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 and merely accepted by Adolf’s father. After 1945 Alois thought it prudent to agree. He dropped the name Hitler, which, he said, had never been any help to him and was now “a positive disadvantage.” He died in 1956.
To have been married for four years to the disowned brother of a future dictator does not, of itself, bring one very close to the center of power. However, it gives one a certain nuisance value. Moreover, Bridget had a son, William Patrick Hitler, who could claim to be the Führer’s nephew, the heir to his name. When young Patrick grew up, his mother thought that they too might exploit the connection. So she wrote to the Führer and was rewarded with two signed photographs—or at least two such photographs were said to be exhibited in the house in Highgate. Patrick himself visited Germany briefly in 1929-1930, and made himself known to the Führer. Later, when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, Patrick, being now twenty-three and unemployed, declared himself a fervent Nazi, offered to take German citizenship, and set off again to Berlin. He assumed that his uncle would do the right thing by him. After all, as he afterward wrote, the Chancellor “had only to wave his hand in order to fill the pockets of his nearest relations,” and Patrick’s pockets needed to be filled.
Alas, he was sadly mistaken. Adolf Hitler never had any feeling for his relations and positively refused to grant them favors. In Mein Kampf he did not even admit that he had any brothers or sisters. He allowed his half-sister, Angela Raubal, and then his full sister, Paula Hitler, to keep house for him, but he sacked Angela brusquely when she assumed too much, and he made Paula change her surname. He did not like there to be other Hitlers. So he was not pleased when Master Patrick turned up, claiming kinship. Patrick and his mother had already infuriated him by selling the story of their kinship to the press. Now when Patrick wrote to him demanding money, he was angrier still. He certainly had no intention of owning and enriching this inconvenient young man who had come to Germany solely to sponge. Rather, he wanted to bury him. At one time he told Patrick that he had no claims on him, being no relation. In other words he should disappear and shut up.
Patrick, it seems, did not take the hint. To prove his point he made inquiries in Austria and established the formal genealogy. This only made matters worse. The Führer did not want his genealogy raked up. He was a genius, outside genealogies. Nobody was to know who he was or whence he came. In order to silence these wretched British Hitlers, an arrangement was made. On condition that they kept their mouths firmly shut, Bridget was given a small allowance, paid through the German Embassy in London, and Patrick was given a job in a German motor firm, and then in a German bank. He was very dissatisfied, regarding so humble a position and such “starvation wages” as unworthy of his princely status. However, he took his wages and shut up.
At least he shut up for the time being: that is, until the Munich Agreement set the alarm bells ringing. After that, being still a British subject, he judged it prudent to return to England, and on the eve of the Second World War he reopened his mouth. He wrote an article for the French and American press entitled “Why I hate my Uncle Adolf.” By the time it was published, he had taken the precaution of putting himself well out of Uncle Adolf’s reach. He had gone, with his mother, to America to lecture on the same promising theme. His lectures were described at the time as “unauthenticated and detrimental tales of the Führer”—such as, that the Führer had been a milksop as a boy and had dandruff. That paid off the unnatural old skinflint. Bridget also, by this time, had become a fervent British patriot, and worked for a time in a British volunteer organization in America.
Thereafter, the Hitlers remained in America, keeping very quiet; but in 1943 Patrick was dug out and questioned by interrogators from OSS—and supplied them with some information for a particularly ludicrous psychological analysis of Hitler by Walter Langer which has since been published.* At that time he said that he was engaged in writing a book about his experiences in Germany. The book has not materialized—at least in that form. The OSS interrogators were not greatly impressed by him. They described him as “a young man of 32 who has not amounted to much.” Since then, we are told, Patrick Hitler changed his name, buried his past, and lived in blameless obscurity, which it would be indecent to disturb.
So much can be said with some safety from known and publicly verifiable sources. Another source, which is not publicly verifiable, lies in the files of the British Security Service, which, naturally enough, kept a watch on Mrs. Hitler in the 1930s. However, I do not think that we need lament the unavailability of this source, for I suspect that the essential truth can be established without it. So I shall merely add that the two British officers who were concerned with the case of Mrs. Hitler in those days happened to be friends of mine, and during the war we enjoyed many a merry laugh over that case. Mrs. Hitler, it seemed, was barely literate, quite harmless, and rather a joke: the girl from the bog who got mixed up with the Hitler family, and who could never get a decent job (as she explained to the German Embassy when demanding an increase in her allowance) because “how the divil are ye thinking that I can get a job with a name like that?”
