Adolf Hitler was born on 20th April, 1889, in the small Austrian town of Braunau near the German border. Both Hitler's parents had come from poor peasant families. His father Alois Hitler, the illegitimate son of a housemaid, was an intelligent and ambitious man and later became a senior customs official.
Klara Hitler was Alois' third wife. Alois was twenty-three years older than Klara and already had two children from his previous marriages. Klara and Alois had five children but only Adolf and a younger sister, Paula, survived to become adults.
Alois, who was fifty-one when Adolf was born, was extremely keen for his son to do well in life. Alois did have another son by an earlier marriage but he had been a big disappointment to him and eventually ended up in prison for theft. Alois was a strict father and savagely beat his son if he did not do as he was told.
Hitler did extremely well at primary school and it appeared he had a bright academic future in front of him. He was also popular with other pupils and was much admired for his leadership qualities. He was also a deeply religious child and for a while considered the possibility of becoming a monk.
Competition was much tougher in the larger secondary school and his reaction to not being top of the class was to stop trying. His father was furious as he had high hopes that Hitler would follow his example and join the Austrian civil service when he left school. However, Hitler was a stubborn child and attempts by his parents and teachers to change his attitude towards his studies were unsuccessful.
Hitler also lost his popularity with his fellow pupils. They were no longer willing to accept him as one of their leaders. As Hitler liked giving orders he spent his time with younger pupils. He enjoyed games that involved fighting and he loved re-enacting battles from the Boer War. His favourite game was playing the role of a commando rescuing Boers from English concentration camps.
The only teacher Hitler appeared to like at secondary school was Leopold Potsch, his history master. Potsch, like many people living in Upper Austria, was a German Nationalist. Potsch told Hitler and his fellow pupils of the German victories over France in 1870 and 1871 and attacked the Austrians for not becoming involved in these triumphs. Otto von Bismarck, the first chancellor of the German Empire, was one of Hitler's early historical heroes.