Klara Pölzl was born in Spital, Austria, in 1860. She was the eldest of only three surviving children out of eleven - the other two were Johanna and Theresia - from the marriage of Johann Nepomuk Hiedler. Her mother was brought up with Alois Schicklgruber.
In 1876, aged sixteen, Klara left the family farm and moved to Braunau am Inn to join the household of her second cousin, Alois Hitler. At the time he was married to Anna Glasl. According to Ian Kershaw, the author of Hitler 1889-1936 (1998): "It is unlikely to have been a love-match. The marriage to a woman fourteen years older than himself had almost certainly a material motive, since Anna was relatively well off, and in addition had connections within the civil service." Anna suffered from poor health and her age meant that she was unable to have children.
Alois began a sexual relationship with another maid in the house, Franziska Matzelberger. In 1877 Alois changed his surname from Schickelgruber to Hitler. It is claimed he did this to inherit money from Johann Nepomuk Hiedler (Hitler was an another way of spelling Hiedler - both mean "smallholding" in German. Franziska saw Klara as a potential rival and insisted that she left the household. In 1882 Franziska gave birth to a child named Alois. When Anna Hitler died in 1883, Alois married Franziska and two months after the wedding she gave birth to a second child, Angela. Franziska developed tuberculosis and Alois invited Klara to return to the home to look after his two young children. Franziska, aged twenty-three, died in August, 1884. Alois also began a sexual relationship with Klara and on 7th January, 1885, the couple married. As they were second cousins they had to apply for episcopal dispensation to permit the marriage.
The first of the children of Alois's third marriage, Gustav, was born in May 1885, to be followed in September the following year by a second child, Ida, and another son, Otto, who died only days after his birth. In December 1887 both Gustav and Ida contracted diphtheria and died within weeks of each other. On 20th April 1889, Klara gave birth to her fourth child, Adolf Hitler. Edmund was born in 1894 but lived only six years. The fifth and last child, Paula, was born in 1896.
In 1895, when Adolf Hitler was six years old, Alois retired from government service. For the next four years he moved restlessly from one district to another near Linz, buying and selling farms, raising bees, and spent most of his time drinking in local inns. According to his son: "When finally, at the age of fifty-six, he went into retirement, he could not bear to spend a single day of his leisure in idleness. Near the Upper Austrian market village of Lambach he bought a farm, which he worked himself, and thus, in the circuit of a long and industrious life, returned to the origins of his forefathers. It was at this time that the first ideals took shape in my breast. All my playing about in the open, the long walk to school, and particularly my association with extremely husky boys, which sometimes caused my mother bitter anguish, made me the very opposite of a stay-at-home. And though at that time I scarcely had any serious ideas as to the profession I should one day pursue, my sympathies were in any case not in the direction of my father's career."
Alois Hitler was an authoritarian, overbearing, domineering husband and a stern, distant, aggressive and violent father. Konrad Heiden commented:" Hitler's father was a short-tempered old man, grown prematurely inactive. He had fought a bitter struggle with life, had made the hardest sacrifices, and in the end things had not gone according to his will. He goes walking about Leonding, usually holding his gold-bordered velvet cap in his hands, looks after his bees, leans against the fence, chats rather laconically with his neighbours. He looks on as a friend erects a little saw-mill and sourly remarks: such are the times, the little fellows are coming up, the big ones going down. His lungs are affected, he coughs and occasionally spits blood."
Eduard Bloch, the family doctor, described "Klara Hitler was a simple, modest, kindly woman. She was tall, had brownish hair which she kept neatly plaited, and a long, oval face with beautifully expressive grey-blue eyes." Bloch added: "Outwardly, his love for his mother was his most striking feature. While he was not a mother's boy in the usual sense, I have never witnessed a closer attachment." Hitler later told Joseph Goebbels that his mother was "a source of goodness and love" whereas his father was "a tyrant in the home". Hitler's biographer, Ian Kershaw, has commented: "Hitler's mother lived in the shadow of her husband, this somewhat brutal, authoritarian, dominating, tyrannical father... and as a compensatory factor for that, she evidently smothered the young boy with affection, spoilt him terribly, pandered to his every whim."
