Brief history of young Adolf Hitler’s rescue from a river aged 4

A SHORT newspaper report telling how a four-year-old boy was saved from drowning has surfaced in an archive in Germany, giving factual basis to a story that Adolf Hitler was, alas, rescued from an icy river as a child.

The boy who was to be Fuhrer was living at the time of the incident on Kapuzinerstrasse in Passau, Bavaria, just across the border from his native Austria.

A Roman Catholic priest called Max Tremmel, who went on to become one of Europe’s most famous organists, had long maintained that the priest who preceded him in Passau, Johann Kuehberger, had rescued the terrified boy.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mr Tremmel related, before his death in 1980, how Father Kuehberger – then himself only a youth – had seen the boy struggling in the waters of the River Inn and dived in to save him.

The story was never verified by Hitler during his lifetime. But now a small cutting from the Donauzeitung – the Danube newspaper – of 1894 has been found in Passau. It describes how a “young fellow” fell through thin ice on the river in January of that year.

The report describes how a “determined comrade” – the paper at the time was left-wing – went into the freezing water to save the child who would grow into mankind’s greatest scourge.

From 1892 until 1894, Adolf Hitler and his family lived in Passau – which is where he acquired his German accent, rather than that of his native Austria. The future dictator was born on 20 April 1888, which would make him four at the time of the reported incident.

The drowning episode also featured in a German book called Out of Passau – Leaving a City Hitler Called Home by Anna Elisabeth Rosmus, a personal history of her family’s connections with the town.

She wrote: “The banks of the River Inn provided an idyllic setting for the children to play. In 1894, while playing tag with a group of other children, the way many children do in Passau to this day, Adolf fell into the river.

“The current was very strong and the water ice cold, flowing as it did straight from the mountains. Luckily for young Adolf, the son of the owner of the house where he lived was able to pull him out in time and so saved his life.”

Hitler would, as a young man and later among his generals, tell stories of how he played Cowboys and Indians on the banks of the river but he never once related the drowning tale.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“In Passau, however,” said Mrs Rosmus, “everyone knew the story. Some of the other stories told about him were that he never learned to swim and needed glasses.”

No name is given for the child in the old Passau newspaper but historians believe it gives credence to Mr Tremmel’s claim.

Later this month Bavarian Radio is to run a news feature on the drowning incident under the title: “If Adi Hitler had drowned. The legend of a fatal lifesaving.”

Some Passau residents are taking part to confirm they heard the story of Hitler’s narrow escape. It is likely Hitler airbrushed the incident out of his life; being saved by a youth who went on to become a priest representing a religion he came to despise would not have sat well with the myth of being called by destiny to save Germany Hitler constructed about himself.

Related topics: