Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Passau Hitler Mystery Wrapup

The Hitler House in Passau-The Hitler family lived on the first floor (above the ground floor).

During my recent three-day stay in Passau, Germany, I became interested in a bit of city lore that says that a 4-year-old Adolf Hitler was saved from drowning in the Inn River by a playmate who lived in the same apartment house. Though an old newspaper account of the incident gave no names, Johann Kuehberger, who became a noted pastor in Germany, years later told his successor that it was he who had saved the child, and that the child was Hitler. (Hitler's family lived in Passau for about three years when he was a small child.) The incident in question occurred in January 1894.

After leaving Passau, I spent 10 days in Erlangen. While visiting the Erlangen City Archives, I related the details to my friend, Andreas Jakob, who is the chief archivist. I asked if he might contact his counterpart in Passau to see if they had any further details as to exactly where the incident would have taken place either directly behind the home where Hitler lived (which seemed to me to make the most sense) or on the other side of the river in front of the former military garrison hospital as mentioned in the news article of the time. He eventually made contact with the archivist of the Catholic Bishops Office in Passau, Herbert Wurster, giving him my name and passing on the request. I also followed up with my own letter to Mr Wurster.

In the meantime, I began learning more about Hitler's connection to Passau. During the time he was chancellor, the home became known locally as the Hitler House and drew many tourists. The street, Kapuzinerstrasse, was re-named Klara Hitler Strasse after Hitler's mother. In the decades after the war, curiosity-seekers continued to pass by the Hitler House.  When I was there, I was not certain of the address because I saw no house number (#5 Kapuzinerstrasse). I walked through the large open front garden area and asked an elderly man what the house number was. (I told him I was looking for number 9). He confirmed the address as number 5.

In addition, the story about the near-drowning was recounted by author Anna Elisabeth Rosmus, a former resident of Passau who grew up there. Rosmus' story in itself is intriguing. While in school, she entered a national writing competition on the subject, "My hometown before the war."  As she began doing her research, she found that it was difficult to get records from the city offices and archives. The more she learned, she began uncovering painful details about the city's Nazi past, its treatment of Jews, and the murders of Russian POWs who were imprisoned in and around the town. Her case became a cause celebe as she fought and overcame the resistance gaining not only national attention, but international attention as well. A German movie was made about her called, Das schreckliche Maedchen- "The Nasty Girl" in English). Rosmus now lives in the US and has researched and written many books on Passau's past. She has become a human rights activist and has reached out to the city's surviving Jewish community. I have just finished reading two of her books, which are:

Against the Stream- Growing up Where Hitler Used to Live and Out of Passau- Leaving a City Hitler Called Home. Both are published by University of South Carolina Press.

Upon my return to the US, Mr Jakob of the Erlangen Archives passed on a reply to our inquiry he had received from Mr Wurster in Passau. Mr Wurster confirmed that the incident was part of Passau lore and gave the same sources for the story as I have previously described. He also mentioned that Rosmus had written about the incident. He could not confirm whether the story was true or not.

For what it is worth, Rosmus did not treat Mr Wurster kindly in her books. As to that issue, I am not qualified to take any position.

So my question still remains: Did the incident (which I believe happened) occur here....

on the banks of the Inn River directly behind the building Hitler and Kuehberger were both living.

Or here...

below the above building which is the site of the former military garrison hospital during the late 19th century?

Whichever it was, history was changed by that event. We can only speculate how history might have been different had Hitler drowned that day in 1894.

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