The German dictator Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) led the extreme nationalist and racist Nazi party and served as chancellor-president of Germany from 1933 to 1945. Probably the most effective and powerful demagogue of the 20th century, his leadership led to the extermination of approximately 6 million Jews.
Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist movement belong among the many irrationally nationalistic, racist, and fundamentally nihilist political mass movements that sprang from the ground of political, economic, and social desperation following World War I and the deeply upsetting economic dislocations of the interwar period. Taking their name from the first such movement to gain power—Mussolini's fascism in Italy (1922)—fascist-type movements reached the peak of their popular appeal and political power in the widespread panic and mass psychosis that spread to all levels of the traditional industrial and semi-industrial societies of Europe with the world depression of the 1930s. Always deeply chauvinistic, antiliberal and antirational, and violently anti-Semitic, these movements varied in form from the outright atheistic and industrialist German national socialism to the lesser-known mystical-religious and peasant-oriented movements of eastern Europe.
Adolf Hitler was born on April 20, 1889, in the small Austrian town of Braunau on the Inn River along the Bavarian-German border, son of an Austrian customs official of moderate means. His early youth in Linz on the Danube seems to have been under the repressive influence of an authoritarian and, after retirement in 1895, increasingly short-tempered and domineering father until the latter's death in 1903. After an initially fine performance in elementary school, Adolf soon became rebellious and began failing in the Realschule (college preparatory school). Following transfer to another school, he finally left formal education altogether in 1905 and, refusing to bow to the discipline of a regular job, began his long years of dilettante, aimless existence, reading, painting, wandering in the woods, and dreaming of becoming a famous artist. In 1907, when his mother died, he moved to Vienna in an attempt to enroll in the famed Academy of Fine Arts. His failure to gain admission that year and the next led him into a period of deep depression and seclusion from his friends. Wandering through the streets of Vienna, he lived on a modest orphan's pension and the money he could earn by painting and selling picture postcards. It was during this time of his vagabond existence among the rootless, displaced elements of the old Hapsburg capital, that he first became fascinated by the immense potential of mass political manipulation. He was particularly impressed by the successes of the anti-Semitic, nationalist Christian-Socialist party of Vienna Mayor Karl Lueger and his efficient machine of propaganda and mass organization. Under Lueger's influence and that of former Catholic monk and race theorist Lanz von Liebenfels, Hitler first developed the fanatical anti-Semitism and racial mythology that were to remain central to his own "ideology" and that of the Nazi party.
In May 1913, apparently in an attempt to avoid induction into the Austrian military service after he had failed to register for conscription, Hitler slipped across the German border to Munich, only to be arrested and turned over to the Austrian police. He was able to persuade the authorities not to detain him for draft evasion and duly presented himself for the draft physical examination, which he failed to pass. He returned to Munich, and after the outbreak of World War I a year later, he volunteered for action in the German army. During the war he fought on Germany's Western front with distinction but gained no promotion beyond the rank of corporal. Injured twice, he won several awards for bravery, among them the highly respected Iron Cross First Class. Although isolated in his troop, he seems to have thoroughly enjoyed his success on the front and continued to look back fondly upon his war experience.
Early Nazi Years
The end of the war suddenly left Hitler without a place or goal and drove him to join the many disillusioned veterans who continued to fight in the streets of Germany. In the spring of 1919 he found employment as a political officer in the army in Munich with the help of an adventurer-soldier by the name of Ernst Roehm—later head of Hitler's storm troopers (SA). In this capacity Hitler attended a meeting of the so-called German Workers' party, a nationalist, anti-Semitic, and socialist group, in September 1919. He quickly distinguished himself as this party's most popular and impressive speaker and propagandist, helped to increase its membership dramatically to some 6, 000 by 1921, and in April that year became Führer (leader) of the now-renamed National Socialist German Workers' party (NSDAP), the official name of the Nazi party.
