Hitler’s Roommate

August Kubizek is a name that very few people have ever heard. This is not, on the surface, surprising. Kubizek was a relatively unknown and unremarkable orchestral conductor, and before that he had been an upholsterer. Indeed, any claim to fame that Kubizek might have is less through his own talents and achievements than through the name of the man with whom, for several months in 1908, he shared a room.

That man was Adolf Hitler.

Kubizek and Hitler first met when they were teenagers, both of them living in Linz, one of the larger cities of what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Both young men had attended Linz’s Landestheater for a performance of Wagner, and competed for standing space. The two found that they had much in common. Both were the sons of mothers who had watched several of their children die very young, and both Hitler and Kubizek felt that they had been spared their siblings’ fate for some higher purpose. Both were also passionately enamored with the operas of Richard Wagner and both had dreams of attaining great fame and recognition in the artistic world, Kubizek as a conductor and musician, Hitler as a painter and architect.

Akademie_der_bildenden_Kuenste_DSC_2400w.jpg
Front entrance of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna

To achieve their goals, both knew that they would have to leave Linz in order to study in Vienna, the Austro-Hungarian capital and the only city anywhere nearby where they would be able to receive the education and training they would need in order to progress in their chosen fields. Kubizek applied for a place at the Vienna Conservatory (now the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, and then as now one of the largest and most prestigious music schools in the world) and was immediately accepted. Hitler, meanwhile, applied to the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, but failed the entrance exam. The exam had a pass rate of around 15%, so there would have been no shame attached to the failure, but Hitler took it very badly, blaming everybody except himself. His examiners suggested that he try architecture, but his failure had made Hitler determined to become a painter, and he applied to the Academy again several weeks later. This time, having done precisely no extra preparation beforehand, he did not even make it as far as the exam.

Hitler did not tell anyone, including Kubizek, of his two failed attempts to attend the Academy of Fine Arts. Indeed, he led Kubizek to believe that he had been accepted, and that the two of them would begin their studies very soon. But Kubizek noticed that Hitler became irritable and prone to flares of temper, flying off the handle at the slightest provocation and sulking for hours at a time when things did not go his way. Kubizek, inadvertently, made this worse by repeatedly asking his friend when his studies were due to start, which only rubbed salt into Hitler’s open wound.

While Kubizek worked and studied, Hitler spent his days in idleness, lazing about the flat that they shared and spending his days painting and sitting in Vienna’s parks. Hitler completed a painting every two or three days, and he would make his meager contribution to the rent by selling them in the beer halls of Vienna, or on the streets. Hitler also received a small orphan’s pension from the Austro-Hungarian government, 25 Kronen (very roughly £90 in 2018) per month, and used this money to fund his evenings at the theatre and the opera. Often, Hitler would choose to watch these performances over eating. He subsisted mostly on bread and milk, except for the occasion every two weeks when Kubizek’s mother would send a food parcel.

Hitler entertained grandiose delusions during this time. Utterly convinced that fate had destined he and Kubizek for fame and fortune, he bought a lottery ticket, certain that it would win the jackpot prize and set the two friends up for life. So bitterly disappointed was Hitler when the lottery ticket, inevitably, was not a winner that he spent over a week sulking and ranted at length about the injustice that he perceived had been done to him.

stefanie isak
Photograph of Stefanie Isak, 1907

In 1908, Hitler became infatuated with a woman named Stefanie Isak. Kubizek watched as his friend admired the young woman from afar but did absolutely nothing to gain her affections or even introduce himself. It is very likely that, until his later notoriety as a political agitator and would-be revolutionary in 1923, Miss Isak did not even know of Hitler’s existence, and later married an Austrian army officer. For Hitler, women were to be admired distantly, never to be engaged with or, worst of all in Hitler’s view, slept with. On one occasion, when Kubizek brought a female friend back to their flat in order to teach her some music, Hitler flew into a rage that Kubizek dare do so immoral a thing as engage in a relationship with a woman. When Kubizek tried to calm his friend by telling Hitler that the young lady was a friend and pupil, Hitler’s rage turned instead to the subject of women learning, which he called a complete waste of time and effort.

In Kubizek’s view, Hitler was an out-and-out misogynist. He celebrated the fact that women were not permitted in the stands of Vienna’s theatres and opera houses, and believed that education and pursuit of artistic ambitions should be reserved for men alone. These views would later become evident during Hitler’s twelve year rule of Germany.

