There’s an American flag raised in the front yard of brothers Brian and Louis’ place.
It’s a typical sight for this neighbourhood on Long Island, New York. One difference, however, is that a six-foot-high wooden wall, painted white, almost completely surrounds the property. The men who live here have a secret.
They are the last Hitlers.
In the town of 20,000 people, hardly anybody knows about this. The brothers keep their secret to themselves. The family changed its name in 1946 – first to “Hiller,” later to an English double name. Brian and Louis are the great nephews of the German dictator.
Adolf Hitler was the uncle of their father William Patrick Hitler. Born in the United Kingdom, “Willy” emigrated to the US in 1930. In the navy, he fought against the Kriegsmarine (the name of the German navy at that time). Back then, they still used their old family name.
Hitler against Hitler. A coup for the American war propaganda. Afterwards, Willy Hitler became a phantom. He withdrew to Long Island with his German wife, Phyllis. He wanted to spare his sons the curse of the worst family name in world history. He was also worried about the remaining Nazis – Hitler had hated his nephew and called him “loathsome.”
Twenty years ago, a book by the British author David Gardner revealed that the family still exists – the last Hitlers of the male line. Everything else is rumours.
Nobody has spoken to them about this so far. When someone found them — like, for example, reporters for The New York Times in 2006 — they didn’t say anything. No interviews. No exceptions.
A gnarly sweetgum tree stands in front of the Hitlers’ dark wooden house. There is no name sign, just a bell. A simple melody can be heard. Silence. Next door, a dog is barking.
Second attempt. Silence. Steps. The door opens slightly. A man, approximately 50 years old, pushes the fly screen aside and puts out his head. Full, dark hair, a smoothly shaven, angular face. Hitler wears shorts.
It’s Brian, the youngest son, who lives here with his brother Louis. When I, a BILD reporter, reveal myself as being a journalist from Germany, he says “sorry” and immediately closes the door. Soon afterwards, the lawn sprinklers are turned on – all eight of them. The sign is clear – I’m expected to leave.
I discretely ask around with the neighbours, without saying anything about the family’s history. Nobody knows anything. They sometimes wave at each other, that’s all.
The woman who lives opposite the family knows more. It can be seen in her facial expression when she hears that I’m from Germany. “You know the story?” I ask her. She nods silently and smiles a bit. The Hitlers – she uses the new name, of course – are “excellent people”, helpful, nice. “You can’t be blamed for your relatives”. She doesn’t want to say more than that.
Maybe the third, oldest, brother will break the silence. The last head of the family. He lives in the north of the island, 45 minutes from here by car.
The sign at the street where Alexander Hitler lives says “DEAD END.” A Latino boy is working with a leaf blower. There are American flags in front of most houses here, too. It is a small, quiet town with a supermarket and countless vegetable stalls along the main road.
Alexander Hitler lives here in a wooden house. The lawn is more overgrown than at his brothers’ house. The many pot plants, however, look neat. Busy Lizzies, sweet Williams, begonias, hostas. The American Hitlers have a green thumb.
There is no bell. I knock on the door. Nobody opens. There is also no car in the driveway. I ask the neighbors if they know where the man next door could be. “Oh, Alex!” exclaims Paul who is just repairing the air-conditioning of his Honda Civic. “Maybe he’s fishing,” his wife says, and asks me what I want. Oh, it’s about the family history, I reply.
A curious coincidence: the neighbor comes from Austria. But she also doesn’t know anything. We talk about Germany for a while, and when I go back to the adjacent property, there is suddenly a car in the driveway. Mister Hitler drives a Hyundai.
I go to the front door and knock. I wait for 30 seconds. I try again. And again. Then the door suddenly opens. “What do you want?” a man grumbles. He is tall, maybe 6 feet, and wears a shirt with turquoise-white checks and beige cargo trousers. Alexander Hitler.
The greeting is frosty. “We never talk to reporters. You were already at my brothers’ today, weren’t you?” I say yes, and worry that, if I ask directly about the family history, he will immediately shut the door, and I will have come here for nothing. So I say that I’m curious about his views on German politics.
“German politics?” Alexander Hitler repeats in disbelief and raises his eyebrows. He takes a big gulp from the cup of coffee that he holds in his hand. He takes his coffee black.
The 68-year-old takes a step back, closes the fly screen and leans against the door frame from the inside. “Go ahead.”
An interview with Hitler – through the fly screen.
First question: what do you think about Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel? His face brightens. “I like her. She’s good. She seems to be an intelligent and smart person.”
How does he assess her role in the refugee crisis? Alexander Hitler, his second name is Adolf, drinks a sip of coffee and looks at the distance.
Forehead, chin, eyes: A certain resemblance to his relatives is unmistakable.
Alexander Hitler looks a bit like Bruno Ganz, the Swiss actor, who played his great uncle in the movie “Downfall” in 2004.
Then the answer: “The Chancellor does what she has to do”. If he could, he would vote for her.
Alexander Hitler – a Merkel fan!
And this despite the fact that he is a convinced Republican – just like his brothers. He hasn’t missed an election for decades. “I always vote for the person who does the best job”.
And what about Donald Trump? The US President also has German roots, after all. “Well,” says Hitler. “The last person I would say I admire is Donald Trump. He is definitely not one of my favourites”.
What does he criticize? “Some things that Trump says, are alright. Most of them are …” Alexander Hitler doesn’t finish the sentence and continues: “It’s the way he does it that annoys me. And I just don’t like liars.”