I must ask to be excused from mentioning this girl's surname as well as her later married name. Occasionally I have revealed it to persons engaged in research on Hitler's youth, who had satisfied me as to their good faith. Stefanie, who was one, or perhaps, two years older than Adolf, later married a high-ranking officer and now lives, a widow, in Vienna. The reader will therefore understand my discretion.
One evening in the spring of 1905, as we were taking our usual stroll, Adolf gripped my arm and asked me excitedly what I thought of that slim blonde girl walking along the Landstrasse arm-in-arm with her mother. "You must know, I'm in love with her," he added resolutely.
Stefanie was a distinguished-looking girl, tall and slim. She had thick fair hair, which she mostly wore swept back in a bun. Her eyes were very beautiful – bright and expressive. . She was exceptionally well dressed and even her bearing indicated that she came from a good, well-to-do family.
The photograph by Hans Zivny, taken in Urfahr, on her leaving school was somewhat earlier than this meeting and Stefanie could only have been then seventeen, or, at the most, eighteen years old. It shows a young girl with pretty, regular features. The expression of the face is completely natural and open. The abundant hair, still worn in the Gretel fashion, serves to strengthen this impression. A freshness and lack of affectation show in the girl's healthy countenance.
The evening stroll along the Landstrasse was, in those years, a favourite habit with the Linzers. The ladies looked at the shopwindows and made little purchases. Friends met – and the younger generation amused themselves in innocent ways. There was a lot of flirting and the young army officers were particularly good at it. It seemed to us that Stefanie must live in Urfahr, for she always came from the bridge up the main square, and strolled down the Landstrasse arm-in-arm with her mother. At five o'clock, almost precisely, mother and daughter appeared – we stood waiting at the Schmiedtoreck. It would have been improper to salute Stefanie, as neither of us had been introduced to the young lady. A glance had to take the place of a greeting. From then on, Adolf did not take his eyes off Stefanie. In that moment he was changed, no longer his own self.
I found out that Stefanie's mother was a widow and did, indeed, live in Urfahr, and that a young man who occasionally accompanied them, to Adolf's great irritation, was her brother, a law student in Vienna. This information eased Adolf's mind considerably. But from time to time the, two ladies were to be seen in the company of young officers. Poor, pallid youngsters like Adolf naturally could not hope to compete with these young lieutenants in their smart uniforms. Adolf felt this intensely and gave vent to his feelings with eloquence. His anger, in the end, led him into uncompromising enmity towards the officer class as a whole, and everything military in general. "Conceited blockheads," he used to call them. It annoyed him immensely that Stefanie mixed with such idlers who, he insisted, wore corsets and used scent.
To be sure, Stefanie had no idea how deeply Adolf was in love with her; she regarded him as a somewhat shy but, nevertheless, remarkably tenacious and faithful admirer, When she responded with a smile to his inquiring glance, he was happy, and his mood became unlike anything I had ever observed in him; everything in the world was good and beautiful and well ordered, and he was content. When Stefanie, as happened just as often, coldly ignored his gaze, he was crushed and ready to destroy himself and the whole world.
Certainly such phenomena are typical of every first great love, and one might perhaps be tempted to dismiss Adolf's feelings for Stefanie as calf love. This may have been true as far as Stefanie's own conception of them was concerned, but for Adolf himself, his relation to Stefanie was more than calf love. The mere fact that it lasted more than four years, and even cast its splendour over the subsequent years of misery in Vienna, shows that Adolf's feelings were deep and true, and real love. Proof of the depth of his feelings is that for Adolf, throughout these years, no other woman but Stefanie existed – how unlike the usual boy's love, which is always changing its object. I cannot remember that Adolf ever gave any thought to another girl. Later, in Vienna, when Lucie Weidt roused his enthusiasm in the part of Elsa in Lohengrin, the highest praise he could give her was that she reminded him of Stefanie. In appearance, Stefanie was ideally suited for the part of Elsa, and other female roles of Wagner's operas, and we spent much time wondering whether she had the necessary voice and musical talent. Adolf was inclined to take it for granted. Just her Valkyrie-like appearance never failed to attract him and to fire him with unbounded enthusiasm. He wrote countless love poems to Stefanie. "Hymn to the Beloved" was the title of one of them, which he read to me from his little black notebook. Stefanie, a high-born damsel, in a dark blue, flowing velvet gown, rode on a white steed over the flowering meadows, her loose hair fell in golden waves on her shoulders. A clear spring sky was above. Everything was pure, radiant joy. I can still see Adolf's face glowing with fervent ecstasy and hear his voice reciting these verses. Stefanie filled his thoughts so completely that everything he said, or did, or planned for the future, was centred around her. With his growing estrangement from his home, Stefanie gained more and more influence over my friend, although he never spoke a word to her.
