9/13/12 - hitler begs

In today's encore excerpt - at the age of twenty, in Vienna, with both parents dead and his meager inheritance dwindling, Adolf Hitler resorts to begging for money:

By late fall he had sold most of his clothes, including his black winter overcoat, and so the snow and cold drove him to further humiliation. Huddled in a light jacket late one afternoon just before Christmas, he trudged all the way to Meidling in the outskirts of town. It took two and a half hours to reach his destination, the Asyl fur Obdachlose, a shelter for the destitute, and by the time he arrived be was exhausted, his feet sore. Run by a philanthropic society whose principal supporter was the Epstein family, it was originally constructed in 1870 and had been extensively rebuilt and reopened the year before. ...

"On that cold December evening Hitler lined up with the other shivering, dejected ones outside the main gate of the Asyl. At last the door opened and the mob of homeless quietly filed in to be segregated by sex, with children accompanying mothers. Hitler got a card entitling him to a week's lodging, and an assignment to one of the large dormitories. To a young man who cherished privacy it must have been a harrowing experience. First he had to endure the humiliation of showering in public and having his bug-ridden clothes disinfected; then his group was trooped like prison inmates to the main dining hall for soup and bread.

"It would be difficult for anyone but another recipient of institutionalized charity to understand the shame suffered by a proud young man on his first day within the gates of such an establishment. Entrance into an institution like the Asyl with its efficiency and protectiveness marks an irrevocable enrollment into the bottom rank of the destitute. ...

"A wandering servant in a nearby cot took charge of Hitler. He showed him the ropes: to stay at the Asyl more than the prescribed week, for example, one had only to buy for a few kreuzer the unused portions of admittance cards of those leaving. The servant—his name was Reinhold Hanisch—also had dreams of being an artist and was impressed by Adolf's facile talk. Hitler, in turn, was fascinated by the tales that Hanisch, who had spent several years in Berlin, spun about Germany. ...

"More important, Hanisch taught his student that to survive a winter in the lower depths not a step must be wasted nor an opportunity lost: on mornings they left the Asyl—Adolf in his threadbare jacket, 'blue and frostbitten'—early enough to negotiate the long walk to 'Kathie's' in time for soup; then to a warming room or a hospital for several hours' protection from the bitter cold and a little soup, and back to the Asyl at dusk just as the gate opened. In between the major stops they would occasionally earn a few kreuzer by shoveling snow or carrying baggage at the Westbahnhof. But Hitler was too weak for much physical labor; every step on his sore feet was painful. Once there was a call for ditchdiggers and Hitler wondered if be should apply. Hanisch advised him to forget it. 'If you begin such bard work it is very difficult to climb up.'

"Adolf tried his luck at begging. But he had neither the talent nor the gall for panhandling and became a client of a comrade at the Asyl who made a living by selling addresses of those who were 'soft touches.' Hitler agreed to split the proceeds fifty-fifty and set off with not only the addresses but specific instructions for each customer; for example, he was to greet an old lady on the Schottenring with a 'Praised be Jesus Christ,' and then say he was an unemployed church painter or a woodcutter of holy figures. Usually she gave two kronen for such a story, but Hitler only got religious platitudes for his trouble. He had similar bad luck with the other prospects and he again turned to the Church, where he got three meat patties and one kronen from the Mother Superior by greeting her with a 'Praised be Jesus Christ,' along with a reference to the St. Vincent Association."


John Toland


Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography


First Anchor Books Edition


Copyright 1976 by John Toland


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