Alois was extremely keen for his son to do well in life. Alois did have another son Alois Matzelsberger, but he had been a big disappointment to him and eventually ended up in prison for theft. Alois was a strict father and savagely beat his son if he did not do as he was told. Hitler later wrote: "After reading one day in Karl May (a popular writer of boys' books) that the brave man gives no sign of being in pain, I made up my mind not to let out any sound next time I was beaten. And when the moment came - I counted every blow." Afterwards he proudly told his mother: "Father hit me thirty-two times.... and I did not cry". Hitler later told Christa Schroeder about his relationship with his parents: "I never loved my father, but feared him. He was prone to rages and would resort to violence. My poor mother would then always be afraid for me."
Hitler also found it very distressing to see his mother suffering from "drunken beatings". His sister, Paula, said her mother was "a very soft and tender person, the compensatory element between the almost too harsh father and the very lively children who were perhaps somewhat difficult to train. If there were ever quarrels or differences of opinion between my parents it was always on account of the children. It was especially my brother Adolf who challenged my father to extreme harshness and who got his sound thrashings every day. How often on the other hand did my mother caress him and try to obtain with her kindness what her father could not succeed in obtaining with harshness!"
Louis L. Snyder has pointed out: "Hitler's mother was a quiet, hardworking woman with a solemn, pale face and large, staring eyes. She kept a clean household and labored diligently to please her husband. Hitler loved his indulgent mother, and she in turn considered him her favorite child, even if, as she said, he was moonstruck. Later, he spoke of himself as his mother's darling. She told him how different he was from other children. Despite her love, however, he developed into a discontented and resentful child. Psychologically, she unconsciously made him, and through him the world would pay for her own unhappiness with her husband. Adolf feared his strict father, a hard and difficult man who set the pattern for the youngster's own brutal view of life... This sour, hot-tempered man was master inside his home, where he made the children feel the lash of his cane, switch, and belt. Alois snarled at his son, humiliated him, and corrected him again and again. There was deep tension between two unbending wills. It is probable that Adolf Hitler's later fierce hatreds came in part from this hostility to his father. He learned early in life that right was always on the side of the stronger one."
Alois was incensed when Hitler told him that instead of joining the civil service he was going to become an artist. Adolf Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf (1925): "Then barely eleven years old, I was forced into opposition for the first time in my life. Hard and determined as my father might be in putting through plans and purposes once conceived, his son was just as persistent and recalcitrant in rejecting an idea which appealed to him not at all, or in any case very little. I did not want to become a civil servant. Neither persuasion nor serious arguments made any impression on my resistance. I did not want to be a civil servant: no, and again no. All attempts on my father's part to inspire me with love or pleasure in this profession by stories from his own life accomplished the exact opposite. I yawned and grew sick to my stomach at the thought of sitting in an office, deprived of my liberty; ceasing to be master of my own time and being compelled to force the content of a whole life into blanks that had to be filled out." Klara, a kind and gentle woman, tended to spoil her son. Like her husband she was keen for her son to do well at school. Her attempts at persuasion achieved no more success than her husband's threats and he continued to obtain poor grades.
Alois Hitler died on 3rd January 1903. Hitler later wrote: "A stroke of apoplexy felled the old gentleman who was otherwise so hale, thus painlessly ending his earthly pilgrimage, plunging us all into the depths of grief. His most ardent desire had been to help his son forge his career, thus preserving him from his own bitter experience. In this, to all appearances, he had not succeeded. But, though unwittingly, he had sown the seed for a future which at that time neither he nor I would have comprehended."
Hitler's mother, who was then forty-two, moved to a modest apartment in Urfahr, a suburb of Linz, where she tried to keep herself and her two surviving children, Adolf and Paula, on the savings and pensions left her. According to William L. Shirer, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1964), "the young widow was indulgent to her son, and he seems to have loved her dearly... there was friction and Adolf continued to neglect his studies."
Hitler later commented: My mother, to be sure, felt obliged to continue my education in accordance with my father's wish; in other words, to have me study for the civil servant's career. I, for my part, was more than ever determined absolutely not to undertake this career. In proportion as my schooling departed from my ideal in subject matter and curriculum, I became more indifferent at heart. Then suddenly an illness came to my help and in a few weeks decided my future and the eternal domestic quarrel." Hitler's last school report, dated 16th September, 1905, shows marks of "adequate" in German, chemistry, physics, geometry and geometrical drawing. In geography and history he was "satisfactory". However, his free-hand drawing was described as "excellent".
