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The idea of ‘Hitler as a Jew’ was first planted into popular discourse during Hitler's rise to power, when his opponents used it in an underhand effort to discredit him. It then came back into fashion among academia during the the 1950s, as a result of the post-War memoirs of Hitler's private lawyer, Hans Frank, who was disgruntled with the Nazi regime and claimed Hitler's grandfather had been Jewish. It was Frank who came up with the notion of Maria Schicklgruber having met a Jew in Graz, but this claim was based on nothing at all and was quickly discredited. Nevertheless, the claim made its way into the most important Hitler book of the time: Bullock’s A Study In Tyranny, where the eminent historian dignifies what amounts to local shop gossip:
"...in all probability, we shall never know for certain who Adolf Hitler's grandfather, the father of Alois [Hitler's own father], really was. It has been suggested that he may have been a Jew, without definite proof one way or the other."[p.24].No evidence is produced, and Bullock clearly doesn’t believe it, but he puts it in anyway. Then, in an effort to gold-plate his own display of ignorance, Bullock presently speculates about the origin of the name ‘Hitler’, telling us that it might be Czech:
"The family name, possibly Czech in origin and spelled in a variety of ways, first appears in the Waldviertel in the first half of the fifteenth century."[p. 24].
It is simply a German name – what else would it be? - yet Bullock can’t help but squeeze in his own half-baked theorising, as if the notion that Hitler, a German Austrian, would have a German name is some sort of controversy. Here again we have the problem of mundanity, which I touched on in my previous piece about the Shakespeare authorship controversy, another manufactured dispute over nothing. The idea of Shakespeare - the greatest writer in the English language, and really any language - as a rather dull provincial playwright seems unattractive to some people. Quite simply, Adolf Hitler was a German Austrian with a German name from an ethnic German town on the Bavarian-Austrian border. That’s what the facts tell us, but it’s dull and boring. The hint that he might have had a Czech name and a Jewish grandfather enlivens the subject matter, even if it can't be true.
Another academic propagandist was D. Cameron Watt, the Oxford-educated historian, who edited the English translation of Hitler’s magnum opus in the late 1960s and wrote a disparaging editorial about it in which he makes a number of unsupported statements, including the following:
"Ironically, in view of Adolf Hitler's instigation of the liquidation of European Jewry, it is possible that his unknown grandfather was Jewish."[p. xv of Watt's Introduction to Mein Kampf]
It is certainly possible, but not in anything other than the theoretical sense that, let us say, Hitler might alternatively have had a Russian paternal grandfather, or a particularly light-skinned Ethiopian as a grandfather, or an Australian or an Icelander or a Brazilian grandfather. It is theoretically possible that an elephant can hang off a cliff by its toe, but we don’t dwell seriously on the possibility. It’s just nonsense. However, if tomorrow I see an elephant hanging off a cliff by its toes, I will revise my views on the realistic capabilities of elephants. Likewise, in the matter of Hitler’s ancestry, I defer to evidence and facts. Nobody produces any, but when they do, I’ll stop calling it nonsense.
These claims are also quite amusingly ironic in that they betray an unconscious anti-Semitism on the part of people (mostly Gentiles) who profess to virulently oppose Hitler's ideas. Why should Hitler's paternal grandfather have been Jewish in particular?
What we actually know about Hitler's ancestry
Hitler’s paternal grandfather, Alois, was born in Strones, a hamlet near Döllersheim, in the Waldviertel region of Lower Austria. There was no church in Strones, so he was baptised in Döllersheim itself. The mother was Maria Schicklgruber, aged 41 at conception and 42 at the birth (which was quite old for anyone at that time, never mind for a new mother). The name of the father was not recorded at the time of birth, hence the mystery.
Lower Austria is a state in northern Austria, at the time made up entirely of ethnic Germans. To the north was Bohemia, which at that time came within the Kingdom of Austria and was made up of both Czech nationals and ethnic Germans. At the time, the capital of Lower Austria was Vienna (also the national capital of Austria). Jews had been expelled from Lower Austria until the 1790s. At the time of Alois’ birth, Lower Austria contained Austria’s largest Jewish population, but most of these Jews were concentrated in Vienna itself, as would be expected.
Döllersheim was rural and Maria Schicklgruber was a peasantwoman who probably never left the Waldviertel. In fact, there is no evidence that she travelled even to Vienna, which was sixty miles away. It is said that no Jews were living in the Waldviertel at this time, but I am going to err on the side of caution and assume that was not the case. Even so, unless Maria lived in one of the cities or large towns where Jews lived, it is difficult to see how she could have met a Jew, never mind slept with one. Of course, we don’t know for sure that she didn’t, but that’s hardly the point. True, evidence of absence is not in itself absence of evidence, but I needn't labour the point that there is no evidence she even met a Jew and it is not likely that she would have given the political and social circumstances of the time.
Graz, referred to by Hans Frank in his memoirs, was far to the south, in a completely different state of Austria, Styria. Jews had been expelled completely from the whole of Styria, and this remained the case at the time of Alois’ birth. Therefore, Maria could not have met a Jew in Graz, as Graz is in Styria, and therefore off-limits to Jews. However, for the sake of argument, let us assume there were in fact some Jews living in Graz on some basis. This was the early 19th. century. There were no trains, planes or motor cars available. Cars and planes had not been invented yet. The first ever commercial passenger railway in Austria was opened in the year of Alois’ birth, and went in the opposite direction, from Vienna to Bohemia in the north. That is not to suggest she could not have travelled, and we cannot know for sure whether or not she did, but since we cannot even establish that she left her local area, never mind travelled across Austria, the case for Hitler’s Jewish ancestry is not assisted.
