The politically lean years for Adolf Hitler were, as he later said, the best years of his personal life. Forbidden to speak in public until 1927, intent on finishing Mein Kampf and plotting in his mind the future of the Nazi Party and of himself, he spent most of his time on the Obersalzberg above the market village of Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps. It was a haven for rest and relaxation.
Hitler’s monologues at his headquarters at the front during the war, when late at night he would relax with the old party comrades and his faithful women secretaries and reminisce about past times, are full of nostalgic talk about what this mountain retreat, where he established the only home he ever owned, meant to him. “Yes,” he exclaimed during one of these sessions on the night of January 16–17, 1942, “there are so many links between Obersalzberg and me. So many things were born there … I spent there the finest hours of my life … It is there that all my great projects were conceived and ripened. I had hours of leisure in those days, and how many charming friends!”
During the first three years after his release from prison Hitler lived in various inns on the Obersalzberg and in that winter reminiscence in 1942 he talked for an hour about them. He finally settled down in the Deutsche Haus, where he spent the best part of two years and in which he finished dictating Mein Kampf. He and his party cronies, he says, were “very fond of visiting the Dreimaederlhaus, where there were always pretty girls. This,” he adds, “was a great treat for me. There was one of them, especially, who was a real beauty.”
That evening in the headquarters bunker on the Russian front, Hitler made a remark to his listeners that recalls two preoccupations he had during the pleasant years at Berchtesgaden.
At this period [on the Obersalzberg] I knew a lot of women. Several of them became attached to me. Why, then, didn’t I marry? To leave a wife behind me? At the slightest imprudence, I ran the risk of going back to prison for six years. So there could be no question of marriage for me. I therefore had to renounce certain opportunities that offered themselves.4
Hitler’s fear in the mid-Twenties of being sent back to prison or of being deported was not without some foundation. He was still on parole. Had he openly evaded the ban against his speaking in public the Bavarian government might well have clapped him behind the bars again or sent him back over the border to his native Austria. One reason that he had chosen the Obersalzberg as a refuge was its proximity to the Austrian frontier; on a moment’s notice he could have slipped over the line and evaded arrest by the German police. But to have returned to Austria, voluntarily or by force, would have ruined his prospects. To lessen the risk of deportation, Hitler formally renounced his Austrian citizenship on April 7, 1925—a step that was promptly accepted by the Austrian government. This, however, left him staatenlos, a man without a country. He gave up his Austrian citizenship but he did not become a citizen of Germany. This was a considerable handicap for a politician in the Reich. For one thing, he could not be elected to office. He had publicly declared that he would never beg the republican government for a citizenship which he felt should have been his because of his services to Imperial Germany in the war. But all through the last half of the 1920s, he secretly sought to have the Bavarian government make him a German national. His efforts failed.
As to women and marriage, there was also some truth in what Hitler related that evening of 1942. Contrary to the general opinion, he liked the company of women, especially if they were beautiful. He returns to the subject time and again in his table talk at Supreme Headquarters during the war. “What lovely women there are in the world!” he exclaims to his cronies on the night of January 25–26, 1942, and he gives several examples in his personal experience, adding the boast, “In my youth in Vienna, I knew a lot of lovely women!” Heiden has recounted some of his romantic yearnings of the early days: for a Jenny Haug, whose brother was Hitler’s chauffeur and who passed as his sweetheart in 1923; for the tall and stately Erna Hanfstaengl, sister of Putzi; for Winifred Wagner, daughter-in-law of Richard Wagner. But it was with his niece that Adolf Hitler had, so far as is known, the only deep love affair of his life.
In the summer of 1928 Hitler rented the villa Wachenfeld on the Obersalzberg above Berchtesgaden for a hundred marks a month ($25) from the widow of a Hamburg industrialist and induced his widowed half-sister, Angela Raubal, to come from Vienna to keep house for him in the first home which he could call his own.* Frau Raubal brought along her two daughters, Geli and Friedl. Geli was twenty, with flowing blond hair, handsome features, a pleasant voice and a sunny disposition which made her attractive to men.5
Hitler soon fell in love with her. He took her everywhere, to meetings and conferences, on long walks in the mountains and to the cafés and theaters in Munich. When in 1929 he rented a luxurious nine-room apartment in the Prinzregentenstrasse, one of the most fashionable thoroughfares in Munich, Geli was given her own room in it. Gossip about the party leader and his beautiful blond niece was inevitable in Munich and throughout Nazi circles in southern Germany. Some of the more prim—or envious—leaders suggested that Hitler cease showing off his youthful sweetheart in public, or that he marry her. Hitler was furious at such talk and in one quarrel over the matter he fired the Gauleiter of Wuerttemberg.
