The Young Hitler I Knew – August Kubizek
Chapter 20 –
Unmilitary Interlude.

One fine day – it must have been the beginning of April – I received a letter. As Adolf never got any letters, I used to be discreet about mine to spare his feeling, but he noticed at once that this letter must have some special significance. "What's the matter, Gustl?" he asked, sympathetically.

I replied simply, "Here, read it."

I can still see how his face changed colour, how his eyes took on that extraordinary glitter which used to herald an outburst of rage. Then he started raving.

"You are not to register, on any account, Gustl," he screamed. "You're a fool if you go there. The best thing to do is to tear up this stupid bit of paper!"

I jumped up and snatched my calling-up papers away from him, before he in his fury tore them to pieces.

I was so upset myself that Adolf soon calmed down. Striding angrily between door and piano, he immediately drew up a plan to help me out of my present predicament.

"It's not even certain, yet, whether you will be passed as fit," he remarked more calmly. "After all, it's only a year since you nearly went under with that bad attack of pneumonia. If you are unfit, as I hope, all this excitement will have been in vain."

Adolf suggested that I should go to Linz and present myself before the medical board according to instructions. In case I should be passed as fit, I should forthwith cross the border into Germany secretly, at Passau. On no account was I to serve in the Austro-Hungarian army. This moribund Hapsburg Empire did not deserve a single soldier, he declared. As my friend was nine months younger than I, he did not expect his call-up until the following year, 1909. But, as was now evident, he had already made up his mind in this respect and was determined not to serve in the Austrian army. Perhaps he was quite pleased to use me as a guinea pig and find out how his suggested solution would really work in practice.

The next morning I went to the Director of the Conservatory and showed him my call-up papers. He explained to me that, as a member of the Conservatory, I was entitled to serve only one year, but he advised me, as the only son of a businessman, to register with the Reserve. There, I should only have to do eight weeks training, and later on, three further periods of four weeks. I asked him what he thought of the idea of my going to Germany to escape military service altogether. He was shocked by this unusual suggestion and energetically advised me against it.

For Adolf, even the idea of my serving in the Reserve was too great a concession to the Hapsburg Empire, and he went on and on, trying to persuade me to fall in with his plan right up to the moment I had finished my packing.

In Linz, I told my father what my friend had suggested, for I was more than a little intrigued by the idea. I could not get up any enthusiasm for military service, and even the eight weeks in the Reserve seemed to me dreadful.

My father was even more horrified than the Director had been. "In Heaven's name, what are you thinking of?" he exclaimed, shaking his head. If I went over the border secretly or, to call a spade a spade, deserted, I would be liable to prosecution, he declared. On top of that, I could never come home again and my parents, who had already sacrificed so much for me, would lose me altogether.

These words of my father's, together with my mother's tears, sufficed to bring me to my senses. My father that very day went to see a government official, with whom he was friendly, about the possibility of getting me put down for the Reserve, and he immediately drafted an application, which he advised me to hand in, should I be passed fit for service.

I wrote Adolf that I had decided to follow the Conservatory Director's advice and was attending for the medical examination in a few days. After that I would be coming to Vienna with my father. Perhaps Adolf, too, had meanwhile thought better of it, and had realised that the way he had devised for himself was not suitable for me, because in his reply he did not even mention it. Or, of course, perhaps he did not like to put down this plan, which after all was, fairly risky, in black and white. On the other hand, he was obviously very pleased that my father intended coming back with me when I returned to Vienna. (Actually the trip never took place.) I had also written Adolf that I was bringing my viola with me, in case I had the chance of an orchestra engagement, so that I could make a little extra money. During my studies in Vienna, I had contracted conjunctivitis, and was treated in Linz by an oculist, and I warned Adolf that he should not be surprised if I arrived at the Westbahnhof wearing spectacles.

