"I believe that it was the will of God to send a boy from here into the Reich, to make him great, to raise him up to be the Fuhrer of the nation." — Adolf Hitler, (Linz 1938)
"He alone knows Hitler the Fuhrer who knows Hitler the boy." — Franz Jetzinger
The rise of Adolf Hitler, the 'poor devil' from Braunau and inmate of a Vienna men's hostel, to the position of ruler of Germany and a sizeable part of the globe is one of the most astounding and disquieting careers in history. It was made possible by a unique coincidence of individual and historical circumstances, by the mysterious way in which the age complemented the man and the man the age. The curiously fragmented, neurotic character of the post-1918 era brought about by the collapse of a traditional order, the difficulties of adapting to new forms of state, the loss of economic and social status by broad sections of the population, and, connected with this, the widespread fear of life, the exhaustion in the face of a time that was out of joint together with an increasing mass flight into irrationality, the mindless readiness to renounce reason, and an ever more uninhibited susceptibility to myth: all this could by itself have led to crisis and distress, but, without the person of Hitler, never to those extremes, reversals of established order, mass hysteria and barbaric explosions which actually resulted. For a long time he seemed to bear within himself all the nation's psychological and social depression, eventually he was widely regarded as the saviour who promised to give a new and happy turn to German history, which had gone so tragically awry. During the final phase of the Republic, when he flew bout Germany from one meeting to another on his famous tours, he would on occasion order the plane to circle a few times over the rallying place. The illuminated airplane in the light sky, the masses of people waiting patiently in the darkness, despairing, discouraged, and yet awaiting this moment, this man who came down to them like a god to take up his dominion: in this picture the power and the myth of Hitler are to be seen at their most vivid. What we call National Socialism is inconceivable without his person. Any definition of this movement, this ideology, this phenomenon, which did not contain the name of Hitler would miss the point. In the story of the movement's rise, as in the period of its triumph down to its catastrophically delayed end, he was all in one: organizer of the party, creator of its ideology, tactician of its campaign for power, rhetorical mover of the masses, dominant focal point, operative centre, and, by virtue of the charisma which he alone possessed, the ultimate and underived authority: leader, saviour, redeemer. It was to him that the masses looked in their hunger for faith, their longing for self-surrender, and their aversion from responsibility. When Hans Frank stated in retrospect
'It was Hitler's regime, Hitler's policy, Hitler's rule of force, Hitler's victory, and Hitler's defeat — nothing else,' (1)
these words contained, apart from the obvious desire for an apologia, the true secret and the inner mechanism of National Socialism.
'Then came the great thrill of happiness,' says a contemporary account of a meeting with Hitler, to which there are countless parallels. 'I looked into his eyes, he looked into mine, and I was left with only one wish — to be at home and alone with the great, overwhelming experience.' (2)
What emerges in the emotional fervour of such confessions is more than the effects of a propaganda that systematically elevated Hitler to supernatural heights. Before any attempt at a description of 'demonic' or 'magical' characteristics, it should be pointed out that in addition to everything else Hitler was the National Socialist par excellence, not only the Fuhrer but also the protagonist of the movement. In none of his followers can the individual features of the National Socialist 'nature' be observed in such intensified and typical form. His life story gives expression to all this movement's basic psychological, social and ideological drives. The disgruntlement, resentment and protest that were to be seen distorted and often one-sidedly accentuated in his colleagues and sympathisers combined in him in model proportions. Rather than the qualities which raised him from the masses, it was those qualities he shared with them and of which he was a representative example that laid the foundations for his success. He was the incarnation of the average,
'the man who lent the masses his voice and through whom the masses spoke'. (3)
In him the masses encountered themselves. The story of his rise from men's hostel to Reich Chancellery is the story of the projection of an individual failure on to a whole nation. He was ahead of the nation in so far as he had long ago found the formulae for overcoming the personal distresses, humiliations and disappointments that littered his early path, formulae that he later presented to the Nation.
