Even as a child Adolf Hitler had an exalted opinion of
himself, a self-regard that was both nurtured and encouraged by his adoring
mother, Klara. His father, Alois, an ill-tempered man, was not so amenable to
his son’s whims and had already determined that he should follow him into the
Civil Service, or to be more precise become a Customs Officer like himself. But
young Adolf wanted to be an artist, and not any old artist, but a great artist.
As a result relations were strained and attempts by Alois to beat some sense
into his son only made matters worse.
Although his grief was genuine enough his father’s death in
January 1903 also came as a great relief for he could now pursue his ambition unrestrained;
and it wasn’t as if he was without talent, his ability to draw had already
earned praise and with practice, and a little imagination, he might have earned
passage into the ranks of the artistic milieu he so desperately sought to be a
part of, not that this alone would ever have been enough.
But then dedication wasn’t required - for a genius need not
partake of hard work.
Supported by his mother who had been left financially secure
by her recently deceased husband in 1906, Adolf went to live in Linz where he
lived like the artistic gentleman of leisure he thought he was spending his
time in idle musings, attending concerts, and visiting the opera where he made
the acquaintance of the aspiring musician, August Kubizek.
Kubizek was to write of the time he spent in the company of
the future Fuhrer in his 1955 book ‘The Young Hitler I Knew’ and the portrait
he drew was a complicated one of neuroses,ambition, and an emerging megalomania
- Hitler was a difficult young man to get along with, someone who even as a
youth approached every problem with ‘a deadly earnestness.’
He was to describe Hitler’s personality as ‘violent and high
strung’ but nonetheless it was a friendship he would never relinquish even in
light of events.
Despite concern for his mother’s health which had taken a turn
for the worse Adolf withdrew what remained of the inheritance left to him by
his father and in the summer of 1907 went to live in Vienna where he applied
for admission to the Academy of Fine Arts.
In October he was shocked to be told he had failed the entrance
exam and demanded to know why?
The Academy informed
him in no uncertain terms that he lacked talent as a painter but did have some
technical ability which might be better suited to a career in architecture.
Much like the opera he so enjoyed, Hitler considered
architecture to be art on a grand scale which suited well his mindset but even
so the rejection was difficult to bear. Nonetheless, there was little time to
dwell on the matter as his mother’s rapidly deteriorating health forced him to
Surgery the previous January had failed to prevent the
spread of breast cancer and despite the best efforts of Eduoard Bloch, the
family’s Jewish doctor, Klara’s condition only worsened. Informed that his
mother would not recover Hitler descended into depression.
Dr Bloch was to remark that upon receiving the news Hitler
was ‘the saddest man I had ever seen.’
Adolf remained with his mother during her final months
cooking for her, doing the household chores, and tending to her every need but her
demise was only a matter of time.
On 21 December 1907, Klara Hitler died.
Adolf was distraught
and Dr Bloch was to say that he had never seen anyone so overcome with grief.
Later, when he visited Dr Bloch to pay the medical bill he told him - I shall be
grateful too you forever – he was later to prove as good as his word.
Following his mother’s death he had no desire to remain in
Linz and so in February 1908, he returned to Vienna, the city he considered the
centre of European culture, to pursue once more his desire to be an artist.
Not long after his arrival he was reunited with August
Kubizek whom he had asked to join him and clearly delighted greeted at the
station with a handshake and a kiss.
In October he tried for a second time to enrol in the Academy
of Fine Art but was denied permission even to sit the entrance exam and
disappointment soon became a bitter resentment towards the Jewish Professors of
the Academy he believed had thwarted his artistic ambitions.
Life had turned sour and his sense of victimisation was only
made worse when Kubizek gained entry to the Vienna Conservatory. That November
Kubizek returned to the apartment they shared to find that Hitler had moved out
leaving no forwarding address.
Hitler’s life now proceeded on a downward spiral.
The money he had received as his inheritance had run out and
by December 1909, he was eating at soup kitchens and living in a homeless
He would spend the
cold days in libraries where he assiduously imbibed Nordic, Aryan, and
anti-Semitic literature. On more clement days he would walk the streets
sketching buildings and street scenes but it all felt very hollow and he had
come to hate the city he had once so admired but had so brutally rejected him -
a mongrel city, the capital of a mongrel Empire.
Ostensibly reliant upon hand-outs he did make a little money
as a day labourer shovelling snow and carrying bags for commuters at the
railway station but it rarely lasted more than a few hours; physical labour and
working for another was abhorrent to him – but he could still draw.
He was persuaded by Reinhold Harmisch, a fellow resident at
the Poor House where he was now living, to sketch the famous landmarks of
Vienna which he would then hawk around the city on his behalf.
Hitler agreed, but they soon fell out and in August 1910,
believing he was being swindled Hitler testified against Harmisch in a court
case that saw him jailed.
In 1938, following the Anschluss with Austria, Hitler would
order Harmisch’s murder.
Hitler did better selling his own drawings, which now
included copies of postcards he offered to tourists, and paintings he sold
through an acquaintance, Joseph Neumann, a Jew, who used his connections to
sell them to mostly Jewish shopkeepers.
To avoid conscription into the army of the Austro-Hungarian
Empire he had come to despise in May 1913, he fled to Munich in Germany where
he continued to sell his drawings though his life was barely any better than it
had been in Vienna, even if he may have considered the air more pure.
His life remained aimless his day-to-day existence a drudge,
so when war was declared on 1 August 1914, it came almost as a relief, now he
would have a purpose.
He wrote in Mein Kampf:
“For me, as for every German, there now began the greatest
and most unforgettable time of my earthly existence. Compared to the events of
this gigantic struggle, everything past receded into shallow hollowness.”
Soon after mingling with the enthusiastic crowds in Munich
Town Square he enlisted in the 6th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment.
His career as an artist was at an end, that of a politician
yet to begin.