Fortunately I still have the letter he wrote in reply, addressed to the "stud. mus. Gustav Kubizek":

Dear Gustl,

While thanking you for your letter, I must tell you immediately how pleased I am that your dear father is really coming with you to Vienna. Providing that you and he have no objection, I will meet you at the station on Thursday at 11 o'clock. You write that you are having such lovely weather, which almost upsets me as, if it were not raining here, we too should be having lovely weather. I am very pleased that you are bringing a viola. On Tuesday I shall buy myself 2 crowns' worth of cotton wool and 20 kreuzers' worth of paste, for my ears naturally. That – on top of this – you are going blind affects me very deeply; you will play more wrong notes than ever. Then you will become blind and I gradually mad. Oh, dear! But meanwhile I wish you and your esteemed parents at least a happy Easter and send them my hearty greetings as well as to you.

Your friend, ADOLF HITLER

The letter is dated April 20, so Adolf had written it on his birthday. In view of his circumstances at that time, it is not surprising that he does not mention it. Perhaps he had not even realised that it was his birthday.

Everything in the letter that concerns my father is perfectly polite. He even asks if it is in order to come and meet us. But as soon as he refers to the weather, his sarcasm breaks through, "If it were not raining, we, too, should be having lovely weather." And then, when he comes to my viola, he gives full play to his grim humour. He even jokes about the trouble with my eyes until he pulls himself up with the "Oh dear!" and then closes the letter in a very formal manner. That Adolf still had not come to terms with spelling is particularly clear in the original German of this letter. His former German teacher, Professor Huemer, would not even have given him a "Fair" for it, and the punctuation is even worse.

On the appointed day I went for my medical examination. I was passed as fit and presented the application for acceptance in the Reserve.

When I returned to Vienna – without the dreaded spectacles – Adolf greeted me very warmly, because, in spite of everything, he was glad that I would continue to live with him. Of course, he made great fun of the "Reservist." He could not possibly imagine how they would make a soldier out of me, he said. For that matter, neither could I. But it was something, that I could go on with my studies. At home, Adolf sketched my head and drew a cocked hat with a plume on top of it. "There you are, Gustl," he joked, "you look like a veteran even before you're a recruit."

After the long, dull winter, spring was making its appearance. Since I had seen once again, on my visit to Linz, the familiar meadows, woods and hills, our gloomy back room in the Stumpergasse seemed to me gloomier than ever. Looking back on our countless walks throughout the length and breadth of the countryside around Linz, I tried to persuade Adolf to make some excursions into the country around Vienna. I had more time to spare now as my pupils, having successfully passed their examinations, had returned home, but not without giving me a nice little present, which came as a pleasant surprise; so that there was once again a little money in the kitty (so far as I was concerned, at any rate). When, in the gardens along the Ring, the blossoms came out and the mild spring sunshine enticed us, I could not stand the stifling walls of the city any longer. Adolf, too, was longing to get out into the open.

I knew how fond he was of the open country, the woods and, in the distance, the blue range of mountains. He found a solution to this problem, in his own way, long before I did when it became too close and stuffy for him at Frau Zakreys' and the stink of kerosene became unbearable, he went off to the Schönbrunn Park. But this was not enough for me. I wanted to see more of the country around Vienna. So did Adolf, but first, he explained, he had no money for such "extra expenses." That could be got over, as I invited him to be my guest on such excusions and, to make sure of it, I bought provisions for both of us the day before. Secondly – and this was much more difficult – if we really wanted to make a full day's excusions, he had to get up early. He would rather do anything than this, as it was a most difficult thing for him.

To try to shake him awake was a risky undertaking – he was likely to become utterly impossible. "Why do you wake me so early?" he would shout at me. When I told him that the day was well advanced, he would never believe me. I would lean right out of the window and twist my head upwards so that I could see the small strip of sky. "Not a cloud in sight; the sun is shining brightly," I would announce, but even as I turned round, Adolf was fast asleep again.

If I succeeded in getting him out of bed and on the move, I had to consider the first few hours lost, because after having been awaked so "early," he would be silent and sullen for a long time, replying to questions only with reluctant grunts, Only when we got far away in the bright green countryside did he finally come out of his sulks. Then, to be sure, he was happy and contented and even thanked me for having persisted in my efforts to get him up.

Our first objective was the Hermannskogel in the Vienna woods and we were very lucky with the weather. On the summit, we vowed to go out far more frequently.

