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Hamann, Brigitte (Sample Translation)

Hitlers Edeljude. Das Leben des Armenarztes Eduard Bloch
(Hitler’s Noble Jew: The Life of Doctor Eduard Bloch)

Piper Verlag, October 2008, 450 pp with approx. 100 illustrations,
ISBN: 978-3-492-05164-4 


5. Klara Hitler
A Bleak Diagnosis
On January 14 1907 somebody came to Dr Eduard Bloch for a consultation. He did not know this woman of about 50 who asked for a thorough examination; she complained of pains in her chest, and the pains were so severe at times that she could not sleep. After a thorough examination I was able to establish with certainty the presence of a malignant growth (cancerous tumor). Even today [1941] at a time when surgical and radiation techniques have reached a high level of development, this diagnosis would imply a high risk of mortality, so at that time it was tantamount to a death sentence. This pale woman in need of help was Klara Hitler, Adolf Hitler's mother.
Bloch then goes on: Of course I said nothing to the patient about my sad findings, calmed her as well as was possible in a case like this, but I hinted at the necessity of an operation; for the time being I prescribed an analgesic which should at least still her pain at night. I asked Frau Hitler's children to come and see me -- one was Frau Raubal, the wife of a Linz taxation official, and another was her youngest son Adolf Hitler.
Klara Hitler, classified "Widow of a Senior Customs Officer" in the Linz residents' registry, moved to Linz in 1905, after the death of her husband and the sale of the house in Leonding. The family moved into a small flat with one large room, a kitchen and a small room on the third floor of 31 Humboldtstraße. Adolf, 17 at this time, occupied the small room, the other family members shared the rest: Klara, her handicapped younger sister Johanna Pölzl, called "Hanitante" who helped keep house, and Paula, aged ten. Four days a week a thirteen-year-old boy Wilhelm Hagmüller from Leonding ate with them; he went to school in Linz. Kara's married stepdaughter Angela Raubal lived nearby.
Bloch: I informed the family fully about the diagnosis: the only way to extend their mother's life was radical surgery. Many years later in New York he describes to the US magazine Collier’s Illustrated Weekly how the young Hitler reacted to the dire diagnosis, namely: "touching. His long, pale face was perplexed. Tears flowed from his eyes. Did his mother have no chance at all? he asked. Only then I realised how great the love was between mother and son. I explained to him that she had a chance, but only a slight one. Even this glimmer of hope gave him some comfort."
Klara Hitler was brave in accepting the unfavourable diagnosis and agreed to the operation. Then Bloch asked his friend Dr Karl Urban to take the risk of this operation; he was senior surgeon at the hospital of the Sisters of Mercy which still exists today. Her deeply caring son insisted that his mother not be put in one of the big, crowded wards, as would have been normal, but in an expensive private room. There the daily charge was five crowns instead of two (25 instead of 10). There was no health insurance.
On January 18 1907 Klara Hitler had surgery lasting one hour. At her request Bloch was present. The operation was successful. Bloch's solicitous way of treating his patient and her family is shown by the fact that only two hours after the operation he went up to the third floor of 31 Humboldtstraße where Klara Hitler's children were waiting for him: "The girls took the news that I brought them calmly and without emotion. The boy's face, however, was flooded with tears, and his eyes were tired and red. He listened till I had finished. Then he had only one question and said in a choking voice: 'Will my mother have to suffer?”
Just the 20-day stay in hospital (January 17-February 5) cost 100 crowns (500 euros), not including the doctors' fees, which was as much as Klara received as her widow's pension each month. That January 1907 Adolf gave up his piano lessons, probably to save money. He had meanwhile taken over as head of the household and paid the bill for the hospital and the post-operative treatment she received from Bloch. Bloch says: From this time I was the GP for the whole family. Adolf Hitler, whom I often treated for brief illnesses, was at that time seventeen years old and was no different from other young people of his age; he was his mother's darling and worshipped her.