There is absolutely no evidence in support of the theory that Hitler’s paternal grandfather was Jewish. The suggestion that there is such evidence is a simple lie. The belief that he was Jewish is nothing more than an unfounded article of faith. We could as credibly say that Hitler’s unknown grandfather was Russian or Czech as we could say he was Jewish, but looking at the circumstances of Maria Schicklgruber’s life and the social and political circumstances of the time in that part of Austria, we can say it is highly likely that the unknown grandfather was a German Austrian.
Who is likely to have been Hitler's grandfather?
The conventional theory is that Alois’ biological father was either Johann Georg Hiedler, who moved in with the Schicklgrubers soon after Alois’ birth, or his younger brother, Johann Nepomuk Hiedler, a farmer whom Alois was later sent to live with. (‘Hitler’ is a derivative of their family name Hiedler, the different spelling was adopted probably in an effort to confuse parish authorities when Alois later returned to formally change his name). I think both Hiedlers are unlikely candidates. Georg was not married at the time of Alois’ birth, so there was no basis for any scandal as long as he married Maria, which inevitably leads us to the puzzle of why, if he was the assumed father, he didn’t simply marry her but instead moved in later. That makes no sense. As for Nepomuk, his only apparent connection to the whole matter is via Georg, which I think excludes him by default as we have the more reasonable explanation that it was Georg who introduced Maria to Nepomuk after the fact. Some people argue that Nepomuk, who was married at the relevant time, must be the father and had Georg take up with Maria as a marriage of convenience, but this seems unlikely as Georg, an itinerant miller, did not even come to live with the Schicklgrubers until Alois was five years old.
Given Maria Schicklgruer’s advanced age and circumstances, and the location of Alois’ birth, the most likely conclusion is that she had slept with an unknown local married man - most probably another German Austrian - whose identity she kept to herself. She was probably conducting an affair with that person. She later took up with Georg Hiedler, when he arrived on the scene a few years later (and he would legitimised Alois decades later). When Georg died, Alois was sent to live with Georg’s brother, Nepomuk. This is all very inconvenient for us as amateur historians, but then, Maria Schicklgruber didn’t know she was to become grandmother to one of the most famous men in history. She was just keeping private an embarrassing secret.
The psychology of imputed conspiracy and elaboration
Due to his infamy, the mundane circumstances of Hitler's ancestry - not all that different from most other regular people - have been turned into some sort of dark conspiracy. I think that what we’re dealing with here is psychology. We all need to escape mundanity from time-to-time and sometimes we invent things or imaginatively elaborate.
Hitler, as a private person, was very nice, polite and kind. He was also boring. His tastes were provincial, he was a strict vegetarian, he liked dogs, he didn’t drink or womanise (as far as we know). His own art work was good, but dull. His taste in architecture was reliably dull and vernacular. Even the public face of Hitler was boring once you learn to look beyond the spectacle: he rehearsed his speeches down to the last detail, practising his poses and gestures in a mirror, like an actor. The historian, Alan Bullock, mentioned earlier, once remarked that given the choice between a weekend with Hitler or Stalin, he would choose Hitler every time because, although it would be boring, at least he’d still be alive at the end of it.
Human company is anyway mundane because we all live according to fairly common patterns and experiences. Even the company of a film star or some other presumably interesting person would seem boring after a while. Maybe, under the influence of film and TV, we’ve become less tolerant of mundanity, and this may, for instance, explain why marriages and relationships fail more frequently now than in the past. Perhaps people are more lacking in emotional and intellectual depth now. It may also explain the tendency to look for conspiracies and hidden knowledge everywhere. Hitler wasn’t just leader of Germany – a remarkable feat in itself that is fascinating and demands volumes of explanation – he was also a Tavistock agent, a crypto-Jew, a Rothschild, a paedophile, an alien from outer space, a devil-worshipper, an avatar, an Occultist with demonic power, or whatever. The mundane isn’t enough any more.
Hitler’s family history is much like mine – boring. If you go back in my family tree, all you’ll find is generation-after-generation of Yorkshire coal miners and factory workers, as well as farm labourers from Shropshire and dockers from Belfast, all with the same given names. It’s a yawn-fest. Likewise, Hitler’s ancestry is generation-after-generation of German Austrian country folk, all from the same places, all doing much the same things from one generation to another that rural German Austrians tended to do. It’s boring, so the temptation is to jazz it up a bit and seize on any gap or incongruity in order to craft a good yarn.
We don’t know exactly with which Austrian countryman Maria Schicklegruber conceived Hitler’s father, Alois, in the late 1830s, so of course it must have been a Jew. It can’t simply have been another German Austrian who happened to live where she lived – that’s too simple and obvious, and besides, it would be dull and boring if she just slept with somebody she knew. Verily, he was Jewish! Not Russian, Hungarian, Czech, Polish, British, Swedish, Australian, Ethiopian, Surinamese, Moroccan or French. No, we’ve decided he was Jewish. Not Austrian, even though this was Austria. Definitely Jewish. Never mind that Jews had been expelled from that part of Austria centuries before.
Some real questions about Hitler...
Hitler was both an ordinary and an extraordinary man. He possessed particular talents and, somehow, won the backing of wealthy and powerful people – including some wealthy Jews. The genuinely interesting questions concern how and why this happened. What did these people gain by backing Hitler? What, if anything, was expected from them in return? And so on. The conspiracy theories are a diversion from these issues.