Hitler’s Vienna: A Dictator’s Apprenticeship by Brigitte Hamann
Was Young Hitler an Anti-Semite?
There can be no doubt that while in Vienna, young Hitler studied anti-Semitism, among other matters. The four politicians who may be called his political models -Schönerer, Lueger, Wolf, and Stein- were radical anti-Semites. Many newspapers which Hitler read in Vienna, and many pamphlets he perused for his self-education, were anti-Semitic. Even when he was already Reich chancellor, Hitler’s way of expressing himself had a Viennese ring to it when he elaborated on “the Jews.” This proves that he mastered the anti-Semitic vocabulary of his Vienna period with all its characteristic clichés perfectly.Therefore many later observers, such as Albert Speer, initially took Hitler’s anti-Semitism “for a somewhat vulgar byproduct, a relic from his days in Vienna …and only God knows why he couldn’t shed it.”
Thus it seems to be clear that Hitler’s anti-Semitism developed in a straightforward line, especially if one reads Hitler’s description in Mein Kampf of how he had become an anti-Semite in Vienna: For me this was a time of the greatest spiritual upheaval I have ever had to go through. I had ceased to be a weak-kneed cosmopolitan and became an anti-Semite.Vienna, he said, had significantly contributed to his becoming anti-Semitic: At the time of this bitter struggle between spiritual education and cold reason, the visual instruction of the Vienna streets had performed invaluable services.
As the decisive event of his transformation into an anti-Semite, Hitler mentions-in 1924, to be sure, in Mein Kampf– an encounter with an Eastern Jew. The apparition in a black caftan and black hair locks merely made him wonder: Is this a Jew? was my first thought. And : Is this a German? Once again, he says, this experience caused him to read up on the subject: For a few hellers I bought the first anti-Semitic pamphlets of my life. What happened then, he continues, was what may be called a radical anti-Semite’s typical obsession: Since I had begun to concern myself with this question and to take cognizance of the Jews, Vienna appeared to me in a different light than before. Wherever I went, I began to see Jews, and the more I saw, the more sharply they became distinguished in my eyes from the rest of humanity. The upshot of this dramatic development, Hitler claims, was the realization regarding Social Democracy’s Jewish character: When I recognized the Jew as the leader of the Social Democracy, the scales dropped from my eyes. A long soul struggle had reached its conclusion.
Of course, Mein Kampf must not be read as an autobiography in the sense of its author dealing with his own past, or as a confession in which he worked through his experiences.The book is clearly a work of political propaganda, in which a power-hungry politician on the rise buttresses his political slogans and builds them up through a fitting life story to form a weltanschauung. In Mein Kampf Hitler created an organically grown anti-Semitic career for himself with politically convenient anti-Semitic images in its key scenes. Thus the book must also be read as the developmental history of a Germanic leader who found the right when he was young.
However, reality, as it emerges from the reports of Viennese eye witnesses, has little to do with the myths Mein Kampf purports. Apart from the special case of August Kubizek, no anti-Semitic remark by the young Hitler has been documented. Reinhold Hanisch, clearly an anti-Semite, was incredulous when he heard that Hitler, of all people, was an extreme, anti-Semitic politician in the thirties. After all, Hanisch and Hitler had their falling out in the men’s hostel in 1910 because Hitler turned entirely to his Jewish friends Josef Neumann and Siegfried Löffner. In the thirties, in his anger Hanisch revealed Hitler’s youth as anything but anti-Semitic in order to discredit Hitler as a politician.
Hanisch is by no means alone in his assertions. Anonymous from Brünn also wrote, in 1912:”Hitler got along extremely well with Jews. He once said they were an intelligent people that stuck together more than the Germans.” Rudolf Häusler, the colleague in the men’s hostel, was at a loss when his daughter questioned him about the anti-Semitism of his then twenty-three- to twenty-four-year-old friend Adolf. Häusler told her that he had not noticed anything of the kind in Vienna. Yet he knew that in Munich, Hitler had thought he had been cheated by a Jewish junk dealer, which might have been a reason for Hitler’s subsequent anti-Semitism-surely no conclusive proof.
The Viennese eyewitnesses remembered unanimously that Hitler’s dealings with Jews had been quite natural. For example, Jakob Wasserberg from Galicia, who ran a small brandy store at 20 Webgasse, close to Stumpergasse, related that the young man had frequently had breakfast with him: “Mr. Wasserberg, a tea and a Laberl.” (A Laberl is a cookie.)
