Biographies & Memoirs




The city where Hitler was to live for the next five years was an extraordinary place. More than any other European metropolis, Vienna epitomized tensions – social, cultural, political – that signalled the turn of an era, the death of the nineteenth-century world. They were to mould the young Hitler.

Anticipating that he would be studying at the Academy of Fine Arts, he had in late September or the beginning of October 1907 rented a small room on the second floor of a house in Stumpergasse 31, near the Westbahnhof in Vienna, owned by a Czech woman, Frau Zakreys. This is where he returned, some time between 14 and 17 February 1908, to pick up where he had left off before his mother’s death.

He was not long alone. We can recall that he had persuaded August Kubizek’s parents to let their son join him in Vienna to carry out his studies to become a musician. Kubizek’s father had been most reluctant to let his son go off with someone he regarded as no more than a failure at school and who thought himself above learning a proper trade. But Adolf had prevailed. On 18 February, he sent a postcard to his friend, urging him to come as quickly as possible. ‘Dear Friend,’ he wrote, ‘am anxiously expecting news of your arrival. Write soon so that I can prepare everything for your festive welcome. The whole of Vienna is awaiting you.’ A postscript added: ‘Beg you again, come soon.’ Four days later, Gustl’s tearful parents bade him goodbye, and he left to join his friend in Vienna. Adolf met a tired Kubizek at the station that evening, took him back to Stumpergasse to stay the first night, but, typically, insisted on immediately showing him all the sights of Vienna. How could someone come to Vienna and go to bed without first seeing the Court Opera House? So Gustl was dragged off to view the opera building, St Stephen’s cathedral (which could scarcely be seen through the mist), and the lovely church of St Maria am Gestade. It was after midnight when they returned to Stumpergasse, and later still when an exhausted Kubizek fell asleep with Hitler still haranguing him about the grandeur of Vienna.

The next few months were to be a repeat, on a grander scale, of the lifestyle of the two youths in Linz. An early search for lodgings for Gustl was rapidly given up, and Frau Zakreys persuaded to swap her larger room and move into the cramped little room that Hitler had occupied. Adolf and his friend now occupied the same room, paying double the rent (10 Kronen each) that Hitler had paid for his earlier room. Within the next few days, Kubizek learnt that he had passed the entrance examination and been accepted for study at the Vienna Conservatoire. He rented a grand piano which took up most of the available space in the room, just allowing Hitler the three paces to do his usual stomping backwards and forwards. Apart from the piano, the room was furnished with simple necessities: two beds, a commode, a wardrobe, a washstand, a table, and two chairs.

Kubizek settled down into a regular pattern of music study. What Hitler was up to was less clear to his friend. He stayed in bed in the mornings, was missing when Kubizek came back from the Conservatoire at lunchtimes, hung around the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace on fine afternoons, pored over books, fantasized over grandiose architectural and writing plans, and spent a good deal of time drawing until late into the night. Gustl’s puzzlement about how his friend could combine so much leisure time with studying at the Academy of Fine Arts was ended only after some considerable time. A show of irritation about Kubizek practising his piano scales led to a full-scale row between the two friends about study timetables and ended in Hitler finally admitting in fury that he had been rejected by the Academy. When Gustl asked him what, then, he was going to do, Hitler rounded on him: ‘What now, what now? … Are you starting too: what now?’ The truth was, Hitler had no idea where he was going or what he would do. He was drifting aimlessly.

Kubizek had plainly touched a raw nerve. Adolf had for mercenary reasons not told his family about his failure to enter the Academy. Otherwise, his guardian back in Linz, Josef Mayrhofer, would probably have denied him the 25 Kronen a month he received as his share of the orphans’ pension. And he would have come under even more pressure to find a job. But why did he deceive his friend? For a teenager to fail to pass an extremely tough entrance examination is in itself neither unusual nor shameful. But Adolf evidently could not bear to tell his friend, to whom he had always claimed to be so superior in all matters of artistic judgement, and whose own studies at the Conservatoire had started so promisingly, of his rejection. The blow to his self-esteem had been profound. And the bitterness showed. According to Kubizek, he would fly off the handle at the slightest thing. His loss of self-confidence could flare up in an instant into boundless anger and violent denunciation of all who he thought were persecuting him. The tirades of hate directed at everything and everybody were those of an outsized ego desperately wanting acceptance and unable to come to terms with his personal insignificance, with failure and mediocrity.

Adolf had still not given up hope of entering the Academy. But, typically, he took no steps to ensure that his chances would be better a second time round. Systematic preparation and hard work were as foreign to the young Hitler as they would be to the later dictator. Instead, his time was largely spent in dilettante fashion, as it had been in Linz, devising grandiose schemes shared only with the willing Kubizek – fantasy plans that usually arose from sudden whims and bright ideas and were dropped almost as soon as they had begun.

Apart from architecture, Hitler’s main passion, as it had been in Linz, was music. Particular favourites, certainly in later years, were Beethoven, Bruckner, Liszt, and Brahms. He greatly enjoyed, too, the operettas of Johann Strauß and Franz Lehár. Wagner was, of course, the non plus ultra. Adolf and Gustl were at the opera most nights, paying their 2 Kronen to gain the standing place that they had often queued for hours to obtain. They saw operas by Mozart, Beethoven, and the Italian masters Donizetti, Rossini, and Bellini as well as the main works of Verdi and Puccini. But for Hitler only German music counted. He could not join in the enthusiasm for Verdi or Puccini operas, playing to packed houses in Vienna. Adolf’s passion for Wagner, as in Linz, knew no bounds. Now he and his friend were able to see all Wagner’s operas performed at one of the best opera houses in Europe. In the short time they were together, Kubizek reckoned they saw Lohengrin ten times. ‘For him,’ remarked Kubizek, ‘a second-rate Wagner was a hundred times better than a first-class Verdi.’ Kubizek was of a different mind; but to no avail. Adolf would not rest until his friend agreed to forget about going to see Verdi at the Court Opera and accompany him to a Wagner performance at the less highbrow Popular Opera House. ‘When it was a matter of a Wagner performance, Adolf would stand no contradiction.’

‘When I hear Wagner,’ Hitler himself much later recounted, ‘it seems to me that I hear rhythms of a bygone world.’ It was a world of Germanic myth, of great drama and wondrous spectacle, of gods and heroes, of titanic struggle and redemption, of victory and of death. It was a world where the heroes were outsiders who challenged the old order, like Rienzi, Tannhäuser, Stolzing, and Siegfried; or chaste saviours like Lohengrin and Parsifal. Betrayal, sacrifice, redemption, and heroic death were Wagnerian themes which would also preoccupy Hitler down to the Götterdämmerung of his regime in 1945. And it was a world created with grandiose vision by an artist of genius, an outsider and revolutionary, all-or-nothing refuser of compromise, challenger of the existing order, dismissive of the need to bow to the bourgeois ethic of working for a living, surmounting rejection and persecution, overcoming adversity to attain greatness. It was little wonder that the fantasist and drop-out, the rejected and unrecognized artistic genius in the dingy room in the Stumpergasse, could find his idol in the master of Bayreuth. Hitler, the nonentity, the mediocrity, the failure, wanted to live like a Wagnerian hero. He wanted to become himself a new Wagner – the philosopher-king, the genius, the supreme artist. In Hitler’s mounting identity crisis following his rejection at the Academy of Arts, Wagner was for Hitler the artistic giant he had dreamed of becoming but knew he could never emulate, the incarnation of the triumph of aesthetics and the supremacy of art.