The pathological factors which Hitler the individual shared with the post-war society that brought him to the top may be observed from many different points of view. There was the overvaluation of the individual and of society that had met with such sudden disillusionment, the seething desires of restless millions and their inability to meet the demands of responsible and independent existence, the embittering experience of proletarianization that went hand in hand with a search for objects of blame and hate, the erroneous attitudes and maniac motions which made any realistic approach to life impossible and created that distorted image of man in which both Hitler and his age saw themselves. The analysis of Hitler's personality will repeatedly bring to light elements characteristic of the period of his rise, and vice versa.
An account of his life must go back to the time before his birth. The indulgence normally accorded to a man's origins is out of place in the case of Adolf Hitler, who made documentary proof of Aryan ancestry a matter of life and death for millions of people but himself possessed no such document. He did not know who his grandfather was. Intensive research into his origins, accounts of which have been distorted by propagandist legends and which are in any case confused and murky, has failed so far to produce a clear picture. National Socialist versions skimmed over the facts and emphasised, for example, that the population of the so-called Waldviertel, from which Hitler came, had been 'tribally German since the Migration of the Peoples', or more generally, that Hitler had
'absorbed the powerful forces of this German granite landscape into his blood through his father'. (4)
On 7 June 1837, in the house of a small farmer named Trummelschlager in Strones, the maid Maria Anna Schicklgruber, aged forty-one and single, gave birth to a son. The father was and remains unknown, and the most various and daring guesses have been made. There is some evidence to support the account given by Hans Frank during his Nuremberg statement, and it has never been entirely disproved. According to this, Hitler received in 1930 a letter from the son of a half brother, possibly an attempt at blackmail, which darkly hinted at 'very definite facts concerning our family history'. Frank was instructed to inquire into the matter confidentially and concluded:
Hitler's father was the illegitimate child of a cook named Schickelgruber from Leonding, near Linz, employed in a household at Graz. This cook Schickelgruber, the grandmother of Adolf Hitler, was working for a Jewish family named Frankenberger when she gave birth to her child [this should read 'when she became pregnant']. At that time — this happened in the 1830s Frankenberger paid Schickelgruber on behalf of his son, then about nineteen, a paternity allowance from the time of her child's birth up to his fourteenth year. There was also a correspondence between these Frankenbergers and Hitler's grandmother, the general trend of which was the unexpressed common knowledge of the correspondents that Schickelgrubers's child had been conceived in circumstances which rendered the Frankenbergers liable to pay a paternity allowanced. (5)
Maria Anna Schicklgruber's son came at an early age into the care of the peasant Nepomuk Hiedler, subsequently the mother's brother-in-law. Up to his fortieth year he was called Alois Schicklgruber, then, evidently on the initiative of his 'foster father' and with the help of a mistake by the pastor of Dollersheim, who kept the register of births and deaths, he changed his name. From January 1877 onwards Alois Schicklgruber called himself Alois Hitler. No one can say what effect it had on his son when he learned these facts just as he was setting out to conquer power in Germany; but there is some reason to suppose that the sombre aggression he had always felt towards his father now became open hate. In May 1938, only a few weeks after the German occupation of Austria, he had the village of Dollersheim and its environs turned into an army training area. His father's birthplace and his grandmother's burial place were obliterated by the tanks of the Wehrmacht. (6)
Alois Schicklgruber-Hitler learned the shoemaker's trade and then entered the Austrian revenue office. His intelligence and ambition took him to the highest grade in the Imperial and Royal Customs Authority open to a man with his educational qualifications. He was evidently austere and conscientious. He married three times and — contrary to his son's transparent later slanders — was reasonably prosperous. In his third marriage there was born to him on 24 April 1889, in Braunau on the Inn, a son, who was christened Adolf.