It is probable that Hitler intended to marry his niece. Early party comrades who were close to him at that time subsequently told this author that a marriage seemed inevitable. That Hitler was deeply in love with her they had no doubt. Her own feelings are a matter of conjecture. That she was flattered by the attentions of a man now becoming famous, and indeed enjoyed them, is obvious. Whether she reciprocated her uncle’s love is not known; probably not, and in the end certainly not. Some deep rift whose origins and nature have never been fully ascertained grew between them. There has been much speculation but little evidence. Each was apparently jealous of the other. She resented his attentions to other women—to Winifred Wagner, among others. He suspected that she had had a clandestine affair with Emil Maurice, the ex-convict who had been his bodyguard. She objected too to her uncle’s tyranny over her. He did not want her to be seen in the company of any man but himself. He forbade her to go to Vienna to continue her singing lessons, squelching her ambition for a career on the operatic stage. He wanted her for himself alone.
There are dark hints too that she was repelled by the masochistic inclinations of her lover, that this brutal tyrant in politics yearned to be enslaved by the woman he loved—a not uncommon urge in such men, according to the sexologists. Heiden tells of a letter which Hitler wrote to his niece in 1929 confessing his deepest feelings in this regard. It fell into the hands of his landlady’s son—with consequences which were tragic to more than one life.6
Whatever it was that darkened the love between the uncle and his niece, their quarrels became more violent and at the end of the summer of 1931 Geli announced that she was returning to Vienna to resume her voice studies. Hitler forbade her to go. There was a scene between the two, witnessed by neighbors, when Hitler left his Munich apartment to go to Hamburg on September 17, 1931. The young girl was heard to cry to him from the window as her uncle was getting into his car, “Then you won’t let me go to Vienna?” and he was heard to respond, “No!”
The next morning Geli Raubal was found shot dead in her room. The state’s attorney, after a thorough investigation, found that it was a suicide. The coroner reported that a bullet had gone through her chest below the left shoulder and penetrated the heart; it seemed beyond doubt that the shot was self-inflicted.
Yet for years afterward in Munich there was murky gossip that Geli Raubal had been murdered—by Hitler in a rage, by Himmler to eliminate a situation that had become embarrassing to the party. But no credible evidence ever turned up to substantiate such rumors.
Hitler himself was struck down by grief. Gregor Strasser later recounted that he had had to remain for the following two days and nights at Hitler’s side to prevent him from taking his own life. A week after Geli’s burial in Vienna, Hitler obtained special permission from the Austrian government to go there; he spent an evening weeping at the grave. For months he was inconsolable.
Three weeks after the death of Geli, Hitler had his first interview with Hindenburg. It was his first bid for the big stakes, for the chancellorship of the Reich. His distraction on this momentous occasion—some of his friends said he did not seem to be in full possession of his faculties during the conversation, which went badly for the Nazi leader—was put down by those who knew him as due to the shock of the loss of his beloved niece.
From this personal blow stemmed, I believe, an act of renunciation, his decision to abstain from meat; at least, some of his closest henchmen seemed to think so. To them he declared forever afterward that Geli Raubal was the only woman he ever loved, and he always spoke of her with the deepest reverence—and often in tears. Servants said that her room in the villa at Obersalzberg, even after it was rebuilt and enlarged in the days of Hitler’s chancellorship, remained as she had left it. In his own room there, and in the Chancellery in Berlin, portraits* of the young woman always hung and when the anniversaries of her birth and death came around each’ year flowers were placed around them.
For a brutal, cynical man who always seemed to be incapable of love of any other human being, this passion of Hitler’s for the youthful Geli Raubal stands out as one of the mysteries of his strange life. As with all mysteries, it cannot be rationally explained, merely recounted. Thereafter, it is almost certain, Adolf Hitler never seriously contemplated marriage until the day before he took his own life fourteen years later.
The compromising letter from Hitler to his niece was retrieved from the landlord’s son through the efforts of Father Bernhard Stempfle, the Hieronymite Catholic priest and anti-Semitic journalist who had helped the Nazi leader in tidying up Mein Kampf for publication. The money for its purchase, according to Heiden, was supplied by Franz Xavier Schwarz, the party treasurer. Thus Father Stempfle was one of the few persons who knew something of the secrets of Hitler’s love for Geli Raubal. Apparently he did not keep his knowledge of the affair entirely to himself. He was to pay for this lapse with his life when the author of Mein Kampf became dictator of Germany and one day settled accounts with some of his old friends.
