The Young Hitler I Knew – August Kubizek
Chapter 22 –
Political Awakening.

The picture of my friend, as I have drawn it so far, would be incomplete without a reference to his immense interest in politics. If I deal with it only at the end of this book and, in spite of all my efforts, inadequately, it is not because of my lack of understanding, but because my interest lay more in art and was hardly concerned with politics at all.

Even more so than in Linz, I felt myself a budding artist at the Vienna Conservatory, and had no wish to be mixed up in politics. My friend's development was just in the opposite direction. Though in Linz his interest in art had far surpassed that of politics, in Vienna, the centre of the political life of the Hapsburg Empire, politics prevailed to the extent of absorbing all other interests.

I began to understand how almost every problem which he encountered led him ultimately into the political sphere, however little real connection it might have with politics. His original way of looking at the phenomena which surrounded him through the eyes of an artist and aesthete increasingly turned into a habit of regarding them from a politician's standpoint.

Human beings interested him so much that he began to adjust his professional plans to political considerations. For, if he really wanted to build all that was ready in his mind and even partly laid down in elaborate schemes – a new Linz embellished by impressive edifices such as a bridge over the Danube, a town hall, and so forth, and a Vienna whose slums were to be replaced by vast residential districts, a revolutionary storm had first to put an end to the existing political conditions which had become unbearable, and to open up the possibility for creative work on an ambitious scale.

Politics came to assume an increasingly important position in his scale of values. The most difficult problems became easy when they were transferred to the political plane.

With the same consistency with which he explored all phenomena which occupied him until he had reached rock bottom, he discovered amid the noisy, political life of the metropolis the focal point of all political events: Parliament.

"Come with me, Gustl," he said one day. I asked him where he wanted to go – I had to attend my lectures at the University and to practise for my examination in piano-playing. But my objections did not impress him at all. He said none of that was as important as what he intended to do; he had already procured a ticket for me.

I wondered what this could be – an organ concert, perhaps, or a conducted tour through the picture gallery of the Hof Museum? But my lectures and my exam? It would be very bad for me if I failed.

"Oh, come on, hurry!" he cried angrily. I was familiar with that look on his face, which would not tolerate any contradiction. Besides, it must be something very special, for it was unusual for Adolf to be up and about as early as half past eight in the morning.

So I yielded, and went with him to the Ring. At nine o'clock sharp we turned into the Stadiongasse, and stopped in front of a small side entrance where a few nondescript people, idlers apparently, had collected. At long last, I saw daylight.

"To Parliament?" I asked apprehensively. "What am I supposed to do there?"

I remembered that Adolf had occasionally mentioned his visits to Parliament – I personally considered it sheer waste of time. But before I could say another word, he pressed the ticket into my hand, the door opened, and we were directed to the Strangers' Gallery.

Looking down from the gallery, one had a very good view of the imposing semicircle which the great assembly chamber formed. Its classic beauty would have provided a fitting background for any artistic performance – a concert, a choir singing hymns, or even with some adjustments, an opera.

Adolf tried to explain to me what was really happening. "The man who sits up there, looking rather helpless, and who rings a bell every now and then, is the President. The worthies on the raised seats are the Ministers; in front of them are the shorthand writers, the only people who do any work in this house. That is why I rather like them, though I can assure you that these hard-working men are of no importance whatsoever. On the opposite benches there should be seated all the deputies of the realms and provinces represented in the Austrian Parliament. But most of them are strolling round the lobbies."

My friend went on to describe the procedure. One member has tabled a motion and is now speaking in support of it. Almost all the other deputies, not being interested in the motion, have left the room. But soon the chairman would call for a debate and things would become lively.

Adolf was really well versed in parliamentary procedure; he even had an order paper in front of him. Everything happened exactly as he had foretold.

As soon as, to put it into musical terms, the solo performance of the deputy had ended, the orchestra struck up. The deputies flowed back into the Chamber and all started shouting together, interrupting each other remorselessly in the process. The President rang his bell. The deputies responded by lifting the lids of their desks and banging them down again. Some whistled, and words of abuse, shouted in German, Czech, Italian, Polish and God knows what other language filled the air.

I looked at Adolf. Was not this the appropriate moment to leave? But what had happened to my friend? He had jumped to his feet, his hands clenched, his face burning with excitement. This being so, I preferred to remain quietly in my seat, although I had no idea what the tumult was about.

