The Young Hitler I Knew-August Kubizek with an Introduction by Ian Kershaw
Adolf Hitler’s death and the surrender of Germany towards the end of the Second World War was beginning of the final chapter of the saga of mankind’s deadliest conflict. More than seventy years later, the war is still being studied and the Third Reich serves as an example of the dangers of unrestrained power based on extreme ideology. To the majority of the world Hitler is the incarnate of evil and the darkest dictator in world history. To others, he was a misunderstood leader of a nation in ruins and savior to millions of Germans who had no other source of hope and inspiration. His life story is well documented. But what was the young Hitler like? The turning point his life from young aspiring artists to raging anti-Semite is still unknown and surrounded by speculation. The death of his father Alois and mother Klara both occurred before he turned 18. It is to be expected that their deaths must have played some role in his future mental and emotional development. Hitler never revealed much of any friendships he had but as we can see in this interesting book by his friend from Austria, August Kubizek (1888-1956), he did in fact have at least one friend during his youth in Vienna.
Interestingly, although Hitler seized control of Germany, he was Austrian by birth. Born on Eastern Sunday in 1889, in the small village of Spital, he spent most of his early life in Austria before making the move to Germany and joining the Wehrmacht. But years before he became the future Chancellor of Germany and Führer of the Third Reich, he was simply Adolf, a young man with a teenage crush and dreams of being the best artist Germany had ever seen. This is the story of two friends who cross paths at a critical time in their lives and the friendship that ensued.
Affectionately nicknamed “Gustl” by Hitler, Kubizek is the best witness we have to what Hitler was really like as a young man in Linz. Their days are filled with visits to the Opera, discussions about life and Hitler’s endless drawings as he pursued his artistic goals. However, throughout the book there is no trace of the future menace Hitler would become. Adolf is the average teenager trying to find his calling life along with his best and seemingly only friend. I found it hard to reconcile at times that this simple teenager later became the Chancellor who mercilessly persecuted an entire race of people and in brought eternal shame to Germany. But this is in fact the crux and most important part of the book. Kubizek shows nothing that gives any indication of the future Adolf. For those seeking an answer to the megalomania that became a staple of the Reich, you will not find it here because it does not exist. What does exist is the tragic story a young man faced with the deaths of both parents and an uncertain outlook in life.
Following his mother’s death, Hitler remained in Linz before moving on to Vienna and crossing into Germany. He parted ways with Kubizek after Klara died and the two did not reunite until nearly thirty years later. By his own words, Kubizek never joined the Nazi party and remained in Austria where he married and became a father. And while he did have opinions about the events transpiring at the time, he remained neutral to Hitler. The book is neither for or against Hitler, but the remembrance of one friend by another. It was an incredible friendship forged by common interests and mutual understanding. And of all the what if questions that surround Hitler, we can only wonder what if he had followed Kubizek back home instead of moving to Germany? Perhaps there would have never been a second world war. For those looking to learn more about the life of Adolf Hitler, this is a welcome addition to the library.