After this preamble, let us now turn to The Memoirs of Bridget Hitler and to their spectacular revelation, Hitler’s visit to Liverpool in the winter of 1911-1912. When this revelation was first published by Mr. Payne, the established historians of Hitler, who had known nothing of such a visit, were incredulous. They pointed out that there was no evidence to support such a story; that the British immigration authorities have no record of such a visit; and that Hitler himself never spoke of it, even when it would have been natural and useful for him to have done so. They suggested that Bridget Hitler had subtly taken advantage of an undocumented period in the Führer’s life in order to insert an ingenious fiction of her own.
Although those who knew Bridget Hitler would be surprised by such ingenuity on her part, some such explanation seemed necessary. For if the story is not true, it is a deliberate (and very artful) fabrication. It cannot be a mere error. It is far too circumstantial. Bridget Hitler goes into great detail about her “unwanted and disagreeable guest.” She describes his arrival at Lime Street station, Liverpool, his behavior in her house, his clothes (which she mended), his personal habits (which she deplored), his character, his conversation, his interests. She narrates his jaunts to London, in the company of his brother Alois, and his privileged visit to the machine-room of the Tower Bridge in London. She wonders whether she might not, by being more tolerant, have caused him to settle down in England and so have changed the course of history; and she claims the credit for having persuaded him to abbreviate his previously overelaborate mustache—although she adds that (as always) he went too far even in this trivial matter. If this detailed story is true, a new episode is gained for history. On the other hand, if it is false, it is a deliberate falsification which destroys the credit of the whole “memoirs.”
For those who may doubt, Bridget Hitler is ready with an explanation. She remarks, correctly enough, that Adolf Hitler, at that time, was being sought by the Austrian authorities for evasion of military service, and she explains that he came to England to avoid arrest in Austria. The motive being discreditable, he afterward concealed the fact. She also points out (again quite correctly) that Hitler, in Mein Kampf, gave a wrong date. He there wrote that he came to Munich from Vienna in the spring of 1912. In fact he arrived in Munich in May 1913. This could be a mere slip; but equally it could be a deliberate falsification to conceal what he had been doing in 1912-1913. This last point, she admits, was not observed by her, for she is an unsophisticated woman: it was brought to her attention by a learned American interrogator. It certainly comes in very handily, for once again it fits the known facts. We know that when Hitler finally arrived in Munich, the Austrian authorities caught up with him and he was summoned to Salzburg to account for his evasion of military duties. Since we have no firm evidence of his activities in that winter—merely the presumption that he was still in Vienna, in lodgings in 27 Meldemannstrasse—this thesis cannot be disproved; and Mr. Michael Unger, the editor of this volume, invites us to agree with him that Bridget Hitler’s account is “circumstantial and convincing in itself” and that the question of the visit to Liverpool “must remain open.” After all, he remarks, immigration records are not complete, and arguments from silence cannot be conclusive.
Another novel claim by Bridget Hitler concerns the death, in 1931, of Hitler’s niece Geli Raubal, with whom he was in love. All historians hitherto have agreed that Geli Raubal committed suicide—and indeed this was evidently admitted by Bridget Hitler herself in conversation with Putzi Hanfstaengl in 1937. It is therefore a surprise to learn from her memoirs that already in 1934 she had known, both from Paula Hitler and indirectly, through Patrick, from Geli’s brother Leo Raubal, that Hitler had himself murdered his niece in a fit of jealousy. For good measure, she tells us that Leo Raubal swore vengeance against Hitler and, in consequence, was murdered on Hitler’s orders.
In fact, this last claim is untrue and can be disproved. Hitler was not in Munich when Geli died. He hurried back and found her dead. Leo Raubal did not accuse Hitler and was not persecuted, or murdered, by him. On the contrary, Hitler showed him some favor, arranging personally for his exchange when he was captured on the Russian front. Leo was still alive in 1967 when he was questioned by Dr. Werner Maser, the most meticulous of Hitler’s biographers. According to Dr. Maser, Leo then stated that his uncle—whom by then he had no reason to fear—“was absolutely innocent of his sister’s death.” So on this subject Bridget Hitler—the Bridget Hitler of the memoirs as distinct from the Bridget Hitler of 1937—is quite wrong. However, time plays tricks with human memory: it could be said this was a misunderstanding, by her or by Hanfstaengl, and a misunderstanding does not, like a deliberate falsification, necessarily discredit a whole work.