Records of Adolf Hitler's childhood and youth are meagre. There are self-created legends embellished, as people began to idolize the Fuhrer, with moving details intended to give an impression of the early maturity associated with genius. According to these he was always a victorious leader on the village common and continually produced for his playmates carefully thought-out plans for adventurous exploration or other exploits. His ostensible enthusiasm for the military life, his extraordinary empathy which, in his own words, 'enabled him to understand and grasp the meaning of history', as well as his enthusiastic nationalism, foreshadowed his future career, and the fable of the poor orphan boy forced to go abroad and earn his living at the age of seventeen added an effective touch of sentimentality. That this was fiction has since been almost completely proved. (7) On the contrary, Adolf Hitler was evidently an alert pupil of average gifts whose abilities were thwarted by lack of self-discipline from an early age and a tendency towards an easy-going, irregular way of life. His primary schools found him a good pupil, but twice during his five years at a Realschule (secondary school) he was held back for a year and once he had to sit an examination a second time.
Almost all his reports rate his industriousness as 'uneven', and in mathematics, natural history, French and even German his work is considered 'unsatisfactory'. The report of September 1905 rates his history, in which he was supposed to have been ahead of the whole class, as only 'satisfactory'; in gymnastics alone is he rated 'excellent'; on the whole this report was so unsatisfactory that he left the school. Hitler later explained this as a stubborn reaction to his father's attempt to force him into the career of a civil servant; but by the time he left school his father had been dead for two years and his ailing mother opposed the obstinate and short-tempered boy with nothing more than an unconcealed anxiety about his future.
Adolf Hitler wanted to be an artist. There is reason to suppose that his choice of the profession was determined not least by vague notions of the unfettered bohemian life in the mind of a provincial middle-class boy, it certainly sprang also from a wish to avoid the demands of a practical training. In any case, the sixteen-year-old did not at first take any serious step towards realizing the ambition to which he claimed such passionate devotion. Nevertheless his mother began gradually to give way. Soon after her husband's death she had sold the house in Leonding and moved into an apartment in Linz. Here her son now sat about, occupied only with amateurish painting exercises; aimless, clumsy designs for sumptuous villas and public buildings. For a time he took piano lessons, until he grew tired of them and gave them up. He visited cafes, the theatre and the opera. It was the life half of a man of private means, half of a good-for-nothing, and he was able to lead it thanks to his mother's pension as a widow. He refused to take up any definite work, a 'bread-and-butter job', as he contemptuously described it. Even at this time his great love was the music of Richard Wagner, which had an extraordinary power over him. Increasingly, and according to his boyhood friend August Kubizek, with a positively maniac eagerness, he allowed himself to be transported by this music into the unreal world which he finally erected beside and above real life, whose demands he evaded with a mixture of laziness and supreme contempt. Kubizek has described Hitler's ecstatic reaction after they had attended a performance of Wagner's opera Rienzi, which concerns Cola di Rienzo, the medieval rebel and tribune of the people.
'Like a dammed-up flood bursting through the embankments, the words came rushing out of him. In grandiose, stirring images he painted for me his future and the future of his people.'
When Kubizek later reminded Hitler of this scene, in 1939 in Bayreuth, Hitler is supposed to have replied portentously, 'At that hour it all began!'(8)
Filled with faith in his special vocation, Hitler went in 1907, now in his nineteenth year, to Vienna to enrol in the painting class at the Academy of Fine Arts; but he failed the entrance examination and was rejected. Soon afterwards his mother died.
