Hitler in Vienna

From Citizendium
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This article is developing and not approved.
Main Article
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and subject to a disclaimer.

As a young man, Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), who would one day become dictator of Nazi Germany, spent the years between 1907 and 1913 in Vienna, Austria, coming from his home in Linz, Austria. Many historians believe that those years formed key aspects of his character. While there may never be a satisfactory answer to why he thought the way he did, there is obvious interest in what can make the man who was responsible for ravaging Europe, killing millions of people.

Hitler often said his antisemitism began in Vienna. There is abundant evidence that while he read antisemitic literature and railed about the Jews, he also had friendly relationships with individual Jews, suggesting that his lethal antisemitism probably did not develop earlier than near the end of World War I, if not even later. Ian Kershaw's opinion is there is little or no evidence of strong antisemitism in Vienna, and, further, that his World War I comrades did not know of dramatic antisemitism. Kershaw suggests that Hitler subsequently invented an earlier transformation to paranoid antisemitism, which probably took place in 1918-1919, is that Hitler was establishing himself, in Mein Kampf and rhetoric of the 1820s, as one who struggled against adversity, and came "above all from his own bitter experiences — to unique insights about society and politics that enabled him without assistance to formulate at the age of abut twenty a rounded 'world-view'."[1] He unquestionably had formative experiences in Vienna, but he later presented many as part of a self-created myth. At the end of this period, he moved to Munich, and would join the army at the start of World War I.


Hitler was born in Braunau, Austria-Hungary to a devout Catholic family of middle class status. His father, Alois, worked for the Imperial Austrian customs service, a prestigious white collar position. Alois was widowed twice, and died in 1903. His third wife, Klara Poelzl Hitler — who was 23 years his junior — bore him six children, only two of whom reached maturity: Adolf, and his younger sister Paula, who died in 1960. After the dealt of Alois, Klara moved to a more modest apartment, in Linz, Austria, living on savings and pension. She tried to educate him in accordance with his father's intention, explained by Adolf as "to have me study for a civil servant's career."[2] A mediocre student, he dropped out at age 16, as was normal for someone not headed to university. His dropping-out was also encouraged by a lung infection requiring a long convalescence. [2]


While he called the years between 16 and 19 the happiest of his life, he both rejected a trade and wanted to become an artist, and was concerned with politics. His boyhood friend, August Kubizek, said "he saw everywhere only obstacles and hostility....He was always up against something and at odds with the world...I never saw him take anything lightly." While he rejected formal education, Kubizek said he was always surrounded by books, especially on German history and mythology. [3]


Georg Ritter von Schoenerer had been instrumental, in the 1870s, of introducing "raucous nationalism" to parliament. von Schoenerer's ideology was centered on antisemitism, and extended to anti-liberalism, anti-socialism, anti-Catholicism, and opposition to the House of Hapsburg. Hitler had already absorbed ideas from him while at home in Linz, including the "Heil" greeting and the term "Fuehrer", applied to von Schoenerer. [4] von Schoenerer was also sexually puritanical, preaching celibacy until the age of 25, keeping the race pure by avoiding infection from prostitutes. [5]

The music of Richard Wagner influenced him at age 17, both in terms of heroic agendas and antisemitism. He later wrote that "whoever who wants to understand National Socialism must know Wagner."[6]

While it was his friend Kubizek that was the professional musician, the young Hitler apparently could play the piano and compose. He was also fascinated by the staging of opera. Indeed, several historians speculate that his attraction to opera was less for the pure music but more to appeal to his growing sense of how pageantry can affect a large group of people. An interesting thought experiment is whether the Vienna Opera presaged the Nuremberg Party Rally.

First stay in Vienna

He first visited Vienna in 1906, staying four weeks and becoming entranced. Kubizek said he stayed long enough to absorb things, but not "the distress and misery that were concealed by the magnificent facade of the city. This deceptive picture, largely produced by his artistic imagination, produced a powerful attraction in him."[7]

Intending to study fine arts, he moved to Vienna in 1907, but failed the entrance examinations both for the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. While the art school suggested his talent might be more in architecture, his failure to graduate from high school barred the School of Architecture from him. It was possible to apply for a waiver, but, as far as is known, he never did so.