The strange coexistence of the young Hitler and Kubizek continued into midsummer 1908. During those months, almost the only other person apart from his friend with whom Hitler had regular contact was his landlady, Frau Zakreys. Nor did Kubizek and Hitler have any joint acquaintances. Adolf regarded his friendship with Gustl as exclusive, allowing him no other friendships. When Gustl brought a young woman, one of a small number of his music pupils, back to his room, Hitler, thinking she was a girlfriend, was beside himself with rage. Kubizek’s explanation that it was simply a matter of coaching a pupil in musical harmony merely provoked a tirade about the pointlessness of women studying. In Kubizek’s view, Hitler was outrightly misogynist. He pointed out Hitler’s satisfaction that women were not permitted in the stalls of the opera. Apart from his distant admiration for Stefanie in Linz, Kubizek knew of Hitler having no relations with any woman during the years of their acquaintance in both Linz and Vienna. This would not alter during his remaining years in the Austrian capital. None of the accounts of Hitler’s time in the Men’s Home gives a hint of any women in his life. When his circle of acquaintances got round to discussing women – and, doubtless, their own former girlfriends and sexual experiences – the best Hitler could come up with was a veiled reference to Stefanie, who had been his ‘first love’, though ‘she never knew it, because he never told her’. The impression left with Reinhold Hanisch, an acquaintance from that time, was that ‘Hitler had very little respect for the female sex, but very austere ideas about relations between men and women. He often said that, if men only wanted to, they could adopt a strictly moral way of living.’ This was entirely in line with the moral code preached by the Austrian pan-German movement associated with Georg Ritter von Schönerer, whose radical brand of German nationalism and racial antisemitism Hitler had admired since his Linz days. Celibacy until the twenty-fifth year, the code advocated, was healthy, advantageous to strength of will, and the basis of physical or mental high achievement. The cultivation of corresponding dietary habits was advised. Eating meat and drinking alcohol – seen as stimulants to sexual activity – were to be avoided. And upholding the strength and purity of the Germanic race meant keeping free of the moral decadence and danger of infection which accompanied consorting with prostitutes, who should be left to clients of ‘inferior’ races. Here was ideological justification enough for Hitler’s chaste lifestyle and prudish morals. But, in any case, certainly in the time in Vienna after he parted company with Kubizek, Hitler was no ‘catch’ for women.

Probably, he was frightened of women – certainly of their sexuality. Hitler later described his own ideal woman as ‘a cute, cuddly, naïve little thing – tender, sweet, and stupid’. His assertion that a woman ‘would rather bow to a strong man than dominate a weakling’ may well have been a compensatory projection of his own sexual complexes.

Kubizek was adamant that Hitler was sexually normal (though on the basis of his own account it is difficult to see how he was in a position to judge). This was also the view of doctors who at a much later date thoroughly examined him. Biologically, it may well have been so. Claims that sexual deviance arising from the absence of a testicle were the root of Hitler’s personality disorder rest on a combination of psychological speculation and dubious evidence provided by a Russian autopsy after the alleged capture of the burnt remains of his body in Berlin. And stories about his Vienna time such as that of his alleged obsession with and attempted rape of a model engaged to a half-Jew, and his resort to prostitutes, derive from a single source – the self-serving supposed recollections of Josef Greiner, who may have known Hitler briefly in Vienna – with no credence and which can be regarded as baseless. However, Kubizek’s account, together with the language Hitler himself used in Mein Kampf, does point at the least to an acutely disturbed and repressed sexual development.

Hitler’s prudishness, shored up by Schönerian principles, was to a degree merely in line with middle-class outward standards of morality in the Vienna of his time. These standards had been challenged by the openly erotic art of Gustav Klimt and literature of Arthur Schnitzler. But the solid bourgeois puritanism prevailed – at least as a thin veneer covering the seamier side of a city teeming with vice and prostitution. Where decency demanded that women were scarcely allowed even to show an ankle, Hitler’s embarrassment – and the rapidity with which he fled with his friend – when a prospective landlady during the search for a room for Kubizek let her silk dressing-gown fall open to reveal that she was wearing nothing but a pair of knickers was understandable. But his prudishness went far beyond this. It amounted, according to Kubizek’s account, to a deep disgust and repugnance at sexual activity. Hitler avoided contact with women, meeting with cold indifference during visits to the opera alleged attempts by young women, probably seeing him as something of an oddity, to flirt with or tease him. He was repelled by homosexuality. He refrained from masturbation. Prostitution horrified, but fascinated, him. He associated it with venereal disease, which petrified him. Following a visit to the theatre one evening to see Frank Wedekind’s play Frühlings Erwachen (Spring Awakening), which dealt with sexual problems of youth, Hitler suddenly took Kubizek’s arm and led him into Spittelberggasse to see at first hand the red-light district, or ‘sink of iniquity’ as he called it. Adolf took his friend not once, but twice, along the row of lit windows behind which scantily clad women advertised their wares and touted for custom. His voyeurism was then cloaked in middle-class self-righteousness by the lecture he proceeded to give Kubizek on the evils of prostitution. Later, in Mein Kampf, he was to link the Jews – echoing a commonplace current among antisemites of his Vienna years – with prostitution. But if this association was present in his mind in 1908, Kubizek did not record it.

Though seemingly repelled by sex, Hitler was at the same time plainly fascinated by it. He discussed sexual matters quite often in lengthy talks late at night with Gustl, regaling him, wrote Kubizek, on the need for sexual purity to protect what he grandly called the ‘flame of life’; explaining to his naïve friend, following a brief encounter with a businessman who invited them to a meal, about homosexuality; and ranting about prostitution and moral decadence. Hitler’s disturbed sexuality, his recoiling from physical contact, his fear of women, his inability to forge genuine friendship and emptiness in human relations, presumably had their roots in childhood experiences of a troubled family life. Attempts to explain them will inevitably remain speculative. Later rumours of Hitler’s sexual perversions are similarly based on dubious evidence. Conjecture – and there has been much of it – that sexual repression later gave way to sordid sado-masochistic practices rests, whatever the suspicions, on little more than a combination of rumour, hearsay, surmise, and innuendo, often spiced up by Hitler’s political enemies. And even if the alleged repulsive perversions really were his private proclivities, how exactly they would help explain the rapid descent of the complex and sophisticated German state into gross inhumanity after 1933 is not readily self-evident.

Hitler was to describe his life in Vienna as one of hardship and misery, hunger and poverty. This was notably economical with the truth as regards the months he spent in Stumpergasse in 1908 (though it was accurate enough as a portrayal of his condition in the autumn and winter of 1909–10). Even more misleading was his comment in Mein Kampf that ‘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’. As we have noted, the loan from his aunt, his share of his mother’s legacy, and his monthly orphan’s pension certainly gave him sufficient to live comfortably – perhaps even equivalent to that of a young teacher over a year or so at least. And his appearance, when he put on his fineries for an evening at the opera, was anything but that of a down-and-out. When Kubizek first saw him on their reunion at the Westbahnhof in February 1908, young Adolf was wearing a good-quality overcoat, and dark hat. He was carrying the walking-stick with the ivory handle that he had had in Linz, and ‘appeared almost elegant’. As for working, in those first months of 1908, as we have noted, Hitler certainly did nothing whatsoever about making his own living, or taking any steps to ensure that he was on the right track to do so.

