Adolf Hitler has his roots in Waldviertel, a predominantly rural area in the north of Lower-Austria butting on the Bohemian border. His father Alois was born there on June 7th, 1837, the illegitimate child of Maria Anna Schicklgruber. Five years later she married Johann Georg Hiedler. Probably due to the poverty in which the couple lived, Alois was entrusted, prior to the death of his mother in 1847, to the care of Johann Georg’s junior brother, Johann Nepomuk, a wealthy farmer. The foster father, who spelled his name Hütler instead of Hiedler, took care of Alois as if he were his own son. He was able to attend primary school and he went to Vienna as an apprentice shoemaker. It is remarkable that Alois had his name Schicklgruber changed to Hitler in 1876. His foster father had an official entry made in the birth registry that his brother was Alois’ father. It is doubtful however whether Johann Georg was the real father. Most historians assume that Johann Nepomuk was the biological father but there is no conclusive evidence for this theory either. There is even less evidence for the assumption that Hitler’s grandfather might have been a Jew. In any case, all this makes the identity of Hitler’s grandfather from the father’s ascendence rather uncertain.
Despite his modest background, Alois made a good career for himself with the k.u.k. Finanzwache, the Austrian Customs, rising to an leading function. His love life was less glamorous however. He was married three times and had 15 children of which a few died at a young age. His third marriage was to Klara Pölzl. She already had two children from an earlier marriage and was the granddaughter of Johann Nepomuk! From this marriage, Adolf Hitler was born. He emerged into this world on April 20th, 1889 in the Austrian town of Braunau am Inn. Three previously born children had died at a tender age.
"I consider it a hint by Providence that fate has designated Braunau am Inn as my birthplace," Hitler begins in Mein Kampf. "because this small town lies on the border between two German states which we, of the younger generation, shall unite with all means at our disposal. In my idea, this little town on the border is the symbol of a grand mission." In reality however Braunau hardly played a role in his life.
When Hitler was hardly four years of age, the family moved to Passau in Bavaria, due to a new phase in Alois’career. Being a top notch official in Customs he made good money so young Hitler never wanted for anything, contrary to what he pretended later on. He did not have a strong bond with his father however; Alois did demand respect and obedience from his children - something he dared force out of them by cuffing - but in fact he did not concern himself much with the education. Hitler’s mother however did devote herself to the familiy wholeheartedly and in so doing, compensated for the lack of attention from his father. Hitler later wrote "I had respect for my father but I loved my mother." Little is known about Hitler’s youth but based on what we know for certain, Hitler seems to have had a rather normal childhood for the time. The combination of a more authoritarian father and a compensating mother was a rather common familiy pattern at the close of the 19th century.
After his father had retired, the family moved again several times: to Hafeld 1n 1895, to Lambach in 1897 and to Leonding near Linz in 1898. Here, Hitler finished primary school without problems worth speaking of. That ended with his transfer to the Realschule. His grades dropped and Hitler did not excel by his committment. His tutors described him as ‘against the grain, arbitrary, a know-it-all and irascible’. Moreover, tension at home increased. His father lost his grip on his son who slowly turned into a grumpy, uncommunicative young man.
Alois Hitler died suddenly in 1903 and the death of the sometimes tyrannical father was a relief for the entire family. Materially, they did not want for anything. Yet this did nohing to change Hitler’s attitude and his results at school. Ultimately he dropped out from school in 1905 - he was 16 years old then - without a clear vision of the future.
He went to live again with his mother who had moved to Linz in the meantime. He spent the next years there drawing, reading, writing and going to operas or concerts. That way, Hitler met August Kubizek and they became friends., A few characteristics of Hitler emerged from Kubizek’s descriptions that would become increasingly clear in later years: the intense gaze, the leaning towards delivering long monologues, the urge to fulminate against anything he despised. Kubizek wrote: "[…] in all my life I have not known a single human whose […] eyes so totally dominated the face as those of my friend. They were the light eyes he had inherited from his mother. The somewhat tight, penetrating glance was even stronger in the son […]. It was ominous how fast the expression in those eyes could change, especially when Adolf was speaking […].
Kubizek and Hitler shared their passion for opera. Especially his admiration for Wagner was boundless. It was also in this period that Hitler spoke explicitly about a future as an artist for the first time. In 1906, he paid his first visit to Vienna, the Imperial capital. Here probably the idea grew to take up study at the Academy of Arts. This was upset by the illness of his mother (breast cancer). In September 1907, as the illness seemed somewhat stabilised, he returned to Vienna once more to take the admission test for the Academy of Arts. This turned out to be a grave disillusion. Hitler did pass the first selection but did not pass the final examination. For someone who had never had any doubts about himself, this must have been a severe blow. This is also witnessed by the fact that he never disclosed his failure, neither to his mother nor to Kubizek.
The next blow struck even harder: at the close of 1907, his mother’s condition deteriorated rapidly. She died December 21st. In her he probably lost the one person he had ever really loved. "In my entire career of 40 years, I have never seen a young person so deeply unhappy from the pain and the heartache as young Adolf Hitler," doctor Bloch remembered in November 1938.
This period was often referred to in order to explain Hitler’s anti-Semitism. There is no reason whatsoever for this though. There were no Jews on the board of the Academy that rejected Hitler. Dr. Bloch was Jewish though but Hitler remained forever thankful to him because of the good care he had taken of his mother. Hitler even had the former house physician, the only one out of all Jews in Linz protected by the Gestapo.