The academic counselor for architecture said he needed more experience, but some of his work was interesting. Hitler would continue a lifelong interest in architecture, [8] generally believed to be the core of his friendship with Albert Speer.

Kubizek and Klara did not hear from Adolf after he first moved to Vienna. She disapproved of his withdrawing his inheritance to study, and she said she had become an "old, sick woman."[9] He did not initially tell his family, since they had agreed to let him go to Vienna to enter the Academy. If he told them, there would be pressure either to apprentice for a trade, or to study for the civil service.

He was taking private lessons from a tutor recommended by the Academy, and enjoying opera, usually with Kubizek. After one performance in the Spring of 1908, he grasped his friend's arm, said "Come, Gustl. We must see the sink of iniquity once." They turned into he Spittelberggasse, he street of prostitutes. He led Kubizek up one side and down the other, exhibiting disgust and piety. When they returned to their room, be bewailed the "monument to the shame of our times," and the need for keeping the "flame of life pure", for those who have "kept themselves pure in body and soul and are worthy of a union that would produce healthy children for the nation."[10] Celibacy until at least age 25, and avoidance of prostitutes, were teachings of von Schoenerer. On his own, however, he connected two concepts: whie slavery and management by Jews.

A Linz neighbor wrote him to say that his mother was dying.

Mother's final illness

She developed breast cancer in 1907, and was treated by Dr. Edward Bloch, a Jewish physician to whom Hitler paid much respect. After heroic but unsuccessful treatment, she died in 1908. The surgical wound had been treated locally with strong-smelling iodoform, which left a lifelong impression. He returned from Vienna to care for her in her last days, during which she was to whisper to Kubizek, "Gustl, go on being a good friend to my son when I'm no longer here. He has no one else."

Hitler was to send respectful greetings to Bloch for years. In 1937, he said to fellow Nazis, "Dr. Bloch," said Hitler, "is an Edaljude - a noble Jew. If all Jews were like him, there would be no Jewish question." [11]

Return to Vienna

He spent the next four unhappy years in Vienna, largely in poverty and hunger. Kubizek mentions him as surrounded by books, but only specifically remembers Legends of Gods and Heroes: the Treasures of Germanic Mythology. [12] By August 1909, he was homeless, living on the streets and in the most impersonal of shelters. [13] In February 1910, he was able to move to a dormitory that offered some individuality. Guided by a friend he met there, Reinhold Hanisch, he was guided into a beginning of self-respect, after receiving funds from his sister.[14] While taking part in political arguments at the dormitory, Hanisch said "When he got excited, Hitler couldn't restrain himself. He screamed and fidgeted with his hands. But when he was quiet, he seemed to have a fair amount of self-control and acted in quite a dignified manner." Hanisch remembered only one anti-Semitic comment, and that Hitler spoke of gratitude to Jewish charities, admiration for Jewish resistance to persecution; his friend believes his strong for Jews, which he claims, in Mein Kampf, formed in Vienna, developed later. [15]


Hitler wrote, in Mein Kampf, that he had not been an antisemite in Linz, but had formed antisemitic opinions in one to two years after coming to Vienna. Factors in the change included his changing his regular reading from the pro-Habsburg press to the antisemitic newspaper, Deutsches Volkblatt, and the policies of Karl Lueger. He cites, however, a formative episode:

Onc, as I was strolling through the Inner City, I suddenly encountered an apparition in a black caftan and black hair locks. Is this a Jew? was my first thought.