Klara Hitler urged her son to learn a trade. He refused and said that he planned to become an artist. Although his mother found it difficult to manage on her low income, Adolf declined to help out by getting a job. At the age of eighteen Adolf Hitler received an inheritance from his father's will. With the money he moved to Vienna where he planned to become an art student. Hitler had a high opinion of his artistic abilities and was shattered when the Vienna Academy of Art rejected his application. He also applied to the Vienna School of Architecture but was not admitted because he did not have a school leaving certificate.
Klara became seriously ill. According to Dr Eduard Bloch: "One day Frau Hitler came to visit me during my morning office hours. She complained of a pain in her chest. She spoke in a quiet, hushed voice; almost a whisper. The pain she said, had been great; enough to keep her awake nights on end. She had been busy with her household so had neglected to seek medical aid. Besides, she thought the pain would pass.away... An examination showed that Frau Hitler had an extensive tumor of the breast." She was operated on for breast cancer in February, 1907.
Klara Hitler was operated on for breast cancer in February, 1907. Hitler's friend, August Kubizek, went to visit her: "Frau Klara seemed more careworn than ever. Her face was deeply lined. Her eyes were lifeless, her voice sounded tired and resigned. I had the impression that, now that Adolf was no longer there, she had let herself go, and looked older and more ailing than ever. She certainly had concealed her condition from her son to make the parting easier for him. Or perhaps it was Adolf's impulsive nature that had kept up her vitality. Now, on her own, she seemed to me an old, sick woman."
Dr Eduard Bloch later recalled that Adolf Hitler was a dutiful son: "He slept in the tiny bedroom adjoining that of his mother so that he could be summoned at any time during the night. During the day he hovered about the large bed in which she lay." Bloch told Hitler that the operation was not a success and the cancer had spread to other parts of the body. He proposed the use of the disinfectant, iodoform. At the time it was believed that iodoform gauze packed onto the suppurating wound was the best treatment for cancer.
Bloch pointed out: "An illness such as that suffered by Frau Hitler, there is usually a great amount of pain. She bore her burden well; unflinching and uncomplaining. But it seemed to torture her son. An anguished grimace would come over him when he saw pain contract her face. There was little that could be done. An injection of morphine from time to time would give temporary relief; but nothing lasting. Yet Adolf seemed enormously grateful even for these short periods of release. I shall never forget Klara Hitler during those days. She was forty eight at the time; tall, slender and rather handsome, yet wasted by disease. She was soft-spoken, patient; more concerned about what would happen to her family than she was about her approaching death."
Rudolph Binion, the author of Hitler Among the Germans (1976) has argued that iodoform was "utterly ineffective, expensive, and the caustic solution caused unbearable agony for the patient it was administered to, usually in the form of idoform-soaked gauze applied directly to the skin above the tumor." Binion goes on to argue that Hitler used phrases in his speeches such as "Jewish cancer", the "Jewish poison", the "Jewish profiteer." Binion suggests that "Hitler's mother cannot have escaped fatal poisoning from a given treatment applied to her by a Jewish doctor in her last weeks of life and ... Hitler's experience of her agony was the unconscious source of his deadly hate for the Jews."
Ron Rosenbaum, the author of Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of his Evil (1998), rejects this theory. He points out that Hitler later sent Bloch a postcard saying that he had his "undying gratitude" for the the care he showed his mother. Bloch later recalled that Hitler "bore him no grudges" because he knew that he was right to prescribe the "burn out the abscesses... to the raw flesh." This view is confirmed by Austrian historian Brigitte Hamann in her book Hitler's Vienna: A Dictator's Apprenticeship (1999).
Klara Hitler died of cancer on 21st December, 1907. Hitler commented: "It was the conclusion of a long and painful illness which from the beginning left little hope of recovery. Yet it was a dreadful blow, particularly for me. I had honored my father, but my mother I had loved." Her death affected him far more deeply than the death of his father. He had fond memories of his mother, carried her photograph wherever he went and, it is claimed, had it in his hand when he died in 1945.