My ideas about these things were much more prosaic, and I remember very well our repeated arguments on the subject – and my recollections of Adolf's relationship to Stefanie are particularly distinct. He used to insist that, once he met Stefanie, everything would become clear without as much as a word being exchanged. For such exceptional human beings as himself and Stefanie, he said, there was no need for the usual communication by word of mouth; extraordinary human beings would understand each other by intuition. Whatever the subject we might discuss at any time, Adolf was always sure that Stefanie not only knew his ideas exactly, but that she shared them enthusiastically. If I dared to comment that he hadn't spoken to Stefanie about them, and to express my doubts as to whether she was at all interested in such things, he became furious and shouted at me: "You simply don't understand, because you can't understand the true meaning of extraordinary love." In order to quiet him down, I asked him if he could transmit to Stefanie the knowledge of such complicated problems simply by gazing at her. He only replied, "It's possible! These things cannot be explained. What is in me, is in Stefanie too." Of course, I took great care not to push these delicate matters too far. But I was pleased that Adolf trusted me so much, for to nobody else, not even to his mother, had he talked about Stefanie.
He expected Stefanie to reciprocate his love for her to the exclusion of all others. For a long time he put up with the interest she took in other young men, especially the officers, because he regarded it as a sort of deliberate diversion to conceal her own tempestuous feelings for him. But this attitude often gave way to fits of raging jealousy; then Adolf would be desperate when Stefanie ignored the pale youth who was waiting for her, and concentrated her attention instead on the young lieutenant escorting her. Why, indeed, should a lively young girl have been satisfied with the anxious glances of a secret admirer, while others expressed their admiration so much more gracefully? But I, of course, would never have dared to express such a thought in Adolf's presence.
One day he asked me, "What shall I do?" Never before had he asked for my advice and I was extremely proud that he did; at last, for a change, I could feel superior to him. "It's quite simple," I explained. "You approach the two ladies and, raising your hat, introduce yourself to the mother by giving your name, and ask her permission to address the daughter and to escort them."
Adolf looked at me doubtfully and pondered my suggestion for quite a while. In the end, however, be rejected it. "What am I to say if the mother wants to know my profession? After all, I have to mention my profession straightway; it would be best to add it to my name – 'Adolf Hitler, academic painter,' or something similar. But I am not yet an academic painter, and I can't introduce myself till I am. For the mama, the profession is even more important than the name."
I thought for a long time that Adolf was simply too shy to approach Stefanie. And yet it was not shyness that held him back. His conception of the relationship between the sexes was already then so high that the usual way of making the acquaintance of a girl seemed to him undignified. As he was opposed to flirting in any form, he was convinced that Stefanie had no other desire but to wait until he should come to ask her to marry him. I did not share this conviction at all; but Adolf, as was his habit with all problems that agitated him, had already made an elaborate plan. And this girl, who was a stranger to him and had never exchanged a word with him, succeeded where his father, the school and even his mother had failed: he drew up an exact program for his future which would enable him, after four years, to ask for Stefanie's hand.
We discussed this difficult problem for hours, with the result that Adolf commissioned me to collect further information about Stefanie.
In the Music Society there was a cellist whom I had occasionally seen talking to Stefanie's brother. Through him I learned that Stefanie's father, a higher government official, had died some years earlier. The mother had a comfortable home and was in receipt of a widow's pension, which she used to give her two children the best possible education. Stefanie had attended the Girl's High School and had already matriculated. She had a great number of admirers – small wonder, beautiful as she was. She was fond of dancing and, the previous winter, had gone with her mother to all the important dances of the town. As far as he knew, the cellist added, she was not engaged.
