Hitler's "Jewish genes"

By Razib Khan | August 26, 2010 2:16 am

A reader asked about the bizarre story of Adolf Hitler having “non-Aryan” ancestry. Specifically, The Daily Mail title is: “DNA tests reveal ‘Hitler was descended from the Jews and Africans he hated.'” Since it’s a British newspaper I frankly wouldn’t put it past them to simply pass along a hoax…but I think if they were going to do that they would have said it was the Cohen Modal Haplotype. The article claims that Hitler’s Y lineage was haplogroup E1b1b (all biological descendants of the same common male ancestor through the direct patriline will carry this set of Y chromosomal markers). This is really vague, as the haplogroup has many subclades. Obviously if you pull the lens far back enough you’ll find a phylogeny where Hitler and Jews and/or Africans are within the same clade. Dienekes notes that this is not a rare haplogroup. It is correct that if one is an Ashkenazi Jew the odds of one carrying this haplogroup are much higher. But, it is not necessarily entailed from this that one is likely to be an Ashkenazi Jew if one carries this haplogroup (or is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent).

This is clear from the map of the distribution of E1b1b’s two major subclades:


Even within Europe most men who carry this set of markers are not Ashkenazi Jews.

Of course this does not mean that Hitler wasn’t an Ashkenazi Jew. But there’s probably an easier way to find out if he had such ancestry: sequence his relative’s autosomal DNA. Ashkenazi Jews are genetically distinctive. The most common thesis I’ve heard is that Alois Hitler’s biological father was Jewish, which would make Hitler 1/4 Jewish, and his surviving great-nephew, Alexander, 1/16 Jewish. That’s probably enough to get a sense of whether this urban legend has any validity.

MORE ABOUT: Hitler, Trash Genetics

Comments (23)

  1. AbeBird

    There is no evidence to the claim that Hitler had a Jewish grandfather from his father side. All this story found to be a fabricated one done against Hitler by his inner opponents in the Nazi Party in the end of the 20s. Jews didn’t live in the district (Braunau and Graz) and town where his groundmother from his father side lived.

  2. Razib, this may be the first responsible and well-informed coverage (and debunking) of this mess I’ve seen in mainstream media. I consider this a hoax (and have said so). Further, from what I could tell the incidence of E1B1B1 in Austria currently is 9% – not rare at all.

    As for the Schicklgruber / Frankenberger tale that many media outlets are tacking on ( claiming Hitler’s grandmother was impregnated by a Jew named Frankenberger ), the historian Ian Kershaw debunked that claim over a decade ago. Cecil Adams has a good summary of the debunking at The Straight Dope.

    Bruce Wilson

  3. pconroy

    One question, is’nt it E1b1b and not E1b1b1??

    From the original Knack article – translated by Google

    Startling is that the haplogroup E1b1b Hitler appears to belong, with little common in Germany and Western Europe. This “genetic fingerprint” is much more common in the south at 25 percent of Greeks and Sicilians, and a whopping 50 to 80 percent of North Africans. Haplogroup E1b1b comes frequently to the Berbers and also in Somalia (> 80%). More striking still is the haplogroup of Hitler’s second most common haplogroup in the Ashkenazi Jews.

  4. FlyingCircus

    “Since it’s a British newspaper I frankly wouldn’t put it past them to simply pass along a hoax.”

    Oh yeah, cause Brits obviously don’t care about journalistic integrity… This objection aside, I have to say that every blog I’ve read of yours contains something either condescending or offensive.

  5. #6, you’re a dumbass if you don’t understand the reference to british newspapers. why would you keep reading something you find offensive?


    An aspect of this ‘study’ I find somewhat disturbing was the lack of consent from Hitler relatives being haplotyped. As reported in other media sources, the journalist conducting the research was twice declined by prospective subjects but surreptitiously collected samples anyhow, in one case from a cigarette butt and in the other from discarded fast-food restaurant paraphernalia. The media highlight this as a case of journalistic resourcefulness and ingenuity, but it looks to me like a violation of the privacy and self-determination of the subjects toward no better purpose than fulfilling journalistic curiosity and garnering a tabloid headline.

