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FANTASY AND FAILURE
`When the postmaster asked him one day what he wanted to do for a living and whether he wouldn't like to join the post-office, he replied that it was his intention to become a great artist.'
A neighbour of the Hitler family in Urfahr
`I was so convinced that I would be successful that when I received my rejection, it struck me as a bolt from the blue.'
Hitler, on failing his entry examination to studyat the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna
The first of many strokes of good fortune for Adolf Hitler took place thirteen years before he was born. In 1876, the man who was to become his father changed his name from Alois Schicklgruber to Alois Hitler. Adolf can be believed when he said that nothing his father had done had pleased him so much as to drop the coarsely rustic name of Schicklgruber. Certainly, `Heil Schicklgruber' would have sounded an unlikely salutation to a national hero.
The Schicklgrubers had for generations been a peasant family, smallholders in the Waldviertel, a picturesque but poor, hilly and (as the name suggests) woody area in the most north-westerly part of Lower Austria, bordering on Bohemia, whose inhabitants had something of a reputation for being dour, hard-nosed, and unwelcoming. Hitler's father, Alois, had been born there on 7 June 1837, in the village of Strones, as the illegitimate child of Maria Anna Schicklgruber, then forty-two years old and daughter of a poor smallholder, Johann Schicklgruber, and baptized (as Aloys Schicklgruber) in nearby Dollersheim the same day. The baptismal register left a blank in the space allocated to the baby's father. The name of Hitler's paternal grandfather was not disclosed and, despite much speculation, has remained unknown ever since.
Five years later, Maria Anna married Johann Georg Hiedler, a fifty-year-old miller's journeyman from Spital, some fifteen miles away. Hiedler's aimless and meandering lifestyle had brought him to Strones, where he had for some time dwelt in the same house as Maria Anna and her father. The marriage lasted five years. Maria Anna died in 1847, and Hiedler's hand-to-mouth existence was ended by a stroke a decade later.
No later than the time of his mother's death, and perhaps earlier, the youngster Alois was taken by Johann Georg's brother, Johann Nepomuk Hiedler, fifteen years his junior, to live on Nepomuk's middling-sized farm in Spital. The reasons for Nepomuk's effective adoption of young Alois are unclear. But to all appearances the boy was provided with a modest but good home. After going to elementary school, Alois took up an apprenticeship with a local cobbler, and already at the age of thirteen, like many country lads, made his way to Vienna to continue his training in leatherwork.
Hitler's father was the first social climber in his family. In 1855, by the time he was eighteen, Alois had gained employment at a modest grade with the Austrian ministry of finance. For a young man of his background and limited education, his advancement in the years to come was impressive. After training, and passing the necessary examination, he attained low-ranking supervisory status in 1861 and a position in the customs service in 1864, becoming a customs officer in 1870 before moving the following year to Braunau am Inn, and attaining the post of customs inspector there in 1875.
A year later came the change of name. This had nothing to do with any social stigma attached to Alois's illegitimacy. Though castigated by the Catholic Church, illegitimacy was scarcely an unusual feature of Austrian country life. Alois did not attempt to conceal his illegitimacy, even after 1876. It is unclear whether the impulse for the change of name came from Alois himself, or from his uncle (and effective stepfather) Nepomuk, who, deprived of male heirs, seems to have made a legacy to Alois dependent upon the adoption of his own name. The legalization protocol of a notary in Weitra on 6 June 1876, signed by three witnesses, recorded Alois as the son of Georg Hitler -- the name is already entered here in this form, not as `Hiedler'. Then the following day the legitimation of Alois, thirty-nine years after he had been born, was completed when the parish priest of Dollersheim altered the birth register to strike out the name `Schicklgruber', replacing `out of wedlock' by `within wedlock', and entering in the hitherto empty box for the father's name `Georg Hitler'. This was the Johann Georg Hiedler who had married Alois's mother as long ago as 1842, had been dead for nineteen years, but had, according to the three witnesses of the legitimizing ceremony (all of whom had family connections) and according to Alois himself, acknowledged his paternity. The priest's entry notes also the testimony of the witnesses that Alois's father had requested the entry of his name in the baptismal register.
The change of name -- an event at the time of significance only for the history of a peasant family in provincial Austria -- has attracted unceasing speculation purely because it is inextricably bound up with the identity of the grandfather of Adolf Hitler. Only three possibilities need consideration. And of these, the first two amount to little more than whether there was an undisclosed minor scandal within the Hiedler family, while the third possibility, which would historically have been of some importance, can, in the light of the evidence, be discounted.
The first possibility is that the father of Alois was indeed the person named in the amended baptismal register, and officially accepted in the Third Reich as Hitler's grandfather: Johann Georg Hiedler. But if he was indeed the father, why did Hiedler make no attempt during his lifetime -- even at the time of his marriage -- to legitimize the birth of his son? Poverty is unlikely to have been the reason. Though it was rumoured that after their marriage, Johann Georg and Maria Anna were so poor that they had to sleep in a cattle-trough for a bed, it has been established that Maria Anna was less impoverished than once thought. And if this was the case, then the normal reason given for the `adoption' by Nepomuk -- an act of humanity, rescuing Alois from the dire poverty in which his parents lived -- disappears. Why, then, was Maria Anna, who clearly did not disclose the father's name at the baptism, prepared to be separated from her only son? Why was Alois not brought up by his apparent father, but instead in the home of his father's brother? And why was the legitimation -- accompanied by some minor irregularities (no legal acknowledgement of paternity in the absence of the father), possibly amounting to a little charade by Alois, Nepomuk and the three witnesses, all closely connected with or related to Nepomuk, to deceive the notary and parish priest -- delayed until 1876? That a legacy from Nepomuk to Alois was involved seems likely. But why would this have necessitated the change of name? That Nepomuk, with only female offspring, was preoccupied with the continuation of the family name through Alois, who at the time had a fifty-year-old wife, seems an unlikely, or at least insufficient, motive.
The answers to these questions are lost in the mists of time, and would in any case scarcely be of historical importance. But if there are question marks over Johann Georg's paternity, who else might the father have been? The other obvious candidate is Nepomuk himself. He `adopted', cared for, and brought up Alois. And he was perhaps the moving spirit beyond the name change -- three years after his wife, Eva Maria, had died. The name change seems to have been connected with making Alois a legatee of his will. At Nepomuk's death in 1888, his expectant heirs were told, to their surprise, that there was nothing to inherit. But only six months later Alois Hitler, up to then without any notable amounts of money to play with, purchased a substantial house and adjoining property not far from Spital, costing between 4,000 and 5,000 Gulden. It seems conceivable, then, that Nepomuk, not Johann Georg, was the actual father of Alois, that Johann Georg had rejected Alois, the son of his brother, at the time of his marriage to Maria Anna, but that the family scandal had been kept quiet, and that a change of name had not been possible as long as Nepomuk's wife had lived.