Parliament attracted my friend more and more, while I tried to wriggle out of it. Once, when Adolf had forced me to go with him – I would have risked the end of our friendship if I had refused – a Czech member was "filibustering." Adolf explained to me that this was a speech which was only made to fill in time and prevent another member from speaking. It did not matter what the Czech said, he could even go on repeating his words, but on no account must he stop. It really seemed to me as though this man was speaking all the time "da capo al fine." Of course, I did not understand a word of Czech, nor did Adolf, and I was really upset about wasting my time.

"You don't mind if I go now?" I said to Adolf.

He replied angrily, "What, now, in the middle of the sitting?"

"But I don't understand a word the man is saying."

"You don't have to understand it. This is `filibustering.' I've already explained it to you."

"So I can go, then?"

"No!" be cried furiously, and pulled me back on to the seat by my coattails.

So I just sat there and let the valiant Czech, who was already nearly exhausted, talk on. I have never been so puzzled by Adolf as I was at that moment. He was so extraordinarily intelligent and certainly had all his senses about him, and I just could not comprehend how he was able to sit there, tense, listening to every word of a speech which, after all, he did not understand. But perhaps, I thought, the fault is mine and I presumably do not realise wherein lies the essence of politics.

In those days I often asked myself why Adolf compelled me to go with him to Parliament. I could not solve this riddle until one day I realised that Adolf needed a partner with whom he could discuss his own impressions. On such days he would wait impatiently for my return in the evening. Hardly had I opened the door, when he would start, "Where have you been all this time?" and before I had had time to gut myself a bite of supper, would come, "When are you going to bed?"

This question had a particular significance. As our room was so small, Adolf could only walk up and down if I either crouched on the stool behind the piano or went to bed, and so he wanted to clear the decks for what he had to say.

No sooner had I crept into bed, than he began to stride up and down, holding forth. If only by the excited tone of his voice, I could tell how much his thoughts were pressing upon him. He simply had to have an outlet in order to bear the enormous tension.

So there I lay in bed, while Adolf, as usual, strode up and down ranting at me as passionately as though I were a political power who could decide the existence or non-existence of the German people, instead of only a poor little music student.

Another of these nocturnal talks remains in my memory. Hysterically he described the sufferings of this people, the fate that threatened it, and its future full of danger. He was near tears.

But after these bitter words, he came back to more optimistic thoughts. Once more he was building the "Reich of all the Germans," which put the "Guest Nations," as he called the other races of the Empire, where they belonged.

Sometimes, when his diatribes became too lengthy, I fell asleep. As soon as he noticed it, he shook me awake and shouted at me to know whether I was no longer interested in his words; if so, I should go on sleeping, like all those who had no national conscience. So I made an effort and forced myself to keep my eyes open.

Later, Adolf developed more friendly methods on these occasions. Instead of losing himself in Utopias, he raised questions which he thought would be of more interest to me, As for instance, one day when he inveighed against the Savings Groups which had been formed in many of the small inns of the working-class districts. Each member paid in a weekly sum and received his savings at Christmas. The treasurer was usually the innkeeper. Adolf criticised these groups, because the money the worker spent on such "Savings Evenings" was greater than the amount laid by, so that in reality the publican was the only one to benefit. Another time he described to me in vivid colours what he imagined the student hostels would be like in his Ideal State. Bright, sunny bedrooms, common rooms for study, music and drawing, simple but nourishing food, free tickets for concerts, opera and exhibitions, and free transport to their colleges.

One night he spoke of the aeroplane of the Wright brothers. He quoted from a newspaper that these famous aviators had built a small, comparatively lightweight gun into their aircraft and had made experiments in the effect that shooting from the air would be likely to have. Adolf, who was a pronounced pacifist, was outraged. As soon as a new invention is made, he said, it is immediately put to the service of war. Who wants war? he asked. Certainly not the "little man" – far from it. Wars are arranged by crowned and uncrowned rulers, who in turn are guided and driven by their armament industry. While these gentlemen earned gigantic sums and remained far from the firing line, the "little man" has to risk his life without knowing to what purpose.

Altogether the "little man," the "poor, betrayed masses," played a dominating role in his thoughts. One day we saw workers demonstrating on the Ring. We were hemmed in among the onlookers near the House of Parliament and got a good view of the exciting scene. Is this the mood, I asked myself anxiously, that Adolf calls the "Storm of the Revolution"? Some men walked ahead of the procession carrying a big banner on which was written the one word "Hunger!" There could not have been any more stirring appeal to my friend, because he had so often suffered himself from bitter hunger.

