Adolf Hitler was born on April 20, 1889, in Braunau am Inn, Austria to parents Alois and Klara Hitler (Binchy 32). Hitler’s childhood and the events that took place during his early adulthood had a big impact on how his character developed. The way he was raised by his parents, his lack of friends, the school he studied in, and his experience in Vienna were all major factors that contributed to Hitler’s rise to power and his intense anti-Semitism.
Dr. Henry Murray was an American psychologist at Harvard University. He further acknowledged that the childhood of Hitler was very important, and even more so he claims the influence of his parents played a key role. He says that Hitler’s father influenced Hitler’s tendency towards revenge (Murray 24).
Sebastian Haffner was a journalist who wrote The Meaning of Hitler in 1979. The Meaning of Hitler is a psychological and historical examination of Hitler’s life. He discusses Hitler’s early life and the historical, political, and emotional forces that played a major role in the development of his character. He also discusses how Hitler came to power. Haffner expressed “There is no development, no maturing in Hitler’s character and personality. His character was fixed at an early age..and remains astonishingly consistent, nothing was added to it.” (Haffner 7).
Adolf Hitler’s father, Alois was married three times previously and Adolf was his fourth child. The three other children that he had, passed away when they were young. When Adolf was five years old, his brother Edmund was born. His sister Paula was born two years later. Edmund died when Hitler was only eleven years old, and his half-siblings, Alois Jr. and Angela passed away as well (Toland 10). Adolf and Paula were the only children out of the six kids born to Klara Pölzl to survive past adulthood.
Adolf Hitler’s father was a man named Alois Schicklgruber. When he was 39 years old, he changed his last name to Hitler. Maria Anna Schicklgruber gave birth to Alois in 1837 (Kershaw 3). She married Johann Georg Heidler in 1842, and she passed away five years later. Johann Georg’s younger brother, Johann Nepomuk took in Alois after his mother passed away (Toland 4). There are many debates about the paternal roots of Adolf’s father. There is a possibility that Alois’s father may have been Jewish, but it is not certain.
When Alois was thirteen years old, he ran away from his uncle’s house in Spital and traveled to Vienna. After spending five years in Vienna, Alois signed up for the frontier guards which started his career in civil service. In 1875, Alois was made the full inspector of customs at Braunau. Alois married his third wife Klara in 1884. There are many theories that suppose that Alois’s father may have been Johann Nepomuk Heidler, who was Klara’s grandfather (Kershaw 5). Klara and Alois had six children together, and only two of them survived to adulthood. The fact that only two of their children survived proves that their deaths may have been a result of inbreeding. Furthermore, there are some speculations that Adolf was underdeveloped with delayed maturation (Langer 102).
Adolf Hitler started school when he was six years old. His family moved several times during the early school years of his life. Even though moving to different places is a hard transition for a child, Adolf was a very good student. In the year 1900, Adolf’s brother died. That year, his grades went down, and he was told he had to repeat a year of school (Langer 113). Three years later, when Adolf was fourteen, his father passed away. The next year, Hitler transferred to a different school in Steyr. While he was in this school, he wanted to create the impression that he was a leader. He took his deep nationalism much more seriously than most of the other boys in his school. (Toland 8) In Mein Kampf Hitler states “I had become a ringleader” (Hitler 6). Even though Hitler himself felt like a ringleader, he was really unpopular. He was lazy and caused a lot of trouble in class (Langer 112). Hitler had one close childhood friend named August Kubziek. He claimed that Hitler did not get along with his classmates and teachers. In 1905 Hitler dropped out of school with lung issues as his excuse. His family doctor, Dr. Bloch recalls that Adolf never had any signs of a troubled lung, so it is unclear as to why he really dropped out (Bullock 26).
August recalls that Hitler never had any close friends and he was unable to develop normal human relationships (Murray 12). Robert Payne wrote a biography about Adolf Hitler in 1973 called The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler. He states that very early in his life, Hitler was isolated from other men. He lived alone when he was a young adult, which showed his enjoyment of his loneliness and individuality.
