William Patrick Hitler did not exactly disown his infamous uncle at first, so much as try to take advantage of him.
The U.K.-born relation persuaded dictator Adolf to find jobs for him in late-1930s Germany, dined out on his connection to the Fuhrer and reportedly even attempted to blackmail the instigator of the Holocaust.
But by the time the son of Hitler’s half-brother had arrived in the United States in 1939, he was taking a decidedly different tack.
He published an article in Look magazine called “Why I hate my uncle,” went on a similar-themed tour sponsored by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst and later served in the U.S. Navy.
Now the strange, little-known tale of Hitler’s nephew has come to the fore again, as a British Columbia bookseller offers for sale a rare copy of Look containing that piece – for $950.
The article offers a young Irish-German relative’s unique perspective on the emerging Third Reich and its leader, including a description of William’s visit to Berchtesgaden and Hitler’s “feminine gestures.”
“I shall never forget the last time he sent for me,” the nephew wrote in the six-page spread of photographs and text. “He was in a brutal temper when I arrived. Walking back and forth, brandishing his horsehide whip … He shouted insults at my head as if he were delivering a political oration. His vengeful brutality on that day made me fear for my physical safety.”
William Hitler, who grew up in Liverpool, left Nazi Germany for the U.S. shortly after that encounter, went on the well-publicized lecture tour, then found himself stranded in the States as war broke out. He eventually joined the Navy, was wounded and started a family, changing his surname and fading into obscurity for decades.
Three of his sons still live in Long Island, N.Y.
The article in Look, a competitor of Life magazine that had millions of readers, came at the height of his celebrity.
Jim Stachow, owner of RareNonFiction.com in Ladysmith, B.C., says the magazine was among several items he bought at a used-book store in Bellingham, Wash., without even noticing the Hitler article initially.
Discovering such material is part of the joy of the business, he said.
“When you take the time to crack the cover open, you just never know what you might find,” said Stachow.
Hitler’s half-brother Alois met a woman in Dublin in 1910, married her and settled in Liverpool, having William a year later. The father later abandoned the family and remarried in Germany.
Still, William visited his father there and first met his uncle in 1929, watching him at a Nazi rally. Later the National Socialist leader came by his brother’s house, according to the Look article.
“We had cakes and whipped cream, Hitler’s favourite dessert,” William wrote. “I was struck by his intensity, his feminine gestures. There was dandruff on his coat.”
The sale has brought to the fore again the strange tale of the Hitler relative who settled in the United States just as war broke out
He eventually relocated to Germany and convinced his uncle to find him jobs, first in a bank then at an Opel car factory, and in 1936 says he visited Adolf at his mountain retreat, Berchtesgaden.
“Hitler was entertaining some very beautiful women at tea,” he said. “When he saw us he strode up, slashing a whip as he walked and taking the tops off the flowers. He took that occasion to warn me never again to mention that I was his nephew.”
“He was a bit of an opportunist as a young man,” said David Gardner, British author of a 2001 book about William, The Last of the Hitlers.
Despite his brief spurt of fame at the beginning of the war, William seemed to settle into the weeds of small-town American life afterward. In fact, his story remained largely hidden until Gardner tracked down the family and published his book.
William was dead by that point, but Gardner said he was convinced the wife and four sons had disavowed completely the infamous uncle’s beliefs, though one son does have the middle name Adolf.
To this day, Gardner said in an interview Friday, the three surviving children have refused to marry or have their own kids, part of an informal pact to end the Hitler bloodline.
“They didn’t want their children to have to carry the burden they carried,” said the Los Angeles-based author. “It’s been this close-knit secret they’ve had to carry their lives and it’s been hard on them … It’s almost like a little fortress, the secrecy kind of bound them together.”