If he had a reasonable income during his time with Kubizek, Hitler nevertheless scarcely led a life of wild extravagance. His living conditions were unenviable. The sixth district of Vienna, close to the Westbahnhof, where Stumpergasse was situated, was an unattractive part of the city, with its dismal, unlit streets and scruffy tenement blocks overhung with smoke and soot surrounding dark inner courtyards. Kubizek himself was appalled at some of the accommodation on view when he was looking for a room the day after he had arrived in Vienna. And the lodging he and Adolf came to share was a miserable room that stank constantly of paraffin, with crumbling plaster peeling off dank walls, and bug-ridden beds and furniture. The lifestyle was frugal. Little was spent on eating and drinking. Adolf was not a vegetarian at that time, but his main daily fare usually consisted only of bread and butter, sweet flour puddings, and often in the afternoons a piece of poppy- or nut-cake. Sometimes he went without food altogether. When Gustl’s mother sent a food parcel every fortnight, it was like a feast. Adolf drank milk as a rule, or sometimes fruit-juice, but no alcohol. Nor did he smoke. The one luxury was the opera. How much he spent on the almost daily visits to an opera or a concert can only be guessed. But at 2 Kronen for a standing place – it infuriated Hitler that young officers more interested in the social occasion than the music had to pay only 10 Heller, a twentieth of the sum – regular attendance over some months would certainly begin to eat away at whatever savings he had. Hitler himself remarked, over three decades later: ‘I was so poor, during the Viennese period of my life, that I had to restrict myself to only the very best performances. This explains that already at that time I heard Tristanthirty or forty times, and always from the best companies.’ By the summer of 1908, he must have made big inroads into the money he had inherited. But he presumably still had some of his savings left, as well as the orphan’s pension that Kubizek presumed was his only income, which would allow him to last out for a further year.

Though Kubizek was unaware of it, by summer the time he was spending with his friend in Vienna was drawing to a close. By early July 1908, Gustl had passed his examinations at the Conservatoire and term had ended. He was going back to Linz to stay with his parents until autumn. He arranged to send Frau Zakreys the rent every month to guarantee retention of the room, and Adolf, again saying how little he was looking forward to remaining alone in the room, accompanied him to the Westbahnhof to see him off. They were not to meet again until the Anschluß in 1938. Adolf did send Gustl a number of postcards during the summer, one from the Waldviertel, where he had gone without enthusiasm to spend some time with his family – the last occasion he would see his relatives for many years. Nothing suggested to Kubizek that he would not be rejoining his friend in the autumn. But when he left the train at the Westbahnhof on his return in November, Hitler was nowhere to be seen. Some time in the late summer or autumn, he had moved out of Stumpergasse. Frau Zakreys told Kubizek that he had left his lodgings without giving any forwarding address. By 18 November he was registered with the police as a ‘student’ living at new lodgings in room 16 of Felberstraße 22, close by the Westbahnhof, and a more airy room – presumably costing more – than that he had occupied in Stumpergasse.

What had caused the sudden and unannounced break with Kubizek? The most likely explanation is Hitler’s second rejection – this time he was not even permitted to take the examination – by the Academy of Fine Arts in October 1908. He had probably not told Kubizek he was applying again. Presumably he had spent the entire year in the knowledge that he had a second chance and in the expectation that he would not fail this time. Now his hopes of an artistic career lay totally in ruins. He could not now face his friend again as a confirmed failure.

Kubizek’s recollections, for all their flaws, paint a portrait of the young Hitler whose character traits are recognizable with hindsight in the later party leader and dictator. The indolence in lifestyle but accompanied by manic enthusiasm and energy sucked into his fantasies, the dilettantism, the lack of reality and sense of proportion, the opinionated autodidactism, the egocentrism, the quirky intolerance, the sudden rise to anger and the outbursts of rage, the diatribes of venom poured out on everyone and everything blocking the rise of the great artist – all these can be seen in the nineteen-year-old Hitler portrayed by Kubizek. Failure in Vienna had turned Hitler into an angry and frustrated young man increasingly at odds with the world around him. But he was not yet the Hitler who comes fully into view after 1919, and whose political ideas were fully outlined in Mein Kampf.

Kubizek had had time to read Mein Kampf by the time he wrote his own account of Hitler’s political development – something which in any case was of less interest to him than matters cultural and artistic. His passages are in places heavily redolent of Hitler’s own tale of his ‘political awakening’ in Vienna. They are not, therefore, reliable and often not credible – scarcely so when he claims Hitler was a pacifist, an opponent of war at this stage. However, there is no reason to doubt Hitler’s growing political awareness. His bitter contempt for the multi-language parliament (which Kubizek visited with him), his strident German nationalism, his intense detestation of the multinational Habsburg state, his revulsion at ‘the ethnic babel on the streets of Vienna’, and ‘the foreign mixture of peoples which had begun to corrode this old site of German culture’ – all these were little more than an accentuation, a personalized radicalization, of what he had first imbibed in Linz. Hitler fully described them in Mein Kampf. The first months of the Viennese experience doubtless already deepened and sharpened these views. However, even by Hitler’s own account it took two years in Vienna for his attitude towards the Jews to crystallize. Kubizek’s assertion that Hitler attained his ‘world-view’ during the time they were together in Vienna is an exaggeration. Hitler’s rounded ‘world-view’ was still not formed. The pathological hatred of the Jews that was its cornerstone had still to emerge.


There are no witnesses to Hitler’s activity during the nine months that he stayed in Felberstraße. This phase of his life in Vienna remains obscure. It has often been presumed, nevertheless, that it was in precisely these months that he became an obsessive racial antisemite.

Close to where Hitler lived in Felberstraße was a kiosk selling tobacco and newspapers. Whatever newspapers and periodicals he bought beyond those that he devoured so avidly in cafés, it was probably from this kiosk. Which exactly he read of the many cheap and trashy magazines in circulation at the time is uncertain. One of them was very likely a racist periodical called Ostara. The magazine, which first appeared in 1905, was the product of the extraordinary and warped imagination of an eccentric former Cistercian monk, who came to be known as Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels (though his real name was plain Adolf Lanz). He later founded his own order, the ‘New Templar Order’ (replete with a full panoply of mystical signs and symbols, including the swastika), in a ruined castle, Burg Werfenstein, on a romantic stretch of the Danube between Linz and Vienna.

Lanz and his followers were obsessed by homoerotic notions of a manichean struggle between the heroic and creative ‘blond’ race and a race of predatory dark ‘beast-men’ who preyed on the ‘blond’ women with animal lust and bestial instincts that were corrupting and destroying mankind and its culture. Lanz’s recipe, laid down in Ostara, for overcoming the evils of the modern world and restoring the domination of the ‘blond race’ was racial purity and racial struggle, involving the slavery and forced sterilization or even extermination of the inferior races, the crushing of socialism, democracy, and feminism which were seen as the vehicles of their corrupting influence, and the complete subordination of aryan women to their husbands. It amounted to a creed of ‘blue-eyed blondes of all nations, unite’. There are indeed elements in common between the bizarre fantasies of Lanz and his band of woman-hating, racist crackpots and the programme of racial selection which the SS were to put into practice during the Second World War. Whether Lanz’s ideas had direct influence on Himmler’s SS is, however, questionable. Unsustainable is Lanz’s claim to a unique place in history as the man ‘who gave Hitler his ideas’.

