When a plump, middle-aged Irish woman appeared before the beak at Highgate Police Court, Archway Road, to plead hardship over a £9 13s 10d debt on 20 January 1939, hers was just one of many cases of rates arrears heard that day.
We can, however, only imagine the reaction of the magistrate and others in the courtroom when she gave her name as ‘Mrs Hitler.’
During her two minute hearing she may even have mentioned an individual closely related to the Austrian dictator already tearing Europe apart: her son, William Patrick Hitler.
Adolf’s nephew Willy, born at Toxteth, Liverpool, in March 1911, was the product of the union of Dubliner Brigid Dowling and Alois Hitler. Not that he is mentioned in ‘Mein Kampf’ – Alois, seven years older than Adolf, was the black sheep of the family, with several convictions for theft as a youth.
What a family.
The unlikely match of Brigid and Alois met at the Dublin Horse Fair in 1909. She was a teenage farmer’s daughter, he a chancer, nine years her senior, waiting on guests at the Shelbourne Hotel.
They eloped and married in June 1910 at St Marylebone in London but settled in Liverpool, where they appear on the 1911 Census at 102 Upper Stanhope Street.
Alois was then serving teas at Lyon’s, but was deported two years later, according to a 1942 CIA dossier, for being a souteneur – a pimp, to you and me. The couple separated after Alois returned to Germany, reportedly selling razor blades.
The small matter of the Great War then prevented any reconciliation, and in any case Alois faked his own death and remarried, bigamously. Brigid spoke up for her estranged husband in court when his behaviour caught up with him in 1923.
Six years later Willy began visiting his father in Germany and meeting uncle Adolf during his infamous rise to power.
‘We had cakes and whipped cream, Hitler’s favourite dessert,’ Willy observed of one visit.
‘I was struck by his intensity, his feminine gestures. There was dandruff on his coat.’
During the 1930s Alois was running a restaurant frequented by SA and SS men on Kurfürstendamm, Berlin, with an enthusiasm for trading off his step-brother’s voluminous public profile.
Thanks to him, Brigid and Willy had acquired Austrian citizenship and in 1937 they were granted an audience in Munich with Chancellor of Germany himself, bookended by SS guards.
Through his uncle’s patronage Willy had found work in a bank, car showroom and local brewery. But he was barred from repatriating money to his mother, who remained in London, taking a lodger to make ends meet. In 1938 she was living at 26 Priory Gardens, off Shepherd’s Hill, Highgate, where Willy would briefly join her.
Naturally the newspapers of the free world lapped up tidbits from Adolf’s peculiar lost tribe. In the shadow of war, she happily described that audience with her now notorious brother-in-law.
‘To both of them he spoke kindly,’ reported the Daily Express, from her parlour. ‘Mrs Hitler heard the Führer’s voice for the first time. She heard it again last week on her radio when Hitler talked about the Czechs in angry tones.
‘Mrs Hitler went out the next day to Hornsey Borough Council ARP station, and got her gas mask.’
‘Nowadays it’s a bit embarrassing being Mrs Hitler,’ she added. ‘Mind you, I’ve nothing to say against the Nazis as I’ve found them. The Führer is well-disposed towards my son Willy, his nephew, but says he must cultivate self-reliance and stand on his own feet.’ (Advice, it might be noted, the Daily Express leader writer wholeheartedly endorsed the same day.)
A year later Willy had returned to England too – the CIA file alleges he felt slighted by Adolf – and the Hitlers were still living at Priory Gardens, according to the immigration form completed on their arrival in New York in early March 1939.
Back in January Brigid had promised the magistrate she would clear her debt in six weeks. Now, through the infamy of her brother-in-law, she could afford to pay it many, many times over.
Other parts of the US immigration form prove how spectacularly this Irish farmer’s girl had played the media. Her contact in the USA was given as ‘Mr William Morris, Radio City, NYC’ – the world’s leading talent agency.
Having made splash headlines around the world in 1938 with their connection to the Führer and insider knowledge of his private life, Brigid and Willy had been invited over on a lecture tour of the States, or maybe to be hostess in a nightclub. Something.
It was claimed Brigid had been engaged, too, as a ‘technical consultant’ and actress in a mooted Hollywood film about Hitler, ‘The Mad Dog Of Europe’, which writer Al Rosen had been hawking around for six years.
(Rosen later alleged the plot for ‘Mad Dog’ had been co-opted into the 1940 movie ‘The Mortal Storm’, starring James Stewart. It is often cited as the film that led to all MGM films being banned in Nazi Germany.)
Brigid also clutched the manuscript of an opportunistic memoir she hoped to have published: ‘My Brother-In-Law Adolf’. When the book eventually hit the shelves – a whole 40 years later – it was widely derided as ‘unreliable’.
Not the least reasons were that she claimed to have started Adolf’s love of astrology and designed his famous moustache look. Her book is also the main source of the myth that the Führer visited the city of the Beatles in 1912 or 1913.
Willy had more luck finding an outlet for his views in print, the unambiguously-titled article ‘Why I Hate My Uncle’ appearing in Look magazine in 1938. He eventually fought for the US Army against his uncle, changed his surname to Stuart-Houston and had a family of his own. Hitler’s nephew died in 1987 in New York, 18 years after his mother.
The CIA report on Adolf Hitler: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/CIAHitler.pdf
Why I Hate My Uncle by Willy Hitler: http://www.naderlibrary.com/nazi.whyihatemyuncle.htm