Wittgenstein and Hitler Attended the Same School in Austria, at the Same Time (1904)

hitler wittgenstein 2

One thing is for sure: Before Ludwig Wittgenstein and Adolf Hitler took very different paths in life, they were, as young teenagers, students at the same school — the Realschule in Linz, Austria. According to the Historical Dictionary of Wittgenstein’s Philosophy, the young philosopher and dictator crossed over at the Realschule in 1904. (The overlap is also cited in Brian McGuinness’ 2005 biography, Young Ludwig: Wittgenstein’s Life, 1889-1921. Ditto A.C. Grayling’s short bio of the philosopher.) Although born only six days apart, Wittgenstein and Hitler weren’t in the same grade. Wittgenstein was already academically a year ahead of other students his age, and Hitler, a year behind. As for whether they knew one another, opinions vary. In a controversial 1998 book, The Jew of Linz, Kimberley Cornish argues that Hitler got into a schoolboy spat with Wittgenstein (whose ancestry was 3/4 Jewish), and somehow that spat proved to be a defining moment in the development of Hitler’s anti-semitism. Scholars like University of Michigan’s Laurence Goldstein have put a certain amount of stock in Cornish’s argument. However, Ray Monk, author of Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, discredits it, saying there’s no proof the two ever crossed paths. And Monk is the most knowledgeable and credible authority in this area.



Then there’s the photo above. Some say it shows Wittgenstein and Hitler separated by just one student. A tantalizing thought, to be sure. But the historical record casts that into doubt. If you head over to the German Federal Archives, then type “Hitler” and “1901” and “1902” into the search boxes, you will see that the image was taken in 1901 — two years before Wittgenstein first started attending the school. Wikipedia has more on the photo. A copy of the complete school picture appears here.

So where does this leave us? It looks like Wittgenstein and Hitler did indeed walk the same halls for a year (circa 1904), but most likely without ever taking real notice of one another, or posing in the same photograph. Ultimately it’s not a sensational historical factoid, but still intriguing enough.

Addendum: Some additional research indicates that Hitler attended the Realschule in Linz from 1901 through the end of the school year in 1904. The troubled student was then expelled. Meanwhile, scholars consistently put Wittgenstein’s time at the school from 1903-1906. If there’s a crossover year, it looks to me like it was the academic year 1903-1904.

via Leiter Reports

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  • drew walker says:

    was not “hitler” the son of a minor civil servant and wittgenstein from one of the wealthiest *viennese* families? what is this supposed to be about?

  • Dan Colman says:

    Drew,

    Yes, they came from different social backgrounds. Beyond that, I am not sure what point you are making exactly,

    Dan

  • Helena Anscombe says:

    Wittgenstein didn’t know about his Jewish heritage at all until he was an adult. He only spent a year at the school, and said later he was too shy to meet most children.

    Kimberly Cornish’s book has been thoroughly discredited by every historian who has reviewed it. Calling it “controversial” is like calling a Creationist book “controversial”; only those who haven’t looked its data up believe it. At best, continuing to circulate this story is pretty outdated at this point.

  • Rosa says:

    ..So fun fact of the day, two historical persons were caught together in an old photo, but then again they weren’t? What?

  • getahun says:

    knowledge sharing rather than knowledge hording

  • getahun says:

    knowledge sharing than knowledge hording. iam very interested with openculture

  • CGG says:

    Slow news day?

  • Todd says:

    Two sadists from the same school, what were they teaching in that school?

  • Ewart says:

    Hmm… Interesting… But I have just one question… now where was Heidegger during all this, eh?

  • Fischbyne says:

    Fine curioso.

  • Eva Cutler says:

    I find it interesting. it shows you never know who might you be sitting next to or be in the same room with throughout your life. I would only like to know what happened to Wittgenstein during the Hitler era. DID HE SURVIVE WITHOUT BEING SENT TO THE CONCENTRATION CAMP?

  • wendell says:

    It only show that they were kids….

  • May says:

    To Dan, Drew has a point. In those days, as indeed in these days, it would be extremely unlikely to have the son of a minor civil servant attend the same school as the son of an extremely wealthy family. Surely that’s not a difficult point to understand.

  • Dan Colman says:

    May,

    The bottom line is that it’s not contested whether they attended the same school. Scholars agree that they did. It’s just a question of what years they attended the school, and whether they crossed over or knew one another. And that’s what I was trying to pin down.

    Dan

  • Otto Waldmann says:

    The supposition that a possible encounter between two children, Wittgenstein and a certain Hitler (YS) would have triggered some antisemitic sentiments is totally false. The Wittgensteins were already Catholics, Ludwig a THIRD generation with NO Jewish identity associated whatsoever. He was born and died a Catholic and only a few minutes before his demise stating that he regretted NEVER admitting his Jewish connections. This does not mean that his siblings ( Paul and Helene) did not suffer after the anschluss the effects of the Nurnberg Laws, each dealing with them differently. Ludwig himself was, as of 1929, safe and pretty in Cambridge. Interesting to observe that, off all kids in the picture only these two have their sights fixed ahead in the same stiff, intent pose…..

  • Otto Waldmann says:

    Helena, while the Wittgensteins were Catholics, THEY knew of their Jewish heritage. A portrait of the initial converted great-grandfather Meyer, was hanging in the Wittgenstein Palace and they all knew the whole story of conversion, including the lineage of his Mother’s ( half Jewish ) heritage.

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