The main evidence that Hitler was acquainted with Ostara comes from a post-war interview in which Lanz claimed to have remembered Hitler, during the time he lived in Felberstraße in 1909, paying him a visit and asking him for back copies of the magazine. Since Hitler looked so run-down, Lanz went on, he let him have the copies for nothing, and gave him 2 Kronen for his journey home. How Lanz knew that this young man had been Hitler, when it was to be well over ten years before the latter would become a local celebrity even in Munich, he was never asked in the interview more than forty years after the purported meeting. Another witness to Hitler’s reading of Ostara in post-war interviews was Josef Greiner, the author of some fabricated ‘recollections’ of Hitler in his Vienna years. Greiner did not mention Ostara in his book, but, when later questioned about it in the mid-1950s, ‘remembered’ that Hitler had a large pile of Ostara magazines while he was living in the Men’s Home from 1910 to 1913, and had vehemently supported Lanz’s racial theories in heated discussions with an ex-Catholic priest called Grill (who does not figure in his book at all). A third witness, a former Nazi functionary called Elsa Schmidt-Falk, could only remember that she had heard Hitler mention Lanz in the context of homosexuality, and Ostara in connection with the banning of Lanz’s works (though there is in fact no evidence of a ban).

Most likely, Hitler did read Ostara along with other racist pulp which was prominent on Vienna newspaper stands. But we cannot be certain. Nor, if he did read it, can we be sure what he believed. His first known statements on antisemitism immediately following the First World War betray no traces of Lanz’s obscure racial doctrine. He was later frequently scornful of völkisch sects and the extremes of Germanic cultism. As far as can be seen, if we discount Elsa Schmidt-Falk’s doubtful testimony, he never mentioned Lanz by name. For the Nazi regime, the bizarre Austrian racist eccentric, far from being held up to praise, was to be accused of ‘falsifying racial thought through secret doctrine’.

When Hitler, his savings almost exhausted, was forced to leave Felberstraße in mid-August 1909 to move for a very short time to shabbier accommodation in nearby Sechshauserstraße 58, it was certainly not as a devotee of Lanz von Liebenfels. Nor, anti-Jewish though he undoubtedly already was as a Schönerer supporter, is it likely that he had yet found the key to the ills of the world in a doctrine of racial antisemitism.

Hitler stayed in Sechshauserstraße for less than a month. And when he left, on 16 September 1909, it was without filling in the required police registration form, without leaving a forwarding address, and probably without paying his rent. During the next months, Hitler did learn the meaning of poverty. His later recollection that autumn 1909 had been ‘an endlessly bitter time’ was not an exaggeration. All his savings had now vanished. He must have left some address with his guardian for his orphan’s pension of 25 Kronen to be sent to Vienna each month. But that was not enough to keep body and soul together. During the wet and cold autumn of 1909 he lived rough, sleeping in the open, as long as the weather held, probably in cheap lodgings when conditions forced him indoors.

Hitler had now reached rock-bottom. Some time in the weeks before Christmas 1909, thin and bedraggled, in filthy, lice-ridden clothes, his feet sore from walking around, Hitler joined the human flotsam and jetsam finding their way to the large, recently established doss-house for the homeless in Meidling, not far from Schönbrunn Palace. The social decline of the petty-bourgeois so fearful of joining the proletariat was complete. The twenty-year-old would-be artistic genius had joined the tramps, winos, and down-and-outs in society’s basement.

It was at this time that he met Reinhold Hanisch, whose testimony, doubtful though it is in places, is all that casts light on the next phase of Hitler’s time in Vienna. Hanisch, living under the assumed name of ‘Fritz Walter’, came originally from the Sudetenland and had a police record for a number of petty misdemeanours. He was a self-styled draughtsman, but in reality had drifted through various temporary jobs as a domestic servant and casual labourer before tramping his way across Germany from Berlin to Vienna. He encountered a miserable-looking Hitler, down at heel in a shabby blue check suit, tired and hungry, in the hostel dormitory one late autumn night, shared some bread with him and told tales of Berlin to the young enthusiast for all things German. The hostel was a night-shelter offering short-term accommodation only. A bath or shower, disinfection of clothes, soup and bread, and a bed in the dormitory were provided. But during the day the inmates were turned out to fend for themselves. Hitler, looking in a sorry state and in depressed mood, went in the mornings along with other destitutes to a nearby convent in Gumpendorferstraße where the nuns doled out soup. The time was otherwise spent visiting public warming-rooms, or trying to earn a bit of money. Hanisch took him off to shovel snow, but without an overcoat Hitler was in no condition to stick at it for long. He offered to carry bags for passengers at the Westbahnhof, but his appearance probably did not win him many customers. Whether he did any other manual labour during the years he spent in Vienna is doubtful. While his savings had lasted, he had not been prepared to entertain the prospect of working. At the time he was in most need of money, he was physically not up to it. Later, even Hanisch, his ‘business associate’, lost his temper over Hitler’s idleness while eking out a living by selling paintings. The story he told in Mein Kampf about learning about trade unionism and Marxism the hard way through his maltreatment while working on a building site is almost certainly fictional. Hanisch, at any rate, never heard the story at the time from Hitler, and later did not believe it. The ‘legend’ probably drew on the general anti-socialist propaganda in the Vienna of Hitler’s day.

Hanisch had meanwhile thought of a better idea than manual labouring. Hitler had told him of his background, and was persuaded by Hanisch to ask his family for some money, probably under the pretext that he needed it for his studies. Within a short time he received the princely sum of 50 Kronen, almost certainly from his Aunt Johanna. With that he could buy himself an overcoat from the government pawn shop. With this long coat and his greasy trilby, shoes looking like those of a nomad, hair over his collar, and dark fuzz on his chin, Hitler’s appearance even provoked his fellow vagrants to remark on it. They nicknamed him ‘Ohm Paul Krüger’, after the Boer leader. But the gift from his aunt meant that better times were on the way. He was now able to acquire the materials needed to begin the little business venture that Hanisch had dreamed up. On hearing from Hitler that he could paint – Hitler actually told him he had been at the Academy – Hanisch suggested he should paint scenes of Vienna which he would then peddle for him, and they would share the proceeds. Whether this partnership began already in the doss-house, or only after Hitler had moved, on 9 February 1910, to the more salubrious surrounds of the Men’s Home in the north of the city is unclear from Hanisch’s garbled account. What is certain is that with his aunt’s gift, the move to Meldemannstraße, and his new business arrangement with Hanisch, Hitler was now over the worst.

The Men’s Home was a big step up from the Meidling hostel. The 500 or so residents were not down-and-out vagrants, but, for the most part, a mixed bunch of individuals – some, clerks and even former academics and pensioned officers, just down on their luck, others simply passing through, looking for work or in temporary employment, all without a family home to go to. Unlike the hostel, the Men’s Home, built a few years earlier, offered a modicum of privacy, and for an overnight price of only 50 Heller. Residents had their own cubicles, which had to be vacated during the day but could be retained on a more or less indefinite basis. There was a canteen where meals and alcohol-free drinks could be obtained, and a kitchen where residents could prepare their own food; there were washrooms and lockers for private possessions; in the basement were baths, along with a cobbler’s, a tailor’s, and a hairdresser’s, a laundry, and cleaning facilities; there was a small library on the ground floor, and on the first floor lounges and a reading-room where newpapers were available. Most of the residents were out during the day, but a group of around fifteen to twenty, mainly from lower-middle-class backgrounds and seen as the ‘intelligentsia’, usually gathered in a smaller room, known as the ‘work-room’ or ‘writing-room’, to undertake odd jobs – painting advertisements, writing out addresses and the like. This is where Hanisch and Hitler set up operations.

