Brigitte Hamann’s Hitler’s Vienna, Part 4:
Portrait of the Autiste as a Young Man
Part 4 of 4
Hitler’s Vienna: A Portrait of the Tyrant as a Young Man
London: Tauris, 2010
The First Autiste: Hitler’s Self-Education
Apparently following Kubizek, Hamann emphasizes that Hitler’s thinking proceeded more from abstract thought than personal experience. She takes Hitler’s inexperience with and distance from women as typical: “the life of this strange man from the men’s hostel did not unfold in exchange and confrontation with experiences and human encounters, but was determined by phrases he had read and that served him as a substitute for reality — which he tried to overcome” (360). Kubizek said Hitler formed his opinions “based not on experience but on intellectual realization” (367).
Young Hitler was shy, famously falling in love with a certain “Stephanie,” but never speaking with her. He also could not muster the courage to meet with graphic artist and stage designer Alfred Roller, despite having a letter of introduction. He later defined himself as “an entirely nonfamilial being, a non-clanning being by nature. That’s not my cup of tea. I only belong to my folkish community” (48). Young Hitler nonetheless had strong opinions on women and sex: Opposing prostitution as a “disgrace for every nation” and backing government support for early marriage (365).
Throughout his life, Hitler was an enthusiastic reader of books and newspapers. Hamann speaks of Hitler’s “virtual addiction to newspapers” (ix). Hitler’s routine was one of relentless self-education whenever there was time and money for it: “I trained myself, without losing the time and occasion for the continuance of my own education” (183). “I looked for work only in order to avoid starvation, only to obtain an opportunity of continuing my education, though ever so slowly” (142). Kubizek reported on the “incredible amount of energy [Hitler] put into his autonomous studies . . . the instinctive intention to protect himself from the fall into the misery of the masses by way of educating himself as much and as thoroughly as possible” (184). A later article by Hanisch (Hamann’s paraphrasing) talked of how “the young man spent his money on newspapers and pastry with whipped cream, his favorite dessert, how Hitler had not at all been anti-Semitic, talked a lot about politics” (187).
Hamann is worth quoting at length:
During his years in Vienna, he “studied as never before,” Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf. “At the time I read enormously and thoroughly. All the free time my work left me was employed in my studies. In this way I forged in a few years the foundations of a knowledge from which I still draw nourishment today.”
Indeed, Hitler must have accumulated most of his knowledge of certain facts and details, which would so amaze people later on, during his years in Vienna, particularly as it pertained to architecture, German history, stagecraft, Richard Wagner’s operas, and politics. “He never read books for enjoyment or distraction. Reading books was dead-serious work to him,” Kubizek reports: “Once he had appropriated something in this manner, it occupied its form and proper place in his memory. He knew where to recall it — and always had it handy, as fresh as if he had just read it. . . . It almost seemed as if his memory kept improving, the more material it absorbed.
Hitler studied haphazardly, without direction, utterly contemptuous of schools and universities, without belonging to a fraternity, a workers’ association, or anything of that sort. He got his information from books at the public library and booklets published by political parties and associations. Above all, he studied newspapers, which he read voraciously and would later praise as “a sort of school for grown-ups: By far the greatest share in the political ‘education,’ which in this case is mostly aptly designated by the word ‘propaganda,’ falls to the account of the press.”
Otto Wagener, Hitler’s confidant at the time, conveys a similar picture of the period around 1930 as Kubizek and Reinhold Hanisch did for the years in Vienna. “He didn’t care who had written [an article], or what newspaper had published it, he simply took in whatever interested him and assigned it to the place in his brain where it fit in, where it either confirmed his own ideas or opinion or perhaps even gave it a foundation. Whatever ran contrary to his own ideas, he rejected and didn’t even take in to begin with.” (200-201)
In the men’s hostel:
Because the young man could not keep up in conversations about women either, he was regarded as strange. At eight at night, when the sleeping compartments were opened, he retired to his room with its light bulb (which was considered a luxury) and began his second life, into which the others did not get a glimpse, the time of his nightly “studies,” a habit Hitler would keep all his life. We have to believe what Hitler writes in Mein Kampf about this period: “I painted to make a living and studied for pleasure.” (169)
His knowledge extended to numerous areas. “Hitler displayed solid knowledge of prostitution and syphilis” (366).