For, to be sure, they had not looked like that in Linz. I observed the man furtively and cautiously, but the longer I stared at the foreign face, scrutinizing feature for feature, the more my frirst question assumed a new form:

Is this a German?[16]

He began to read antisemitic pamphlets. Dawidowicz claims he justified antisemitism as his own realization, without benefit of influences in Linz or of literature in the public domain.[17]

One of his sources was the racist and occult magazine, Ostara, which focused on "homoerotic notions of a manichaean struggle between the heroic and creative 'blond' race and a race of predator dark 'beast-men' who preyed on the 'blond' women with animal lust and bestial instincts that were corrupting and destroying mankind and it culture.' The author was a former monk, Joerg Lanz von Liebefels, who formed the "New Templar Order" in a ruined castle. Hitler was to visit him in 1909, asking for back issues, and, according to Lanz von Liebenfels, "looked so earnest and impoverished that he gave him the missing copies and an extra crown to get home."[18]

Ostara emphasized the swastika and recommended sterilization of Jews — "the castration knife". Other aspects of his reading including Das Buch der Psalmen teutsch: Das Gebetbuch der Arisophen Rassen Mystiker und Antisemitism (The Book of Germanic Psalms: Prayerbook of Ariosophic Race Mystics and Antisemites), found in his personal library. Dawidowicz observed he would have had availabkem and probably read, Das Gesetzbuck der Manu and die Rassenpflege (Manu's Book of Law and Race Cultivation), which recommended eradication of "mongrelized breeds." She also believed that he would have read Guido von List, a pamphleteer but also active in a pan-German movement, providing a transition into politics. [19] Jones called him the "Aleister Crowley of Vienna", who referred to the old Aryan race as the Armanen; this may have been the origin of the name of the later Artamanen agrarian group (Artamanen was folded into Hitler Youth after 1934).

Increasing political interest

He took to observing the Parliament, and, according to Heinz, was shocked by the disorder; this led to his antiparliamentary beliefs. [20] By the time Hitler arrived, the influence of von Schoenerer, who had never tried to build a mass party, was in decline. Hitler questioned his willingness to participate in parliament, and thus began to be influenced by Karl Lueger, the "tribune of he people". Lueger was also strongly antisemitic, but less ideologically than von Schoenerer: he would say "I say who a Jew is". Still, Lueger was appointed Lord Mayor of Vienna in 1897, who built the Catholic Christian Social Party. While antisemitic, he was pro-Habsburg, populist, and scial reformer. Hitler did not learn ideology from him, but manipulating the mob.[21]

Deepening poverty

By early 1909, he was exhausting his inheritance. He had had to move to cheaper living quarters, and to pawn his suit and cane. Embarrassed, he obtained food at a soup kitchen Briefly, he tried construction work, but resisted joining the union. His political discussions, in two weeks, led his coworkers to threatenn th throw him off the building if he did not leave.[22] While this upset him at the time, he later observed that he learned that one way of dealing with opposition was "bashing in the head of anyone who dared to oppose".[23]

On 16 September 1909, he left his room with rent unpaid, and no longer had a fixed address. From September to December, he appears to have slept on the streets. To protect himself from the winter's cold, he sheltered at the regimented Meidling Asylum, formed for the homeless by a society principally by a Jewish family.[24]

He formed a friendship with another homeless man, Reinhold Hanisch, who had been a domestic servant. Hanisch began mentoring Hitler in the economics of the destitute, and was much more proactive in developing actionable plans for lodging and work.

A slight step up

With Hanisch's guidance, he moved to the Mannerheim in February 1910, which was considered the best of the residences for otherwise homeless men, offering more amenities and privacy. Since the Mannerheim had a workroom in which Hitler could paint, Hanisch formed a partnership in which he sold Hitler's artwork in coffeehouses, and to furniture makers that needed basic artwork for the convention of putting pictures on the back of couches, so they could be free-standing in a room. [25]

Hitler also formed a friendship with a part-time art dealer, Josef Neumann, a Jew, who joined the partnership. Hitler and Neumann, who Hanisch called "a real friend" to Hitler, would visit museums together. [26]

By the summer, Hanisch and Hitler were losing trust with one another. Hitler, the artist, was taking too long to turn out both routine and commissioned work. Hanisch, who was the primary salesman, had discovered he had some artistic ability and could sell work of his own. Meanwhile, Hitler grew suspicious when Hanisch said that a given part of artwork was overpriced; he suspected Hanisch was charging a higher price and pocketing the difference. At the end of July, after a shouting match, Hanisch moved out of the Mannerheim to a room of his own.