The worsening economic conditions of the two following years, which included a runaway inflation that wiped out the savings of great numbers of middle-income citizens, massive unemployment, and finally foreign occupation of the economically crucial Ruhr Valley, contributed to the continued rapid growth of the party. By the end of 1923 Hitler could count on a following of some 56, 000 members and many more sympathizers and regarded himself as a significant force in Bavarian and German politics. Inspired by Mussolini's "March on Rome, " he hoped to use the crisis conditions accompanying the end of the Ruhr occupation in the fall of 1923 to stage his own coup against the Berlin government. For this purpose he staged the well-known Nazi Beer Hall Putsch of Nov. 8/9, 1923, by which he hoped—in coalition with right-wingers around World War I general Erich Ludendorff—to force the conservative-nationalist Bavarian government of Gustav von Kahr to cooperate with him in a rightist "March on Berlin." The attempt failed, however. Hitler was tried for treason and given the rather mild sentence of a year's imprisonment in the old fort of Landsberg.
It was during this prison term that many of Hitler's basic ideas of political strategy and tactics matured. Here he outlined his major plans and beliefs in Mein Kampf, which he dictated to his loyal confidant Rudolf Hess. He planned the reorganization of his party, which had been outlawed and which, with the return of prosperity, had lost much of its appeal. After his release Hitler reconstituted the party around a group of loyal followers who were to remain the cadre of the Nazi movement and state. Progress was slow in the prosperous 1920s, however, and on the eve of the Depression, the NSDAP still was able to attract only some 2.5 percent of the electoral vote.
Rise to Power
With the outbreak of world depression, the fortunes of Hitler's movement rose rapidly. In the elections of September 1930 the Nazis polled almost 6.5 million votes and increased their parliamentary representation from 12 to 107. In the presidential elections of the spring of 1932, Hitler ran an impressive second to the popular World War I hero Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, and in July he outpolled all other parties with some 14 million votes and 230 seats in the Reichstag (parliament). Although the party lost 2 million of its voters in another election, in November 1932, President Hindenburg on Jan. 30, 1933, reluctantly called Hitler to the chancellorship to head a coalition government of Nazis, conservative German nationalists, and several prominent independents.
Consolidation of Power
The first 2 years in office were almost wholly dedicated to the consolidation of power. With several prominent Nazis in key positions (Hermann Göring, as minister of interior in Prussia, and Wilhelm Frick, as minister of interior of the central government, controlled the police forces) and his military ally Werner von Blomberg in the Defense Ministry, he quickly gained practical control. He persuaded the aging president and the Reichstag to invest him with emergency powers suspending the constitution in the so-called Enabling Act of Feb. 28, 1933. Under this act and with the help of a mysterious fire in the Reichstag building, he rapidly eliminated his political rivals and brought all levels of government and major political institutions under his control. By means of the Roehm purge of the summer of 1934 he assured himself of the loyalty of the army by the subordination of the Nazi storm troopers and the murder of its chief together with the liquidation of major rivals within the army. The death of President Hindenburg in August 1934 cleared the way for the abolition of the presidential title by plebiscite. Hitler became officially Führer of Germany and thereby head of state as well as commander in chief of the armed forces. Joseph Goebbels's extensive propaganda machine and Heinrich Himmler's police system simultaneously perfected totalitarian control of Germany, as demonstrated most impressively in the great Nazi mass rally of 1934 in Nuremberg, where millions marched in unison and saluted Hitler's theatrical appeals.
Preparation for War
Once internal control was assured, Hitler began mobilizing Germany's resources for military conquest and racial domination of the land masses of central and eastern Europe. He put Germany's 6 million unemployed to work on a vast rearmament and building program, coupled with a propaganda campaign to prepare the nation for war. Germany's mythical enemy, world Jewry—which was associated with all internal and external obstacles in the way of total power—was systematically and ruthlessly attacked in anti-Semitic mass propaganda, with economic sanctions, and in the end by the "final solution" of physical destruction of Jewish men, women, and children in Himmler's concentration camps.