Adolf was highly satisfied with the result of my investigations – that she was not engaged he had, anyhow, taken for granted. There was only one point in my report that disturbed him greatly: Stefanie danced, and, according to the cellist's assurance, she danced well, and enjoyed it.
This did not fit at all into Adolf's own image of Stefanie. A Valkyrie who waltzed round the ballroom in the arms of some "blockhead" of a lieutenant, was for him too terrible to be contemplated.
What was the origin of this strange, almost ascetic trait in him which made him reject all the pleasures of youth? Adolf's father, after all, had been a man who enjoyed life and who, as a good-looking custom's official, had certainly turned many a girl's head. Why was Adolf so different? After all, he was a most presentable young man, well built, slender, and his somewhat severe and exaggeratedly serious features were enlivened by his extraordinary eyes, whose peculiar brilliance made one forget the sickly pallor of his face. And yet – dancing was as contrary to his nature as smoking or drinking beer at a pub. These things simply did not exist for him, although nobody, not even his mother, encouraged him in this attitude.
After having been his butt for so long, at last I had a chance of pulling his leg. I proclaimed, with a straight face, "You must take dancing lessons, Adolf." Dancing immediately became one of his problems. I well remember that our lonely perambulations were no longer punctuated by discussions on "The Theatre" or "Reconstruction of the Danube Bridge," but were dominated by one subject – dancing.
As with everything that he couldn't tackle at once, he indulged in generalisations. "Visualise a crowded ballroom," he said once to me, "and imagine that you were deaf. You can't hear the music to which these people are moving, and then take a look at their senseless progress, which leads nowhere. Aren't these people raving mad?"
"All this is no good, Adolf," I replied, "Stefanie is fond of dancing. If you want to conquer her, you will have to dance around just as aimlessly and idiotically as the others." That was all that was needed to set him off raving. "No, no, never!" he screamed at me. "I shall never dance! Do you understand! Stefanie only dances because she is forced to by society on which she unfortunately depends. Once she is my wife, she won't have the slightest desire to dance!"
Contrary to the rule, this time his own words did not convince him; for he brought up the question of dancing again and again. I rather suspected that, secretly at home, he practised a few cautious steps with his little sister. Frau Hitler had bought a piano for Adolf. Perhaps, I thought, I might soon be asked to play a waltz on it, and then I would chaff Adolf about being deaf while he danced. He did not need music for his movements. I also intended to point out to him the harmony between music and bodily movements, of which he did not seem to have any conception.
But it never got as far as this. Adolf went on brooding for days and weeks trying to find a solution. In his depressed mood, he hit on a crazy idea: he seriously contemplated kidnaping Stefanie. He expounded his plan to me in all its details and assigned me my role, which was not a very rewarding one; for I had to keep the mother engaged in conversation, while he seized the girl. "And what are you both going to live on?" I asked prosaically. My question sobered him up a little and the audacious plan was abandoned.
To make matters worse, Stefanie was at that time in an unfriendly mood. She would pass the Schmiedtoreck with her face averted, as though Adolf didn't exist at all. This brought him to the verge of despair. "I can't stand it any longer!" he exclaimed. "I will make an end of it!"
It was the first and, as far as I know, the last time that Adolf contemplated suicide seriously. He would jump into the river from the Danube bridge, he told me, and then it would be over and done with. But Stefanie would have to die with him – he insisted on that. Once more a plan was thought up, in all its details. Every single phase of the horrifying tragedy was minutely described, including the part I would have to play; even my conduct as the sole survivor was ordained. This sombre scene was with me, even in my dreams.
Soon the sky was blue again and for Adolf came that happiest of days in June 1906 which I am sure remained in his memory as clearly as it did in mine. Summer was approaching and a flower festival was held in Linz. As usual, Adolf waited for me outside the Carmelite Church, where I used to go every Sunday with my parents; then we took up our stand at the Schmiedtoreck. The position was extremely favourable, as the street there is narrow and the carriages in the parade had to pass quite close to the pavement. The regimental band led the string of flower-decked carriages, from which young girls and ladies waved to the spectators. But Adolf had no eye nor ears for any of this; he waited feverishly for Stefanie to appear. I was already giving up hope of seeing her when Adolf gripped my arm so violently that it hurt. Seated in a handsome carriage, decorated with flowers, mother and daughter turned into the Schmiedtorstrasse. I still have the picture clearly in my mind. The mother, in a light grey silk dress, holds a red sunshade over her head, through which the rays of the sun seemed to cast, as though by magic, a rosy glow over the countenance of Stefanie, wearing a pretty silk frock. Stefanie has adorned her carriage, not with roses as most of the others, but with simple, wild blossoms – red poppies, white marguerites and blue cornflowers. Stefanie holds a bunch of the same flowers in her hand. The carriage approaches Adolf is floating on air. Never before has he seen Stefanie so enchanting. Now the carriage is quite close to us. A bright glance falls on Adolf. Stefanie sends him a beaming smile and, picking a flower from her bouquet, throws it to him.
