Unlike the upper classes who place heavy emphasis on the amount of friends, and consequently contacts one has, Hitler did not view hobnobbing as the way to success. After his friendship with Kubizek, most other young men must have seemed shallow indeed. Like most would-be artists, Hitler had learned to look at objects in depth while drawing or painting and had learned to see details that most people overlook. To an idealistic young man the ignorance of peers becomes frustrating and one learns to keep their distance from those who do not share ones interest. As always, Hitler kept his intimate friends to a minimum. During this period. people found him "polite," but "distant." Women were still attracted to him and befriended him, because, as a young waitress who gave him "extra-large" portions at a cafe he frequented said: "He was very reserved and quiet, and would read books, and seemed very serious, unlike the rest of the young men."*
Hitler did take himself seriously and because of his understanding of the complexities in art, he seldom took sides in any conversation unless he had some knowledge of the topic's details. He would research subjects to a certain degree before making judgments. Besides his book reading, he constantly read newspapers, magazines and pamphlets. One subject that was to catch his attention and occupy his thoughts while he lived across from the railroad yards was racism.
For all its cultural and intellectual endeavors, Vienna, like much of the western world, was alive with racial prejudices. Because of the nationalistic fervor, almost every nation had its "experts" who prated about their nation's "racial superiority." Wagner, Hitler's idol, had done as much as anyone to spread the racist idea in German speaking Europe, and there is little doubt that Hitler was acquainted with his writings.
Wagner believed that the Nordic Aryans (northern Europeans), especially the Germans, were a super-race and considered all others inferior. His racial views were born out of the cold rationalism of the 19th century intellectual community's adoration of science and the law of nature which experts had supposedly worked out with "iron logic."
In view of such "logic," some intellectuals asserted that only the Aryan tribes which drifted towards the sparsely populated areas around the Baltic and North Seas, to become the ancient Norse people, later the Teutonic or Germanic race, were the only "true" Aryans. The theorists contended that over the centuries the Aryan "Slavonic race" living in eastern Europe had been overrun by invading "Mongolians from Central Asia, the Huns--ugly bow-legged yellow men"* and were no longer true Aryans. The theorists also believed that the "Latin race" in the south of Europe had continuously mixed with the "dark white race" which inhabited the Mediterranean rim and were no longer true Aryans either. German racialists prated about the superiority of their race and proclaimed: "The Teutons are the aristocracy of humanity; the Latins belong to a degenerate mob." Their main attacks, however, were reserved for the "Mongolized Slavs" as well as Turks and other races from the east, who were not only seen as inferior, but as a great threat to central Europe.
The Germans of Vienna had been the bulwark against invaders from the east since the days of the Roman Empire and it took little to convince Hitler, or any other German, of the danger. They still saw themselves as a great bastion against eastern pressures. As in Linz where Hitler had spent his formative years, Vienna also had its Trinity Column to bear witness to the time when the Germans, and the Poles ironically, fought off an invasion of Turks who threatened the whole of Europe. Acting as further reminders, Vienna's hills (while Hitler lived there) were still dotted with castles, watchtowers and armories which were stocked with all types of weaponry should a levy be called.
As the capital, Vienna still dominated over central Europe but the empire was slowly crumbling under the weight of its conflicting "racial groups."* Austria's subjects comprised half the "races" of Europe and, just as in Alois' (Hitler's father) time, the Slavs, Turks and other non Germans were still viewed with suspicion and fear
As in Paris, Moscow and other European capitals, the people of Vienna were also extremely hostile to Semitic (Jew and Arab) people. (Intellectuals had classified Semites as an "ancient dark white people" that spoke a Semitic primary-language from which all the dominant languages of the Middle East and parts of Africa are supposed to have originated. According to one theory, these Semitic speakers appeared on the south west tip of Arabia before 9000 BC and by 5000 BC lived throughout most of Arabia. By 2500 BC they had spread into the other parts of the Middle East (today's Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel) breeding with the local populations and developing their own customs, appearances, religions, and different versions of the Semitic language. Because of dense forests, swamps, mountains, deserts and seas, the Aryan and Semitic speaking peoples developed somewhat independently. Thus was laid the foundation for all subsequent anti-Semitism in Europe.)