Foreign relations were similarly directed toward preparation for war: the improvement of Germany's military position, the acquisition of strong allies or the establishment of convenient neutrals, and the division of Germany's enemies. Playing on the weaknesses of the Versailles Peace Treaty and the general fear of war, this policy was initially most successful in the face of appeasement-minded governments in England and France. After an unsuccessful coup attempt in Austria in 1934, Hitler gained Mussolini's alliance and dependence as a result of Italy's Ethiopian war in 1935, illegally marched into the Rhineland in 1936 (demilitarized at Versailles), and successfully intervened—in cooperation with Mussolini—in the Spanish Civil War. Under the popular banner of national self-determination, he annexed Austria and the German-speaking Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia with the concurrence of the West in 1938 (Munich Agreement), only to occupy all of Czechoslovakia early in 1939. Finally, through threats and promises of territory, he was able to gain the benevolent neutrality of the Soviet Union for the coming war (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, August 1939). Alliances with Italy (Pact of Steel) and Japan followed.
On Sept. 1, 1939, Hitler began World War II—which he hoped would lead to his control of most of the Eurasian heartland—with the lightning invasion of Poland, which he immediately followed with the liquidation of Jews and the Polish intelligentsia, the enslavement of the local "subhuman" population, and the beginnings of a German colonization. Following the declaration of war by France and England, he temporarily turned his military machine west, where the lightning, mobile attacks of the German forces quickly triumphed. In April 1940 Denmark surrendered, and Norway was taken by an amphibious operation. In May-June the rapidly advancing tank forces defeated France and the Low Countries.
The major goal of Hitler's conquest lay in the East, however, and already in the middle of 1940 German war production was preparing for an eastern campaign. The Air Battle of Britain, which Hitler had hoped would permit either German invasion or (this continued to be his dream) an alliance with "Germanic" England, was broken off, and Germany's naval operations collapsed for lack of reinforcements and matériel.
On June 22, 1941, the German army advanced on Russia in the so-called Operation Barbarossa, which Hitler regarded as Germany's final struggle for existence and "living space" (Lebensraum) and for the creation of the "new order" of German racial domination. After initial rapid advances, the German troops were stopped by the severe Russian winter, however, and failed to reach any of their three major goals: Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad. The following year's advances were again slower than expected, and with the first major setback at Stalingrad (1943) the long retreat from Russia began. A year later, the Western Allies, too, started advancing on Germany.
With the waning fortunes of the German war effort, Hitler withdrew almost entirely from the public; his orders became increasingly erratic and pedantic; and recalling his earlier triumphs over the generals, he refused to listen to advice from his military counselors. He dreamed of miracle bombs and suspected treason everywhere. Under the slogan of "total victory or total ruin, " the entire German nation from young boys to old men, often barely equipped or trained, was mobilized and sent to the front. After an unsuccessful assassination attempt by a group of former leading politicians and military men on July 20, 1944, the regime of terror further tightened.
In the last days of the Third Reich, with the Russian troops in the suburbs of Berlin, Hitler entered into a last stage of desperation in his underground bunker in Berlin. He ordered Germany destroyed since it was not worthy of him; he expelled his trusted lieutenants Himmler and Göring from the party; and made a last, theatrical appeal to the German nation. Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945, leaving the last bits of unconquered German territory to the administration of non-Nazi Adm. Karl Doenitz.
Hitler's own writings start with Mein Kampf; of its many translations, that of Ralph Mannheim (1943) is preferred. Hitler's Secret Book (1961), with an introduction by Telford Taylor, is a second book on foreign policy written by Hitler in 1928 but not published during the Nazi years. The most important book of speeches is Norman H. Baynes, ed., The Speeches of Adolf Hitler (2 vols., 1942). Records of Hitler's conversations are in Hermann Rauschning, The Voice of Destruction (1940); H. R. Trevor-Roper, ed., Hitler's Secret Conversations (1953); and François Genoud, ed., The Testament of Adolf Hitler (1961). Of the numerous biographies of Hitler, Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1952; rev. ed. 1962), is outstanding, and it is also the best general book on Nazi Germany. A shorter recent biography by a German historian is Helmut Heiber, Adolf Hitler: A Short Biography (1961). Konrad Heiden, Der Fuehrer: Hitler's Rise to Power (1944), is the classic biography written during the Nazi years, which contains important insights for the period up to 1934. The young Hitler was described by friends and associates: Kurt G. W. Ludecke, I Knew Hitler (1937); Franz Jetzinger, Hitler's Youth (trans. 1958); and, the most recent and comprehensive, Bradley F. Smith, Adolf Hitler: His Family, Childhood, and Youth (1967). An account by an associate of Hitler in Munich after World War I is Ernst Hanfstaengel, Unheard Witness (1957).
