Household tasks he thought beneath the dignity of the radical bohemian he aspired to be, and he simply refused to do any.
Fantasies of genius and power
At this time, the Hitlers were living in a small apartment on the third floor of a tenement building at Humboldtstrasse 31 in Linz. To augment her pension, Klara let out the main bedroom to lodgers, so she and [Hitler's sister] Paula slept in the living room while Adolf occupied the spare room (or closet).
Hitler continued to pursue a "life of leisure", as he called it, with painting, writing and reading – chiefly stories from German mythology about the heroic feats of Teutonic tribes – and affecting a dandyish indifference to his future prospects.
Everyone who knew him at the time would recall how the 16-year-old threw himself at drawing, usually buildings, museums or bridges, with a manic fervour, late into the night, to the exclusion of any other person or concern. During these creative bursts, Hitler would retreat into a fantasy in which he would redesign Linz and fashion new cities, imagining himself a genius with the power to change the world (35 years later, he would in fact order a new bridge over the Danube based on his youthful designs).
The slightest knock to this dream-made-real threw him into fits of rage and despair, such as when he failed to win a lottery in which he had convinced himself he was destined to triumph. His winnings were supposed to finance his design of a grand house on the Danube. In Hitler's mind, bad luck had nothing to do with it. Dark forces were to blame.
A friend and audience
Earlier, in 1904, behind the colonnades inside the Linz opera house, from where it was possible to watch the performance with a cheap "standing-room" ticket, Hitler, then aged 15 and still at the Realschule in Steyr, had first met August Kubizek ("Gustl"), who was nine months older and destined to become his only boyhood friend.
Gustl was a shy, thoughtful young man and a talented musician. His first impression of Adolf was of "a remarkably pale, skinny youth … who was following the performance with glistening eyes. I surmised that he came from a better-class home, for he was always dressed with meticulous care and was very reserved."
Thus began their odd friendship, as described in Kubizek's 1951 recollections The Young Hitler I Knew, an authentic memoir of Hitler's boyhood. It was a strangely lopsided relationship, in which Hitler always ran the show, berating Gustl for his lack of punctuality, shouting down his friend's conventional middle-class ideas, and generally dominating the quiet and inoffensive music-lover.
The relationship worked because each young man found his role and stuck to it: Hitler the braggart and poseur; Kubizek the self-effacing acolyte and patient listener. Gustl's passivity and wry sense of humour proved perfect foils to Hitler's bossiness, self-importance and aggression. They performed a sort of double act. And while Hitler's braggadocio compensated for his academic inadequacy, Kubizek's quiet confidence reflected a genuine ability; when they met he was working in his father's upholstery business and studying music, and he would later become an accomplished musician and minor conductor.
Kubizek saw Hitler as a curiosity, a character to be studied, as well as a friend; Hitler revelled in Kubizek's deference and admiration. Neither youth showed much interest in girls, though Hitler's swagger seems to have drawn the eyes of some of the opera-going ladies. Their relationship was not homosexual, as has been suggested. They shared a love of opera, chiefly the works of Richard Wagner, and regularly attended performances.
At the time, Hitler was of average height, skinny, with sunken cheeks. He already wore his black hair straight down over his forehead. He dressed in the pointedly bohemian style his father would have loathed: a broad-brimmed hat, black kid gloves, white shirts and black, silk-lined overcoats. He neither played nor took any interest in sport (though he occasionally skied).
Those who met him often remarked on Hitler's extraordinary eyes. They were "shining", "blank" and "cruel", Kubizek's mother would recall. "Never in my life," Kubizek wrote, "have I seen any other person whose appearance was so completely dominated by the eyes … In fact, Adolf spoke with his eyes, and even when his lips were silent, one knew what he wanted to say."
Sharp and defiant, Hitler's eyes outshone his unappealing facial features – a thin-lipped mouth, straight nose with fleshy nostrils, and faint suggestions of facial hair (his toothbrush moustache would not appear until after the war).
Communication between Hitler and Kubizek was entirely one-sided. Hitler showed little interest in anyone but himself and his own ambitions, and furiously attacked those who, he believed, failed to understand him or obstructed his plans. In fact, he had an audience of one: Kubizek listened and nodded, later observing with a weary shrug, "My work was to [Hitler] nothing but a tiresome hindrance to our personal relationship. Impatiently he would twirl the small black cane which he always carried" (a precursor to the whip he would wield in Munich after the First World War).
When Adolf dropped out of education and Gustl innocently asked whether he would get a job, Hitler gruffly replied, "Of course not", as if jobs were for lesser beings.
Primal need to shout
On their daily walks around Linz, Hitler would launch into long, angry speeches on any subject that seized him. He delivered these tempestuous bursts with a verbal dexterity that astonished Kubizek: great gusts of unbroken verbiage issued forth, about art, the city's design, the bridge over the Danube, a new underground railway system and, of course, the latest Wagner performance.
He would swamp his companion with waves of rising fury, as if imagining he were addressing a great crowd and not his only friend. Spellbound, Gustl decided that Adolf had a primal need to shout: "These speeches, usually delivered somewhere in the open, seemed to be like a volcano erupting. It was as though something quite apart from him was bursting out of him. Such rapture I had only witnessed so far in the theatre, when an actor had to express some violent emotions, and at first, confronted by such eruptions, I could only stand gaping and passive, forgetting to applaud.
"But soon I realised that this was not play-acting. No, this was not acting, not exaggeration, this was really felt, and I saw that he was in dead earnest … Not what he said impressed me first, but how he said it. This to me was something new, magnificent. I had never imagined that a man could produce such an effect with mere words. All he wanted from me, however, was one thing – agreement."
