Was Young Hitler An Anti-Semite?* is the 5th chapter in a great book, Hitler’s Vienna: A Dictator’s Apprenticeship, by Brigette Harmon. Hitler arrived in Vienna at age 17 in 1906. He became homeless and lived in men’s shelters, trying to sell his paintings.
This fascinating chapter reveals that despite the virulently anti-Semitic character of much of Viennese society at the time, Hitler seems to have successfully resisted the prevalent anti-Semitism of the era. In fact, he had many Jewish friends, and Jewish art merchants sold most of his work. His worst enemy was a virulent anti-Semite, and one of Hitler’s Jewish friends had the man arrested for cheating Hitler. Hitler’s only statements on the Jews were ones of admiration. However, he already hated the Social Democrats.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler rewrites his Vienna years as a time of his anti-Semitic awakening. But many autobiographies are dishonest. No one who knew Hitler at the time noticed the slightest anti-Semitism in him. Those who knew him at the time and then recognized him later as an anti-Semitic politician in the 1930’s were flabbergasted – they could not believe their eyes.
There have been many silly theories of the genesis Hitler’s anti-Semitism – the Vienna years, an encounter with a syphilitic Jewish prostitute, run-ins with Jewish professors at the Arts Academy, a Jewish grandfather, a Jewish junk dealer who cheated him in Munich, but none of it makes much sense. People are just grasping at straws.
Harmon logically decides that Hitler’s anti-Semitism developed during the war and then afterward. Lying in the hospital for three months, nearly blinded from a gas attack, he read about the November Revolution that brought the hated Social Democrats to power. In Russia, the Bolsheviks had seized power in their October revolution. At Versailles, the Allies were were setting about to destroy Germany once and for all – in league with the Jews, the anti-Semitic press charged.
Hitler had an epiphany – it was all the Jews’ fault! And he resolved to get into politics. One sure-fire road to political success in those days was to promote anti-Semitism as a politician, because it was very popular with voters. So Hitler’s anti-Semitism was based both on his experiences during and after the war and on the cynicism of a political animal.
Later, his anti-Semitism became more and more crazed and rabid to where even his fellow Nazi authors worried that it was his sole, driving and gnawing passion. Towards the end of the war, he sacrificed the war effort to kill more Jews. His suicide note warns of the Jewish peril to mankind.
*From the website of the Porges family, a Viennese Jewish family who lost many members in the Holocaust.
- Harmon, Brigette. 1999. Hitler’s Vienna: A Dictator’s Apprenticeship. New York: Oxford University Press.