Adolf Hitler (April 20, 1889 – April 30, 1945) was Chancellor of Germany
from 1933 and Führer und Reichskanzler (Leader and Chancellor) of Germany
from 1934 to his death. He was leader of the National Socialist German Workers
Party (NSDAP), better known as the Nazi Party.
Under Hitler's charismatic leadership Germany emerged from the depths
of post World War I defeat to rebuild its economy and decimated military.
At the height of their power during World War II, the armies of Nazi
Germany and its Axis Powers dominated much of Europe. The racial policies
that Hitler directed culminated in a massive number of deaths, commonly
cited as at least 11 million people – including 6 million Jews – in
a genocide now known as the Holocaust.
Ultimately, Germany was defeated by the Allied powers in 1945 and
during the final days of the war Hitler committed suicide in his underground
bunker in Berlin together with his newly wed wife, Eva Braun. The Third
Reich, which he had said would last a thousand years, collapsed shortly
Adolf Hitler was born close to sunset on April 20, 1889, at Braunau
am Inn, Austria, a small town 90 km (55 miles) west of Linz in the
province of Upper Austria, not far from the German border in what was
then Austria-Hungary. He was the fourth of six children of Alois Hitler
(1837–1903), a customs official, and Klara Pölzl, Alois'
niece and third wife. Of these six children, only Adolf and his younger
sister Paula reached adulthood. Alois Hitler also had a son (Alois
Junior) and a daughter (Angela) by his second wife. In Mein Kampf,
his autobiography and exposition of his political ideology, Hitler
describes his father as an "irascible tyrant"; however, there
is little indication that Alois Hitler treated his son more strictly
than was usual for that time and place.
Alois Hitler was born out of wedlock, and, until he was 40, used his
mother's surname, Schicklgruber. In 1876, he began using the name of
his stepfather, Johann Georg Hiedler, after visiting a priest responsible
for birth registries and declaring that Georg was his father (Alois
gave the impression that Georg was still alive, but he was long dead).
The spelling was probably changed by a clerk. Later, Adolf was accused
by his political enemies of not rightfully being a Hitler, but a Schicklgruber.
This was also exploited in Allied propaganda during the Second World
War when pamphlets bearing the phrase "Heil Schicklgruber" were
airdropped over German cities. He was legally born a Hitler, however,
and was closely related to Hiedler through his mother's family.
Hitler did not know for sure who his paternal grandfather was, but
it was probably either Johann Georg Hiedler or his brother Johann von
Nepomuk Hiedler. There have been rumours that Hitler was one-quarter
Jewish and that his paternal grandmother Maria Schicklgruber had become
pregnant after working as a servant in a Jewish household in Graz.
During the 1920s, the implications of this along with his known family
history were politically explosive, especially for the proponent of
a racist ideology. Opponents tried to prove that Hitler, the leader
of the anti-Semitic and jingoistic Nazi Party, had Jewish or Czech
ancestors. Although these rumours were never confirmed, for Hitler
they were reason enough to conceal his origins. Soviet propaganda insisted
he was a Jew, though more modern research tends to diminish the probability
Hitler had Jewish or Czech ancestors. Historians such as Werner Maser
and Ian Kershaw argue this was impossible since the Jews had been expelled
from Graz in the 15th century and were not allowed to return until
well after Maria Schicklgruber's alleged employment.
Because of Alois Hitler's profession his family moved frequently,
from Braunau to Passau, Lambach, Leonding and next to Linz. As a young
child, Hitler was reportedly a good student at the various elementary
schools he attended; however, in sixth grade (1900–1901), his
first year of high school (Realschule) in Linz, he failed completely
and had to repeat the grade. His teachers reported that he had "no
desire to work."
Hitler later explained this as a kind of rebellion against his father
Alois, who wanted the boy to follow him in a career as a customs official,
although Adolf wanted to become a painter. This is further supported
by Hitler's later description of himself as a misunderstood artist.
After Hitler's father died on January 3, 1903, aged 65, Hitler's schoolwork
did not improve. At the age of 16, Hitler left school with no qualifications.
Early adulthood in Vienna and Munich
From 1905 onward, Hitler was able to live the life of a Bohemian on
a fatherless child's pension and support from his mother. After he
was rejected twice by the Academy of Arts in Vienna (1907–1908)
for "lack of talent" – which he resented deeply – he
did not try to find a different job or learn a profession. He was told
he should become an architect, since he had some flair for making architectural
sketches and drawings. On December 21, 1907, his mother Klara died
a painful death from breast cancer. He gave his share of the orphans'
benefits to his younger sister Paula, but soon after inherited some
money from an aunt. He worked as a struggling painter in Vienna, copying
scenes from postcards and selling his paintings to merchants and tourists
(there is evidence he produced over 2000 paintings and drawings before
World War I).