'Even today,' he wrote later, looking back in self-pity on his years in Vienna, 'the mention of that city arouses only gloomy thoughts in my mind. Five years of poverty in that town of Phaecians. Five years in which, first as a casual labourer and then as a humble painter, I had to earn my daily bread. And a meagre morsel indeed it was, not even enough to still my constant hunger. That hunger was the faithful guardian which never left me but took part in everything I did.' (9)
But even this was untrue. A precise calculation of his income has shown that with the inheritance from his father, his mother's estate, an orphan's pension gained by false pretences, and later with support from an aunt, he had an average monthly income of almost 100 kronen (about $140 or £50). (10). He again tried and failed to enter the Academy of Fine Arts; after showing his work, he was not even allowed to take the examination. But he did not give up the aimless life to which he had meanwhile become accustomed. Kubizek, who, as a music student, for a time shared with him the room at the back of the house at 29 Stumpergasse, has given a vivid description of this phase of Hitler's development. Even then Hitler used not to get up till about midday; he would go for a stroll in Schonbrunn Park, then sit up late at night over grandiose and senseless projects in which practical incompetence fought with impatient self-inflation. He planned to rebuild the Hofburg, whose tiled roof he did not like, he designed concert halls, theatres, museums and castles. Side by side with attacks on the civil service, the educational system or landlords, he developed projects for social reform or fantasies about a new popular drink. Without any musical knowledge he set about writing an opera, 'Wieland the Smith', once planned by Richard Wagner. He tried his hand as a dramatist, drawing his material from the Teutonic sagas; meanwhile his postcards bristled with spelling mistakes (11). He carried nothing through to the end. He had an extraordinary unstable temperament; feverish euphoria alternated abruptly with depression, when he would be at odds with the whole world, complaining about
'traps skilfully laid by the world around him for the sole purpose of hindering his rise'. (12)
By 1909 the savings left him by his parents had evidently all been used up, and, still incapable of leading a regular life, Hitler now began to go downhill. That summer he spent chiefly on park benches in the town; then he took refuge in a charity ward at Meidling. His subsequent claim to have worked as a labourer on building sites, which he even associated with his political awakening, has been proved false. (13) A tramp by the name of Reinhold Hanisch whom he got to know in the Meidling charity ward recalls that he wore at this time a frock coat reaching below his knees, given to him by another inmate with whom he was on friendly terms, a Hungarian Jew named Neumann. Hanisch adds:
'From under a greasy black derby hat, his hair hung over his coat collar and a thick ruff of fluffy beard encircled his chin.' (14)
Hanisch found Hitler lazy and moody. Whereas Hanisch did casual labour, Hitler tried to supplement his twenty-four-kronen orphan's pension, which he was still getting on the pretext of being an art student, by begging, when he did not simply drift. Hanisch's efforts to persuade him to join him in the search for work were mostly unsuccessful.
'Over and over again,' he recalls, 'there were days when he simply refused to work. He would hang around night shelters, living on the bread and soup he got there, and discussing politics, often getting into heated arguments.'
One day Hanisch asked him what trade he had learned. Hitler replied that he was a painter.
'Thinking that he was a house decorator, I said it would surely be easy to make money at this trade. He was offended and said he was not that sort of painter, but an academician and an artist.'
It was Hanisch's bright idea that they should team up. They moved into the Brigittenau hostel for men, and Hitler sat in the reading room copying postcards, which Hanisch, disguised as a blind man or a consumptive, hawked around the low taverns on the outskirts in the evenings, sharing the profits. (15)
In the hierarchy of the dregs of society, Hitler's move from the charity ward to the men's hostel was a step up. He probably owed it to the help of his Aunt Johanna, who had once lived with his parents. But here too he was for the most part surrounded by the shiftless and homeless. Among the social flotsam washed up in the city's wards and hostels of the multi-nation state were impoverished Hungarian nobles, bankrupt traders, down-and-outs from the dual monarchy's Italian provinces, petty clerks and moneylenders, gone-to-seed artists and so-called Handelees, Jews from the eastern regions of the Empire trying laboriously to rise in the world as old-clothes men, hosiers or pedlars. This pathological, evil-smelling world of envy, spite and egotism, where everyone was on edge for a chance to scramble upwards and only ruthlessness guaranteed escape, became for the next few years Hitler's home and formative background. Here his idea of mankind and his picture of society were moulded; here he received his first political impressions and asked his first political questions, to which he responded with the growing resentment, the hate and impotence of the outcast. He found here the reverse of the world of dreams and fantasies he had erected as a shelter for his frustrated hopes as an artist; he found it equally unreal and removed from the normal life which was becoming more and more closed to him.
