The Hitler Name.
If Alois (Adolf Hitler's father) had just wanted to change his name, there would have been no problem. In Austria at that time there was no reason for anyone but the nobility or people possessing great wealth to go through a legal process to have a name change. There was no need of documents or witnesses to prove parentage. If a man wanted to change his name he simply changed it; and that was the end of the matter.1 Alois, however, wanted to be legitimized and his uncle went through considerable pains to help him.
In 1876, the 69 year old uncle convinced the local authorities that his brother, Johann Georg Hiedler, who had died nineteen years before and whose family ancestors also used the name Hitler, was the true father. As though to clear up all unfinished business at his age, the uncle made his declaration to a notary in the nearby town of Weitra that his brother was Alois' father, and had three witnesses he had brought along swear that they knew it to be a fact.
The next day all four traveled to the town of Dollersheim where the original birth record of Alois had been recorded and had the parish priest (who were the state-appointed registrars) make the necessary changes. The word "illegitimate" was crossed out in the register and the name Hitler was added. Although the process skirted the letter of the law, the high illegitimacy rate in that part of Austria made such practices common. At that time "city lawyers" had made few inroads into the rural areas. Law was still what tradition and custom said it was.
Why the uncle went through such difficulties in helping Alois has been a matter of speculation. One theory contends they conspired to gain some large inheritance by the name change. There is, however, no hard evidence to support this speculation. Another theory (started by August Kubizek who would later become a close friend of the Hitlers) claimed that the sixty-nine year old uncle went through the trouble to ensure that there would be a "Hitler" to carry on the family name since the uncle had no male heirs. If that was the case, all the uncle would have had to do was legitimize Alois himself--which at 69 years old he surely would have done if Alois was his son as some historians have speculated. (As Heiden pointed out in 1944 (Der Fuehrer p390), there is no evidence whatever to substantiate this claim either.) Furthermore, various family members used different variants of the Hitler name including Hittler, Hidler, Hiedler, and Huttler. The different spellings could have been what they preferred, or, considering that the illiteracy rate was high among the peasants of Austria at that time, the spelling of one's name would mean little and would depend on how the "registrars" tended to record it. It is inconceivable, however, that the literate uncle, who used the name "Hiedler" would go through the trouble to ensure a "heir" whose name was spelled differently from his own.
(Interestingly, "registrars" have always gotten bad press. Those at America's Ellis Island during the great immigrations to the US are often blamed for miss-spelling names. However, nearly all of the name deviations recorded by US authorities were perpetrated by immigrants who had something to hide, or creditors to evade, and didn't want to be tracked down in the new world, or were illiterate and “ship recorders” spelled the names as best they could. Registrars at Ellis Island used the spelling from "ship manifests.")
A more likely reason that Alois changed his name, and especially wanted to be "legitimized," was for ethnic reasons. The Austrian Empire was under the heavy hand of the upper class German Austrians, but their empire and influence was shrinking. In the previous decade a large portion of the empire had broken away and the Austrians were forced to relinquish much of their power and even share their name, becoming the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This sign of weakness stirred the other nationalities within the Empire and rebellion was in the wind. The Empire was composed of twenty different ethnic groups who disliked one another as much as they hated their ruling German "masters" who made up only one in four of the population. Those of "Slavic blood" made up nearly half of the population and many of these nationalities (Poles, Serbs, Czechs, etc.) were in a state of rebellion waiting for the right moment to claim their independence. Consequently, the Germans in Austria were beginning to feel anxious about their status. All non-Germans were viewed with suspicion.
As an official in the Royal Imperial Civil Service, Alois had come far as a Schicklgruber. He was now rubbing shoulders with the upper classes and his humble background was becoming an impediment.2 The idea of an illegitimate peasant, a bastard, in their midst, one whose parentage, and consequently blood line, was suspect has always been viewed as an important matter by the upper classes. As almost every Hitler historian has pointed out, the name Schicklgruber had its roots in the Bohemian region north of Austria, a region with a large Slavic Czech population. The Hiedler/Hitler name on the other hand, although possibly of Czech origin also, had been Germanized over the proceeding five hundred years. That Alois chose the spelling "Hitler" has no significance other than it is what he obviously preferred.
Alois was undoubtedly aware that social acceptance (one of his supervisors found him "inaccessible" and "hard to work with")3 and future promotions were unlikely if the matter wasn't cleared up. As with many people born into a sexually promiscuous society there will always be uncertainty about Alois father (maybe DNA testing will someday change this), but it is questionable whether the uncle would have gone through all the trouble if he did not have good reason to believe that his brother was Alois' father. On the other hand, maybe the uncle, mindful of upper class prejudices, helped to "'legitimize' Alois [for no other reason but] for the sake of his social standing and career."4
Some historians claim that Alois' true father was some mysterious Jew named Frankenberger or Frankenreither who lived in Graz (150 miles away). This "Jewish" rumor was investigated by more than one authority and was accepted as fact by some when Hans Frank, who supposedly investigated the matter in 1930, claimed that a few letters pertaining to "payments" from a Frankenberger family were supposedly discovered. There is nothing however, to corroborate Frank's statement that anyone received payments because of parentage, or that Alois' mother visited Graz at the time she became pregnant; or, that she ever knew a Frankenberger.5 Furthermore, no Frankenberger family lived in Graz until long after Alois was born.
As for the Frankenreither name, this rumor was given authority by an article that appeared in a Paris newspaper in 1939. However, the article contains nothing about Jewish antecedents, Alois's mother is never mentioned, nor is the name Frankenreither.6 Interestingly, there was one Frankenreither family that lived in Graz, but they were not Jews.7 To spice up the story, it was then suggested that the son of this Frankenreither family was Alois' true father--the "son" was ten years old when Alois was born.
In another case a grave was found in a Jewish cemetery in Bucharest with a headstone inscribed with Hebrew characters bearing the name of "Adolf Hitler." Journalists around the world, including those of the American Jewish Forward, claimed that this was the father of Alois.8 The journalists, living up to their first commandment: "never let the truth stand in the way of a good story," ignored the date of birth on the headstone--the "man" buried there was five years old when Alois was born.
Another rumor that a "visiting Jew" had a tryst with Alois's mother carries about as much weight as the rumor that claims the real "Jewish seducer" was none other than "Baron Rothschild of Vienna."
The most persistent author (Jetzinger) concerning this issue, spent six pages (19-24) in Hitler's Youth arguing that Alois was half Jewish. He finally dropped the matter but in the first sentence of his next section stated that Alois' "father was possibly a Jew" (p24). Later (p54) he stated that the "ancestry" of Alois' father is "unknown." However, he is often quoted as the source to prove Hitler's "Jewish ancestry." Most of these rumors were started by Hitler's political rivals during the 1920s and 30s to "discredit" him. There is and never has been any hard evidence whatever to substantiate any of these legends.9
There is an old belief in many parts of Germany and in many German communities of the U.S. that if you shake the family tree of any upper-class German family hard enough, a Jew will hit the ground running--That may be the main reason why Jewish legends about Adolf Hitler refuse to die.
(Use your "back" button to return to where you were if you interrupted main narrative to read this "footnote.")
1 Payne 7
2 Smith 24-27
3 Smith 26
4 Jetzinger 30.
5 See Jetzinger 19-21, Maser 12-14, Smith 157-60
6 Maser 14
7 Smith 159
8 Maser 10
9 Schramm ( fn. by Detwiler) 51.