There are few more influential figures in modern history than Adolf Hitler. Thus, the rise of Hitler in Germany is one of the most well-documented historical biographies. However, while most accounts of Hitler facts start with his political career or even his rejection from art school, the story of Hitler’s earliest youth remains under-discussed. The tragedies and circumstances around the childhood of young Adolf Hitler helped shape him into the man who would one day attempt to rule the world through ethnic cleansing — and come frighteningly close to doing so.
From Hitler's depraved marriage to Eva Braun in a bunker, to his chemical dependency, which may have cost Germany a victory in WWII, Hitler's history all starts on April 20, 1889, the day he was born. His parents, Alois and Karla Hitler, lived in Braunau am Inn, a nondescript town in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, just a stone’s throw away from Germany. It was not an easy upbringing. From a very early age, Hitler faced the kinds of horrors that would scar any child for life. Even so, his childhood horrors pale in comparison to those he inflicted on the rest of the world just a few decades later.
Adolf Hitler’s childhood left him ill-prepared for life as a young adult. Despite the relative luxury in which he grew up because of his father's government employment, young Hitler blew through his considerable inheritance shortly after exiting his teens, all the while trying, and failing, to start a career as an artist.
In 1909, Hitler reportedly became so destitute that – according to some biographers – he was forced to live in homeless shelters, known as “doss houses,” until he was eventually helped out of poverty by an aunt.
Not unlike many children of his era, Adolf Hitler faced physical mistreatment at a young age. However, the horrors he faced were reportedly extreme even for that time; some historians claim it’s possible to draw a connection between the brutality Hitler experienced in his youth and the future brutality of the Führer. When, in 2005, two experts discovered journals they claimed were written by Hitler’s sister, Paula, and his older half-siblings, Alois Jr. and Angela, the journals were purported to reveal a brutal pattern of mistreatment at the hands of their father, Alois Sr.
According to the writings, Alois regularly beat his children — Adolf in particular — with “unbridled rage." One alarming anecdote from the journals depicted Hitler’s mother, Klara, protecting his body with hers as the senior Hitler rained down powerful blows. "The terror of the Third Reich was cultivated in Hitler's own home," one historian commented. Paula's journal recounted:
It was especially my brother Adolf who challenged my father to extreme harshness and who got his sound thrashing every day... How often on the other hand did my mother caress him and try to obtain with her kindness what the father could not succeed [in obtaining] with harshness!
Hitler, whose bias toward Jewish people was unparalleled, began honing such discrimination as a young man. However, during his teenage years, he was deeply infatuated with a Jewish girl. According to the memoir of his best friend August Kuzibek, Hitler developed a serious crush on a girl named Stefanie Isak, but the attraction soon escalated into stalker territory.
Kuzibek reported Hitler wrote Isak anonymous letters asking her to marry him, pronounced his undying love, plotted to snatch her, and fantasized about jointly offing themselves. He even raged against the other men he saw hanging out with her. Isak, fortunately for her, married someone else in 1910.
After absorbing regular beatings at the hands of his father, Adolf began turning his own ire toward his younger sister, Paula, according to one of her journals. Paula describes herself as looking up to her older brother as a father figure, especially after Alois Hitler Sr. passed. But her brother, by all accounts, returned her adulation with physical harm.
Paula’s journal reports the brutality in heartbreaking plainness, simply stating, “Once again I feel my brother's loose hand across my face” in one entry.