Hitler is Homeless in Vienna

The beautiful old world city of Vienna, capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with its magnificent culture that had seen the likes of Beethoven and Mozart, now had a new resident, a pale, lanky, sad looking 18-year-old named Adolf Hitler.

Vienna was a city alive with music and full of diverse people who loved the arts and felt lucky to call the place home. In February 1908, Hitler moved there with the goal of attending the art academy and becoming a great artist.

Sixty years before him, Hitler's father also came to Vienna seeking opportunity. At that time the Hapsburg Empire was ruled by Emperor Franz Josef. When Adolf Hitler arrived, it was still ruled by him, although he was now senile and under the influence of corrupt ministers. His empire, which had ruled Austria and surrounding countries for centuries, was now in great decline. Vienna, however, remained a city of opportunity and attracted a multicultural population from all over the empire.


Hitler's friend from his hometown of Linz, August Kubizek, also came to Vienna and they roomed together. In Vienna, Hitler continued the same lazy lifestyle he had enjoyed in Linz after dropping out of school. Kubizek described Hitler as a night owl who slept till noon, would go out for walks taking in all the sights, then stay up late discussing his ideas on everything from social reform to city planning. Hitler made no effort to get a regular job, considering himself far above that. He dressed like an artist and at night dressed like a young gentleman of leisure and often attended the opera.

Kubizek also recalled Hitler displayed an increasingly unstable personality with a terrible temper. At times he was quite reasonable but he was always prone to sudden outbursts of rage especially when he was corrected on anything. He had no real interest in women, preferring to keep away from them and even smugly rebuffed those who showed any interest in him. He strictly adhered to his Catholic upbringing regarding sex, believing men and women should remain celibate until marriage.

Hitler was also prone to sudden bursts of inspiration and had many interesting ideas but never finished anything he started. Whether composing his own opera or redesigning the city of Vienna, he would start with much enthusiasm and work hard, only to eventually lose interest.

In October 1908, Hitler tried for the second time to gain admission to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. However, his test drawings were judged as so poor that he was not even allowed to take the formal exam. It was a bitter disappointment to Hitler and effectively left him on the outside looking in at the artistic community in Vienna. His friend Kubizek had successfully gained entrance to the Vienna Conservatory and was studying music there, doing quite well, in contrast to Hitler.

Hitler soon parted company with his friend in a rather strange manner. When Kubizek returned to Vienna after two months of military training in November 1908, he found Hitler had moved out of their shared apartment and left no forwarding address.

Hitler now had no use for his friend and made no attempt to find him again. He lived by himself, moving from place to place as his savings gradually dwindled and his lifestyle spiraled downward. Despite the need for money, Hitler made no attempt to get regular employment. He eventually pawned all his possessions and actually wound up sleeping on park benches and begging for money. He quickly became a dirty, smelly, unshaven young man wearing tattered clothes and did not even own an overcoat. In December of 1909, freezing and half starved, he moved into a homeless shelter. He ate at a soup kitchen operated by the nuns from a nearby convent.

In February 1910, he moved into a home for poor men where he would stay for the next few years. Hitler sometimes earned a little money as a day laborer, shoveling snow and carrying bags at the train station. He then discovered he could earn a meager living selling pictures of famous Vienna landmarks which he copied from postcards. Another resident at the home, Reinhold Hanish, acted as his agent, hawking Hitler's works of art to various shops where they were mostly used to fill empty picture frames. Hitler also painted posters for shop windows.

Hanish recalled Hitler as undisciplined and moody, always hanging around the men's home, eager to discuss politics and often making speeches to the residents. He usually flew into a rage if anyone contradicted him. Eventually, Hitler quarreled with Hanish, even accusing him of stealing his property and falsely testified against him in court in August 1910, getting Hanish an eight-day jail sentence. (In 1938 Hanish was murdered on Hitler's orders after talking to the press about him).

Hitler took to selling his own paintings to mostly Jewish shop owners and was also assisted by Josef Neumann, a Jew he befriended.

Hitler had a passion for reading, grabbing all the daily newspapers available at the men's home, reading numerous political pamphlets and borrowing many books from the library on German history and mythology. He had a curious but academically untrained mind and examined the complex philosophical works of Nietzsche, Hegel, Fichte, Treitschke and the Englishman, Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Hitler picked up bits and pieces of philosophy and ideas from them and wound up with a hodgepodge of racist, nationalistic, anti-Semitic attitudes that over time became a die-hard philosophy, later to be described in his book, Mein Kampf.

The utter misery of his poverty also deeply influenced Hitler. He adopted a harsh, survivalist mentality, which left little room for consideration of kindness and compassion – an attitude that would stay with him until the end.

"I owe it to that period that I grew hard and am still capable of being hard," Hitler stated in Mein Kampf.