However, there is no proof and, even after his wife's death, Nepomuk, if he was himself the actual father, was keen to avoid public admission of the fact. Some significance has been read into Adolf Hitler's comment at the beginning of Mein Kampf that his father had been the son of a `poor, small cottager' (which was not a description of Johann Georg, a miller's journeyman). But Hitler was frequently inaccurate or careless with detail in the autobiographical parts of Mein Kampf, and it would be a mistake to read too much into his brief and vague reference to his grandfather (who, if it referred to Nepomuk, was in any case rather more than a `poor cottager'). It has also been claimed that the form of name chosen by Alois in 1876 -- `Hitler' -- was a deliberate reflection of `Huttler' (Nepomuk's name) rather than Hiedler (that of Johann Georg). But this would be to interpret too much from the adoption of one form of a name which remained fluid and fluctuating before the late nineteenth century. The names `Hiedler', `Hietler', `Huttler', `Hutler', and `Hitler' -- the name meant `smallholder' -- occur interchangeably in documents of the early and mid-nineteenth century and were phonetically scarcely distinguishable. Nepomuk himself was baptized `Hiedler' and married as `Huttler'. Alois, the social climber, may have preferred the less rustic form of `Hitler'. But `Hitler' may have been no more than the particular form chosen by the notary in Weitra at the legalization, and copied by the parish priest of Dollersheim the next day. Whatever the reason for the selection of the form of name, Alois seemed well satisfied with it. He thereafter never deviated in his usage of the name, and from the final authorization in January 1877 always signed himself `Alois Hitler'. His son was equally pleased with the more distinctive form `Hitler'.
The third possibility is that Adolf Hitler's grandfather was Jewish. Rumours to that effect circulated in Munich cafes in the early 1920s, and were fostered by sensationalist journalism of the foreign press during the 1930s. It was suggested that the name `Huttler' was Jewish, `revealed' that he could be traced to a Jewish family called Hitler in Bucharest, and even claimed that his father had been sired by Baron Rothschild, in whose house in Vienna his grandmother had allegedly spent some time as a servant. But the most serious speculation about Hitler's supposed Jewish background has occurred since the Second World War, and is directly traceable to the memoirs of the leading Nazi lawyer and Governor General of Poland, Hans Frank, dictated in his Nuremberg cell while awaiting the hangman.
Frank claimed that he had been called in by Hitler towards the end of 1930 and shown a letter from his nephew William Patrick Hitler (the son of his half-brother Alois, who had been briefly married to an Irish woman) threatening, in connection with the press stories circulating about Hitler's background, to expose the fact that Hitler had Jewish blood flowing in his veins. Allegedly commissioned by Hitler to look into his family history, Frank reportedly discovered that Maria Anna Schicklgruber had given birth to her child while serving as a cook in the home of a Jewish family called Frankenberger in Graz. Not only that: Frankenberger senior had reputedly paid regular instalments to support the child on behalf of his son, around nineteen years old at the birth, until the child's fourteenth birthday. Letters were allegedly exchanged for years between Maria Anna Schicklgruber and the Frankenbergers. According to Frank, Hitler declared that he knew, from what his father and grandmother had said, that his grandfather was not the Jew from Graz, but because his grandmother and her subsequent husband were so poor they had conned the Jew into believing he was the father and into paying for the boy's support.
Frank's story gained wide circulation in the 1950s. But it simply does not stand up. There was no Jewish family called Frankenberger in Graz during the 1830s. In fact, there were no Jews at all in the whole of Styria at the time, since Jews were not permitted in that part of Austria until the 1860s. A family named Frankenreiter did live there, but was not Jewish. There is no evidence that Maria Anna was ever in Graz, let alone was employed by the butcher Leopold Frankenreiter. No correspondence between Maria Anna and a family called Frankenberg or Frankenreiter has ever turned up. The son of Leopold Frankenreiter and alleged father of the baby (according to Frank's story and accepting that he had merely confused names) for whom Frankenreiter was seemingly prepared to pay child support for thirteen years was ten years old at the time of Alois's birth. The Frankenreiter family had moreover hit upon such hard times that payment of any support to Maria Anna Schicklgruber would have been inconceivable. Equally lacking in credibility is Frank's comment that Hitler had learnt from his grandmother that there was no truth in the Graz story: his grandmother had been dead for over forty years at the time of Hitler's birth. And whether in fact Hitler received a blackmail letter from his nephew in 1930 is also doubtful. If such was the case, then Patrick -- who repeatedly made a nuisance of himself by scrounging from his famous uncle -- was lucky to survive the next few years which he spent for the most part in Germany, and to be able to leave the country for good in December 1938. His `revelations', when they came in a Paris journal in August 1939, contained nothing about the Graz story. Nor did a number of different Gestapo inquiries into Hitler's family background in the 1930s and 1940s contain any reference to the alleged Graz background. Indeed they discovered no new skeletons in the cupboard. Hans Frank's memoirs, dictated at a time when he was waiting for the hangman and plainly undergoing a psychological crisis, are full of inaccuracies and have to be used with caution. With regard to the story of Hitler's alleged Jewish grandfather, they are valueless. Hitler's grandfather, whoever he was, was not a Jew from Graz.
The only serious contenders for the paternity of Hitler's father remain, therefore, Johann Georg Hiedler and Johann Nepomuk Hiedler (or Huttler). The official version always declared Johann Georg to be Adolf's grandfather. The evidence is insufficient to know. And perhaps Adolf did not know, though there is no firm reason to believe that he doubted that it was Johann Georg Hiedler. In any case, as regards Adolf the only significance is that, were Nepomuk his grandfather, the family descent would have been even more incestuous than if his grandfather had been Johann Georg: for Nepomuk was also the grandfather of Adolf's mother.
Klara Polzl, who was to become Adolf Hitler's mother, was the eldest of only three surviving children out of eleven -- the other two were Johanna and Theresia -- from the marriage of Nepomuk's eldest daughter, Johanna Huttler, with Johann Baptist Polzl, also a smallholder in Spital. Klara herself grew up on the adjacent farm to that of her grandfather Nepomuk. Klara's mother, Johanna, and her aunt Walburga had in fact been brought up with Alois Schicklgruber in Nepomuk's house. Officially, after the change of name and legitimation in 1876, Alois Hitler and Klara Polzl were second cousins. In 1876, aged sixteen, Klara Polzl left the family farm in Spital and moved to Braunau am Inn to join the household of Alois Hitler as a maid.
By this time, Alois was a well-respected customs official in Braunau. His personal affairs were, however, less well regulated than his career. He would eventually marry three times, first to a woman much older than himself, then to women young enough to be his daughters. A pre-marital liaison and his last two marriages would give him nine children, four of whom were to die in infancy. It was a private life of above average turbulence -- at least for a provincial customs officer. He had already fathered an illegitimate child in the 1860s. In 1873 he married Anna Glassl, then aged fifty. It is unlikely to have been a love-match. The marriage to a woman fourteen years older than himself had almost certainly a material motive, since Anna was relatively well off, and in addition had connections within the civil service. Within a short time, if not from the outset, Anna became ill. Her illness cannot have been helped by knowledge of the affair Alois was conducting by the later 1870s with Franziska (Fanni) Matzelberger, a young maid at the Gasthaus Streif, where the Hitlers lived. By 1880 Anna had finally had enough, and was granted a legal separation.
Alois now lived openly with Fanni, one of whose first acts was to insist that Klara Polzl, a year older than she was and evidently regarded as a potential rival for Alois's favours, should leave the Hitler household. In 1882 Fanni gave birth to a son, baptized Alois Matzelberger but legitimized as soon as Anna Hitler's death in 1883 cleared the way for the marriage, six weeks later, between Alois and Franziska. A second child, Angela, was born less than two months after the wedding. But in 1884 Fanni developed tuberculosis, and she died in August that year aged only twenty-three.
