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April 15, 2004
Hitler as a schoolboy

Joachim C. Fest's Hitler, first published in 1973, is one of the most respected Hitler biographies. Here is Fest's description of Hitler as a schoolboy.

younghit.jpgIn reality Adolf Hitler was a wide-awake, lively, and obviously able pupil whose gifts were undermined by an incapacity for regular work. This pattern appeared quite early. He had a distinct tendency to laziness, coupled with an obstinate nature, and was thus more and more inclined to follow his own bent. Aesthetic matters gave him extraordinary pleasure. However, the reports of the various grammar schools he attended show him to have been a good student. On the basis of this, evidently, his parents sent him to the Realschule, the secondary school specializing in modern as opposed to classical subjects, in Linz. Here, surprisingly, he proved a total failure. Twice he had to repeat a grade, and a third time he was promoted only after passing a special examination. In diligence his report cards regularly gave him the mark Four ('unsatisfactory'); only in conduct, drawing, and gymnastics did he receive marks of satisfactory or better; in all other subjects he scarcely ever received marks higher than 'inadequate' or 'adequate'. His report card of September 1905 noted 'unsatisfactory' in German, mathematics, and stenography. Even in geography and history, which he himself called his favourite subjects and maintained that he 'led the class', he received only failing grades. On the whole, his record was so poor that he left the school.

This debacle is unquestionably due to a complex of reasons. One significant factor must have been humiliation. If we are to believe Hitler's story that in the peasant village of Leonding he was the uncontested leader of his playmates not altogether improbable for the son of a civil servant, given the self-esteem of officialdom in Imperial Austria his sense of status must have suffered a blow in urban Linz. For here he found himself a rough-hewn rustic, a despised outsider among the sons of academics, businessmen, and persons of quality. It is true that at the turn of the century Linz, in spite of its 50,000 inhabitants, was still pretty much of a provincial town with all the dreariness and somnolence the term connotes. Nevertheless, the city certainly impressed upon Hitler a sense of class distinctions. He made 'no friends and pals' at the Realschule. Nor was the situation any better at the home of ugly old Frau Sekira, where for a time he boarded with five other schoolmates his age during the school week. He remained stiff, aloof, a stranger. One of the former boarders recalls: 'None of the five other boys made friends with him. Whereas we schoolmates naturally called one another du, he addressed us as Sie, and we also said Sie to him and did not even think there was anything odd about it.' Significantly, Hitler himself at this time first began making those assertions about coming from a good family which in the future unmistakably stamped his style and his manner. The adolescent fop in Linz, as well as the subsequent proletarian in Vienna, would seem to have acquired a tenacious class consciousness and a determination to succeed.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:41 PM
Category: Famous educations

"This debacle is unquestionably due to a complex of reasons."

Nah. I'd put it back to that "distinct tendency to laziness, coupled with an obstinate nature"

Comment by: Ken on April 16, 2004 04:55 PM
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