Adolf Hitler’s parents and the way they raised him had a huge impact on his development. Publicly, it seemed like Hitler respected his father, but privately he felt his father was tyrannical and feared him (Bromberg 289). In Mein Kampf, Hitler describes himself as a child of poverty with a loving mother and a father who he respects. Really, Adolf’s mother was depressed and overprotective and his father was oppressive. Hitler’s early childhood was spent with his mother who was very anxious and his father who was a strict disciplinarian (Kershaw 1).
Hitler’s father had a huge effect on the development of Adolf’s psyche. His father had a need for dominance, aggression, and projection of criticism. Hitler’s father made it clear he was the ruler of the household and his wife and kids were to be subservient to him. Hitler had low self-confidence because his father would constantly insult him and put him down (Murray 12). In the outside world, Alois Hitler demanded respect. In his home, he is rumored to have beaten his sons, his wife, and even his dog. One time, he almost caused Adolf to lose consciousness. The abuse that Adolf Hitler experienced in his early years built up many traits Hitler would portray in his later life. For example, Hitler was overly aggressive and had a lot of hatred built up inside of him. Adolf Hitler grew up in a house that was completely ruled by his father. His father demanded respect and his household feared him because he would abuse them. Although Hitler feared his father greatly, he also respected him and viewed him as a strong individual (Brink 26). T.L Brink wrote the psychohistory of Hitler from an Adlerian perspective in 1975. He explains that the harshness of Hitler’s father contributed to the feelings of inferiority that Hitler had.
The way Hitler’s mother treated him in his early years also played a huge role in his character development. Hitler’s mother kept her household spotless and orderly. She always made sure her children were clean and well dressed. She was very devoted to her children. Klara was very fearful because she had many children that died, so she was very overprotective of her children that were alive (Bromberg 290). Hitler was spoiled by his mother which resulted in a tendency to be lazy as everything was done for him. She has always admired him, which led him to develop a big ego. When Hitler was a young boy he was sluggish and ungrateful (Kubizek 9). Hitler was extremely dependent on his mother and never did any physical labor on his own (Murray 12). August Kubizek saw that Hitler had a lot of free time so one time he asked him if he would consider working. Hitler responded dismissively to the question. His attitude was a direct effect of how his mother raised him (Kubizek 9). Hitler and his mother had a great relationship. They kept getting closer and Langer says that eventually, Adolf developed the Oedipus Complex, where Hitler felt sexual feelings towards his mother and continued resentment towards his father.
August remembers experiences he had with Hitler when he noticed his temper. Whenever August mentioned school, Hitler would express his anger harshly. August claims that Hitler also always had strong opinions on society. When Hitler was younger, he was stubborn and always contradicted others (Kubizek 10). Dr. Henry Murray said, “Hitler’s intense and stubborn efforts were to overcome early disabilities, weaknesses, and humiliations..and also..to revenge injuries and insults to pride.”
When Hitler’s mother died, he felt broken. The family doctor recalls that he never saw anyone so overwhelmed with such sadness (Langer 116). The year after his mother passed away, Hitler went back to Vienna. He stayed there for good, and that is where his Anti-Semitic ideas developed (Payne 71).
Hitler’s experience in Vienna was also crucial for his personal development. Adolf Hitler always dreamed of becoming an artist. He moved to Vienna in 1907 and got rejected from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna after applying twice (Bullock 30). When he got rejected from art school, he did not handle it well. He was raised with a mother who always pampered and spoiled him. He was always admired by his mother and she always made him feel good, so when he got rejected, he was not used to this feeling (Brink 27). He lived in Vienna until 1913. During those years, Hitler lived in poverty, and only when he was hungry, he would work. He would go around town selling postcards and paintings that he drew. Hitler was unable to face his own failures. He was in desperate need of money, and he still refused to get a job. His laziness to get a job also correlates to the way he was treated as a child because his mother pampered him and gave him everything he wanted. A man named Hanisch worked with Hitler when he was 21 years old. He proclaimed “He wore an ancient black overcoat..from under a greasy, black derby hat, his hair hung long over his coat collar, his thin and hungry face was covered with a black beard above which his large staring eyes were the one prominent feature.”
There is no proof that Hitler had any anti-Semitic feelings in his early years (Payne 71). Growing up, Hitler’s family was not anti-Semitic, so his views did not come from his home (Murray 23). Dr. Bloch, the doctor that his family used was a Jew. Hitler even went to visit Dr. Bloch to thank him after his mother passed away for his devotion and care. He respected Jewish musicians and the one close friend he had, August, was a Jew as well. One time, August was going to a Jewish wedding in a synagogue, and Hitler wanted to join him. It was a big surprise to August, when a couple of days later, Hitler announced he would be part of the Anti-Semitic League (Payne 71).