During her illness, Fanni had been moved to the fresh air of the countryside outside Braunau. For someone to look after his two young children, Alois turned straight away to Klara Polzl, and brought her back to Braunau. While Fanni was dying, Klara became pregnant. Since they were officially second cousins, a marriage between Alois and Klara needed the dispensation of the Church. After a wait of four months, in which Klara's condition became all the more evident, the dispensation finally arrived from Rome in late 1884, and the couple were married on 7 January 1885. The wedding ceremony took place at six o'clock in the morning. Soon after a perfunctory celebration, Alois was back at his work at the customs post.
The first of the children of Alois's third marriage, Gustav, was born in May 1885, to be followed in September the following year by a second child, Ida, and, with scarcely a respite, by another son, Otto, who died only days after his birth. Further tragedy for Klara came soon afterwards, as both Gustav and Ida contracted diphtheria and died within weeks of each other in December 1887 and January 1888. By the summer of 1888 Klara was pregnant again. At half-past six in the evening on 20 April 1889, an overcast and chilly Easter Saturday, she gave birth in her home in the `Gasthof zum Pommer', Vorstadt Nr. 219, to her fourth child, the first to survive infancy: this was Adolf.
In the very first sentences of Mein Kampf, Adolf was to emphasize -- what became a Nazi stock-in-trade -- how providential it was that he had been born in Braunau am Inn, on the border of the two countries he saw it as his life's task to unite. He remembered, however, little or nothing of Braunau, since in 1892 his father was promoted to the position of Higher Collector of Customs -- the highest rank open to an official with only an elementary school education behind him -- and the family moved to Passau, in Bavaria, before he was three years old and was based for a time on the German side of the border. It was one of numerous changes of address which the young Hitler was to experience.
The historical record of Adolf's early years is very sparse. His own account in Mein Kampf is inaccurate in detail and coloured in interpretation. Post-war recollections of family and acquaintances have to be treated with care, and are at times as dubious as the attempts during the Third Reich itself to glorify the childhood of the future Fuhrer. For the formative period so important to psychologists and `psycho-historians', the fact has to be faced that there is little to go on which is not retrospective guesswork.
In material terms, the Hitler family led a comfortable middle-class existence. In addition to Alois, Klara, the two children of Alois's second marriage, Alois Jr (before he left home in 1896) and Angela, Adolf, and his younger brother Edmund (born in 1894, but died in 1900) and sister Paula (born in 1896), the household also ran to a cook and maid, Rosalia Schichtl. In addition, there was Adolf's aunt Johanna, one of his mother's younger sisters, a bad-tempered, hunchbacked woman who was, however, fond of Adolf and a good help for Klara around the house. After his inheritance and property purchase in 1889, Alois was a man of moderate means. His income was a solid one -- rather more than that of an elementary school headmaster.
Family life was, however, less than harmonious and happy. Alois was an archetypal provincial civil servant -- pompous, status-proud, strict, humourless, frugal, pedantically punctual, and devoted to duty. He was regarded, with respect by the local community. But both at work and at home, he had a bad temper which could flare up quite unpredictably. He smoked like a chimney, and enjoyed a few drinks after work and a discussion around the beer table more than going back home. He took little interest in bringing up his family, and was happier outside rather than inside the family home. His passion was bee-keeping. His daily half-hour walk to and from his bees from his Passau work-post before visiting the inn on his way back doubtless marked a peaceful respite from a boisterous household of young children. His aim of owning a plot of land where he could keep his beehives was realized in 1889 when the legacy from Nepomuk helped him to buy a property near his birthplace at Spital in the Waldviertel. Though he sold this three years later, he went on to buy two further plots. At home, Alois was an authoritarian, overbearing, domineering husband and a stern, distant, masterful, and often irritable father. For long after their marriage, Klara could not get out of the habit of calling him `Uncle'. And even after his death, she kept a rack of his pipes in the kitchen and would point to them on occasion when he was referred to, as if to invoke his authority.
What affection the young children missed in their father was more than recompensed by their mother. According to the description given much later by her Jewish doctor, Eduard Bloch, after his own forced emigration from Nazi Germany, Klara Hitler was 'a simple, modest, kindly woman. She was tall, had brownish hair which she kept neatly plaited, and a long, oval face with beautifully expressive grey-blue eyes. In personality, she was submissive, retiring, quiet, a pious churchgoer, taken up in the running of the household, and above all absorbed in the care of her children and stepchildren. The deaths within weeks of each other of her first three children in infancy in 1887-8, and the subsequent death of her fifth child, Edmund, under the age of six in 1900, must have been hammer blows for her. Her sorrows can only have been compounded by living with an irascible, unfeeling, overbearing husband. It is scarcely surprising that she made an impression of a saddened, careworn woman. Nor is it any wonder that she bestowed a smothering, protective love and devotion on her two surviving children, Adolf and Paula. Klara was in turn held in love and affection by her children and stepchildren, by Adolf quite especially. `Outwardly, his love for his mother was his most striking feature,' Dr Bloch later wrote. `While he was not a "mother's boy" in the usual sense,' he added, `I have never witnessed a closer attachment.' In one of the few signs of human affection recorded in Mein Kampf, Adolf wrote `I had honoured my father, but loved my mother.' He carried her picture with him down to the last days in the bunker. Her portrait stood in his rooms in Munich, Berlin, and at the Obersalzberg (his alpine residence near Berchtesgaden). His mother may well, in fact, have been the only person he genuinely loved in his entire life.
Adolf's early years were spent, then, under the smothering protectiveness of an over-anxious mother in a household dominated by the threatening presence of a disciplinarian father, against whose wrath the submissive Klara was helpless to protect her offspring. Adolf's younger sister, Paula, spoke after the war of her mother as `a very soft and tender person, the compensatory element between the almost too harsh father and the very lively children who were perhaps somewhat difficult to train. If there were ever quarrel[s] or differences of opinion between my parents,' she continued, `it was always on account of the children. It was especially my brother Adolf who challenged my father to extreme harshness and who got his sound thrashing every day ... How often on the other hand did my mother caress him and try to obtain with her kindness what the father could not succeed [in obtaining] with harshness!' Hitler himself, during his late-night fireside monologues in the 1940s, often recounted that his father had sudden bursts of temper and would then immediately hit out. He did not love his father, he said, but instead feared him all the more. His poor beloved mother, he used to remark, to whom he was so attached, lived in constant concern about the beatings he had to take, sometimes waiting outside the door as he was thrashed.
Quite possibly, Alois's violence was also turned against his wife. A passage in Mein Kampf, in which Hitler ostensibly describes the conditions in a workers' family where the children have to witness drunken beatings of their mother by their father, may well have drawn in part on his own childhood experiences. What the legacy of all this was for the way Adolf's character developed must remain a matter for speculation. That its impact was profound is hard to doubt.
Beneath the surface, the later Hitler was unquestionably being formed. Speculation though it must remain, it takes little to imagine that his later patronizing contempt for the submissiveness of women, the thirst for dominance (and imagery of the Leader as stern, authoritarian father-figure), the inability to form deep personal relationships, the corresponding cold brutality towards humankind, and -- not least -- the capacity for hatred so profound that it must have reflected an immeasurable undercurrent of self-hatred concealed in the extreme narcissism that was its counterpoint must surely have had roots in the subliminal influences of the young Adolf's family circumstances. But assumptions have to remain guesswork. The outer traces of Adolf's early life, so far as they can be reconstructed, bear no hint of what would emerge. Attempts to find in the youngster `the warped person within the murderous dictator' have proved unpersuasive. If we exclude our knowledge of what was to come, his family circumstances invoke for the most part sympathy for the child exposed to them.
