Der Führer’s secret past

New DNA tests on his relatives reveal that Hitler may have had North African and Jewish ancestors
Jane Switzer
Imagno/Getty Images

Saliva samples taken from Adolf Hitler’s relatives show that the Nazi leader may have biological links to Africans and Jews. Belgian journalist Jean-Paul Mulder and historian Marc Vermeeren tracked down 39 of Hitler’s relatives earlier this year, among them Hitler’s cousin, an Austrian farmer identified only as Norbert H., and grand-nephew Alexander Stuart-Houston, a social worker from Long Island, N.Y. Results of their DNA tests found a chromosome called Haplogroup E1b1b1, which is rare in Western Europe but most commonly found in the Berbers of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, as well as among Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, Mulder said. The chromosome appears to be one of the major founding lineages of the Jewish population, and accounts for 8.6 per cent to 30 per cent of Sephardic Y-chromosomes. Their results, published in the Belgian magazine Knack, conclude that Hitler “was related to people whom he despised,” Mulder wrote.

This isn’t the first time questions have been raised about the possibility of Hitler having Jewish ancestry. Alexander’s father, Liverpool-born William Patrick Stuart-Houston, was the son of Adolf’s half-brother Alois Hitler Jr. and his Irish first wife Bridget Dowling. He moved to Nazi Germany in 1933 in an attempt to benefit from his uncle’s rise to power, and tried to blackmail Hitler in the 1930s by threatening to expose his “unusual family history” if Hitler didn’t help William Patrick find a better job. The veiled threat alluded to the long-standing rumour that Adolf’s paternal grandfather was a Jewish merchant, Leopold Frankenberger, who had an affair with Adolf’s grandmother, Maria Schicklgruber. Though historians have entertained this possibility, it is widely believed that Alois Hitler’s father was Austrian journeyman Johann Georg Hiedler, although the paternity has never been authenticated.

William Patrick became stranded during a visit to the United States when the Second World War broke out, and eventually settled in Long Island under the assumed surname Stuart-Houston after serving in the U.S. Navy. William Patrick and his German-born wife Phyllis went on to have four sons, and tried to live in relative obscurity until their deaths. Though none of William Patrick’s children have children of their own, Alexander has denied that he and his brothers made a pact to end the Hitler bloodline.

The results of Mulder and Vermeeren’s DNA tests would have no doubt infuriated Hitler, who was obsessed with the idea of creating a European “master race” through the Nazi party’s racially based eugenics system. The “life unworthy of life” policy of the Third Reich saw the murder of Roma, ethnic Poles and non-Caucasian people, among others, and was an important component of Nazi ideology that eventually led to the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust. Ronny Decorte, a genetic specialist at the Catholic University of Leuven, told Knack the results of the DNA test are “fascinating” given the Nazis’ obsession with blood and race. “Hitler’s concern over his descent was not unjustified,” he said. “He was apparently not ‘pure’ or ‘Aryan.’ ”