Another detail on which Bridget Hitler offers evidence is Hitler’s alleged Jewish ancestry. She says that Paula Hitler explicitly told her, in 1934 (in what language? we wonder) that Hitler’s and her father (who was illegitimate) had a Jewish father. This is an old story. It was first published in 1940 by émigrés on the basis of mere gossip. In 1945 it acquired greater substance when Hans Frank, Hitler’s lawyer and afterward his governor of Poland, mentioned it in the memoir which he wrote on the eve of his execution. Frank’s account is very circumstantial, and introduces “Hitler’s nephew” into the story. However, more recently Dr. Werner Maser has shown that the Jewish grandfather is entirely imaginary. We can now say that the legend is baseless, but it was undoubtedly disseminated at the time, and we cannot ignore Frank’s statement that Patrick Hitler had some part in its dissemination.
So far, then, the internal evidence is not conclusive. Bridget Hitler’s stories may be unconvincing, but they cannot be disproved. However, there are other means of testing the reliability of a document. We can analyze the text, to check not its veracity but its authenticity: to discover who wrote it, and when, and from what sources. The question then is not “is Bridget Hitler telling the truth?” but “are these memoirs by Bridget Hitler at all?” Mr. Unger assumes that they are. This is an overhasty assumption.
Let us begin with the history of the text. It is a typescript which is now in the manuscript department of the New York Public Library. The Library obtained it not directly from Bridget Hitler or from her son Patrick, but among the papers of a theatrical literary agent of European origin, Mr. Edmund Pauker. These papers came to the library in 1959; three years before Mr. Pauker’s death. The “memoirs” are entitled “My brother-in-law Adolf” and are undated, and incomplete, ending in mid-sentence. I have not seen the typescript, but scrutiny of the printed text reveals some interesting facts.
First, although it is written in the first person, it is certainly not, in its present form, the work of Bridget Hitler. It exhibits all the expository slickness, and all the tabloid rhetoric, of mindless but professional journalism. “While she existed as a separate entity, he could only insecurely fasten the glamorous mantle of an immaculate godhead around his shoulders….” “It was not till 1923, when the Munich Putsch thrust its crooked finger into the news, that Buchner penetrated the incognito of his quiet guest,” etc., etc. This is not the style of the carpenter’s daughter from Dublin who had never written a word for publication. It is the style of a practiced literary hack.
However, hacks have to acquire their material somewhere, and Bridget Hitler’s material is not all fantasy. Some of it has an unacknowledged but perfectly demonstrable source. I refer to the statements, both public and private, made by Patrick Hitler in 1939-1943. His public statements—his press articles in 1939—are not easily found, but by the courtesy of the Wiener Library in London I have in front of me the full text of his article in Paris Soir which only one other writer on Hitler—Dr. Maser—appears to have read. Patrick’s private statements—the statements made to OSS in 1943—are summarized in Walter Langer’s book. A comparison of these old texts with the new “memoirs” shows certain remarkable similarities. It also shows certain even more remarkable discrepancies. Where the two overlap, we can confidently say that Bridget’s “memoirs” are merely an elaboration of Patrick’s texts. Where they differ, I do not know which is more astonishing, Bridget’s “memory” or Patrick’s silence.
For instance, there is the Jewish grandfather. The OSS psychologists in 1943 were particularly interested in the possibility that Hitler was haunted by this family secret. But they had to be content with the gossip of émigrés. How eagerly they would have grasped at factual, firsthand confirmation from the family and from the Austrian archives! But Patrick Hitler was strangely silent on this subject. Neither in the press nor to OSS did he ever mention it. Nor did he mention the visit to Liverpool, nor the reason for it—Hitler’s evasion of military service, which remained unknown till it was revealed by Dr. Jetzinger in 1956. And yet how much stronger would his case against Uncle Adolf have been if he could have accused him of ingratitude to the brother and sister-in-law who had harbored him for six months when he was on the run, pursued by the Austrian police for malingering! This would surely have had more interest—and more relevance—than his dandruff.
