I was about to ask [William Patrick Hitler's] widow the question she had been dreading for 50 years: "Is your real name Mrs Hitler?"
I knew William Patrick would not be answering the door. I had just been to visit his grave, a 20-minute drive away, at the closest Roman Catholic cemetery, where I was given the name and address of his widow, Phyllis. The music stopped and a tall, elegantly-dressed woman peered from behind the screen and spoke with a distinct German accent. Even from behind the grey mesh I could tell the reason for my visit was already dawning on her. She must have envisaged this very conversation countless times over the years.
"Perhaps we will talk about it when the boys are older," she said. "We were married a long time and my husband never wanted anyone to know who he was. Now my sons don't want anything to do with it. It was all too long ago. There has been enough trouble with this name."
Despite my polite attempts to persuade her to tell me more, she was adamant she did not want to talk about her extraordinary family secret. It was only when I drove slowly away from the house that I realised the implications of what Phyllis had told me; that the Hitler line did not die out with William Patrick Hitler when he died in 1987, aged 76. It lived on through her sons. From that first, short conversation with William Patrick's widow through subsequent dealings with her family over a period of three years for my book, The Last of the Hitlers, and a Channel 5 documentary, set to be screened on February 4, I have kept a pledge not to reveal the name adopted by the Hitler family in New York, nor the town where they live.
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