In the beginning of August, Hitler went to the police and swore out a warrant for embezzlement of a painting worth fifty crowns. Jones says Hanisch had actually paid him and Hitler wanted to punish him for "leaving" him. Ironically, two Jews who worked with them sided with Hitler, but the incident hurt Hitler's reputation. [27]

These incidents are significant in that they show Hitler's dilettante style and vindictiveness, but that in 1910, while he may have been a philosophical antisemite, he could get along with individual Jews. A part-time salesman named Siegfried Lossner was Jewish.[28] One of his favorite art buyers, Jacob Altenberg, was Jewish.[29]

Commercial viability

In late 1910, he decided to paint and sell his paintings -- sticking to paintings of formulaic subjects, of he sizes needed by the frame dealers and furniture makers, and not to price himself out of the market. He did commercial watercolors to make money to live, but his personal interest was architectural drawings. [30]

Continuing his art and selling some of his work, by 1912, according to Shirer, he was a competent draftsman, producing acceptable architectural work in pencil, oils, and watercolor, but having great difficulty in drawing realistic human figures. Hanisch sold his work, and the other partner was a Jew, Joseph Neumann, with whom he was friendly enough to visit museums. [31]

Jakob Altenberg, the Jewish art dealer, was a consistent art buyer through 1913. While he was an example of the foreign Jew in Vienna about which Hitler complained, Altenberg said he had never heard Hitler make an antisemitic remark in his presence.[32]

Residency concerns

He learned that he would receive an inheritance from his father, which had been keeping him in Vienna.

Hitler probably should have registered for compulsory Austro-Hungarian military service in 1909, but 1912 was his last legal year -- and he ignored it. With new, stricter conscription laws, he chose to move to Munich, Germany, and avoid the Austrian threat. He left on 24 May 1913. [33]


  1. Ian Kershaw (1998), Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris, W.W. Norton, ISBN 0-393-04671-0, pp. 64-65
  2. 2.0 2.1 William Shirer (1960), The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Simon & Schuster, p. 14
  3. Shirer, pp. 15-16
  4. Kershaw, Hubris, pp. 33-34
  5. Kershaw, Hubris, p. 44
  6. Robert S. Wistrich (2009), A lethal obsession: anti-semitism from antiquity to the global Jihad, Random House
  7. J. Sydney Jones (1982), Hitler in Vienna 1907-1913: Clues to the Future, Stein & Day, ISBN 0812828550, pp. 5-6
  8. Heinz A. Heinz (1934), Germany's Hitler, Hurst & Blackett, pp. 34-35
  9. John Toland (1976), Adolf Hitler, Doubleday, p. 25
  10. Jones, pp. 58-58-59, 66-67
  11. "Interview With Dr. Eduard Bloch (Part 2 of 2)", Office of Strategic Services: Hitler Source Book, 5 March 1943
  12. Kershaw, Hubris 1998, p. 41
  13. Shirer, pp. 39-42
  14. Reinhold Hanisch (April 1939), ""I Was Hitler's Buddy"", New Republic: 193-99, 270-72, 297-300
  15. Shirer, pp. 43-45
  16. Kershaw, Hubris, p. 61
  17. Lucy Dawidowicz (1975), The War against the Jews, 1933-1945 (10th Anniversary ed.), Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-34532-X, p. 8
  18. Der Mann, der Hiller Ideen Gab by Wilfred Daim, quoted by Jones, pp. 117-118
  19. Dawidowicz, pp. 9-10
  20. Heinz, pp. 44-48
  21. Kershaw, Hubris, pp. 34-35
  22. Jones, pp. 127-129
  23. Joachim Fest (1973), Hitler, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, p. 53
  24. Jones,pp. 130-145
  25. Jones, p. 140-149
  26. Kershaw, Hubris, pp. 63-64
  27. Jones, pp. 183-189
  28. Hanisch, pp. 271-272, 299
  29. Bradley F. Smith, Adolf Hitler. His Family, Childhood and Youth. Stanford 1967, p.149 quoted in Kershaw, Hubris, p. 64
  30. Jones, pp. 210-211
  31. Hanisch, p. 241
  32. Jones, p. 229-230
  33. Kershaw, Hubris, p. 68