The source of Hitler’s income during those personally comfortable years when he acquired a villa at Obersalzberg and a luxurious apartment in Munich and drove about in a flashy, chauffeured automobile, for which he paid 20,000 marks ($5,000), has never been established. But his income tax files, which turned up after the war, shed some light on the subject.7 Until he became Chancellor and had himself declared exempt from taxation, he was in continual conflict with the tax authorities, and a considerable file accumulated in the Munich Finance Office between 1925 and 1933.
That office notified him on May 1, 1925, that he had failed to file a return for 1924 or for the first quarter of 1925. Hitler replied, “I had no income in 1924 [when he was in prison], or in the first quarter of 1925. I have covered my living expenses by raising a bank loan.” What about that $5,000 automobile? the tax collector shot back. Hitler answered that he had raised a bank loan for that too. In all his tax returns, Hitler listed his profession as “writer” and, as such, attempted to justify a high proportion of his income as deductible expenses—he doubtless was aware of the practice of writers everywhere. His first income tax declaration, for the third quarter of 1925, listed a gross income of 11,231 R.M., deductible professional expenses of 6,540 R.M. and interest payments on loans of 2,245 R.M., which left a net taxable income of 2,446 R.M.
In a three-page typewritten explanation Hitler defended his large deductions for professional expenses, arguing that though a large part of them appeared to be due to his political activities, such work provided him with the material he needed as a political writer and also helped increase the sales of his book.
Without my political activity my name would be unknown, and I would be lacking materials for the publication of a political work … Accordingly in my case as a political writer, the expenses of my political activity, which is the necessary condition of my professional writing as well as its assurance of financial success, cannot be regarded as subject to taxation….
The Finance Office can see that out of the income from my book, for this period, only a very small fraction was expended for myself; nowhere do I possess property or other capital assets that I can call my own.* I restrict of necessity my personal wants so far that I am a complete abstainer from alcohol and tobacco, take my meals in most modest restaurants, and aside from my minimal apartment rent make no expenditures that are not chargeable to my expenses as a political writer … Also the automobile is for me but a means to an end. It alone makes it possible for me to accomplish my daily work.8
The Finance Office allowed but one half of the deductions, and when Hitler appealed to the Review Board it upheld the original assessment. Thereafter only one half of his expense deductions were allowed by the tax authorities. He protested but paid.
The Nazi leader’s reported gross income in his tax returns correspond pretty accurately to his royalties from Mein Kampf: 19,843 R.M. in 1925, 15,903 R.M. in 1926, 11,494 R.M. in 1927, 11,818 R.M. in 1928 and 15,448 R.M. in 1929. Since publishers’ books were subject to inspection by the tax office, Hitler could not safely report an income less than his royalties. But what about other sources of income? These were never reported. It was known that he demanded, and received, a high fee for the many articles which he wrote in those days for the impoverished Nazi press. There was much grumbling in party circles over the high cost of Hitler. These items are absent from his tax declarations. As the Twenties neared their end, money started to flow into the Nazi Party from a few of the big Bavarian and Rhineland industrialists who were attracted by Hitler’s opposition to the Marxists and the trade unions. Fritz Thyssen, head of the German steel trust, the Vereinigte Stahlwerke (United Steel Works), and Emil Kirdorf, the Ruhr coal king, contributed sizable sums. Often the money was handed over directly to Hitler. How much he kept for himself will probably never be known. But his scale of living in the last few years before he became Chancellor indicates that not all of the money he received from his backers was turned over to the party treasury.
To be sure, from 1925 to 1928 he complained of difficulty in meeting his income tax payments; he was constantly in arrears and invariably asking for further postponements. In September of 1926 he wrote the Finance Office: “At the moment I am not in a position to pay the taxes; to cover my living expenses I have had to raise a loan.” Later he claimed of that period that “for years I lived on Tyrolean apples. It’s unbelievable what economies we had to make. Every mark saved was for the party.” And between 1925 and 1928 he contended, to the tax collector, that he was going ever deeper in debt. In 1926 he reported expenditures of 31,209 R.M. against an income of 15,903 R.M. and stated the deficit had been made up by further “bank loans.”
Then, miraculously, in 1929, though his declared income was considerably less than in 1925, the item of interest on or repayment of loans disappears from his tax declaration—and never reappears. As Professor Hale, on whose studies the foregoing is based, remarked, “a financial miracle had been wrought and he had liquidated his indebtedness.”9
Hitler, it must be said in fairness, never seemed to care much about money—if he had enough to live on comfortably and if he did not have to toil for it in wages or a salary. At any rate, beginning with 1930, when his book royalties suddenly tripled from the previous year to some $12,000 and money started pouring in from big business, any personal financial worries he may have had were over for good. He could now devote his fierce energies and all his talents to the task of fulfilling his destiny. The time for his final drive for power, for the dictatorship of a great nation, had arrived.