Klara Polzl was born into a family of hard-working Catholic peasants on August 12, 1860. She spent most of her early life near her birthplace, Spital, Austria, thirty miles north of the Danube. Her sweet face along with a quiet and soft disposition gave her an agreeable manner, and she was liked by everyone in her village. She matured to become a modest and an attractive women. She had a slender body of medium height and her light brown hair accentuated her delicate facial features and large gray-blue eyes. Because of her looks, manners, and demeanor it was impossible to determine her peasant background. Unlike many of her friends who spent the largest portion of their lives working the fields along with their families, and later their husbands, Klara became a maid to the more prosperous families in the vicinity.
Klara did not marry until she was twenty-four. Her husband, Alois Hitler, was a man twice her age but well-to-do by the standards of the area. Four-months after her marriage, on May 17, 1885, she gave birth to her first child, a son, whom she named Gustav.
In the upper class societies of Europe the embarrassing, short period between marriage and the birth of a child would have raised some eyebrows. In the rural towns of Austria, little was out of the ordinary. In the Wooded Quarter (Waldviertel) where she lived, pregnancy out of marriage was taken for granted among the local population. In some areas the illegitimacy rate was near forty percent. Giving birth four months after one was married was not even a "serious embarrassment."*
In September of the following year Klara gave birth to a daughter, Ida. The following autumn another son, Otto, was born. Within a few days Otto died. Two weeks before Christmas, two and a half year old Gustav died of diphtheria. The day after New Years, fifteen month old Ida died of the same disease. Klara, who only four months before was the mother of three children, was now childless.
That fate would hand a "modest, kindly," and "gentle" woman like Klara* such a horrible burden was bound to alter her perception of life and her dealings with others. There was no doubt that if she gave birth to any future children, the relationship between mother and child would be very attentive and protective.
Klara remained childless for nearly sixteen months. Then on April 20,
1889, at 6:30 in the evening, she gave birth to a son. Two days later she had the child
baptized Adolfus; however, she always called him Adi, short for Adolf, Adolf Hitler.
Braunau (which until 1816 had been part of Bavaria except for one short interruption) sits on the river Inn which borders Germany. Although Austrians have their own ethnic, historical and cultural heritage, they are German. Political jealousies and maneuvering had kept Austria out of the German federation.
When Adolf was three years old, his father's job required that the family settle in Germany. The family moved across the river to Passau, Bavaria where the river Inn flows into the Danube. There the young Adolf spent the next three years playing with the local children and developing a lower Bavarian dialect that would stay with him all his life.
Though neighbors recalled an excessive amount of attention bestowed by Klara on her young son, life in the Hitler household during these early years was harmonious and peaceful. As Adolf grew older, however, problems were bound to develop. In most German families the word of the father was the inflexible law of the household. Strictness accompanied by "thrashings" of children was common in those days, and women were not expected to interfere. Even as late as 1946 when German women were asked to complete the question--"A mother who interferes when a father is punishing his son is?--seventy percent chose the answer: "A bad wife." Klara, nonetheless, had developed into an overly protective mother. Unlike most German women, she would interfere and try to shield her son from the demands and punishments of her husband.
Alois Hitler, Adolf's father, was remembered as a considerate, but stern and down-to-earth man with a cynical sense of humor. His letters to friends show him to be kindly, sensible, and no more rigid than anyone else of his area and background. He made lasting and close friendships with his neighbors, co-workers and relations, but he had nothing but contempt for "card players, debtors, drinkers," and others who he felt lead immoral lives. Like most men of his day, he believed in absolute obedience to superiors and expected the same from subordinates. With his family he was authoritative and normally not one to be denied.
Alois was also born in the Wooded Quarter in the village of Strones on June 7, 1837. He was also of peasant origins but had a self-reliant and determined personality. He had only a few years of elementary school when he was sent off to Vienna, at the age of fourteen, to become a cobbler.* Shoe making had no appeal to the young man and by the time he was eighteen he had obtained a position as a border guard for the Austrian Customs Office. After working and studying diligently he passed a difficult examination and, around his twenty-fourth birthday, became a Revenue Clerk. Three years later he was promoted to supervisory rank. With the class distinctions and prejudices that existed against the peasantry, his achievement was quite notable. Having "made good," as many of his friends saw it, he spent most of his career working in the bordering towns of Germany and Austria.
