Saturday, March 12, 2016

Meet Bill Hitler, US Navy

Listen to a podcast of this episode.

It's tough to have a family name like Hitler.  Association with one of the most hated and despised names in modern history cannot be easy.  But that was the situation that William Patrick Hitler had to endure during WWII.

William Hitler
William did more than simply share a surname with Adolf Hitler.  Adolf was the boy's uncle.   Adolf's half-brother Alois fathered the child in England in 1911.  Alois abandoned the family a few years later.  William's British mother raised him as a normal British child.  He had no contact with his father or anyone else in the Hitler family while growing up.  In fact, his mother had been told that his father was dead, which she believed for many years.

When William was a teenager, he found out his father was still alive. Naturally curious to learn more about his father, he went to visit him in Germany in 1929.  He visited several more times over the next couple of years, attending a Nazi rally and meeting his Uncle Adolf.

In hindsight, it is easy to be critical of the boy's association with the Nazis. But at this time, Adolf Hitler was simply the leader of an extremist political organization.  He was not yet guilty of the crimes against humanity that he would commit a decade later. Back in England, William wrote several articles about his Uncle. While not yet a war criminal, the British people saw Adolf Hitler as a threat.  William's association caused him to lose his job in Britain and made it impossible for him to find another.

William Hitler with mother
NYC, 1939
Rejected by the country of his birth, William decided to move to Germany, where his association with the up and coming political leader might benefit him.  He worked in Berlin for a bank and later a car company in the early 1930's.  Uncle Adolf, however, saw the boy as a threat.  He seemed to have divided loyalties between Britain and Germany and also seem to enjoy discussing his uncle's embarrassing family history.

Adolf did not want a close family member making trouble.  Government officials kept a watch on William.  Several times, he was summoned to speak with his Uncle Adolf, who berated him and made his life generally miserable.  There is some evidence that William tried to threaten his Uncle by revealing family secrets, which if true would have made their relationship even worse.

In 1936, William decided to cut his ties with Hitler and Germany and move back to Britain.  Anti-Hitler sentiment in Britain had only gotten worse in the intervening years.  To prove his loyalty, William attempted to join the British military.  He was, however, rejected due to his relationship to Adolf Hitler.  William decided he would never really have acceptance in either Germany or Britain. In 1939, he decided to move to America and make a life for himself there.

In America, William did not try to hide his relationship to Adolf Hitler. Instead, he tried to build a career out of it.  He began a lecture tour in the US, sponsored by William Randolph Hearst discussing the dangers of the Nazis.  In 1939, He published a lengthy article in Look magazine entitled "Why I Hate My Uncle" which tried to awaken the American people to the growing Nazi menace.

William also tried to join the US military.  But for some reason, recruiters questioned whether William Hitler, a recent German immigrant, might pose a security risk. His applications were rejected.  Eventually after the war began, William wrote directly to President Roosevelt, begging to be allowed to fight. The White House referred the application to the FBI for investigation.  After, several years of investigation J. Edger Hoover, gave approval and William Hitler enlisted in the US Navy.

In March 1944, William Hitler joined the US Navy in New York City.  He served for three years as a pharmacist's mate, even receiving a Purple Heart for a minor injury.   He served honorably but relatively obscurely until his discharge in 1947.

Despite his loyal service, the Hitler surname only continued to cause him trouble.  He decided finally to change his name to William Stuart-Houston.  It is not clear why he chose that name, but it is clear why he wanted the change.  The name change allowed William to live a life of quiet anonymity.  He married a German born American wife and had four children.  He settled into a home on Long Island and lived a normal life until his death in 1987.

None of his four children had children of their own, bringing the family line of Hitlers in America to an end.

Listen to a podcast of this episode.

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