Kubizek already noted with dismay the element of frenzy in his friend's make-up, the sudden unrestrained attacks of rage, the wild outbursts, the capacity for hatred. Hitler's growing lack of human contact, his inability to communicate, turned his conflicts inwards, where they renewed and intensified his aggressions. These in turn merely increased his isolation. Right up to the end, even when he was parading in triumph before hundreds of thousands of people, there remained a curious element of solitude in his life, From time to time he tried to involve the inmates of the men's hostel in heated political argument, but no one agreed with him and for the most part they merely jeered. For days on end he would sit about, at the mercy of his inner tensions, sullenly brooding on the injustice of things. With a typical mixture of self-pity and self-obsession, he judged his environment from the viewpoint not of a down-at-heel painter, but of a forcibly suppressed genius.
The living conditions and experiences of almost six years spent in Vienna left their mark on Hitler's character. He himself declared later:
During those years a view of life and a definite outlook on the world took shape in my mind. These became the granite basis of my conduct at that time. Since then I have extended that foundation only very little, and I have changed nothing in it. On the contrary. (16)
In fact, his view of the world was not the product of his own thinking, though he tried hard later to deny that there had been any intellectual influences at work on him, in an effort to add to the picture of himself as a natural leader, that of a totally original thinker who derived his ideology from direct communication with the spirit. On the other hand, he writes of his Vienna years:
'I read a great deal and I pondered deeply over what I read.'
In so far as this claim referred to his supposed study of Marxism, he himself contradicted it when in another passage of his profession of faith, Mein Kampf, he stated that a lecture by Gottfried Feder introduced him for the first time in his life to certain economic problems (17). Equally revealing is his account of his conversion to anti-Semitism. To begin with, he wrote, looking back on his past, he sought
'as always in such cases' to resolve his growing doubts 'by reading books. For the first time in my life I bought myself some anti-Semitic pamphlets for a few heller.'
This equating of 'books' with 'pamphlets' casts further doubt on his claims; he is probably referring to widely distributed gutter pamphlets sold through Viennese tobacconists by the founder of so-called 'Ariosophy', who used the name Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels. Under the title Ostara, Brieffbucherei der blonden Mannesrechtler (Newsletters of the Blond Fighters for the Rights of Men), these pamphlets won wide support for the doctrine of the struggle of the ace-men or heroes against the inferior races, the ape-men or satyrs, which was advanced with an affectation of wisdom as abstruse as malicious. (18)
The rest of what Hitler put forward as his philosophy was the sum of the cliches current in Vienna at the turn of the century. Konrad Heiden has pointed out that anti-socialism and anti-Semitism were
'fashionable among the ruling classes and good form in the middle-class circles to which Hitler aspired'
or to which, with the stubborn pride of the proletarianized petty bourgeois, he still felt he belonged. (19) A similar philosophy marked the Pan-German Party of Georg Ritter von Schonerer, where it had a nationalistic, pan-German side reflected in propaganda for the incorporation into the Reich of areas of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy where there were people of German ancestry. The man who made the most lasting impression on Hitler was clearly the Mayor of Vienna, Karl Lueger, the 'idol of old men and concierges, of women and chaplains', whom Hitler himself described as the 'mightiest German burgomaster of all time'. (20) Hitler admired this knowledgeable and adroit demagogue, who with consummate skill combined the prevailing social, anti-Jewish and Christian convictions and emotions with his political ambitions and showed a rare mastery of the art of influencing the masses. The only personal touch which Hitler added to this drab and arbitrary conglomeration of second-hand ideas was a primitive Darwinism that matched his own experiences in the men's hostel. As he later declared:
The idea of struggle is as old as life itself, for life is only preserved because other living things perish through struggle. In this struggle, the stronger, the more able, win, while the less able, the weak, lose. Struggle is the father of all things. It is not by the principles of humanity that man lives or is able to preserve himself above the animal world, but solely by means of the most brutal struggle (21)
What he was putting forward in these and countless similar declarations was nothing more than the outlook of the men's hostel, the philosophy of the outcast, the intellectual refuse from a world whose inhabitants know that there are too many of them and that therefore they must rise out of it or be trapped like spiders in a pot. This hackneyed philosophy can be traced continuously in Hitler's opinions from the Vienna years onward, whether he was writing admiringly of his model Karl Lueger, the Mayor, that he
'was very careful not to take men as something better than they were in reality',
or assuring those around him that 'it pays to be cunning', or celebrating brutality as a creative principle, or boasting that he had 'no bourgeois scruples'. (22) Always the vulgar Machiavellianism of the men's hostel, the school of baseness, was to be seen in such ideas; its corrupting influence had permeated his thought over a period of years. By interpreting men exclusively in the light of that twisted experience and seeing in their motives nothing but hate, ruthlessness, corruption, greed, lust for power, cruelty, or fear, he imagined, with provincial complacency, that he had come close to ultimate knowledge, whereas actually he was merely revealing his own desperate and depraved personality.
