Hitler left school at Steyr in September 1905, and went to live with his widowed mother in Linz. He was then aged sixteen. In May 1906 he paid his first visit to Vienna and stayed there with his sister for two months, after which he returned to Linz. In the autumn of 1907 he went again to Vienna and lived, for part of the time at least, in the Men's Home at No. 27 Meldemannstrasse, seeking to gain admission to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts to study architecture. In October 1907 he was rejected by the Academy, and soon afterwards he returned to Linz where his mother was incurably ill. On December 21, 1907, she died. In February 1908, Hitler returned to Vienna and stayed with a friend in furnished rooms, at No. 29 Stumpergasse – an address which he had already used before. In November 1908, finding himself too poor to continue paying that rent, he suddenly left, and by the spring of 1909, when we next hear of him, he was back in the Men's Home in the Meldemannstrasse. He appears to have used various other addresses, including a flop house in the Meidling area and rooms in Simon Denk Gasse, but the Meldemannstrasse Men's Home evidently remained his base until 1913, when he left for Munich, apparently to avoid military service in the Austro-Hungarian army.
Now what evidence have we of Hitler's life and character in those crucial years? Apart from a few legal documents we have Hitler's own account in Mein Kampf, which may be suspect and is necessarily subjective; we have the accounts by a Sudeten tramp, Reinhold Hanisch, who knew him in 1909, and by some other more casual acquaintances in Vienna, as these accounts were given to the anti-Nazi journalist, Konrad Heiden, in the 1930s; and we have the full account given by Josef Greiner, who knew Hitler when both were lodging in the Men's Home in the Meldemannstrasse, first during Hitler's second visit to Vienna in September 1907, later on Greiner's return to Vienna in 1910. Of these sources, Greiner's account, which was published in 1947, is the fullest and has hitherto been regarded as by far the most valuable. Nevertheless, it does not answer the questions which we most want to see answered.
For Greiner's portrait of Hitler, though presented in objective terms, is essentially the portrait of a shiftless, roving, almost weak character, but one whose weakness is combined with a harsh inhuman, mechanical, repetitive fanaticism. Hitler, he says, was a sorry figure, unpleasing to men and women alike, and his existence in Vienna, it is implied – although he read hugely – was utterly purposeless. Now although this account bears recognisable resemblances to the later Hitler as known to history, there has always seemed to me something defective in it. It shows no trace of the qualities which be must also have possessed. For first, although Hitler was undoubtedly crafty and crooked and mean and inhuman, the most obvious fact about his character was the devouring, systematic will power which he was afterwards to show and which must have been present in embryo even at that time; and secondly, although we know that Hitler became utterly cynical and inhuman, it is difficult to believe that he was always thus. I do not believe that men are born sour and inhuman: if they are so, it is because they have been made so; and what I look for in Hitler's early character is evidence not so much of the result as of the process of its formation. Here Greiner gives no help; and therefore, reading his book, I feel that he has recollected superficial characteristics only – perhaps even that his recollection is somewhat clouded by afterevents, by the atmosphere of disgust which must have prevailed in Vienna in 1947. What we require, if we are to see Hitler's character and views in process of formation, is a more intimate, more sympathetic portrait of what must have been, even in the most dehumanised man, a human period.
This, August Kubizek gives. The son of an upholsterer in Linz, inspired early with a passion for music, Kubizek first met Hitler late in 1904 when both were competing for standing room at the opera. Kubizek was then sixteen, Hitler fifteen. From that time onwards, for the next four years, says Kubizek, "I lived side by side with Adolf. In these decisive years, when he grew from a boy of fifteen to a young man, Adolf confided to me things that he had told to no one, not even his mother." When Kubizek wanted to study music rather than upholstery, it was the young Hitler who, with astonishing success, persuaded his reluctant father – as he afterwards persuaded him to allow his son to come to Vienna. In Vienna it was Kubizek with whom Hitler, in 1908, shared the room in Stumpergasse. A common love of music and a romantic friendship kept them together, Hitler always the dominant, Kubizek the recessive partner. Then, quite suddenly, on November 20, 1908, Kubizek returned to Vienna and, arriving at 29 Stumpergasse, found that his friend had disappeared, leaving no address. It was only forty years later that Kubizek was to learn what had happened: "my friend had moved out of the Stumpergasse because the rent was too much for him and had found much cheaper accommodation at a so-called Men's Hostel in the Meldemannstrasse. Adolf had disappeared into the shady depths of the Metropolis. Then began for him those years of bitterest misery of which he himself says little and of which there is no reliable witness." For it is clear that Kubizek does not regard Greiner as a reliable witness. He only refers to him once, and then not by name, when he shows that Greiner has illustrated his book with a faked portrait.