Never again did I see Adolf as happy as he was at that moment. When the carriage had passed he dragged me aside and with emotion he gazed at the flower, this visible pledge of her love. I can still hear his voice, trembling with excitement, "She loves me! You have seen! She loves me!"
During the following months, when his decision to leave school had caused a conflict with his mother, and he was ill, his love for Stefanie was his only comfort and he always kept her flower in his locket. Adolf was never in greater need of my friendship; for as I was the only person who shared his secret, it was only through me that he could get news about her. I had to go every day to the usual spot at the Schmiedtoreck and to report to him all my observations and tell him, in particular, who had spoken to mother and daughter. That I stood alone at the familiar corner, Adolf felt, would naturally upset Stefanie immeasurably. It did not, but I kept it from him. Fortunately, it had never occurred to Adolf that I might fall in love with Stefanie, for his slightest suspicion in this respect would have meant the end of our friendship; and as there was no real reason for it, I was able to give my reports to my poor friend wholly disinterestedly.
Adolf's mother had been aware for a long time of the change in her son. One evening – I remember it well because it embarrassed me considerably – she asked me straight out: "What's the matter with Adolf? He's so impatient to see you." I muttered some excuse and hurried into Adolf's room.
He was happy when I brought him some new facts concerning Stefanie. "She has a good soprano voice," I told him one day. He jumped up. "How do you know that?" "I followed her very closely for some time and I heard her speak. I know enough music to be able to tell that somebody with such a clear and pure voice must be a good soprano." How happy this made Adolf. And I was pleased that he, languishing in his bed, had a moment of happiness.
Every evening I had to get back to the Humboldtstrasse from the evening stroll by the quickest route. I would often find Adolf sketching a big blueprint. "Now I have made up my mind," he said, in dead earnest, after having heard my report, "I have decided to build the house for Stefanie in Renaissance style." And then I had to give my opinion, especially as to whether I was satisfied with the shape and size of the music room. He had paid special attention to the acoustics of the room, he said, and asked me to say where the piano should go, and so on, and so on. All this in a manner as though there were not the slightest doubt that the plans would be carried out. A timid inquiry about the money brought forth the rude reply, "Oh, to hell with the money!" – an expression which he frequently employed.
We had some arguments as to where this villa would be built; as a musician I was all for Italy. Adolf insisted that it could only be built in Germany, in the neighbourhood of a big city so that he and Stefanie could go to the opera and concerts.
As soon as he could leave his bed he went down and took up his position at the Schmiedtoreck; he was still very pale and ill. Punctually as usual, Stefanie and her mother appeared. Seeing Adolf, pale-faced and hollow-eyed, she smiled at him. "Did you notice?" he asked me happily. From that moment on, his health improved rapidly.
In spring 1906, when Adolf left for Vienna, he gave me detailed instructions how I should behave vis-à-vis Stefanie; for he was convinced that she would soon ask me whether my friend, was ill again, as I was there alone. Then I was to answer as follows: "My friend is not ill, but he had to go to Vienna to take up his studies at the Academy of Art. When his studies are finished he will spend a year travelling, abroad, of course." (I insisted on being allowed to say "in Italy." Very well, then, Italy.) "In four years time he will return and ask for your hand in marriage. In case of an affirmative answer, the preparations for the wedding would be put in hand forthwith."