Because of Alois' position and success, he was popular with the local ladies and was not adverse to their attention. Although he may have scorned "immoral living," relations with women did not seem to be part of his moral code. It is rumored that he had many affairs. He remained a hard worker, nevertheless, and there were further promotions. In 1871, at the age of 34, he reached the rank of Assistant Inspector of Customs. Two years later he married for the first time. His wife was fourteen years older but was the daughter of a wealthy tobacco merchant who came with a sizable dowry.* The marriage produced no children and was "stormy," as one observer noted. Not one to let his emotional life interfere with his responsibilities, Alois was determined to climb the social ladder and was rewarded in 1875 with a promotion to Senior Assistant Customs Officer.*
Up to this time Alois's last name was not Hitler but Schicklgruber. He had been an illegitimate child and carried his mother's last name even though his mother and the man she asserted to be his father were married five years after he was born. Alois' "father" (see below in Hitler Name & legends) was a traveling miller who found it hard to settle down. Alois' mother, who was 42 years old when he was born, died when he was ten. Shortly after, his father resumed his drifting ways. Alois, consequently, spent some years in the house of his uncle (his father's brother) before being sent off to Vienna. His father died when he was twenty without ever having him legitimized. At age thirty-eight, Alois decided to claim the name of Hitler.
After considerable correspondence, on December 27, 1876, the district commissioner's office in charge of overseeing regulations concerning legitimization was finally satisfied. Although Alois had already been using the Hitler name for at least six months,* by Jan 6, 1877,* while married to his first wife, the thirty-nine year old Alois Schicklgruber was officially and legally known as Alois Hitler.* That he was using the Hitler name before the "legitimacy" went through, shows that he intended to change his name one way or the other.
It was during the many visits to the Hiedler/Hitler household in Spital that Alois came to know Klara who was the granddaughter of his uncle. Because of Alois' age and status, Klara always referred to Alois as "uncle" although in reality they were second cousins.
When Alois's first wife developed a lung ailment and became invalid the hard working and conscientious Klara was employed by the Hitlers as a maid. Soon after, the first wife found that Alois was having an affair with a hotel kitchen maid. She left him and obtained a separation. Alois began living openly with the kitchen maid who quickly dismissed the good looking Klara. The twenty year old Klara went to Vienna where she obtained employment as a parlor maid (a servant was the most common occupation for women during this period).
When Alois' estranged wife died of consumption he married the kitchen maid within seven weeks. The marriage took place on May 22, 1883, one month before Alois' forty-seventh birthday. The new bride was twenty-two. The maid had already borne him a son out of marriage (which he immediately legitimized) and she gave birth to a daughter within two months of the marriage. A year later the second wife fell mortally ill with tuberculosis. Klara was called back to help care for her and the two children. Although Klara did her best to nurse her back to health,* lung ailments and tuberculosis were the scourge of Austrians during the era. On August 10, 1884, Alois' second wife also died.*
With a two year old son and a 12 month old daughter to raise, Alois, seeing a good thing, decided to marry the unassuming and loyal Klara. Intermarriages among second cousins were frequent among the country stock at that time and little was out of the ordinary.
The marriage took place in the Catholic Church at Braunau, during the morning, on Jan 7, 1885, five months after the death of Alois' second wife. The marriage would have taken place sooner and Klara's first child (born May 17,1885) would not have been born four months after the wedding, but an Episcopal dispensation had to be secured since they were second cousins.
The marriage and reception were attended by friends and relations including Klara's father, mother and two younger sisters. The only memorable event that witnesses remembered occurred when a maid overheated the room at the Hitler house and Alois teased her about not being able to manage a fire. There was no honeymoon for the 48 year old groom and his 24 year old bride. Before the morning was over, Alois was back at work.*
For some time after their marriage Klara continued to address her husband as "uncle."* She, however, took well to her new role and after the deaths of her first three children continued to care for Alois' two children as though they were her own. She was a devout Catholic, a devoted wife, a meticulous housekeeper, and an affectionate mother.*
Marriage to a stern official twenty-three years her senior brought few moments of cheerfulness into Klara's life. She accepted the disillusions of married life with relative calm. She once told an acquaintance: "What I hoped and dreamed of as a young girl has not been fulfilled in my marriage." Then quickly added, "but does such a thing ever happen?"* Klara Hitler was a realistic, modest, loving and quiet women. She made no demands on her husband and their marriage remained peaceful.
When Adolf was born, his stepbrother, Alois Jr, was seven years old and
his stepsister, Angela, was almost six. They had to take a back seat to Adolf who became
the apple of his mother's eye. Klara was devoted to her son and doted over him, but her
obsession over the deaths of her previous three children made her see Adolf as a sick
baby. Although a housemaid during this time remembered Adolf as a "very healthy,
lively child who developed very well,"* Klara lived in dread of losing him. She was
constantly attentive to her son and if he showed even the slightest ailment she worried
profoundly. Neighbors remembered that she seldom stopped to linger in conversation, being
in a hurry to return home to care for her children.* During the first few years of Adolf's
life, mother and son were inseparable. In March 1894, when Adolf was almost five and still
living in Germany, Klara gave birth to another son who she named Edmund. Despite the new
addition to the family, the close bond between Adolf and his mother continued.
