Even as a child Adolf Hitler had an exalted opinion of himself, a self-regard that was both nurtured and encouraged by his adoring mother, Klara. His father, Alois, an ill-tempered man, was not so amenable to his son’s whims and had already determined that he should follow him into the Civil Service, or to be more precise become a Customs Officer like himself. But young Adolf wanted to be an artist, and not any old artist, but a great artist. As a result relations were strained and attempts by Alois to beat some sense into his son only made matters worse.
Although his grief was genuine enough his father’s death in January 1903 also came as a great relief for he could now pursue his ambition unrestrained; and it wasn’t as if he was without talent, his ability to draw had already earned praise and with practice, and a little imagination, he might have earned passage into the ranks of the artistic milieu he so desperately sought to be a part of, not that this alone would ever have been enough.
But then dedication wasn’t required – for a genius need not partake of hard work.
Supported by his mother who had been left financially secure by her recently deceased husband in 1906, Adolf went to live in Linz where he lived like the artistic gentleman of leisure he thought he was spending his time in idle musings, attending concerts, and visiting the opera where he made the acquaintance of the aspiring musician, August Kubizek.
Kubizek was to write of the time he spent in the company of the future Fuhrer in his 1955 book ‘The Young Hitler I Knew’ and the portrait he drew was a complicated one of neuroses,ambition, and an emerging megalomania – Hitler was a difficult young man to get along with, someone who even as a youth approached every problem with ‘a deadly earnestness.’
He was to describe Hitler’s personality as ‘violent and high strung’ but nonetheless it was a friendship he would never relinquish even in light of events.
Despite concern for his mother’s health which had taken a turn for the worse Adolf withdrew what remained of the inheritance left to him by his father and in the summer of 1907 went to live in Vienna where he applied for admission to the Academy of Fine Arts.
In October he was shocked to be told he had failed the entrance exam and demanded to know why?
The Academy informed him in no uncertain terms that he lacked talent as a painter but did have some technical ability which might be better suited to a career in architecture.
Much like the opera he so enjoyed, Hitler considered architecture to be art on a grand scale which suited well his mindset but even so the rejection was difficult to bear. Nonetheless, there was little time to dwell on the matter as his mother’s rapidly deteriorating health forced him to return home.
Surgery the previous January had failed to prevent the spread of breast cancer and despite the best efforts of Eduoard Bloch, the family’s Jewish doctor, Klara’s condition only worsened. Informed that his mother would not recover Hitler descended into depression.
Dr Bloch was to remark that upon receiving the news Hitler was ‘the saddest man I had ever seen.’
Adolf remained with his mother during her final months cooking for her, doing the household chores, and tending to her every need but her demise was only a matter of time.
On 21 December 1907, Klara Hitler died.
Adolf was distraught and Dr Bloch was to say that he had never seen anyone so overcome with grief. Later, when he visited Dr Bloch to pay the medical bill he told him – I shall be grateful too you forever – he was later to prove as good as his word.
Following his mother’s death he had no desire to remain in Linz and so in February 1908, he returned to Vienna, the city he considered the centre of European culture, to pursue once more his desire to be an artist.
Not long after his arrival he was reunited with August Kubizek whom he had asked to join him and clearly delighted greeted at the station with a handshake and a kiss.
In October he tried for a second time to enrol in the Academy of Fine Art but was denied permission even to sit the entrance exam and disappointment soon became a bitter resentment towards the Jewish Professors of the Academy he believed had thwarted his artistic ambitions.
Life had turned sour and his sense of victimisation was only made worse when Kubizek gained entry to the Vienna Conservatory. That November Kubizek returned to the apartment they shared to find that Hitler had moved out leaving no forwarding address.
Hitler’s life now proceeded on a downward spiral.
The money he had received as his inheritance had run out and by December 1909, he was eating at soup kitchens and living in a homeless shelter.
He would spend the cold days in libraries where he assiduously imbibed Nordic, Aryan, and anti-Semitic literature. On more clement days he would walk the streets sketching buildings and street scenes but it all felt very hollow and he had come to hate the city he had once so admired but had so brutally rejected him – a mongrel city, the capital of a mongrel Empire.
Ostensibly reliant upon hand-outs he did make a little money as a day labourer shovelling snow and carrying bags for commuters at the railway station but it rarely lasted more than a few hours; physical labour and working for another was abhorrent to him – but he could still draw.
He was persuaded by Reinhold Harmisch, a fellow resident at the Poor House where he was now living, to sketch the famous landmarks of Vienna which he would then hawk around the city on his behalf.
Hitler agreed, but they soon fell out and in August 1910, believing he was being swindled Hitler testified against Harmisch in a court case that saw him jailed.
In 1938, following the Anschluss with Austria, Hitler would order Harmisch’s murder.
Hitler did better selling his own drawings, which now included copies of postcards he offered to tourists, and paintings he sold through an acquaintance, Joseph Neumann, a Jew, who used his connections to sell them to mostly Jewish shopkeepers.
To avoid conscription into the army of the Austro-Hungarian Empire he had come to despise in May 1913, he fled to Munich in Germany where he continued to sell his drawings though his life was barely any better than it had been in Vienna, even if he may have considered the air more pure.
His life remained aimless his day-to-day existence a drudge, so when war was declared on 1 August 1914, it came almost as a relief, now he would have a purpose.
He wrote in Mein Kampf:
“For me, as for every German, there now began the greatest and most unforgettable time of my earthly existence. Compared to the events of this gigantic struggle, everything past receded into shallow hollowness.”
Soon after mingling with the enthusiastic crowds in Munich Town Square he enlisted in the 6th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment.
His career as an artist was at an end, that of a politician yet to begin.