The Hardest School – Part II

For Young Adolf, Vienna was a colossal madhouse – plain and simple. No major city (apart from Berlin) had grown as fast as Vienna in the second half of the XIX century. Its population had increased two-and-a-half-fold between 1860 and 1900- four times the growth of Paris or London.

This explosive growth was, obviously driven by immigration from other parts of Austro-Hungarian Empire. Of the 1.6 million residents of Vienna in 1900, fewer than half had been born in the city. And most immigrants came from its Eastern parts: Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Ruthenians, Slovenes, Serbs, Croats, Italians, Rumanians and Hungarians.

No wonder the “native” German population of Vienna felt threatened – politically, economically and culturally – by these strangers. Consequently, it will be safe to assume that this encounter with “alien nations” – and the fear that it created in young Adolf – planted the seeds for his subsequent theory of an existential racial war between the German race and inferior “alien nations”.

These experiences strengthened racist prejudices planted by Herr Professor Pötsch. 15 years later Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf:

To me the giant city seemed the embodiment of racial desecration

This fear gave rise to another mortal sin – hatred. Hatred for these “alien nations” – Slavs and, of course, Jews. By 1910, Vienna was home to over 175,000 Jews – about 8.6% of its population. However, their presence in the professions (doctors, lawyers, etc.), academic life (university professors), the mass media, the arts, and especially in business and finance was far greater than their numbers in the population.

Young people tend to exaggerate just about everything so it is not surprising that this undeniable fact produced a very powerful emotional imprint on impressionable Adolf Hitler. Who from that time on viewed all professional, academic, business, cultural and media elites in Europe and North America as being controlled by the Jews (which in reality was not the case at all).

However, unlike in German cities, in Vienna there was a substantial number of poor Jews making it more like an East European than a West European cities. Contrary to an anti-Semitic stereotypes, wealthy Jews were in no hurry to help these much less fortunate Jews so the latter were mostly doomed to poverty and suffering and in inhuman living conditions.

Consequently, it is no wonder that the ideas of Zionism (getting the hell out of this Hell on Earth and emigrating to the Promised Land in Palestine) and Marxism – radical (and violent) reengineering of the Austrian society and transforming into a Marxist state – were very popular among poor Jewish inhabitants of Vienna.

Whom Adolf Hitler – himself a poor outcast at that time – met in significant numbers on a daily basis. In Leopoldstadt, a third of the down-at-heel population was Jewish. In adjacent Brigittenau, the depressing district where Hitler would spend his last three years in Vienna, about 17% were Jews.

And while he could not care less about Zionism (actually, he might even welcomed it – “good riddance”), he was very concerned about Marxism. Correctly perceiving it as an existential threat to both Austria and Germany (as well as to the whole European civilization).

Unfortunately, it appears that most (if not practically all) Marxists that he has encountered in Vienna, were Jews. While this number was definitely not statistically significant, he made the natural (and totally erroneous) conclusion – that Marxism was a Jewish conspiracy against the German nation, German state and the whole European civilization. After all, its founder Karl Marx was a Jew, too.

Consequently, he begin to view Jews as the existential threat to everything that he held dear. Which decades later led to the Holocaust – mass murder (extermination, actually) of Jewish people.

For him it was obvious that the democratic system of Austro-Hungarian Empire (the “Dual Monarchy”) was not nearly efficient enough to save the country from this existential threat. Or even to hold the country together.

The Hungarian part of the Empire received near autonomy in 1867 and was rapidly becoming for all practical purposes an independent state (at least it seemed that way).

In the Austrian part, the Germans were in the minority – only around a third of the population. Although they still were a dominant minority, their domination was under a constant and more and more powerful attack by other nations which grew bolder almost by the day.

The Imperial Parliament deteriorated into an impotent mess. Cacophony of noise from rattles, bells, children’s trumpets, horns, and banging desk-lids made debate (let alone passing laws) virtually impossible. Fistfights were a common occurrence.

Now wonder these scenes filled young Adolf Hitler with the lasting contempt and revulsion for any parliament (that a decade and a half later he poured into the pages of his Mein Kampf).

It would be safe to assume that already at that time he came to a firm conclusion that only a Führerstaat – a state headed by the all-powerful leader would be able to solve the existential problems of both Austria and Germany and save them from the existential threat of Marxism.

Ian Kershaw in his “Hitler 1889-1936 – Hubris” wrote:

At that time Vienna was the city of radical social contrasts. On the one hand, it radiated imperial grandeur, dazzling opulence and splendor, cultural excitement, and intellectual fervor, outshining even Paris and Berlin in the brilliance of its cultural and intellectual life. It oozed bourgeois solidity and respectability, self-righteousness, moral rectitude, refined manners, and proper etiquette.

But behind its resplendent royal palaces, imposing civic buildings, elegant cafés, spacious parks and splendid boulevards, behind its pomp and glitter, lay some of the direst poverty and human misery in Europe.”

For young Adolf, raised in the German nationalist (and thus egalitarian) traditions, such contrasts (and, therefore, such an abhorring social injustice) was simply unacceptable.

Consequently, it is inevitable that already during those years he came to a conclusion that the imperial state must be radically reengineered. In other words, transformed into a socialist state. A national-socialist state.

 

 

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