  7. Danske

    The samples collected may or may not have been from his line, may or may not have been analyzed properly, and – if not consented to and merely collected in public from trash and cigarrette butts – were quite possibly contaminated with the DNA of others.

    Shameful that they’d even publish such a ill-crafted peice of journalistic artistry, but everyone loves a negative story about Hitler…so hey, “why not?”.

  8. Hey Razib, any thoughts on this ? –

    I went back to the original Knack article, and it appears to make the claim (running through Google translation) that E1B1B is the second most common Haplogroup among Ashkenazi Jews but that’s not the case. E1B1B’s subclade E1B1B1 is considered the second most common Haplogroup among Ashkenazi Jews.

    Here’s the link:

    I don’t have a biology background and am trying to puzzle this out – is the article’s apparent conflation of E1B1B and E1B1B1 valid in this case ?

  9. bruce, paul, the focus on E1B1B as opposed to the subclade seems suspicious to me. like i said, work your way up the phylogenetic tree and fine the clade where hitler and many jews are together, and bingo. i suspect that’s what’s going on.

    the main reason i commented on this is that i was asked, and there were several comments and emails about this article.

  10. Doug

    I too thought when I saw the headline that he was a member of J1 or the CMH. I wouldn’t call E1b1b rare in Western/Central Europeans 😛 We could roughly estimate if he had a Jewish ancestor if we had the subclade but…for now I’m thinking he is E1b1b1a2.

  11. Razib,

    Thanks. I think I get your point now. What’s odd is that yesterday I found a wikipedia mention of Mulder’s genetic tracing work, from a year or two ago, which stated it tended to disprove the “Jewish grandfather” claim. But that would be consistent with finding E1B1B, which lacks the M35 mutation found in E1B1B1.

  12. Denis Vluegt

    Dear Razib,

    Thank you for taking the time to write this up. (Love your new “trash genetics” tag, by the way.)

  13. Denis Vluegt

    Well, the French edition of Slate magazine did what all the news media should have done: hand the job to someone who knows what questions to ask, and of whom.

    Jean-Yves Nau is a medical doctor and has been writing about medicine and biology for thirty years. In his article Les fantasmes de l’ADN juif ou berbère d’Hitler, Nau makes the valid point that if there’s anything good to come out of this convoluted story, it’s that it is an opportunity to say what DNA can tell us… and what it can’t.

    (Note: I saw that Razib used Google Translate to get the gist of the Knack.be article. The French-to-English module, however, is even more unreliable, and so I would caution people not to rely on Google Translate.)

    If I had time I would translate the entire article. This quote from geneticist Jean-Paul Moisan, however, is worth the effort:

    Enough already with this silliness. There are no French genes, no German, Austrian or Berber genes. For sure, certain populations may have genetic traits in common, but we cannot use this information to leap to conclusions. The hard part is in making it clear that DNA allows us to identify a suspect in a criminal investigation or confirm someone’s paternity, but we cannot use it to say that any one person belongs to this or that population or ethnic group. So blue eyes are found more frequently in Northern Europe? Indeed, but they are found in North Africa, too… We need to keep hammering home the point that most of humanity’s genetic diversity is found within populations and not in the differences between them.

    Linked in that article is a report in online mag Rue 89. As it turns out, the enterprising duo of journalist Mulders and customs inspector-turned-amateur historian Vermeeren had peddled their “findings” already a year ago! At that time, they used the agreement in the Y-chromosome haplotype amongst Hitler’s living distant relatives to rule out a Jewish father for Alois Hitler, Adolf’s daddy.

    This time they used the same “data” (note the inverted commas) to hype Adolf’s Jewish ancestry. Say what you will, but you have to admire Mulders and Vermeeren for their business acumen: they have been playing us like a fiddle all along.

    (Google Translate is really phenomenally stupid. It’s unable to realize that the word parents in the second article does not mean “parents”, it means “relatives”.)