His feeling of superiority, which was necessary to him after he had failed in every personal challenge he had met, was founded not only on an arrogant contempt for mankind but also on the racial-biological twist, which, clearly following in the footsteps of Lanz von Liebenfels, he gave to his vulgarized Darwinian ideas. On the coincidence of belonging to one particular race, the failure could build up the self-importance his inflated ego demanded ever more urgently because of the abysmal depths of his own being. The Aryan — this was soon to become the firm core of his anti-Semitism — was 'the highest image and likeness of the Lord', and just as he had been the source of all the great achievements of culture and civilization in the past, so under the creative plan of providence he was destined in the future too for the loftiest position, for mastery. Meanwhile the Jew, as the principle of destruction and evil, with the hate and vengefulness characteristic of the inferior, increasingly opposed the Aryan in order to subjugate the world by the means peculiar to him: planned corruption, deliberate pollution of the pure Aryan blood, and the systematic poisoning of public life.
'Was there any shady undertaking,' Hitler demanded later, 'any form of foulness, especially in cultural life, in which at least one Jew did not participate? On putting the probing knife to that kind of abscess one immediately discovered, like the maggot in a putrescent body, a little Jew who was often blinded by the sudden light.' (23)
The press, art, prostitution, land speculation, syphilis, capitalism as well as Marxism, but also pacifism, the idea of world citizenship and liberalism, were the camouflages adopted at different times to conceal a world conspiracy, and behind all of them stood the figure of the Eternal Jew. The last obstacle to the Jew's plans was the German nation with its high proportion of Aryan blood; if that champion was vanquished in the mighty conflict, the victory of mongrel man, the end of civilization and the disruption of the plan of creation were at hand; a stop must be put to this threat.
'In standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the Lord.' (24)
It is not difficult to trace in the endless variations of this ideology the influence both of 'Ariosophy' and of the young Hitler's personal humiliations and failures. Moreover, in his description of the 'anti-man' we come again and again upon unmistakable projections of Hitler's own character: the Jews' alleged obsession with revenge, their feelings of inferiority, their lust to subjugate and destroy, represent the transference on to his enemy of compulsive character traits which Hitler sensed within himself. At the same time we must seek for some experience that impelled such a 'flight into hate' by this son of liberal parents, who on his own admission could not remember
'even having heard the word [Jew] at home during my father's lifetime', (25)
and who had been on friendly terms with a Jew during his first years in Vienna. August Kubizek has pointed out that at an early stage Hitler quarrelled with everyone and felt hatred wherever he looked. Possibly, therefore, his anti-Semitism was merely the concentration of his hitherto unfocused hate, which at last found in the Jew an object to which to attach itself and so become aware of itself. On the other hand, Hitler's anti-Semitism has been attributed to the sexual envy of the unsatisfied, lonely, shut-in inmate of the men's hostel, and there is convincing evidence of this. There is his nervously clumsy, repressed attitude towards women from an early age. This is seen in the story of the relationship, which never went further than looks, with 'Stefanie', the romantic idol of his youth, and also in the alternating moods of revulsion and hysterical adoration that later marked his approach to women. There is even stronger evidence in the very style and content of Hitler's writings. (26) The pages of Mein Kampf devoted to anti-Semitism give off a stench of naked obscenity, half concealed by that affectation of 'erudite moral philosophy in which pornographic works are accustomed to wrap themselves'. (27)
This Judaizing of our spiritual life and mammonizing of our natural instinct for procreation will sooner or later work havoc with our whole posterity.
