When most people hear about Adolf Hitler, they usually relate him to the persecution of the Holocaust. There have been several debates and theories on the reasons and ideas, which caused Hitler to become the wicked man he was. There is a possible connection between Hitler’s childhood, and the demented thinking which became evident by events such as the Holocaust. Intervention against abuse in Hitler’s childhood and adolescence possibly could prevented his devastating persecution of so many around the world.
Hitler, later described his childhood from his point of view in his book, Mein Kampf. One of the major problems with his book however, is that it is greatly tainted from the real childhood of Adolf Hitler. It actually parallels greatly with his father’s childhood; not with that of Adolf Hitler. To read Mein Kampf, one would deduce that the young Hitler had a miserable childhood, filled with hard times and prejudice. In all actuality, Adolf lived in a decent house and his father supported the family comfortably with a middle class income.
Although abused by his father, he was not looked down upon like his father was; his father being the son of an illegitimate housemaid. It has been said, if his father could have read his book, he would have asked, “What struggle?” (Wilson 5).
Even as a young child, Hitler had a preconceived idea that he superior to all. He enjoyed playing war games with him as the leader or dictator of the country (Kershaw 15). He bullied his friends if they did not submit to his ideas. He especially loved war games, which depicted a complete world takeover. Hitler admits that in school, “…I became a little revolutionary.” (Hitler 8). In his mind, he was always superior. He felt he was powerful and had powerful mental weaponry (Hitler 6). He was characterized as a purposeless rebel teenager with no ambition (Kershaw 18).
One of the greatest incredulities to the fantasizing Hitler was when he went to enter the military. Being the war-minded person he was, he felt that when he enlisted in military, he would surely rise to the top as a great leader. A great surprise greeted him when he tried to enlist in the German Army. A military medical examination revealed that the underweight, weak, reverie of a man, Adolf Hitler, was unfit for military service (Wilson 9). This severe blow to his pride and self-esteem affected him greatly, and caused incredible bitterness to arise within the young man (Kershaw 39). He was now a teenager without a purpose or plan (Kershaw 18).
There are several physical attributes which contributed greatly to the persecution which took place later in the life of Hitler. The most prominent of these, was his physical appearance. He was described by many as a weak-looking man who carried himself with an air of failure. He failed the military examination to enter the German Army, due to similar physical problems creating an impression of weakness in the minds of the inspector for the Army. Hitler’s whole appearance even as child, was that of a weakling. He was described by Dr. Block, the doctor who was in charge of taking care of his mother on her deathbed, as a “… tall, sallow, frail-looking boy who lived within himself” (Kershaw 23). Many others also described him as being thin and pale, looking very frail (Kershaw 17).
The physical attribute which probably played the greatest role in his persecution, was the insecurity possessed by Hitler due to his undermined abilities. When Hitler was born, he was lacking a testicle. This greatly contributed to his mental stature (Kershaw 45). There is substantial evidence that this contributed to a state of mental disorder regarding sexual concepts. This caused feelings of hatred to those who were “normal.” He was laughed at and thought of as an oddity that was good only to flirt and tease with (Kershaw 45).
His undermined abilities do not stop there. He also had a depressing lack of strength. His diminished condition is evident throughout his adolescence when he was in Vienna. While awaiting the entrance examination to the Army, soldiers were showing their strength by opening cans of meat with bayonets. When it came time for the young Hitler to open a can, he was unable to do so. This caused an outbreak of ribbing and laughing among the soldiers (Kershaw 18). Then when pronounced unfit to bear arms in the Army, this strengthened his already forming hatred of those who were “normal.” When he was advised by his father to find employment to support himself, he replied, “I would rather lounge about, wear dandified clothes and attend the opera” (Wilson 5).
These physical handicaps played a great role in his persecution later in life. He felt the pain of being abnormal and different, and released his fury on those who were also different (Kershaw 48). Hitler’s sexual development was greatly hindered, due to his birth defect (Hitler 9). He described his birth defect as a “hindrance” in his book, Mein Kampf (Kershaw 45). This hatred of being different was predicated on a conceived idea of abnormality. Later, during his persecution, some of his targets were those possessing birth defects. He felt they were responsible for his handicap, and they contributed to the problems he experienced as a child and teenager (Kershaw 67). There is credible research showing that he was wrong in his ideas. One source presents, “There is no scientific basis for the notion that possession of … superior or inferior physical or mental health, or abilities…” can be caused by those who are not even related (Mjollnir 2).
