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Excerpt from book:
The Mysterious Stranger, the Serving Girl, and the Family Romance of the Hitler Explainers
In which the author makes an expedition to the Hitler family "ancestral home" and meditates upon the romantic life of Maria Schicklgruber, as imagined by historical fantasists Iwas ready to give up and turn back. A surprise mid-autumn snowstorm had blown out of Russia and was blanketing Central Europe, making the relatively primitive back roads of this backwoods quarter of Austria increasingly impassable.
We were only about twenty miles short of our objective, but our rented Volkswagen was beginning to skid, once bringing us perilously close to the brink of one of the woody ravines that crisscrossed the otherwise featureless reaches of snow-covered farmland stretching north to the Czech border.
I'd timidly suggested to my Austrian researcher, Waltraud, who was at the wheel, that we ought to consider abandoning our quest for the day because of the risk. But she wanted to press on, declaring that, as a native of the mountainous Tyrol, she had experience navigating the far more treacherous mountain roads of the Alps.
Not entirely reassured, I nonetheless felt there was something appropriate about the blizzardy circumstances of this venture: The storm we were heading into was an autumnal version of the blitz of snow that had halted Hitler's panzer divisions just short of Moscow in the winter of 1941-the beginning of the end for him. The place we were fighting through the snow to find-a ghost town called Döllersheim-was the beginning of the beginning: the primal scene of the mysteries behind the Hitler family romance.
The disappearance, the apparently deliberate erasure, of Döllersheim is one of the most peculiar aspects of the deeply tangled Hitler-genealogy controversy. The tiny village was literally blasted off the map and out of existence sometime after Hitler annexed Austria. An effort-some partisans in the controversy contend-to erase all traces of certain irregular and disreputable Hitler family events that took place there. Irregularities that have long cast a shadow over accounts of Hitler's origins. Irregularities that had given rise to repeated pilgrimages to Döllersheim in the prewar years by journalists and other interested investigators, news of which invariably provoked Hitler into near-apoplectic rages.
"People must not know who I am," he was reported to have ranted when he learned of one of the early investigations into his family history. "They must not know where I come from."
And there are those who insist that after 1938 he made Döllersheim pay the price for being the site of such inquiries, made it disappear. Whatever the cause of the erasure, there can be little doubt of its effectiveness. That morning in Vienna, as the snow began gusting in from the east, I searched in vain for a map that still had the hamlet of Döllersheim on it, until I happened on a little shop belonging to a rare-book dealer who was able to dig up a musty 1896 German atlas of the world which still had the hamlet of Döllersheim on its map of Austria. While the map showed no roads, it did provide a means of triangulation: The dot on the map for Döllersheim was just north of a bend in the river Kamp and just east of another little dot on the map called Ottenstein.
Ottenstein: That name conjured up a peculiarly memorable phrase, "scion of the seigneurial house of Ottenstein." This Heathcliffian heroic epithet appears in a catalog of candidates-list of suspects, one might say-for the shadowy figure at the heart of the Hitler family romance: the man who fathered Hitler's father. The identity of the man who impregnated a forty-two-year-old unmarried serving woman named Maria Schicklgruber sometime in late 1836 was not disclosed on the baby's baptismal certificate filed in her parish church in Döllersheim when the child (christened Alois Schicklgruber) was born on June 7, 1837. That blank line on the baptismal certificate, in the space where the name of the father of the child should be, has become a kind of blank screen onto which journalists, intelligence agencies, historians, psychoanalysts, and other fantasists have projected a wild array of alternative candidates to the man named in the official Nazi genealogies as Hitler's paternal grandfather, Johann Georg Hiedler.
Hundreds and hundreds of pages in scores of books have been devoted to trying to divine the sexual choice behind that blank line, to read the mind of the woman who made the choice: Maria Schicklgruber. She was, in fact, the first of three generations of Hitler-related women whose unfathomable erotic liaisons cast a powerful spell over Hitler's life-and over his subsequent biographers. After Maria, there was Hitler's mother, Klara, and then his half-niece Geli Raubal. Three women-all, interestingly, serving girls-whose greatest service has been to the Hitler explainers.
The flavor of the speculation over Maria Schicklgruber's sexual choices is captured by the partial catalog of candidates for the role of Hitler's paternal grandfather offered by the impressionable German biographer of Hitler, Werner Maser.
"Various candidates have been suggested," Maser writes. In addition to the official nominee on the Nazi Party family tree for Hitler, Johann Georg Hiedler, and Maser's own candidate, Johann Georg's wealthier brother Johann Nepomuk Hiedler, there are "a 'Graz Jew' by the name of Frankenberger, a scion of the seigneurial house of Ottenstein, and even a Baron Rothschild of Vienna." Maser doesn't believe Adolf Hitler was a Frankenberger, an Ottenstein, or a Rothschild descendant (the latter astonishing suggestion seems to be traceable to the pre-Anschluss anti-Hitler Austrian secret police). But he has concocted an elaborate theory of rural sexual intrigue and greed over a legacy to bolster the candidacy of his man, Johann Nepomuk Hiedler.
One can argue with Maser's Brueghelian explanation of the Döllersheim ambiguities, but it's hard to deny his summary of the confused state of Hitler studies on the paternal-grandfather question: "If there is one fact on which at least some biographers are agreed, it is that Adolf's paternal grandfather was not the man officially regarded as such, namely the journeyman miller Johann Georg Hiedler." (A "fact" only "some" biographers agree upon is hardly a fact to rely upon.) The more judicious Alan Bullock says, "In all probability, we shall never know for certain who Adolf Hitler's grandfather, the father of Alois, really was. It has been suggested that he may have been a Jew, without definite proof one way or the other."
The closer we got to our destination, to Döllersheim, the more empty and remote from civilization the countryside began to look, the further back in time we seemed to be going. This part of Austria, the Waldviertel (the sector northwest of Vienna, between the Danube and the Czech border), and its scattered peasant-farmer inhabitants have remained relatively isolated from cosmopolitan civilization for centuries. With the heavy blanketing of snow shrouding the occasional ancient barn and farmhouse and obliterating almost all remaining visible traces of modernity, the lonely look and feel of the countryside could not have differed much from the way it looked some 156 years earlier. When someone-either a local-yokel miller or a mysterious stranger with "alien blood"-bedded down a middle-aged peasant woman named Maria Schicklgruber, leaving her pregnant with Hitler's father and leaving subsequent historians a legacy of doubt. Doubt that may have haunted Hitler as well as those who tried to explain him.
As we pulled in