After the second refusal from the Academy of Arts, Hitler gradually ran
out of money. By 1909, he sought refuge in a homeless shelter, and by
the beginning of 1910 had settled permanently into a house for poor working
men. He made spending money by painting tourist postcards of Vienna scenery.
His anti-Semitism during this period was likely non-existent, since a
Jewish resident of the house named Hanisch was helping him sell his postcards.
It was in Vienna that Hitler became an active anti-Semite, a common
stance among Austrians at the time. Vienna had a large Jewish community,
including many Orthodox Jews from Eastern Europe. He was slowly influenced
over time by the writings of the race ideologist and anti-Semite Lanz
von Liebenfels and polemics from politicians such as Karl Lueger, the
Mayor of Vienna and Georg Ritter von Schönerer, leader of the
pan-Germanic Away from Rome! movement. He later wrote that his transition
from opposing anti-semitism on religious grounds, to supporting it
on racial grounds, came from having seen an orthodox jew:
Mein Kampf, chapter II:
There were very few Jews in Linz. In the course of centuries the Jews
who lived there had become Europeanized in external appearance and
were so much like other human beings that I even looked upon them as
Germans. The reason why I did not then perceive the absurdity of such
an illusion was that the only external mark which I recognized as distinguishing
them from us was the practice of their strange religion. As I thought
that they were persecuted on account of their Faith my aversion to
hearing remarks against them grew almost into a feeling of abhorrence.
I did not in the least suspect that there could be such a thing as
a systematic anti-Semitism."
Once, when passing through the inner City, I suddenly encountered a
phenomenon in a long caftan and wearing black side-locks. My first
thought was: Is this a Jew? They certainly did not have this appearance
in Linz. I watched the man stealthily and cautiously; but the longer
I gazed at the strange countenance and examined it feature by feature,
the more the question shaped itself in my brain: Is this a German?"
Hitler had a firm belief in the inferiority of the Parliamentary system,
and especially social democracy, which formed the basis of his political
views. He began to claim the Jews were natural enemies of "Aryans" and
were responsible for Germany's economic problems. However, according
to August Kubizek, his close friend and roommate at the time, he was
more interested in the operas of Richard Wagner than in politics.
He was given a small inheritance from his father in May 1913 and moved
to Munich. He later wrote in Mein Kampf that he had always longed to
live in a German city. In Munich, he became more interested in architecture
and the writings of Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Moving to Munich also
helped him escape military service in Austria for a time, but the Austrian
army later arrested him. After a physical exam (during which his height
was measured at 1.73 m, or 5 ft 8 in) and a plea, he was found unfit
for service and allowed to return to Munich. However, when Germany
entered World War I in August 1914, he immediately enlisted in the
World War I
Hitler saw active service in France and Belgium as a messenger for
the 16th Bavarian reserve infantry regiment, which exposed him to enemy
fire. He also drew some cartoons and instructional drawings for the
army newspaper. He was twice cited for bravery in action, receiving
the Iron Cross, Second Class, in December 1915 and the Iron Cross,
First Class in August 1918, an honour rarely given to a lance corporal
(he was not a German citizen at the time and so could not be promoted
beyond corporal). During October 1916 in northern France Hitler was
wounded in the leg, returning to the front in March 1917.
Hitler was considered a "correct" soldier but was reportedly
unpopular with his comrades because of an uncritical attitude towards
officers. "Respect the superior, don't contradict anybody, obey
blindly," he said, describing his attitude while on trial for
his Beer Hall Putsch in 1924. One comrade later remarked, "we
all grumbled on him and found it intolerable that we had a white raven
among us." (Haiden, 1936)
On October 15, 1918, shortly before the end of war, Hitler was admitted
to a field hospital, temporarily blinded by a poison gas attack. Research
by Bernhard Horstmann indicates the blindness may have been the result
of a hysterical reaction to Germany's defeat. Hitler later said it
was during this experience that he became convinced the purpose of
his life was to save Germany. Meanwhile he was treated by a military
physician and specialist in psychiatry who reportedly diagnosed the
corporal as "incompetent to command people" and "dangerously
psychotic." His commander at the time said, "I will never
promote this hysteric!" (cited from Haiden, 1937). However, historian
Sebastian Haffner, referring to Hitler's experience at the front, suggests
he did have at least some understanding of the military.
Hitler had long admired Germany and during the war he had become a
passionate German patriot, although he did not become a German citizen
until 1932. He was shocked by the capitulation of Germany in November
1918 while the German army remained (in popular German belief) undefeated.
