Ernst Schmidt, the son of a miller, was born in Wurzbach, Thuringia, on 16th December, 1889. After leaving school he became a painter and decorator. He qualified in 1907 and according to his own account he spent his journeyman's time working "in various parts of Germany until 1912, in Switzerland in 1913, in France, and, from the spring of 1914 until the outbreak of war, in Bolzano."
On 6th August, 1914, Schmidt joined the 1st Company of the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment. Other members of this regiment included Adolf Hitler, Rudolf Hess, Hans Mend and Max Amann. After initial training in Munich Schmidt arrived on the Western Front on 21st October 1914, where his regiment took part in the Battle of Ypres. It has been claimed that Schmidt's regiment was reduced from 3,600 to 611 men during this first period of fighting.
Schmidt was a dispatch-runner with Hitler. Lothar Machtan, the author of The Hidden Hitler (2001) has pointed out: "Employed as regimental runners, they jointly delivered one message with such efficiency - or so we are told - that from November 1914 on they were permanently assigned to regimental headquarters as so-called combat orderlie. As such, they had more freedom within the military hierarchy than other enlisted men.... They were invariably to be seen as a couple, not only when jointly delivering regimental orders to brigade or battalion, but off duty behind the lines." Schmidt told a journalist eighteen years later "I was very much drawn to Hitler".
Hans Mend, a fellow dispatch-runner, has claimed that Schmidt and Hitler had a sexual relationship. "We noticed that he (Hitler) never looked at a woman. We suspected him of homosexuality right away, because he was known to be abnormal in any case. He was extremely eccentric and displayed womanish characteristics which tended in that direction. He never had a firm objective, nor any kind of firm beliefs. In 1915 we were billeted in the Le Febre brewery at Fournes. We slept in the hay. Hitler was bedded down at night with Schmidt, his male whore. We heard a rustling in the hay. Then someone switched on his electric flashlight and growled, Take a look at those two nancy boys. I myself took no further interest in the matter."
Lothar Machtan, the author of The Hidden Hitler (2001) has argued: "Why did Hitler remain a lance corporal throughout the war? His toadying to higher authority, if not his efficiency, should have earned him promotion. We are told that he was offered it but refused. It would probably be more correct to say that he could not bring himself to accept. As a noncom he would sooner or later have been obliged to give up what had hitherto enabled him to tolerate war service so well: Ernst Schmidt, his other faithful partners, a relatively safe existence in the rear echelon, and possibly also, a toleration of the homosexual tendencies he could not have pursued as a noncommissioned officer."
Schmidt's regiment was at the Battle of the Somme and on 2nd October 1916, he was wounded when a shell exploded in the dispatch runners' dug-out, killing and wounding several of them. Hitler was wounded in the left thigh and spent almost two months in the Red Cross hospital at Beelitz, near Berlin. In January, 1917, Hitler wrote to the regiment's adjutant, Fritz Wiedemann, for permission to return "to the 16th Reserve Infantry Regiment" and serve with his "former comrades". Hitler also wrote to Sergeant Max Amann to see if he could use his influence to be reassigned to his regiment, his "elective family". Hitler later recalled that his regiment had taught him "the glorious meaning of a male community". Hitler was allowed rejoin his regiment in March 1917.
In October 1918, Hitler was blinded in a British mustard gas attack. Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf (1925): "On a hill south of Werwick, in the evening of October 13th, we were subjected for several hours to a heavy bombardment with gas bombs, which continued throughout the night with more or less intensity. About midnight a number of us were put out of action, some for ever. Towards morning I also began to feel pain. It increased with every quarter of an hour; and about seven o’clock my eyes were scorching as I staggered back and delivered the last dispatch I was destined to carry in this war. A few hours later my eyes were like glowing coals and all was darkness around me."