While Adolf was in Vienna, I naturally had to send him regular written reports about Stefanie. As it was cheaper to send postcards than letters, Adolf gave me a code word for Stefanie before he left. It was Benkieser, the name of a former classmate. A picture postcard which he sent me on May 8 from Vienna shows how much this "Benkieser" was still on his mind in spite of his many new and varied impressions in Vienna. "I am longing to return to my beloved Linz and Urfahr," it reads. The word Urfahr is underlined, alluding, of course, to Stefanie, who lived there. "I have to see Benkieser again. I wonder what he's doing."
A few weeks later Adolf returned from Vienna and I met him at the station. I still remember how we took turns carrying his bag and he urged me to tell him all about Stefanie, at once. We were in a hurry because the evening stroll would begin in an hour's time. Adolf would not believe that Stefanie had not asked after him, for he took it for granted that she was longing for him just as much as he was for her. But at heart he was glad that I had not had the opportunity to tell Stefanie about his grandiose plans for the future, as his prospects at the moment were not very bright. We hardly stopped in the Humboldtstrasse to greet his mother before we hurried off to the Schmiedtoreck. Full of excitement, Adolf waited. Punctually Stefanie and her mother appeared. She threw him a surprised glance. That was sufficient – he did not want more. But I became impatient. "You can see that she wants you to talk to her," I said to my friend. "Tomorrow," he answered.
But the morrow never came, and weeks, months and years passed without his taking any steps to change this state of affairs which caused him so much unrest. It was natural that Stefanie did nothing beyond that first phase of exchanging glances. The most Adolf could have expected of her was the flower thrown at him with a roguish smile in the carefree atmosphere of the Flower Festival. Besides, any move of hers beyond the rigid limits of convention would have destroyed the picture of her which Adolf kept in his heart. Perhaps even his strange timidity was prompted by the fear that any closer acquaintance might destroy this ideal. For to him Stefanie was not only the incarnation of all womanly virtues, but also the woman who took the greatest interest in all his wide and varied plans. There was no other person, apart from himself, whom he credited with so much knowledge and so many interests. The slightest divergence from this picture would have filled him with unspeakable disappointment.
Of course, I am convinced the first words he exchanged with Stefanie would have caused that very disappointment, because she was fundamentally a young, happy girl, like thousands of others, and certainly had the same kind of interests. Adolf would have sought in vain for those grandiose thoughts and ideas with which he had surrounded her to such an extent as to make her the female image of himself. Only the most rigid separation could preserve his idol.
It is most revealing that the young Hitler, who so thoroughly despised bourgeois society, nevertheless, as far as his love affair was concerned, observed its codes and etiquette more strictly than many a member of the bourgeoisie itself. The rules of bourgeois conduct and etiquette became for him the barricade behind which he built up his relationship to Stefanie. "I have not been introduced to her." How often have I heard him say these words, although ordinarily he would make light of such obstacles. This strict observance of social customs was part of his whole nature. It was apparent in his neat dress and in his correct behaviour as much as in his natural courtesy, which my mother liked so much about him. I never heard him use an ambiguous expression or tell a doubtful story.
So, in spite of all apparent contradictions, this strange love of Hitler for Stefanie falls into the pattern of his character. Love was a field where the unforeseeable might happen, and which might become dangerous. How many men who had set out with great intentions had been forced off their path by irregular and complicated love affairs. It was imperative to be on one's guard!
Instinctively, the young Hitler found the only correct attitude in his love for Stefanie: he possessed a being whom he loved, and at the same time, he did not possess her. He arranged his whole life as though he possessed this beloved creature entirely. But as he himself avoided any personal meeting, this girl, although he could see that she walked the earth, remained nevertheless a creature of his dream world, towards whom he could project his desires, plans and ideas. And thus he kept himself from deviating from his own path; indeed, this strange relationship, through the power of love, increased his own will. He imagines Stefanie as his wife, builds the house in which they live together, surrounds it with a magnificent garden and arranges his home with Stefanie, just as, in fact, he did later on the Ober-Salzburg, though without her. This mixing of dream and reality is characteristic of the young Hitler. And whenever there is a danger that the beloved would entirely escape into the realm of fantasy, he hurries to the Schmiedtoreck and makes sure that she really walks the earth. Hitler was confirmed in the choice of his path, not by what Stefanie actually was, but by what his imagination made of her. Thus, Stefanie was two things for him, one part reality and one part wish and imagination. Be that as it may, Stefanie was the most beautiful, the most fertile and purest dream of his life.