Revealed: the face of the English Hitler

James Morrison
Sunday 03 February 2002 01:00

With his penetrating stare, inscrutable expression and swept-over hairstyle, he could almost pass for an older version of the Führer himself.

But this is the face of William Patrik Hitler, the nephew of the Nazi leader, who spent his early life in Liverpool before being sucked into the whirlpool of hatred generated by the Third Reich.

Though historians have long been aware of the existence of the "English Hitler", for decades his precise identity has been a mystery. Now, 15 years after his death at the age of 76, a television documentary has unmasked him, and shed new light on his ambivalent attitude towards his uncle.

While giving glimpses of the guilt that was to haunt him in later life, the Channel 5 film portrays the young William as a conniving playboy who was willing to exploit his family connections.

It reveals how he once wrote a blackmail note to his uncle, threatening to reveal to the press the German dictator's less than Aryan roots unless he was guaranteed swift advancement in the Nazi hierarchy.

The son of Hitler's older half-brother, Alois, and an Irish farm girl named Brigid Dowling, William was born in Liverpool in 1911. However, within years, he was forced prematurely into the role of breadwinner, when his father abandoned his family to return to his native Germany.

For some time after this point, William's progress continues to be traced by the history books. Alarmed by Hitler's growing infamy, he and his mother are known to have fled Britain in 1939, before settling in America, where he eventually persuaded President Roosevelt to accept him for national service. Then, at the end of the war, William vanished from public gaze, living the last four decades of his life under an assumed alias.

But what has not been known until now are the lengths to which William was initially prepared to go to ensure himself a secure and high-profile life under Hitler's patronage. Desperate to escape the ostracism he and his mother endured in pre-war Liverpool, he threatened to broadcast the fact that his uncle was the grandson of an Austrian Jew unless granted a lucrative position befitting his family status.

His persistent attempts at blackmail culminated with a letter, written in November 1934, in which he urged Hitler to "bring this matter to an agreeable conclusion" to prevent him from going to the English press.

The film, Hitler's Living Relatives, which is screened on Tuesday, describes how William and his mother went into hiding after the war, adopted a double-barrel surname and moved to New York. There he married and had four sons, three of whom, Alex, 52 and working as a social worker, and landscape gardeners Louis, 50, and Brian, 36, still live under a cloak of anonymity.

The documentary, based on David Gardner's book, The Last of the Hitlers, also sheds light on one of the most intriguing and oft-disputed episodes in Adolf Hitler's life: the brief period he is said to have spent in Liverpool.

According to FBI files and several historians, the Führer stayed there for several months in 1912. However, as many of the accounts on which this supposition is based came from vagrants he allegedly met while sleeping rough in Vienna, it is not universally accepted.

Nonetheless, Annie Doyle, a former neighbour of the Hitlers in Toxteth, reveals in the film how the family was visited around that time by a "shabby youth from Europe". Recalling the incident, she says: "All I know is that Brigid Dowling and two men were there. That was all: two men."

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments