He kept his identity a secret until his dying day. None of his neighbors in Patchogue, Long Island, had any idea that William Stuart Houston was actually born William Hitler. Nor did they know that his uncle had been the Führer of Nazi Germany. It was not until long after William’s death in 1987 that the truth about his identity was made public. But several unanswered questions remain—questions that his sons, three of whom are still alive and living in America, have been unable to answer. Hear the full story in the Unknown History Podcast, hosted by Giles Milton.
William’s story begins in Edwardian Liverpool. Adolf Hitler’s half brother, Alois, had moved to the city in 1911. He married his Irish-born lover, Bridgit Dowling, and before long she was pregnant with William.
Alois abandoned his wife and son in 1914 and returned to Germany. An entire decade passed before he renewed contact with Bridgit. When he did so, he asked her to allow William to travel to Germany.
William made a brief trip to see his father in 1929 and then returned four years later for a much longer stay. By now, he was hoping to profit from his uncle’s position as Chancellor of Germany.
Hitler Meets Hitler
Hitler initially got him a temporary banking job. Some time later, he wangled him employment in an automobile factory, a job that William disliked intensely. He repeatedly begged his uncle for a better job, but Hitler refused to help any further.
William continued to see Hitler occasionally, but Adolf was no longer the friendly uncle of old. ‘I shall never forget the last time he sent for me,’ wrote William. ‘He was in a brutal temper when I arrived. Walking back and forth, brandishing his horsehide whip...he shouted insults at my head as if he were delivering a political oration. His vengeful brutality on that day made me fear for my physical safety.’
William realized it was time to leave Germany. In February 1939, he sailed for the United States.
As war began, William began a lecture tour of the USA, denouncing his Führer-uncle for his extravagant lifestyle. ‘Far from scorning lavish display,’ he told his audiences, ‘he has surrounded himself with luxury more extravagant than any Kaiser ever enjoyed. To decorate his new chancellery in Berlin, he had every museum in Germany plundered for priceless carpets, tapestries, paintings.’
When America joined the war, William wrote to President Roosevelt asking for permission to join the US Army. The letter was sent to the FBI, who cleared him for service.
As the Nuremberg Trials got under way, William tried to make a complete break with his Hitler past. He changed his name to William Stuart Houston and settled with his wife in Long Island.
William died in 1987 and was buried anonymously in the same grave as his mother.
Yet two enigmas remain. What are they?
To find out the answer, listen to the full episode of our new podcast, Unknown History, in the top right hand player of this page or on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify. Plus, connect with Giles on Twitter and Facebook.