Every family has a rotten relative, a black sheep, the one relation you go out of your way to avoid.
Even Adolf Hitler.
Yes, the living personification of evil had a relative he couldn’t stand.
And that relative was (eventually) an American.
You read correctly … the Nazi warlord who unleashed unspeakable horror and misery on the world had a blood relative who fought for Uncle Sam.
Adolf’s dad, Alois, was a piece of work. He was married multiple times, with plenty of girlfriends in between. Adolf’s mother was Mrs. Hitler #3. He was 48, she was 24. They were first cousins once removed, and she called him “uncle.” (Paging Dr. Freud!) Yeah, they were a messed up bunch alright.
Alois, Junior was born to Mrs. Hitler #2. He was seven years older than the future Fuhrer, and the two half-brothers couldn’t stand each other. After one particularly bitter fight, the 14 year-old Alois, Jr. left home and never returned.
He met 18 year-old Irishwoman Bridget Dowling at the Dublin Horse Show in 1909. They eloped to London the next year. Her father was furious, threatening to have Alois, Jr. arrested for kidnapping. (Bridget talked him out of it.)
The Hitlers settled in Liverpool, where William Patrick Hitler arrived in 1911. (The house where he was born was destroyed in Germany’s last air raid on Liverpool in 1942; how’s that for irony?)
Alois, Jr. ran a restaurant, a boarding house and a small hotel. They all failed. So he slithered off to Germany in 1914 without saying goodbye to Bridget and little Willie. But it gets better. He married a German woman (without bothering to get a divorce) and had another son named Heinz. In fact, he stood trial for bigamy in 1924. Bridget’s tearful testimony helped acquit him. (Once again, it was up to Bridget to bail him out of hot water.)
She raised Willie Hitler in England as well as a single mother in the 1920s could. Alois, Jr. eventually begged her to let Willie visit him in Germany, and she finally did in 1929.
As 18 year-old Willie got to know his dad and little half-brother, he was amazed to discover his Uncle Adolf was rapidly becoming a German political superstar. Willie closely followed Adolf’s rise to the top … not because he was a Nazi, but because he recognized a golden opportunity for Willie Hitler.
He rushed to Berlin after Uncle Adolf became Chancellor, where he quickly made a spectacular nuisance of himself. He threw around the name Hitler like a sailor tossing around dollar bills on shore leave. And in 1933 Berlin, that name got lots of attention.
He was coarse, uncouth, a Liverpool lout. He fancied himself a ladies man whose approach to wooing a woman was telling her, “The Fuhrer is my uncle, and I want to have sex with you.” So much for seduction. (Believe it or not, that pickup line worked more often than you’d think.) But Willie’s lust extended beyond the bedroom.
He incessantly badgered his uncle for a job. Adolf made a couple of calls, and got the British Hitler a gig working in a big German bank. Finance wasn’t to Willie’s liking, so he pestered his uncle again; a few more phone calls from the Reich Chancellery, and Willie’s next job was in an Opel car factory. When that wasn’t good enough, Adolf got Willie a position selling cars. (He probably modified his pickup line into his sales pitch: “The Fuhrer is my uncle; want to buy this car?” How do you walk away from that deal when you live in a totalitarian regime?)
Hitler was deeply embarrassed by his sorry excuse of a relative (privately calling Willie “my loathsome nephew”). There he was, busily plotting world conquest and domination, only to be interrupted time after time to tend to Willie. So why did that remarkably impatient man put up with it?
Because Adolf Hitler was afraid of William Patrick Hitler. One of the Third Reich’s biggest secrets was this: Willie was blackmailing his uncle. That’s right – the same man who bullied and browbeat Europe’s leaders into giving him what he wanted was being extorted by his own flesh and blood.
Willie bombarded dear old uncle with letters saying he knew a dirty family secret, and he would spill the beans to the newspapers unless his “personal circumstances” improved. Talk about Moxie!
And here’s the most incredible part of all: Adolf Hitler gave in. Because he was terrified the 20something possessed the one thing that could that topple him from power – proof that the Hitler family had Jewish blood. That would have been fatal for the head of a dictatorship founded on anti-Semitism.
In fact, the only family “dirt” Willie had was the story of Alois, Jr.’s bigamy (which was old news to Adolf). But the Fuhrer never risked finding that out. He just submitted to the demands. Between the obnoxious behavior and the constant blackmail letters, Willie increasingly vexed Adolf, leading historian Timothy Ryback to observe, “Willie Hitler was the Nephew From Hell, and the nephew Adolf Hitler deserved.”
So why didn’t Willie Hitler simply vanish without a trace? Plenty of people in Berlin did in those days. But Willie couldn’t be one of them. He had done too good a job of plastering his famous name, and the fact that he was a British citizen, around the German capital. His profile was too high, making his one of the few doors the Gestapo couldn’t break down in the middle of the night.
Hitler’s patience eventually ran out. He offered Willie a deal in 1938: if the nephew would give up his British citizenship, the Fuhrer would guarantee him a lucrative executive job. (“Come into my parlor said the spider to the fly.”)
Willie smelled a rat. He had pushed his luck as far as he dared. So he secretly fled to London. But he wasn’t finished milking the family name for all it was worth. Since he couldn’t get anything else from his uncle, he now rode the gravy train by bashing him.
He wrote an article for Look magazine called, “Why I Hate My Uncle.” It drew much attention, prompting publisher William Randolph Hearst to invite Willie to make an extensive lecture tour around the United States. Mamma Bridget packed up and sailed across the Atlantic with him in 1939.
Willie was well received on the lecture circuit. Many Americans were intrigued by the little man with the funny mustache they heard screaming speeches on the radio, and they were an eager audience. Then World War II broke out and the Hitlers couldn’t get passage back to Britain, stranding them in New York City. Things grew worse on December 11, 1941 when Uncle Adolf declared war on America.
Willie tried to enlist in the U.S. military, but you can imagine how far he got with that. In desperation, he appealed directly to President Franklin Roosevelt for help. FDR had Willie investigated. When U.S. intelligence confirmed Willie wasn’t a threat, Roosevelt personally approved Hitler’s enlistment. The propaganda value was immense.
A story turned up in a newspaper about the day Willie enlisted in the Navy. The duty officer asked, “Name?” and Willie dutifully answered, “Hitler.” Without missing a beat, the officer said, “Glad to meet you Hitler. I’m Hess.” (A reference to Nazi Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess.)
Willie served as a Pharmacist’s Mate and received a Purple Heart before being discharged in 1947. But civilian life was radically different from what he had known before.
Post-war Americans didn’t want to hear about Adolf Hitler anymore, and they were appalled by the atrocities he had committed. Willie’s “I hate my uncle” cottage industry had evaporated, replaced by the fear that someone might kill him in retaliation for the Holocaust. Suddenly, being a Hitler was a very big, very dangerous liability.
So Willie legally changed his name to William Patrick Stuart-Houston, settled on Long Island, opened a small medical lab operating in his home, and tried to keep as low a profile as possible. It was the exact opposite of his days as Berlin’s blackmailing bon vivant the decade earlier.
Willie married a woman who had been born in Germany. They had four sons. None of them had children, meaning in a few years there won’t be any living descendants of Adolf Hitler left. The hated name will pass away with them.
William Patrick Hitler Stuart-Houston died in 1987. He was quietly buried beside Bridget in Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Coram, New York.
One final, haunting fact remains: Willie named his firstborn son William Adolf. If he hated his uncle so much, why did he perpetuate his name?
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