Was Adolf Hitler an outsider

Hitler's childhood and youth: "He's a villain"

Where does all this come from that just a few decades later led to war and genocide? Does this really have to do with Linz and Vienna? In an exhibition review in the French newspaper Le Figaro one could read about the "hidden side of the Belle Époque", and that included not only Klimt, Schiele, Mahler or Freud, but also a certain Adolf Hitler. But does one have to do with the other?

To deal with the "Austrian" part of Hitler, that is, the roots, if you will, is undoubtedly appropriate, especially since there is only one well-known serious work on it: Brigitte Hamanns Hitler's Vienna (published 1996); the time in Linz, on the other hand, has never been examined comprehensively and has only been illuminated by dubious contemporary witnesses, the brand of memoir literature.

Museum culture is not without its effects, and an exhibition about Hitler is a tightrope act per se, because you cannot avoid paying attention to yourself. But at least the point of view is different if it is directed to the socio-political background that the person should explain or make understandable.

Declining knowledge of history

It is idle to ask whether an exhibition will bring about that rather than a book or vice versa. In both cases, information is at stake, and this is urgently needed in view of the significant decline in knowledge of history in society. It remains doubtful, however, whether one can really explain Hitler's abyss with the focus on his Austrian youth.

Brigitte Hamann has already pointed this out emphatically: Hitler's political anti-Semitism cannot be tied to the Vienna years and even less to the time in Linz.

So what could the exhibition and the book convey to us? The view of the milieu is undoubtedly always illuminating. First there is the authoritarian father, liberal, anti-clerical. And there is the Linz bourgeoisie, set in greater German, which was called "liberal" at the time. Hitler first came into contact with Linz in 1898 when his father bought a house in the neighboring municipality of Leonding; two years later, at the age of eleven, he became a student at the Linz secondary school, where he was unwilling to learn and stayed in the first grade.

Irritable and provocative

Even then he liked the "leadership role", he set the tone in the class, demanded "unconditional submission" from his classmates, was opinionated, presumptuous, irascible and provocative.

"Hitler is a villain, he reflects with the sunlight," read an entry in the class register. Later he was unable to succeed at the secondary school in Steyr either, back in Linz he finally became a crazy, strange bohemian who neither enjoyed school nor work.

In addition to his artistic dreams, he is all the more concerned with political currents, and the Upper Austrian provincial capital was a truly formative soil. The density of German national, ethnic associations was downright frightening, in general the Kulturkampf was particularly fierce in Upper Austria (which to this day may explain the high percentage of voters of the FPÖ here).

The ideological formation that Hitler did not experience by chance in Linz, he has in My fight highlighted accordingly: The political climate experienced here allowed the "decision" to mature in him to become a "fanatical German national".

Anticipation of the later mass murder

In practice it looked like that the junior high school student divided his classmates into Germanic and non-Germanic, Aryan and non-Aryan: some had to stand on the left, the others on the right. It is surprising that this occurs in the book only marginally, in one sentence: The scene cannot be assumed to have anticipated the later racial mass murder, but in retrospect it is fatally reminiscent of the selections in Auschwitz.

The later anti-Semitism, the cornerstone of Hitler's extermination program, does not seem to be rooted in the Linz milieu; for this, as Hitler himself noted, there were far too few Jews in the city - which of course the Catholic and German-nationally oriented Linz newspapers are not particularly bad anti-Semitic Keeping up the mood. But it is as Hitler himself stated that the word "Jew" was hardly ever mentioned in his father's house.

Fascination for the traditional

In Vienna Hitler was - allegedly - even friends with Jews or sold his mediocre postcard pictures through them. These are the years in the men's home in which the "painting would-be politician" indulges in his dreams even more disappointed. In order not to starve to death, he copied old Vienna motifs, typical of his backward-looking approach to art.

He is fascinated by the traditional, he cannot do anything with modernity, he is almost its antipode, his only interest is in historical forms: one time he wants to complete Semper's project of the Kaiserforum, which should have completed the Heldenplatz imperially, another time he wants to compose an opera, which Richard Wagner had only considered (he could not even write notes).

What else was this youngster, one might ask, than a poor dream dancer, megalomaniac and shy at the same time, who found it difficult to get out of bed in the morning and then, once he was up, liked to lead endless monologues, completely unconceived, to act on Intoxicating "grandiose projects until late at night"?

Passion and will

Only passion and will, Hitler was convinced, made genius. So he dabbled in almost all art directions: he painted buildings (in poor quality), he wrote novellas (although he lacked style and grammar), he believed himself to be an urban planner and designed monumental architectures on the drawing board, not always in the right perspective ( in Linz he even wanted to span an arch bridge from the Gugl to the Pöstlingberg), and he had even taken piano lessons because he also felt called to higher things in music.

There as there are ridiculous attempts marked by overconfidence. The dandy-like loner, who tended to self-stylize, responded with fits of rage and contempt for everything bourgeois.

So it remains with the "narcissistic life plan" of a failed man and Hitler the social outsider, a half-educated, half-gifted person who was also not suitable for a bourgeois occupation because he lacked discipline, perseverance and diligence on top of that, so there was nothing else left to do think of becoming a politician (with the known consequences).

The "artist-politician". It reads like a bitter satirical résumé, and you certainly have to ask yourself whether it can really be summed up in such a simplistic way. Sebastian Haffner's are among the cleverest that has been written about Hitler Notes on Hitler (1978).

There it says about his "personal substance", which has gone through almost "no development and maturation": "His character is determined early - a better word might be: arrested - and remains in a surprising way always the same; nothing is added . Not an engaging character. " (Gerhard Zeillinger, October 4, 2020)

The exhibition in the House of History in St. Pölten runs until January 24, 2021.

Hannes Leidinger, Christian Rapp, "Hitler. Formative Years. Childhood and Youth 1889–1914". 24, - Euro / 256 pages. Residenz-Verlag, Salzburg / Vienna 2020.