Alois Schickelgruber (Hitler), the illegitimate son of a 42 year old housemaid, Anna Schickelgruber was born in Strones, near, Dollersheim, in Austria in 1837. The baptismal register left a blank in the space allocated to the baby's father. Anna married the fifty-year-old wandering miller, Johann Georg Hiedler in May 1842. Anna died in 1847 and Alois was raised by his father's brother, Johann Nepomuk Hiedler.
Schickelgruber left home at the age of thirteen to serve as a cobbler's apprentice. Later he moved to Vienna where he was trained in leatherwork. He did not enjoy the work and in 1855 he joined the Imperial Customs Service. He spent the remainder of his working life as a customs officer in towns of Lower Austria.
Louis L. Snyder has argued: "His appointment to this post meant that Alois had moved several steps upward in the social scale from his peasant origins. Resplendent in his uniform with its shiny gold buttons and gold-rimmed velvet cap and pistol at his belt, he appeared to be a paragon of lower-middle-class respectability." However, we now know that he had fathered an illegitimate child in the 1860s.
In 1873 he married Anna Glasl, the fifty-year-old adopted daughter of another customs collector. According to Ian Kershaw, the author of Hitler 1889-1936 (1998) has argued: "It is unlikely to have been a love-match. The marriage to a woman fourteen years older than himself had almost certainly a material motive, since Anna was relatively well off, and in addition had connections within the civil service." Anna suffered from poor health and her age meant that she was unable to have children.
In 1876, aged sixteen, Klara Polzl left the family farm and moved to Braunau am Inn to join the household of her second cousin, Alois Hitler. Soon afterwards Alois began a sexual relationship with another maid in the house, Franziska Matzelberger. In 1877 Alois changed his surname from Schickelgruber to Hitler. It is claimed he did this to inherit money from Johann Nepomuk Hiedler (Hitler was an another way of spelling Hiedler - both mean "smallholding" in German.
Franziska saw Klara as a potential rival and insisted that she left the household. In 1882 Franziska gave birth to a child named Alois. When Anna Hitler died in 1883, Alois married Franziska and two months after the wedding she gave birth to a second child, Angela. Franziska developed tuberculosis and Alois invited Klara to return to the home to look after his two young children. Franziska, aged twenty-three, died in August, 1884. Alois also began a sexual relationship with Klara and on 7th January, 1885, the couple married.
On 7th January, 1885, Alois Hitler married his second cousin, Klara Polzl. She was twenty-three years younger than her husband. The couple had five children but only Adolf Hitler and a younger sister, Paula, survived to become adults. Hitler, who was fifty-one when Adolf was born, was extremely keen for his son to do well in life. Alois did have another son by Franziska Matzelberger but he had been a big disappointment to him and eventually ended up in prison for theft.
The first of the children of Alois's third marriage, Gustav, was born in May 1885, to be followed in September the following year by a second child, Ida, and another son, Otto, who died only days after his birth. In December 1887 both Gustav and Ida contracted diphtheria and died within weeks of each other. On 20th April 1889, Klara gave birth to her fourth child, Adolf Hitler.
In 1895, when Adolf Hitler was six years old, Alois retired from government service. For the next four years he moved restlessly from one district to another near Linz, buying and selling farms, raising bees, and spent most of his time drinking in local inns. According to his son: "When finally, at the age of fifty-six, he went into retirement, he could not bear to spend a single day of his leisure in idleness. Near the Upper Austrian market village of Lambach he bought a farm, which he worked himself, and thus, in the circuit of a long and industrious life, returned to the origins of his forefathers. It was at this time that the first ideals took shape in my breast. All my playing about in the open, the long walk to school, and particularly my association with extremely husky boys, which sometimes caused my mother bitter anguish, made me the very opposite of a stay-at-home. And though at that time I scarcely had any serious ideas as to the profession I should one day pursue, my sympathies were in any case not in the direction of my father's career."
Alois was an authoritarian, overbearing, domineering husband and a stern, distant, aggressive and violent father. Alois Hitler was extremely keen for his son to do well in life. Alois did have another son by an earlier marriage but he had been a big disappointment to him and eventually ended up in prison for theft. Alois was a strict father and savagely beat his son if he did not do as he was told. Hitler later wrote: "After reading one day in Karl May (a popular writer of boys' books) that the brave man gives no sign of being in pain, I made up my mind not to let out any sound next time I was beaten. And when the moment came - I counted every blow." Afterwards he proudly told his mother: "Father hit me thirty-two times.... and I did not cry". Hitler later told Christa Schroeder about his relationship with his parents: "I never loved my father, but feared him. He was prone to rages and would resort to violence. My poor mother would then always be afraid for me."
Hitler also found it very distressing to see his mother suffering from "drunken beatings". His sister, Paula, said her mother was "a very soft and tender person, the compensatory element between the almost too harsh father and the very lively children who were perhaps somewhat difficult to train. If there were ever quarrels or differences of opinion between my parents it was always on account of the children. It was especially my brother Adolf who challenged my father to extreme harshness and who got his sound thrashings every day. How often on the other hand did my mother caress him and try to obtain with her kindness what her father could not succeed in obtaining with harshness!"
Alois was incensed when Hitler told him that instead of joining the civil service he was going to become an artist. Adolf Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf (1925): "Then barely eleven years old, I was forced into opposition for the first time in my life. Hard and determined as my father might be in putting through plans and purposes once conceived, his son was just as persistent and recalcitrant in rejecting an idea which appealed to him not at all, or in any case very little.
I did not want to become a civil servant. Neither persuasion nor serious arguments made any impression on my resistance. I did not want to be a civil servant: no, and again no. All attempts on my father's part to inspire me with love or pleasure in this profession by stories from his own life accomplished the exact opposite. I yawned and grew sick to my stomach at the thought of sitting in an office, deprived of my liberty; ceasing to be master of my own time and being compelled to force the content of a whole life into blanks that had to be filled out."
Alois Hitler died on 3rd January 1903. Hitler later wrote: "A stroke of apoplexy felled the old gentleman who was otherwise so hale, thus painlessly ending his earthly pilgrimage, plunging us all into the depths of grief. His most ardent desire had been to help his son forge his career, thus preserving him from his own bitter experience. In this, to all appearances, he had not succeeded. But, though unwittingly, he had sown the seed for a future which at that time neither he nor I would have comprehended."