Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler. Wikimedia Commons

Adolf Hitler was leader of Germany during the Third Reich (1933 – 1945) and the primary instigator of both the Second World War in Europe and the mass execution of millions of people deemed to be "enemies" or inferior to the Aryan ideal. He rose from being a talentless painter to dictator of Germany and, for a few months, emperor of much of Europe, before the constant gambling approach which had led him this far now brought only disaster.

His empire was crushed by an array of the world's strongest nations, and he killed himself, having killed millions in turn. Born: April 20, 1889, died by suicide: April 30, 1945.

Adolf Hitler’s Childhood:

Adolf Hitler was born in Braunau am Inn, Austria, on April 20th 1889 to Alois Hitler (who, as an illegitimate child, had previously used his mother’s name of Schickelgruber) and Klara Poelzl. A moody child, he grew hostile towards his father, especially once the latter had retired and the family had moved to the outskirts of Linz. Alois died in 1903 but left money to take care of the family. Hitler was close to his mother, who was highly indulgent of Hitler, and he was deeply affected when she died in 1907. He left school at 16 in 1905, intending to become a painter. Unfortunately, he wasn't a very good one.

Adolf Hitler in Vienna:

Hitler went to Vienna in 1907 where he applied to the Viennese Academy of Fine arts, but was twice turned down.

This experience further embittered the increasingly angry Hitler, and he returned when his mother died, living first with a more successful friend (Kubizek), and then moving from hostel to hostel, a lonely, vagabond figure, but he recovered to make a living selling his art cheaply and resident in a community 'Men's Home'.

During this period Hitler appears to have developed the world view that would characterise his whole life: a hatred for Jews and Marxists. Hitler was well placed to be influenced by the demagogy of Karl Lueger, Vienna’s deeply anti-Semitic mayor, and a man who used hate to help create a party of mass support. Hitler had previously been influenced by Schonerer, an Austrian politician against liberals, socialists, Catholics and Jews. Vienna was also highly anti-Semitic with a press extolling it: Hitler's hate was not unusual, it was simply part of the popular mindset. What Hitler went on to do was present these ideas in a whole and more successfully than ever before.

Adolf Hitler and the First World War:

Hitler moved to Munich in 1913 and avoided Austrian military service in early 1914 by virtue of being unfit. However, when the First World War broke out in 1914 he joined the 16th Bavarian Infantry Regiment (an oversight prevented him from being sent to Austria), serving throughout the war, mostly as a corporal after refusing promotion. He proved to be an able and brave soldier as a dispatch runner, winning the Iron Cross on two occasions (First and Second Class) . He was also wounded twice, and four weeks before the war ended suffered a gas attack which temporarily blinded and hospitalised him.

It was here he learnt of Germany’s surrender, which he took as a betrayal. He especially hated the Treaty of Versailles which Germany had to sign after the war as part of the settlement. An enemy soldier has climbed he had a chance to kill Hitler during World War One...

Adolf Hitler Enters Politics:

After WW1 Hitler became convinced he was destined to help Germany, but his first move was to stay in the army for as long as possible because it paid wages, and to do so he went along with the socialists now in charge of Germany. He was soon able to turn the tables, and drew the attention of army anti-socialists, who were setting up anti-revolutionary units. Here Hitler realised he could speak well. Had he not been picked out by one interested man, he may never have amounted to anything. In 1919, working for an army unit, he was assigned to spy on a political party of roughly 40 idealists called the German Workers Party.

Instead he joined it, swiftly rose to a position of dominance (he was chairman by 1921) and renamed it the Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). He gave the party the Swastika as a symbol and organised a personal army of ‘storm troopers’ (the SA or Brownshirts) and a bodyguard of black shirted men, the SS, to attack opponents. He also discovered, and used, his powerful ability for public speaking.

The Beer Hall Putsch:

In November 1923 Hitler organised Bavarian nationalists under a figurehead of General Ludendorff into a coup (or 'putsch'). They declared their new government in a beer hall in Munich and then 3000 marched through the streets, but they were met by police, who opened fire, killing 16. It was a poorly thought out plan based mostly in the realms of fantasy, and could have ended the career of the young man. Hitler was arrested and tried in 1924, but was sentenced to only five years in prison, a sentence often taken as a sign of tacit agreement with his views after a trial he'd used to spread his name and his ideas widely (with success(. Hitler served only nine months in prison, during which he wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle), a book outlining his theories on race, Germany and Jews. It sold five million copies by 1939. Only now, in prison, did Hitler come to believe he was the one who should be leader, instead of just their drummer. A man who thought he was paving the way for a German leader of genius now thought he was the genius who could take and use power. He was only half right.

