Adolf spoke of his father with great respect. I never heard him say anything against him, in spite of their differences of opinion about his career. In fact he respected him more as time went on. Adolf did not take it amiss that his father had autocratically decided on his son's future career; for this was considered his right, even his duty. It was quite a different matter when Raubal, his step-sister's husband, this uneducated person, who was himself only a little revenue official, arrogated to himself this right. Adolf would certainly not permit him to interfere in his personal affairs. But the authority of his father still remained, even after his death, the force in the struggle with which Adolf developed his own powers. His father's attitude had provoked him first to secret, then to open rebellion. There were violent scenes, which often ended in the father giving him a good hiding, as Adolf told me himself. But Adolf matched this violence with his own youthful obstinacy, and the antagonism between father and son grew sharper.
The customs official Alois
Hitler showed a marked sense of ceremony all his life. Consequently we
have good pictures showing him at various stages of his life. Not so much
at his weddings, which were always under an unlucky star, but at the various
promotions in his career, did he have his picture taken. Most of the pictures
show him, with his dignified civil servant's face, in gala uniform of white
trousers and dark tunic, on which the double row of highly polished buttons
gleamed. The man's face is impressive. A broad, massive head, the most
notable feature being the side whiskers, modelled on those of his supreme
master, the Emperor. The expression of the eyes is penetrating and incorruptible,
the eyes of a man who, as a customs official, is obliged to view everything
with suspicion. But in most pictures dignity prevails over the "inquisitiveness"
of the gaze. Even the pictures taken at the time when
Alois Hitler had already retired show that this man was, in spirit, still on duty. Although he was past sixty he didn't show any of the typical signs of age. One of the pictures, probably the last one, which can also be seen on his grave in Leonding, shows Alois Hitler as a man whose life consisted of service and duty. To be sure there is also an earlier photograph, dating from his Leonding days, which, emphasising his private life, depicts him as a comfortable, well-to-do citizen, fond of good living.
Alois Hitler's rise from being the illegitimate son of a poor servant girl to the position of a respected civil servant is the path from insignificance and inferior status to the highest rank open to him in the service of the State.
His colleagues in the Customs Service describe him as a precise, dutiful official who was very strict and had his "weak spots." As a superior Alois Hitler was not very popular. Out of office he was considered a liberal-minded man who did not conceal his convictions. He was very proud of his rank. Every day he would pay his morning visit to the inn with an official's punctuality. His regular drinking companions found him good company but he could flare up over trifles and become rude, displaying both his inborn violence and the sternness that he had acquired in his job.
His illegitimate birth is conclusively proved by the Church register of the Parish of Strones. According to this, the forty-two-year-old servant maid Anna Maria Schicklgruber gave birth to a son on July 7, 1837, who was christened Alois. The godfather was her employer, the peasant Johann Trummelschlager, in Strones. As far as is known the child was the first and the only one. The identity of the father was not revealed by the mother.
Anna Maria Schicklgruber married the mill worker Johann Georg Hiedler in 1842 when the illegitimate child was already five years old. The Church Register of Döllersheim contains the following entry:
The undersigned hereby confirm that Johann Georg Hiedler, who is well known to the undersigned witnesses, has acknowledged paternity of the child Alois of Anna Maria Schicklgruber and requests that his name be entered in the Baptismal Register.
The entry is signed by the Parish priest and four witnesses.
Johann Georg Hiedler again acknowledged his paternity in an official document concerning some inheritance in 1876 before the Notary in Weitra. He was then eighty-four years old and the child's mother had been dead for over thirty years. Alois Schicklgruber had been a customs official in Braunau for many years.
As the boy was not officially adopted after his mother's wedding, his name remained Schicklgruber. He would have kept this name throughout his life had not Johann Nepomuk Hiedler, Johann Georg's younger brother, made a will and left a modest sum to the illegitimate son of his brother. But he made the condition that Alois should assume the name Hiedler, and on June 4, 1876, the name Alois Schicklgruber in the Church Register of the Parish of Döllersheim was altered to Alois Hiedler; the local government authority in Mistelbach ratifying this alteration on January 6, 1877. From now on Alois Schicklgruber called himself Alois Hitler, a name which meant as little as the other, but which secured him his legacy.
Once when we were talking about his relatives Adolf told me the story of his father's change of names. Nothing his "old man" ever did pleased him as much as this; for Schicklgruber seemed to him so uncouth, so boorish, apart from being so clumsy and unpractical. He found "Hiedler" too boring, too soft; but "Hitler" sounded nice and was easy to remember.