Hitler was sent to a military hospital and gradually recovered his sight. While he was in hospital Germany surrendered. "Everything went black before my eyes; I tottered and groped my way back to the ward, threw myself on my bunk, and dug my burning head into my blanket and pillow. So it had all been in vain. In vain all the sacrifices and privations; in vain the hours in which, with mortal fear clutching at our hearts, we nevertheless did our duty; in vain the death of two million who died. Had they died for this? Did all this happen only so that a gang of wretched criminals could lay hands on the Fatherland. I knew that all was lost. Only fools, liars and criminals could hope for mercy from the enemy. In these nights hatred grew in me, hatred for those responsible for this deed. Miserable and degenerate criminals! The more I tried to achieve clarity on the monstrous events in this hour, the more the shame of indignation and disgrace burned my brow." Hitler went into a state of deep depression, and had periods when he could not stop crying. He spent most of his time turned towards the hospital wall refusing to talk to anyone. Once again Hitler's efforts had ended in failure.
At the end of the war Schmidt returned to Munich. In early 1919 Schmidt met up with Hitler and they worked together as casual labourers. According to Schmidt they also attended the opera in the city: "We only bought the cheapest seats, but that didn't matter. Hitler was lost in the music to the very last note; blind and deaf to all else around him." Schmidt also pointed out that Hitler had not yet given up hope of being an artist. During this period he made contact with the well-known artist, Max Zaeper, to whom he "gave several of his works for expert appraisal".
Hans Mend, who served with Schmidt and Hitler, during the First World War, told Friedrich Alfred Schmid Noerr that he saw the men together several times. "I met Adolf Hitler again at the end of 1918. I bumped into him on the Marienplatz in Munich, where he was standing with his friend Ernst Schmidt.... Hitler was then living in a hostel for the homeless at 29 Lothstrasse, Munich. Soon afterward, having camped at my apartment for several days, he took refuge at Traunstein barracks because he was hungry. He managed to get by, as he often did in the future, with the help of his Iron Cross 1st Class and his gift of the gab. In January 1919 I again ran into Hitler at the newsstand on Marienplatz. Then, one evening, while I was sitting in the Rathaus Cafe with a girl, Hitler and his friend Ernst Schmidt came in." Mend claimed that after the two men left his girlfriend told him: "If you're friendly with people like that, I'm not going out with you anymore."
Schmidt shared Hitler's right-wing political opinions and in March, 1920, he joined the German Worker's Party (GWP). In 1922 Schmidt moved to Garching an der Alz, over sixty miles from Munich. He kept in constant touch with Hitler and visited him in May 1924 when he was imprisoned in Landsberg Castle. He also founded a local branch of the Nazi Party. On 1st May, 1925, Hitler sent him a gilt-edged copy of Mein Kampf that was inscribed to my "dear and faithful wartime comrade".
In 1931 Schmidt joined the Sturmabteilung (SA) as a Scharführer (staff sergeant) and rose to the rank Sturmführer (captain). In 1932, when Hitler's political opponents distributed smear stories about him, Schmidt swore several affidavits in his friend's defence. Hitler rewarded Schmidt generously for his loyalty and discretion and he was able to build himself a large house in Garching. He also invested heavily in his building business and purchased an automobile, which was the main symbol of social advancement at the time.
Ernst Schmidt often visited the Reich Chancellery and in 1934 he was awarded the Party's gold badge. Hitler still used Schmidt to promote his image as a brave soldier during the First World War. In 1937 the Illustrierter Beobachter published an article about "Adolf Hitler and his front-line comrade" and quoted Schmidt as saying: "If the Führer ever summoned me to perform some special task, I should abandon my job and everything else, and follow him."
In December 1939, Hans Mend was interviewed by Friedrich Alfred Schmid Noerr, a member of the German Resistance. Mend insisted that Schmidt and Hitler had a homosexual relationship during the war. Soon afterwards Mend was arrested and charged with various sexual offences against women. He was sentenced by a special court to two years' imprisonment. According to the prison authorities Mend died in Zwickau Penitentiary on 13th February, 1942.
Schmidt became mayor of Garching and in 1942 was appointed as district head of the National Socialist German Workers Party. After the war he was arrested by the allies and imprisoned. In his denazification hearing in 1948 Schmidt he admitted that he had been the victim of several blackmail attempts concerning his relationship with Hitler. He referred to a man named Philipp Oberbuchner who had written several "anonymous letters of malicious content" but had "refrained from preferring charges".
