I became interested in the topics of the Third Reich, the Holocaust, and anti-semitism as a young man stationed in the US Army in Germany in the late 1960s. In fact, I was stationed less than 20 miles outside of the city of Nuremberg, which was closely tied to the history of the Third Reich. Ever since that experience, I have been sort of an amateur scholar on the Third Reich.
Since my Army days, I have returned many times to Germany and even written a history of the town of Erlangen, where I was stationed. During my last visit in 2013, I spent three days in Passau,a lovely town situated on the Inn River on the Austrian border. Passau has its own sordid story during the Hitler years. In fact, Hitler spent a couple of years there as a small boy. His father, an Austrian Customs official, was stationed there. One of the homes they occupied became a place of pilgrimage for German tourists during the Third Reich. The other home where he lived, on Theresienstrasse, was almost directly across the street from a building where Heinrich Himmler lived as a small boy a few years after Hitler.
The former home, located across the river and on the river bank on Kapuzinerstrasse, was also involved in a curious story which involves Hitler. While living in that house (He was approximately four years old), Hitler would play with other children behind the building and on the river bank. It is believed that Hitler fell through the ice one winter (1894) and was rescued by one of his playmates, who was the son of the building’s owner. That incident was reported in the local newspaper without naming the child. Legend grew over the years that Hitler was the rescued child.
During the Third Reich, a priest, Johann Kuehberger, told a younger priest, Max Tremmel, that he was the boy who pulled Hitler from the Inn River.
I tried unsuccessfully to pin down the exact location of the incident. Was it directly behind the building where Hitler and Kuehberger lived or was it at another location? After leaving Passau and arriving in Erlangen, I recounted the story to Dr Andreas Jakob, the head archivist of the Erlangen City Archives and asked him to contact his counterpart in Passau for further investigation. I subsequently corresponded with the Passau head archivist, but ultimately, the exact location of the incident in 1894 was left unresolved.
Interestingly, the story was also written about by a later Passau resident. Anna Rosmus, who angered post-war residents of Passau by researching the town’s Nazi past and writing about it, has written three books about her hometown and its history and was the subject of a German movie entitled, “The Nasty Girl”. Her last book described how Russian POWs held at a camp outside Passau were massacred in the closing days of the war.
To sum up, it is documented in the local Passau newspaper at the time that such an incident took place. Was it Hitler? That remains local lore though the fact that Keuhberger confirmed it later in life when he was a respected priest lends a lot of credibility to the story.