Brett Kahr argues in Sex & The Psyche (2007): "Her death really damaged Hitler tremendously, and I think the reason that he couldn't forge relationships with young girls his own age when he was a teenage boy, or then later, with grown-up women when he was a grown-up man, is because he still remained deeply, deeply psychologically faithful to Klara. I think he could never let Klara go."
My mother, to be sure, felt obliged to continue my education in accordance with my father's wish; in other words, to have me study for the civil servant's career. I, for my part, was more than ever determined absolutely not to undertake this career.
In proportion as my schooling departed from my ideal in subject matter and curriculum, I became more indifferent at heart. Then suddenly an illness came to my help and in a few weeks decided my future and the eternal domestic quarrel.
As a result of my serious lung ailment, a physician advised my mother in most urgent terms never to send me into an office. My attendance at the Realschule had furthermore to be interrupted for at least a year.
The goal for which I had so long silently yearned, for which I had always fought, had through this event suddenly become reality almost of its own accord.
Concerned over my illness, my mother finally consented to take me out of the Realschule and let me attend the Academy.
Hitler's mother, Klara, died on 21 December 1907. Adolf was eighteen. He would not allow the neighbours to come in and remove the body, and he sat for hours and hours by his mother's bedside, sketching her. In the final weeks before her death, from breast cancer, he had been constantly at her side. He moved his bed into her room to be with her every moment. When she died, Dr Bloch, the Jewish doctor who had attended her during the months of her illness, reported that he "had never seen a boy so completely bereft". For the rest of his life, Hitler carried a photo of his mother in his breast pocket wherever he went. To many who have written about Hitler, this was the closest love attachment he had to any woman throughout his life. He romanticized his mother, and it was from her image that he shaped an ideal of motherhood, which became the centrepiece of women's place in Nazi ideology....
Klara was twenty-four when she married, after being intermittently employed in Alois's household as a serving girl for almost six years. Alois was a forty-seven-year-old customs official with considerable ambition, who had risen steadily through the civil service from a minor post to the highest rank possible for a man of his education. Though Hitler claimed he came from a dirt-poor background, the family was comfortable, although not well-off. It was Alois Hitler's third marriage, and he had been twice widowed. Klara, the daughter of a smallholder, was actually related by blood to Alois: she was the daughter of his cousin, or - quite possibly, because Alois was illegitimate and his parentage was uncertain - his niece. Klara called him "uncle". She was already pregnant with their first child when his second wife, Franciska, died of tuberculosis.
Before Adolf was born, Klara had given birth to three other children, but in the winter of 1887-88, tragedy struck the family. In the space of three weeks, the infant Otto died at just three days old, then Gustav, aged two and a half, and Ida, aged just over a year, died of diphtheria. Klara became pregnant with Adolf within six months of their deaths, and gave birth to him on 20 April 1889 at Braunau am Inn. The effect on Klara of losing virtually her entire family can only be surmised. She had little time, psychiatrist Brett Kahr notes, "to get over the very natural depression which a young mother would experience when all three of her children die so suddenly, so tragically, leaving her feeling, I think, quite guilt-stricken, quite helpless". Klara, he suggests, would have been very depressed at the time of Adolf's birth, and for some time afterwards: "It's not unreasonable to suggest that at the time that Klara became pregnant, there were a number of perhaps messianic fantasies floating around in the Hitler family, in the hope that a new child who would be born would become such a special, spectacular child, that he or she could replace all these previously dead babies."
During Adolf's early years, when he was "a sickly child", it is likely that Klara was anxious and over-protective towards her son. Their home life was unsettled, and they moved several times as Alois changed jobs. There were severe tensions in the family. Alois was a typical provincial civil servant, pompous, strict, humourless and domineering. His passion was bee-keeping, which kept him out of the house; he smoked heavily, and often went to the local inn after work. He had an unpredictable temper, and was a stern disciplinarian and an often tyrannical father and husband, prone to beating both his wife and children, including his two eldest, Alois and Angela, from his previous marriages. Young Alois left home at the age of fourteen, never to return. Angela recalled that Adolf was subject to "regular beatings" at his father's hands. After Alois retired in 1895, he was at home almost all the time, and Adolf got the full force of his sometimes drunken fury. Adolf's sister Paula recalled: "It was especially my brother, Adolf who challenged my father to extreme harshness and who got his sound thrashing every day," Hitler later told others that his father had sudden outbursts of temper and would hit out; that he did not love his father, but he feared him." He wrote in Mein Kampf, "I had honoured my father, but loved my mother." Whatever good qualities this stern and distant father, Alois, possessed, they were not much remembered by his children.