Ernst Schmidt died in 1985.
Because he was an Austrian and physically unfit, Hitler had been rejected when he volunteered for service in August 1914. He was unemployed in Munich at the time, and his intention had simply been to get into the army so as to have a square meal again.... After being rejected by the medical board, he stationed himself outside the Wittelsbacher Palace in Munich at a time when he knew King Ludwig usually left the building. He managed to waylay the king as he emerged with his adjutant general, von Leonrod. Hitler barred Leonrod's path and accosted him: he was an Austrian, he said, but did not wish to serve in Austria. He had volunteered for wartime service in Munich, but had been turned down, so please would His Majesty endorse his request. Leonrod made a note of his name, and that, according to Hitler, was how he came to join the List Regiment.
Hitler never had anything to do with guns from the time he joined us at the front as a regimental orderly. He was never anything other than a runner based behind the lines at regimental headquarters. Every two or three days he would have to deliver a message; the rest of the time he spent "in back," painting, talking politics, and having altercations. He was very soon nicknamed "crazy Adolf" by all the men he came into contact with. He struck me as a psychopath from the start. He often flew into a rage when contradicted, throwing himself on the ground and frothing at the mouth. Private Ernst Schmidt (now a master builder at Garching, near Munich), with whom Hitler had been friendly earlier on, because he had sometimes worked on building sites with him, was his special pal. The others he was friendliest with were Privates Tiefenbock (now the owner of a coal merchant's in Munich) and Wimmer (now working as a Munich streetcar employee). All three were runners at regimental headquarters. The only one who had volunteered for combat duty was the Jew Lippert (a commercial traveler by profession; he later became a clerk at the Braunes Haus Nazi Party headquarters], where he worked from 1934 on - and still does, so far as I know, not being subject to the Jewish laws). The List Regiment's battalion adjutant was Lieutenant Gutmann, a Jewish typewriter manufacturer from Nuremberg (now emigrated), whom Hitler made up to whenever he wanted preferential treatment of some kind. It was also Lieutenant Gutmann who got him his Iron Cross 2nd Class at Christmas 1914. That was at Bezaillere ... near Ypres. Colonel Engelhardt of the List Regiment was wounded in this engagement. When he was carried to the rear, Hitler and Bachmann tended him behind the lines. Hitler contrived to make a big fuss about this exploit of his, so he managed to gain Lieutenant Gutmann's backing in the aforesaid manner.
Meantime, we had gotten to know Hitler better. We noticed that he never looked at a woman. We suspected him of homosexuality right away, because he was known to be abnormal in any case. He was extremely eccentric and displayed womanish characteristics which tended in that direction. He never had a firm objective, nor any kind of firm beliefs. In 1915 we were billeted in the Le Febre brewery at Fournes. We slept in the hay. Hitler was bedded down at night with Schmidt, his male whore. We heard a rustling in the hay. Then someone switched on his electric flashlight and growled, "Take a look at those two nancy boys." I myself took no further interest in the matter.
Hitler could never forbear to deliver inflammatory political speeches to his comrades. He always described himself as a representative of the "class-conscious proletariat." Whenever he thought he was safe, he referred to his superiors as an "arrogant bunch of officers" and called them "robber knights," "highwaymen of the nobility," or "a clique of bourgeois exploiters." His oft repeated tirades included remarks like the following: "Those swine lie on horsehair mattresses, whereas we eat horseflesh soup."
I met Adolf Hitler again at the end of 1918. I bumped into him on the Marienplatz in Munich, where he was standing with his friend "Schmidt." He greeted me as follows: "Well, Ghost Rider, where did you spring from? Thank God the kings have toppled off their perch. Now, we proletarians also have a say." Hitler was then living in a hostel for the homeless at 29 Lothstrasse, Munich. Soon afterward, having camped at my apartment for several days, he took refuge at Traunstein barracks because he was hungry. He managed to get by, as he often did in the future, with the help of his Iron Cross 1st Class and his gift of the gab. He laid less stress on the fact that in 1915, when the List Regiment was terribly mauled, he had been promoted to lance corporal like every last one of the other survivors. It was striking, after all, that a man who had served throughout the World War from October 1914 to the very end should not have received any further promotion. In January 1919 I again ran into Hitler at the newsstand on Marienplatz. I couldn't help feeling ashamed for "Red Hitler," he looked so down at heel.... Then, one evening, while I was sitting in the Rathaus Cafe with a girl, "Adi" and his friend Ernst Schmidt came in. "Hello, Ghost Rider," Hitler said to me, "do you know of some lodgings for the two of us?" I offered to put him up for the night out of charity. Afterward my girl told me, "If you're friendly with people like that, I'm not going out with you anymore."