It is worthy of note that among all the stories of his sufferings in Vienna, Hitler never mentioned a bad experience with a Jew. Let us briefly recapitulate young Hitler’s encounters with Jews in Linz and Vienna: Even when he was Reich chancellor, Hitler expressed his gratitude to his Jewish family doctor in Linz, Dr. Eduard Bloch, who attended to his mother until she died. In his American exile Dr. Bloch clearly stressed that young Hitler had certainly not been an anti-Semite in Linz: “He had not yet begun to hate the Jews.” The theory that Hitler’s anti-Semitism goes back to a Jewish professor who had flunked him at the academy exam is as untenable as the sensational story about Hitler’s getting infected with syphilis by a Jewish prostitute in Leopoldstadt. When in 1908 anti-Semitic smear campaigns at the Vienna Opera were raging against former director Gustav Mahler, Hitler continued to admire Mahler as a Wagner interpreter. Accompanied by Kubizek, nineteen-year-old Hitler witnessed the family life and culture of an educated Jewish middle-class family during music making in the house of the Jahodas; he was deeply impressed and did not utter the slightest anti-Semitic remark.
Furthermore, he had every reason to be grateful to Jewish benefactors. When he was homeless in 1909 -and probably earlier and later as well-he profited from Jewish social institutions in many ways, from public Warmestuben to soup kitchens and Jewish citizens’ donations to the homeless shelter in Meidling and the men’s hostel in Brigittenau.
In the men’s hostel, Hitler had mainly Jewish friends, which made Hanisch very angry. His best friend, the religious Jew Neumann, a trained copper polisher, gave him a coat when he had nothing to wear and lent him money. Hitler disappeared with him from the men’s hostel for a week. Hanisch’s comment: “Neumann was a goodhearted man who liked Hitler very much and whom Hitler of course highly esteemed.” Hitler also discussed issues concerning anti-Semitism and Zionism with Neumann -by no means contemptuously as he did with the Social Democratic colleagues in the men’s hostel, but jokingly, in a friendly way. He even went so far as to defend Heine, who was under anti-Semitic attack, to quote Lessing’s “Parable of the Ring,” and to acknowledge the achievements of Jewish composers, such as Mendelssohn and Offenbach.
Siegfried Löffner from Moravia, a Jewish colleague at the men’s hostel, even dragged Hitler’s archenemy, Hanisch, to the police to report him for defrauding Hitler. The Jewish locksmith Simon Robinson from Galicia, who received a small invalid’s pension, helped Hitler out financially.
Karl Honisch mentions an additional Jewish acquaintance in the men’s hostel in 1913, Rudolf Redlich from Moravia. It would be erroneous to assume that a particularly large percentage of men at the hostel had been Jewish. According to statistics, 8 to 10 percent were Jewish-which corresponded to the median Jewish population in Vienna. From Hitler’s later remark on his Vienna years we may conclude that Hanisch was not the only anti-Semite there: “Many workers with whom he had associated, he said, had been decidedly anti-Semitic.”
In the men’s hostel he expressed his approval of Jewish tradition, which had managed to preserve the purity of the “Jewish race” for thousands of years. It should be remembered that in the work of list and Lanz von Liebenfels it is not the alien race that is dangerous and ruinous, but only the mixing of races, which decreases the value of the Aryan “noble people” and therefore should be avoided at all cost. As late as 1930 Hitler talked extensively about the Jews’ ability to preserve their race by way of religion and strict rules, among them, the prohibition of marriages with non-Jews. Hitler directly continued list’s theories when he told Wagner: Through Moses the Jewish people received a rule for life and living one’s life that was elevated to a religion which was entirely tailored toward the essence of one’s race, and simply and clearly, without dogmas and dubious rules of faith, soberly and absolutely realistically contains what served the future and self-preservation of the children of Israel.Everything is geared toward the well-being of one’s own people, nothing toward consideration of others. After further explanations, Hitler arrived at the conclusion that we…no doubt have to recognize with admiration this incredible strength of the Jews’ preservation of their race.
Hitler adopted Jewish “purity of race” as nothing less than a model for his own weltanschauung regarding the necessity of the racial purity of Aryans.
It was only as a politician that Hitler portrayed the Jews as “parasites” who robbed Aryans of their strength through their intellectual impact, democracy, Social Democracy, the press, capital, parliamentarianism, modern art, pornography, pacifism, and much more. Around 1930 Hitler said to Wagner: This is precisely the parasitic instinct, which non parasitic plants don’t have. A special talent! A sixth sense! A business sense-of sadistic origin, to be sure, but the superiority of parasites! If the “host people” didn’t put up a sufficient defense, Hitler said, the Jews would survive as the fittest: And the last ones, alas, who will still practice usury when the end has come for mankind, will be the Jews, despite everything. And: Was it possible that the earth had been promised as a reward to that people? In Hitler the politician, who liked to present himself as the savior of the German people, all the theories of a duel between races about “to be or not to be,” which he had read and took for the truth, became an anti-Semitic syndrome.