In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote about an event that took place in Vienna that triggered his anti-Semitism. He wrote, “Once I was strolling through the Inner City, I suddenly encountered an apparition in a black caftan and black hair locks. Is this a Jew? Was my first thought…the longer I stared..the more my question assumed a new form: Is this a German?”. After this, his anti-Semitism grew, and he started to buy anti-Semitic pamphlets and was heavily influenced by the anti-Semitic propaganda. Everything that would go wrong in German society, Hitler would find a way to blame the Jews (Hitler 56).
Ever since Hitler was young, he had inclinations to criticize, especially people who portrayed the negative traits that he had. Psychologically, this is called projection. Projection is a defense mechanism used when the human ego protects itself against unconscious qualities or drives by denying the existence of these traits in themselves while assigning them to others. Projection is a way for people to maintain their self-esteem (Murray 13).
Hitler made “The Jew” a symbol of everything he hated in himself. For example, when Hitler was living in Vienna, he appeared to look like a lower-class Jew, homeless and impoverished. He himself was viewed as dirty and as an outcast, so he then viewed the Jews as the filthiest and the biggest outcaste (Langer 183). His hatred of the Jews was a projection. They were affected most by Hitler’s projections. Hitler’s inferior self was sensitive, weak, and timid, and the Jews portrayed these traits as well (Murray 13).
Hitler’s chief architect, Albert Speer came to know Hitler very well. He recalls that Hitler had no humor and he would laugh, but it would always be at the expense of others (Speer 123). Hitler enjoyed making fun of other people and pointing out their flaws (Kubizek 26). This is another example of the projection that Hitler used. He only laughed and made fun of other people in order to project his own insecurities and flaws onto others.
Hitler used anti-Semitism to his advantage. After World War I Hitler provided the German people with someone to blame for their troubles; The Jewish people. The Jewish people were wealthier, so the fact that he was victimizing them, helped finance his campaign through the dispossession of Jewish products. While Hitler learned more and more about politics in Vienna, his anti-Semitic beliefs grew stronger (Murray 23). He became extremely interested in politics and believed every thinking man should also have an interest in politics. He said that anyone who does not have an interest in politics is unable to complain about it (Hitler 125). He learned deceitful political skills while he was there like lying, cheating, and manipulating (Payne 71).
In Mein Kampf, Hitler acknowledge how crucial his stay in Vienna was for his development. He wrote “Vienna was and remained for me the hardest, though most thorough, school of my life. I had set foot in this town while still half a boy and I left it a man, grown quiet and grave. In it, I obtained the foundations for a philosophy in general and a political view in particular which later I only needed to supplement in detail, but which never left me.” (Hitler 125)
While he studied politics, Hitler developed his skill of making speeches. Hitler’s talent for speaking started when he was young. Kubizek writes how even when Hitler would speak just to him, he would use “vivid gestures which created an impact on what Hitler was trying to say. While Hitler was in Vienna, he learned how important it would be to use the means of terror in order to control the psyche of a large population. Hitler used both of these tools. He used his power of speech to instill fear in the population, while also making them like and respect him so they will ultimately follow him. Hitler believed he was chosen by God as one who can “arouse passion” in the hearts of people.
By examining the early stages of Adolf Hitler’s life, one can relate the events and experiences he went through to the man he would become. In school and at home Hitler was lazy, forceful, and disruptive. When he went to Vienna, he was close-minded and sluggish. These character traits of Hitler can be explained by the way Hitler was raised and the environment of his home. He grew up with a father who was violent, and his mother pampered and spoiled him, so he did not have to do anything himself. When his mother passed away, it was a huge turning point in his life. Hitler might have also had a mental illness because of incestual relations between his parents. When Hitler was in Vienna he learned about anti-Semitism and learned skills that would make him the powerful man he was. He learned how to lie in politics and how to manipulate a crowd with the power of speech. Many of the character traits that defined Adolf Hitler was directly impacted by the early stages of his life and his experiences as a young adult.