Klara was submissive to her husband, but highly protective towards her son. Paula thought she was "the compensatory element between the almost too harsh father and the very lively children who were perhaps somewhat difficult to train. If there were ever quarrels or differences of opinion between my parents, it was always on account of the children." Her mother would intercede after rows between Adolf and Alois: "How often... did my mother caress Adolf and try to obtain with her kindness what the father could not succeed in obtaining through harshness." She attempted to shield him from his father's outbursts. A later friend, Henriette von Schirach (daughter of Hitler's photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann), reports that at the age of eleven, Adolf would have to fetch his father, who was often irascible, from the inn. When Alois tried to hit the boy, the mother and his sisters stood in front of him to protect him, "so Hitler must have seen women and girls as guardian angels from an early age".
When his father died suddenly in 1903 -at the local inn, as he was about to take a drink - Adolf became the man of the house. This liberated him from his father but, as the eldest of Klara's children, he became even more the focus of his mother's attention. Her devotion "might have had a number of impacts on his growing development", Brett Kahr suggests. "One is that it might have exacerbated his tendency to what clinicians would refer to as a narcissistic personality structure... that is one which has very little compassion or concern for other people, but a real sense of self-absorption, self-preoccupation. Dr Bloch described him at this time as a frail-looking young man, who "lived within himself".
Frau Klara seemed more careworn than ever. Her face was deeply lined. Her eyes were lifeless, her voice sounded tired and resigned. I had the impression that, now that Adolf was no longer there, she had let herself go, and looked older and more ailing than ever. She certainly had concealed her condition from her son to make the parting easier for him. Or perhaps it was Adolf's impulsive nature that had kept up her vitality. Now, on her own, she seemed to me an old, sick woman.
One day Frau Hitler came to visit me during my morning office hours. She complained of a pain in her chest. She spoke in a quiet, hushed voice; almost a whisper. The pain she said, had been great; enough to keep her awake nights on end. She had been busy with her household so had neglected to seek medical aid. Besides, she thought the pain would pass.away... An examination showed that Frau Hitler had an extensive tumor of the breast. I did not tell her of my diagnosis.
I summoned the children to my office next day and stated the case frankly. Their mother, I told them, was a gravely ill woman .... Without surgery, I explained, there was absolutely no hope of recovery. Even with surgery there was but the slightest chance that she would live. In family council they must decide what was to be done.
Adolf Hitler's reaction to this news was touching. His long, sallow face was contorted. Tears flowed from his eyes,. Did his mother, he asked, have no chance? Only then did I realize the magnitude of the attachment that existed between mother and son. I explained that she did have a chance; but a small one. Even this shred of hope gave him some comfort.
The children carried my message to their mother. She accepted the verdict as I was sure she would- with fortitude. Deeply religious, she assumed that her fate was God's will. It would never have occurred to her to complain. She would submit to the operation as soon as I could make preparations.
I explained the case to Dr. Karl Urban, the chief of the surgical staff at the Hospital of the Sisters of Mercy in Linz. Urban was one of the best-known surgeons in Upper Austria. He was - and is - a generous man, a credit to his profession. He willingly agreed to undertake the operation on any basis I suggested. After examination he concurred in my belief that Frau Hitler had very little chance of surviving but that surgery offered the only hope.
... Frau Hitler arrived at the hospital one evening in the early summer of 1908. I do not have the exact date, for my records of the case were placed in the archives of the Nazi party in Munich.
In any case, Frau Hitler spent the night in the hospital and was operated on the following morning. At the request of this gentle, harried soul I remained beside the operating table while Dr. Urban and his assistant performed the surgery.
Two hours later drove in my carriage across the Danube to the little house at No. 9 Bluetenstrasse, in the section of the city known as Urfahr. There the children awaited me.
The girls received the word I brought with calm and reserve. The face of the boy was streaked with tears, and his eyes were tired and red. He listened until I had finished speaking. He had but one question. In a choked voice he asked: "Does my mother suffer?"
