In his biography of Hitler, Ian Kershaw wrote:
“There is no reason to doubt Hitler’s growing political awareness [and further radicalization]. His bitter contempt for the multi-language parliament (which Kubizek visited with him), his strident German nationalism, his intense detestation of the multinational Habsburg state, his revulsion at ‘the ethnic babel on the streets of Vienna’, and ‘the foreign mixture of peoples which had begun to corrode this old site of German culture’ – all these were [little things that ultimately built the critical mass that made him start his political career].”
Most politicians start small. Often, very small. And Adolf Hitler was no exception. Although he entered politics full time in 1919 when he joined the German Workers’ Party (DAP), the precursor of the NSDAP, his first political activities happened nine years earlier – in Vienna.
More specifically, in Men’s House – the dormitory for down-on-their-luck individuals (which at that time included even some teachers and pensioned officers).
It was funded by private donations (ironically, mostly by wealthy Jewish families) and offered decent accommodations. These accommodations included the spacious reading room, where politics was a frequent topic of conversation.
It was in this reading room where Adolf Hitler delivered his first – and subsequently many other – political speeches, lectures… possibly, even sermons. He viciously attacked Social Democrats (which caused him trouble with residents with a working class background) and praised von Schönerer, Dr. Lueger and his another political hero – Karl Hermann Wolf (founder and leader of the German Radical Party, with its main base in the ‘Sudetenland’ – and a close associate of von Schönerer).
Interestingly enough, there was nothing explicitly anti-Semitic in his sermons. That would come much later – after his return from the Great War.
But before he got to that reading room, he had to go through very unpleasant experiences.
In October 1908 he failed his entrance exams to the Academy of Fine Arts for the second time and sometime in summer of 1909 ran out of money. Most likely, he tried to support himself by painting and selling postcards but while he was good at painting, he was definitely not good at selling.
Which was perfectly understandable – failure to enter the Academy had turned him into an angry and frustrated young man increasingly at odds with the world around him – not the right state of mind for a successful salesman.
Obviously, he tried manual labor – employed and paid by the day or even by the hour – but this occupation required excellent health and powerful physique. And young Adolf had neither.
This is how Ian Kersaw described this period of his life:
“During the wet and cold autumn of 1909 he lived rough, sleeping in the open, as long as the weather held, probably in cheap lodgings when conditions forced him indoors
Hitler had now reached rock-bottom. Some time in the weeks before Christmas 1909, thin and bedraggled, in filthy, lice-ridden clothes, his feet sore from walking around, Hitler joined the human flotsam and jetsam finding their way to the large, recently established doss-house for the homeless.
The twenty-year-old would-be artistic genius had joined the tramps, winos, and down-and-outs in society’s basement. In a sorry state and in depressed mood, he went in the mornings along with other destitutes to a nearby convent in Gumpendorferstraße where the nuns doled out soup…”
And then the genuine miracle happened. The miracle that Hitler later attributed to the intervention of Providence who saved him from complete collapse (and the inevitable death on the street) so that he could accomplish his great and glorious Mission.
He found his salesman. And it was more than just an intervention – it was a Christmas gift from the Almighty Providence. On December 21st, 1909, Hitler met Reinhold Hanisch – a small-time hustler and a petty criminal (he was twice sentenced for theft and spent nine months in Berlin prison).
Learning that Hitler could paint (and paint well), Hanish persuaded young Adolf to ask his family (i.e. his loving aunt) for some money (ostensibly for studies) which they subsequently used as seed money for their business venture.
50 Kronen received from his Aunt Johanna allowed Hitler to acquire the supplies that he needed to begin painting. He painted, Hanish sold his paintings, they split the proceeds and thus generated a decent leaving for themselves. The living which allowed them to move from the homeless shelter to much more comfortable accommodations of Men’s Home.
Paintings were sold primarily through dealers, most of which (and the most reliable) were Jewish. Hitler’s closest partner (apart from Hanisch) in his little art-production business, Josef Neumann, was also a Jew – and one with whom Hitler was, it seems, on friendly terms. According to Hanish, Neumann liked Hitler a lot – and the feeling was apparently mutual.
Even more than that, Hitler perceived Jews as better businessmen and more reliable customers than non-Jewish dealers. He actually preferred to sell his pictures to Jewish dealers, and one of them, Jacob Altenberg, subsequently spoke highly of their business relationship.
Hanish later stated that Hitler got along exceptionally well with Jews, and even said at one time that they “were a clever people who stick together better than the Germans do”.
Ian Kershaw quoted Hanish as saying:
“Hitler admired the Jews for their resistance to persecution, praising Heine’s poetry and the music of Mendelssohn and Offenbach, expressing the view that the Jews were the first civilized nation in that they had abandoned polytheism for belief in one God, blaming Christians more than Jews for usury, and dismissing the stock-in-trade anti-Semitic charge of Jewish ritual murder as nonsense”
Which means that by that time Adolf Hitler had not yet accumulated the “critical mass” of anti-Semitism which transformed them into a vicious, violent and later murderous Jew-hater.
This “critical mass” was most definitely accumulated after the Great War, because Hitler’s close comrades during the First World War also recalled that he voiced no explicitly anti-Semitic views.
However, one must keep in mind that Hitler was very good at keeping his true feelings secret even to those in his immediate company. And his dire financial situation in Vienna at that time (“beggars can not be choosers”) forced him to work with the best partners, ignoring their nationality entirely.