The childhood years were also punctuated by the instability caused by several changes of home. Alois's promotion in 1892 brought the move to Passau. Klara remained there with the children, now including the new baby Edmund, when her husband was assigned to Linz in April 1894. The separation from the family, interrupted only by brief visits, lasted a year. With his mother taken up by the new baby, and his stepsister and stepbrother Angela and Alois Jr busy with their schooling, Adolf had for a time the run of the house. He showed in these months the first signs of tantrums if he did not get his way. He would, remark much later that even as a boy he was used to having the last word. But for the most part, he was free to play cowboys and Indians or war games to his heart's content.
In February 1895, Alois had bought a small farm in the hamlet of Hafeld, part of the community of Fischlham, near Lambach, some thirty miles away from Linz, and two months later the family joined him there. It was at the tiny primary school at Fischlham that Adolf began his schooling on 1 May 1895, and for the next two years he made good headway, attaining high marks for his schoolwork and behaviour. Outside school, Adolf continued to have fun with his friends in outdoor games. At home, however, the tensions increased once Alois took retirement in June 1895 after forty years in the service of the Austrian state in order to devote himself to his bee-keeping. Alois was now present in the home more than ever before; the farm was too much for him and also a financial liability, the children -- now with the further addition of baby Paula -- trying his nerves. When Alois Jr left home at this time, incurring the wrath of his father, Adolf became, apart from baby Edmund, the only boy in the household and more directly exposed to his father's irritability.
In 1897, Alois sold the Hafeld property and the family moved to temporary accommodation in the tiny market town of Lambach, moving house within Lambach again in early 1898. Adolf's schooling, now in Lambach, continued to produce good reports from his teachers, though he later claimed that he was already becoming `rather hard to handle'. At this time Adolf also went to the nearby monastery at Lambach for singing lessons -- probably at the prompting of his father, who enjoyed choral singing. According to his later testimony, he was intoxicated by the ecclesiastical splendour and looked up to the abbot as the highest and most desirable ideal.
Alois Hitler had always been a restless soul. The Hitlers had moved house several times within Braunau during the lengthy stay there, and had subsequently been uprooted on a number of occasions. In November 1898, a final move for Alois took place when he bought a house with a small plot of attached land in Leonding, a village on the outskirts of Linz. From now on, the family settled in the Linz area, and Adolf -- down to his days in the bunker in 1945 -- looked upon Linz as his home town. Linz reminded him of the happy, carefree days of his youth. It held associations with his mother. And it was the most `German' town of the Austrian Empire. It evidently symbolized for him the provincial small-town Germanic idyll -- the image he would throughout his life set against the city he would soon come to know, and detest: Vienna. In the 1940s he would speak repeatedly of making Linz the cultural counterweight to Vienna, and the most beautiful city on the Danube. He would pour vast sums into the town's reconstruction. With the Red Army at his portals, he was still poring over the model constructed by his architect, Hermann Giesler, of the city of his youth, where he had intended to spend his last days and lie buried.
Adolf was now in his third elementary school. He seems to have established himself rapidly with a new set of schoolmates, and became `a little ringleader' in the game of cops and robbers which the village boys played in the woods and fields around their homes. War games were a particular favourite. Adolf himself was thrilled by an illustrated history of the Franco-Prussian war, which he had come across at home. And once the Boer War broke out, the games revolved around the heroic exploits of the Boers, whom the village boys fervently supported. About this same time, Adolf became gripped by the adventure stories of Karl May, whose popular tales of the Wild West and Indian wars (though May had never been to America) enthralled thousands of youngsters. Most of these youngsters graduated from the Karl May adventures and the childhood fantasies they fostered as they grew' up. For Adolf, however, the fascination with Karl May never faded. As Reich Chancellor he still read the May stories, recommending them, too, to his generals, whom he accused of lacking imagination.
Adolf later referred to `this happy time', when `school work was ridiculously easy, leaving me so much free time that the sun saw more of me than my room', when `meadows and woods were then the battleground on which the ever-present "antagonisms"' -- the growing conflict with his father -- `came to a head'.
In 1900, however, the carefree days were drawing to a close. And just around the time when important decisions had to be made about Adolf's future, and the secondary education path he should follow, the Hitler family was once more plunged into distress with the death, through measles, of Adolf's little brother Edmund on 2 February 1900. With Alois's elder son, Alois Jr, already spiting his father and living away from home, any careerist ambitions for his offspring now rested upon Adolf. They were to lead to tension between father and son in the remaining years of Alois's life.
Adolf began his secondary schooling on 17 September 1900. His father had opted for the Realschule rather than the Gymnasium, that is, for a school which attached less weight to the traditional classical and humanistic studies but was still seen as a preparation for higher education, with an emphasis upon more `modern' subjects, including science and technical studies. According to Adolf, his father was influenced by the aptitude his son already showed for drawing, together with a disdain for the impracticality of humanistic studies deriving from his own hard way to career advancement. It was not the typical route for a would-be civil servant -- the career which Alois had in mind for his son. But, then, Alois himself had made a good career in the service of the Austrian state with hardly any formal education at all to speak of.
The transition to secondary school was a hard one for young Adolf. He had to trek every day from his home in Leonding to school in Linz, a journey of over an hour each way, leaving him little or no time for developing out-of-school friendships. While he was still a big fish in a little pond among the village boys in Leonding, his classmates in his new school took no special notice of him. He had no close friends at school; nor did he seek any. And the attention he had received from his village teacher was now replaced by the more impersonal treatment of a number of teachers responsible for individual subjects. The minimum effort with which Adolf had mastered the demands of the primary school now no longer sufficed. His school work, which had been so good in primary school, suffered from the outset. And his behaviour betrayed clear signs of immaturity.
In his first year in his secondary school, 1900-1901, Adolf was recorded as `unsatisfactory' in mathematics and natural history, ensuring that he had to repeat the year. His diligence was noted as `variable'. There was some improvement during the repeated year, presumably following a wigging at home, but it was not sustained, and Adolf's school record, down to the time he left in autumn 1905, hovered between poor and mediocre.
In a letter to Hitler's defence counsel on 12 December 1923, following the failed putsch attempt in Munich, his former class teacher, Dr Eduard Huemer, recalled Adolf as a thin, pale youth commuting between Linz and Leonding, a boy not making full use of his talent, lacking in application, and unable to accommodate himself to school discipline. He characterized him as stubborn, high-handed, dogmatic, and hot-tempered. Strictures from his teachers were received with a scarcely concealed insolence. With his classmates he was domineering, and a leading figure in the sort of immature pranks which Huemer attributed to too great an addiction to Karl May's Indian stories together with a tendency to waste time furthered by the daily trip from Leonding and back.
Whether in fact Hitler was a leading light among his schoolmates, as Huemer suggested, is doubtful. Other teachers and classmates claimed Hitler had not stood out at school in any particular fashion, either negatively or positively.
There can be little doubting, however, that Hitler's attitude towards his school and teachers (with one exception) was scathingly negative. He left school `with an elemental hatred' towards it, and later mocked and derided his schooling and teachers. Only his history teacher, Dr Leonard Potsch, was singled out for praise in Mein Kampf for firing Hitler's interest through vivid narratives and tales of heroism from the German past, stirring in him the strongly emotional German-nationalist, anti-Habsburg feelings (which were in any case widely prevalent in his school, as in Linz generally).