It is typical of his father that instead of accepting the version "Hiedler," as did the rest of his relations, he invented the new spelling, "Hitler." It was in keeping with his mania for ceaseless change. His superiors had nothing to do with this; for in all his forty years of service he was transferred only four times. The towns to which he was posted, Saalfelden, Braunau, Passau and Linz, are so favourably situated that they form the ideal setting for a customs official's career. But hardly had he settled down in one of these places, when he began to move house. During his period of service in Braunau there are recorded twelve changes of address; probably there were more. During the two years in Passau he moved twice. Soon after his retirement he moved from Linz to Hafeld, from there to Lambach – first in the Leingartner Inn, then to a mill, that is to say, two changes in one year – then to Leonding. When I met Adolf he remembered seven removals and had been to five different schools. It would not be true to say that these constant changes were due to bad housing conditions. Surely the Pommer Inn – Alois Hitler was very fond of living in inns – (where Adolf was born) was one of the finest and most presentable buildings in the whole of Braunau. Nevertheless, the father left there soon after Adolf's birth. Actually he often moved from a decent dwelling into a poorer one. The house was not the important thing; rather the moving. How can one explain this strange mania?
Perhaps Alois Hitler simply hated to remain in one spot; and as his service forced on him a certain stability, he at least wanted some change in his own sphere. As soon as he had got used to certain surroundings, he grew weary of them. To live meant to change one's conditions, a trait which I experienced in Adolf too.
Three times Alois remodelled his family. It is perhaps true that this was due to outside circumstances. But if so, certainly fate played strangely into his hands. We know that his first wife, Anna, suffered very much from his restlessness, which eventually led to their separation and was partly responsible for her unexpected death. For while his first wife was still alive, Alois Hitler already had a child by the woman who became his second wife. And again when the second wife fell gravely ill and died, Klara, the third, was already expecting a child of his. Just sufficient time elapsed for the child to be born in wedlock. Alois Hitler was not an easy husband. Even more than from Frau Hitler's occasional hints could one gather this from her weary, drawn face. This lack of inner harmony was perhaps partly due to the fact that Alois Hitler never married a woman his own age. Anna was fourteen years older, Franziska twenty-four years younger, and Klara twenty-three years younger.
This strange and unusual
habit of the father's, always to change his circumstances, is all the more
remarkable as those were peaceful, comfortable times without any justification
for such change. I see in the father's character an explanation of the
strange behaviour of the son, whose constant restlessness puzzled me for
so long. When Adolf and I strolled through the familiar streets of the
good, old town – all peace, quiet and harmony – my friend would sometimes
be taken by a certain mood and begin to change everything he saw. That
house there was in a wrong position; it would have to be demolished. There
was an empty plot which could be built up instead. That street needed a
correction in order to give a more compact impression. Away with this horrible,
completely bungled tenement block! Let's have a free vista to the Castle.
Thus he was always rebuilding the town. But it wasn't only a matter of
building. A beggar, standing before the church, would be an occasion for
him to hold forth on the need for a State scheme for the old, which would
do away with begging. A peasant woman coming along with her milk cart drawn
by a miserable dog – occasion to criticize the Society for Prevention
of Cruelty to Animals for their lack of initiative. Two young lieutenants
sauntering through the
streets, their sabres proudly clanking – sufficient reason for him to inveigh against the shortcomings of a military service
which permitted such idleness. This inclination to be dissatisfied with things as they were, always to change and improve them, was ineradicable in him.
And this was by no means a peculiarity which he had acquired through external influences, by his upbringing at home or at school, but an innate quality that was also apparent in his father's unsettled character. It was a supernatural force, comparable to a motor driving a thousand wheels.
Nevertheless, father and son were affected by this quality in different ways. The father's unruly nature was bridled by one steadying factor – his position. The discipline of his office gave his volatile character purpose and direction. Again and again he was saved from complications by the hard exigencies of his duties.
The uniform of the customs official served as a cover for anything that may have gone on in the stormy sphere of his private life. In particular, being in the service, he unreservedly accepted the authority on which the service was built. Although Alois Hitler was inclined to liberal views – an inclination not uncommon in the Austrian Civil Service – he would never have questioned the authority of the State, epitomized in the person of the Emperor. By fully submitting to this accepted authority, Alois Hitler was able to steer safely through all the dangerous reefs and sandbanks of his life, on which otherwise he might have foundered.
This also throws a different light on his obstinate efforts to make a civil servant of Adolf. It was for him more than a father's usual preoccupation with his son's future. His purpose was rather to direct his son into a position which necessitated submission to authority. It is quite possible that the father did not himself realise the inner reason of his attitude, but his determination in insisting on his point of view shows that he must have felt how much was at stake for his son. So well did he know him.
With equal determination Adolf refused to comply with his father's wishes, although he himself had only very hazy ideas about his future. To become a painter would have been the worst possible insult to his father, for it would have meant just that aimless wandering to which he (the father) was so much opposed.
With his refusal to enter the Civil Service, Adolf Hitler's path diverges sharply from that of his father; it takes a different course, final and irrevocable. It was, indeed, the great decision of his life. The years that followed it I spent at his side. I could observe how earnestly he tried to find the right path for his future, not merely a job that would provide a livelihood, but real tasks for which his talents were fitted.
Alois Hitler died suddenly. On January 3, 1903 – he was sixty-five and still strong and active – he went, as usual, punctually at ten o'clock in the morning to have his drink. Without warning he collapsed in his chair. Before a doctor or a priest could be called, he was dead.
When the fourteen-year-old son saw his dead father he burst out into uncontrollable weeping.