The Hitler Family
Adolf and Paula were children of Alois Hitler's third marriage. He was born Alois Schicklgruber, and Klara's maiden name was Pölzl. Both parents grew up in the Waldviertel, one of the poorest districts of the western part of the Austro-Hungarian empire (Cisleithania). They were related: Klara, 23 years younger, was Alois' half-niece [his father’s, but not his mother’s, granddaughter]. From his second marriage Alois had a son of the same name, who had left home in protest against his irascible and violent father, and a daughter, Angela, whose married name was Raubal. She lived with her husband and children in Linz.
The family of "Senior Customs Officer" Hitler had often moved because of his work, and continued to do so after his retirement. In 1895, after 40 years of service, Alois Hitler was given a pension at the age of 58, he bought a run-down farm in the little village of Hafeld in Fischlham near Lambach in Upper Austria, and tried farming and bee-keeping. This was where Paula was born in 1896. Adolf attended the one-teacher primary school in Fischlham.
But in 1897 Alois had already given up the farm and moved with his family to a temporary apartment in Lambach. There Adolf went to primary school and also, for a short time, the choir school of the Benedictine monastery.
In 1898 Alois bought a tiny house near the cemetery in the little town of Leonding near Linz for 7,700 crowns (38,859 euros). In Leonding Adolf completed fourth and fifth grade, and from 1900 went to the secondary modern school in Linz, which meant an hour's walk each way. The boy was difficult, irascible and had no ambition at all. He had to repeat his very first school year. According to his younger sister Paula, Adolf was beaten every evening by his father. Once it was so bad that the family thought he had died. But on the other hand, as Paula said, his mother had cared lovingly for the boy and comforted him for his father's severity with her warm kindness. A neighbour said about Hitler senior: "He was a bad-tempered, taciturn old man, a stauch liberal, and like all liberals of the time inclined to German nationalism, a pan-Germanist, but strangely devoted to the Kaiser at the same time."
Alois Hitler at 65 was a volatile man who liked a drink. He spent many hours of the day in the pub and died there of a pulmonary embolism on January 3 1903 at about 9.30am. His thirteen-year-old son Adolf was not sad about this -- quite the contrary. For Adolf and his seven-year-old sister Paula the man's death must have been a relief, but even more so for the tender, sensitive Klara, who was praised by all her acquaintances as a loving mother.
In 1905 Klara Hitler sold the little house in Leonding and moved into the rented apartment at 31 Humboldtstraße in Linz which was owned by the person who bought her house. This meant Paula was spared the long walk to school in Linz. Meanwhile Adolf attended school in Steyr, as he was threatened with a second repeat year at the Linz secondary modern school. But he had no success there either: in 1905 he came home to his mother in Linz, pleading illness, a high-school dropout. He was not planning to work, let alone to take an apprenticeship, though this is what his guardian Josef Mayrhofer urged him to do.
Adolf wanted to be an artist, a painter or perhaps an architect. His gentle, loving mother supported him and made him feel special. He returned this love, probably the greatest and most important of his life. It was this close tie between mother and son that impressed and touched Eduard Bloch. He liked the boy who looked after his sick mother with such love and consideration.
Klara Hitler made a good initial recovery from the operation. She came to Bloch's consulting rooms, was able to go shopping at the market and take walks. As her illness made it hard for her to climb the steps to her flat on the third floor, the family moved to the more rural Urfahr on the other side of the Danube on May 16 1907. They occupied three rooms of a fine, bright apartment on the first floor of the very presentable house at 9 Blütenstraße which is still standing today. This was probably the nicest apartment that Klara Hitler ever lived in -- with a view of the Pöstlingberg. But at just under 50 crowns a month, the rent was very expensive and was exactly half of Klara's pension. The decision to rent such an expensive apartment was probably taken by Adolf. Nothing was too expensive for his gravely ill mother.
Bloch recalls: “My chief impression of the simply furnished apartment was its cleanliness. It practically gleamed; not a speck of dust on the chairs and tables, not a single stain on the scrubbed floor, not a streak on the window-panes. Frau Hitler was an outstanding housewife.". Many years later he stressed again how clean and well-behaved young Adolf was at all times.