The next Sunday we went to the Vienna woods again. We felt ready for anything, although we certainly did not look very enterprising in our city clothes and light shoes. We made a very long trip that day, according to our standards, from the start of the Tullner Feld, and by Ried and Purkersdorf, back to the city. Adolf was enchanted by that part of the countryside and said it reminded him of a certain part of the Mühlviertel, of which he was very fond. Undoubtedly, he too suffered inwardly from homesickness for the land of his childhood and adolescence, although not a single soul remained there who still cared about him.

I took a day off from the Conservatory for the trip to the Wachau. We had to get to the station very early to catch a train to Melk, and it was not till he saw the marvellous monastery that Adolf became reconciled to this early rising. But then how he enjoyed it-I could hardly tear him away. He would not stick to the conducted tour, but sought everywhere for secret passages and hidden steps which would take him to the foundations; he wanted to examine how these had been built into the rocks. Indeed, one could almost believe that the mighty pile had grown out of the stone. After that, we spent a long time in the beautiful library.

Then we went, on the steamer, through the glory of Maybedecked Wachau. Adolf was a changed person, even if only through being on the Danube, his beloved river, again. For Vienna was not so closely built about the Danube as was, for instance, Linz, where one could stand on the bridge and await the approach of a distinguished, blond maiden from Urfahr. He missed the Danube almost as much as he still missed Stefanie. And now the castles, the villages, the hillside vineyards passed us gently by. For it did not seem as though we were moving forward; but rather as though we were standing still with this wonderful landscape floating by us in a peaceful rhythm. What a romantic world. It acts on us like magic. Adolf stands in the bows, engrossed in the landscape. Till long past Krems, sailing along through the broad monotonous woods that line the river on either bank, he does not utter a word. Who knows where his thoughts may be?

As though this magic trip needed a counterbalance, our next trip was down the Danube to Fischamend. I was disappointed. Was this really the same river that had so delighted us, our dear, familiar Danube? Wharves, warehouses, oil refineries, and in between them miserable fishermen's huts, slums, and even real gypsy encampments. Where on earth had we to go? This was the "other" Danube which no longer belonged to the picture of our homeland, but was part of the strange, eastern world. We went home, Adolf very thoughtful and I disillusioned.

But most vivid in my memory is a mountain excursion we made in early summer. The journey to Semmering was far
enough to allow Adolf to recover from his early rising. Immediately after Wiener Neustadt the country became mountainous. The railway had to reach the heights of the Semmering in wide curves. To attain a height of 980 metres, many turns, tunnels and viaducts were necessary. Adolf was thrilled by the bold design of the track; one surprise came on top of another. He would have liked to get out and walk this stretch of the track, so that he could inspect it all. I was already prepared to listen to a fundamental lecture on the building of mountain railways at the next opportunity, for certainly he had already thought out a bolder design, even higher viaducts and longer tunnels.

Semmering! We got out. A beautiful day. How pure the air was here after all the dust and smoke, how blue the sky! The meadows gleamed green, with the dark woods rising from them, and above, their peaks still snow-covered, towered the mountains.

The train back to Vienna did not leave till evening; we had plenty of time, the whole day was ours.

Adolf quickly made up his mind what our target should be. Which was the highest of these mountains? We were told, I believe, the Rax. So, let us climb the Rax.

Neither Adolf nor I had the faintest idea of mountaineering. The highest "mountains" we had conquered in our lives were the gentle hills of Mühlviertel. The Alps, themselves, we had till now only seen at a distance. But we were now in the midst of them and very impressed by the thought that this mountain was over two thousand metres high.

As always with Adolf, his will had to make up for whatever else was lacking. We had no food with us, because we had originally intended just to walk down from the Semmering heights to Gloggnitz. We did not even have a rucksack and our clothes were those that we wore for our strolls through the city. Our shoes were much too light, with thin soles and without nails. We had trousers and jacket, but not a scrap of warm clothing. But the sun was shining, and we were young – so forward!

The adventure we had on our way down overshadowed our upward climb so completely that I can no longer tell which route we took. I only remember now that we climbed for several hours before we reached the plain at the summit of the mountain. We now seemed to be on a peak, though it might not have been the Rax. I had never climbed a mountain peak; I had a strange, unfettered feeling, as though I no longer belonged to the earth, but was already close to heaven.

