Hello all, and greetings from sunny Bavaria. Yes, for a few days I have been in southern Germany enjoying a quiet family holiday with my little brother. Throughout our visit we have been based in Munich, the capital city of Bavaria and a hotbed for history freaks like us.
While in Munich we have undertaken a few excursions to get to know the area better. One such trip was to the old Concentratiom Camp at Dachau, in the outskirts of town. I have always thought everyone should visit a concentration camp at least once in a lifetime, and our trip only confirmed this.
We also visited the chocolate-box town of Salzburg, just across the Austrian border. Yes, you may know it as the place where The Sound of Music is set. Or Mozart’s birthplace. Either way, Salzburg is also well worth the trip.
When zigzagging through the Alps I could not help wondering how the most evil man in modern history could have come into existence in such a beautiful area. Indeed, Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) was not a German by birth. He was Austro- Hungarian (but belonged to the German-Austrian ethnic group within that empire). When reading about him later on in the hotel I picked up on a story I had read over and over before, and it got me wondering: who was Hitler’s paternal grandfather? It may sound like a fairly trivial question, and yet can you imagine pre-1945 Germans shouting “Heil Schicklgruber”?
Schicklgruber was, in fact, the birthname of Adolf Hitler’s father. Alois Schicklgruber was born in the small hamlet of Strones, which belonged to the larger village of Döllersheim, in the Austrian Waldviertel. Alois was born illegitimate in 1837, as stated in his baptism certificate. Whoever his father was, Alois’s mother Maria couldn’t or wouldn’t say. At any rate, she took the secret to her grave when she died in 1847, when her only son was 10.
There has always been speculation about Alois’s father. The most absurd of these theories was that it was a Graz Jew called Frankenberger, for whom Maria had supposedly worked at the time of her pregnancy. Research into the matter has shown that there was no Frankenberger family in Graz in the 1830’s, and furthermore, no Jews had lived there for centuries, and were in fact not allowed to settle in the area until the 1860’s. Even more damagingly, Maria Schicklgruber did not live or work in Graz in 1837: she was living in Strones. To me, the Jewish father theory simply does not add up.
Leaving aside the always acceptable possibility that Alois was fathered by someone unbeknownst to us (i.e. a “Mr X”), there are two possible candidates who may have done the job.
The official version says that a man called Johann Georg Hitler (the name is usually spelt differently, but I have kept the “final” version as was used by the family). Hitler, who was of humble origin, was born in 1792. His first wife died in the 1820’s, but in 1842 he married Maria Schicklgruber, under whose roof he had been living for a time together with her ageing father and illegitimate son. The couple had no children together, and while they lived, no mention of “legitimising” little Alois was voiced. Note that, had Johann Georg Hitler been Alois’s father, the child would have started using the surname automatically, the marriage having made up for his parents’ indiscretion. As mentioned, Maria died in 1847, her widowed husband ten years later.
Enter Johann Nepomuk Hitler, the younger brother of Johann Georg. This younger Hitler had married a woman called Eva Maria Decker in 1829. She was 15 years his senior, and the marriage produced only two children – a surprising fact since marriages at the time tended to be prolific. In 1830 Eva Maria gave birth to a daughter, Johanna, followed two years later by another daughter, Waldburga. It is likely Eva Maria’s age had something to do with the lack of further children – or was it?
It is not known how or why the Hitlers would have come to know the Schicklgruber, but it is possible (and this is my own theory of events, mind you) that Johann Nepomuk, tired of his wife, had an affair with the unmarried Maria Schicklgruber, who was also a few years older than him but still younger than his wife Eva Maria. If this was really the case it is unlikely the prematurely aged Eva Maria knew anything of her husband’s fillandering.
Again, it is POSSIBLE that Johann Nepomuk, being a married man but of modest economic means, managed to get his older brother Johann Georg to marry his former lover, and thus secure an official link with his only (albeit illegitimate) son. I believe this arrangement fits with the fact that it took Maria five years to marry Johann Georg – a lengthy period had he actually been Alois’s father.
Another fact which supports my theory is that when Maria died in 1847, her son Alois did not stay to live in Strones with Johann Georg. In fact, he was taken to Spital with his “uncle” Johann Nepomuk and his family. Alois remained there until he turned 13.
Strangely enough, Alois did not use the surname Hitler until he was 39. With both his mother and (step?) father dead, he asked the authorities to change his name, giving Johann Georg as the father. His “uncle” Johann Nepomuk testified to this. Was Alois playing along with his real father’s cover-up? Did he know who is father was? We will never know.
Another damnig fact to the official story is that Johann Nepomuk made provision for Alois in his will, which is not uncommon had he been his nephew or even better still, his own son! Then again, Johann Nepomuk may well have felt affection for the illegitimate son of his deceased sister-in-law, but would he have left property to the son of an unknown Mr X?
Whatever the truth, we know Alois had a troubled sentimental life. After two marriages he married the much younger Klara Pölzl, the daughter of Johanna Hitler (Johann Nepomuk’s eldest daughter). Officially, he was marrying his first cousin’s daughter. Unofficially, he may well have been marrying the daughter of his half-sister.
Alois and Klara had good reason to marry. She was pregnant. It would be years until she gave birth to her son Adolf, who, not having witnessed any of the above, may not have known more about his family history than you or me…