In view of his thorough knowledge of military history, we may believe Hitler when he wrote in a letter in 1921, “Since my twenty-second year I most eagerly devoured writings on military history, and through all those years never failed to study very intensively general world history.” (392)
Hitler kept his treasured two-volume History of the Franco-German War of 1870–1871, apparently inherited from his father, through his move to Munich in 1912. In Munich too, he reportedly kept his friend Rudolf Häusler up at night as “Hitler often let the kerosene lamp burn until three or four in the morning, sitting over fat volumes” (401).
Hitler was “thoroughly familiar with Austria’s history and mentality” (110). In the men’s hostel, “Hitler diligently studied the revolution of 1848, including its connections with his idols Richard Wagner and Gottfried Semper, who both had been revolutionaries in Dresden” (111).
The Austrian Parliament and rallies of the unemployed were also occasions for Hitler to educate himself. Kubizek says of Hitler’s attendance of the imperial Parliament:
Once in a while I would ask Adolf what connection there were between the distant problems we encountered during our visits to the Parliament, for instance, and his studies. His reply would be, “You can only build once the political foundation has been laid.” (120)
Reports Kubizek on witnessing a rally:
He [Hitler] took everything in so dispassionately and thoroughly as if all that was important to him — just like during his visits to Parliament — were to study the mise-en-scène of the whole event, the, as were, technical execution of a rally. Much as he felt solidarity with the “little people,” it didn’t even occur to him to participate in the demonstration. (136)
Hitler was feckless. As Hanisch, who made money for both them of selling Hitler’s paintings, complained: “In the morning he wouldn’t begin work until he’d read several newspapers, and if anyone should come in with another newspaper he’d read that too” (164). If he got into an argument about politics with someone, then no work was possible. Vienna cafés were, Hitler said, “a source of quietude, meditation, and education” (141). Hitler would lecture people on Schopenhauer, but would become quiet when asked if he had actually read the philosopher (or so Hanisch, a somewhat hostile source, claims).
Hitler also educated himself on those who would become his enemies: Jewry and Marxism.
Hitler diligently studied anti-Semitism. He was also strongly influenced by Jewish friends in the men’s hostel, and he read pro-Semitic literature. [. . .] What Hitler supposedly admired most about the Jews is the way they survived despite all persecutions. (166)
He apparently did not yet engage in anti-Semitism, though he noted the Talmud authorized religious Jews to exploit the goyim and that Jews were “a different race” with “a different smell” (167).
Hamann also writes:
Certainly during this  election campaign and the rallies against inflation, if not before, Hitler must have thoroughly studied Social Democracy. “Depressed by the demonstration,” he was “driven by an inner voice” to buy the Arbeiterzeitung and “read it carefully . . . More than any theoretical literature, my daily reading of the Social Democratic press enabled me” to recognize the essence of Social Democracy. (179)
Hamann claims Hitler did not read thinkers such as Darwin, Chamberlain, Dühring, Le Bon, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Schiller directly, but through “reports in newspapers, pamphlets, and popular periodicals” (233). From this he constructed the “mosaic” of his world-view. As a result: “It is impossible to uncover completely all the sources of Hitler’s weltanschauung” (233). She doubts Kubizek’s claim that Hitler was “always surrounded” by Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, suggesting instead that he learned about them from quotations from the German-national papers, which he ably memorized (74).
Speer later claimed that the novels of Karl May had a powerful influence on Hitler, modeling himself as commander-in-chief on the Amerindian leader Winnetou (May had never been to North America) (384). Hitler was apparently enthusiastic about a pacifist speech he saw May give in Vienna.
There was something impersonal about Hitler’s way of thinking. Young Hitler apparently never engaged in personal anti-Semitism and there is only one recorded anti-Czech comment. Hanisch would report with surprise that Hitler had no opposition to the Slavic and Magyar parts of the empire’s de-Germanization policies, citing raison d’État (165).
