All in the Family

The Memoirs of Bridget Hitler

edited by Michael Unger
Duckworth, 192 pp., $8.95

Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler; drawing by David Levine

Did Adolf Hitler, at the age of twenty-two, spend six months in Liverpool, England? According to Mr. Robert Payne, who in 1973 published a book, The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, he did. The fact, said Mr. Payne, was attested by a “completely convincing” witness, no less than Hitler’s sister-in-law, Mrs. Bridget Hitler with whom he had lodged at 102 Upper Stanhope Street, Liverpool, and who had recorded the visit, in detail, in her memoirs. This assertion cannot be disproved (since Hitler’s exact address at that time is not documented), and those who wish to believe it are free to embroider it with their speculations. A novel, Young Adolf by Beryl Bainbridge, has now been published about Hitler in Liverpool and I hear that a television play is in preparation. It is therefore convenient that the essential document itself, the text of Bridget Hitler’s memoirs, written in the first person, has now been published, enabling us to examine the story at its source. In this article I propose to examine it; but before coming down to the text it will be useful to state what is already known about Bridget Hitler and her connection with the Hitler family.

Bridget Hitler, née Dowling, was an Irishwoman, the daughter of a Dublin carpenter. In June 1910, being then seventeen years old, she eloped with a German waiter at the Shelbourne Hotel, one Alois Hitler, married him in London, and set up with him in Liverpool. Alois was the elder half-brother of Adolf Hitler, who at that time was living alone in Vienna. The marriage did not last long. In May 1914 Alois left his wife, returned to Germany, and, though not divorced, married again. In 1924 he was sentenced at Hamburg for bigamy. His first wife stayed in England and in the 1930s was keeping a boardinghouse in Highgate. She did not marry again and retained the name of Mrs. Hitler. She is now, I understand, dead, but I have not been able to establish the date or place of her death.

If Alois Hitler’s connection with his first wife was short, his connection with his famous half-brother was very tenuous. In his boyhood, he had detested young Adolf as the spoiled child for whose benefit he himself, the stepson and the stepbrother, had taken all the knocks. Ultimately he had left the parental home in disgust and gone abroad. He did not prosper in those early years; twice he was sentenced for theft; and Adolf could afford to look down on him as a ne’er-do-well. However, when Adolf rose to prominence and then power in Germany, Alois decided to exploit the connection. He set up a café in Berlin, Wittenbergplatz, called “Alois.” The Führer was not pleased. He totally ignored his brother. When pressed, he would declare that Alois was no relation of his—which could be true, for Alois had been illegitimate…

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