Like many other German nationalists, Hitler blamed civilian politicians
(the "November criminals") for the surrender. The widespread
right-wing, conservative explanation for the capitulation was the Dolchstosslegende
("dagger-stab legend") which purported that behind the backs
of the army, liberal politicians had betrayed and "stabbed" Germany's
people and its soldiers "in the back." The Treaty of Versailles
imposed crippling reparations and other economically damaging sanctions,
declaring Germany guilty for the horrors of the Great War. The treaty
was perceived by most Germans as a humiliation and was an important
factor in both the social and political conditions encountered by Hitler
and his National Socialist Party as they sought power.
Early Nazi Party
Main article: Hitler's political beliefs
After the war, Hitler remained in the army, which was mainly engaged
in suppressing socialist uprisings breaking out across Germany, including
Munich (Bavarian Soviet Republic), where Hitler returned in 1919. He
took part in "national thinking" courses organised by the
Education and Propaganda Department (Dept Ib/P) of the Bavarian Reichswehr
Group, Headquarters 4 under Captain Mayr. A key purpose of this group
was to create a scapegoat for the outbreak of the war and Germany's
defeat. The scapegoats were found in "international Jewry," communists
and politicians across the party spectrum, especially the parties of
the Weimar Coalition, who were deemed "November criminals".
In July 1919, Hitler was appointed a V-Mann (Verbindungsmann is the
German term for a police spy) of "Aufklärungskommando" ("Intelligence
Commando") of the Reichswehr, for the purpose of influencing other
soldiers towards similar ideas and was assigned to infiltrate a small
nationalist party, the German Workers' Party (DAP). Here Hitler met
Dietrich Eckart, one of the early founders of the party.
Hitler was discharged from the army in 1920 and (with the army's continued
encouragement) began participating full time in the party's activities.
By early 1921, Adolf Hitler was becoming highly effective at speaking
in front of ever larger crowds. In February, Hitler spoke before a
crowd of nearly six thousand in Munich. To publicize the meeting, he
sent out two truckloads of Party supporters to drive around with swastikas,
cause a commotion and throw out leaflets, their first use of this tactic.
Hitler gained notoriety outside of the Party for his rowdy, polemic
speeches against the Treaty of Versailles, rival politicians and groups
(especially Marxists) and always the Jews.
The German Workers' Party was centered in Munich which had become
a hotbed of ultra right-wing German nationalists who included Army
officers determined to crush Marxism and undermine or even overthrow
the young German democracy centered in Berlin. Gradually they noticed
Adolf Hitler and his growing movement as a vehicle to hitch themselves
to. Hitler traveled to Berlin to visit nationalist groups during the
summer of 1921 and in his absence there was an unexpected revolt among
his own Nazi Party leadership in Munich.
The Party was still run by an executive committee whose original members
considered Hitler to be overbearing and even dictatorial. To weaken
Hitler's position they formed an alliance with a group of socialists
from Augsburg. Hitler rushed back to Munich and countered them by tendering
his resignation from the Party on July 11, 1921. When they realized
the loss of Hitler would effectively mean the end of the Party, he
seized the moment and announced he would return on the condition that
he was made chairman and given dictatorial powers. Infuriated committee
members (including founder Anton Drexler) held out at first. Meanwhile
an anonymous pamphlet appeared entitled Adolf Hitler: Is he a traitor?,
attacking Hitler's lust for power and criticising the violence-prone
men around him. Hitler responded to its publication in a Munich newspaper
by suing for libel and later won a small settlement.
The executive committee of the Nazi Party eventually backed down and
Hitler's demands were put to a vote of party members. Hitler received
543 votes for and only one against. At the next gathering on July 29,
1921 Adolf Hitler was introduced as Führer of the Nazi Party,
marking the first time this title was publicly used. Hitler changed
the name of the party to the National Socialist German Workers Party
(Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP) (usually
known as the Nazi party).
Hitler's beer hall oratory, attacking Jews, socialists and liberals,
capitalists and communists, began attracting adherents. Early followers
included Rudolf Hess, the former air force pilot Hermann Göring,
and the flamboyant army captain Ernst Röhm, who became head of
the Nazis' paramilitary organisation, the SA, which protected meetings
and attacked political opponents. He also attracted the attention of
local business interests, was accepted into influential circles of
Munich society and became associated with wartime General Erich Ludendorff
during this time.
Encouraged by this early support, Hitler decided to use Ludendorff
as a front in an attempt to seize power in the turbulent year 1923.
His aim was to emulate Mussolini's March on Rome by a "March on
Berlin" but this abortive coup was later known as the Hitler Putsch
(and sometimes the Beerhall Putsch). Hitler and Ludendorff obtained
the clandestine support of Gustav von Kahr, Bavaria's right-wing de-facto
ruler along with leading figures in the Reichswehr and the police.