In Munich, Hitler would get “triggered” by Reich Germans speaking ill of Austria-Hungary, even though he himself was so critical of the Dual Monarchy: His dual identity is apparent, they were anyway not legitimate to attack his “family,” so to speak. Hitler would say: “People from the Old Empire haven’t got the slightest idea about nationalities; they grew up surrounded by a cloud of stupidity” (400). Just as the Germans had ruled the Slavs in Austria-Hungary, so Hitler thought this normal on a grand continental scale:
The Slovaks too — yes, it’s great that they are independent, but ultimately they belong to us! In that regard the Viennese will be more greater-German than anybody else. The sense of having a mission to accomplish stimulates them. (109)
He added that the Czechs “will look up to us with both anger and boundless admiration” (323). He noted that to know the real sentiment of the Slavs towards the Austro-Hungarian state, one needed only to read the (hostile) Prague newspapers (108).
Hitler could then be extremely radical in his conclusions, stating in 1923: “All of nature is a permanent battle between strength and weakness, a permanent victory of the strong over the weak.” In February 1943, Goebbels would quote Hitler saying: “If, however, the German people were to become weak one day, it wouldn’t deserve anything but to be eradicated by a stronger people” (235).
Hitler’s Monologues: Method in the Madness
Hitler is notorious for the endless monologues he gave in private throughout his life to whoever would listen. The flavor of these monologues is no doubt best conveyed by Hitler’s only recorded private utterances, speaking ten minutes with Marshal of Finland Carl Gustaf Mannerheim. These monologues often bored those in Hitler’s immediate entourage, who were always around him, and have often been caricatured as the ravings of a madman.
No doubt Hitler had some unstoppable drive that, among other things, led him to talk constantly. But there was also a method to the madness. Speaking about a topic was his way of memorizing facts and consolidating his thought. Kubizek writes: “as soon as a book took hold of him, he started talking about it. Then I had to listen patiently, whether the topic interested me or not” (201). Häusler reported the same thing regarding the Munich years of 1913 and 1914. His secretary Christa Schroeder called his memory “a bona fide mental chest of drawers from which he knew how to profit optimally” (201). On one occasion she recognized a “downright philosophical treatise” by Hitler as “a rendition of a page of Schopenhauer” (202).
Hitler would not tolerate contradiction. Kubizek says: “Sometimes, when he became entirely lost in his fantasies, I got the suspicion that everything he said was nothing but an exercise in oratory” (24). Hitler would occasionally get worked up about something and would spend the night “pacing back and forth between door and piano,” lecturing against land speculation, landlords, or the Social Democrats. On one occasion, Kubizek reports that Hitler redrew Vienna from scratch:
On the drawing board of a nineteen-year-old youth, who was living in the gloomy back premises of a house in the suburb of Mariahilf, the old imperial city turned into a city extending into the open landscape, flooded by light, full of life, consisting of four-, eight-, and sixteen-family houses. (139)
Hitler apparently early on liked to play the role of the German national Cassandra:
Kubizek writes that he [Hitler] was “unconditionally devoted” to the German people: “He lived in that people alone. He knew nothing but that people.” In his sublet at Stumpergasse, Kubizek says, Hitler would grow agitated all night long: “He was again trying to erect the Reich of all Germans which put the ‘guest peoples,’ as he called them, in their proper place. Sometimes, when he expounded on that for too long, I fell asleep. As soon as he noticed that, he would shake me awake and yell at me, was I perhaps no longer interested in what he had to say? Then I should just go ahead and sleep, just as all those who had no national conscience were sleeping [. . .].” (78)
Hanisch reported: “It frequently happened that he stopped short in the middle of his speech and sat down again with a resigned hand gesture, and continued working on his drawing, as if he wanted to say: Everything I say is wasted on you, you don’t understand anyway.” (381). Furthermore: “opposition was useless because of his shouting” (165). Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf on his arguing with Marxists in Vienna:
I was still childish enough to try to make the madness of their doctrine clear to them; in my little circle I talked my tongue sore and my throat hoarse, thinking I would inevitably succeed in convincing them how ruinous their Marxist madness was; but what I accomplished was often the opposite. (183)
He later said: “My whole life can be summed up as this ceaseless effort of mine to persuade other people” (Table Talk, January 18, 1942).
Hitler’s monologues were often a preview and preparation of his forthcoming speeches. Hamann suggests that Hitler emulated (knowingly or not) the technique Gustave Le Bon described for inspiring the masses: “Creating belief, that is the special task of the great leaders. They don’t create until they themselves have become fascinated with a belief. The strength of their belief lends their words great suggestive power” (215). Throughout his life, Hitler’s zeal was infectious.
