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.