Long before Hitler was born, anti-Semitism had taken on a primarily anti-Jewish meaning in Europe since many Jews had clung to their customs and ways and refused to melt into the European population as other Semites had done. All of Vienna's "anti-Semitism" was directed against the 175,000 Jews who made up almost 9% of Vienna's population. Even many of Austria's intellectuals were opposed to the Jews' influence on the grounds that their "oriental" or "Asiatic temperament"* threatened German traditions and ways.
Six years before Hitler was born, a large segment of the German student body of Vienna's University had formed a union that was anti-Jewish but referred to itself as anti-Semitic to demonstrate they stressed race and not religion. They protested against the high number of Jewish students at the University and demonstrated against the large number of Jewish doctors, lawyers, and professors being produced.*
The students had their champion in a member of the Austrian parliament, Georg Ritter von Schonerer (1842-1921), who founded the German Nationalist Party in Austria. His family came from the Wooded Quarter where Hitler's family had its roots. Like anyone interested in the success stories of people from their birth places, Hitler took a keen interest in the life and policies of the aging Schonerer. He was to become Hitler's first political idol.*
By the time Hitler arrived in Vienna, Schonerer had toned down his attacks against Jews, Slavs, and other non-Germans. He abandoned all hope of preserving the Austrian Empire.* With the backing of university intellectuals, he turned his main attention to the unity of Austria with Germany.
Hitler, like most central Europeans, had no trouble accepting the ideas that the Slavs were a threat or the rich were greedy. But unlike the university students, Hitler refused to accept many of the racist beliefs. It was Schonerer's pleas for union with Germany that held Hitler's admiration, not Schonerer's anti-Semitic stance.* "Schonerer," Hitler would write, "recognized more clearly and more correctly than anyone else the inevitable end of the Austrian State."* But, Hitler also stated: "In Vienna, anti-Semitism could never have any foundation but a religious one. From the point of view of race, about 50 per cent of the population of Vienna was not German."*
Hitler had no great love for anyone foreign, but he felt that people who railed against those who spoke, looked and acted German, did so for selfish reasons. To the young Hitler, a man who spoke and looked German was German* and he was filled with "distaste" when anyone singled someone out as a "Jew."* Concerning the Germanized Jews, he wrote: "I even looked upon them as Germans."* He thought that attacks upon them were made out of "jealousy and envy." He also stated: "in the Jew I still saw only a man who was of a different religion, and therefore, on grounds of human tolerance, I was against the idea that he [or any other] should be attacked because he had a different faith."* As an acquaintance would later write, Hitler did not associate the word Jew with race and "believed every religion to be good and ... didn't care much about anti-Semitism."*
As Hitler would later write in Mein Kampf (and Kubizek noted in his book), shortly after he arrived in Vienna, he began to believe the anti-Jewish rhetoric he heard and read. Consequently, he turned to handbooks and magazines to relieve his "doubts," and now for the first time in his life bought himself some anti-Semitic pamphlets.
During Hitler's stay in Vienna, racist literature could be purchased almost anywhere, including the tobacco shop a few doors from where he lived. Although the idea of "pure racial stock" was already a fanciful belief to many; racialists books, pamphlets and newspapers were read by millions.* Hitler read many of these publications including the Schonerer movement's satirical magazine: Politics and Entertainment in Art and Life (which not only specialized in attacks on non-Germans, but also attacked the Church, members of parliament, and the decline of morals and the evils of alcoholism).* Hitler complained that these publications did not supply enough information on the Jewish question and added:
All began with the standpoint that the reader had a certain
degree of information of the
One of the most prodigious racist writers at the time was a defrocked monk named Adolf Josef Lanz. His magazine, the Ostara, was a typical Viennese tabloid of the time. It damned assimilation, preached racial purity and looked forward to the day of a "German master race" led by a quasi-religious military leader.* To be sure the reader was of the right type himself, the magazine contained a question and answer section where one could find out where he fit within the great racial pool. A varied number of points were given for physical attributes such as color of hair, eyes and skin. One then added up the points and consulted the index to determine his "racial group." Naturally, the scoring was done in a. way that anyone who found the tabloid congenial emerged as one qualified to participate in the struggle against inferior races.*