A number of books deal with various aspects of Hitler's personality and his conduct of the war. James H. McRandle, The Track of the Wolf: Essays on National Socialism and Its Leader, Adolf Hitler (1965), and George H. Stein, ed., Hitler (1968), both deal with Hitler's character and the political consequences of his personality. See also Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs (1970). Hitler's relationship with favored associates is examined in Joachim C. Fest, The Face of the Third Reich: Portraits of the Nazi Leadership, translated by Michael Bullock (1970). Hitler's conduct of the war generally is the subject of Felix Gilbert, ed., Hitler Directs His War (1951), and H. R. Trevor-Roper, ed., Blitzkrieg to Defeat (1964); and Hitler's invasion of Russia is related in Paul Carell, Hitler Moves East, 1941-1943, translated by E. Osers (1965), and Leonard Cooper, Many Roads to Moscow: Three Historic Invasions (1968). A Russian journalist's interpretation of the circumstances surrounding Hitler's death is Lev Aleksandrovich Bezymenskii, The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives (1968). Recommended for general historical background are Hannah
Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951; rev. ed. 1967); William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960), highly readable and fair-minded if not always reliable in detail; Hajo Holborn, A History of Modern Germany, vol. 3 (1964); Ernst Nolte, Three Faces of Fascism (1965); Golo Mann, The History of Germany since 1789 (1968); and Karl Dietrich Bracher, The German Dictatorship: The Origins, Structure and Effects of National Socialism (trans. 1970). □
"Adolf Hitler." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 11, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/adolf-hitler
"Adolf Hitler." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved October 11, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/adolf-hitler
Hitler, Adolf 1889-1945
As the leader of Germany’s Third Reich in the 1930s and 1940s, Adolf Hitler developed a totalitarian fascist state dedicated to imperialist expansion of a pure German race. Hitler and his anti-Semitic, supra-nationalistic National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi Party) was ultimately responsible for millions of deaths during the Holocaust and a massive refugee crisis in Central and Eastern Europe during World War II (1939–1945).
Hitler was born on April 20, 1889, in Braunau am Inn, Austria, and spent his younger years in Linz, Austria, and in Vienna. Hitler was not a good student; he left the Gymnasium without graduating and failed to be accepted as an art student at Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts. This failed career move left Hitler a lonely and distraught young man. While in Vienna in the years leading up to World War I (1914–1918), Hitler developed anti-Semitic tendencies, most likely fed by his envy of affluent Jewish citizens during his years of extreme poverty and destitution as well as the influence of Vienna’s Lord Mayor who publicly supported anti-Semitic policies. In 1913 Hitler moved to Munich where he lived until the war broke out and he volunteered to serve in the German Army. During the war, Hitler was injured twice, once in 1916 and again in 1918, the second time as a victim of a gas attack. For his bravery and valor, he earned the Iron Cross twice and was promoted to the rank of corporal. Hitler returned to Munich after the war, dispirited, disillusioned, and angry over the Versailles settlement. Like many young returning soldiers, Hitler believed that Germany’s new liberal government should not have signed the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty forced Germany to accept full responsibility for starting the war, stripped Germany of its colonies, required that it pay heavy reparations to the Allied powers, demilitarized a large portion of its western territory, and reduced its military numbers substantially. Hitler believed that these terms unjustly punished Germany and joined the right-wing, nationalist German Workers’ Party in 1919, the forerunner of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, to work toward a reversal of the treaty.