The adulteration of the blood and racial deterioration conditioned thereby are the only causes that account for the decline of ancient civilizations; for it is never by wars that nations are ruined, but by the loss of their powers of resistance, which are exclusively a characteristic of pure racial blood.
The black-haired Jewish youth lies in wait for hours on end, satanically glaring at and spying on the unsuspecting girl whom he plans to seduce, adulterating her blood and removing her from her own people. The Jew uses every possible means to undermine the racial foundations of a subjugated people. In his systematic efforts to ruin girls and women he strives to break down the last barriers of discrimination between him and other people. The Jews were responsible for bringing Negroes into the Rhineland, with the ultimate idea of bastardizing the white race which they hate and thus lowering its cultural and political level so that the Jew might dominate.
With the anguished monotony of the insane, he returns again and again to these obscene fantasies, patently tormented for pages on end by the forbidden images of his overheated and unaired imagination. For him,
woman and sex have remained within the domain of sinful feverish fantasies. His central political concept is a hackneyed rationalization of this obsessional idea: an insane world in which history, politics and the 'life struggle of the peoples' are pictured solely in terms of coupling, fornication, pollution of the blood, selective breeding, hybridisation, generation in the primeval slime which will improve or mar the race, violation, rape, and harassment of the woman — world history as an orgy of rut, in which dissolute and devilish sub-men lie in wait for the golden-haired female. (28)
A similar example of the squalidly feverish was offered by Hitler later as his reason for finally leaving Vienna, after years of brooding inactivity, eccentric daydreams, and continual flight into extravagant fantasy:
'The gigantic city seemed to me the incarnation of mongrel depravity.' (29)
He spoke too of his longing
'to be among those who lived and worked in that land from which the movement would be launched, the object of which would be the fulfilment of what my heart always longed for, namely, the union of the country in which I was born with one common fatherland, the German Empire'.
In actual fact, his military papers, which have now come to light, and which he strove for in vain immediately after the invasion of Austria, leave no doubt that he was guilty of avoiding compulsory military service. He not only gave his nationality as 'stateless' at the Munich police station, but also made a false statement about the date he left Vienna. He did not leave the city in spring 1912, but in May 1913. When the authorities finally tracked him down, he wrote a long, tearful letter to the 'Linz Municipal Council Dept II'. This not merely reveals that his knowledge of German language and spelling was still inadequate, but also indicates in its description of his living conditions that his life continued to run on the same chaotic lines as in Vienna. (30) He squandered much of his time in cafes, where he greedily and morosely devoured huge quantities of cakes, buried himself behind the newspapers provided for customers, and launched into angry monologues about Jewry, social democracy or nationalism in front of anyone who happened to be there, before relapsing into his brooding twilight. His aversion for all regular work remained insuperable. He earned an uncertain income by the occasional sale of sketches, posters, or small water-colours of Munich subjects.
'Thus my income is only very modest,' he wrote to the Linz Municipal Council, 'just large enough to keep my head above water. I enclose as proof my income tax certificate.' (31)
He was still vaguely inclined towards a career as an architect, 'on a smaller or a larger scale as destiny would allot to me'. Josef Greiner, an acquaintance from his Vienna days, asked him at this period what his plans for the future were, and received the reply that there was bound to be a war and then it wouldn't matter whether he had learned a trade or not. (32)
He was right. A snapshot has been preserved showing Hitler on 1 August 1914, among the enthusiastic crowd in the Odeonplatz, Munich, during the proclamation of a state of war. His face is clearly discernible with the parted lips, and the excited eyes that at last have an aim and see a future.