Hanisch’s role was to hawk Hitler’s mainly postcard-size paintings around pubs. He also found a market with frame-makers and upholsterers who could make use of cheap illustrations. Most of the dealers with whom he had a good, regular trade were Jewish. Hitler’s view, according to Hanisch, was that Jews were better businessmen and more reliable customers than ‘Christian’ dealers. More remarkably, in the light of later events and his own claims about the importance of the Vienna period for the development of his antisemitism, his closest partner (apart from Hanisch) in his little art-production business, Josef Neumann, was also a Jew – and one with whom Hitler was, it seems, on friendly terms.

Hitler invariably copied his pictures from others, sometimes following visits to museums or galleries to find suitable subjects. He was lazy and had to be chivvied by Hanisch, who could offload the pictures faster than Hitler painted them. The usual rate of production was about one picture a day, and Hanisch reckoned to sell it for around 5 Kronen, split between him and Hitler. In this fashion, they managed to make a modest living.

Politics was a frequent topic of conversation in the reading-room of the Men’s Home, and the atmosphere easily became heated, with tempers flaring. Hitler took full part. His violent attacks on the Social Democrats caused trouble with some of the inmates. He was known for his admiration for Schönerer and Karl Hermann Wolf (founder and leader of the German Radical Party, with its main base in the Sudetenland). He also waxed lyrical about the achievements of Karl Lueger, the social reformist but rabble-rousing antisemitic mayor of Vienna. When he was not holding forth on politics, Hitler was lecturing his comrades – keen to listen or not – on the wonders of Wagner’s music and the brilliance of Gottfried Semper’s designs of Vienna’s monumental buildings.

Whether politics or art, the chance to involve himself in the reading-room ‘debates’ was more than sufficient to distract Hitler from working. By summer, Hanisch had become more and more irritated with Hitler’s failure to keep up with orders. Hitler claimed he could not simply paint to order, but had to be in the right mood. Hanisch accused him of only painting when he needed to keep the wolf from the door. Following a windfall from the sale of one of his paintings, Hitler even disappeared from the Men’s Home for a few days in June with Neumann. According to Hanisch, Hitler and Neumann spent their time sight-seeing in Vienna and looking around museums. More likely, they had other ‘business’ plans, which, then, quickly fell through, possibly including a quick visit to the Waldviertel to try to squeeze a bit more money out of Aunt Johanna. Hitler and his cronies in the Men’s Home were at this time prepared to entertain any dotty scheme – a miracle hair-restorer was one such idea – that would bring in a bit of money. Whatever the reason for his temporary absence, after five days, his money spent, Hitler returned to the Men’s Home and the partnership with Hanisch. Relations now, however, became increasingly strained and the bad feeling eventually exploded over a picture Hitler had painted, larger than usual in size, of the parliament building. Through an intermediary – another Jewish dealer in his group in the Men’s Home by the name of Siegfried Löffner – Hitler accused Hanisch of cheating him by withholding 50 Kronen he allegedly received for the picture, together with a further 9 Kronen for a watercolour. The matter was brought to the attention of the police, and Hanisch was sentenced to a few days in jail – but for using the false name of Fritz Walter. Hitler never received what he felt was owing to him for the picture.

With Hanisch’s disappearance, Hitler’s life recedes into near obscurity for two years or so. When he next comes into view, in 1912–13, he is still in residence in the Men’s Home, now a well-established member of the community, and a central figure among his own group – the ‘intelligentsia’ who occupied the writing-room. He was by now well over the depths of degradation he experienced in 1909 in the doss-house, even if continuing to drift aimlessly. He could earn a modest income from the sale of his pictures of the Karlskirche and other scenes of ‘Old Vienna’. His outgoings were low, since he lived so frugally. His living costs in the Men’s Home were extremely modest: he ate cheaply, did not drink, smoked a cigarette only rarely, and had as his only luxury the occasional purchase of a standing-place at the theatre or opera (about which he would then regale the writing-room ‘intellectuals’ for hours). Descriptions of his appearance at this time are contradictory. A fellow resident in the Men’s Home in 1912 later described Hitler as shabbily dressed and unkempt, wearing a long greyish coat, worn at the sleeves, and battered old hat, trousers full of holes, and shoes stuffed with paper. He still had shoulder-length hair and a ragged beard. This is compatible with the description given by Hanisch which, though not precisely dated, appears from the context to refer to 1909–10. On the other hand, according to Jacob Altenberg, one of his Jewish art dealers, in the later phase at least in the Men’s Home Hitler was clean-shaven, took care to keep his hair cut, and wore clothes which, though old and worn, were kept neat. Given what Kubizek wrote about Hitler’s fussiness about personal hygiene when they were together in 1908, and what was later little short of a cleanliness fetishism, Altenberg’s testimony rings truer than that of the anonymous acquaintance for the final period in Meldemannstraße.

But, whatever his appearance, Hitler was scarcely enjoying the lifestyle of a man who had come by a substantial windfall – what would have amounted to a king’s ransom for someone living in a men’s hostel. Yet this is what was long believed. It was suggested – though based on guesswork, not genuine evidence – that towards the end of 1910 Hitler had become the recipient of a sizeable sum, perhaps as much as 3,800 Kronen, which represented the life-savings of his Aunt Johanna. Post-war inquiries indicated that this was the amount withdrawn from her savings account by Johanna on 1 December 1910, some four months before she died, leaving no will. The suspicion was that the large sum had gone to Adolf. This feeling was enhanced by the fact that his half-sister Angela, still looking after his sister Paula, soon afterwards, in 1911, staked a claim to the whole of the orphan’s pension, still at that time divided equally between the two children. Adolf who, ‘on account of his training as an artist had received substantial sums from his aunt, Johanna Pölzl’, conceded that he was in a position to maintain himself, and was forced to concede the 25 Kronen a month which he had up to then received from his guardian. But, as we have already noted, the household account-book of the Hitler family makes plain that Adolf, alongside smaller gifts from ‘Hanitante’, received from her a loan – amounting in reality to a gift – of 924 Kronen, probably in 1907 and providing him with the material basis of his first, relatively comfortable, year in Vienna. Whatever became of Aunt Johanna’s money in December 1910, there is not the slightest indication that it went to Hitler. And the loss of the 25 Kronen a month orphan’s pension would have amounted to a serious dent in his income.

Though his life had stabilized while he had been in the Men’s Home, during the time he had been trafficking in paintings, Hitler seems to have remained unsettled. Karl Honisch – keen to distance himself from his near-namesake Hanisch, of whom he had heard nothing good – knew Hitler in 1913. Honisch described him as slight in build, poorly nourished, with hollow cheeks, dark hair flopping in his face, and wearing shabby clothes. Hitler was rarely absent from the Home and sat each day in the same corner of the writing-room near the window, drawing and painting on a long oak-table. This was known as his place, and any newcomer venturing to take it was rapidly reminded by the other inmates that ‘this place is taken. Herr Hitler sits there.’ Among the writing-room regulars, Hitler was seen as a somewhat unusual, artistic type. He himself wrote later: ‘I believe that those who knew me in those days took me for an eccentric.’ But, other than his painting skills, no one imagined he had any special talents. Though well regarded, he had a way, noted Honisch, of keeping his distance from the others and ‘not letting anyone come too close’. He could be withdrawn, sunk in a book or his own thoughts. But he was known to have a quick temper. This could flare up at any time, particularly in the frequent political debates that took place. Hitler’s strong views on politics were plain to all. He would often sit quietly when a discussion started up, putting in the odd word here or there but otherwise carrying on with his drawing. If he took exception to something said, however, he would jump up from his place, hurling his brush or pencil on the table, and heatedly and forcefully make himself felt before, on occasion, breaking off in mid-flow and with a wave of resignation at the incomprehension of his comrades, taking up his drawing again. Two subjects above all roused his aggression: the Jesuits and the ‘Reds’. No mention was made of tirades against the Jews.

The criticism of the ‘Jesuits’ suggests that some embers of his former enthusiasm for Schönerer’s vehement anti-Catholicism were still warm, though the Schönerer movement had by this time effectively collapsed. His hatred for the Social Democrats was also long established by this time. His own version in Mein Kampf of the emergence of this hatred tells the story – almost certainly fictional – of the victimization and personal threats he allegedly experienced, on account of his rejection of their political views and refusal to join a trades union, at the hands of Social Democrat workers when he was employed for a short time on a building site.

There is, in fact, no need to look beyond the strength of Hitler’s pan-German nationalism as an explanation of his detestation of the internationalism of the Social Democrats. The radical nationalist propaganda of Franz Stein’s pan-German ‘working-class movement’, with its repeated shrill attacks on ‘social democratic bestialities’ and ‘red terror’, and its boundless agitation against Czech workers, was the type of ‘socialism’ soaked up by Hitler. A more underlying source of the hatred most likely lay in Hitler’s pronounced sense of social and cultural superiority towards the working class that Social Democracy represented. ‘I do not know what horrified me most at that time,’ he later wrote of his contact with those of the ‘lower classes’: ‘the economic misery of my companions, their moral and ethical coarseness, or the low level of their intellectual development.’

Though Hitler’s account of his first encounter with Social Democrats is probably apocryphal, status-consciousness runs through it, not least in his comment that at that time ‘my clothing was still more or less in order, my speech cultivated, and my manner reserved’. Given such status-consciousness, the level of degradation he must have felt in 1909–10 when the threat of social decline into the proletariat for a time became dire reality can be readily imagined. But far from eliciting any solidarity with the ideals of the working-class movement, this merely sharpened his antagonism towards it. Not social and political theories, but survival, struggle, and ‘every man for himself’ marked the philosophy of the doss-house.

Hitler went on in Mein Kampf to stress the hard struggle for existence of the ‘upstart’, who had risen ‘by his own efforts from his previous position in life to a higher one’, that ‘kills all pity’ and destroys ‘feeling for the misery of those who have remained behind’. This puts into context his professed interest in ‘the social question’ while he was in Vienna. His ingrained sense of superiority meant that, far from arousing sympathy for the destitute and the disadvantaged, the ‘social question’ for him amounted to a search for scapegoats to explain his own social decline and degradation. ‘By drawing me within its sphere of suffering,’ the ‘social question’, he wrote, ‘did not seem to invite me to “study”, but to experience it in my own skin.’

By the end of his Vienna period, it is unlikely that Hitler’s detestation of Social Democracy, firmly established though it was, had gone much beyond that which had been current in Schönerer’s pan-German nationalism – apart from the additional radicality deriving from his own bitter first-hand experiences of the misery and degradation that enhanced his utter rejection of international socialism as a solution. That his hatred of Social Democracy had already by this date, as Hitler claimed in Mein Kampf, married with a racial theory of antisemitism to give him a distinctive ‘world-view’ which remained thereafter unchanged, can be discounted.


Why and when did Hitler become the fixated, pathological antisemite known from the writing of his first political tract in 1919 down to the writing of his testament in the Berlin bunker in 1945? Since his paranoid hatred was to shape policies that culminated in the killing of millions of Jews, this is self-evidently an important question. The answer is, however, less clear than we should like. In truth, we do not know for certain why, or even when, Hitler turned into a manic and obsessive antisemite.

Hitler’s own version is laid out in some well-known and striking passages in Mein Kampf. According to this, he had not been an antisemite in Linz. On coming to Vienna, he had at first been alienated by the antisemitic press there. But the obsequiousness of the mainstream press in its treatment of the Habsburg court and its vilification of the German Kaiser gradually led him to the ‘more decent’ and ‘more appetizing’ line taken in the antisemitic paper the Deutsches Volksblatt. Growing admiration for Karl Lueger – ‘the greatest German mayor of all times’ – helped to change his attitude towards the Jews – ‘my greatest transformation of all’ – and within two years (or in another account a single year) the transformation was complete. Hitler highlights, however, a single episode which opened his eyes to ‘the Jewish Question’.

Once, 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 this foreign face, scrutinizing feature for feature, the more my first question assumed a new form:

Is this a German?

Following this encounter, Hitler continued, he started to buy antisemitic pamphlets. He was now able to see that Jews ‘were not Germans of a special religion, but a people in themselves’. Vienna now appeared in a different light. ‘Wherever I went, I began to see Jews, and the more I saw, the more sharply they became distinguished in my eyes from the rest of humanity.’

Now, to stay with his own account, his revulsion rapidly grew. The language Hitler uses in these pages of Mein Kampf betrays a morbid fear of uncleanliness, dirt, and disease – all of which he associated with Jews. He also quickly formed his newly-found hatred into a conspiracy theory. He now linked the Jews with every evil he perceived: the liberal press, cultural life, prostitution, and – most significant of all – identified them as the leading force in Social Democracy. At this, ‘the scales dropped from my eyes’. Everything connected with Social Democracy – party leaders, Reichsrat deputies, trade union secretaries, and the Marxist press that he devoured with loathing – now seemed to him to be Jewish. But this ‘recognition’, he wrote, gave him great satisfaction. His already existent hatred of Social Democracy, that party’s antinationalism, now fell into place: its leadership was ‘almost exclusively in the hands of a foreign people’. ‘Only now,’ Hitler remarked, ‘did I become thoroughly acquainted with the seducer of our people.’ He had linked Marxism and antisemitism through what he called ‘the Jewish doctrine of Marxism’.

It is a graphic account. But it is not corroborated by the other sources that cast light on Hitler’s time in Vienna. Indeed, in some respects it is directly at variance with them. It is generally accepted that, for all the problems with the autobiographical parts of Mein Kampf, Hitler was indeed converted to manic racial antisemitism while in Vienna. But the available evidence, beyond Hitler’s own words, offers little to confirm that view. Interpretation rests ultimately on the balance of probabilities.

Kubizek claimed Hitler was already an antisemite before leaving Linz. In contrast to Hitler’s assertion that his father had ‘cosmopolitan views’ and would have regarded antisemitism as ‘cultural backwardness’, Kubizek stated that Alois’s regular drinking cronies in Leonding were Schönerer supporters and that he himself was certainly therefore anti-Jewish. He pointed also to the openly antisemitic teachers Hitler encountered in the Realschule. He allegedly recalled, too, that Adolf had said to him one day, as they passed the small synagogue: ‘That doesn’t belong in Linz.’ For Kubizek, Vienna had made Hitler’s antisemitism more radical. But it had not created it. In his opinion, Hitler had gone to Vienna ‘already as a pronounced antisemite’. Kubizek went on to recount one or two episodes of Hitler’s aversion to Jews during the time they were together in Vienna. He claimed an encounter with a Galician Jew was the caftan story of Mein Kampf. But this, and a purported visit to a synagogue in which Hitler took Kubizek along to witness a Jewish wedding, have the appearance of an outright fabrication. Palpably false is Kubizek’s assertion that Hitler joined the Antisemitenbund (Antisemitic League) during the months in 1908 that the friends were together in Vienna. There was no such organization in Austria-Hungary before 1918.