According to Bloch's account book, Klara Hitler came to his rooms frequently till July 3, but then did not appear again till September 2. This is an indication that she spent the summer with Adolf, Paula and "Hanitante" at the house of relatives in the Waldviertel, as she did every year. On September 5 Bloch notes a "meeting" with Klara's family, probably because Adolf was going to Vienna for the entrance examination at the Art Academy in Vienna and wanted to get precise information about his mother's state of health before he left. Soon afterwards Bloch sent a bill for treatment so far: for 19 consultations at his rooms including drugs and a meeting he asked 60 crowns. One consultation including drugs therefore cost about three crowns (fifteen euros), that is to say very little.
At the beginning of September the eighteen-year-old Adolf went to Vienna. This is most likely when he wrote his undated postcard to Bloch with a picture of the Burgtheater and the message: "Cordial greetings from my journey to Vienna. Your ever-grateful patient Adolf Hitler". The drawing test at the painting school of the Kunstakademie took place on October 1 and 2 under examination conditions. Of 113 candidates only 28 were accepted, which is about the same percentage as today. Hitler was not one of those chosen. Downcast, even devastated, he returned to Linz, but kept his failure a secret.
Klara Hitler's Death
Klara Hitler's health declined rapidly, as metastases had appeared. On October 22 1907 Eduard Bloch told the family that the situation was hopeless. From October 28 Klara was bed-ridden. From November 6 Bloch drove his horse buggy daily across the bridge to Blütenstraße in Urfahr, and as he was accustomed to pray every day at the synagogue for all his current patients, he would certainly have done so for Klara Hitler.
Bloch writes in reviewing Klara Hitler's case: "She could get out of bed for one or two hours a day at the most. Adolf spent most of his time in the house. He slept in the tiny bedroom next to his mother's so that she could call to him at any time. During the day he was at her bedside." And: "The illness Frau Hitler was suffering caused very severe pain. She bore her burden bravely, without wavering or complaining. But her pain seemed to torture her son. His face was distorted with fear when he saw the pain racking her features. There was little left that could be done."
From November 30 Klara's pain was so unbearable that Bloch -- after deep discussions with Klara's son Adolf -- resorted to the strongest, and most expensive, drug available at the time, iodoform. Gauze pads were soaked in it and applied to the bleeding, purulent and evil-smelling open wound and then bandaged -- every day. Iodoform, which is still used today, has an antibacterial effect, cleans major wounds, combats the evil smell of pus and reduces pain. This onerous treatment was the subject of intense medical discussion around 1900. The most famous medical authority of the day, Theodor Billroth, declared this treatment the best for open purulent wounds. It must be remembered, however, that the purpose of iodoform was not to heal, which at this stage of the illness was no longer possible, but primarily to reduce the hellish pains and to manage the open wound, though each change of dressing was very painful. As Bloch says: "Now and again a morphine injection brought temporary relief, but it didn't last. Nevertheless Adolf seems to have been very grateful for these periods of respite, short as they were." While still in exile in New York in 1941, Eduard Bloch, now an old man, says: "I shall never forget Klara Hitler as she was during those days. She was 48 [actually 47] at the time, tall, slim and fairly pretty, though she was ravaged by the illness. She spoke in a gentle voice, she was patient and worried more about what would happen to her family than about her imminent death. 'Adolf is still so young' , she would say again and again.". And Hitler's closest friend from his adolescence wrote independently: "But Adolf was completely adrift. This tormented his mother constantly.
Klara Hitler died during the night of December 20 1907 surrounded by her family. The next morning her stepdaughter Angela Raubal went to Dr. Bloch and asked him to come to Urfahr to issue the death certificate. They drove in Bloch's buggy to the house where the doctor found the situation he describes like this: "Adolf, whose face showed that he was exhausted from spending a sleepless night, was sitting next to his mother. To preserve a last impression of her he had drawn her lying on her deathbed. I sat with the family for a while and tried to soothe their grief. I explained to them that in this case death was a release -- and they understood."
He added in an interview with Collier’s in spring 1941 in New York: "In my professional practice I have experienced many scenes of this kind, but none made such a great impression on me. In my whole career I have never seen anyone devastated by grief like Adolf Hitler."