As political posters show, Ludendorff, Hitler and the heads of the
Bavarian police and military planned on forming a new government.
However on November 8, 1923 Kahr and the military withdrew their support
during a meeting in the Bürgerbräu beer hall. A surprised
Hitler had them arrested and proceeded with the coup. Unknown to him,
Kahr and the other detainees had been released on Ludendorff's orders
after he obtained their word not to interfere. That night they prepared
resistance measures against the coup and in the morning, when the Nazis
marched from the beer hall to the Bavarian War Ministry to overthrow
what they saw as Bavaria's traitorous government as a start to their "March
on Berlin," the army quickly dispersed them (Ludendorff was wounded
and a few other Nazis were killed).
Hitler fled to the home of friends and contemplated suicide. He was
soon arrested for high treason and appointed Alfred Rosenberg as temporary
leader of the party but found himself in an environment somewhat receptive
to his beliefs. During Hitler's trial in April 1924 sympathetic conservative
magistrates allowed Hitler to turn his debacle into a propaganda stunt.
He was given almost unlimited amounts of time to present his arguments
to the court along with a large body of the German people and his popularity
soared when he voiced basic nationalistic sentiments shared by the
public. For the crime of conspiracy to commit treason Hitler was sentenced
to five years' imprisonment at Landsberg prison where he received favoured
treatment from the guards and had much fan mail from admirers. While
at Landsberg he dictated his political book Mein Kampf (My Struggle)
to his deputy Rudolf Hess. The first volume, called "Abrechnung" (payback),
was later published and became the platform of the Nazi party (by the
late 1930s nearly every household in Germany had a copy of it). Meanwhile,
as he was considered relatively harmless, Hitler was given an early
amnesty and was released in December 1924. By this time the Nazi party
had dwindled and Hitler began a long effort to rebuild it.
A key element of Hitler's appeal was his ability to convey a sense
of offended national pride caused by the Treaty of Versailles imposed
on the defeated German Empire by the Allies. Germany had lost economically
important territory in Europe along with its colonies and in admitting
to sole responsibility for the war had agreed to pay a huge reparations
bill totaling $6,600,000 (32 billion marks). Most Germans bitterly
resented these terms but early Nazi attempts to gain support by blaming
these humiliations on "international Jewry" were not particularly
successful with the electorate. The party learned quickly and soon
a more subtle propaganda emerged, combining anti-Semitism with an attack
on the failures of the "Weimar system" and the parties supporting
In restoring the party organisation, Hitler asserted the Führerprinzip,
or unquestioning obedience to superiors, with all power and authority
devolving from the top down -- consistent with his well-documented
statements of disdain for democracy, which he considered an unstable
and dangerous form of government.
In 2004, it was discovered that Hitler had spent years evading taxes
on income from sales of Mein Kampf. He owed the German government 405,000
Reichmarks (equivalent to $8 million at 2004 exchange rates) by the
time he took power and the tax debt was forgiven.
The road to power
The political turning point for Hitler came when the Depression hit
Germany in 1930. The democratic Weimar Republic established in 1919
had never been accepted by conservatives and was openly opposed by
fascists. While the Social Democrats and traditional parties of the
centre and right were unable to cope with the shock of the Depression,
in the September 1930 elections the Nazis suddenly rose from relative
obscurity to win 18.3% of the vote along with 107 seats in the Reichstag,
becoming the second largest party in Germany.
Hitler appealed to the bulk of German farmers, war veterans and the
middle-class who had been hard-hit by both the inflation of the 1920s
and the unemployment of the Depression. The urban working classes generally
ignored Hitler's appeals (Berlin and the Ruhr towns were particularly
hostile). The 1930 election was a disaster for Heinrich Brüning's
centre-right government, which was now deprived of a majority in the
Meanwhile in September 1931 Hitler's niece Geli Raubal was found dead
in her bedroom in his Munich apartment (his half-sister Angela and
her daughter Geli had been with him in Munich since 1929), an apparent
suicide. Geli was much younger than he was and had used his gun, drawing
rumours of a relationship between the two. The event is viewed as having
caused lasting turmoil for him.
Brüning's austerity measures brought little economic improvement
and the government was anxious to avoid a presidential election in
1932, hoping to secure Nazi agreement to an extension of President
Paul von Hindenburg's term. Hitler refused and ultimately ran against
Hindenburg in the 1932 presidential election, coming in second on both
rounds, attaining more than 35% of the vote during the second one in
Hindenburg dismissed the government and appointed a new one under
the ex-military conservative Franz von Papen, which immediately called
for new Reichstag elections. In July 1932 the Nazis had their best
showing yet, winning 230 seats and becoming the largest party in the
Reichstag. Since the Nazis and the communists now together controlled
a majority of the Reichstag, the formation of a stable government of
mainstream parties was impossible. After a vote of no-confidence in
the Papen government, supported by 84% of the delegates, the new Reichstag
was dissolved and new elections were called.