The problems of adjustment that Adolf encountered in the Realschule in Linz were compounded by the deterioration in relations with his father and the running sore of the disputes over the boy's future career. Hitler's own account in Mein Kampf heroicizes his own defiance of his father's attempts to turn him into a civil servant and blames his poor performance in school upon this intentional rejection of his father's wishes. This was an over-simplification. But there seems no doubt that his early years at the Linz school had a backcloth of conflict at home with his father. Even in the 1940s, Hitler recounted how he had been taken, when he was thirteen years old, into the Linz customs office to encourage him to take an interest in a civil service career, not realizing that it would only fill him with horror, hatred, and lasting disgust for the life of a civil servant. For Alois, the virtues of a civil service career could not be gainsaid. But all his attempts to enthuse his son met with adamant rejection. `I yawned and grew sick to my stomach at the thought of sitting in an office, deprived of my liberty; ceasing to be master of my own time,' wrote Adolf in Mein Kampf.
The more Adolf resisted the idea, the more authoritarian and insistent his father became. Equally stubborn, when asked what he envisaged for his future, Adolf claimed he replied that he wanted to be an artist -- a vision which for the dour Austrian civil servant Alois was quite unthinkable. `Artist, no, never as long as I live!', Hitler has him saying. Whether the young Adolf, allegedly at the age of twelve, so plainly stipulated he wanted to be an artist may be doubted. But that there was a conflict with his father arising from his unwillingness to follow a career in the civil service, and that his father found fault with his son's indolent and purposeless existence, in which drawing appeared to be his main interest, seems certain. Alois had worked his way up through industry, diligence, and effort from humble origins to a position of dignity and respect in the state service. His son, from a more privileged background, saw fit to do no more than dawdle away his time drawing and dreaming, would not apply himself in school, had no career path in view, and scorned the type of career which had meant everything to his father. The dispute amounted, therefore, to more than a rejection of a civil service career. It was a rejection of everything his father had stood for; and with that, a rejection of his father himself.
There was an added dimension to the conflict between father and son. The almost homogeneously German population of the provincial town of Linz, numbering around 60,000, was strongly German nationalist, but politically divided in its expression of nationalist feelings. Hitler's father's nationalist sentiment was of the kind which vehemently supported the continued dominance of German interests within the Austrian state (especially at the time in the later 1890s when they seemed threatened by concessions made to the Czechs). He would have no truck, however, with the pan-German nationalism of the Schonerer variety -- the ideas of the movement that had emerged in the 1870s, led by Georg Ritter von Schonerer -- which rejected the Austrian state and lauded the virtues of Wilhelmine Germany. Adolf, on the other hand, was plainly drawn in his Linz school -- a hotbed of German nationalism -- to the symbols and incantations of the shriller Schonerer-style pan-German nationalism which, whatever its limited general appeal in Linz, found ready backers for its emotional appeal among the youth. Adolf was not actively involved in any way with the Schonerer movement. But it is almost certain that the opinionated and disputatious son further riled his father through his pan-German ridiculing and deriding of the very state to which his father had devoted his life.
Adolf's adolescence, as he commented in Mein Kampf, was `very painful'. With the move to the secondary school in Linz, and the start of the rumbling conflict with his father, an important formative phase in his character development had begun. The happy, playful youngster of the primary school days had grown into an idle, resentful, rebellious, sullen, stubborn, and purposeless teenager.
When, on 3 January 1903, his father collapsed and died over his usual morning glass of wine in the Gasthaus Wiesinger, the conflict of will over Adolf's future was over. Alois had left his family in comfortable circumstances. And whatever emotional adjustments were needed for his widow, Klara, it is unlikely that Adolf, now the only `man about the house', grieved over his father. With his father's death, much of the parental pressure was removed. His mother did her best to persuade Adolf to comply with his father's wishes. But she shied away from conflict and, however concerned she was about his future, was far too ready to give in to Adolf's whims. In any case, his continued poor school performance in itself ruled out any realistic expectation that he would be qualified for a career in the civil service.
In 1902-3 -- the year in which his father died -- Adolf's school report again registered a failure in mathematics and he had to pass a re-sit examination before being allowed into a higher class. His application was once more recorded as `variable', and remained so in 1903-4, when he was registered as `unsatisfactory' in French. He was granted a pass in the re-sit examination, but only on condition that he leave the Realschule in Linz. At this failure, Adolf was removed to the Realschule in Steyr, some fifty miles away, where he had to take up lodgings because the school was too far from his home. He recalled much later how sick at heart he was at being sent away to school, and how he detested Steyr to that very day.
Adolf's performance at Steyr showed no initial improvement. In his school report for the first semester in 1904-5 he gained good marks for physical education and drawing. His 'moral conduct' was satisfactory, his diligence `variable', and he received mediocre results in religious instruction, geography and history (which he later claimed to have been his best subjects), and chemistry, a marginally better grade in physics, but failures in the optional course in stenography and two obligatory subjects, German language and mathematics. These failures, had they been continued in the second half of the school year, would have condemned him to yet another repeated year. By September 1905, according to the report for the second semester, he had evidently applied himself better and was able to improve his grades and effort in most subjects, now passing mathematics and German, though failing in geometry, which meant a re-sit before being allowed to pass the final-year examination in the lower Realschule. On 16 September, Adolf returned to Steyr, and passed the re-sit in geometry. With this qualification, he was now eligible for consideration for entry to the higher Realschule, or to a technical school. Whether he would have been admitted with his mediocre school record of the previous five years is doubtful. But in any case Adolf by this time had no more stomach for schooling. He used illness -- feigned, or most likely genuine but exaggerated -- to persuade his mother that he was not fit to continue school and in autumn 1905, at the age of sixteen, gladly put his schooling behind him for good with no clear future career path mapped out.
The time between leaving school in autumn 1905 and his mother's death at the end of 1907 is passed over almost completely in Mein Kampf. From the vagueness of the account, it could be presumed that Klara's death followed two, not four, years after that of her husband, and that Adolf's time was spent in careful preparation for attendance at the Viennese Academy of Art, before orphanage and poverty meant that he had to fend for himself. Reality was somewhat different,.
In these two years, Adolf lived a life of parasitic idleness -- funded, provided for, looked after, and cosseted by a doting mother, with his own room in the comfortable flat in the HumboldtstraBe in Linz, which the family had moved into in June 1905. His mother, his aunt Johanna and his little sister Paula were there to look after all his needs, to wash, clean and cook for him. His mother even bought him a grand piano, on which he had lessons for four months between October 1906 and January 1907. He spent his time during the days drawing, painting, reading, or writing `poetry'; the evenings were for going to the theatre or opera; and the whole time he daydreamed and fantasized about his future as a great artist. He stayed up late into the night and slept long into the mornings. He had no clear aim in view. The indolent lifestyle, the grandiosity of fantasy, the lack of discipline for systematic work -- all features of the later Hitler -- can be seen in these two years in Linz. It was little wonder that Hitler came to refer to this period as `the happiest days which seemed to me almost like a beautiful dream'.