These sentences must have caused a lot of head-shaking amongst American readers. For even before the USA entered the war, Hitler was considered the devil incarnate. Bloch, too, admitted that he was baffled by his memories of Klara Hitler's son: Nobody could have even dreamt that one day he would become the personification of all evil. But Bloch insisted he was abiding by the truth, despite his disillusionment at the criminal politician Hitler: the eighteen-year-old Adolf that he knew well had been a sensitive, polite young man who idolised his mother. The reasons for this change were a mystery to Bloch, as they were to everyone else. After 1907 he never again met him again.
On December 23 1907 Klara Hitler was buried next to her husband and her little son Edmund in the cemetery at Leonding -- in an expensive hardwood coffin with metal fittings. It cost 110 crowns and had been selected by Adolf. The bill for the burial was another 369.90 crowns -- 2400 euros altogether.
Klara's heavily pregnant stepdaughter Angela Raubal was amongst the few people present at the funeral. On January 4 1908 she had a daughter, Angelika, nicknamed Geli. She was to play an important part in Hitler's life.
Bloch, who was not present at the funeral, wrote in his memoirs: On the day after the funeral the Hitler family came to my rooms to thank me for what I had done.
Adolf Hitler shook my hand and said: "Doctor, I shall be eternally grateful to you." Then, as Bloch writes, the eighteen-year-old Hitler bowed to the doctor.
On this day, December 24, Bloch presented to Klara’s family his final account for the last two months. From November 4, when Klara Hitler became bedridden, Bloch had driven to Urfahr 42 times to look after his patient, and one some days had done so twice. From November 6, at Adolf’s express wish, he had applied iodoform daily to the open wound, an elaborate and expensive procedure. This he had done forty times. For Klara Hitler’s desperate son this was the last hope. He spared no expense in his attempt to make the most of this tiny chance, for he well knew that his mother had enough money from the sale of the house in Leonding for this kind of treatment .
Bloch charged a lump sum of 300 crowns (1500 euros) for his attention over several weeks. His 42 visits from November 4 at 4 crowns (20 euros) plus one visit by his locum Dr Kren, his son-in-law, came to 172 crowns in the final account. For the medication, mainly the iodoform and the large quantities of sterile gauze in sealed packages Bloch charged a total of 128 crowns, so with 40 iodoform treatments he was charging for materials at 3.20 crowns, or 15.36 euros per application.
For home visits it was customary to charge twice as much as consultations at a doctor’s rooms. As he charged three crowns for consultations, Bloch should normally have asked six crowns for the very onerous house calls. But he asked only one crown more, that is four instead of three. We have no record of how high each dose of iodoform was – nor of the amounts of sterile gauze, fresh each time, which particularly in the chest area was needed in great quantities.
As a comparison with Bloch’s fee of four crowns, it should be noted that the district medical officer at Urfahr who supervised the sealing of Klara’s coffin in Blütenstraße received a fee of 20 crowns (100 euros). His colleague from Leonding who was in charge of Klara’s “encoffinage” at the cemetery, even received 28 crowns. This was five to six times as much as what Bloch charged for each of Klara Hitler’s very complex and demanding home treatments. This very low rate of charging for the painstaking treatment of the terminally ill patient over a period of weeks is proof of Bloch’s selflessness and was also, we may assume, an expression of his feelings for the amiable and long-suffering patient and her inconsolable son who was now an orphan.
The Linz businessman Egon Basch, a patient and friend, wrote of Bloch: “He was a conscientious doctor and often visited his patients even when they were feeling well again, which made some people think he only did so for the fee. But it was out of extreme concern, which is proved by Dr Bloch’s free treatment of many patients.” And Hitler’s friend from his Linz youth recalled: “The Hitlers’ family doctor was the universally popular Doctor Bloch who was called the ‘poor people’s doctor’ in the town, an outstanding professional man with a good heart. His patients came before everything else.”
Adolf leaves Linz
The 18 year old Adolf Hitler had many dealings with bureaucracy during these difficult days. Johanna Motloch, the owner of the house in Blütengasse, wrote to a friend in Vienna on February 8 1908: “Although there has still been no word from the public guardian’s office, Hitler doesn’t want to wait here any longer and will be going to Vienna in a week anyway. His guardian is a very ordinary pub owner, a very solid man, but I believe he is not very bright. He resides in Leonding, not here. The boy has to do all the travelling that would normally fall to the guardian.” This guardian was the Leonding brewer Josef Mayrhofer, a friend of Adolf’s father. He had nothing in common with his difficult godson and was rejected by him. The cultured Johanna Motloch on the other hand quite clearly had warm feelings towards young Adolf.
On February 10 Adolf and Paula Hitler applied for their orphans’ pensions at the Linz provincial tax and social security office. They were legally entitled to share half of Klara’s widow’s pension: 50 crowns (250 euros) a month, 25 each – but only under the condition that they were still at school or university. The eleven-year-old Paua had been attending first-year classes at the Linz Girls’ Lyceum (now called the Körnerschule) and was required to pay only half fees.
As the eighteen-year-old Adolf did not go to school or university, he did not fulfil this condition and would have had to work for his living. His guardian therefore rightly urged him to let his sister have the entire pension. But Adolf refused. There were quarrels, and Adolf said to Kubizek’s mother, “he was fed up with these torments and was avoiding them by fleeing to Vienna ... he wanted to become an artist and prove to his philistine relatives that he was in the right, and they were not.”
On February 12 1908 at the latest Adolf left Vienna and went to Vienna with four heavy suitcases. This date is based amongst other sources on the Hitlers’ housekeeping journal; all the entries made before February 12 made by Adolf, the head of the household till then, and by “Hanitante” (Klara’s sister Johanna Pölzl) were torn out. Adolf must also have taken with him to Vienna important family documents, his parents’ letters and his own letters and cards to his adored mother. None of them have re-appeared. Probably he burnt these most valuable personal treasures before his suicide in Berlin in 1945, to stop them falling into other hands.
As the young Adolf still did not work but could not survive on 25 crowns a month and probably had debts, he travelled to the Waldviertel in the summer of 1908 and “borrowed” 924 crowns from his aunt Johanna, 4620 euros in today’s currency. In September 1908 he failed in his second attempt to pass the entrance test at the Academy.
From the beginning of 1908 he was incomunicado, lived in rapidly changing lodgings and ended up amongst the horde of Viennese homeless. His friend Kubzek had no success in finding him in Vienna and later said: “All his relatives thought him a ne’er-do-well who would rather do anything than work for a living.” The expensive flat in Blütenstraße continued to be rented in Klara Hitler’s name till the end of 1908. Probably Klara had paid the rent in advance for her sister and little Paula when she saw her end drawing near. Only then the flat was cleared. Johanna Pölzl moved to the Waldviertel and Paula went to stay with her step-sister Angela Raubal.
In August 1910 Angela was widowed at the age of 27 years and now had to bring up and feed three small children and her step-sister Paula on a tiny pension. During a visit in the Waldviertel she found out from “Hanitante”, who was seriously ill, that Adolf had already received a substantial amount from her in 1908. Understandably Angela was angered by this and by the injustice that her brother was doing her in leaving only half an orphan’s pension for Paula. Since the death of their mother in 1907 he had not been in touch with her.
In her distress and fury she prevailed upon Josef Mayrhofer, the guardian, not to send any more money to Adolf, and she made an application to the district court. On March 4 1911 the 22-year-old Hitler was interrogated by the police at the district court in Leopoldstadt, Vienna, and subsequently gave up claim to the 25 crowns a month, at long last. Paula, at 14, was already having great problems at the lyceum at this time. Her grades were deteriorating noticeably, to the extent that on March 2 1912 she had to leave the school and take up an apprenticeship. Meanwhile Bloch received a second written greeting from Hitler in Vienna: a New Year’s card, painted by Hitler himself, depicting a drinking Capuchin monk in the style of Hitler’s then favourite painter Eduard Grützner, with the words “Prosit Neujahr”. The text read: “Warmest wishes for the New Year from your ever-grateful friend Adolf Hitler.” The undated card would have arrived at New Year 1909 at the earliest, but it could have been as late as 1910-1913 when Hitler lived in a men’s home and earned his living with painting cards of this very kind.