Soon after the family arrived back in Austria, Alois, only 58 years old, abruptly retired on June 25, 1895, after 40 years service.* Although "he must have been well above average in industry, efficiency and, not least, in his determination to succeed,"* his legitimacy offered no rewards. He had to wait 17 years before he was promoted from Senior Assistant Customs Officer to Higher Collector and the promotion came automatically with service.* He had stayed on for an additional three years after the promotion to meet probationary requirements and to become eligible for a higher pension rate.
Even though Alois was well liked and respected by the local people, they found him at times to be bitter. He was outspoken about his beliefs and, unlike most men, was not afraid to voice his opinions in the presence of others who favored a different point of view. Like most men who succeed on their own, he had little compassion for the lower classes from which he came. When a small sawmill was being constructed by one of his neighbors, he sarcastically but humorously mumbled something about "little guys" coming up and "big guys" going down.
The retirement funds Alois received were about the same amount as what a country lawyer or principal of a grade school earned. The village at Hafeld had a population of 100 inhabitants and the impressive two and a half storied house on the Hitler farm was a sign of success. Alois took on the life style of a country gentleman. He busied himself with gardening and bee-keeping while hired help did the heavy work. A Minna, the generic name for a family's cook and general maid, helped Klara in the large house and there were summer vacations to Spital. The Hitlers lived in a material life style approaching the prosperous middle class of the day. They lived within their means, cared for their children, celebrated birthdays, worshipped their God, and lived respectable and honest lives. Alois never gambled and although he drank beer or wine, no one ever saw him drunk. There were no reported violent outbursts, no feuds, and no tyrannical upheavals.*
On Jan 21, 1896, when Adolf was almost seven, a sister, Paula, was born. With Klara's attention tied up with a infant daughter, a two year old son, two budding teenagers and a husband, Adolf began to spend more time on his own. The farm had an orchard and there were stables for the cows and farm horses behind the house. Adolf enjoyed playing in the hayloft, the small stream behind the barn, and in the surrounding woods. Although neighbors thought that Klara had turned Adolf into a Muttersohnchen (mama's boy),* he, nevertheless was developing into a little roughneck. His favorite stories were about the American West, which led to one of his favorite games--cowboys and Indians. The blue eyed, light-brown haired Adolf liked to play the part of the big "Indian chief." Neighbors were sometimes unsettled by his rowdy behavior and loud Indian war cries.
By the standards of the day Adolf was a spoiled and very self-reliant child without the sweet manners and refinement that most German parents expected in children. He was well liked, however, by his young playmates and developed a close relationship with his younger brother.
In the same year Paula was born, Adolf's stepbrother, Alois Jr. ran away at the age of fourteen, never to return in his father's lifetime. Years later he would claim that the reason was the beatings he received from his father and, though no one has ever substantiated his claim, he stated later that even the docile Klara and the family dog were not spared physical abuse.
The "beatings" Alois Jr. endured were delivered because of his poor grades and habit of skipping school. Shortly before running away he skipped school three days in a row. His actions did nothing to endear him to his father and, in accordance with the customs of the times, he was thrashed. The dominant factor in his decision to leave home was more likely the presence of Klara's children. Alois Jr. never got along with any of them and especially didn't liked Adolf who, he claimed, got everything his way. Over 50 years later he would still complain: "My stepmother always took his part."* Furthermore both Klara and Adolf got along splendidly with his sister Angela. Klara treated her as a daughter, and Adolf and Angela got along so well they spent nearly two hours a day walking back and forth to the school at Fischlham. Alois Jr., who was approaching fifteen years old, no doubt felt abused and neglected.
With his stepbrother gone, Adolf, as the oldest son, was given more chores to do around the small farm. But it didn't last long. The farm had a history of economic problems and the good country life proved a disappointment to the 60 year old Alois. In June 1897 he sold the farm, with its imposing house, to a nobleman named von Zdekauer from Vienna.
Inn at Lambach where Hitlers
As a retired official of the Royal and Imperial Civil Service, Alois became part of the Honoratioren--leading citizens of the small town like the mayor, doctor, school principal, tax collector, and more important merchants. They met regularly to discuss the problems and issues of their day.
The eight year old Adolf was admitted to the Catholic school attached to the abbey. As usual, he excelled in his school work. He also attended choir lessons and began training as an alter boy.