Comparing Patrick’s evidence of 1939-1943 with “Bridget’s” much enlarged later “memory,” we can hardly doubt the process by which these “memoirs” were constructed. Somebody has got hold of Patrick’s evidence—no doubt it is conveniently assembled in an old OSS file now available thanks to the Freedom of Information Act—and on that base has built up a novelette in the form of “memoirs.” In order to make the memoirs salable, the compiler has added some imaginary “revelations,” such as the visit to Liverpool, and has padded the story out by giving apparent personal authority to miscellaneous gossip and rumor. He has also transferred the authorship of the “memoirs” thus constructed from Patrick to Bridget. No doubt he had reasons for this transfer. Perhaps Patrick was unwilling to own the work. Nor could Patrick have given a “firsthand” account of Hitler’s pretended visit to Liverpool since he was an infant at the time. In consequence of this transfer the compiler has been obliged to give Bridget a leading part in the story: it would be inartistic if she were merely a narrator for her son. So she is herself sent to Germany, received as a house-guest at Berchtesgaden, has conversations with the whole family and household, questions the Führer about his celibacy, etc., etc. In fact there is no reason to believe that Bridget Hitler ever visited Germany, or would have been accepted by Hitler or his family, or could have conversed with them in any common language if she had. She was probably at Highgate the whole time.
Let us allow, then, as certain that these memoirs are a spurious but ingenious elaboration of Patrick Hitler’s statements in 1939-1943, and turn to the few small problems which remain. The first concerns Hans Frank’s circumstantial statement about Hitler’s Jewish grandfather. This is an independent statement which explicitly involves Hitler’s nephew and therefore seems, at first sight, consistent with the “memoirs.” However, a closer look at Frank’s statement soon dissolves the problem.
What Frank wrote, in 1945, was that, at the end of 1930, Hitler mentioned press reports of his alleged Jewish ancestry; and Frank added that “if I remember aright,” Hitler’s nephew had written Hitler a blackmailing letter on the subject. Now in fact, although there is evidence that Patrick checked his pedigree, and that this in itself irritated Hitler, there is no evidence that he discovered, or exploited, or even entertained, any suspicion of Jewish ancestry. If he had discovered such evidence, he would certainly have used it in 1939-1943. Most probably Frank, in 1945, confused two separate reports: the rumors—quite unfounded—which had long been circulating that Hitler had a Jewish grandfather, and the information that Hitler had been irritated by his nephew’s activity in digging up his genealogy in order to prove his own relationship. Either or both of these reports could have caused Hitler, in self-protection, either against rumor or against possible claims by Alois and Patrick, to have confidential inquiries made about his parentage—and theirs.
Finally, there is the question, who compiled these spurious memoirs, and when, and why? Mr. Payne declared that they had been written “in the late 1930s.” This is presumably because they end at that time. But such a deduction is unwarranted. The story of the visit to Liverpool was clearly written after 1956, since it makes use of Dr. Jetzinger’s discovery, and another part of them must have been added after the typescript had reached the library. This part is a passage in which Patrick Hitler is said by “Bridget” to have met, in Berlin, “the ill-fated Count von Spreti.” Count von Spreti was small Nazi fry in 1934, and remained obscure till he met his “ill fate” early in 1970. He was then German ambassador in Guatemala, and was captured and murdered by terrorists. Evidently the text as printed deviates in detail from the text as deposited in the library.
As to the author and his purpose, we can only speculate. I shall merely remark that, if they were genuine, the copyright would belong to Bridget Hitler and, after her, presumably, to her son Patrick. But no claim has been made on their behalf. Possibly the compiler surreptitiously bought out the Hitlers—if so, it would not have been the first time they had been paid to shut up. Evidently he did not have time to finish his work, or to check the typescript, in which there are some agreeable howlers. I particularly enjoyed “Conrad Haydn’s biography of Hitler, Dear Sir” (for Konrad Heiden’s well-known biography Der Führer). But perhaps it is best to leave these questions in suspense, until the publisher, or the editor, or the copyright owner, or the library, produces the missing evidence.
They could, for instance, establish the true history of the text. Even better, they could produce the pieces justificatives to which “Bridget” so often refers: all those “documents, letters and information which we had gleaned on the Hitler family and their activities” and which had been locked “in our safe deposit box in the Bank” since, as Patrick remarked, “they may be of vital importance one day.” Well, that day has surely now arrived. If Mr. Unger can produce them, I will swallow my doubts. Indeed, I will go further: I will eat my hat.
June 28, 1979