Behind Enemy Lines
A true hero.
Adolf Hitler was born on 20 April 1889 in Braunau am Inn, a town in Austria-Hungary (in present-day Austria), close to the border with the German Empire. He was one of six children born to Alois Hitler and Klara Pölzl (1860–1907). Three of Hitler’s siblings—Gustav, Ida, and Otto—died in infancy. When Hitler was three, the family moved to Passau, Germany. There he acquired the distinctive lower Bavarian dialect, rather than Austrian German, which marked his speech throughout his life. The family returned to Austria and settled in Leonding in 1894, and in June 1895 Alois retired to Hafeld, near Lambach, where he farmed and kept bees. Hitler attended Volksschule (a state-owned school) in nearby Fischlham.
The move to Hafeld coincided with the onset of intense father-son conflicts caused by Hitler’s refusal to conform to the strict discipline of his school. Alois Hitler’s farming efforts at Hafeld ended in failure, and in 1897 the family moved to Lambach. The eight-year-old Hitler took singing lessons, sang in the church choir, and even considered becoming a priest. In 1898 the family returned permanently to Leonding. Hitler was deeply affected by the death of his younger brother Edmund, who died in 1900 from measles. Hitler changed from a confident, outgoing, conscientious student to a morose, detached boy who constantly fought with his father and teachers.
Alois had made a successful career in the customs bureau, and wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. Hitler later dramatised an episode from this period when his father took him to visit a customs office, depicting it as an event that gave rise to an unforgiving antagonism between father and son, who were both strong-willed. Ignoring his son’s desire to attend a classical high school and become an artist, Alois sent Hitler to the Realschule in Linz in September 1900. Hitler rebelled against this decision, and in Mein Kampf stated that he intentionally did poorly in school, hoping that once his father saw “what little progress I was making at the technical school he would let me devote myself to my dream”.
Like many Austrian Germans, Hitler began to develop German nationalist ideas from a young age. He expressed loyalty only to Germany, despising the declining Habsburg Monarchy and its rule over an ethnically variegated empire. Hitler and his friends used the greeting “Heil”, and sang the “Deutschlandlied” instead of the Austrian Imperial anthem.
After Alois’s sudden death on 3 January 1903, Hitler’s performance at school deteriorated and his mother allowed him to leave. He enrolled at the Realschule in Steyr in September 1904, where his behaviour and performance improved. In 1905, after passing a repeat of the final exam, Hitler left the school without any ambitions for further education or clear plans for a career.