Adolf Hitler’s own nephew ended up in the US Navy in World War II, waging war against his uncle’s Reich
Of all the family names you could have during World War II, one was especially bad in the Allied world: Hitler. But for William Patrick Hitler of Liverpool, England, having the name wasn’t the worst part. He was actually the nephew of Adolf Hitler, the chancellor and Führer of Nazi Germany. Grappling with that reality would launch him on a zigzag path leading to Germany, England, America, and finally the US Navy, where he would help fight his uncle’s Nazi regime.
Born March 12, 1911, in Liverpool, England, William Hitler was the only child of Bridget Dowling and her Austrian expatriate husband, Alois Hitler, Jr., half-brother of Adolf Hitler. In 1914, Alois abandoned his wife and three-year-old son to go traveling through Europe. The outbreak of the Great War—World War I—prevented him from returning to England, so he settled down in Germany, married again (despite still being wed to Dowling) and started a new family.
For years, Alois made no attempt to contact his wife and son back in Liverpool, instead having someone tell Dowling that he was dead. In 1924, the truth came out. Alois was charged with bigamy in Germany, but avoided conviction because Dowling interceded on his behalf. She drew the line, however, when Alois asked her to send William to Germany for a visit. She would not let her son visit until he reached his 18th birthday, in 1929.
That year, William traveled to Germany and reconnected with his father, who took him to a Nazi rally where he saw his uncle Adolf, leader of the rising National Socialist (Nazi) Party. William visited Germany again in 1930, this time meeting his uncle in person and receiving an autographed photo from him.
These happy times with Hitler didn’t last. After returning from a 1931 visit to Germany, William published some articles about his uncle, whose flamboyance and rapid rise to prominence had made him a person of interest to the European and American public. But, according to William, the Nazi leader didn’t like the way the articles portrayed him. Calling William to Berlin, Hitler reportedly ordered him to retract the articles. In what William described as a “wild-eyed and tearful” outburst, Hitler reportedly threatened to kill himself if William ever again published anything about his personal life.
William’s 1931 articles about his uncle brought additional unexpected consequences. Now that his relationship to Adolf Hitler was public, William became persona non grata in England. He was fired from his job in 1932. Unable to find other employment in his homeland, he decided to look for work in Germany; perhaps his increasingly influential uncle could be persuaded to help.
No warm welcome awaited in Germany. According to William—whose July 4, 1939 article for Look magazine, “Why I Hate My Uncle,” is the sole source on his dealings with his uncle Adolf—Hitler sent William a letter during his visit, denying they were relatives. Shortly afterward, William’s father sent him back to England.
At this point, William faced a choice. He could either change his name and try to find a job in England, or scrounge for evidence to prove his blood relation to Hitler in order to blackmail him for a job in Germany. He decided on the second course. As he later explained in Look,, he saw no reason to change his name; he had done nothing to bring shame upon it. So, after more than a year of gathering proof to document his blood relation to Hitler, he returned to Germany in October 1933, determined to find work. By then, Hitler was Reich chancellor, Nazi Germany’s chief executive.
In Berlin, William headed to the office of Hitler’s close associate Ernst Röhm, chief of staff of the Sturmabteilung, or Storm Battalion, the Nazi Party’s violent brown-shirted action wing. (Despite his close relationship with Hitler, Röhm would be executed less than a year later as a potential rival.) William submitted his paperwork requesting permission to work, and Röhm passed it on to Hitler, who in turn sent his sister (William’s aunt), Angela Raubal, to meet and speak with William. At first, Raubal was stern. But when William showed her the documents he had gathered to prove his relation to Hitler, she softened and offered to take him to his uncle.
Now, recounted William, Hitler received him calmly, asked what kind of work he wanted to do, and even gave him 500 marks to sustain him until he found a job. It seemed that William’s plan had worked.
William at first found work at a Berlin bank, and later, in 1935, moved to a job at Opel Automotive, a car manufacturer. Whenever he attempted to send money to his needy mother back in Liverpool, however, he was unable to do so. He told Look that finally Hitler himself explicitly forbade him from sending money to anyone outside the Reich, including his mother.