There can be no doubt: Bloch had a deep appreciation of the intense love the young Adolf had for his mother; he liked him and was pleased by the cards. For Bloch, too, had a strong bond with his mother and was deeply affected when she died only a short time after Klara Hitler. Decades later he was still mourning his mother: only with my last heartbeat will it be possible for the memory of this noble woman to be erased!
It was to be many years till Bloch found out that this well brought up, polite and clean Adolf who was so intensely attached to his mother had turned into a radically anti-Semitic politician in Germany.
Pre-War Years
Around 1910 Eduard Bloch was at the peak of his life, a happy husband, a proud father, a successful and popular doctor, an esteemed member of the Linz Jewish community. In his memoirs he writes of this time: “My practice was running very well all year; a large part of the day I spent doing my many house calls, reading and studying in the buggy as I was driving, but I didn’t read only modern authors, but just as many works of Bible criticism and excellent commentaries which I was particularly interested in. I very often spent my not-very-long holidays at clinics abroad, in order to get practical experience of new medical developments, so I made repeated visits to Zurich, Munich and the Austrian clinics at Vienna and Innsbruck.
According to Ernst Koref, later mayor of Linz, Bloch enjoyed the city’s “great esteem ... and in particular amongst the disadvantaged and poor inhabitants. It was generally known that he was prepared to make house calls at any time of night. Wearing a conspicuously broad-brimmed hat he used to drive in a buggy to do his house calls.”
In 1910 Trude Bloch, aged seven, went to primary school and was one of two Jewish children in her class. As she later told her grandchildren, strict discipline and order reigned at the school – in marked contrast to her parents’ house which was filled with love. The worst feature however was that she and the girl who shared her fate were treated as outsiders, above all in the daily reciting of the Lord’s Prayer: the two Jewish girls were instructed by the teachers to stand up with the others for prayer, but they were not allowed to clasp their hands or take part in the prayer. The protestant girls, on the other hand, were allowed to pray with the others, but during the Ave Maria they had to be silent and hold their arms stiffly by their sides. Little Trude now made an effort to compensate for this mortifying exclusion: she kneeled at her bedside every evening, folded her hands and said the Lord’s Prayer for all those who were not allowed to pray or had forgotten how to. When she grew older, she made up her own prayers . Owing to his heavy demands of his profession Bloch had little time for social life – with one exception: from 1910 he was a proud member of the Jewish lodge “B’nai B’rith” in Vienna. “B’nai B’rith” was founded by German immigrants in New York with the aim of training Jews from all countries of origin to become good, helpful Americans in brotherly solidarity. This entailed financial assistance where necessary. Since the eighties of the nineteenth century B’nai B’rith had developed rapidly in Germany, too, and round the turn of the century had about 100 lodges. Little Linz at that time had no lodge of its own.
Freemasonry was prohibited in the western part of the Danube monarchy (Cisleithania), but B’nai B’rith took hold in Bohemia and Austrian Poland (Krakau) under the name “Israelite Humane Society”. The first central “Great Lodge of Austria” was in Prague, but moved in 1911 to the capital, Vienna, as a great lodge. Relations between Prague and the Vienna headquarters were close and friendly, which Bloch explained thus: After all, it was the Prague lodge brother Dr Hammerschlag who inaugurated the “Wien” lodge. Bloch valued Hammerschlag highly.
Moritz Hammerschlag was one of the leading B’nai B’rith presidents in Europe and was also an office-bearer at the world headquarters in the USA, where the leader was Adolph Kraus, who was born in Bohemia in 1850 and emigrated as a young man to the USA. This very successful and wealthy lawyer residing in Chcago was International President of “B’nai B’rith” from 1905 to 1925. Above all he became involved in the “Antidefamation League” founded in 1913, which campaigned against anti-Semitism and discrimination. Bloch wrote with conspicuous pride: I myself had the honour of meeting the American president of the Order Dr Krauss in Vienna during his inspection tour of Europe. I was on friendly terms with his Bohemian relatives. President Kraus was well informed about my activities as a Ben-Berith, and gave them due acknowledgment.