By 1920 Hitler was the leader of propaganda of the growing German Workers’ Party, and in 1921 he became the führer (leader) of the organization, now called the Nazi Party. The Nazis at this time were still a very small splinter party, but gained notoriety with their failed Munich Hall putsch in 1923, after which Hitler served nine months in prison. During his incarceration, Hitler wrote his famous memoir and political treatise Mein Kampf (My Struggle) where he condemned democratic systems and blamed Europe’s Jewish population for what he considered to be Germany’s crisis of morality and modernity. The issue of race and its intimate connection to political institutions that stood as symbols of a vanishing collective identity became the focal point of Hitler’s theory of fascism. In the tradition of other “philosophers of race” such as Comte de Gobineau and H. S. Chamberlain, Hitler believed in the natural inequality of human races. The white race, he argued, was superior to all others, with the Teutonic race as the most civilized and advanced. Because Hitler believed that the demise of the human race begins with an intermingling of races that causes social instability through a crisis of identity, he called for social, political, economic, and cultural policy to protect the purity of German blood first and foremost.
This belief in ethnic community as the foundation of the nation led Hitler to be suspicious of the Jews’ lack of a homeland. He referred to them as “parasites on other peoples” and fervently believed that their infiltration into European society needed to be halted immediately. Hitler was equally suspicious of liberal doctrines of “equality” and “liberty” because, he argued, they only allowed Jews to exploit Europe’s gullibility about their true intentions to take over European society. Hitler pointed to the Jewish origins of many Soviet revolutionary leaders, their support of trade unionist activities, as well as their overarching presence in business, finance, banking, and stock market sectors as evidence of Jewish infiltration. Therefore, for Hitler and the Nazis, Jews represented the gravest threat to the Aryan race because of their prominent roles in the development of liberal capitalism and socialism, two modern ideologies that threatened Germans’ collective identity. In this way, Hitler’s brand of fascism was both anti-Marxist and anti-Semitic, for the two were inextricably intertwined in his mind. Hitler’s race doctrine was thus used as an instrument of defense against the inescapable degeneration of Aryan civilization. Only through active destruction of racial inferiors, defined by Hitler to be primarily Jews but also included Slavs, Roma, homosexuals, political dissidents, and disabled people of all ethnicities, could Germany be saved. This dedication to action, outlined in Mein Kampf, provided the philosophical foundation for the Holocaust and was responsible for the deaths of approximately 6 million Jews and 3 million other “degenerates” during the Nazi era.
After his release from prison, Hitler worked throughout the 1920s and 1930s on building a mass political movement. Nazi Party propaganda publicized Hitler’s ideas of a Jewish and socialist threat by arguing that both were responsible for Germany’s inflationary crisis that was, in fact, due to the Republic’s printing of monies to make reparations payments, a number of attempted coups, and the French occupation of the Ruhr. Between 1925 and 1928 alone, Nazi Party membership jumped from 27, 000 to 108, 000 active supporters. On the eve of the United States stock market crash of 1929, the National Socialists were active in parliamentary politics, earning 810, 000 votes in the 1928 election and occupying twelve seats in the Reichstag.
The Nazis gained considerable momentum as economic crisis intensified with the onset of the Great Depression in the early 1930s. The major challenge for Hitler and the Nazis was to prevent unemployed workers from becoming socialist revolutionaries, and so their propaganda vilified trade unionism. Hitler further targeted socialists as enemies of the German nation because the Social Democratic and German Communist parties had voted against war credits during World War I and a revolutionary German socialist government had signed the armistice authorizing Germany’s capitulation in 1918. Nazi propaganda became more openly anti-Semitic at this time too, with Hitler firmly blaming Jews for Germany’s national crisis through their perpetuation of immoral capitalist practices. At the same time, Hitler pointed to the inability of Weimar’s parliamentary system to respond adequately to the Depression. Disagreements between coalition factions and internal divisions in the Social Democratic Party, Germany’s largest political party, led to a general paralysis in how to finance unemployment relief. Hitler promised voters the eradication of unemployment, the creation of a welfare state, and a nationalist program of industrial, agricultural and governmental cooperation. With this platform, Hitler succeeded in winning 6.4 million votes and 107 parliamentary seats in the 1930 election. Despite this incredible success, the Nazis still had yet to earn the support of disenchanted industrial workers. Most of their electoral support came from traditional right-wing voters—members of the petty bourgeoisie and agricultural workers—and young, new voters. Hitler successfully converted young Germans to National Socialism through the creation of youth organizations and events such as parades and political rallies that fostered a sense of national community and presented the Nazi Party as one that would unify Germans and resurrect a lost Germanic empire. By 1931 industrialists responded en masse to Hitler’s anti-Marxist platform and his assertions that what would be good for the German people would be good for German industry and joined the Nazi crusade. In the 1932 election, the Nazis won 230 Reichstag seats, the most seats ever held by a single political party in German history, though they still did not enjoy an electoral majority.
