Historians cast doubt on Hitler Jewish heritage claims
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Historians cast doubt on Hitler Jewish heritage claims

New research attempts to revive conspiracy theory that the Nazi leader had a Jewish grandfather

The faces of Adolf Hitler, right, and Joseph Goebbels, left, are projected onto 3D canvases as part of an art installation during a rehearsal for the 'Berlin Leuchtet' (Berlin shines) festival in Berlin, Germany, September 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
The faces of Adolf Hitler, right, and Joseph Goebbels, left, are projected onto 3D canvases as part of an art installation during a rehearsal for the 'Berlin Leuchtet' (Berlin shines) festival in Berlin, Germany, September 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Prominent historians have cast doubt on new claims that Adolf Hitler had partial Jewish ancestry, decades after the the conspiracy theory was first promoted by the Nazi leader’s personal attorney.

In a paper published recently in the Journal of European Studies, American psychologist Dr. Leonard Sax asserted that he had disproved one of the primary arguments against the claim by Hans Frank — who served as governor-general of Poland during the Holocaust — that Hitler’s paternal grandmother, Maria Anna Schicklgruber, had been impregnated by a Jewish man while employed as a cook for the Frankenberger family in the city of Graz.

Most historians agree that there was no Jewish presence in Graz between the Jews’ expulsion from the Styria region in the late 15th century and the reestablishment of communal life in the 1860s. Citing archival evidence, Sax claimed that there had been a “small, now settled Jewish community” in Graz as of 1850 and that although there is no direct evidence of Jewish life there when Hitler’s father Alois was conceived in 1836, “the assertion that not a single Jew was living in Graz prior to 1856 cannot be sustained.”

A press release promoting Sax’s research went even further, claiming that his paper constituted “new evidence that Adolf Hitler’s grandfather was Jewish.” Sax is a psychologist and the author of books such as “Girls on the Edge” and “Why Gender Matters.”

“I argue that one factor driving his anti-Semitism was his intense need to prove that [he’s] not Jewish,” he said in a video interview posted on YouTube.

Historians have long dismissed such claims. Asked about Sax’s findings, Sir Richard Evans, author of “The Third Reich Trilogy” and former president of Cambridge University’s Wolfson College, replied that “even if there were Jews living in Graz in the 1830s, at the time when Adolf Hitler’s father Alois was born, this does not prove anything at all about the identity of Hitler’s paternal grandfather.”

Frank’s memoirs are “notoriously unreliable,” Evans told The Times of Israel.

“There is no contemporary evidence that Hitler’s mother was ever in Graz, or that there was a Jewish family called Frankenberger living there. There was a family in Graz called Frankenreiter but it was not Jewish. No correspondence between Hitler’s father or paternal grandmother has ever been found. Nor is there any evidence for Frank’s claim that Hitler’s half-nephew knew about it and was blackmailing Hitler, as Frank claimed.”

Sir Richard John Evan. (Wikimedia Commons)

Many of these same arguments were made by British historian Ian Kershaw in his 1998 book “Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris.” In it, he noted that the “son of Leopold Frankenreiter and alleged father of the baby…for whom Frankenreiter was seemingly prepared to pay child support for thirteen years was ten years old at the time of Alois’s birth.”

“I have been thinking about the fact that neo-Nazis are offended by the suggestion that Hitler had a Jewish grandfather, because they hate Jews,” Sax told The Daily Mail in an article about his research.

“Jews are often offended by the suggestion that Hitler had a Jewish grandfather, because they hate Hitler. But now, as nearly a lifetime has passed since the end of the Third Reich, maybe we are free at last to ask — not what is offensive, or what is not offensive — but what is true? And what does it mean for our understanding of Adolf Hitler, and the Holocaust?”

But professional Holocaust historians remained skeptical.

“Hitler’s grandmother (from his father’s side) was not married, and thus, considering his destructive role and hideous actions, rumors and claims like that are almost natural,” Havi Dreifuss, a historian of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe at Tel Aviv University, told The Times of Israel. “Still, I am not sure if (or how much) [this discussion] is a contribution to the field and to our understanding of the Holocaust.”

According to Evans, speculations about Hitler’s ancestry have persisted for so long “because some people have found his deep and murderous anti-Semitism hard to explain unless there were personal motives behind it.

“This seems to be the motivation for Dr. Leonard Sax, a psychiatrist, not an historian, making his claims,” he said.

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