For the rest of his life Bloch remained a committed member of “B’nai B’rith”, whether he was in Prague, Vienna, Linz or New York. It must be easy to see that the basic ideals of the order have always filled me with enthusiasm! During the 14-day meetings, there were lectures, discussions of charity projects, money was collected for the poor, but there was good eating and lively discussion at the “fraternal suppers”. As women were admitted, in contrast to classic freemasonry, the meetings always had a strongly social character.
Bloch’s brothers-in-law Rudolf and Egon Kafka also belonged to “B’nai B’rith”, but moved in non-Jewish circles like the Linz “Literary Society” as well. There are few documents about this apparently very lively club that have survived; amongst them is a humorous contribution from 1913-14. In a fictional scene, Egon Kafka interviews the Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel literature laureate of 1913. At the end he has the far-off writer Tagore praise the products of the Kafka company, with the inserted advertising jingle:
“Bramaputra, Ganges, Indus –
Cherry brandy, and you, Absinthus,
To you I farewell say –
And drink only Kafka’s Pralinée”
Rudolf Steiner in Linz
In 1911 Rudolf Steiner, Rudolf Kafka’s idol, made his first visit to Linz to give a lecture. He spoke on his favourite topic “Karma and Reincarnation”, i.e. the basic tenet of Anthroposophy that each man’s life is shaped by his actions and thoughts, which reach beyond death and into a new life, after rebirth. Amongst Steiner’s admirers were a few prominent Linz people like Ludwig Ritter von Polzer-Hoditz, Emilie Witt von Döring and Adolf Eigl, a senior administrative lawyer in the Upper Austrian provincial government.
During this visit Steiner baptised the little Linz Anthroposophical community “Johannes-Kepler-Branch” and in this way paid homage to the most important resident of Linz who at that time was almost forgotten. The astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) came to Linz in 1612 after the overthrow of his Prague patron Emperor Rudolf II, he worked as provincial mathematician of the of the “archduchy on the Enns” and married his second wife Susanne. Three years later he was excluded as a protestant from taking communion – at the same time as his mother was accused of witchcraft in Württemberg. In a case that lasted a year Kepler defended his mother in court and obtained her pardon in 1621. One year later she was dead.
During these Linz years Kepler discovered the third law of planetary motion and worked on the Harmonices mundi and the Rudolphine Tables, amongst other things. In the troubles of the Thiry Years’ War and the Peasants’ War against the Bavarian occupiers, the Planck print shop in Linz burnt down. The fire destroyed valuable parts of the Rudolphine Tables which were just being printed by Hans Planck. Following this, Kepler left Linz with his wife and children, deeply distressed, in order to escape the coercive catholicisation by both the Habsburgs and the Wittelsbachs. Exhausted and reduced to poverty, he died in Regensburg in 1630.
By giving this name to the Anthroposophical group in Linz, Steiner prompted the people of the city to bring back the memory of the great Kepler. Today the University of Linz bears the name “Johannes Kepler Universität”.
When Steiner came to Linz on a second visit in 1913, he spoke about “The essence of the human soul and the meaning of death”. The reporter from the Linzer Tagespost who was attending felt no connection with the guest. This man, i.e. Steiner, was a “dreamy-looking man, who nevertheless shows that that he has become a zealot for his cause, through tenacious study and relentless clinging to the ideas he sees as correct,” The audience was large, “partly out of sheer curiosity which was stimulated by the other-worldly character of the lecturer and his female followers who had come here with him.” And : “the childish views he expressed at the meeting, about the purported transmigration of souls, for instance, and against materialism, are likely to have been shared by very few amongst the audience”. The Kafkas of course had a different opinion about Steiner, the leader of souls. Eduard and Lilli Bloch maintained a conspicuous distance.