The abbey church had been built nearly a thousand years earlier and was remodeled hundreds of years later by a ruling abbot whose coat of arms contained his initials (TH) in the form of a stylized hakenkreuz (hooked-cross in English; swastika in French). In many civilizations the swastika was considered a good luck symbol or signified that all was well. In 1907 for example, the United States Bureau of Reclamation, known then as the US Reclamation Service, used swastikas to decorate Laguna Dam, the first Federal structure built across the Colorado River.* In German mythology the swastika (usually represented in rotary fashion) was the "fire whisk" which twirled the earth into existence. The abbot, responsible for the remodeling, combined German myth with Christianity and the swastika-like symbol appeared on various parts of the abbey, including the main gateway* and on the pulpit.*
Abbey courtyard where
As the son of a retired official, young Adolf enjoyed the prestige and status of his father's position. Since the family was one of the most prosperous in the small community, by the time Adolf was nine he was looked up to by many of the local boys and soon became a little "ringleader." His favorite game was still cowboys and Indians, and he would organize the neighboring boys, and sometimes the girls, into teams and lead his braves against the opposing forces. During the 18 months Adolf lived in Lambach, he frequently got in trouble. He once brought "Indian" knives and axes to school. One day he was caught taking a puff on a cigarette. Another time he organized the neighboring boys and raided an orchard. Over the objections of his mother, his father handled such misbehavior in the accepted way--a customary thrashing. His father's anger, however, was contained. Angela would later remark that she and Klara would hang on to Alois' coattails when he went to "hit" Adolf* and Adolf himself never held such thrashings against his father. He would later state that they were "necessary"* and that his life as a child "showed little or no difference from that of other people."*
Adolf's grades in school remained at excellent with an occasional above average in singing, drawing, and gymnastics. In the last quarter of the 1897-98 school year he received twelve 1's which is equivalent to twelve A's in the American school system. Neighbors, nonetheless, considered Adolf a little rogue who was always where the action was and usually leading it. Although they complained that the boy with the "beautiful blue eyes" was a spoiled loudmouth and could be unsettling to have around, they also noted that he could talk to adults and at times was very expressive and fluent for one so young.
Hitler home at Leonding.
Adolf was enrolled in the local grade school which was only a couple hundred yards north of the Hitler home. As usual, he excelled in his school work. Like all small boys of the time, he was often dressed in "leather shorts, embroidered suspenders [and] a small green hat with a feather in its band."*
Nearly directly opposite the Hitler home, on the other side of the road, was the local Catholic cemetery and church of St. Michael. The Hitler family attended the church every Sunday and Adolf joined other local boys in singing in the choir. From his upstairs bedroom window, Adolf could see over the high stone wall surrounding the cemetery.
On Feb 2, 1900, shortly before Adolf's eleventh birthday, his six year old brother, Edmund, died of complications following measles. To Klara, the death was like a hammer blow and brought back the memories of the three children she had lost twelve years before. She suffered terribly and neighbors were shocked when she failed to attend the funeral. To the ten year old Adolf, who had been very close to his younger brother, the death left a lasting wound.* After the church service he stood in a driving snowstorm and watched while his little brother was lowered into his grave.* In the future, anytime Adolf looked out of his bedroom window he was reminded of Edmund who's grave was visible from his window. He became moody, dispirited and withdrawn.
Years later when Adolf Hitler would become famous, journalists and reporters would flock to the area to see what people remembered of him. Although the local population would repeat the stories of his Indian games, how quickly he ran if called by his father, how well he did in the Leonding school, or how spoiled he was, they also remembered a very curious thing. They said Adolf was sometimes seen, late into the night, sitting on the high cemetery wall "gazing up at the stars"* or talking to the "windblown trees."* One of Adolf's playmates remembered that Adolf would also climb the hill behind his house at night and talk to a "nonexistent audience." After Edmund's death, religion lost its glamour for the young Adolf and he never again talked about becoming a priest. (It appears that Edmund's death haunted Hitler all his life. Forty-two years later, to the month (Feb.1942), Hitler made the statement: "When our degenerate priests question a seven year old child in the confessional about sin, it is they who cause the child to become aware of sin.")**
To add to the suffering of the family, it was learned shortly after Edmund's death that Alois Jr. had been arrested, tried and sentenced to five months imprisonment for theft. The 63 year old Alois, a pillar of the small community seethed with indignation. A strong believer in law and order, he would not compromise his beliefs and had his will changed to leave his oldest "no-account" son only the minimum sum allowed by law. The tension in the household increased the suffering of Klara and had a profound affect on Adolf. Like his father, Adolf Hitler would grow up lacking any compassion for what he saw as lawbreakers and believed they should be severely punished. In the future he refused to have anything to do with his half brother and later forbade all mention of his name.*
With Edmund's death, the close bond between Klara and Adolf intensified. She resumed her doting over him and pampered him continuously. His health and dispirited attitude worried her profoundly. With the end of summer vacation that year, Adolf (a star pupil in grade school) began classes, on 9/17/1900, at the non-classical secondary school on Stein Gasse in Linz.