This is a fabulous story: Hitler on holiday… Adolf abroad… the six months that the future Fuhrer spent on the banks of the Mersey as a guest of his half-brother. Then again, the 1930s adventures of Adolf’s nephew William, who sounds like an anti-hero par excellence.
It has long been an urban legend in Liverpool that art student Adolf Hitler was an habitué of city pubs such as the Philharmonic. But now it seems that it might be true.
Certainly it is a matter of record that Alois Hitler, the elder half-brother of Adolf, married an Irish girl, Bridget Dowling, and settled in Liverpool, where Alois ran a hotel and a boarding house. The Hitlers lived at 102 Upper Stanhope Street, Toxteth, and in 1911 had a son, William Patrick.
The story goes that in 1912 Adolf, then aged 23 with artistic ambitions, had tried to avoid national service in Austria and fled the country before the police caught up with him. He came to his half-brother in England and is supposed to have stayed in Liverpool for about six months. There has been speculation that the young Adolf would spend time down by Liverpool’s docks watching the movement of shipping, and the activities of Merseyside shipbuiders such as Cammell Laird, but there is precious little evidence that he was passing intelligence back to Germany.
There is little evidence, either, for claims that Adolf’s brother Alois was involved in spying for the Austrians in the run-up to World War 1, but when his business went bust, Alois left his family and debunked to Germany.
In the 1930s, Alois’s son, Liverpool-born William Patrick Hitler, went to Germany to exploit his family connections. According to Bridget Hitler’s memoirs, her son was not satisfied with the clerical job found for him by his father. William apparently suggested that unless something more fitting for the Fuhrer’s nephew was offered to him, he would go public with stories that the self-proclaimed messiah of the Aryan peoples had a Jewish grandfather. Hitler ordered his nephew to renounce British citizen-ship and take a post in the Third Reich; William chose to go back to England but in 1939 it was not a place for a man called Hitler, so William and his mother sailed to New York, where he died in 1987.
William’s children, born in America, apparently made the decision not only to change their surname – unsurprisingly – but also to make themselves infertile so that the Hitler genes would not be passed on to another generation.
Beryl Bainbridge’s novel Young Adolf is one take on the story, but there is still plenty of potential in it: The story of Alois, of Bridget Dowling, and of his nephew William. What else was happening in the winter of 1912/1913 in Liverpool? Who was living in 100 and 104 Upper Stanhope Street? Who else was at the art school? What sort of man was Alois, and how did Bridget feel at the rise of her brother-in-law?
I leave it with you.