A famous name in my neighborhoodPublished 8:28pm Wednesday, October 30, 2013
By Frank Roberts
Hitler walked the streets of my Long Island neighborhood.
I was born in Manhattan, spent six infant months in the grungy city of Steubenville, Ohio (Dean Martin’s home town), and then, wisely, our family moved back to NYC, settling in the middle class neighborhood of Sunnyside, one of America’s first planned communities. It is a 15-minute ride to Times Square.
It was a temporary home-sweet-home for aspiring performers, those just starting to make a name for themselves. The list is pretty impressive: James Cagney, Ethel Merman, Perry Como, Nancy Walker, Judy Holliday, James Caan, Rudy Vallee and, least of all, the old punk rock group, The Ramones.
Legendary jazz musician, Bix Beiderbecke, whom a biographer called “the remote and mysterious jazz cornetist who died in obscurity,” lived in an apartment at 43-30 46th St. I lived in an apartment at 41-23 47th St., so we were practically neighbors.
As a jazz-loving kid, I bought a lot of his records, never realizing I might have talked to him about his music.
Cagney and Merman lived about six blocks from my humble apartment.
Hitler? No one seems to remember his address. Anyway, he had wisely changed his name to William Patrick Stuart-Houston. To put it mildly, he despised Uncle Adolf.
He left the neighborhood to join the Navy — the U.S. Navy, of course — where he served as a medal-winning pharmacist’s mate.
His name, before Americanization, was William Hitler. He came from a poor Liverpool family. His daddy, Alois, was the Führer’s half-brother. From November 1912 to April 1913, Adolf Hitler lived with Alois’ Hitler’s family.
A.H. was trying to escape destitution in Vienna. He worked as a laborer and snow-shoveler. There, he was introduced to astrology, which he later used to make evil decisions and military blunders.
In England, Alois deserted his family. His son changed his name to William. When Hitler rose to power in Germany, his nephew was after him for a job. Uncle Adolf’s reply was, “I didn’t become chancellor for the benefit of my family. No one is going to climb on my back.”
Most of the above information came from memoirs penned by William’s aunt, Bridget, who said that William at first tried to exploit his lineage. Later, he tried his hand at blackmailing Uncle Adolf, exposing the Führer’s family history, which included a Jewish background (his paternal grandfather was Leopold Frankenberger, a Jewish merchant).
Hypocrisy was often a Nazi trademark.
William made a quick exit, going to London, where he wrote an article for “Look” magazine called, appropriately, “Why I Hate My Uncle.” That was followed by a lecture tour in America, discussing Hitler’s wickedness.
When America entered the war, William Hitler wrote to President Roosevelt, telling him that England refused him permission to enlist and could he join the U.S. Army? He was given permission but, in 1944, joined the Navy.
After the war, he settled briefly in Sunnyside, later moving to Patchogue, a comfortable Long Island community. There was one uncomfortable question. He changed his name to William Stuart-Houston, “strikingly close,” said biographer David Gardner, “to that of the anti-Semitic author whose work was favored by the Nazis, Houston Stewart Chamberlain.”
In 1947 he married a German woman. They had four children, three of whom are still alive. William, who operated a laboratory specializing in blood analysis, died in 1987 and is buried in a Catholic churchyard. Gardner wrote that he “totally rejected his uncle’s beliefs and aggressively embraced the American dream.”
His sons never married. They prefer not talking about their father, explaining recently they intend to write their own book.
Our family frequented a German delicatessen in the neighborhood. I can’t help but wonder if William and I were there at the same time, ordering sausage. Then, we might have gone next door for papers, magazines or candy in a store operated by a Jewish gentleman.
During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.