Featured articles like "The Sex and Love-Life of Blondes and Dark Ones"* boosted the Ostara's circulation for some issues to 100,000 in Austria and Germany. Although it "played down 'the Jewish Question,'"* it appealed to both the superiority of the Germans and their suspicion of the Jews, and also Slavs, Turks, Negroes, and other "dark ones." It contained material that urged the white or Aryan race to arm itself against "dark forces." In order to popularize the Aryan idea, racial beauty contests were even proposed. In its more malign moments it called for a systematic program of sterilization, deportation, or forced labor. By subjugating the dark races, the Ostara preached, the Aryans could rule the earth.*
Hitler, according to Lanz (in a 1951 interview), appeared at his home in 1909 and explained that he had read most issues of the Ostara, which he purchased at the tobacco shop near his place on Felber Strasse. Hitler wasn't able to obtain a few of the back issues and asked Lanz if he had them. Lanz claimed that Hitler looked so earnest but impoverished that he gave him the copies free of charge and also two kronen for streetcar fare home.*
Even after additional reading on the subject, Hitler still wasn't convinced about the "Jewish danger" and would later state in Mein Kampf: "I returned to my old way of thinking."* (Hitler adds: "...for weeks and once even for months."* This addition was undoubtedly an attempt to cover his position as a youth. Hitler knew that there would be those who knew that he wasn't "anti-Semitic" in his youth and could expose him (as more than one acquaintance later did). By claiming to have moments of "indecision" he covered his rear--so to speak.)
"Anti-Semitism" was an outgrowth of the nationalistic fervor that infected almost everyone during this period. Hitler undoubtedly made statements in his youth that could be interpreted as "anti-Semite." With the exception, however, of a few foggy statements that Kubizek remembered in retrospect, all reliable sources who knew Hitler personally during his youth agree that he was not an anti-Semite, but an outspoken nationalist.
Even the Jews got caught up in the nationalistic fervor* and "decided to open their own all-Jewish club."* Zionism was proclaimed when Hitler was a boy, and as established, accepted a national status for the Jews. Like all the discontented nationalities throughout Europe, such a status barred assimilation. In his book, The Jewish State (1896), Theodor Herzl, an Austrian Jewish poet, would write a beautiful, revealing passage that echoed all the nationalities of Europe looking to control their own destinies:
By the time Hitler arrived in Vienna, the Zionist "movement was strongly represented in Vienna."* Zionism was well on its way to erecting a framework so strong that it would hold Palestine (the future Israel) open to "stateless" Jews against the wishes of the British Empire, the Vatican, Arab nationalism; and, international minded Jews.
The Jews, however, weren't asking for a part of Europe and Hitler may have supported the Zionist movement at the time. (A few years later, Hitler would tell an acquaintance that if he had the power, he would make all the Jews to go to Palestine.* Even as late as 1920, when his "anti-Semitism" was in bloom, he would state: "The Jew ... belongs, in his own state of Palestine."*) Hitler, like the overwhelming portion of the population at that time, supported the idea that each nationality (or "race" as many referred to it) should live in its own independent or autonomous region.
On August 22, 1909, after a nine month stay, the twenty year old Hitler gave up his residence across from the railway yards. He took another room, a short distance from Schonbrunn Palace. His inheritance was almost exhausted and he was slowly falling into the category of the uprooted urban middle class. Hitler had once told Kubizek that in most instances genius went hand and hand with poverty. Like many idealistic young men he may have figured he had now done his suffering, which would make him see life more clearly. He resumed his writing. On Aug 22 he registered as "studying to be a writer"* with the local police station. He grew a beard to fit the part but soon gave up the writing.
By mid September he had sold off everything of value, including his art supplies and overcoat. He now had only his orphan pension of 25 kronen a month. Unable to pay rent by the month, he abandoned his address and turned to subletting rooms by the week. The rent was between two and two and a half Kronen a week and all roomers hoped that they would have to share a room with only one other. It was estimated that around 90,000 Viennese lived in such a manner. Hitler stayed for such short durations that he failed for the first time to register his address with the police.