'For me,' he wrote later, these hours came as a deliverance from the distress that had weighed upon me during the days of my youth. I am not ashamed to acknowledge today that I was carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment and that I sank down upon my knees and thanked Heaven from the fullness of my heart for the favour of having been permitted to live at such a time. (33)
For this war promised an end to his loneliness, despondency and mistakes. At last he could flee from the misery of his aimless hate, his misunderstood and dammed-up emotions, his exaltations, into the security of a great community. For the first time in his life he had work to do, could feel solidarity with others, could identify himself with the strength and prestige of a powerful institution. For the first time Adolf Hitler, twenty-five years old, without a trade, for years the inmate of a men's hostel and a copier of postcards, knew where he belonged. The war was his second great formative experience, his positive one. He himself asserted with the tell-tale arrogance of the drop-out:
'The war caused me to think deeply on all things human. Four years of war give a man more than thirty years at a university in the way of education in the problems of life.' (34)
His four years as a regimental staff runner set the course of his life. The sixth chapter of Mein Kampf makes a revealing comparison between the shortcomings of German propaganda and the success of Allied propaganda. It shows that beyond an anti-Semitic interpretation of the war as a conspiracy by the universal enemy against the German Reich, which had meanwhile become a rooted conviction, Hitler saw it exclusively as a struggle between two propaganda techniques. Now he began to fit together the elements of the theories which, according to his companions' accounts and his own self-portrait, he had already hit upon through his Rienzi experience, the emergence of Lueger, Social Democratic agitation, and not least his own experiments as a poster artist. His conception of political events hardened into a formula: only the ignorant populace, always referred to in a tone of contempt, took part in the actual fighting for ideas; it was really the methods by which these ideas were propagated that held the key to power or impotence. Here in embryo was what was later to become the 'secret doctrine' of his inner circle, the cynical prescription for success which led to his rise — but also later to his fall.
No doubt the reserved, inhibited lance corporal of the List Regiment was far from possessing the certainty with which he was later to apply this knowledge; but it already gave him a feeling of inner superiority and for the first time something more than the sullenly rebellious conviction that he knew better than other people. His comrades, listening to his excited out-bursts, smiled at the bombastic insistence with which he held himself personally responsible for the progress of the war. He made no friends; he was the odd man out, the 'dreamer', as they reported almost unanimously. He often sat in a corner
'with his helmet on his head, lost in thought, and none of us was able to coax him out of his apathy'. (35)
He was certainly brave, was twice wounded, and was decorated with the Iron Cross First and Second Class. And yet he never rose above corporal. His then regimental adjutant has stated that all his superiors agreed that this doubtless courageous but extremely odd individual could not be made a sergeant. He would never command respect. (36)
The end of the war brought what the fearless runner Adolf Hitler had always feared: the return to civilian life, to the horror of the normality in which he, homeless, without profession, without family, without purpose, had no part. Life at the front had made him harder, given him experience and his first touch of self-confidence. But at bottom the war too was something outside ordinary life, even if he took it to be life itself and found in it confirmation of the philosophy of struggle that he had brought with him from the men's hostel. Up to the age of thirty he had never known anything but unreality, or a clouded view of reality. Already as a boy, he writes,
'I used to think it an ill-deserved stroke of bad luck that I had arrived too late on this terrestrial globe, and I felt sad at the idea that my life would have to run its course along peaceful and orderly lines.'(37)
Now destiny proved kind after all. In the chaos of collapse, Germany assumed the shape of an enormously magnified men's hostel. Vast armies of people had been uprooted, threatened by the war or its economic and social aftermath. In the failure of a whole social order, the type of the failure had his chance of a fresh start. When society was thrown back to zero, those whose own lives were at zero had their historic opportunity.
This was Adolf Hitler's hour. The incubation period was over. In the brooding sullenness of the previous few years the fermenting elements — hatred, feverish fantasies, pathological delusions had mysteriously settled. As Adolf Hitler puts it in the final chapter on the November Revolution:
'I decided to become a politician.' (38)
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