Papen and the Centre Party (Zentrumspartei) separately began negotiations
to secure Nazi participation in order to provide a new government with
a basis in parliament. Hitler however set high terms, demanding the
Chancellorship along with the President's agreement that he be able
to use the 1919 constitution's sweeping emergency powers. Hence the
negotiations failed. During the November 1932 elections the Nazis lost
votes although they remained the largest party in the Reichstag. After
Papen failed to secure a majority he proposed to dissolve parliament
again along with an indefinite postponement of elections. Hindenburg
at first accepted this, but after General Kurt von Schleicher and the
military withdrew their support, Hindenburg instead dismissed Papen
and appointed Schleicher, who promised he could secure a majority government
by negotiations with both the Social Democratic labour unions and the
dissident Nazi faction led by Gregor Strasser.
In November 1932, Fritz Thyssen, Hjalmar Schacht and other leading
German businessmen appealed to Hindenburg in a letter to appoint Hitler
as leader of a government "independent from parliamentary parties" which
could turn into a movement that would "enrapture millions of people."
Finally, Papen and Alfred Hugenberg (Chairman of the German National
People's Party, the DNVP, which before the Nazis had been Germany's
principal right-wing party) conspired to persuade Hindenburg to appoint
Hitler Chancellor in a coalition with the DNVP, promising they would
be able to control him and stabilize the government. When Schleicher
was forced to admit failure in his efforts to form a coalition and
asked for emergency powers along with the same postponement of elections
he had opposed earlier, Hindenburg fired him and reluctantly agreed
to appoint Hitler Chancellor, Papen Vice-Chancellor and Hugenberg Minister
of Economics in a cabinet which included three Nazis in key positions
(Hitler, Göring and Wilhelm Frick). On the morning of January
30, 1933 in Hindenburg's office Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor
during what some observers later described as a brief and indifferent
After the Reichstag was set on fire (and the communists were blamed
for it), the Reichstag Fire Decree (28 February) suspended basic rights
including habeas corpus. On 5 March 1933, in elections marred by paramilitary
violence, the Nazis received 43.9% of the vote, which brought the coalition
between them and the DNVP an absolute majority. Hitler further strengthened
his parliamentary basis by detaining Communist deputies and (illegally)
excluding them from parliament.
At an impressive constitutional opening ceremony of the Reichstag,
held in the replacement parliament building on 21 March, both Hindenburg
and the world press were impressed by Hitler's apparent acceptance
of constitutional government.
The government confronted the newly elected Reichstag with the Enabling
Act which gave Hitler's cabinet sweeping legislative powers. The bill
required a two-thirds majority in order to pass and the Nazis needed
support from other parties. The Centre Party was split on this issue,
but eventually followed its chairman, Monsignor Kaas, who had advocated
supporting the bill in parliament in return for government giving sundry
guarantees to civil servants belonging to the Centre Party along with
freedom and autonomy of the Catholic Church. These guarantees were
orally transmitted and Kaas was promised a letter with them in writing.
On 23 March the Reichstag assembled under turbulent circumstances.
Some SA paramilitaries served as guards as others crowded outside the
building to intimidate opposing views. Hitler gave a speech which emphasized
the importance of both Christian denominations to German culture. Later
that day, still waiting for the promised letter, Kaas gave his speech,
voicing the Centre's support for the bill amid "concerns put aside." At
last, all parties except the Social Democrats voted in favour of the
Enabling Act, which was dutifully renewed every four years, even through
World War II.
With this combination of legislative and executive power, Hitler's
government soon suppressed all opposition. The SPD was banned and all
other political parties dissolved themselves to Vinny Cassidy's dismay.
Labour unions were merged with employers' federations into an organisation
under Nazi control and the autonomy of state governments was severely
diminished. Hitler also used the SA paramilitary to push Hugenberg
into resigning and proceeded to politically isolate Vice Chancellor
von Papen. Meanwhile the SA was growing into an independent power of
its own and Hitler used allegations of a plot by the SA leader Ernst
Röhm to purge the paramilitary force's leadership during the Night
of the Long Knives. Opponents unconnected with the SA were also murdered,
notably Gregor Strasser and former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher.
Soon after, president Paul von Hindenburg died on 2 August 1934. Rather
than hold new presidential elections Hitler's cabinet passed a law
combining the offices of president and chancellor with Hitler holding
both offices (which included the president's decree powers) as leader
and national chancellor. This consolidation was approved by 90% of
the electorate in mid-August 1934. Then in an unprecedented step, Hitler
ordered every member of the military to swear a personal oath of allegiance
The Third Reich
Having secured supreme political power without an electoral mandate
from the majority of Germans, Hitler went on to gain their support
by persuading most Germans he was their saviour from the Depression,
the Communists, the Versailles Treaty, and the Jews along with other "undesirable" minorities.
