Hitler’s Childhood

On 20 April 1889, Adolf Hitler was born at the Gasthof zum Pommer, an inn in Braunau am Inn, Austria–Hungary, the fourth of Alois and Klara Hitler’s six children.

Throughout Adolf’s early years his father proved to be a restless force, consistently uprooting his family preventing any form of attachment or stability. At the age of three, his family moved to Kapuzinerstrasse 5 in Passau, Germany where the young Hitler would acquire Lower Bavarian rather than Austrian as his lifelong native dialect. In 1894, the family moved to Leonding near Linz, then in June 1895, Alois retired to a small landholding at Hafeld near Lambach, where he tried his hand at farming and beekeeping. During this time, the young Hitler attended school in nearby Fischlham. As a child, he tirelessly played “Cowboys and Indians” and, by his own account, became fixated on war after finding a picture book about the Franco-Prussian War in his father’s things. He wrote in Mein Kampf: “It was not long before the great historic struggle had become my greatest spiritual experience. From then on, I became more and more enthusiastic about everything that was in any way connected with war or, for that matter, with soldiering.”

His father’s efforts at Hafeld ended in failure and the family moved to Lambach in 1897. There, Hitler attended a Catholic school located in an 11th-century Benedictine cloister whose walls were engraved in a number of places with crests containing the symbol of the swastika. Impressed by the beauty of the church and accepted by the monks as an altar boy and member of the choir, Hitler dreamt fleetingly of becoming a Benedictine monk. Perhaps he was drawn by the tranquility of the grounds or the strong bonds between the monks who dwelt there. Such daydreams were dashed when, in 1898, the family returned permanently to Leonding.

A dark change came over Adolf on 2 February 1900, when his younger brother Edmund died of measles. Adolf alone attended the funeral, his parents refusing to appear. The priest presiding over the service stated that the young boy gazed silently into the frost covered grave of his deceased brother for hours that cold winter day. With the loss of his closest friend, Adolf went from a confident, outgoing boy to a morose, detached, sullen child who constantly battled his father and his teachers.

Hitler was close to his mother, but had a troubled relationship with his authoritarian father, who frequently beat him, especially in the years after Alois’ retirement and disappointing farming efforts. Alois wanted his son to follow in his footsteps as an Austrian customs official, and this became a huge source of conflict between them. Despite his son’s pleas to go to classical high school and become an artist, his father sent him to the Realschule in Linz, a technical high school of about 300 students, in September 1900. Hitler rebelled, and in Mein Kampf confessed to failing his first year in hopes that once his father saw “what little progress I was making at the technical school he would let me devote myself to the happiness I dreamed of.” But Alois never relented and Hitler became even more bitter and rebellious.

For young Hitler, German Nationalism quickly became an obsession, and a way to rebel against his father, who proudly served the Austrian government. Most people who lived along the German-Austrian border considered themselves German-Austrians, but Hitler expressed loyalty only to Germany. In defiance of the Austrian monarchy, and his father who continually expressed loyalty to it, Hitler and his young friends liked to use the German greeting “Heil”, and sing the German anthem “Deutschland Über Alles” instead of the Austrian Imperial anthem.

After Alois’ sudden death on 3 January 1903, Hitler’s behavior at the technical school became even more disruptive, and he was asked to leave. He enrolled at the Realschule in Steyr in 1904, but upon completing his second year, he and his friends went out for a night of celebration and drinking, and an intoxicated Hitler tore his school certificate into four pieces and used it as toilet paper. When someone turned the stained certificate in to the school’s director, he “… gave him such a dressing-down that the boy was reduced to shivering jelly. It was probably the most painful and humiliating experience of his life.” Hitler was expelled, never to return to school again.

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