There he stood, next to me, and absorbed the picture eagerly. However strongly he might have felt with these people, he remained aloof and viewed the whole event, in all its detail, objectively and coolly as though his only interest were to study the technique of such a demonstration. In spite of his solidarity with the "little man" he would never have dreamed of taking an active part in this manifestation, which was, in fact, protesting against increase in the price of beer.

More and more people were arriving. The whole Ring seemed to be crammed with excited humanity. Red flags were carried. But the seriousness of the situation was shown by the ragged appearance and the hunger-lined faces of the demonstrators; far more than by flags and slogans.

The head of the procession had reached the House of Parliament and was trying to storm it. Suddenly the mounted police who had accompanied it, drew their swords and began to lay about them. The reply was a hail of stones. For a moment the situation balanced on a razor's edge, but in the end police reinforcements managed to disperse the demonstrators.

The spectacle had shaken Adolf to the core. But not until we had arrived home did he voice his feelings. Yes, he was on the side of the hungry, the underprivileged. But he was also against the men who organised such demonstrations. Who are the wire-pullers who stand behind these doubly betrayed masses and guide them according to their will? None of them appeared on the scene. Why? Because it suited them better to conduct their affairs in obscurity – they did not want to risk their lives. Who are the leaders of the wretched masses? Not men who had themselves experienced the misery of the "little man," but ambitious politicians, lusting for power, who wanted to exploit the people's poverty for their own benefit. An outburst of rage against these political vultures brought my friend's embittered harangue to an end. That was his demonstration.

One question tormented him after such occurrences, although he never gave expression to it: Where did he, himself, belong? To judge by his own circumstances and the social environment in which he lived, there was no doubt that he belonged to those who followed the Hunger banner. He lived in a miserable, bug-ridden back room; many times his lunch consisted of nothing but a piece of dry bread. Some of the demonstrators were perhaps better off than he. Why, therefore, did he not march with these men? What held him back?

Perhaps he felt that he belonged to a different social class. He was the son of an Austrian State official, whose rank was equivalent to a Captain's. He remembered his father as a much-respected customs official, to whom people raised their hats, and whose word carried much weight among his friends. His father had absolutely nothing to do with these people in the street.

Greater even than his fear of being infected by the moral and political decadence of the ruling classes, was his fear of becoming a proletarian. Undoubtedly he lived like one, but he did not want to become one. Perhaps what drove him to his intensive studies was his instinctive feeling that only a thorough education could save him from descending to the level of the masses.

In the last resort, the decisive point for Adolf was that he did not feel attracted to any of the existing parties or movements. To be sure he often told me that he was a convinced follower of Schönerer, but he said so only in the privacy of our room. He, the hungry, penniless student, would have cut a very poor figure in the ranks of Georg Ritten von Schönerer. The Schönerer movement would have needed much stronger socialist tendencies to capture Adolf fully, What had Schönerer to offer to the hungry masses demonstrating in the Ring? On the other hand, however, the Social Democrats had no comprehension of German nationalism in Austria. Among the leading political personalities of those days, Adolf had most admiration for Vienna's Burgomaster, Karl Lueger. But what put him off his party was the connection with the church, which was constantly interfering in political questions. Thus, in those days, Adolf found no spiritual home for his political ideals.

In spite of his unwillingness to join a party, or organisation – with one exception which I shall mention later – one had only to walk along the street with him to see how intensely interested he was in the fate of others. The city of Vienna offered him excellent object lessons in this respect. For instance, when home-going workers passed us by, Adolf would grip my arm and say, "Did you hear, Gustl? Czechs!" Another time, we encountered some brickmakers speaking loudly in Italian, with florid gestures. "There you have your German Vienna," he cried, indignantly.

This, too, was one of his oft-repeated phrases: "German Vienna," but Adolf pronounced it with a bitter undertone. Was this Vienna, into which streamed from all sides Czechs, Magyars, Croats, Poles, Italians, Slovaks, Ruthenians, and above all Galician Jews, still indeed a German city? In the state of affairs in Vienna my friend saw a symbol of the struggle of the Germans in the Hapsburg Empire. He hated the babel in the streets of Vienna, this "incest incarnate" as he called it later. He hated this State, which ruined Germanism, and the pillars that supported this State: the reigning house, the Church, the nobility, the capitalists and the Jews.