Next I heard that Hitler was appearing as a public speaker. The first time, so as not to run into him, I listened to him in secret at Geislgasteig. That was early in 1920. Later on I heard him speak at the Circus Krone and in various beer cellars. Aha, I said to myself, Hitler's singing a very different song these days. Adi the Red has changed color!
Then, one day in January 1920, Hitler came to my apartment on Schleissheimer Strasse and complained that he couldn't go home. When I asked why, he didn't answer. I didn't care in any case. "All right," I told him, "you can sleep here." ... He stayed at my place for a day or two.... But Hitler couldn't make out in Munich. He went to see Jakob Weiss at Abens in the Holledau ... who took him to his parents' house and fed him. It was this erratic roaming around that finally brought Adolf Hitler into contact with General Epp....
My impression of Adolf Hitler in those early postwar days in Munich thoroughly confirmed my countless experiences with him in the field. Hitler struck me as a book with a thousand pages. He had always been two-faced. He was hypocrisy personified. One of his faces was that of the self-important busybody he impersonated to his superiors, and, if need be, to his comrades. When Hitler was off duty behind the lines or at headquarters and he heard that some success had been gained at the front, it was quite usual for him to burst in on the other men waving his arms and shouting, "We've won! We've given the French (or British) another bloody nose!" But with his superiors he always played the ingratiating telltale as soon as he saw it might benefit him in some way. That's why his comrades were wary of him.... Hitler's other face was that of a secret, sinister criminal. His whole attitude was that of a ruthless person who knows how to wrap himself in a halo. He has always, ever since I've known him, been... a great actor. Not a word he uttered could be trusted. He lied whenever he opened his mouth, always did the opposite of what he said....
When Hitler returned to Munich in the winter of 1918 he made persistent attempts to obtain a senior position with the Communists, but he couldn't get into the Munich directorate of the Communist Party although he posed as an ultra-radical. Since he promptly requested a senior Party post that would have exempted him from the need to work - his perpetual aim - the Communists distrusted him despite his mortal hatred of all property owners. They stalled him, and he may have thought they were spying on him from a certain stage onward. At all events, he took his revenge by joining the Freikorps Epp and gained Epp's confidence because of his Iron Cross 1st Class. Epp made it Hitler's first job to boost the troops' morale and paid him for it. He was soon able to call himself an "officer instructor." In that capacity he visited all kinds of hostelries at night and came across Anton Drexler... Hitler thereupon joined Drexler's party and was assigned Party Membership No. 1512.. But he promptly set about splitting the party by accusing Drexler's secretary, a man named Harrer, of complete incompetence and thrusting him aside. Drexler, who hated disputes of any kind, gave way to Hitler out of weakness. Hitler immediately made use of the burglar's tactic he later employed with such success, which entailed sticking his foot in the door and refusing to yield until he was on the inside. That was how he managed to smash Drexler's party. And then he opened his own shop with seven men.
Lothar Machtan maintains in The Hidden Hitler that he has marshaled convincing evidence that Hitler was a homosexual and that his homosexuality explains much about who Hitler was and why he did what he did. Does Machtan, in fact, marshal such evidence? And if Hitler was indeed a homosexual, would that provide a key to the psychology of the man or to the ways in which he convulsed the human and moral foundations of the 20th century?
Assertions of Hitler's homosexuality, active or latent, are hardly new. They dogged him during his rise to power and after he gained it. They are made in a number of biographies.... What Machtan adds to this legacy of assertions and speculations is, he says, historical evidence. He acknowledges that some of the evidence is only circumstantial. But some, he insists, is not only hard but also new, at least in the way in which he brings it forward and defends its reliability.