And what is the character which Hitler showed to Kubizek in these four years of friendship? It is a far more human and, in my opinion, a far more plausible character than that to which Greiner's book has accustomed us. Externally Hitler sill appears a drifting character: he has failed at school, has no employment, has been rejected by the Academy, is in Vienna for no clearly stated purpose, lives on a pittance eked out by painting postcards. But behind this shiftless exterior Kubizek constructs what must have been there, although it was not apparent to casual acquaintances: the character of the man who, from these beginnings, without any other natural advantages besides his own personality, became the most powerful and terrible tyrant and conqueror of modern history. Here we see – along with the incipient monomania, the repetitive clichés, and the Wagnerian romanticism of his later years – the early evidence of that unbreakable will power, that extraordinary self-confidence. We see the penniless, unemployed, unemployable young Hitler, at sixteen, confidently rebuilding in his imagination the city of Linz, as he was afterwards to rebuild it in fact, and never for a moment doubting that he would one day carry out these improbable plans; we see him exercising over an elderly Austrian upholsterer that irresistible hypnotic power with which he was afterwards to seduce a whole nation; we see him, in Vienna, fortifying himself against a corrupt and purposeless society by adopting an iron asceticism, like some ancient crusader guarding himself against corruption in a pagan world. And then turning to detail, we see in Vienna, when Kubizek was closest to him, the working of Hitler's mind as it feels its way towards the beginnings of national socialism: his crude, voracious but systematic reading; his sudden discovery of politics; his hatred of the social injustice of urban life represented to him, the architect, by squalid slum buildings; his fear – the fear which he was afterwards to exploit among millions of lower-middle-class Germans – of sinking into proletarian status. Behind the outward meaninglessness of his hand-to-mouth existence we see the inner purposefulness of his studies, his experiences, his reasoning. The account may sometimes be romanticised, but not, I think, much, or more than is legitimate and indeed inevitable in the recollections of youth. By all external checks Kubizek's account is reliable, and to anyone who has studied the mind and character of Hitler it is also inherently plausible. Hitler's character, in the years after 1908, undoubtedly became harder and more hateful: experience caused it to set into a hideous inhumanity. In some respects it also changed, not its quality but its direction. We learn casually from Kubizek that in his Vienna days, Hitler was a pacifist; and certainly the ruthlessness of his later worship of war becomes more comprehensible when we realise that it was the religion of a convert. But fundamentally we see here what we have never seen before, and what superficial observers have never shown: the formation of that positive character which afterwards achieved the dreadful miracle of our century; the character of the man who, in circumstances of apparent hopelessness, resolved not to rest till he had found an answer not only to his problem, but to the problem of a continent. "He did not know what resignation meant," says Kubizek. "He who resigned, he thought, lost his right to live." Thanks to the experience and the harsh thought of those years, Hitler was afterwards able, in circumstances which he could not then have envisaged, to mobilise, like Satan in Hell, some of the best as well as some of the worst instincts of a defeated people:
What though the field be
All is not lost; the unconquerable Will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome?
Like Satan, having mobilised these forces, he was to use his power over them for a sinister purpose: the destruction of mankind.
A good book does not need to he summarised, only introduced. I believe that this is a very important book: it fills, as no other book has done, a vital gap in our understanding of Hitler's mental history. Having said this, I can leave it to the reader, only adding a brief note on the author. August Kubizek did in fact emancipate himself from the upholsterer's trade and after studying at the Vienna School of Music he became conductor of the orchestra of the Austrian town of Marburg on the Drave. In 1918, with the defeat of the Central Powers, Marburg was lost to Austria and became Maribor in Yugoslavia. Thereupon Kubizek accepted a position as an official in the municipal council of Eferding in Upper Austria, not far from his original home, and music, from being his profession, became his hobby. On April 8, 1938, after thirty years of separation, he met Hitler again, and the Führer, who had just annexed Austria to the Reich, suggested to his former friend that he should resume, under his powerful patronage, a musical career; but Kubizek declined the offer and although he was sometimes taken by Hitler to the Wagner Festival at Bayreuth, never sought to profit by his former friendship. He remained in local government in Eferding, and except for a short period in the American detention camp at Glasenbach in 1945, has remained there ever since. He retired as head of the council on January 1, 1954, and now lives in the market place with his wife, who keeps there a small draper's shop. Of his early intimacy with Hitler, this book is the only record he has chosen to make. It will have an important place among the source books of history.