Johann Shmidt was born the son of an abusive, drunken German villager named Hermann Shmidt and his saintly, long suffering wife Martha, who for years endured abuse and beatings from her husband. Martha died giving birth to Johann, their only child. Driven to madness by the death of the woman he both loved and hated, Hermann Shmidt tried to drown the newborn infant, accusing him of murdering Martha. The doctor who had just delivered the baby saved Johann from his father, and the next morning Hermann Shmidt committed suicide. The doctor took Johann to an orphanage, where the child led a lonely existence. Johann ran away from the orphanage when he was seven years old and lived in the streets as a beggar and a thief. As he grew older he worked at various menial jobs but spent most of his time in prison for crimes ranging from vagrancy to theft.