Machtan, who teaches history at the University of Bremen in Germany, suggests that Hitler probably had a homoerotic relationship with his friend August Kubizek, with whom he lived in Vienna in 1908; that he had a blatant sexual affair with a fellow soldier during World War I; that he may have had homosexual contacts with young men in Munich after the war; and that he may have engaged in homosexual activities right up to his assumption of political power in 1933.
Machtan further argues that much of what Hitler did while in power was driven not by the reasons historians have generally offered but by his effort to eliminate evidence of his homosexuality. Thus, Machtan says that in 1934 - when Hitler ordered the killing of, among many others, his longtime colleague and head of the SA paramilitary organization, Ernst Röhm, an avowed and well-known homosexual - he was primarily motivated by the wish to obliterate potentially damaging evidence of his homosexual past, not to rid himself of a political or military threat. And the Nazi regime's persecution of homosexuals was, Machtan says, essentially caused by Hitler's desire to silence or destroy the people from a demimonde he had once inhabited, some of whom might ''yield up disreputable secrets'' about him. As for Hitler's involvements with various women - particularly Eva Braun and his niece Geli Raubal - Machtan argues that these were mere camouflage for his fundamental homosexuality.
The circumstantial evidence of Hitler's homosexuality that Machtan cites - and which he assembles with considerable industry - consists in large measure of the real or presumed homosexual milieu to which Hitler gravitated at various times during his life; the homosexuals or possible homosexuals with whom he associated; and a variety of facts that could be explained by Hitler's homosexuality, like his superiors' failure during World War I to give him the promotions that might have been expected.
The hard evidence that Machtan presents is a number of documents that, he contends, have been unjustifiably dismissed or ignored. The main such document is the so-called Mend Protocol, a statement made in 1939 by Hans Mend, a dispatch rider who had served with Hitler during World War I. Mend testified that during the war he had seen Hitler ''bedded down at night with 'Schmidl' '' - Ernst Schmidt - his male whore.''
Machtan also cites notes left by Eugen Dollmann, Hitler's interpreter. Dollmann wrote that he had heard Otto von Lossow, a Reichswehr general in Munich after World War I, read from what Lossow claimed was a police file containing statements by young boys in Munich. Those boys, according to Lossow, said that Hitler had paid them to spend the night with him.
But the circumstantial evidence Machtan offers is just that - circumstantial. And the hard evidence seems far less reliable than he would have us believe. Hans Mend was a habitual liar and blackmailer. And General Lossow had participated in crushing Hitler's 1923 putsch. As a result, his life had been threatened by Hitler's supporters, and he was desperate to convince them that he had incriminating evidence against their leader.
But the biggest problem with Machtan's book (which has been translated by John Brownjohn) isn't the reliability of his sources but his mode of argumentation. He accepts what fits his thesis and rejects what doesn't. One feels, at times, that one is reading an internal F.B.I. report from the J. Edgar Hoover era rather than an evenhanded work of scholarship in which the author is ready to be led by the facts.
To interpret evidence his way, Machtan employs innuendo and insinuation. He asks rhetorical questions designed to lead the reader to answer them in a manner that supports his argument, even when alternative explanations are at least as plausible. He introduces possibilities that are then assumed to be probabilities and, indeed, certitudes. By the use of quotation marks, he highlights what are probably innocuous comments so that they seem loaded with homoerotic meaning. In short, he has written a tendentious book that is more a brief for the prosecution than a work of balanced history.
Machtan says that he wants to understand ''the Hitler of Auschwitz,'' and regrets that we know so little about the man who produced that greatest desecration of human history and morality. But he certainly doesn't come close to explaining any of Hitler's depredations by exploring his sexuality.
Though Machtan doesn't succeed in proving that Hitler was an active homosexual, he does demonstrate that his life, in both the personal and the political spheres, was suffused with homosexual themes and personalities. In some odd way, this may actually serve to humanize Hitler. But it doesn't serve to explain him.