Alois was a self-made man, a rural bumpkin and bastard who arose from nothing and ventured to Vienna where he found his place in the Imperial bureaucracy, his will strengthening his drive for respectability.
While his professional duties involved strict attention to rules, Alois’ personal and private life seemed to have flouted the social norms of the time. In the late 1860s, he fathered an illegitimate child with a woman named Thelka whom he did not marry and whose family name is lost to history. Alois was 36 when he married for the first time, and it was solely for money. Anna Glassl was a wealthy, 50-year-old daughter of a customs official. She was sick when Alois married her and was either an invalid or became one shortly afterwards.
As a rising young junior customs official, Alois used his birth name of Schicklgruber, but in the summer of 1876, 39 years old and well established in his career, he asked permission to use his stepfather’s family name. He appeared before the parish priest in Döllersheim and asserted that his father was Johann Georg Hiedler, who had married his mother and now wished to legitimize him. He apparently did not disclose to the priest that Johann had been dead for almost 20 years. Three relatives appeared with Alois as witnesses, one of whom was Johann Nepomuk Hiedler’s son-in-law. The priest agreed to amend the records, the civil authorities automatically processed the church’s decision, and Alois had a new name. The official change, registered at the government office in Mistelbach in 1876 transformed “Alois Schicklgruber” into “Alois Hitler.” It is not known who decided on the spelling of Hitler instead of Hiedler. It may have been the clerk in Mistelbach. Spellings were still being standardized at the time.
Alois may have been influenced to change his name for money. Maser reports that in 1876, Franz Schicklgruber, the administrator of Alois’ mother’s estate, transferred a large sum of money (230 gulden) to Alois. This related to a family decision involving changing Alois’ last name from Schicklgruber to Hitler / Hiedler in accordance with his mother’s alleged wishes when she died in 1847. Moreover, six months after Nepomuk died, Alois made a major real estate purchase inconsistent with the salary of a customs official with a pregnant wife.
Shame seems to have played no part. Being crass and a boor, Alois openly admitted having been born out of wedlock before and after the name change, deriving pleasure in the shock it gave to conservative Austrians. He had done well by local standards and was not hampered by his name nor by the opinions of the local populace. The limiting factor was education. Alois eventually rose to full inspector of customs and could go no higher because he lacked the necessary school degrees.
Not long after marrying his first wife Anna, Alois Hitler began an affair with 19-year-old Franziska “Fanni” Matzelsberger, one of the young female servants employed at the Pommer Inn, in the city of Braunau am Inn, where he was renting the top floor as a lodging. Smith states that Alois had numerous affairs in the 1870s, resulting in his sick wife Anna initiating legal action; on 7 November 1880 Alois and Anna separated by mutual agreement. Matzelsberger became the 43-year-old Hitler’s girlfriend, but the two could not marry since under Roman Catholic canon law, divorce is not permitted.
In 1876, three years after Hitler married his first wife Anna, he had hired Klara Pölzl as a household servant. Noticing Alois’ attentions being diverted, Matzelsberger demanded that the “servant girl” Klara find another job, and Hitler sent Pölzl away.
On 13th January 1882, Matzelsberger gave birth to Hitler’s illegitimate son, also named Alois, but since they were not married, the child’s last name was Matzelsberger, making him “Alois Matzelsberger.” Hitler kept Matzelsberger as his wife while his lawful wife grew sicker and died on 6 April 1883. The next month, on 22nd May, at a ceremony in Braunau with fellow custom officials as witnesses, Hitler, 45, married Matzelsberger, 21. He then legitimized his son as Alois Hitler, Jr.
For reasons unknown to historians, Matzelberger went to Vienna to give birth to Angela Hitler. Matzelberger, still only 23, acquired a lung disorder and became too ill to function. She was moved to Ranshofen, a small village near Braunau. With no one but him to take care of the house or the children, Hitler brought back Klara Pölzl, Matzelberger’s earlier rival. Matzelberger died in Ranshofen on August 10, 1884 at the age of 23.