A description of Adolf's carefree life in Linz between 1905 and 1907 is provided by the one friend he had at that time, August Kubizek, the son of a Linz upholsterer with dreams of his own about becoming a great musician. Kubizek's post-war memoirs need to be treated with care, both in factual detail and in interpretation. They are a lengthened and embellished version of recollections he had originally been commissioned by the Nazi Party to compile? Even retrospectively, the admiration in which Kubizek continued to hold his former friend coloured his judgement. But more than that, Kubizek plainly invented a great deal, built some passages around Hitler's own account in Mein Kampf, and deployed some near plagiarism to amplify his own limited memory. However, for all their weaknesses, his recollections have been shown to be a more credible source on Hitler's youth than was once thought, in particular where they touch upon experiences related to Kubizek's own interests in music and theatre. There can be no doubt that, whatever their deficiencies, they do contain important reflections of the young Hitler's personality, showing features in embryo which were to be all too prominent in later years.
August Kubizek -- `Gustl' -- was some nine months older than Adolf. They met by chance in autumn 1905 (not 1904, as Kubizek claimed) at the opera in Linz. Adolf had for some years been a fanatical admirer of Wagner, and his love of opera, especially the works of the `master of Bayreuth', was shared by Kubizek. Gustl was highly impressionable; Adolf out for someone to impress. Gustl was compliant, weak-willed, subordinate; Adolf was superior, determining, dominant. Gustl felt strongly about little or nothing; Adolf had strong feelings about everything. `He had to speak,' recalled Kubizek, `and needed someone to listen to him.' For his part, Gustl, from his artisanal background, having attended a lower school than the young Hitler, and feeling himself therefore both socially and educationally inferior, was filled with admiration at Adolf's power of expression. Whether Adolf was haranguing him about the deficiencies of civil servants, schoolteachers, local taxation, social welfare lotteries, opera performances, or Linz public buildings, Gustl was gripped as never before. Not just what his friend had to say, but how he said it, was what he found attractive. Gustl, in self-depiction a quiet, dreamy youth, had found an ideal foil in the opinionated, cocksure, `know-all' Hitler. It was a perfect partnership.
In the evenings they would go off, dressed in their fineries, to the theatre or the opera, the pale and weedy young Hitler, sporting the beginnings of a thin moustache, looking distinctly foppish in his black coat and dark hat, the image completed by a black cane with an ivory handle. After the performance Adolf would invariably hold forth, heatedly critical of the production, or effusively rapturous. Even though Kubizek was musically more gifted and knowledgeable than Hitler, he remained the passive and submissive partner in the `discussions'.
Hitler's passion for Wagner knew no bounds. A performance could affect him almost like a religious experience, plunging him into deep and mystical fantasies. Wagner amounted for him to the supreme artistic genius, the model to be emulated. Adolf was carried away by Wagner's powerful musical dramas, his evocation of a heroic, distant, and sublimely mystical Germanic past. Lohengrin, the saga of the mysterious knight of the grail, epitome of the Teutonic hero, sent from the castle of Monsalvat by his father Parzival to rescue the wrongly condemned pure maiden, Elsa, but ultimately betrayed by her, had been his first Wagner opera, and remained his favourite.
Even more than music, the theme, when Adolf and Gustl were together, was great art and architecture. More precisely, it was Adolf as the future great artistic genius. The young, dandified Hitler scorned the notion of working to earn one's daily bread. He enraptured the impressionable Kubizek with his visions of himself as a great artist, and Kubizek himself as a foremost musician. While Kubizek toiled in his father's workshop, Adolf filled his time with drawing and dreaming. He would then meet Gustl after work, and, as the friends wandered through Linz in the evenings, would lecture him on the need to tear down, remodel, and replace the central public buildings, showing his friend countless sketches of his rebuilding plans.
The make-believe world also included Adolf's infatuation with a girl who did not even know of his existence. Stefanie, an elegant young lady in Linz to be seen promenading through the town on the arm of her mother, and occasionally greeted by an admirer among the young officers, was for Hitler an ideal to be admired from a distance, not approached in person, a fantasy figure who would be waiting for the great artist when the right moment for their marriage arrived, after which they would live in the magnificent villa that he would design for her.
Another glimpse into the fantasy world is afforded by Adolf's plans for the future when, around 1906, the friends bought a lottery ticket together. Adolf was so certain they would win first prize that he designed an elaborate vision of their future residence. The two young men would live an artistic existence, tended by a middle-aged lady who could meet their artistic requirements -- neither Stefanie nor any other woman of their own age figured in this vision -- and would go off to Bayreuth and Vienna and make other visits of cultural value. So certain was Adolf that they would win, that his fury at the state lottery knew no bounds when nothing came of their little flutter.
In spring 1906, Adolf persuaded his mother to fund him on a first trip to Vienna, allegedly to study the picture gallery in the Court Museum, more likely to fulfil a growing ambition to visit the cultural sites of the Imperial capital. For two weeks, perhaps longer, he wandered through Vienna as a tourist taking in the city's many attractions. With whom he stayed is unknown. The four postcards he sent his friend Gustl and his comments in Mein Kampf show how captivated he was by the grandeur of the buildings and the layout of the RingstraBe. Otherwise, he seems to have spent his time in the theatre and marvelling at the Court Opera, where Gustav Mahler's productions of Wagner's Tristan and The Flying Dutchman left those of provincial Linz in the shade. Nothing had changed on his return home. But the sojourn in Vienna furthered the idea, probably already growing in his mind, that he would develop his artistic career at the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts.
By the summer of 1907, this idea had taken more concrete shape. Adolf was now aged eighteen but had still never earned a day's income and was continuing his drone's life without career prospects. Despite the advice of relatives that it was about time he found a job, he had persuaded his mother to let him return to Vienna, this time with the intention of entering the Academy. Whatever her reservations, the prospect of systematic study at the Academy in Vienna must have seemed to her an improvement on his aimless existence in Linz. And she did not need to worry about her son's material welfare. Adolf's `Hanitante' -- Aunt Johanna -- had come up with a loan of 924 Kronen to fund her nephew's artistic studies. It gave him something like a year's salary for a young lawyer or teacher.
By this stage, his mother was seriously ill with breast cancer. She had already been operated on in January, and in the spring and early summer was frequently treated by the Jewish family doctor, Dr Bloch. Frau Klara -- now in the new family home at Urfahr, a suburb of Linz -- must have been seriously worried not only about the mounting medical costs, but about her eleven-year-old daughter Paula, still at home and looked after by Aunt Johanna, and about her darling boy Adolf, still without a clear future. Adolf, described by Dr Bloch as a tall, sallow, frail-looking boy who `lived within himself', was certainly worried about his mother. He settled the bill of 100 Kronen for her twenty-day stay in hospital at the start of the year. He wept when Dr Bloch had to tell him and his sister the bad news that their mother had little chance of surviving her cancer. He tended her during her illness and was anguished at the intense pain she suffered. He had, it seems, to take responsibility for whatever decisions had to be made about her care. Despite his mother's deteriorating condition, however, Adolf went ahead with his plans to move to Vienna. He left for the capital in early September 1907, in time to take the entrance examination for the Academy of Fine Arts.
Admission to the examination itself was decided on the basis of an entry test resting on assessment of pieces of work presented by the candidates. Adolf had, he later wrote, left home `armed with a thick pile of drawings'. He was one of 113 candidates and was allowed to proceed to the examination itself. Thirty-three candidates were excluded following this initial test. At the beginning of October, he sat the two tough three-hour examinations in which the candidates had to produce drawings on specified themes. Only twenty-eight candidates succeeded. Hitler was not among them. `Test drawing unsatisfactory. Few heads,' was the verdict.