And if he dissented? "Harmless things, like a couple of hasty words, could make him explode with anger."
Hitler's chief topics were architecture, the Habsburgs and German greatness.
He would bang on for hours about the flaws in the urban design of Linz and sketch how the city should be rebuilt (many years later, the 50-year-old would ruthlessly try to execute what the 15-year-old had so precociously conceived). Echoing the standard Pan-German line of the time, he disdained what he knew of the Habsburg rule as ineffectual, and dismissed as unworkable the racial melting pot of the Viennese Parliament, which, at any time, consisted of representatives of many of the empire's different nationalities, including Germans, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians and Italians.
He yearned for the day when Austria's German minority would merge with their kinsmen to create a new German Reich that would dominate Europe. Kubizek, who had little interest in politics, would never forget his friend's incessant use of the word "Reich".
Anti-Semitism not yet in evidence
Hitler's contempt for the Austrian regime deepened in direct proportion to his admiration for all things German, an infatuation ingrained in him by growing up in the German-speaking community in Austria, and by the rich tales of German conquest he'd read about at school.
Of the greatest Germans on whom he would lavish admiration – Martin Luther, Frederick the Great, Bismarck and Friedrich Nietszche – none was dearer to him than his beloved Wagner. On their long walks, Hitler would suddenly seize Kubizek and recite a passage from one of his idol's letters, or hum an aria.
During these garrulous outbursts Hitler showed no compassion, humility or wit – a characteristic he would carry into manhood. Other people seemed to exist for him only insofar as they could help him to realise his plans. And if the residents of Linz considered him a loudmouth and a misfit, Kubizek patiently suspended disbelief in his friend's soaring ambition, of which Hitler talked as if its accomplishment were not merely feasible but also a fait accompli.
At this point in Hitler's life, when a firm and loving hand might have guided him in a more promising direction, a series of misfortunes, which had already started with the death of his father, would cast him into the world as an unloved and homeless failure.
Hitler showed few signs of anti-Semitism or racial hatred at this time, partly because he simply gave the matter little thought. His speeches to Gustl barely mentioned the Jews. His father had not tolerated racial prejudice at home, as Hitler would recall in Mein Kampf : "Today it is difficult, if not impossible, for me to say when the word 'Jew' first gave me ground for special thought ..."
This must be set beside the fact that Hitler's father associated with extreme German nationalists, who were well known for their anti-Jewish feelings. The whole tenor of the Pan-German mind was casually anti-Semitic … Kubizek recalled Hitler remarking one day, as they passed a synagogue, "That doesn't belong in Linz".
Not too much should be made of this though: in any case, there were few Jews in Linz and only one Jewish boy at the Realschule – Ludwig Wittgenstein, the future philosopher, and a year ahead of his age group (Hitler was a year behind). It seems they barely knew each other.
Dream woman was Jewish
In the spring of 1906, Hitler announced to Gustl that he was in love. The object of his desire was a girl, slightly older than him, tall and blonde, called Stefanie Isak, whom he would see walking with her mother on the Landstrasse, the main street in Linz.
Her Jewish surname compounds the evidence that Hitler felt little, or only passing, hostility to the Jewish residents of Linz. Love would conquer all. Yet Hitler's presumption that Stefanie reciprocated his feelings faced an immediate hurdle: he failed to make them known to her. The relationship existed purely in his mind. Of his existence, she was virtually unaware. If Stefanie deigned to bestow a fleeting glance on him during her daily outings, however, Hitler excitedly imagined that she adored him.
Every day, with Gustl wearily in tow, Adolf would position himself across the street and gaze longingly at the passing target of his affection. He fell into raptures at her approach, and his infatuation soon became an obsession.
According to Gustl, he wrote poems and letters to her (never sent); he constructed elaborate stories about their future together; he even seemed to think he had a telepathic connection with her. Stefanie became, for him, the classic Wagnerian heroine: she was Elsa and he Lohengrin, borne along on a swan to rescue her.
In response to these delusions, Kubizek maintained a diplomatic silence. If he dared to suggest that Stefanie might not feel the same way, Hitler shouted, "… you can't understand the true meaning of extraordinary love!"
Too shy to introduce himself, Adolf dispatched Gustl to spy on his beloved. Kubizek unearthed disturbing facts that threatened to derail Hitler's hope of marrying Stefanie: apparently she loved waltzing and had several suitors. "You must take dancing lessons, Adolf," Kubizek suggested slyly.
This enraged Hitler, who loathed dancing and refused throughout his life to engage in it.
A more serious impediment to Hitler's love were Stefanie's suitors. Intensely jealous of these young men, who reportedly surrounded her, Hitler contemplated suicide by jumping into the Danube. Either that, or he would kidnap her and force her to marry him.
For nearly four years, Hitler would cherish his love for this blameless girl as "the purest dream of his life" – years during which the couple scarcely exchanged glances and never spoke a word.
From Vienna, where he would soon move to pursue a career as an artist, he sent her a single, unsigned postcard declaring his love for her. "Once I received a letter," she would recall, "from someone telling me he was now attending the Art Academy, but I should wait for him, he was going to return and marry me."
It was not until decades later that she discovered the sender's identity.
In 1908, Hitler's fantasy came to an abrupt end. Stefanie became engaged to Maximilian Rabatsch, an officer garrisoned in Linz, and married him in 1910.
This is an edited extract from Young Hitler: The Making of The Führer by Paul Ham, William Heinemann, distributed here by Penguin Random House Australia, $32.99
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