Hitler’s Class-Mate June 10, 2010Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback
Beachcombing has five files on Hitler and will soon have to start on a sixth. The moustached one was, after all, a whirlpool in history dragging the strange, coincidental, bizarre and outrageous into his cursed depths.
A favourite curiosity is examined in Kimberley Cornish’s The Jew of Linz: Wittgenstein, Hitler and Their Secret Battle for the Mind (1998). In this book the Australian author notes that Hitler had become anti-semitic having got to know a Jewish classmate, and Cornish argues that the classmate in question was none other than Ludwig Wittgenstein, perhaps the most celebrated of twentieth-century philosophers.
Now Ludwig and Adolf are certainly among Beachcombing’s least favourite people. And Beachcombing confesses that he likes the idea of them being friends. He would even have paid a lot to watch this pair of miscreants build, say, a lego fort together.
But while trying to imagine what said fort would have looked like Beachcombing’s scepticism kicked in: isn’t this all a bit too good to be true?
Well, yes and no. Hitler and Wittgenstein were the same age and both attended the same Linz school – the Fadingerstrasse Bundesrealgymnasium – at the same time. Hitler, true to form, had been held back a grade and Wittgenstein, true to form, had been pushed forward a grade. But the school was small – about 300 students – so they could easily have bumped into each other or even have become buddies.
Cornish’s book, however, is fundamentally unsound with the author insisting on possibilities as probabilities and probabilities as certainties. For example, Hitler does speak of a Jewish student at his school in Mein Kampf – but this Jewish boy is not, as Cornish claims, given the blame for having inspired Hitler’s hatred of the Jewish people:
‘At the Realschule I knew one Jewish boy. We were all on our guard in our relations with him, but only because his reticence and certain actions of his warned us to be discreet. Beyond that my companions and myself formed no particular opinions in regard to him… There were very few Jews in Linz. In the course of centuries the Jews who lived there had become Europeanized in external appearance and were so much like other human beings that I even looked upon them as Germans… As I thought that they were persecuted on account of their Faith my aversion to hearing remarks against them grew almost into a feeling of abhorrence. I did not in the least suspect that there could be such a thing as a systematic anti-Semitism.’ (Murphy 52)
Cornish wants us to believe that the boys knew each other well giving as proof (of sorts) the photo printed below. There is much argument over the identification of Wittgenstein. The other boy though is certainly Hitler. Beachcombing has decided that even if Ludwig is absent the shot is worth reprinting for Hitler’s terrifying proto pout.
For more on LW at school or anything else strange, coincidental, bizarre or outrageous about AH [drbeachcombing[AT]yahoo[DOT]com].
8 June 2014 Mike Dash writes in to say: I remember you blogging about this some years ago, so I thought it might be worth mentioning that her mention of this prompted me to do a little digging, because I was not too sure how the identification of the young “Wittgenstein” (who does not look much like the adult one, unlike the youthful Hitler) was made. This turns out to be a worthwhile question to ask. There are a couple of salient details. First, as I am sure you mentioned in your blog, there is the problem that the two boys, although the same age, were placed in classes two years apart (Wittgenstein being moved up one class and Hitler down one). This seems rather important, in that the full version of the photo shows it to be plainly a class one and not a school on; the children in it ought all to be in the same form: I have seen some discussion online proposing that this problem need not invalidate the claim; Wittgenstein was not a particularly able student at this stage in his career, so perhaps he and Hitler were placed initially in the same class and then moved apart as their different academic abilities were discovered in the course of the school year? Even if possible, this does rather berg the question of whether Austrian schools at the turn of the last century bucked the typical practice of tacking their class photos at the end of the year, not the beginning. All this debate in any case rather pales into insignificance next to an interview with the historian (word used loosely) who seems to have first put the photo into print, the Australian Kimberley Cornish, which appeared in the German science magazine Focus in March 1998. In this, Cornish is asked how he identified Wittgenstein in the photo. He replies: “Ich wußte, daß beide auf der gleichen Schule waren – und der Junge dort schien mir einfach der am meisten Geeignete.” (!) – roughly, “I knew they went to the same school and to me that boy looked the most like Wittgenstein.” So it seems pretty definite that this isn’t the sort of school photo with the subjects’ names conveniently inscribed at the bottom.
Finally there is the problem that for Hitler and Wittgenstein to be in the same school photo, it must have been taken in 1903-04 [1904-1905 see below!], which are the years W. was at the Realschule. Both Hitler and Wittgenstein were born in 1889, so would have been 14/15 when they were together at the school. There is no way the children depicted in this photo are 14 years old. The German historian Brigitte Hamann, aithor of Hitler in Vienna, has suggested – I have not been able to identify on what evidence – that the date of the image is actually 1900/01 – that is, when Hitler was 11/12. That looks a much better bet. If true, Wittgenstein was nowhere near the Realschule at the time.’ Then in a subsequent email Mike wrote: ‘Some further digging shows that the dating of the photo was achieved by identifying the teacher in it, one Oskar Langer. He left the school after the 1900-01 school year, so if the identification is correct this appears definitive. The image appears dated in this way on the Library of Congress site, dated June 1901, as a result of the photo being included among captured German records after the last war. It is also on the Bundesarchiv site where the relevant notes identify the class shown as 1B, indicating that this was the most junior group (12 year olds) in the school: “Der gewissenlose Abenteurer Adolf Hitler als Kind unter seinen Mitschülern … Adolf Hitler im Kreise seiner Mitschüler in Leonding … Linz/Donau, aufgenommen 1901. Klasse IB der K.K. Staats-Ober-Realschule, Klassenvorstand Prof. Oskar Langer [2.Reihe v.u. Mitte]. Hitler oberste Reihe ganz rechts.”” Even here there is evidence no one has done too much thinking – the loC lists the photographer as “Heinrich Hoffman”. This, of course, is Hitler’s “court photographer”, not someone who would have been employed snapping school photos in Austria-Hungary in 1901. I’d guess that Hoffman collected old photos of Hitler as part of his work and that this one may have come from his collection. I’m sure you’re well aware that Hoffman was also the photographer of the alleged snap of Hitler celebrating the outbreak of World War I in Munich, which has also been disputed. I think that, clearly, this turns out to be one of those images that is regarded as “too good to check”. Disappointing to see it appearing in school text books, though. PS – I have a copy of Ray Monk’s bio of Wittgenstein; this identifies the dates W was at the Realschule as 1904-05, not the 1903-04 I put in my original email.’ Thanks Mike!