Hitler's Niece - By Hansen


LINZ, 1908

She was born in Linz, Austria, on June 4, 1908, when Hitler was nineteen and floundering in Wien, a failure at many things, and famished for food and attention. Within the month she was christened as Angelika (“Ahn-GAY-leek-ah”) Maria Raubal, in honor of her mother, Angela, Hitler’s half-sister, but the family was soon calling the baby Geli (“Gaily”), as she was to be known all her life.

Hitler first saw his niece at a Sunday-afternoon party after the June baptism in the Alter Dom cathedral in Linz. Angela heard four hard knocks on the front screen door and found Adolf on Bürgergasse in front of the Raubal house, looking skeletal and pale in a high, starched collar and red silk bow tie and the ill-fitting, soot-black suit he’d worn at his mother’s funeral in December; his wide, thin mustache so faint it seemed penciled on, his hair as chestnut brown as her own and as short as a five-day beard. With unquestioning love, Angela invited him in and hugged him, but it was like holding wood. And then she saw that hurrying up Bürgergasse from the railway station was his only friend, August Kubizek, whose father owned an upholstery shop in Linz. Angela hugged him, too, saying, “We’ve missed you, Gustl.”

“And I, you.”

She called to the kitchen, “Leo! Paula! Look who’s here!” And then she noticed that her half-brother held a silk top hat in his hand and was absurdly twirling a black, ivory-handled cane, as if he were a gentleman of plenty. “Aunt Johanna’s here, too,” she said. “And the Monsignor.”

“Oh, Lord,” Hitler said.

Swerving out of the kitchen with a tankard of beer was Leo Raubal, Angela’s husband, a flinty, twenty-nine-year-old junior tax inspector in Linz whose jacket and tie were now off. Everything Hitler loathed about his dead father, Leo Raubal professed to admire, and he seemed to be imitating the late Alois Hitler as he said, “Why, it’s Lazy himself! The bohemian! Rembrandt’s only rival! Aren’t we honored to finally have you here!”

“Leo, be nice,” Angela said.

“Who’s nicer than I? I’m Saint Nicholas! I’m a one-man charity!”

Hitler’s twelve-year-old sister, Paula, who suffered frequent trials with mental illness and would be nicknamed “The Straggler,” hung back in the kitchen, winding string around a fist and flirting a stare at Kubizek, whom she was fond of, until Hitler held out a present to her. “I have a gift for you, Paula!”

She scuttled forward in once white stockings and took the package, irresolutely staring at a festive wrapping of tissue paper that Hitler had hand-painted.

“You can tear it,” he said.

“But I don’t want to.”

“Oh, for God’s sake, do it!” Leo Raubal said.

She tore off the paper and found underneath it a fat and difficult novel, Don Quixote. “You say the title how?” she asked. Hitler told her. She opened the book, and inside, where she hoped for a sentimental note from the older brother she worshiped, or even a “To My Dear Paula,” she instead found Hitler’s handwritten list of other books in history, biography, politics, and literature that would possibly benefit her. Her face fractured with disappointment as she said, “Thank you, Adolf,” and hurried to put Don Quixote away.

“What a treat,” Raubal told Hitler. “Girls really go for things like that.”

“She’s all right?”

Raubal touched his head. “She’s all wrong up here.”

Aunt Johanna Pölzl, the wealthy, hunchbacked, forty-five-year-old sister of Hitler’s late mother, walked down the hallway from a bedroom. She smiled. “I was taking a nap with Leo Junior when I heard your voice, Adi.”

“My favorite aunt!” he said. “My sweetest darling! Are you feeling well?”

“Oh, just tired,” Aunt Johanna said. “I’m used to it.” She held out her left hand and he kissed it, as did August Kubizek.

Angela got the baby from a bassinet and held the tiny girl up to Hitler’s face so he could kiss her on the forehead.

Jiggling Geli’s left hand with his index finger, her uncle said, “Aren’t you pretty?” She gripped the finger in her fist. “Will the fräulein allow me the pleasure of introducing myself? My name is Herr Adolfus Hitler.”

“Your uncle, Angelika,” Angela said, and shook the baby, trying to get her to smile, but Geli only stared at his hair. “See? She loves you.”

“And why not?” he asked.

Leo Raubal called, “August Kubizek! Would you like some good beer?”

Walking into the kitchen, Kubizek said, “Clearly I have some catching up to do.”

“Won’t take but a pitcher,” Raubal said.

Hitler stayed in the front room as Angela gave Geli to Aunt Johanna