But it was not only women that Hitler would rant about at length to Kubizek. Every single opinion that entered Hitler’s head was turned into a twenty, thirty or even forty minute monologue, with the length of the lecture directly proportionate to Hitler’s dislike. Theatrical performances of which he disapproved would be given the most thorough lambasting, especially when the performance had been of Wagner, which to Hitler was akin to holy text. What is perhaps most curious is that during this time period Hitler seems to have had no particularly strong feelings about Jews. He was, it seems, about as anti-Semitic as just about everyone in Europe at that time, and certainly was not yet possessed of the violent, murderous, paranoid, apocalyptic hatred of them that would later cause the deaths of many millions of people.

In July 1908 Kubizek’s first term at the Conservatory ended, and he made plans to return to Linz over the summer to stay with his parents. He made arrangements to continue sending rent to ensure that the room would still be his when he returned for the autumn term, all the while listening to Hitler complain that he was not looking forward to spending the summer there alone. Hitler accompanied Kubizek to the Westbahnhof train station in Vienna to see him off.

They did not see each other again for thirty years. When Kubizek returned that September he found that Hitler had moved out, without explanation or even leaving a forwarding address. Unknown to Kubizek, Hitler was by then sleeping rough on Vienna’s streets or in homeless shelters. Kubizek, meanwhile, continued to study at the Conservatory, completing his studies in 1912 and becoming a conductor of Marburg Orchestra. His musical career, however, was cut short by the outbreak in 1914 of the First World War. After marrying Anna Funke, Kubizek joined up with the Second Infantry Regiment of the Austro-Hungarian army, and left for the front. He was wounded in action in 1915 and spent several months in Budapest recovering before returning to the war as part of a mechanised infantry division. Kubizek survived the conflict, and after the war became an official with the municipal council of the town of Eferding. Music became his hobby rather than his career.

As the years went on, Kubizek followed the rising political career of his old friend with interest, though the two never contacted one another until 1933 when Kubizek, on hearing that Hitler had been made Chancellor of Germany, sent Hitler a letter of congratulation. Hitler did not reply to the letter until August, writing, “I should be very glad to revive once more with you those memories of the best years of my life.” Following the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938, Hitler and Kubizek met for the first time in thirty years at the Hotel Weinzinger in Linz, and spent over an hour talking. Hitler offered Kubizek the job of conducting any orchestra of his choice, but Kubizek politely refused. By now he had had three sons, and Hitler insisted on funding the educations of all of them himself. That same year Kubizek was hired by the Nazi Party to write two short pamphlets about Hitler’s early life. In the first, Kubizek recounted Hitler’s infatuation with Stefanie Isak, who reportedly was utterly stunned to discover, thirty years after the fact, that she had once been the object of the Führer’s affections.

Wien, Heldenplatz, Rede Adolf Hitler
Hitler announces the Anschluss on the Heldenplatz, Vienna, 1938

In 1939, Hitler invited Kubizek to attend the Bayreuth Festival as his guest. The Festival, held every year in Bavaria to this day, was and remains a celebration of the life and works of Hitler’s idol, Richard Wagner, for whom Kubizek also harboured a passionate love. Kubizek was invited back the following year, and he described his two attendances of the festival with Hitler as “the happiest hours of my Earthly existence.”

Hitler and Kubizek saw each other for the last time on 23rd July 1940, when Hitler remarked to his old friend that he was disappointed that the ongoing war had set back his building programme for Germany. The two remained in touch, with Hitler sending Kubizek’s mother a food basket every year for her birthday. In 1942, when the war started to go against Germany and public support for Hitler wavered for the first time, Kubizek, despite not being in the least bit political, joined the Nazi Party as a gesture of loyalty to his friend. In 1943, at the behest of Martin Bormann, Head of the Reich Chancellery, Kubizek began to write a memoir detailing his friendship with Hitler, but the book lost priority in the minds of both Kubizek and Bormann.

After the war, Kubizek hid all of the keepsakes that he had from his time spent with Hitler in Vienna shortly before he was arrested by American forces and held at Glasenbach Prison. Kubizek was interrogated and his home was searched, but neither Kubizek’s letters from Hitler nor Hitler’s drawings were found. Kubizek was released without charge in 1947 and in 1953 finally published the book that he had started at the instruction of Martin Bormann. It was entitled Adolf Hitler, My Childhood Friend and became an international bestseller. In January 1956, in recognition of his musical talents, Kubizek was named the first honourary member of Eferding’s Musikverein, and died aged 68 on 23rd October that year.

 

Featured image: Photograph of August Kubizek around the time he knew Hitler

 

Sources

  • Adolf Hitler, My Childhood Friend, August Kubizek, translated by Geoffrey Brooks
  • Hitler, Ian Kershaw
  • Hitler: History in an Hour, Rupert Colley
  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer
  • Hitler’s Vienna: A Portrait of the Tyrant as a Young Man, Brigitte Hamman

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