Family Matters
Lilli Bloch’s 71-year-old father Sigmund Kafka, the abolute ruler of the firm, died on March 6 1911. On his gravestone we read the words: “Justice, love of peace, truth and trust in God were the guiding stars of his life.”
Even on his deathbed Sigmund determined the future private life of his younger son Egon. He demanded a promise not to marry Irma Jäger, Egon’s great love, on any account. Irma, intelligent and blond, was 26 at the time, and had come to Linz at the age of 16 as a foster child from Bohemia and lived two houses away from the Kafkas at 48 Landstraße. She was not Jewish and had no fortune. The 31-year-old Egon gave his dying father the required promise and Irma left Linz. When she was in the city again many years later as a successful actress, she asked Egon, still a bachelor, whether he wanted to marry her now. But he explained sadly that he could not break his promise to his father, even after his death. The new head of the Kafka firm was Sigmund’s oldest son Rudolf. He modernised the flourishing company and, as there was enough capital, he bought modern machinery on a large scale, in order to rationalise the work and make it easier: a hydraulic fruit press, an electric puréeing machine, autoclaves, filling and labelling machines and a fruit drying plant. He soon added modern distilling plants for producing fine brandy, slivovitz and kirsch. Automatic fermentation installations produced superior vinegar for gourmets. And he started up the production of mustard. However, Rudolf left the daily work in the business to his brother Egon, his deputy. According to Trude Bloch, Rudolf often treated his brother as a “small-town lad”: “Egon was kept in the shade while his brother stood in the limelight.”
But Egon was not a born businessman. He was highly musical and played the piano much better than his mother Hermine. He liked best to spend hours playing skilful improvisations on the Bechstein grand piano or at the harmonium, called the “organ” in the family. Despite all this, however, Egon laboured diligently in the business and tried to please everybody.
In the autumn of 1913 Eduard Bloch had the great pleasure of taking his ten-year-old daughter Trude to the “Girls’ Lyceum and Reform-Modern Grammar School”. This school was popular, being the best girls secondary school, but led only as far as the junior secondary examination: girls in Linz were not permitted to attend a classical grammar school which would have led them directly to university studies.
The director of the Girls’ Lyceum was Dr Leopold Poetsch, 60 years old, the very same teacher who had once taught the young Adolf Hitler history and geography at the Linz Modern School, and had enthused his pupil. Poetsch, who was born in Sankt Andrä in the Lavant Valley in 1853, was also active in the Linz municipal council representing the German Freedom Party. The German Liberals were faithful to Austria and were distinct from the German Nationals who were striving for union with the German Reich. But the liberals, too, had problems with universal suffrage, introduced in 1906, and campaigned for preference being given to Germans in electoral regulations, so that they could continue to play a leading role in the multi-ethnic state. In purely numerical terms the Germans did not have a majority over the other ethnic groups in Cisleithania, and through the universal right of suffrage they had lost their leading position in the empire.
Poetsch was a very popular occasional speaker in Linz, e.g. in 1905, the Schiller Year, and at Kaiser Franz Joseph’s diamond jubilee in 1908. His favourite themes were the history and legends of the Germanic tribes, above all the Niebelungenlied. In his lessons he backed up his teaching with large coloured tables, and liked to make connections between history and the present. Hitler as a schoolboy was, by the way, very proud to be allowed to fetch these charts from the store-room for his esteemed teacher.
In addition, Poetsch was involved in gymnastics, very modern at that time, and other Linz clubs. During his time at the secondary modern school he liked going to Linz pubs with older pupils, drank copious amounts of beer with them and sang nationalistic student songs. Of course he did not do this with the girl pupils of the Lyceum. But here, too, he was very popular as a committed and charismatic teacher, he impressed people with his history lectures and left his mark on many a girl for the rest of her life. The most important thing he passed on to them, however, was the conviction, unusual for the time, that women were in no way less intelligent or capable than men.
Eduard Bloch, the proud father, was of the same opinion. In contrast to Hitler as a schoolboy, his daughter had excellent reports in all six years at the Lyceum.
(Pages 80–103 of the German edition)

Translated by Tomas Drevikovsky