Economics and culture
Hitler oversaw one of the greatest expansions of industrial production
and civil improvement Germany had ever seen, mostly based on debt flotation
and expansion of the military. Nazi policies towards women strongly
encouraged them to stay at home to bear children and keep house. The
unemployment rate was cut substantially, mostly through arms production
and sending women home so that men could take their jobs. Given this,
claims that the German economy achieved near full employment are at
least partly artifacts of propaganda from the era.
Hitler also oversaw one of the largest infrastructure improvement
campaigns in German history, with the construction of dozens of dams,
autobahns, railroads and other civil works. Hitler's policies emphasised
the importance of family life: Men were the "breadwinners",
while women's priorities were to be "church, kitchen and children",
in German Kirche, Küche und Kinder or "Drei K" (three
Hitler's government sponsored architecture on an immense scale, with
Albert Speer becoming famous as the first architect of the Reich. In
1936 Berlin hosted the summer Olympic games, which were opened by Hitler
and choreographed to demonstrate Aryan superiority over all other races.
Olympia, the movie about the games and documentary propaganda films
for the German Nazi Party were directed by Hitler's personal filmmaker
Although Hitler made plans for a Breitspurbahn (broad gauge railroad
network), they were pre-empted by World War II. Had the railroad been
built, its gauge would have been three meters, even wider than the
old Great Western Railway of Britain.
In 1932 Hitler was instrumental in initiating the design work on the
car that later became the Volkswagen Beetle
The Gestapo-SS complex (the SS and Gestapo organisations) were primarily
responsible for repression in the Nazi state. This was implemented
not only against political enemies such as communists but also against
perceived "asocials" such as habitual criminals and the work-shy
along with "racial enemies," mainly Jews.
The racial policies of Nazi Germany during the early to mid-1930s
included the harassment and persecution of Jews through legislation,
restrictions on civil rights and limiting their economic opportunities.
Under the 1935 Nuremberg Laws Jews lost their German citizenship and
were expelled from government employment, the professions and most
forms of economic activity. The policy was successful in causing the
emigration of many thousands but nevertheless turned increasingly violent
in the mid to late 1930s. In 1938 a pogrom orchestrated by Joseph Goebbels
and endorsed by Hitler called Kristallnacht destroyed many Jewish businesses
and synagogues and resulted in about 100 deaths. Between November 1938
and September 1939 more than 180,000 Jews fled Germany and the Nazis
seized whatever property they left behind. From 1941 Jews were required
to wear a yellow star in public. Throughout the 1930s the Propaganda
Ministry disseminated anti-Semitic propaganda.
Rearmament and new alliances
In March 1935 Hitler repudiated the Treaty of Versailles by reintroducing
conscription in Germany. He set about building a massive military machine,
including a new Navy (the Kriegsmarine) and an Air Force (the Luftwaffe).
The enlistment of vast numbers of men and women in the new military
seemed to solve unemployment problems but seriously distorted the economy.
For the first time in a generation, Germany's armed forces were as
strong as those of her antagonistic neighbour, France.
In March 1936 Hitler again violated the Treaty of Versailles by reoccupying
the demilitarised zone in the Rhineland. When Britain and France did
nothing, he grew bolder. In July 1936 the Spanish Civil War began when
the military, led by General Francisco Franco, rebelled against the
elected Popular Front government of Spain. Hitler sent troops to support
Franco and Spain served as a testing ground for Germany's new armed
forces and their methods, including the bombing of undefended towns
such as Guernica, which was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in April 1937,
prompting Pablo Picasso's famous eponymous painting (see Guernica).
An Axis was declared between Germany and Italy by Galeazzo Ciano,
foreign minister of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini on October 25,
1936. This alliance was later expanded to include Japan, Hungary, Romania
and Bulgaria. They were collectively known as the Axis Powers. Then
on November 5, 1937, at the Reich Chancellory, Adolf Hitler held a
secret meeting and stated his plans for acquiring "living space" (Lebensraum)
for the German people.
Between 1939 and 1945 the SS, assisted by collaborationist governments
and recruits from occupied countries, systematically killed at least
11 million people (other estimates are as high as 26 million; 6 million
of whom were Jews) in concentration camps, ghettos and mass executions,
or through less systematic methods elsewhere. Besides being gassed
to death, many also died of starvation and disease while working as
slave labourers. Along with Jews, non-Jewish Poles (over 3 million
of whom died), alleged communists or political opposition, homosexuals,
dissenting Roman Catholics and Protestants, Roma, the physically handicapped
and mentally retarded, Soviet prisoners of war, Jehovah's Witnesses,
anti-Nazi clergy, trade unionists, and psychiatric patients were killed.