Adolf, deeply affected, stood on the plateau and said not a word.

We could see far and wide across the land. Here and there in the colourful pattern of meadow and forest a church tower or a village would spring up. How puny and unimportant did the works of man look!

It was a wonderful moment, perhaps the most beautiful that I have ever experienced with my friend.

Tiredness was forgotten in our enthusiasm. Somewhere in our pockets we found a bit of dry bread and we made do with that. In the pleasure of the day, we had hardly noticed the weather. Had not the sun just been shining? Now, suddenly, dark clouds made their appearance and a mist fell; this happened as rapidly as though it were the change of a stage set.

The wind sprang up and whipped the mist before us in long, fluttering shrouds. Far off a storm was rumbling; hollow and uncanny, the thunder rolled around the mountains.

We began to freeze in our pitiful "Ringstrasse suitings." Our thin trousers fluttered round our legs as we hurried down to the valley. But the path was stony, and our shoes not up to the demands the mountain made on them. Moreover, for al! our haste, the storm gained on us. Already the first drops were spattering down in the woods; and then the rain really set in. And what rain! Actual streams of water poured down on us from the clouds that seemed to hang just above the treetops. We ran and ran, as hard as we could. It was hopeless to try to protect ourselves. Soon there was not a single dry spot on us and our shoes, too, were full of water.

And no house, no hut, no kind of shelter wherever we turned. Adolf was not at all put out by the thunder and lightning, the storm and the rain. To my surprise he was in a splendid mood and, although soaked to the skin, became more and more genial as the rain grew heavier.

We skipped along the stony path and suddenly, just off it, I spotted a little hut. There was no sense in continuing to run in the rain, besides, it was getting dark, so I suggested to Adolf that we should stay in this little cabin overnight. He immediately agreed – for him the adventure could not go on long enough.

I searched the little wooden hut. In the lower half lay a pile of hay, dry, and sufficient for us both to sleep in. Adolf took off his shoes, jacket and trousers and began to wring out his clothes. "Are you terribly hungry, too?" he asked. He felt somewhat better when I told him that I was. A sorrow shared is a sorrow halved; apparently that applied to hunger too.

Meanwhile, in the upper part of the hut, I had found some large squares of canvas, which were used by the peasants to carry the hay down the steep mountain sides. I felt very sorry for Adolf, standing there in the doorway in his soaking underclothes, chattering with cold as he wrung out the sleeves of his jacket. Sensitive as he was to any kind of chill, how easily he could catch pneumonia. So I took one of the big squares, stretched it out on the hay and told Adolf to take off his wet shirt and pants and to wrap himself in the cloth. This he did.

He laid himself naked on the cloth and I took hold of the ends and wrapped it firmly round him. Then I fetched a second square and put that over him. This done, I wrung out all our clothes and hung them up, wrapped myself, too, in a canvas and lay down. So that we should not get icy cold in the night, I threw a bale of hay over the bundle that was Adolf, and another one over myself.

We did not know the time as neither of us had a watch. But for us it was enough to know that outside it was pitchdark with the rain rattling unceasingly on to the roof of the hut. Somewhere in the distance a dog barked; so we were not too far away from human habitation, a thought that comforted me. When I mentioned it to Adolf, however, it left him quite indifferent. In the present circumstances people were quite superfluous for him. He was enjoying the whole adventure hugely and its romantic ending especially appealed to him. Now we were getting warm, and it would have been almost cosy in the little hut, if we had not been racked with hunger.

I thought once more of my parents, then I fell asleep.

When I awoke in the morning, daylight was already showing through the gaps in the boards. I got up. Our clothes were almost dry.

I still remember what a job it was to get Adolf to wake up. When he was finally roused, he worked his feet free of their wrappings and, with the canvas wrapped round him, walked to the door to look at the weather. His slim, straight figure, with the white cloth thrown toga-wise across the shoulders, looked like that of an Indian ascetic.

This was our last great excursion together.

Just as my journey to the medical board had unpleasantly interrupted our stay in Vienna, so were these walks and adventures beautiful and extremely welcome interruptions in our gloomy sunless existence in the Stumpergasse.