The single greatest aspect of Hitler’s childhood which provoked his persecution later in life, was the psychological damage ingrained into him as a child. Many sources agree that his father’s abuse greatly contributed to his disturbed mental condition (Kershaw 13). His father unmercifully beat and verbally abused the young Hitler. Hitler’s sister expresses that, “… Adolf challenged my father to extreme harshness and got a sound thrashing every day” (Kershaw 13). His father is described by various sources as having an unpredictable temper, hateful and abusive (Kershaw 11). His father’s abuse was embittering the young Hitler to the point he was devising plans of threats on his father’s life. He says of himself, “… I [Adolf] developed a plan of my own in opposition to my father’s” (Hitler 4). He continued to resist his father’s authority until his father exercised his authority to the greatest degree, at which point Adolf began to turn his threats into reality (Hitler 5). Although he never actually harmed his father’s life, the thought of it possessed his mind and consumed every moment of his day. His father opposed his ideas, did not agree with Hitler about his abilities, and was considered by Adolf to be completely out of the question regarding any of his ideas (Hitler 5).
The second contributor to his mental confusion was his mother’s excessive pampering. In complete contrast to his father’s abusive nature, his mother was loving and kind; favoring Adolf over everyone in the household (Kershaw 12). She frequently enabled him to do wrong and escape punishment. She was a submissive, quiet churchgoer, who tried to provide an enjoyable environment in the household that was so negatively affected by Hitler’s father, Alois, abusive nature (Kershaw 12). Although Klara, Adolf’s mother, was helpless against the wrath of Hitler’s father, she provided Adolf with opportunities to disobey and rebel against his father, who dominated the submissive Klara (Kershaw 12). It was said by several that Adolf’s mother may have been the only person he truly loved in his life (Kershaw 12). The doctor who cared for her on her deathbed described Hitler by saying he had never seen someone “so prostrate with grief” (Wilson 16).
Another preconceived idea that played a role in his persecution was his forming theory of “threats.” He viewed the Jews and other religious groups as a threat to his “perfect race.” His hatred of these groups can be linked back to his time spent in Vienna. During his stay here, he was exposed to racial influences, with discrimination being rampant (Kershaw 28). Hitler believed that the years in Vienna were crucially important to his character and later political philosophies. It was also here where he learned of two “menaces” he had previously never heard of: Marxism and Jewry (Kershaw 29). He believed that the Jews were unclean, dirty, full of diseases and every evil (Kershaw 61). In his own words, “Wherever I went, I began to see Jews, and the more I saw, the more sharply they became distinguished in my eyes from the rest of humanity” (Kershaw 61). Other religious groups persecuted were the Catholic and Lutheran clergy, and Jehovah’s Witnesses for insubordination and acts of resistance (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 2). This hatred eventually turned into a big conspiracy theory as evident in the Holocaust (Kershaw 61).
Another “threat,” was the handicapped and mentally challenged. Although they fascinated him, he was terribly afraid of them and viewed them as a threat to society (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 2). It has been said that Hitler would walk down certain areas of the city, where these types of people were, and watch them for hours; he was mesmerized by the fact they were so different. These people were also considered to be a threat, in that they were not pure in the gene pool of the so-called master German race (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 2).
One of Hitler’s biggest fears was that of women who were viewed as a “threat” to his manhood (Kershaw 45). Due to his birth defect of only one testicle, he felt less than a man. The fact that women never accepted him due to this and other reasons, gave birth to a growing hatred for them. It grew and eventually he became defiantly misogynistic (Kershaw 44). Sexual activities frightened him, and he associated women with the rejection he felt as a teenager, when they would tease him and poke fun at him (Kershaw 45). He felt that women were to be afraid of males, and that males were supremely dominant (Kershaw 45). When approached by women he would try to avoid eye contact and if forced to make eye contact, would lash out with misogynist comments and violent outbreaks (Kershaw 45). It is perceived by many that these ideas had their roots in his troubled childhood (Kershaw 46).
In his book Mein Kampf, Hitler describes his fear of prostitutes. It is interesting to note that under the image of respectability, self-righteousness, and refined manners portrayed by Hitler, was the real picture of a man gripped by vice, prostitution and criminality (Kershaw 31). Careful research shows that he was involved in many occurrences of prostitution through his teen years (Kershaw 31). However, one day as he was walking the “Red Light District,” he saw a girl he quickly became infatuated with. The shocking part of this encounter, is that she never even knew who he was or the fact that he had even seen her. (Kershaw 20) After this encounter, he never engaged again in prostitution activities, although he remained fascinated with them. He was known life-long by many as being infatuated with this “invisible girl” (Kershaw 20).
During his persecution, he ordered the German Criminal Police Officials to arrest and incarcerate tens of thousands of “asocials,” people Hitler considered to be criminals or those engaged in unlawful acts (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 2). Among this large group prosecuted, were many prostitutes. He also considered male homosexuals to be part of this “asocial group” (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 2). Hitler considered both groups as a “threat” to the “purity” of the master German race (United States Holocaust Museum 2). This ideology that these groups would ruin his “perfect race,” can be linked back to his adolescence where these groups fascinated him, but when approached by them, was usually teased and made fun of.
The last on his list of psychological “threats” was political opponents. He persecuted and destroyed many real and perceived political opponents (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 2). Many of those persecuted were not political opponents, but somehow were perceived by Hitler and his regime as being a threat (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 2). This fear of not being supreme and being challenged for the position of dictatorship can be tied back to his childhood war games where those who challenged him, or were not submissive, became subject to extreme bullying and torture.
The other psychological aspect that played a great part in the persecution later to come, was the mental disorder of hypochondria. The main reason for his extreme hypochondria, was the fact that both his parents were dead by the time he turned eighteen (Wilson 14). He feared all illnesses and imagined his own life would be very short (Wilson 14). This hypochondria was reflected in his persecution of the Jews, because he considered them as having illnesses and being unclean (Kershaw 61). The hypochondria grew rapidly until the slightest physical contact from anyone greatly disturbed Hitler (Kershaw 46). All of this took place during the years of his adolescence when he was exposed in Vienna to such filth and the great illnesses rampant in the slum districts of the city.
All of these psychological problems, were the roots that built Adolf Hitler’s ideologies and political theories later in his life. Unquestionably, the venomous Hitler of the Holocaust and Nazi Regime was formed during the emotional crisis that haunted his childhood and adolescence (Kershaw 13). He was described as a multitude of things including a “freak, satanic oddity, and a demon” (Wilson 2). The name-calling and rejection, no doubt, played a part in his hatred of so many.
Along with the many psychological aspects of Hitler’s young life, there are also a few emotional disorders that contributed to the later persecution. The first disorder was the extreme fear he possessed. He feared many different groups of people and considered them “threats.” When afraid, he became seemingly “paralyzed” with shyness and silence (Wilson 5). During his adolescence, when his extremely abusive father would punish him, he became completely silent, contrary to his childhood when he would yell and resist his father violently (Hitler 5). Hitler possessed a great fear of his father and his wrath (Kershaw 13).
The second emotional disorder Hitler possessed was that of false superiority. Even as a child, he believed he was superior to all (Kershaw 17). This superiority was definitely a factor in his spirited rebellion against his father (Hitler 4). He felt that his father did not have the same knowledge as he, a youth with more understanding (Hitler 5). He felt that as a youth, his convictions were more accurate and honest, than those of the older generation (Hitler 6). It caused him to have revolutionary ideas at a young age, and fueled his egotistical drive for dictatorship later on (Hitler 8).
The third emotional disorder pertaining to Hitler, was the extreme behavioral issues; having their roots in his early childhood. It was said that Hitler was a very “stubborn, high-handed, dogmatic and hot-tempered” (Kershaw 17). Part of this outright rebellion, is due to his father’s extreme abuse (Wilson 12). He was very domineering in school, striking fear and hate in the hearts of his classmates (Kershaw 17). He was constantly falling into trouble, and struggled with subjecting to school discipline (Kershaw 17). For some unknown reason, he esteemed his teacher in school very highly. However, he felt that as a youth he had more insight and understanding, therefore he should not be punished for his rebellion and disobedience (Hitler 6).
During his short stint with the German Army, after he failed the first time, he was very rebellious and authoritative. He was extremely violent, and struck fear in the hearts and minds of his superiors (Wilson 9). The rebellious and defiant nature of Hitler caused him to have a mesmeric force over people (Wilson 47). He used this force to bring about one of the biggest catastrophes in history: the Holocaust (Wilson 47). The lives of millions were affected, due to this hypnotic strength that Adolf Hitler possessed (Wilson 47).
As stated before, Hitler’s own perspective is very tainted from the third party view. In Hitler’s “autobiography,” it is written with a very tainted view of his childhood and adolescence. It was written as a manifesto of Hitler’s later life (Wilson 49). The “struggle” described in Mein Kampf, is one Hitler believed he had gone through (Wilson 49). He felt that he would later be rewarded as dictator of the world and be superior to all (Kershaw 59). Hitler used Mein Kampf as a delusion that would later gain him the position of dictator. He believed and was correct in that if people heard a lie long enough, they would believe it and be “brainwashed” (Wilson 40).
Hitler also viewed himself as the master of the “perfect race.” When Hitler formed his Nazi regime, he instituted many racist and manifesto ideas into his followers. The many different groups Hitler persecuted all shared one “evil.” They were all seen as “threats” and “impure” to the “perfect gene pool” of the “master race” (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 2). Hitler’s ideology of impurity can be seen in his time spent in Vienna. He was exposed to an abundance of racial and sexual discrimination (Kershaw 29). It was here where he developed his intense hate for Jews (Kershaw 29). As “Fuher” of the master race, he felt it was his responsibility to rid the world of the impurities and blemishes which stood as a hindrance to producing offspring noted as “perfect.” The Nazis, along with the German Criminal Police Officials, not only persecuted those bearing discriminatory grounds, but also those perceived as political opponents. These were seen as a challenge to the “throne” of the Master (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 2).
It is obvious that intervention in Hitler’s early life was definitely needed. If someone would have intervened and helped the mentally and physically damaged Hitler during his childhood, it could have possibly prevented the mass murder that took place during the reign of Adolf Hitler. The first place to start would have been to curb the abuse of his father. The extreme abuse definitely played a great part in the mental damage and persecution to come. At the same time, there was a need to reduce the pampering of his mother. By her enabling him to do wrong and favoring him, it caused him to be lazy and irresponsible. He felt that everything should be handed to him and he should not have to work, as it was when he was growing up. When he ran out of money, he never worked to earn a living, but rather used criminality to fund his lazy, lavish lifestyle. This behavior was predicating his overpowering of others and was part of the reason why those who did not submit were punished severely.
Due to all the mental, physical, and emotional stress and abuse he suffered as a child, there was a definite need for counseling. Emotionally, he was very unstable and never lived in reality. If he had been counseled for his emotional needs, it would have relieved some of the stress and confusion, which definitely affected his disturbed psychological state. Psychologically, Hitler was very unstable. It is my belief that he needed to be examined by a psychologist to diagnose the disorder(s) which plagued his mental sanity. If there would have been a diagnosis, perhaps medication could have balanced his off-balance mind and prevented the loss of so many lives during the Holocaust and other persecutions arranged by Hitler.
Another factor in Hitler’s childhood that contributed to his disorder, was his lack of physical balance. There was a definite need for an increased fitness level. Many sources agree that he lived a childhood life of laziness and failure. Hitler did not enjoy the outdoors and preferred to lounge about the house and attend operas. This type of lifestyle promotes an air of failure and weakness. What a difference it would have made if he would have been encouraged and persuaded to pursue a more active lifestyle in the outdoors. This also could have helped clear his mind and provide an avenue of escape from his troubled home life. With the proper intervention in Adolf Hitler’s early life, many may have lived a more peaceful life and escaped the cruelty of unattended childhood issues turning into destruction.
AUSTIN LEWIS is a resident of Tehachapi. He completed the research associated with this article in conjunction with his studies at Valley Oaks Charter School (Bakersfield Campus).