In fact, Kubizek is generally unconvincing in the passages devoted to the early manifestations of Hitler’s antisemitism. These are among the least trustworthy sections of his account – partly drawing on Mein Kampf, partly inventing episodes which were not present in the original draft version of his recollections, and in places demonstrably incorrect. Kubizek was keen to distance himself in his post-war memoirs from the radical views of his friend on the ‘Jewish Question’. It suited him to emphasize that Hitler had from Linz days hated the Jews. His suggestion that Hitler’s father (whom he had not known) had been a pronounced antisemite is probably incorrect. Alois Hitler’s own more moderate form of pan-Germanism had differed from that of the Schönerer movement in its continued allegiance to the Emperor of Austria and accorded with the line adopted by the dominant party in Upper Austria, the Deutsche Volkspartei (German People’s Party), which admitted Jews to membership. The vehemently antisemitic as well as radical German nationalist Schönerer movement certainly had a strong following in and around Linz, and no doubt included some at least of Hitler’s teachers among its supporters. But antisemitism seems to have been relatively unimportant in his school compared with the antagonism towards the Czechs. Hitler’s own later recollection was probably in this respect not inaccurate, when he told Albert Speer that he had become aware of the ‘nationalities problem’ – by which he meant vehement hostility towards the Czechs – at school, but the ‘danger of Jewry’ had only been made plain to him in Vienna.

The young Hitler, himself taken while still in Linz by Schönerer’s ideas, could scarcely have missed the emphatic racial antisemitism which was so integral to them. But for the Schönerer supporters in the Linz of Hitler’s day, antisemitism appears to have been a subdominant theme in the cacophony of anti-Czech clamour and trumpeted Germanomania. It certainly did not prevent Hitler’s warm expressions of gratitude in postcards and the present of one of his watercolours to Dr Bloch, the Jewish physician who had treated his mother in her last illness. The deep, visceral hatred of his later antisemitism was of a different order altogether. That was certainly not present in his Linz years.

There is no evidence that Hitler was distinctively antisemitic by the time he parted company with Kubizek in the summer of 1908. Hitler himself claimed that he became an antisemite within two years of arriving in Vienna. Could, then, the transformation be placed in the year he spent, mainly in Felberstraße, between leaving Kubizek and becoming a vagrant? The testimony of Lanz von Liebenfels would fit this chronology. But we have seen that this is of highly doubtful value. Hitler’s descent into abject poverty in autumn 1909 might seem an obvious time to search for a scapegoat and find it in the figure of the Jew. But he had the opportunity less then than at any other time in Vienna to ‘read up’ on the subject, as he claimed in Mein Kampf.

Not only that: Reinhold Hanisch, his close companion over the following months, was adamant that Hitler ‘in those days was by no means a Jew hater. He became one afterwards.’ Hanisch emphasized Hitler’s Jewish friends and contacts in the Men’s Home to demonstrate the point. A one-eyed locksmith called Robinsohn spared Hitler some small change to help him out financially from time to time. (The man’s name was actually Simon Robinson, traceable in the Men’s Home in 1912–13.) Josef Neumann, as we have seen, became, as Hanisch put it, ‘a real friend’ to Hitler. He was said to have ‘liked Hitler very much’ and to have been ‘of course highly esteemed’ by him. A postcard salesman, Siegfried Löffner (misnamed Loeffler by Hanisch), was also ‘one of Hitler’s circle of acquaintances’, and, as we remarked, took sides with him in the acrimonious conflict with Hanisch in 1910. Hitler preferred, as we observed, to sell his pictures to Jewish dealers, and one of them, Jacob Altenberg, subsequently spoke well of the business relationship they had conducted. Hanisch’s testimony finds confirmation in the later comment of the anonymous resident of the Men’s Home in the spring of 1912, that ‘Hitler got along exceptionally well with Jews, and said at one time that they were a clever people who stick together better than the Germans do’.

The three years that Hitler spent in the Men’s Home certainly gave him every opportunity to pore over antisemitic newpapers, pamphlets, and cheap literature. But, leaving aside the fact that the chronology no longer matches Hitler’s own assertion of a transformation within two years of arriving in Vienna, Karl Honisch, we saw, makes a point of emphasizing Hitler’s strong views on ‘Jesuits’ and the ‘Reds’, though makes no mention at all of any hatred of Jews. Hitler certainly joined in talk about the Jews in the Men’s Home. But his standpoint was, according to Hanisch’s account, by no means negative. Hanisch has Hitler admiring the Jews for their resistance to persecution, praising Heine’s poetry and the music of Mendelssohn and Offenbach, expressing the view that the Jews were the first civilized nation in that they had abandoned polytheism for belief in one God, blaming Christians more than Jews for usury, and dismissing the stock-in-trade antisemitic charge of Jewish ritual murder as nonsense. Only Josef Greiner, of those who claimed to have witnessed Hitler at first hand in the Men’s Home, speaks of him as a fanatical Jew-hater in that period. But, as we have noted, Greiner’s testimony is worthless.

There is, therefore, no reliable contemporary confirmation of Hitler’s paranoid antisemitism during the Vienna period. If Hanisch is to be believed, in fact, Hitler was not antisemitic at all at this time. Beyond that, Hitler’s close comrades during the First World War also recalled that he voiced no notable antisemitic views. The question arises, then, whether Hitler had not invented his Viennese ‘conversion’ to antisemitism in Mein Kampf; whether, in fact, his pathological hatred of the Jews only emerged in the wake of the lost war, in 1918–19.

Why might Hitler fabricate the claim that he had become an ideological antisemite in Vienna? And, equally, why might a ‘conversion’ at the end of the war be regarded as something to be concealed by a story of an earlier transformation? The answer lies in the image Hitler was establishing for himself in the early 1920s, and particularly following the failed putsch of 1923 and his trial the following spring. This demanded the self-portrait painted in Mein Kampf, of the nobody who struggled from the first against adversity, and, rejected by the academic ‘establishment’, taught himself through painstaking study, coming – above all through his own bitter experiences – to unique insights about society and politics that enabled him without assistance to formulate at the age of around twenty a rounded ‘world-view’. This unchanged ‘world-view’, he was saying in 1924, provided him with the claim to leadership of the national movement, and indeed with the claim to be Germany’s coming ‘great leader’. Perhaps by then Hitler had even convinced himself that all the pieces of the ideological jigsaw had indeed fallen into place during his Vienna years. In any case, by the early 1920s no one was in a position to gainsay the story. An admission that he had become an ideological antisemite only at the end of the war, as he lay blinded from mustard gas in a hospital in Pasewalk and heard of Germany’s defeat and the revolution, would certainly have sounded less heroic, and would also have smacked of hysteria.

However, it is difficult to believe that Hitler of all people, given the intensity of his hatred for the Jews between 1919 and the end of his life, had remained unaffected by the poisonous antisemitic atmosphere of the Vienna he knew – one of the most virulently anti-Jewish cities in Europe. It was a city where, at the turn of the century, radical antisemites advocated punishing sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews as sodomy, and placing Jews under surveillance around Easter to prevent ritual child-murder. Schönerer, the racial antisemite, had notably helped to stir up the hatred. Lueger was able to exploit the widespread and vicious antisemitism to build up his Christian Social Party and consolidate his hold on power in Vienna. Hitler greatly admired both. Once more, it would have been strange had he of all people admired them but been unaffected by such an essential stock-in-trade of their message as their antisemitism. Certainly, he learnt from Lueger the gains to be made from popularizing hatred against the Jews. The explicitly antisemitic newspaper Hitler read, and singled out for praise, the Deutsches Volksblatt, selling around 55,000 copies a day at the time, described Jews as agents of decomposition and corruption, and repeatedly linked them with sexual scandal, perversion, and prostitution. Leaving aside the probably contrived incident of the caftan-Jew, Hitler’s description of his gradual exposure through the antisemitic gutter press to deep anti-Jewish prejudice and its impact upon him while in Vienna has an authentic ring about it.