During this period he kept in touch with his step sister, Angela, who forwarded his pension.* Angela abhorred his "flight from reality" and gave him a long scolding. Hitler decided not to contact her again until his life improved. In one of the few cases Hitler got the year exactly right concerning his youth, he would later write, "...the autumn of 1909, this was an infinitely bitter period for me. I was a young, inexperienced man without any financial support and too proud to accept it from no matter whom, let alone ask for it."* Although Hitler scorned the idea of a "bread and butter job," cut off from his pension he made a halfhearted attempt to enter the ranks of the working masses. For a time he worked as a "hod [cement or brick] carrier on building construction jobs."* (Most historians believe that Hitler was lying when he gave his account in Mein Kampf of working in the building trade (some believe he was too weak). However, during this period the yearly turnover for "labor" was around 100%* and unskilled workers were also in short supply* because of the huge peace-time conscription.* Employers took what they could get, and they especially preferred new workers from small towns and the countryside since they were known to outperform their more seasoned big city workers.* Furthermore, seventeen years after Mein Kampf was written Hitler stated: "What a great joy it is each time I meet with the Duce [Benito Mussolini]. He’s a great personality. Ironically, during the same period as myself, he also worked as a construction worker...."* Mussolini was one of the few men Hitler admired and was "fond" of.* The comparison was obviously make with pride. Hitler was not the type to base such a comparison on a lie.)
Although Hitler associated with the "little man," he, like most people from the lower middle class, had little in common with the "workers." He saw himself as a step above them. Their unrefined speech, manners and shallow views were repugnant to him and, as he admitted later, his ignorance of their unions and politics alienated him.* When he offered an opposing view to a number of his "union" comrades while working on a construction site,* they, he would later write, "ordered me to leave the building or else get flung down from the scaffolding."* A few weeks later, when he obtained employment at another construction site, the same thing occurred. Hitler soon gave up any idea of joining the workers and drifted into doing day work only when necessary.
By early November he sold off almost everything but the bare necessities. Within a few weeks he exhausted nearly all funds and was put out of his last independent address (possibly on Simon Denk Gasse in the northern part of the city) after his landlady seized his last small bundle of his possessions.* Like many of America's "homeless," he turned to the streets. But, he did not enter the lowest depths of society as a "worker," but as a member of the uprooted urban middle class. He chose to wear a faded "blue-checked suit."* Hitler no doubt chose his apparel knowing that society would be more tolerant toward a "middle class" young man down on his luck. He also had no desire, as he put it, to be "identified" with the "despised class....the manual worker."*
November of that year was unusually cold with rain often mixed with snow, so he had to find shelter. There were many seedy and dilapidated lodging houses scattered throughout Vienna where, for a small fee, he could take a room for the night. If these places lacked the facilities, then for a nominal fee he could use the municipal baths to keep himself clean.
To earn a few cents Hitler tried begging even though he found it demeaning. On one occasion he tried to beg a few cents from a rich drunk who tried to hit him with his cane.* The incident did nothing to change Hitler's opinion of the rich and the experience deeply embittered him. He never tried begging again. With funds nearly depleted he spent a few evenings sleeping in a cafe on Kaiser Strasse, after paying the price of a cup of coffee.*
Finally he exhausted all funds and for a few nights he wandered around sleeping on park benches. Near the end of November, exhausted and frail looking, Hitler ended up in a 'Obdachslosenasyl' (Shelter for the Roofless) behind the Meidling Railroad station. Here one received a card and could get a "bed" for five nights. Afterwards, for a modest fee, one could stay on if they chose.
The shelter received most of its support from a Jewish family and housed hundreds of Vienna's destitute including whole families. Residents were segregated by sex and assigned to a large military-like dormitory. Everyone was required to shower daily and then return to the main hall where they were served a meal of soup and bread before being assigned a place to sleep. Unlike many of the shelters in Vienna this one was spotless which is probably why Hitler chose it. Because it was expected that people should work, or be looking for work, everyone had to leave during the day.
While at the "Asylum," as some called it, Hitler met a professional street person named Reinhold Hanisch** who went by the name of Walter Fritz. Hanisch had traveled through much of Germany and Austria and although originally from the Sudetenland (part of today's Czech Republic) liked to pass himself off as a Berliner. He avoided steady work like the plague and whenever finances allowed, looked for happiness in a beer or wine bottle.
