Hitler (1905 – 1914)
From 1905 on, Hitler lived a bohemian life in Vienna on an orphan’s pension and support from his mother. He was rejected twice by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (1907–1908), citing “unfitness for painting”, and was told his abilities lay instead in the field of architecture. His memoirs reflect a fascination with the subject:
The purpose of my trip was to study the picture gallery in the Court Museum, but I had eyes for scarcely anything but the Museum itself. From morning until late at night, I ran from one object of interest to another, but it was always the buildings which held my primary interest.
Following the school rector’s recommendation, he too became convinced this was his path to pursue, yet he lacked the proper academic preparation for architecture school:
In a few days I myself knew that I should some day become an architect. To be sure, it was an incredibly hard road; for the studies I had neglected out of spite at the Realschule were sorely needed. One could not attend the Academy’s architectural school without having attended the building school at the Technic, and the latter required a high-school degree. I had none of all this. The fulfillment of my artistic dream seemed physically impossible.
On 21 December 1907, Hitler’s mother died of breast cancer at age 47. It proved a soul shattering experience for the man who, at the age of eighteen, found himself alone. Hitler stated it thusly:
It was the conclusion of a long and painful illness which from the beginning left little hope of recovery. Yet it was a dreadful blow, particularly for me. I had honored my father, but my mother I had loved.
In the years that followed, he struggled as a painter in Vienna, copying scenes from postcards and selling his paintings to merchants and tourists. After being rejected a second time by the Academy of Arts, Hitler ran out of money. In 1909, he lived in a shelter for the homeless. By 1910, he had settled into a house for poor working men on Meldemannstraße.
Reinhold Hansich, a vagrant, remembered the future Fuhrer: “On the very first day there sat next to the bed that had been allotted to me a man with nothing on except an old torn pair of trousers – Hitler. His clothes were being cleaned of lice, since for days he had been wandering about without a roof and in a terribly neglected condition.”
Hitler sincerely believed that he was an artistic genius. Thus he raged against the society that had refused to recognize his talents. Unfortunately, the failed artist was presented with numerous targets which he could vent his frustrations upon. Edwardian Vienna, a city of high culture, art and elegance was also a hotbed of anti-Semitism. The twisted racial theories were also mixed up with heady notions of greater Germanic nationalism. These philosophies gave the destitute Hitler a feeling of personal and communal superiority.
The young man would work in fits and bursts. Hitler spent most of his time in the city’s libraries reading political tracts (or any other literature that fitted in with his distorted world-view). He would also discuss and debate the latest news with his fellow down-and-outs. Reinhold Hansich recalled: “he would hang around the night shelters, living on bread and soup he got there, and discussing politics.” Anyone who disagreed with his views quickly found themselves on the receiving end of an enraged rant about conspiracies and Jewish plots.
Hitler said he first became an anti-Semite in Vienna, which had a large Jewish community, including Orthodox Jews who had fled the pogroms in Russia. According to childhood friend August Kubizek, however, Hitler was a “confirmed anti-Semite” before he left Linz. Vienna at that time was a hotbed of traditional religious prejudice and 19th century racism. Hitler may have been influenced by the writings of the ideologist and anti-Semite Lanz von Liebenfels and polemics from politicians such as Karl Lueger, founder of the Christian Social Party and Mayor of Vienna, the composer Richard Wagner, and Georg Ritter von Schönerer, leader of the pan-Germanic Away from Rome! movement. Hitler claims in Mein Kampf that his transition from opposing anti-Semitism on religious grounds to supporting it on racial grounds came from having seen an Orthodox Jew.
There were very few Jews in Linz. In the course of centuries the Jews who lived there had become Europeanized in external appearance and were so much like other human beings that I even looked upon them as Germans. The reason why I did not then perceive the absurdity of such an illusion was that the only external mark which I recognized as distinguishing them from us was the practice of their strange religion. As I thought that they were persecuted on account of their faith my aversion to hearing remarks against them grew almost into a feeling of abhorrence. I did not in the least suspect that there could be such a thing as a systematic anti-Semitism. Once, when passing through the inner City, I suddenly encountered a phenomenon in a long caftan and wearing black side-locks. My first thought was: Is this a Jew? They certainly did not have this appearance in Linz. I carefully watched the man stealthily and cautiously but the longer I gazed at the strange countenance and examined it feature by feature, the more the question shaped itself in my brain: Is this a German?
If this account is true, Hitler apparently did not act on his new belief. He often was a guest for dinner in a noble Jewish house, and he interacted well with Jewish merchants who tried to sell his paintings.
Hitler may also have been influenced by Martin Luther’s On the Jews and their Lies. In Mein Kampf, Hitler refers to Martin Luther as a great warrior, a true statesman, and a great reformer, alongside Richard Wagner and Frederick the Great. Wilhelm Röpke, writing after the Holocaust, concluded that “without any question, Lutheranism influenced the political, spiritual and social history of Germany in a way that, after careful consideration of everything, can be described only as fateful.”
Hitler claimed that Jews were enemies of the Aryan race. He held them responsible for Austria’s crisis. He also identified certain forms of socialism and Bolshevism, which had many Jewish leaders, as Jewish movements, merging his anti-Semitism with anti-Marxism. Later, blaming Germany’s military defeat in World War I on the 1918 revolutions, he considered Jews the culprits of Imperial Germany’s downfall and subsequent economic problems as well.
Generalizing from tumultuous scenes in the parliament of the multi-national Austrian monarchy, he decided that the democratic parliamentary system was unworkable.
However, according to August Kubizek, his one-time roommate, he was more interested in Wagner’s operas than in his politics.
By 1913 the failed artist was becoming sickened by his homeland’s efforts to modernize and to devolve power (all be it very slowly). Rather than attempting to uphold an already unraveled state, Hitler believed the authorities should cut their losses and pursue an Anschluss, the unification of Germanic Austria with Germany proper. In Mein Kampf he wrote:
My inner aversion to the Hapsburg State was increasing daily… This motley of Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Ruthenians, Serbs and Croats, and always the bacillus which is the solvent of human society, the Jew.
In May 1913, Hitler received the final part of his father’s estate and moved to Munich. He wrote in Mein Kampf that he had always longed to live in a “real” German city. In Munich, he became more interested in architecture and, he says, the writings of Houston Stewart Chamberlain. It was this, Hitler declared, that had driven him to Munich: “I came to love that city more than any other place known to me. A German city. How very different from Vienna.”
Yet Hitler was papering over an important but rather inconvenient fact – he arrived in Munich as a draft dodger. He was meant to have presented himself to the relevant authorities as early as 1910. By 1913 he was being actively pursued by the Austrian police. Once located in Munich, he was given the choice of either appearing voluntarily at a board of inspection or face extradition and arrest.
Fighting for the Austrian Empire was an abhorrent idea for Hitler, however, he need not have been worried – on 5 February 1914 he was turned down for military service due to a lack of fitness.
His fortunes had obviously improved on his return to Munich. He was now able to rent lodgings. Perhaps he was drawing a little more money from advertising commissions. He still spent most of his time arguing politics in cafes or beer cellars. And, as always, he carried on reading works that appealed only to his views. By the summer of 1914, Adolf Hitler was traveling on a road of disappointment and obscurity.