After about a year at Opel, William was abruptly suspended from his job. His uncle had revoked his work permit. Angered, William went to the chancellery in Berlin to ask why. The answer came after two months of waiting. Two of Hitler’s personal aides, wrote William, accused him of stealing automobiles from the Opel factory and selling them on the side, and threatened to arrest him.
Eventually, the accusations were dropped and William went back to work. But things were different now. His comings and goings were under scrutiny. “I could not even go on an outing without risking a summons to Hitler,” he wrote in his Look article. After a particularly frightening meeting with an angry, bullwhip-cracking Hitler in 1936, he decided he needed to leave Germany.
Returning to England, William attempted to join the British armed forces, but was rejected because of his direct relation to Adolf Hitler. So, in February 1939, he embarked for the United States with his mother, eager to share what he had learned about his uncle Adolf and the Nazi regime. He did so during a lecture tour sponsored by newspaperman William Randolph Hearst. When the outbreak of war in Europe (instigated by William’s uncle Adolf) prevented William and his mother from returning to England, William began lobbying for admission to the US armed forces. Once again, his family ties blocked the way.
Finally, in 1942, William wrote directly to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, begging to be allowed to serve in the US military. “I am one of many, but can render service to this great cause,” he wrote. FDR passed the letter on to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who looked into William’s background and finally cleared him for military service.
Sworn into the US Navy in New York City on March 6, 1944, William Hitler went on to serve three years as a pharmacist’s mate, receiving the Purple Heart for a wound he suffered. He was discharged in 1947.
Finally tired of the attention his controversial surname attracted, William changed it to Stuart-Houston after returning to the civilian world. He married German-born Phyllis Jean-Jacques, and the couple settled in Patchogue on New York’s Long Island, where they had four children (the first of whom bore the surprising middle name of Adolf). William ran a blood analysis lab, Brookhaven Laboratories, in his family’s home. William Stuart-Houston died on July 14, 1987, and was buried next to his late mother in Coram, New York. His children did not produce any children of their own.
Not surprisingly, given his movement back and forth between Nazi Germany and Great Britain before coming to the United States, and his admitted efforts to benefit from his relation to Adolf Hitler, William Hitler’s motives and loyalties have come under question in retrospect. Some writers have branded him an opportunist who seemed untroubled by his uncle’s violent and hateful politics, and was apparently content to stay in Nazi Germany if it was advantageous to him. Others have remarked that his exit from Germany was well timed for avoiding military service in the war that was about to erupt. Still others point out the similarity between the surname he assumed after the war (Stuart-Houston) and the name of a prominent English-born anti-Semitic and Germanophile author, Houston Stewart Chamberlain.
No final answer seems possible on these questions at this point, barring a fresh historical or archival discovery. A diary William Hitler kept during his time in Germany turned up in the attic of his former home in Patchogue in 2014, but seemingly revealed little about his political sentiments.
As much as William Patrick Hitler Stuart-Houston sought to parlay his family tree into opportunities in his young years, he did his utmost to disappear into anonymity after the war. He never again commented publicly on Adolf Hitler or the Hitler family.
Captions (from top)
• William Patrick Hitler, nephew of Adolf Hitler, in his uniform as a member of the US Navy during World War II.
• In the United States in 1941, Bridget Dowling, ex-wife of Adolf Hitler’s brother Alois and mother of William Patrick Hitler, staffs a table promoting help for war-stricken Great Britain through the British War Relief Society. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
• In January 1933, Adolf Hitler—newly appointed chancellor of Germany—pays his respects to President Paul von Hindenburg in Berlin. Future high officials of Nazi Germany are visible just behind Hitler, to the left: Hermann Göring (in helmet) and Josef Göbbels (in top hat). NATIONAL ARCHIVES
• William Patrick Hitler is sworn into the US Navy at a recruiting station in New York City on March 6, 1944. NATIONAL ARCHIVES
• Finally a member of the US Navy, William Patrick Hitler points to “Target Berlin”—capital city of his uncle Adolf’s Nazi Germany—on a wartime poster. US NAVY
• With his “Ruptured Duck” patch sewn on his navy tunic, William Patrick Hitler receives his US Navy records as he leaves the service in 1947. US NAVY