Was Young Hitler an Anti-Semite?
Some questions remain unanswered in Hamann’s account. Most astonishing is Hitler’s lack of personal anti-Semitism. Homeless Hitler benefited from Jewish welfare largesse that funded the men’s hostels. He had many Jewish friends and colleagues, particularly in the selling of his art. “[T]hat young Hitler preferred being around Jews — is corroborated by the [men’s hostel’s] registration files” (185). He also got on well with his Czech landlady. NSDAP historical researchers would later bemusedly report that “funnily enough” Hitler’s first favorite opera actors were “almost exclusively Jews” (23). Hitler sided with the Jewish “Wagnerians” led by Mahler against the “anti-Semites” in a rather confusing dispute at the Vienna State Opera.
I am personally rather puzzled by all of this. Firstly, and this may be lost on mainstream writers, an antipathy towards Jewish power and Jewish behavior as a group in no way necessarily implies an inability to get along with individual Jews. But more generally the picture is confusing. Virtually all of Hitler’s philosophical and political role models were anti-Semitic (Schopenhauer, Schönerer, Lueger). Hitler already hated Social Democracy and he could not have missed that this Marxist movement was led by Jews.
I personally find Hitler’s account in Mein Kampf of his conversion to anti-Semitism quite compelling. Hamann however suggests that Hitler only became a political anti-Semite later, during the First World War and his Munich days, possibly under the influence of Dietrich Eckart.
Hitler’s later positions are well-known. Jewry came to represent for Hitler an almost transcendental force of selfish and tribal evil, spearheading all of the anti-national and corrupting forces destroying the European world. He would justify his position thus:
- By citing the Jewish anti-Semite Arthur Trebitsch: “Read every sentence he has written. He unmasked the Jews as no one else did” (233).
- By citing Eckart: “he had met only one decent Jew, Otto Weininger, who killed himself when he realized that the Jews lives on the corruption of others’ folkdom” (230).
- Hans Frank quotes Hitler: “I am an innocent lamb compared to the revelations by Jews about Jews [. . .] about their greed for money, their fraudulent ways, their immorality, and their sexual perversions” (230).
In a 1920 speech, Hitler spoke of the need to “start removing the Jew in himself” (230). Hitler’s lengthy passages on Jews in Mein Kampf and the Second Book are among his most limpid prose. As Reich chancellor, Hitler would denounce media Jews’ ethnic nepotism and promotion of degeneracy:
In Vienna, almost everything that was wholesome was called kitsch by the filthy Jews. (72)
By virtue of art reviews which one Jew scribbled about another, the people, which believes anything it reads black on white, was indoctrinated with a view of art which regards everything that is altogether kitsch as the latest artistic perfection. (81)
He would also denounce their penchant for irony:
This race simply has a tendency toward ridiculing everything that is beautiful, and it frequently does so by way of masterful satire. But behind that there is more: there is a tendency toward undermining and ridiculing authority. (81)
In contrast, Hitler demanded: “Theater, art, literature, cinema, press, posters, and window displays must be cleansed of all manifestations of our rotting world and placed in the service of a moral, political, and cultural idea. Public life must be freed from the stifling perfume of modern eroticism” (82).
Hitler of course, and this is obvious from Mein Kampf, admired many Jewish traits, and Wagener quotes Hitler particularly praising Mosaic law as in effect a powerful group evolutionary strategy (350). In his political testament, Hitler would notoriously damn the Jews for conspiring to launch the world war that would destroy Germany.
Young Hitler, Hamann says, had “no tendency towards crime or the demonic,” nor was the “compelling force” of his deep blue eyes yet apparent. “What was most conspicuous about him were his mental rigidity, his inflexibility and inhibition, his fear of women, and his inability to be merry and have a good time with others” (403). There remain quite a few questions regarding Hitler’s self-education. Let us hope a historian of Hamann’s caliber is investigating his life during the First World War and his early Munich years.
It is striking that very few interwar European nationalist movements actually made race a central focus. Perhaps this is because ethnocentric ideas in general tend to be a rationalization of ethnic pride and interests. As these racial theories tended to put relatively Nordic Germany at the top of the heap, these resonated with the pan-Germans and with young Hitler.
This, I believe, is one of the most fundamental tensions within German National Socialism. Nordicist racialism and German nationalism were combined in a deadly cocktail: the scientific foundations of the former rationalizing the extreme ruthlessness of the latter. For Hitler always put his German nationalism first. He knew there were some racial differences within the German people, but insisted that all talk of this cease, that his people be thoroughly united. (A “racialist first” might, in contrast, seek to exclude German-speakers of perceived low racial quality from the folk-community and more enthusiastically include assimilable fellow Europeans of perceived high quality, even if they did not speak German.)
One of the greatest criticism one can level before Hitler is to have given racialism (including eugenics) a bad name by association with fanatical petty-nationalism. This argument should not be overstated. Hitler was not the first blood-drenched warlord, yet no one faults Caesar or Alexander, and Stalin and Mao’s even greater mass murders have done nothing to undermine the popularity of Marxism in Western academia. That Hitler has been so demonized has less to do with his admittedly often brutal actions than with the will of the currently hegemonic cultural establishment. However, concerning babies and bathwater, I do want to emphasize, as Mark Mazower has noted: Racial science was a moderating influence on German chauvinism, tending to emphasize kinship with Slavs and other European peoples.
As I have said elsewhere, Hitler’s rise and fall reflects the tragedy of ethnocentrism in Europe. His triumph embodied the extreme nationalism of a great European tribe during a time of severe crisis, allowing Germany to wholly eliminate foreign domination. Equally however, Hitler’s downfall reflects the smallness of European nations, no tribe being large enough to dominate this continent, ethnocentrism thus tearing Europeans apart rather than bringing them together. Perhaps Hitler, given his Austrian experience, underestimated the future possibilities for European cooperation and unity. Yet, in his defense, the fact is that the nation-state remains an intractable fact of political and social life to this day.
Hitler’s early years do not show a later theme in his life: the threat of suicide if he did not get his way and the constant willingness to risk his life to achieve his goals. “Freedom or death!,” that was the byword. No doubt Hitler thought of himself as a kamikaze for truth and beauty. One might summarize the rule of his life: Follow your passion, educate yourself, never give up.
In contrast to his master Schopenhauer’s teachings, Hitler was clearly a slave to his will. Every time he would pursue his sense of the beautiful regardless of the practicality or consequences. I note especially three occasions: his pursuing art to the point homelessness in 1912, his premature nationalist Putsch landing him in Landsberg prison in 1923, and his wartime excesses and weaknesses, leading to his final doom in 1945. Hitler later commented that his painful poverty in Vienna “turned into the greatest blessing for the German nation” (135). His arrest in 1923, apparently disastrous, of course set the stage for his later political triumph. We like to hope that Europe’s disastrous twentieth century, particularly the fratricidal wars of 1914–1945, can still, in some way we cannot foresee, be the foreshadowing of an even greater good for our people.
1. I suggest that all those Hitler-as-Pepe memes are highly appropriate.
2. Guillaume Durocher, “Hitler’s Reading Habits,” North American New Right, May 17, 2016. https://counter-currents.com/2016/05/hitlers-reading-habits/
3. David Irving incidentally takes Hitler’s lack of personal anti-Semitism during his Vienna days as evidence for his provocative thesis that Hitler exploited anti-Semitism to get elected, but then was a brake on anti-Semitism: “As the Vienna University Professor Brigitte Hamann wrote in her otherwise conformist book, Hitlers Wien, it is one of the Big Lies of history to say that anti-semitism drove Hitler after he came to power. The reverse is true. His was the foot on the brake.” http://www.fpp.co.uk/docs/Irving/RadDi/2007/301207.html He also quotes an article by R. Boyle entitled “Hitler adopted anti-Semitism ‘merely as stepping-stone to power’,” in The Times, November 26, 1996, but I am unable to find the text. http://www.fpp.co.uk/books/biogr/20_Box_on_Backseat.pdf
4. Guillaume Durocher, “Collaboration & Adaptation in Axis Europe: A Review of Mark Mazower’s Hitler’s War,” North American New Right, May 4, 2016. https://counter-currents.com/2016/05/hitlers-empire-1/
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