Hitler, Adolf

The Viennese years

Adolf Hitler returned to Vienna in 1908. This move was commonly considered the turning point in his life. It is undoubtedly true that his period in Vienna left a deep impression and influence. It is however not correct to argue, as Hitler often did, that the development of his character and his political ideas can be traced back exclusively to this period.

At the turn of the century, Vienna was the perfect cross section of the possibilities and problems of that time. The Imperial capital was characterised by modernism (the painter Gustav Klimt for instance) and intellectual rejuvenation but also by poverty and immigration. The population of the city had more than doubled over 40 years, including many Czechs. The number of Jews in Vienna was also higher than in other European cities. In 1910, Vienna counted 175.300 Jews, forming 8.7 per cent of the total population. Many locals felt threatened by the unremitting flow of migrants that put pressure on the German culture; by the growing labor movement, by the increase of ethnic conflicts etc. Anti-Jewish feelings were rule rather than exception. Important to notice: in this connection Jewish meant more than just a follower of the Jewish faith; Jewish stood for a liberally thinking, internationally oriented attitude that did not shy away from breaking traditions, trying new things and breaking taboos. Defined in this way, the Jewish share in Viennese culture and science was large.

In reaction to this, unions, parties and mass movements came into being from the end of the 19th century onwards that advocated a radical nationalism. This was the world in which Adolf Hitler was to take his first steps as an independent adult.

Thanks to his orphanís allowance and the legacy of his mother, he could sustain himself for a year in Vienna without having to search for a regular job. His plan was to take up the study of architecture. Strangely enough he never really got to it. He retreated to the life he lived before the death of his mother, sketching, reading and painting, rambling the streets and attending operas together with Kubizek who had also traveled to Vienna.

Kubizek noticed that Hitler was very imbalanced. Periodes of hectic activity alternated with bouts of lethargy, doing nothing at all. When he had an idea, plans for a play of his own for instance, he could throw himself onto his work like a man possessed. As often as not however, the idea never came to fruitition. We will also find that behaviour in the future dictator: the leaning to let things take their course, overestimation of himself and the lack of sense of reality, the sudden attacks of rage against anyone and anything.

Adolf Hitler became increasingly interested in politics. During his teenage years in Linz, he already was enthused with the ideas of Georg Ritter von SchŲnerer, whose pan-German nationalism he defended. In his program there were already elements that we will find within the N.S.D.A.P. later on: the cultural superiority of everything German, the anti-liberal and anti-socialist heritage and also the radical anti-Semitism. Like SchŲnerer, Hitler also abhorred the machinations of the Austrian parliament. Hitler visited parliament regularly and witnessed the debates frequently turning into all-out skirmishes and name calling. The distaste for parliamentary principles, which Hitler would show later on, certainly had its roots here.

Another figure admired by Hitler was Karl Lueger, mayor of Vienna. Hitler found the way in which he conducted politics especiallly inspiring: "I wanted to hate him, yet I could not do anything but admire him because he was a gifted orator." Hitler not only admired Lueger for his effective retorics but also for the way in which he managed to dominate the masses in order to achieve his goals.

A third important influence on Hitlerís ideas was the presence of a strong socialdemocratic movement. He hated everything this party stood for: the Marxist program, the internationalism, the rights of laborers and trade unions.

Despite the unmistakable influence of all this, Hitler had not yet developed an ideological view on the world during this period, despite what he wrote in Mein Kampf.

In any case, his personal situation did not get any better. In October 1908 he was turned down by the Academy for the second time. After this he severed all connections with his family and Kubizek. Due to a lack of money, Hitler was also forced to move. The period 1908 - 1909 has hardly been documented but it is obvious that Hitler had reached the lowest point in his life. His financial reserves were all but depleted and he lived like a tramp. When Hitler started painting and selling picture postcards, his situation improved. On February 9th, 1910, he was able to exchange the shelter for the homeless for a manís hostel. Here he would spend the next three years.

Hitlerís own dire situation coincided with massive unemployment, sharply rising prices and a grinding shortage of housing in Vienna., Ever more vehement protests were being raised against this, in particular by the socialdemocrats who managed to mobilise the laborers and the unemployed. This not only evoked Hitlerís hatred, he was also afraid of it. In any case, his hate for the socialdemocracy was not yet connected to anti-Semitism.

Hitler argued in Mein Kampf that he had begun to despise the Jews only in Vienna: "At that time the largest turnover I had ever experienced took place within my body. I had changed from a half world citizen to a fanatic anti-Semite." This however is a myth, invented by the dictator himself to suggest a straightforward development of his view on the world. Undoubtedly, Hitler made contact with the whole range of anti-Jewish clichťs and prejudices and was affected by them but that does not necessarily mean he identified with them yet. Without any doubt, Hitler shared a number of anti-Semite prejudices of the German-nationalistic environment but he still was far removed from the paranoid hatred towards the Jews, around which all his political actions would pivot later on. The development of his anti-Semitic ideology only commenced after the First World War.


A collection of principles and ideas of a certain system.
Middle Eastern people with own religion that lived in Palestine. They distinguished themselves by their strong monotheism and the strict observance of the Law and tradition. During World War 2 the Jewish people were ruthlessly persecuted and annihilated by the German Nazis. . An estimated 6,000,000 Jews were exterminated.
Mein Kampf
ďMy StruggleĒ. Book written by Adolf Hitler, outlining the principles of National Socialism.
The pursuit of a people to become politically independence or securing such independence.

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Vienna around 1910.
(Source: Albert Milde)

August Kubizek, Hitlerís friend of his youth in Vienna.
(Source: Wikipedia)

Georg Ritter von SchŲnerer, one of Hitlerís sources of inspiration.
(Source: Wikipedia)

Karl Lueger, Mayor of Vienna, much admired by Hitler.
(Source: Wikipedia)

Der Alte Hof in MŁnchen, one of Hitlerís works, 1914.
(Source: Wikipedia)


Translated by:
Arnold Palthe
Article by:
Gerd Van der Auwera
Published on:
Last edit on:
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