This industrial-scale genocide in Europe is referred to as the Holocaust.
The massacres that led to the coining of the word "genocide" (the
Endlösung or "Final Solution") were planned and ordered
by leading Nazis, with Himmler playing a key role. While no specific
order from Hitler authorising the mass killing of the Jews has surfaced,
there is documentation he approved the Einsatzgruppen and the evidence
also suggests that sometime in the fall of 1941 Himmler and Hitler
agreed in principle on mass extermination by gassing. During interrogations
by Soviet intelligence officers declassified over fifty years later,
Hitler's valet Heinz Linge and his military aide Otto Gunsche said
Hitler had "pored over the first blueprints of gas chambers."
To make for smoother intra-governmental cooperation in the implementation
of this "Final Solution" to the "Jewish question",
the Wannsee conference was held near Berlin on January 20, 1942, with
fifteen senior officials participating, led by Reinhard Heydrich and
Adolf Eichmann. The records of this meeting provide the clearest evidence
of central planning for the Holocaust. Days later, on February 22,
Hitler was recorded saying to his closest associates, "we shall
regain our health only by eliminating the Jews".
World War II
On March 12, 1938, Hitler pressured his native Austria into unification
with Germany (the Anschluss) and made a triumphal entry into Vienna.
Next he intensified a crisis over the German-speaking Sudetenland district
of Czechoslovakia. This led to the Munich Agreement of September 1938,
which British prime minister Neville Chamberlain hailed as "Peace
in our time". At Munich, Britain and France had weakly given way
to his demands, averting war but failing to save Czechoslovakia. As
a result of the summit Hitler was TIME magazine's Man of the Year in
Hitler ordered Germany's army to enter Prague on March 10, 1939, claiming
territories ceded to Poland under the Versailles Treaty. Britain had
not been able to reach an agreement with the Soviet Union for an alliance
against Germany, and, on August 23, 1939, Hitler concluded a secret
non-aggression pact (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) with Stalin. On September
1 Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France, who had guaranteed assistance
to Poland, declared war on Germany.
After conquering Poland by the end of September, Hitler built up his
forces much further during what was colloquially called the Sitzkrieg
(sitting war). The Sitzkrieg ended in March 1940 when he ordered German
forces to march into Denmark and Norway. In May 1940, Hitler ordered
his forces to attack France, conquering the Netherlands, Luxembourg
and Belgium in the process. France surrendered on June 22, 1940. This
string of victories convinced his main ally, Benito Mussolini of Italy,
to join the war on Hitler's side in May 1940.
Britain, whose forces had been driven from France at the coastal town
of Dunkirk, continued to fight on alone. After having his overtures
for peace systematically rejected by the British Government, now led
by Winston Churchill, Hitler ordered bombing raids on the British Isles,
leading to the Battle of Britain, which was meant to be the prelude
of a German invasion. However, the RAF defeated the Luftwaffe by the
end of October 1940, and Hitler therefore ordered bombing raids to
be carried out on British cities, including London and Coventry, mostly
at night. This was the so-called Blitz and it lasted until May 1941.
On June 22, 1941, Hitler gave the signal for three million German
troops to attack the Soviet Union, breaking the non-aggression pact
he had concluded with Stalin less than two years earlier. This invasion,
called Operation Barbarossa, seized huge amounts of territory, especially
the Baltic states and Ukraine, resulting in the destruction of many
Soviet forces. German forces were stopped short of Moscow in December
1941 by a harsh winter and fierce Soviet resistance, however (see Battle
of Moscow), and the invasion failed to achieve the quick triumph over
the Soviet Union which Hitler had anticipated.
Path to defeat
Hitler's declaration of war against the United States on December 11,
1941, (which arguably was called for by Germany's treaty with Japan)
set him against a coalition that included the world's largest empire
(the British Empire), the world's greatest industrial and financial power
(the USA), and the world's largest army (the Soviet Union).
In late 1942, German forces under Feldmarschall Erwin Rommel were
defeated in the battle of El Alamein, thwarting Hitler's plans to seize
the Suez Canal and the Middle East. In February of 1943, the months-long
Battle of Stalingrad ended with the complete destruction of the German
forces there by armies of the Soviet Union. Both defeats were turning
points in the war. After these, the quality of Hitler's military judgement
became increasingly erratic and Germany's military and economic position
deteriorated. His health was deteriorating too. His left hand started
shaking uncontrollably. The biographer Ian Kershaw believes he suffered
from Parkinson's disease. Other conditions that are suspected by some
to have caused some (at least) of his symptoms are methamphetamine
addiction and syphilis.