It apparently never occurred to the supremely self-confident Adolf that he might fail the entrance examination for the Academy. He had been, he wrote in Mein Kampf, `convinced that it would be child's play to pass the examination ... I was so convinced that I would be successful that when I received my rejection, it struck me as a bolt from the blue.' He sought an explanation, and was told by the Rector of the Academy that there was no doubt about his unsuitability for the school of painting, but that his talents plainly lay in architecture. Hitler left the interview, as he put it, `for the first time in my young life at odds with myself'. After a few days pondering his fate, he concluded, so he wrote, that the Rector's judgement was right, and `that I should some day become an architect' -- not that he then or later did anything to remedy the educational deficiencies which provided a major obstacle to studying for a career in architecture. In reality, Adolf probably did not bounce back anything like so quickly as his own story suggests, and the fact that he reapplied the following year for admission to the painting school casts some doubt on the version of a lightning recognition that his future was as an architect. At any rate, the rejection by the Academy was such a body blow to his pride that he kept it a secret. He avoided telling either his friend Gustl, or his mother, of his failure.
Meanwhile, Klara Hitler lay dying. The sharp deterioration in her condition brought Adolf back from Vienna to be told by Dr Bloch, towards the end of October, that his mother's condition was hopeless. Deeply affected by the news, Adolf was more than dutiful. Both his sister, Paula, and Dr Bloch later testified to his devoted and `indefatigable' care for his dying mother. But despite Dr Bloch's close medical attention, Klara's health worsened rapidly during the autumn. On 21 December 1907, aged forty-seven, she passed away quietly. Though he had witnessed many deathbed scenes, recalled Dr Bloch, `I have never seen anyone so prostrate with grief as Adolf Hitler.' His mother's death was `a dreadful blow', Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, `particularly for me'. He felt alone and bereft at her passing. He had lost the one person for whom he had ever felt close affection and warmth.
`Poverty and hard reality,' Hitler later claimed, `now compelled me to take a quick decision. What little my father had left had been largely exhausted by my mother's grave illness; the orphan's pension to which I was entitled was not enough for me even to live on, and so I was faced with the problem of somehow making my own living.' When after her death he returned to Vienna for the third time, he continued, now to stay for some years, his old defiance and determination had come back to him, and his goal was now clear: 'I wanted to become an architect and obstacles do not exist to be surrendered to, but only to be broken.' He claimed he set out to overcome the obstacles, inspired by the example of his own father's rise through his own efforts from poverty to the position of a government official.
In reality, his mother's careful housekeeping -- aided by not insignificant contributions from her sister Johanna -- had left more than sufficient to pay for the considerable medical costs, as well as a relatively expensive funeral. Nor was Adolf left nearly penniless. There was no question of immediately having to earn his own living. Certainly, the monthly orphan's pension of 25 Kronen which he and his younger sister Paula -- now brought up by their half-sister Angela and her husband Leo Raubal -- received could scarcely provide for his upkeep in inflation-ridden Austria. And apart from interest, Adolf and Paula could not touch the inheritance from their father until their twenty-fourth year. But what his mother had left -- perhaps in the region of 2,000 Kronen once the funeral expenses had been covered -- was divided between the two orphaned minors. Adolf's share, together with his orphan's pension, was enough to provide for his upkeep in Vienna for a year without work. And on top of that, he still had the residue of his aunt's generous loan. He scarcely had the financial security which has sometimes been attributed to him. But, all in all, his financial position was, during this time, substantially better than that of most genuine students in Vienna.
Moreover, Adolf was in less of a hurry to leave Linz than he implies in Mein Kampf. Though his sister almost forty years later stated that he moved to Vienna within a few days of their mother's death, Adolf was still recorded as in Urfahr in mid-January and mid-February 1908. Unless, as seems unlikely, he made brief visits to Vienna between these dates, it looks as if he stayed in Urfahr for at least seven weeks after the death of his mother. The family household account-book indicates that the break with Linz was not made before May.
When he did return to Vienna, in February 1908, it was not to pursue with all vigour the necessary course of action to become an architect, but to slide back into the life of indolence, idleness, and self-indulgence which he had followed before his mother's death. He even now worked on Kubizek's parents until they reluctantly agreed to let August leave his work in the family upholstery business to join him in Vienna in order to study music.
His failure to enter the Academy and his mother's death, both occurring within less than four months in late 1907, amounted to a crushing double blow for the young Hitler. He had been abruptly jolted from his dream of an effortless path to the fame of a great ar tist; and the sole person upon whom he depended emotionally had been lost to him at almost the same time. His artistic fantasy remained. Any alternative -- such as settling down to a steady job in Linz -- was plainly an abhorrent thought. A neighbour in Urfahr, the widow of the local postmaster, later recalled: `When the postmaster asked him one day what he wanted to do for a living and whether he wouldn't like to join the post office, he replied that it was his intention to become a great artist. When he was reminded that he lacked the necessary funding and personal connections, he replied tersely: "Makart and Rubens worked themselves up from poor backgrounds."' How he might emulate them was entirely unclear. His only hope rested upon retaking the entrance examination for the Academy the following year. He must have known his chances were not high. But he did nothing to enhance them. Meanwhile, he had to get by in Vienna.
Despite the drastic alteration in his prospects and circumstances, Adolf's lifestyle -- the drifting existence in an egoistic fantasy-world -- remained unchanged. But the move from the cosy provincialism of Linz to the political and social melting-pot of Vienna nevertheless marked a crucial transition. The experiences in the Austrian capital were to leave an indelible mark on the young Hitler and to shape decisively the formation of his prejudices and phobias.
Posted October 2, 2011
Not apparant to the unsuspecting buyer of this version at time of purchase, none of the images contained in the print version are included "owing to permissive issues." Shouldn't there be a disclaimer somewhere about this on the page describing the book so the buyer knows in advance of making a purchase? Feels like bait and switch B&N.......
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Posted October 30, 2011
I disagree with some of the reviewers who complain about the length of sentences in the book. The author wrote, I presume, for an audience who appreciated compound thoughts being expressed as a whole. Really, if one has not been educated above the KISS ( keep it simple stupid) level then this book is not for you. If, however, you enjoy good English language usage then you will be delighted with this book.
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Posted November 27, 2008
MR KERSHAW WROTE THE MAIN AND MOST IMPORTANT BIO ON HITLER THUS FAR . HE EXPLAINS IN VOULME ONE THE RISE OF HITLER AND THE BEGINNING OF NAZIISM. A MUST READ.
