In a letter to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, dated March 3, 1942, a young British subject living in the United States beseeched the President’s consent on his clearance for service in the U.S. armed forces. Not unreasonable in its principle, the context of his appeal proved extraordinary. The fourth sentence of this letter underscores the convoluted nature of his request; a request that will spark an FBI investigation and an O.S.S. report. Unmasked and forthright, the author explains his injunction: “I am the nephew and only descendant of the ill-famed Chancellor and Leader of Germany who today so despotically seeks to enslave the free and Christian peoples of the globe.” 1
In 1944, the Allied forces and the world prepared for an invasion-unprecedented in size, planning, and scope-against a foe unrivaled in evil and ambition. Germany and its fellow Axis powers, having felled most of Europe, teetered on the precipitous of global domination. Hitler and his generals prepared for the impending attack. William Patrick Hitler, nephew to the villainous demagogue, was undergoing training in the U.S. in preparation for service in the Navy.
Before imploring the attention of President Roosevelt, the Liverpool native had attempted to enlist with the British and Canadian armed forces, both of which denied his requests. After subsequent investigations and reports filed by the F.B.I. and the O.S.S., however, young Hitler’s eloquent plea was answered as he was called up for service in the United States Navy in March of 1944.
Not much is known about the specifics of William Patrick’s military service. His personnel files, which were located on the 6th floor vault at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, were consumed in a fire on July 12th, 1973. A reconstruction effort in 1974 resulted in a collection of basic service records containing information such as date of entry, date of discharge, character of service, and final rank. 2
William’s reconstructed military service record contains a dearth of information. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on March 6th, 1944 and discharged on February 6th, 1946. As a cadet at the training base at Sampson, William attracted obvious attention. The March 10 edition of the “Sampson News,” the stations newsletter, featured the 32-year-old Apprentice Seaman Hitler in their 10 March, 1944 article, “Hitler’s Nephew Now In Training With Co. 104.” William is quoted in the article as saying, “I’m glad and proud to be in the U.S. Navy,” adding “I hope to be able to qualify for the aviation branch. But, in any case, I definitely hope to get sea duty.” A picture of William in his barracks sporting what the newsletter calls a “Hitleresque moustache” adjoins the article. The caption reads,
Sights Target-Pointing at his uncle’s bomb-battered Berlin on a map in his barracks, William Patrick Hitler, 32-year-old nephew of Adolph Hitler, can’t quite restrain a smile as he anticipates a victorious visit to his kin in the near future. Apprentice Seaman Hitler, who began training here on Tuesday, 7 March, with Co. 104, hopes to serve in the aviation branch. 3
After his stint at Sampson, records of his military service are scarce. He shuffled off to Camp Wallace in Texas, then to Davisville Training Center in Rhode Island. Subsequently, Seaman Hitler worked in the Naval Medical Corps and received an honorable discharge from the Navy base in Newport, Rhode Island in February of 1946. His service record documents his place of separation as U.S. Navy Separation Center is Boston, Massachusetts. William discharged with the rank of Seaman First Class decorated with the World War II Victory and American Campaign Medals. His records shows no military education, however, according to post-war neighbors and an anonymous source cited in a New York Times article, William had worked three years in the medical corps, and after the war, trained as a phlebotomist, or blood technician. 4
William’s relationship with his uncle was complicated. Starting with an initial warm reception, the bond between nephew and uncle quickly withered. Hoping to benefit from his uncle’s rise to power, William tried to nurture a relationship. Uncle Adolf, always weary of a nocuous genealogy, tried to distance himself from his nephew. A failed attempt at blackmail ultimately led to a severing of ties, forcing William back to England and eventually to the United States.
William, always the opportunist, tried to capitalize on his connection by giving lectures on the evils of his uncle and his administration. The convoluted nature of his relationship with his uncle and his namesake could safely be characterized as opportunistic. Prior to his disembarkation onto U.S. soil, much of what young Hitler purveyed was a positive illustration of his uncle Adolf, once even referring to him as his hero. His tune made a marked pivot after disillusionment instigated by failed attempts to benefit from his uncle’s fame. Whether speaking for or against, William Patrick Hitler never shied away from the limelight. He basked in the attention afforded him by the name he so loathed to bear.
The motivation for William’s rebuke of his uncle, although opportunistic and self-serving, cannot detract from the significance of his actions. Whether any other options were open to the young Hitler, his actions later on in life reinforce his embrace of American ideals and culture. After the war, he and his family absconded into obscurity, attempting to further distance themselves from the anathema that was the Hitler name. The Hitler’s changed their name and, after a few relocations, settled in a small Long Island suburb. William’s sons, in a rumored secret pact, decided not to have children in efforts to sever infamous bloodline. Whether true or not, William Patrick Hitler’s voice will ultimately go down in the annals of history as one of dissent against a man who at one time he lovingly called uncle.
1. Hitler, William P. Letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. FBI Files, 3 March1942.
2. www.archives.gov/st-louis/ military-personnel/fire-1973.html. Retrieved: February 22, 2007. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
3. “Hitler’s Nephew Now In Training With Co. 104,” Sampson News, 10 March 1944, Vol. 2.
4. Gardner, David. The Last of the Hitlers. Worcester. BMM, 2001. Also Hopkirk, Peter. 1972. Tracks of Hitler’s Nephew Lead to America. New York Times. August