  14. Denis Vluegt

    … and in case anyone is wondering, inverted commas also go around “Adolf’s Jewish ancestry” in my penultimate paragraph above. Hey, it’s the innernut, and people with reading comprehension problems aren’t exactly uncommon (see the scary trackback in comment #5 above).

  15. Frankly I don’t see where it matters much, he was an opportunist who took control of a country at a vulnerable moment. Created more chaos to wrestle a dictatorship, and ruled by terror, which was his plan. It was not genetic. Since history is pretty clear on this, and he was not a madman but much like other opportunists who can only win elections against weaker opponents, the lesson to be learned is not to give inexperienced leaders control who have no depth in leadership. I do not see where spending money on research of his genetic code has anymore practical value, now than it did then.

    Your opinions aren’t going to save any lives, feed any hungry people, or create jobs. I gave your article a read off a tweet, thinking you might have some benefit or in the very least, I kept an open mind, and frankly, I can think of better investments that have a direct impact of value to thousands of readers I reach.

    Thanks for the writing, I appreciate your input, but I have to plant and sow, and try to help people get through their day to day lives, which is what I am going to get back to now.

    Have a great day, and great weekend.

    Lonny Dunn Author/Editor I Tweet at ProDevNetworker

  16. Escaper

    Nice to know that somebody concerns on investigating in genes. It would be interesting for the psycologists in understanding Hitler.

    All I would ask for myself – referring to the above comment:”Your opinions aren’t going to save any lives, feed any hungry people, or create jobs” is that clever genetists work to invent cures for people alive.

    I would very much like to see – and follow – a cure against Spinocerebellar Ataxia SCA8!

  17. scott

    I am interested in this approach, largely because it could definitively link various theories of Hitler’s motivations for Jew-hatred. Let’s face it: if Hitler’s father was the bastard offspring of a Jewish family, and continually treated and rejected as such, then it is possible that this half-Jew father so abused Adolph that both the direction and the intensity of his hatred for Jews can be better understood. Moreover the present state of the art when it comes to Hitler’s parentage – erased as Hitler made sure of – is completely undone. Most biographers, ignoring a fair amount of evidence – reject the Jewish background thesis for Hitler’s father. DNA opens up entirely new possibilities.

  18. Denis Vluegt

    scott: You are engaging in idle speculation but have nothing to hang your hat on. If (big if, since this was not a study done by scientists) we are to take the results reported out of Belgium at face value, then the matching Y-chromosome haplotype among the (39, it is alleged) nth-degree (n times removed) cousins of Adolf Hitler (including the descendant(s) of Alois Hitler, jr., the son of Adolf’s dad from a previous marriage) all had the same male common ancestor and this haplotype was transmitted down the line to them. That would rule out a Jewish father for Alois.

    It is true that Hitler was embarrassed about his family background but that was because he had been born out of wedlock, his family were nondescript backwoods folk, and his parents were second cousins who had to get dispensation from the church to marry. (Not to mention his affair with his niece who committed suicide.)

    Rumors about a Jewish granddad were spread by his enemies, both within the Nazi movement and without, to damage his standing among his followers.

    The same people who disseminated the “report” a year ago now decided to get some more mileage out of the genetic test by announcing that this particular haplotype is found more frequently among Berbers, Somalis, Greeks, Sicilians, and Jews than in the general Austrian population. They chose the dog days of summer because it is a slow news period and the media happily obliged them, playing up the sensationalistic “Jewish blood” angle.

    I suspect, though, from your eagerness to latch onto anything and everything that seems to support your hypothesis (even if it doesn’t) that I’m not getting through to you.

  19. Raymond Clifford

    Hitler had his grandmother’s 3 adjacent villages evacuated so people could not talk about her family. See Dollersheim pictures where only the church is still standing. He then ordered the area used for bombing practice; and it is still used by the Austrian military to this day. He also had cousins that were mentally retarded and the labels used at the time were ” idiots” which was once a medical term and not a pejorative a 100 years ago.

  20. Raymond Clifford

    strange but true.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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