüttler, the brother of Johann Georg. If he was indeed the father, we would have answers to many questions. Why did Nepomuk adopt and raise Alois? Why did he bequeath his will to him? Why did Alois (pictured above) adopt a form of his name, “Hitler,” that comes closer to his uncle’s name? I think that Nepomuk is Hitler’s grandfather, but there is no definitive proof.

What about the Jewish ancestry? There is no evidence whatsoever. Why did Hitler destroy the place of his father’s birth? Was he afraid of some embarrassing revelation about his past? Was it something particular? Or was it a general fear that something, he knew not what, would turn up and discredit him? For example, when he took over Austria as the Führer of Germany, he tried to obtain embarrassing records about his evasion of military service, but to no avail. They were published in the 1950s.

While Hitler had no Jewish background, his opponents within Germany and his critics abroad could not avoid commenting on his non-Aryan features. In German newspapers and in the cafes people joked about the ideal Nazi: as blond as Hitler, as tall as Goebbels, as thin as Göring, and as straight as Röhm! (Goebbels was short and had a clubfoot; Göring, like Henry VIII, became increasingly obese during his reign as Number Two; and SA leader Röhm was a homosexual). Perhaps a case could be made for Slavic ancestry, almost as anathema to Hitler as the charge of being Jewish. A bold Munich journalist, Fritz Gerlich, mockingly examined Hitler’s nose in an article published on the eve of Hitler’s rise to power. He suggested the nose was very Slavonic, not Aryan, and in fact hinted at a Mongolian ancestry. Making racial assumptions on the basis of facial characteristics can be tricky, if not Nazi-like, business. But Hitler’s family tree is rooted in that part of Austria that borders Czech-speaking Bohemia. If he grew up in an ethnic borderland, it’s not far-fetched to question his alleged Aryan purity. Word to the wise: If you aspire to become an omnipotent dictator of an ethnically pure empire, make sure that the ideal citizen of your utopia looks like you.

Let me briefly discuss Hitler’s mother, Klara Pölzl (pictured). She was Alois Hitler’s third wife and twenty-three years his junior. Alois’s relationships with women was in fact rather sordid. He likely married his first wife, who was fourteen years older than him, for money and career advancement. When his wife discovered that Alois was having an affair with a young maid, she got a legal separation. After his wife’s death, Alois married the young woman with whom he had openly lived and sired a child. While his second wife was dying from tuberculosis at age 23, Alois got their nanny, Klara, pregnant. Not long after the death of his second wife, he married the 24-year-old Klara. Adolf, born in Braunau am Inn in 1889, was their fourth child and only two of six kids to live into adulthood. Klara was the granddaughter of Johann Nepomuk Hüttler, Alois’s uncle (or father!).

There is no evidence of physical, emotional or sexual abuse in the home, but Alois Hitler was an authoritarian and domineering master of his household. In Mein Kampf Hitler describes a drunken father beating his wife before his kids. Is this autobiographical? Later in life he said that he hated his father but respected him.

“Psychohistorians” have had a field day with psychoanalytical theories and complexes to account for Hitler. In general, we can surmise what Hitler’s home life as a child and young teen had on his future development, but we are in the realm of speculation, not clear facts that we can state definitively and dogmatically. Clearly, the unconventional circumstances behind his parents’ marriage had something to do with Hitler’s sexual and social oddity. Klara called her husband “Uncle,” who in fact was indeed her uncle! But while Adolf, the daydreamer and aspiring artist, had a rocky relationship with his father, the humorless and self-made customs official, he had nothing but deep affection for his mother, whose visage one can discern in photos of Hitler as a child and young man. As Ian Kershaw writes, Hitler’s mother may “have been the only person he genuinely loved in his entire life.”

The death of his mother and rejection from the Viennese Art Academy in the fall of 1907 dealt a severe double-blow to the teenager. But the origins of Hitler’s genocidal hatred of Jews and his desire for world conquest, both of which would bring untold suffering and misery to millions of people, the likes of which the history of this war-riddled world had never known, lie elsewhere—in the streets of Vienna, the trenches of the Somme, and the beer halls of Munich.

Main Sources:
(1) Ron Rosenbaum, Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil (1999)
(2) Ian Kershaw, Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris (1999)
(3) Robert Waite, The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler (1993)