Eyewitness 1940: Adolf Hitler scorned locally by 'loathsome nephew'
January 23, 2011 5:00 AM
Adolf Hitler in 1938.
By Len Barcousky Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Almost all families have complaints about a crazy relative, but William Patrick Hitler had more to talk about than most.
"It is quite possible," he said in 1940, that his Uncle Adolf, the fuhrer -- or leader -- of Germany, was no longer sane.
"There is a thin line between genius and insanity," William Patrick said in an interview with a Pittsburgh Press reporter. "And it is quite possible that sometime in 1938, Hitler completely lost his perspective and overstepped that line."
William Patrick visited Pittsburgh in March 1940 as the main speaker for the annual dinner of the Young Men's and Women's Hebrew Association of Pittsburgh.
He was the British-born son of Adolf Hitler's older half-brother, Alois. His father had left Germany for Ireland, where he met a woman named Bridget Dowling. The couple eloped to Liverpool, England, where William Patrick was born in 1911. Alois left his family and returned to Germany in 1914 just before World War I broke out.
William Patrick, then 22, relocated to Germany in 1933, shortly after his uncle took power.
The nephew told his Pittsburgh listeners that he "was first attracted to his uncle by 'his strange lucidness and logic,' " according to the March 22 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He said he found Adolf Hitler's dictatorial alternative to Britain's "stick-in-the mud democracy" appealing
"By 1936, however, he realized that the Nazis' 'great facade of strength was nothing but papier mache.'" He predicted -- wrongly as it turned out -- that Germans would become discontented as Hitler's government "fed on Germany's flesh."
"And what admiration William Patrick Hitler had for his uncle has turned to contempt," the newspaper said.
In his March 21 interview with The Pittsburgh Press, William Patrick expressed at least some grudging respect for his uncle's political accomplishments and identified two sources of his power: "[H]is eloquence as an orator and his ability as a statesman."
"'He started from the bottom and worked up,' declared Mr. Hitler, a strapping blue-eyed youth," according to the newspaper.
Upon his arrival in Germany, William Patrick said he found his uncle "friendly enough at first."
"But 'because of certain things I said to certain people' concerning the Nazis, Mr. Hitler said his relationship with his uncle became 'less cordial.'"
In 1938 -- the year before Germany invaded Poland, triggering World War II -- Adolf Hitler demanded that his nephew become a German citizen. After he refused, William Patrick told the Press reporter, he was arrested. He was freed "only through the intervention of the British Government."
He left Germany for England and in 1939 he and his mother came to the United States on a lecture tour. Adolf Hitler thereafter referred to William Patrick as "my loathsome nephew," according to a New York Times story that appeared April 24, 2006.
The United States entered World War II following the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Four days later Germany declared war on the U.S.
After service in the U.S. Navy during the war, William Patrick married and changed his last name. He and his wife had four sons. None of his children has had offspring, according to the Times story.
William Patrick died in 1987 and is buried on Long Island. His wife died in 2002. Three of their sons remain alive, but they decline requests for interviews.