Probably no single encounter produced his loathing for Jews. Given his relations with his parents, there may have been some connection with an unresolved Oedipal complex, though this is no more than guesswork. Hitler’s linkage of Jews and prostitution has prompted speculation that sexual fantasies, obsessions, or perversions provide the key. Again, there is no reliable evidence. The sexual connotations were no more than Hitler could have picked up from the Deutsches Volksblatt. Another explanation would be a simpler one. At the time that Hitler soaked up Viennese antisemitism, he had recently experienced bereavement, failure, rejection, isolation, and increasing penury. The gulf between his self-image as a frustrated great artist or architect and the reality of his life as a drop-out needed an explanation. The Viennese antisemitic gutter press, it could be surmised, helped him to find that explanation.

But if Hitler’s antisemitism was indeed formed in Vienna, why did it remain unnoticed by those around him? The answer might well be banal: in that hotbed of rabid antisemitism, anti-Jewish sentiment was so commonplace that it could go practically unnoticed. The argument from silence is, therefore, not conclusive. However, there is still the evidence from Hanisch and the anonymous acquaintance in the Men’s Home about Hitler’s friendship with Jews to contend with. This seems to stand in flat contradiction to Hitler’s own lurid account of his conversion to antisemitism in Vienna. One remark by Hanisch, however, suggests that Hitler had indeed already developed racist notions about the Jews. When one of their group asked why Jews remained strangers in the nation, ‘Hitler answered that it was because they were a different race.’ He added, according to Hanisch, that ‘Jews had a different smell’. Hitler was said also to have frequently remarked ‘that descendants of Jews are very radical and have terroristic inclinations’. And when he and Neumann discussed Zionism, Hitler said that any money of Jews leaving Austria would obviously be confiscated ‘as it was not Jewish but Austrian’. If Hanisch is to be believed, then, Hitler was advancing views reflecting racial antisemitism at the same time that he was closely associated with a number of Jews in the Men’s Home. Could it have been that this very proximity, the dependence of the would-be great artist on Jews to offload his little street paintings, at precisely the same time that he was reading and digesting the antisemitic bile poured out by Vienna’s gutter press, served only to underline and deepen the bitter enmities taking shape in his mind? Would the outsized ego of the unrecognized genius reduced to this not have translated his self-disgust into inwardly fermenting race-hatred when the plainly antisemitic Hanisch remarked to him that ‘he must be of Jewish blood, since such a large beard rarely grows on a Christian chin’ and ‘he had big feet, as a desert wanderer must have’? Whether Hitler was on terms of real friendship with the Jews around him in the Men’s Home, as Hanisch states, might be doubted. Throughout his life Hitler made remarkably few genuine friendships. And throughout his life, despite the torrents of words that poured from his mouth as a politician, he was adept at camouflaging his true feelings even to those in his immediate company. He was also a clever manipulator of those around him. His relations with the Jews in the Men’s Home were clearly, at least in part, self-serving. Robinson helped him out with money. Neumann, too, paid off small debts for him. Löffner was Hitler’s go-between with the dealers. Whatever his true feelings, in his contacts with Jewish dealers and traders Hitler was simply being pragmatic: as long as they could sell his paintings for him, he could swallow his abstract dislike of Jews.

Though it has frequently been claimed, largely based on Hanisch’s evidence and on the lack of reference to his antisemitic views in the paltry sources available, that Hitler was not a racial antisemite during his stay in Vienna, the balance of probabilities surely suggests a different interpretation? It seems more likely that Hitler, as he later claimed, indeed came to hate Jews during his time in Vienna. But, probably, at this time it was still little more than a rationalization of his personal circumstances rather than a thought-out ‘world-view’. It was a personalized hatred – blaming the Jews for all the ills that befell him in a city that he associated with personal misery. But any expression of this hatred that he had internalized did not stand out to those around him where antisemitic vitriol was so normal. And, paradoxically, as long as he needed Jews to help him earn what classed as a living, he kept quiet about his true views and perhaps even on occasion, as Hanisch indicates, insincerely made remarks which could be taken, if mistakenly, as complimentary to Jewish culture. Only later, if this line of argument is followed, did he rationalize his visceral hatred into the fully-fledged ‘world-view’, with antisemitism as its core, that congealed in the early 1920s. The formation of the ideological antisemite had to wait until a further crucial phase in Hitler’s development, ranging from the end of the war to his political awakening in Munich in 1919.


That was all still in the future. In spring 1913, after three years in the Men’s Home, Hitler was still drifting, vegetating – not any longer down and out, it is true, and with responsibility to no one but himself, but without any career prospects. He gave the impression that he had still not given up all hope of studying art, however, and told the writing-room regulars in the Men’s Home that he intended to go to Munich to enter the Art Academy. He had long said ‘he would go to Munich like a shot’, eulogizing about the ‘great picture galleries’ in the Bavarian capital. He had a good reason for postponing any plans to leave for Munich. His share of his father’s inheritance became due only on his twenty-fourth birthday, on 20 April 1913. More than anything else, it might be surmised, the wait for this money was what kept Hitler so long in the city he detested. On 16 May 1913 the District Court in Linz confirmed that he should receive the sizeable sum, with interest added to the original 652 Kronen, of 819 Kronen 98 Heller, and that this would be sent by post to the ‘artist’ Adolf Hitler in Meldemannstraße, Vienna. With this long-awaited and much-welcome prize in his possession, he need delay his departure for Munich no further.

He had another reason for deciding the time was ripe to leave Vienna. In autumn 1909 he had failed to register for military service, which he would have been due to serve the following spring, after his twenty-first birthday. Even if found unfit, he would still have been eligible in 1911 and 1912 to undertake military service for a state he detested so fervently. Having avoided the authorities for three years, he presumably felt it safe to cross the border to Germany following his twenty-fourth birthday in 1913. He was mistaken. The Austrian authorities had not overlooked him. They were on his trail, and his avoidance of military service was to cause him difficulties and embarrassment the following year. The attempt to put any possible snoopers off the scent in later years is why, once he had become well known, Hitler persistently dated his departure from Vienna to 1912, not 1913.

On 24 May 1913, Hitler, carrying a light, black suitcase containing all his possessions, in a better set of clothes than the shabby suit he had been used to wearing, and accompanied by a young, short-sighted, unemployed shop-assistant, Rudolf Häusler, four years his junior, whom he had known for little over three months in the Men’s Home, left the co-residents from the writing-room who had escorted them a short distance, and set off for Munich.

The Vienna years were over. They had indelibly marked Hitler’s personality and the ‘basic stock of personal views’ he held. But these ‘personal opinions’ had not yet coagulated into a fully-fledged ideology, or ‘world-view’. For that to happen, an even harder school than Vienna had to be experienced: war and defeat. And only the unique circumstances produced by that war and defeat enabled an Austrian drop-out to find appeal in a different land, among the people of his adopted country.

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