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Posted March 19, 2003
Most simply put, this, the second of two superb books by British historian Ian Kershaw on Hitler's life and times, quite successfully draws the reader closer to an understanding of this historically enigmatic and often bizarre human being who so changed the world of the 20th century. Although there are a myriad of such books that have appeared in the half-century since Hitler's demise in the dust and rubble of Berlin, this particular effort, which draws from hundreds of secondary sources, many of which have never before been cited, paints an authentic and masterful portrait of Hitler as an individual. This is an absolutely singular historical work; and it will almost come to occupy a central place on the shelves of serious World War Two historians. Most fascinating for me is the way in which Kershaw grows an incredibly fertile appreciation for Hitler's personal characteristics into a sophisticated appreciation for what unfolded historically. A good example is his fetish for secrecy, which left both Hitler himself and those around him incredibly poorly informed of many of the details of what their policies were doing to the society around them. Author Ian Kershaw takes a quite different and novel approach, and it is one I enjoyed. Here, by carefully locating and fixing the individual in the context and welter of his times, it yields a much more enlightening approach toward painting a meaningful comprehensive picture of how this criminally twisted psychopath became such a fatefully placed politician and leader of post-World War One Germany. Thus, in Volume One we saw the boy grow and change in whatever fashion into a man, tracing the rise of this troubled malcontent from the anonymity of Viennese shelters to a fiery and meteoric rise into politics, culminating in his ascent to rule Germany. Kershaw memorably recreates the social, economic, and political circumstances that bent and twisted Hitler so fatefully for the history of the world. In this volume, Kershaw concentrates masterfully on how this single human being then fatefully pushes Nazi Germany, Europe, and the rest of the world into the most horrific bloodbath in modern history. Hitler was, in Kershaw's estimation, a man most representative of his times, reflecting a widespread disaffection with democratic politics, steeped in the virulent anti-Semitism of his Viennese environment, twisted and experienced in the cruelties and absurdities of the First World War, thrust by circumstance and disposition into the sectarian, dyspeptic, and rough & tumble politics of the 1920s, and rising by finding himself the most unlikely of politicians with an unusual ability to orate and emote. It is also interesting to discover that Hitler had an unusually acute (though uneven) intellect, is rumored to have possessed a 'photographic memory', and was said to have an amazing ability to discuss and quote facts and figures and then subsequently casually weave them into a conversation that witnesses found spellbinding and convincing. He was also unquestionably quite charismatic and charming. Kershaw argues masterfully that it is impossible to understand 'why' Hitler without understanding this extremely toxic and strange combination of social, economic, and cultural factors that characterized Germany. Thus, as Hitler begins his ineluctable rise to power, we better appreciate how and why such a seemingly unlikely cast of characters as the Nazis succeeded so wildly beyond what one would expect to be possible in a sane and sophisticated modern industrial state. This is fascinating stuff, as is his treatment of the concomitant rise of the slugs, thugs, and under-life accompanying him into the corridors of power and influence. Here is the world's greatest single collection of otherwise underachieving bullies, fanatics, pseudo-intellectuals, and fellow travelers, who clashed into an uneasy coalescence that formed the nucleus of the single greatest force for collective evil seen in the modern
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Posted October 12, 2001
Although Hitler: Hubris was a scintilating story,with NEMESIS Mr. Kershaw has given us a biography that is perfect in every detail. Hitler's behavior has always been hard to understand in many ways.He traversed a twisting path in his attempt to remove the humiliation of WWI.As Mr. Kershaw deftly explains Hitler's manuvering for the Sudetenland and the Austrain annexation he also probes the Hitlerian mind to elucidate Hitler's problematic behavior. Why commence Operation Barbarrosa? Why not face reality in the Battle of Stalingrad? How was the final solution final in Hitler's mind? Mr. Kershaw also does a masterful job with Goebbels, Goring,Himmler, Heydrich and von Ribbentrop. Without question, the definitive biopgraphy of Hitler and the Nazi party that all will look to for the next hundred years.
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Posted June 21, 2013
Posted January 2, 2011
I enjoyed the book, however, it is comprised of such long sentences. It's as if the author has this idea of "Why say it with six sentences when you can say it with one!" His vocabulary is not difficult to understand; his long sentences are sometimes.The book is filled with many interesting facts and I did enjoy learning about the "Nobody from Vienna." However, I could have read the book much quicker had the author worded things a bit better. If Kershaw wanted to tell you, for example, that he went to the lake on Saturday, June 6th, 1944, it might go like this: "On saturday, the genesis of a new journey,both myself and my family, the lake was nice, warm summer air and nearly cloudless day. beautiful day this Saturday, June 6th, 1944; suffice to say, despite the cold tea, we had a good time. It doesn't flow very well due to the sentence structure. I read reviews of the book before buying it and soon learned exactly what some reviewers were talking about.If you don't mind the sentence structure that the author most likely believes to be his "style", you may enjoy this book.
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ian kershaw has created a biographical masterpiece, he has captured the tone of the evil dictators regime with amazing detail, including some pretty detailed pictures that reveal the overall brutality of the nazis rule. though the book is extremely long every page is as fascinating as the next.
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Posted August 4, 2014
I admire hitler becaus he had a goal which he decided to follow which was take over all of europe and most likely the world while eradicating Jews now the killing of Jews was terriable but that not why i hate him i hate him because he killed himself like some coward so my new role model is..STALIN ALL HAIL STALIN (communist leader of Russia.) Stalin rules.-&starf
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Posted July 21, 2014
It was no mental disorder. It was the depression and inflation of Germany's currency system and banks during World War II plus the fact that 97% of the bankers in the 1940s were Jewish. He had his reasons... and I do accept Nazism. Not Hitlerist Nazism, but Nazism itself.
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Posted May 29, 2014
Well, I personaly am interested in Hitler. I think because I am part german. I agree that killing six million jews is not right, but he had a mental isue that made him hate jews.
Hitler was a interesting person.
Posted March 9, 2014
This is a review of the NOOK book format only. Buyer beware. This book does not seem to be available in two volumes for Nook, If you to try to buy Kershaw's 2 volume Hitler bio it will sell you the one volume abridged bio
Posted April 21, 2013
Im fine with this book but just for the record hitler us basiccly like the empire from star wars but in real life hes really evil and mean. Imean reallly just the things he did to jews were just horrible and mean.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 2, 2011
Posted June 27, 2011
Kershaw has really done his homework. This is a well documented biography of Hitler, starting from his boyhood in Austria and taking him through his stint in the army in WWI and on through his meteoric rise in postwar Germany. Kershaw makes Hitler come alive. You can hear him speak, and watch him strut.
However, about half-way through, I couldn't continue. It was just too much Hitler. No matter how impartial the biographer tried to be, being careful to present Hitler's own words, the fact is, Hitler was more than unpleasant, and I just couldn't take it any more. His words were unpleasant. His political activities were not only offputting, but, knowing what they led up to, I couldn't hack it anymore.
Truthfully, Hitler wasn't that interesting a person in any way. Kershaw definitely portrays him in all his unoriginality. Hitler was horrible, but ultimately, banal. Even his Master Race ideas had been kicking around Germany since the 19th century. None of his ideology was formualated by Hitler. He just spoke to what Germans had been writing and saying for a century. Even the stab in the back theory was first put forward by others.
Perhaps I'll get back to it and read the rest.
I enjoyed the information presented. My biggest complaint is the writing style. So much of the information is lost in the LONG, run-on sentences. I would have preferred smaller, concise sentences. With such long sentences, I continually lost track of what the meaning was to be. Extensive use of commas does NOT make a sentence from being a run-on disaster.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 4, 2008
Posted April 16, 2003
This book is great if you want to get to know one of the 'most evil people in history.' This book explains every little detail of Adolf Hitler's life. It starts when he is born then goes through all of his history to the time he dies. I liked the book at some points, when the book explains how he got power over Germany,in particular. Some of the other parts in the book can get boring. Let's just put it this way, if you like history, the holocaust and evil people...this book is for you.
0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 18, 2000
Posted April 4, 2010
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