This Hapsburg State, he felt, must fall, and the sooner the better, for every moment of its continued existence cost the Germans honour, property and their very life. He saw in the fanatical internecine strife of its races the decisive symptoms of its coming downfall. He visited Parliament to feel, so to speak, the pulse of the patient, whose early demise was expected by all. He looked forward to that hour full of impatience, for only the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire could open the road to those schemes of which he dreamed in his lonely hours.

His accumulated hatred of all forces which threatened the Germans was mainly concentrated upon the Jews, who played a leading role in Vienna. I soon came to notice this, and a small, seemingly trivial occurrence stands out in my memory.

I had come to the conclusion that my friend could no longer go on in his poverty-stricken circumstances. The easiest way of helping him, I thought, would be to make use of some of his literary work. A fellow student of mine at the Conservatory worked as a journalist on the Wiener Tagblatt, and I mentioned Adolf to him. The young man was full of sympathy with Adolf's precarious situation and suggested that my friend should bring some of his work to him in his office, where the matter could be discussed. During the night Adolf wrote a short story, of which I remember nothing but the title, It was "The Next Morning," an ominous one, for the next morning when we went to see my fellow student, there was a terrific row. As soon as Adolf had seen the man, he turned about, even before he had entered the room, and going down the stairs shouted at me, "You idiot! Didn't you see that he is a Jew?" Actually, I had not. But in future I took care not to bum my fingers.

Things got worse. One day, when I was very busy with preparations for my exam, Adolf stormed into our room, full of excitement. He had just come from the police, he said; there had been an incident in the Mariahilferstrasse, connected with a Jew, of course. A Handelee had been standing in front of the Gerngross store. The word "Handelee" was used to designate eastern Jews who, dressed in caftan and boots, sold shoe laces, buttons, braces and other small articles in the streets. The Handelee was the lowest stage in the career of those quickly assimilated Jews, who often occupied leading positions in Austria's economic life. The Handelees were forbidden to beg. But this man had whiningly approached passers-by, his hand outstretched, and had collected some money. A policeman asked him to produce his papers. He began to wring his hands and said he was a poor, sick man who had only this little trading to live on, but he had not been begging. The policeman took him to the police station, and asked bystanders to act as witnesses. In spite of his dislike of publicity, Adolf had presented himself as a witness, and he saw with his own eyes that the Handelee had three thousand crowns in his caftan, conclusive evidence, according to Adolf, of the exploitation of Vienna by immigrant eastern Jews.

I well remember, at that time, how eagerly Adolf studied the Jewish problem, talking to me of it again and again, although I was not interested. At the Conservatory there were Jews among both teachers and students, and I had never had any trouble with them and, in deed, had made some friends among them. Was not Adolf himself enthusiastic about Gustav Mahler, and was he not fond of the works of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy? One should not judge the Jewish question only on the strength of Handelees. I cautiously tried to deflect Adolf from his point of view. His reaction was very strange.

"Come, Gustl," he said, and once again, to save the fare, I had to walk with him to the Brigittenau. I was astounded when Adolf led me to the Synagogue. We entered. "Keep your hat on," Adolf whispered. And indeed, all the men had their heads covered. Adolf had discovered that at this time a wedding was taking place in the Synagogue. The ceremony impressed me deeply. The congregation started with an alternate chant, which I liked. Then the Rabbi gave a sermon in Hebrew and finally laid the phylacteries of the foreheads of the bridal pair.

I concluded from our strange visit that Adolf really wanted to study thoroughly the Jewish problem and thereby convince himself that the religious practices of the Jews still survived. This, I hoped, might soften his biased view.

But I was mistaken, for one day Adolf came home and announced decidedly, "Today, I joined the Anti-Semite Union and have put down your name as well."

Although I had got used to his domineering over me in political matters, this was the culminating point. It was all the more surprising, as Adolf usually avoided joining any society or organisation. I kept silent, but I resolved to handle my affairs myself in future.

Looking back on those days in Vienna and on our long, nocturnal conversations, I can assert that Adolf then adopted that philosophy of life which was to guide him henceforward. He gathered it from his immediate impressions and experiences in the streets and extended and deepened it by his reading. What I heard was its first version, often still unbalanced and immature, but propounded with all the more passion.

But at that time I did not take all these things very seriously, because my friend played no part in public life, never had anybody but me, and accordingly all his plans and political projects were floating in mid-air. That later he would bring them to fruition, I would never have dared to think.