Adolf Hitler as Politician:

After the Beer-Hall Putsch Hitler resolved to seek power through subverting the Weimar government system, and he carefully rebuilt the NSDAP, or Nazi, party, allying with future key figures like Goering and propaganda mastermind Goebbels. Over time he expanded the party’s support, partly by exploiting fears of socialists and partly by appealing to everyone who felt their economic livelihood threatened by the depression of the 1930s, until he had the ears of big business, the press and the middle classes.

Nazi votes jumped to 107 seats in the Reichstag in 1930. It's important to stress that Hitler wasn't a socialist. The Nazi party that he was moulding was based race, not the class of socialism, but it took a good few years for Hitler to grow powerful enough to expel the socialists from the party. Hitler didn't take power in Germany overnight, and he didn't take full power of his party overnight. Sadly, he did do both eventually.

Adolf Hitler as President and Führer:

In 1932 Hitler acquired German citizenship and ran for president, coming second to von Hindenburg. Later that year the Nazi party acquired 230 seats in the Reichstag, making them the largest party in Germany. At first Hitler was refused the office of Chancellor by a president who distrusted him, and a continued snub might have seen Hitler cast out as his support failed. However factional divisions at the top of government meant that thanks to conservative politicians believing they could control Hitler, he was appointed Chancellor of Germany on January 30th 1933. Hitler moved with great speed to isolate and expel opponents from power, shutting trade unions, removing communists, conservatives and Jews.

Later that year Hitler perfectly exploited an act of arson on the Reichstag (which some believe the Nazis helped cause) to begin the creation of a totalitarian state, dominating the March 5th elections thanks to support from nationalist groups. Hitler soon took over the role of president when Hindenburg died and merged the role with that of Chancellor to become Führer (‘Leader’) of Germany.

Adolf Hitler in Power:

Hitler continued to move with speed in radically changing Germany, consolidating power, locking up “enemies” in camps, bending culture to his will, rebuilding the army and breaking the constraints of the Treaty of Versailles. He tried to change the social fabric of Germany by encouraging women to breed more and bringing in laws to secure racial purity; Jews were particularly targeted. Employment, high elsewhere in a time of depression, fell to zero in Germany. Hitler also made himself head of the army, smashed the power of his former brownshirt street warriors, and expunged the socialists fully from his party and his state. Nazism was the dominant ideology. Socialists were the first in the camps.

World War Two and the Failure of the Third Reich

Hitler believed he must make Germany great again through creating an empire, and engineered territorial expansion, uniting with Austria in an anschluss, and dismembering Czechoslovakia. The rest of Europe was worried but France and Britain were prepared to concede limited expansion: Germany taking within it the German fringe. Hitler, however, wanted more, and it was in September 1939, when German forces invaded Poland, that other nations took a stand, declaring war. This was not unappealing to Hitler who believed Germany should make itself great through war, and invasions in 1940 went well, knocking France out. However, his fatal mistake occurred in 1941 with the invasion of Russia, through which he wished to create lebensraum, or ‘living room’. After initial success, German forces were pushed back by Russia, and defeats in Africa and West Europe followed as Germany was slowly beaten. During this time Hitler became gradually more paranoid and divorced from the world, retreating to a bunker. As armies approached Berlin from two directions, Hitler married his mistress, Eva Braun, and on April 30th 1945 killed himself. The Soviets found his body soon after, and spirited it away so it would never become a memorial. A piece remains in a Russian archive.

Hitler and History

Hitler will forever be remembered for starting the Second World War, the most costly conflict in world history, thanks to his desire to expand Germany’s borders through force. He will equally be remembered for his dreams of racial purity, which prompted him to order the execution of millions of people, perhaps as high as eleven million. Although every arm of German bureaucracy was turned to pursuing the executions, Hitler was the chief driving force.

Adolf Hitler: Mentally Ill?

In the decades since Hitler’s death many commentators have concluded that he must have been mentally ill, and that if he wasn’t when he started his rule the pressures of his failed wars must have driven him mad. Given that he ordered genocide and ranted and raved it is easy to see why people have come to this conclusion, but it’s important to state that there is no consensus among historians that he was insane, or what psychological problems he may have had.

More Information

The Early Years of the Nazi Party Hitler was only one paramilitary leader among many, but he rose to dominate them after initial disaster.

The Fall of Weimar and the Rise of the Nazis It didn't have to happen, but this is how it did.

The Creation of Hitler's Dictatorship

Did the Treaty of Versailles Contribute to Hitler's Rise to Power? It's one of the key questions of twentieth century history, and the answer is yes, a little.

Was Adolf Hitler a Socialist? He wasn't, but some politicians use the claim he was as a political football which masks the truth and the history.

What did Hitler Believe? Hitler's ideology is a little confused, but some issues dominate, such as race, expansion and military prowess.