Pölzl was soon pregnant by Hitler. Smith writes that if Hitler had been free to do as he wished, he would have married Pölzl immediately but because of the affidavit concerning his paternity, Hitler was now legally Pölzl’s first cousin once removed, too close to marry. He submitted an appeal to the church for a humanitarian waiver, not mentioning Pölzl was already pregnant. Hitler was immune to what the local people thought of him since his salary came from the finance ministry and he probably intended to keep Pölzl as his “housekeeper” if permission was refused. It came, and on 7 January 1885 a wedding was held early in the morning at Hitler’s rented rooms on the top floor of the Pommer Inn. A meal was served for the few guests and witnesses. Hitler then went to work for the rest of the day. Even Klara found the wedding to be a short ceremony. Throughout the marriage, she continued to call him uncle.
On 17 May 1885, five months after the wedding, the new Frau Klara Hitler gave birth to her first child, Gustav. A year later, on 25 September 1886, she gave birth to a daughter, Ida. Son Otto followed Ida in 1887, but he died shortly after birth. Later that year, diphtheria tragically struck the Hitler household, resulting in the deaths of both Gustav and Ida. Klara had been Hitler’s wife for three years, and all her children were dead, but Hitler still had the children from his relationship with Matzelberger, Alois Jr. and Angela.
On April 20, 1889, she gave birth to another son, Adolf. He was a sickly child, and his mother fretted over him. Hitler had little interest in child rearing and left it all to his wife. When not at work he was either in a tavern or busy with his hobby, keeping bees. In 1892, Hitler was transferred from Braunau to Passau. He was 55, Klara 32, Alois Jr. 10, Angela 9 and Adolf was three years old. In 1894, Hitler was re-assigned to Linz. Klara had just given birth to Edmund, so it was decided she and the children would stay in Passau for the time being.
In February 1895, Hitler purchased a house on a nine acre (36,000 m²) plot in Hafeld near Lambach, approximately 30 miles (48 km) southwest of Linz. The farm was called the Rauscher Gut. Hitler fantasized he would spend his retirement as a “gentleman farmer,” indulging in beekeeping and living an easy rural life. He moved his family to the farm and retired on 25 June 1895 at the age of 58 after 40 years in the customs service. A lifetime as a civil servant had made Hitler forget what farm life was like. He found taking care of nine acres (36,000 m²) to be more work than he had thought it would be, and he didn’t want it. The land went uncultivated, and the value of the property declined. Far from being his dream retirement home, the Rauscher Gut was a money-losing nightmare.
Meanwhile, the family was still growing. On 21 January 1896 Paula was born. With no workplace to escape to, Hitler was often home with his family. He had five children ranging in age from infancy to 14, and being involved with their daily life annoyed him. He yelled at the children almost continually and made long visits to the local tavern where he began to drink more than he used to.
It has been said he behaved like a self-important tyrant at home. Even one of his closest friends admitted that Alois was ‘awfully rough’ with his wife and hardly ever spoke a word to her at home. His violence included beating the family dog until it wet itself, abusing his children in front of his wife, or savaging Klara in front of the children. The family structure could well be characterized as the prototype of a totalitarian regime. Its sole, undisputed, often brutal ruler is the father. The wife and children are totally subservient to his will, his moods, and his whims; they must accept humiliation and injustice unquestioningly and gratefully. Obedience is their primary rule of conduct.
Such a dysfunctional household proved too much for Alois’ elder son. After Hitler and his oldest son Alois Jr. had a climactic and violent argument, Alois Jr. left home, and the elder Alois swore he would never give the boy a penny of inheritance beyond what the law required.
Edmund (the youngest of the boys) died of measles on 2 February 1900. If there was to be a family legacy, Adolf would have to carry it. Alois wanted his son to follow him and seek a career in the civil service. However, Adolf had become so alienated from his father that he was repulsed by whatever Alois wanted. Where his father glorified the role of the civil servant, Adolf sneered at the thought of a lifetime spent enforcing petty rules. Alois tried to browbeat his son into obedience while Adolf did his best to be the opposite of whatever his father wanted.
On the morning of January 3, 1903, Hitler went to the Gasthaus Wiesinger as usual to drink his morning glass of wine. He was offered the newspaper and promptly collapsed. He was taken to an adjoining room and a doctor was summoned but Alois Hitler died at the inn from a pleural hemorrhage. He was 65 when he died.