A young Adolf Hitler attends a rally in the Munich Odeonsplatz
August 2, 1914, to celebrate the declaration of war

In 1907 Adolf Hitler moved to Vienna, the capital of Austria, where the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts was located. The author William L. Shirer tells in his monumental bestseller The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich how Hitler tried to take the entrance examination as the first practical step in fulfilling his dream of becoming a painter. Hitler was eighteen years old, full of high hopes - but to his own surprise he failed to get admission. An entry in the Vienna Academy's classification list tells the story:

"The following took the test with insufficient results, or were not admitted ... Adolf Hitler, Braunau a. Inn, April 20, 1989, German, Catholic. Father civil servant. 4 classes in High School. Few Heads. Test drawing unsatisfactory."

According to William L. Shirer Hitler tried again the following year and this time his drawings were so poor that he was not admitted to the test. In Mein Kampf Hitler told how he requested an explanation from the rector of the Academy:

"That gentleman assured me that the drawings I had submitted incontrovertibly showed my unfitness for painting, and that my ability obviously lay in the field of architecture; for me, he said, the Academy's School of Painting was out of the question, the place for me was at the School of Architecture."

But Adolf Hitler did not pursue his ambition to enter the School of Architecture - he realized that his failure years ago to graduate from high school might well block his entry. Within a year he was living in homeless shelters and eating at charity soup-kitchens. He spent his time reading anti-Semitic tabloids and pamphlets available at the newsstands and at local coffee shops. He had declined to take regular employment and took occasional menial jobs and sold some of his paintings or advertising posters whenever he could to provide sustenance.

Hitler didn't get much out of it - but in 1999 two paintings and a line drawing by Hitler, completed between 1911 and 1914, were sold at auction for a total of $131,000. In 2005 four sketches and two Christmas cards signed by the Nazi dictator were sold in Montreal to a single buyer for an undisclosed sum. A media report citing witnesses who said the items were sold for $26,800 could not be confirmed.

By Hitler’s own accounting, he painted between one and three watercolors a day during his Vienna years. If one assumes he painted only one painting a day, and only three days a week, then the minimum number he would have painted would be six hundred, which is close to Hitler's own recollection over a thousand.


Mother Mary With The Holy Child Jesus Christ
Oil and Canvas by Adolf Hitler, 1913
More paintings

According to William L. Shirer Hitler copied his scetches and paintings from older works: pictures of Vienna, usually of some well-known landmark as St. Stephen's Cathedral, the Opera House, The Burgtheater, the Palace of Schoenbrunn or the Roman ruins in Schoenbrunn Park. Shirer tells that hundreds of these pitiful pieces were sold by Hitler to dealers who used them to fill empty picture frames on display. And Hitler often drew posters for shopkeepers advertising such products as Teddy's Perspiration Powder.

In Vienna Hitler already showed traits that characterized his later life: inability to establish ordinary human relationships, intolerance and hatred of especially the Jews, a tendency toward denunciatory outbursts, readiness to live in a fantasy-world and so to escape his failure.

He learned to loathe brilliant, charming, cosmopolitan Vienna  for what he called its Semitism. More to his liking was homogeneous Munich in Germany, his real home after 1913. Hitler went to Munich and when World War I began in 1914, he volunteered for service in the German army. To him - a man of no trade and few interests - World War I was a welcome event which gave him some purpose in life. Hitler was twice decorated for bravery, but only rose to the rank of corporal.

/Louis Bülow


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