by Tricia Menke, NMAS Curator of Education
It’s 1944 and a dark-haired young man enters a New York City U.S. Navy recruiting office. The officer on duty asks the same question he’s asked hundreds of young men, but the officer is about to get an unexpected answer. “What’s your name, son?” “Hitler.” The recruiting officer laughs at the ‘joke’ and replies, “Glad to meet you Hitler. I’m Hess.”[i]
Except it was no joke. The dark-haired young man really is named Hitler and he shares more than just a last name with the Nazi leader. He’s William Patrick Hitler, Adolf Hitler’s nephew, and he’s joining the United States Navy. It may come as a surprise that Hitler’s blood relative was joining the Allies, but William’s relationship with his uncle was already famously tumultuous.
Hitler’s British Nephew
William Patrick Hitler was the son of Adolf Hitler’s half-brother Alois Hitler Jr. and Alois’ British wife Bridget Dowling. William was raised in Liverpool, primarily by his mother after his father abandoned the family in 1914. Despite the breakup of their family, William stayed in contact with his father, who returned to his native Germany and reunited with his half-brother, Adolf. By 1929, Adolf was a rising star in German politics and Alois encouraged his son to join him in the Fatherland. There, Alois said, William could enjoy the benefits of his well-connected uncle and make a better living than the family had had in Great Britain.
William visited his father twice before moving to Germany. Although William received a warm welcome from his uncle on his first two visits (Uncle Adolf even autographed a photo for his nephew!), the congenial reception was short-lived. Upon returning to Liverpool, a young William published a couple of articles in a local newspaper about his famous uncle. In the articles, William referred to his uncle’s flamboyancy, calling his gestures “feminine” and airing his uncle’s dirty laundry, including a sordid tale about Hitler engaging in a sexual relationship with a niece who committed suicide. Uncle Adolf “was furious. Pacing up and down, wild-eyed and tearful, he made me promise to retract my articles and threatened to kill himself if anything else were written on his private life.”[ii]
William must have promised his uncle that he would cease with the articles, because he moved to Germany in 1933, the same year his uncle was elected chancellor. But the idyllic life Alois had promised his son never materialized. Uncle Adolf got William a job at a bank in Berlin, and later a car dealership, but it was hardly the high-ranking, well-paying positions William had expected. Exactly why Hitler didn’t catapult his British nephew to the upper echelons of Nazi society is unknown. Perhaps he distrusted William after the British articles scandal. Regardless of the reason, the animosity between the Führer and his nephew grew in the years William spent in Nazi Germany. William’s anger and frustration took the form of threatening blackmail – sharing more personal stories with the newspapers, including the theory that the Hitlers had Jewish blood – if Uncle Adolf didn’t get William a better position.[iii] The threats didn’t have their desired effect. William fled back to the safety of the UK and turned his back on the German Hitlers for good.
“Why I Hate My Uncle”
Upon his return to Liverpool, William attempted to join the British armed forces to fight against his uncle, but he was turned away due to his direct familial relationship with Hitler. The following year, in 1939, William and his mother embarked on a lecture tour in the United States, sponsored by newspaper heavy-hitter William Randolph Hearst, to share stories of Uncle Adolf and the rising Nazi regime. It was during his American tour that William wrote his most famous condemnation of Adolf Hitler, in a multi-page article titled “Why I Hate My Uncle” for Look magazine. Filled with snapshots of his infamous family, William’s article was a scathing review of his uncle’s temper, personality, and viciousness. “I shall never forget the last time he sent for me. He was in a brutal temper when I arrived. Walking back and forth, brandishing his horsehide whip, he shouted insults at my head as if he was delivering a political oration.”[iv]
The mother-son duo were still in the United States when Hitler’s forces invaded Poland and World War II kicked off in Europe. William and his mother were stranded in the U.S. Again William attempted to enter the military, this time in the United States, and again he was turned away.
Naval Service and the American Dream
Not to be deterred, William tried to enter the United States military again in 1942. Knowing it wouldn’t be as simple as walking into his local recruiting office, William sent an extraordinary letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, lobbying for permission to join.[v] After forwarding the letter to the FBI for investigation, Roosevelt cleared William to enter the American military. Which brings this story back to 1944 in the New York City recruiting office where the officer laughed at Hitler’s name ‘joke.’
William Patrick Hitler served as a Pharmacist’s Mate for three years. He was discharged in 1947 after being wounded by shrapnel. After leaving the Navy, William retreated from the public eye and, as a result, much of his naval record was lost to history. One can only imagine what his shipmates thought of Pharmacist’s Mate Hitler. Meanwhile, the fates of his Nazi family members are well documented. While William wrote to President Roosevelt, his younger half-brother and, Uncle Adolf’s “favorite nephew,” was captured by Soviet forces and tortured to death. Their father, Alois was captured by the Allies around the same time William enlisted in the Navy. Alois was released after the war, but William remained estranged from his father.
After being discharged from the Navy, William’s infamous last name brought unwelcome attention as he attempted to build a new life in the United States. He officially cut ties with this last vestige of his uncle by changing his name to William Patrick Stuart-Houston. The lure of cashing in on his relation to Hitler must have lost its shine because the newly dubbed Stuart-Houston set about a life of anonymity after the war. William married in 1947 and welcomed four sons in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The family settled in New York State, where William used his Navy-instituted medical knowledge to open a blood analysis lab. William died in 1987, but in 1998, an author tracked down his family, bringing renewed interest to the Stuart-Houstons, who adamantly defended their late father’s Navy service and dedication to his adopted country. Today the story is a footnote in Navy history, an unusual last name for a WWII sailor, but a fine example of how there is always more to a person’s story than their name.
[i] Jonathan Brown and Oliver Duff, “The Black Sheep of the Family? The Rise and Fall of Hitler’s Scouse Nephew,” The Independent, 17 August 2006.
[ii] William Patrick Hitler, “Why I Hate My Uncle,” Look Magazine, 4 July 1939.
[iii] Steve Charnock, “How Hitler’s Nephew Fought Against Him During WWII,” History Channel UK, accessed https://www.history.co.uk/articles/how-hitler-s-nephew-fought-against-him-during-wwii
[iv] Hitler, “Why I Hate My Uncle.”
[v] Andrew Carroll, War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars, New York: Scribner, 2002.