Leopold Poetsch (or Pötsch) was a German Professor and a high school history teacher of Adolf Hitler who influenced the future leader's later views. He was also one of the major figures of the German People's party.
Poetsch came from the southern German border regions. There, political struggles between Slavs and ethnic Germans angered him and turned him into a loud and fiery proponent of the Pan-German movement. He began teaching in Maribor, and later moved to Linz to teach history.
Poetsch was Hitler's teacher from first through third grade (1901-04) in geography, and in second and third grade in history. He also ran the school library. As a special privilege, Hitler was allowed to bring his teacher maps, which put him in particularly close contact with him.
Aside from his service at the school, Poetsch was a much sought after official speaker. He spoke at German national associations but also on the occasion of the emperor's anniversary in 1908. In 1905, he joined the Linz city council as a representative of the German People's party.
Hitler became enamored of Poetsch as a teenager, captivated by the professor's fiery speeches. Poetsch was a fervent pan-German. Poetsch despised the Habsburgs and forcefully argued that all ethnic Germans should be united by a single government. Like many Austro-Germans, Poetsch wanted to see the old empire break up and Austria join Germany, to the north.
He asserted that the Aryan race was stronger, healthier, and more fit to rule than any other people. Poetsch declared that Jews and Slavs were what he termed "inferior races". (This position was not uncommon among impoverished Germans after World War I.)
Hitler hated all his classes except Poetsch's history class. Hitler was captivated by Poetsch's teachings and began regularly reading a local anti-Semitic newspaper. Poetsch captured the imagination of his young students with heroic tales of the ancient Teutons and German victories. In his later years, Hitler spoke of Poetsch as a "great man." As dictator of Germany, Hitler attempted to unite all German-speaking people, just as Poetsch's lectures had demanded, and persecuted Slavs, Jews, Gypsies, and other minorities, eventually attempting to exterminate them in the "Final Solution."
Hitler stated that "Poetsch used our budding nationalistic fanaticism as a means of educating us, frequently appealing to us our sense of national honor." Under Poetsch, Hitler came to the realization that: "Germanism could be safeguarded only by the destruction of Austria, and, furthermore, the national sentiment is in no sense identical with dynastic patriotism; that above all the house of Habsburg was destined to be the misfortune of the German national."
Poetsch gave popular slide lectures entitled "Images of German History." In them he strongly emphasized the Germanic era and the time of the early German emperors before the rule of the Habsburgs and proceeded to pinpoint the German national awakening up until the Franco-Prussian war. The following is a quote from one of his speeches: Since the great days of the magnificent German victories of the years 1870-71, we have become increasingly conscious of our German identity and now thumb more ardently through the books of German myth, legends and history.
However, during those Hitler's teenage years while he may have been inspired by Leopold Poetsch's class, he was not motivated enough to become involved in politics. His only obsession was to become an artist.
Though a fervent pan-German, Poetsch was also an Austrian patriot at the same time. Later in life, Poetsch was very annoyed when he discovered that in Mein Kampf he received high praise as a teacher but at the same time was denounced as an enemy of Austria. In reference to Poetsch, Hitler wrote: "For who could have studied German history under such a teacher without becoming an enemy of the state which, through its ruling house, exerted so disastrous an influence on the destinies of the nation. And who could retain a loyalty to a dynasty that ... betrayed the needs of the German people again and again for shameless private advantage."
In 1936, when some teachers in Linz sent their now-famous pupil photos to remind him of them, and they asked Poetsch to join them, he refused arguing that he did not agree with Hitler in his defamation of Austria for he had sworn an official oath for Austria.
- Shirer, William L. Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. Simon & Schuster, 1990. ISBN 0-671-72868-7
- Pool, James Hitler and his secret partners: Contributions, Loot and Rewards, 1933-1945. Pocket Books, 1997. ISBN 0-671-76082-3
- Hamann, Brigitte Hitler's Vienna: A Dictator's Apprenticeship. Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 0195140532de:Leopold Pötsch