Hitler's ally Benito Mussolini was overthrown in 1943 after British
and American forces invaded Sicily. Throughout 1943 and 1944, the Soviet
Union steadily forced Hitler's armies into retreat along the eastern
front. On June 6, 1944 (D-Day) the Western allied armies landed in
northern France. Realists in the German army knew defeat was inevitable
and some officers plotted to remove Hitler from power. In July 1944
one of them, Claus von Stauffenberg, planted a bomb at Hitler's military
headquarters (the so-called July 20 Plot), but Hitler narrowly escaped
death. He ordered savage reprisals, resulting in the executions of
more than 4,000 people (often by starvation in solitary confinement
followed by slow strangulation). The resistance movement was crushed.
Defeat and death
By the end of 1944 the Soviets had driven the last German troops from
their territory and began charging into Central Europe. The western
armies were advancing into Germany. The Germans had lost the war from
a military perspective but Hitler allowed no peace talks with the Allied
forces and as a consequence the German military continued to fight.
By April 1945 Soviet forces were at the gates of Berlin. Hitler's closest
lieutenants urged him to flee to Bavaria or Austria to make a last
stand in the mountains but he was determined to die in his capital.
SS leader Heinrich Himmler tried on his own to inform the Allies through
a Swedish diplomat that Germany was prepared to surrender. Hitler got
news of this through Swedish radio and fired him.
As Soviet troops battled their way toward his Reich Chancellory in
the centre of the city, Hitler is generally believed to have committed
suicide in his Führerbunker on 30 April 1945, in Berlin by means
of a self-delivered shot to the head (some disputed accounts add that
he simultaneously bit into a cyanide ampoule). Hitler's body and that
of Eva Braun, his long-term mistress whom he had married the day before,
were partially burned with petrol and hastily buried shortly thereafter
in the Chancellory garden with Russian shells pouring down from all
directions on central Berlin and Russian infantry less than a few hundred
meters from the Führerbunker/Chancellory garden.
When Russian forces reached the Chancellory, they exhumed his body
and performed an autopsy, using dental records (and German dental assistants
who were familiar with them) to confirm the identification. To avoid
any possibility of creating a potential shrine, the remains were then
secretly buried by SMERSH at their new headquarters in Magdeburg. In
April 1970, when the facility was about to be turned over to the East
German government, the remains were reportedly exhumed, thoroughly
burned and disposed of in the Elbe river.
"I would have preferred it if he'd followed his original ambition and
become an architect". —Paula Hitler (his younger sister),
during an interview with a U.S. intelligence operative in late 1945.
At the time of Hitler's death most of Germany's infrastructure and
major cities were in ruins and he had left explicit orders to complete
the destruction. Millions of Germans were dead with millions more wounded
or homeless. In his will he dismissed other Nazi leaders and appointed
Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as Reichspräsident (President of
Germany) and Goebbels as Reichskanzler (Chancellor of Germany). However,
Goebbels and his wife Magda committed suicide on 1 May 1945. On 8 May
1945, in Reims, France the German armed forces surrendered unconditionally
ending the war in Europe and with the creation of the Allied Control
Council on 5 June 1945, the Four Powers assumed "supreme authority
with respect to Germany." Adolf Hitler's proclaimed Thousand Year
Reich had lasted 12 years.
Since the defeat of Germany in World War II, Hitler, the Nazi Party
and the results of Nazism have been regarded in most of the world as
synonymous with evil. Historical and cultural portrayals of Hitler
in the west are almost uniformly negative, often neglecting to mention
the adulation the German people bestowed on Hitler during his lifetime,
though the vast majority of present-day Germans share a negative view
The copyright of Hitler's book Mein Kampf is held by the Free State
of Bavaria and will expire in 2015. Reproductions in Germany are generally
authorized only for scholarly purposes and in heavily commented form.
The display of swastikas or other Nazi symbols is prohibited in Germany
and political extremists are generally under surveillance by the Verfassungsschutz,
the federal office for the protection of the constitution.
Despite this there have been instances of public figures referring
to his legacy in neutral or even favourable terms, particularly in
South America, the Islamic World and parts of Asia. Future Egyptian
President Anwar Sadat wrote favourably of Hitler in 1953. Bal Thackeray,
leader of the right-wing Shiv Sena party in the Indian state of Maharashtra,
declared in 1995 that he was an admirer of Hitler.
While some Revisionist historians note Hitler's attempts to improve
the economic and political standing and conditions of his people and
claim his tactics were in essence no different from those of many other
leaders in history, his methods and legacy, as interpreted by most
historians, have caused him to be one of the most despised leaders
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