As weeks and months passed after the operation Frau Hitler's strength began visibly to fail. At most she could be out of bed for an hour or two a day. During this period Adolf spent most of his time around the house, to which his mother had returned.
He slept in the tiny bedroom adjoining that of his mother so that he could be summoned at any time during the night. During the day he hovered about the large bed in which she lay.
An illness such as that suffered by Frau Hitler, there is usually a great amount of pain. She bore her burden well; unflinching and uncomplaining. But it seemed to torture her son. An anguished grimace would come over him when he saw pain contract her face. There was little that could be done. An injection of morphine from time to time would give temporary relief; but nothing lasting. Yet Adolf seemed enormously grateful even for these short periods of release.
I shall never forget Klara Hitler during those days. She was forty eight at the time; tall, slender and rather handsome, yet wasted by disease. She was soft-spoken, patient; more concerned about what would happen to her family than she was about her approaching death. She made no secret of these worries; or about the fact that most of her thoughts were for her son. "Adolf is still so young." she said repeatedly.
On the day of December 20, I made two calls. The end was approaching ...So the word that Angela Hitler brought me the following morning came as no surprise. Her mother had died quietly in the night. The children had decided not to disturb me, knowing that their mother was beyond all medical aid. But, she asked, could I come now? Someone in an official position would have to sign the death certificate....
...The postmaster's widow, their closest friend, was with the children, having more or less taken charge of things. Adolf, his face showing the weariness of a sleepless night, sat beside his mother. In order to preserve a last impression, he had sketched her as she lay on her deathbed...
I sat with the family for a while, trying to ease their grief. I explained that in this case death had been a savior. They understood. In the practice of my profession it is natural that I should have witnessed many scenes such as this one, yet none of them left me with quite the same impression. In all my career I have never seen anyone so prostrate with grief as Adolf Hitler.
I did not attend Klara Hitler's funeral, Which was held on Christmas Eve. The body was taken from Urfahr to Leonding, only a few miles distant. Klara Hitler was buried beside her husband in the Catholic cemetery, behind the small yellow stucco church. After the others - the girls, and the postmaster's widow - had left, Adolf remained behind; unable to tear himself away from the freshly filled grave.
. ...A few days after the funeral the family came to my office. They wished to thank me for the help I had given them. There was Paula, fair and stocky; Angela, slender, pretty but rather anemic; Klara and Adolf, The girls spoke what was in their hearts while Adolf remained silent. I recall this particular scene as vividly as I might recall something that took place last week.
Adolf wore a dark suit and a loosely knotted cravat. Then, as now, a shock of hair tumbled over his forehead. , His eyes were on the floor while his sisters were talking. Then came his turn. He stepped forward and took my hand. Looking into my eyes, he said: "I shall be grateful to .you forever." That was all. Then he bowed. I wonder if today he recalls this scene. I am quite sure that he does, for in a sparing sense Adolf Hitler has kept to his promise of gratitude. Favors were. granted me which I feel sure were accorded no other Jew in all Germany or Austria.
...During this period (first years in Vienna) he took time out to send me a penny post card. On the back was a message: "From Vienna I send you my greetings. Yours, always faithfully, Adolf Hitler."
. ..Official Nazi publications also record that I received one of Hitler's paintings - a small landscape. If I did I am not aware of it. But it is quite possible that he sent me one and that I have forgotten the matter. In Austria patients frequently send paintings or other gifts to their physicians as a mark of gratitude...
...I did, however, preserve one piece of Hitler's art work. This came during the period in Vienna when he was painting post cards, posters, etc., making enough money to support himself .... Hitler sent me one of these cards. It showed a hooded Capuchin monk hoisting a glass of bubling champagne. Under the picture was a caption: "Prosit NeuJahr." On the reverse side he had written a message: "The Hitler family sends you the best wishes for a Happy New Year. In everlasting thankfulness, Adolf Hitler. " (reports about confiscation of these souvenirs by Gestapo who issued receipt for them)
When he left for Vienna, Adolf Hitler was destined to disappear from our lives for a great many years .... Not until the beginning of his political career in 1920 were we again to get news of this quiet, polite boy who grew up among us.