Even before he came to Vienna, Hitler had a personality notable for its lack of empathy. Many historians have concluded Hitler suffered psychological distress partly brought on by an unhappy childhood, notably his relationship with his father, a domineering, at times cruel man. At the same time, Hitler had also shown extraordinary attachment to his over-indulgent mother.

In Vienna, and later, Hitler suffered bouts of depression. Other times he experienced extreme highs, only to be followed by a drop back into the depths. One consistent personality trait was the hysteria evident whenever someone displeased him. Hitler's personality has been described as basically hysterical in nature.

Now, at age 21, he was becoming keenly interested in politics, watching events unfold around him in Vienna.

After witnessing a large protest march by workers, he immersed himself in an intensive study of the politics of the workers' party, the Social Democrats. He gained appreciation of their ability to organize large rallies and use propaganda and fear as political weapons.

From the sidelines, he also watched the two other main parties, the Pan German Nationalists and the Christian Social Party, which heightened his interest in German nationalism and anti-Semitism.

Vienna, a city of two million, had a Jewish population of just under two hundred thousand, including many traditionally dressed ethnic Jews. In Linz, Hitler had only known a few "Germanized" Jews. The poor men's home Hitler lived in was near a Jewish community.

Among the middle class in Vienna, anti-Semitism was considered rather fashionable. The mayor, Karl Lueger, a noted anti-Semite, was a member of the Christian Social Party which included anti-Semitism in its political platform.

Hitler admired Lueger, a powerful politician, for his speech-making skills and effective use of propaganda in gaining popular appeal. He also admired Lueger's skill in manipulating established institutions such as the Catholic Church. He studied Lueger carefully and modeled some of his later behavior on what he learned.

There were also anti-Semitic tabloids and pamphlets available at the newsstands and at local coffee shops. On first reading them, Hitler claims in his book Mein Kampf to have been put off.

"...the tone, particularly of the Viennese anti-Semitic press, seemed to me unworthy of the cultural tradition of a great nation."

But also in Mein Kampf, Hitler describes the transformation in his thinking regarding the Jews. It began with a chance meeting.

"Once, as I was strolling through the inner city, I suddenly encountered an apparition in a black caftan and black hair locks. Is this a Jew? was my first thought."

"For, to be sure, they had not looked like that in Linz. I observed the man furtively and cautiously, but the longer I stared at this foreign face, scrutinizing feature for feature, the more my first question assumed a new form: is this a German?"

To answer his own question, he immersed himself in anti-Semitic literature. Then he went out and studied Jews as they passed by.

"...the more I saw, the more sharply they became distinguished in my eyes from the rest of humanity..."

A jubilant young Hitler among the crowd celebrating the German proclamation of war on the Odeonplatz in Munich, Germany, August 2, 1914. Below: Close-up of the photo highlight showing Hitler.

"For me this was the time of the greatest spiritual upheaval I have ever had to go through. I had ceased to be a weak-kneed cosmopolitan and become an anti-Semite."

But at this point Hitler's anti-Semitism was not apparent in his personal relationships with Jews. He still did business with Jewish shop owners in selling his paintings and maintained the friendship with Josef Neumann. However, the seeds of hate were planted and would be nurtured by events soon to come, laying the foundation for one of the greatest tragedies in all of human history.

Hitler left Vienna at age 24, to avoid mandatory military service in the Austrian army, and thus avoided serving the multicultural Austrian Empire he now despised.

Twenty-four years after leaving Vienna, Adolf Hitler would make a triumphant return as Führer of the German Reich. However, the memory of those miserable days of failure in his youth and the attitudes and ideas he acquired would forever remain.

In May of 1913, he moved to the German Fatherland and settled in Munich. But he was tracked down by the Austrian authorities in January 1914. Faced with the possibility of prison for avoiding military service, he wrote a letter to the Austrian Consulate apologizing and told of his recent years of misery.

"I never knew the beautiful word youth," Hitler stated in his letter.

The tone of the letter impressed the Austrian officials and Hitler was not punished for dodging the service. He took the necessary medical exam which he easily failed and the matter was dropped altogether.

In Munich, Hitler continued painting, once again making a small living by selling painted pictures of landmarks to local shops. When asked by an old acquaintance how he would make a permanent living, Hitler said it did not matter since there soon be a war.

On August 1st, 1914, a huge, enthusiastic crowd including Hitler gathered in a big public plaza in Munich – the occasion – to celebrate the German proclamation of war.

Two days later, Hitler volunteered for the German Army, enlisting in a Bavarian regiment.

"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 to shallow nothingness," Hitler said in Mein Kampf.

On first hearing the news of war Hitler had sunk to his knees and thanked heaven for being alive.

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