Hanisch knew all the angles of street living and since this was an entirely new way of life for Hitler, Hanisch showed him how to take advantage of all possible charitable institutions.* Since the shelter closed until dusk, Hanisch showed Hitler how to stretch out the day so they would hit the right places at the right time to get a free meal or handout. Hitler's idea that "soup kitchens" were demeaning was replaced by hunger since the Asylum only provided one meal a day. He and Hanisch took advantage of the half dozen "warming rooms" and a nearby hospital which handed out bread or soup to thousands of Vienna's destitute men, women and children. They visited the homes of "soft touches" where they might get some small change or some other handout. They lined up at the Sisters of Mercy Convent on Gumpendorfer Strasse, just down the street and around the corner from his former address on Stumper Gasse. Hitler went there almost everyday for a free meal and later strolled over to the Western Station where he carried passenger's bags in hopes of earning a little money.*
On cold days Hanisch showed Hitler all the public places where their presence would be tolerated. He showed Hitler how to save money by purchasing unused portions of admittance cards from those who were leaving the Asylum. They also took advantage of other charitable Jewish institutions including the Warming House on Erdberg Strasse on the other side of town. According to Hanisch, Hitler was grateful for the help offered by Jews, admired their resistance to persecutions, and never muttered a serious anti-Jewish remark to him.* While at the shelter, Hitler befriended a number of Jews including a Jewish locksmith named Robinsohn who occasionally gave Hitler a few coins.*
Even with the charitable soup kitchens, the handouts of friends, and the few cents Hitler made carrying bags at the railroad station, he still didn't earn enough to keep himself fed. He and Hanisch, therefore, made a few coins beating carpets, shoveling snow, or doing other casual labor. Hitler once suggested that they apply for some ditch digging work that was available in the Favoriten area, but Hanisch wouldn't hear of doing any kind of hard work.* Hanisch also taught Hitler never to let any of the street people know you had money for you might be robbed, or just as bad, asked for a loan. Any dealings they had with other street people was usually transacted with the exchange of clothing or cigarettes. In a short time Hitler, Hanisch and other friends met almost every night and sang to keep up their spirits in spite of their "troubles."*
Why Hanisch took Hitler under his wing was all too obvious. Hitler had told Hanisch a little of his background and Hanisch realized that Hitler's family was not poor. Hanisch, one of those classless operators who sponge off of people until they finally learn to say no, advised Hitler to write his stepsister for money. Only after Hanisch and another moocher (a so-called "salesman from ... Silesia") refused to take "no" for an answer did Hitler finally give in. Hitler wrote the letter in a coffee house (the Cafe Arthaber) opposite the Meidling Station and the letter was sent off to Linz. "A few days before Christmas Eve" Hitler received the money.* Either looking for sympathy by playing the part of a destitute young man, or understanding he was dealing with two classless operators who would sponge off of him if they knew he had a steady income, Hitler never admitted that the fifty kronen sent him was his back pension money.
Hitler bought himself a good used overcoat and, according to Hanisch, a "transformation" took place in him. The money gave him new hope. Although Hanisch would later claim that it was his idea, Hitler decided to use his painting ability to try to earn a living as a street painter. Hitler saw that others, like his idol Wagner, had worked themselves out of poverty and he had nowhere to go but up.
There was a year round market for small paintings in Vienna. They could be sold to locals in the cafes or to stores that either sold them again or used them to promote picture frames. Furniture makers also used small paintings which they inserted in the back of chairs, rockers or loveseats and varnished over. In summer the paintings could be sold to tourists in cafes or in the street.
Hitler purchased ink, T-square, paints and postcard-sized painting cards. Like many self-taught painters, Hitler worked from photographs or other prints, usually after viewing the object. Since everyone was required to leave the asylum during the day, Hitler had to paint in cafes or other public places. To allow himself more time to paint, he attempted to get the "the salesman from Silesia" to sell his paintings but the man refused. Hitler, consequently, "took them to art dealers, furniture stores and upholsters" himself.*
Street living during the day and the shelter at night with its motley people and lack of privacy soon became unacceptable to Hitler. Like many derelicts, he considered himself a fallen upperclassmen and despised most of those he had to associate with. A month of living like a "tramp" was enough for the twenty year old Hitler. Shortly before the new year,* Hitler left Hanisch behind and moved to a hostel at the north end of town not far from where the Danube and the Danube Canal intersect. The place was known as the Mannerheim (Men's Home).