On January 30, 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler the chancellor of Germany. The Reichstag fire on February 27, erroneously believed to have been set by representatives of the German Communist Party (KPD), allowed Hitler a further opportunity to warn Germans of an impending socialist revolution that would destroy the German Fatherland. With heavy pressure from Hitler, Hindenburg then issued an emergency decree “for the Protection of People and State” that restricted personal liberties, extended the government’s legal ability to obtain warrants for house searches, confiscate private property, and monitor citizens’ postal and electronic communications, and allowed all KPD Reichstag members and other leading anti-Nazis to be arrested. In March 1933, the Reichstag approved the implementation of the Enabling Act that granted Hitler dictatorial powers for four years and officially destroyed the Weimar constitution. A plebiscite in late 1933 confirmed the Nazis’ control and, with Hindenburg’s death in August 1934, Hitler became Germany’s new führer.
Throughout the mid-1930s Hitler successfully established a strong centralized government that exercised unlimited authority to direct the development of the Third Reich, as Hitler titled his new German empire. The state fulfilled its promises to solve Germany’s national crisis by guaranteeing universal employment (with the caveat that all citizens must work), extending social welfare programs including old age pensions and economic protection of mothers and children, nationalizing industry, introducing land reform, and institutionalizing the creation of physical fitness programs to promote national health and vigor. The government also solidified its political power by controlling all forms of media, forming a national army, institutionalizing a “social contract” that emphasized the symbiotic dutiful relationship between state and citizen (not of individuals to one another as in the Marxist model) primarily through the heavy use of propaganda, parades, and other public displays of nationalism. In addition, the state re-aligned the education system’s philosophical foundation to fuse “German” moral values of obedience and deference to authority with Hitler’s race doctrine and developed a legal system that defended the Nazis’ use of terror and coercion to create a totalitarian state.
The Nazi government also worked to expose and eradicate Jews from German society. The 1935 Nuremburg Laws, which included the Reich Citizenship Act and the Act for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, enacted a number of anti-Semitic laws allowing only ethnically “pure” Germans citizenship rights. These acts categorically excluded Jews from civil and public service and prohibited Germans and Jews from marrying and forming other intimate relationships in order to preserve the Aryan blood line. The Nuremburg Laws were the first step in the eventual ghettoization and murder of millions of European Jews in concentration camps during World War II.
After securing Germans’ loyalty through his propaganda of equality and community, Hitler set out to expand Germany’s borders through imperialist wars. First he instituted compulsory military service and re-militarized the Rhineland in blatant violation of the terms of the Versailles Treaty. He then began the process of uniting all Germanic peoples into a Grossdeutschland (“large Germany”) with the annexation of Austria in early 1938. Participants of the Munich Conference in late 1938—Britain, France, and Italy—then allowed Hitler to annex the Sudetenland, the northwestern portion of Czechoslovakia, bringing the large German minority population there under Nazi control. Hitler’s imperialist intentions became more apparent in early 1939 when he invaded Bohemia-Moravia and established a Nazi puppet state in Slovakia. Britain and France then realized that their policy of appeasement toward Germany was failing and prepared for war. World War II broke out in September 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland, a move the Western allies viewed as a blatant violation of Poland’s right to national self-determination.
Hitler invaded Poland for what he called “Lebensraum ” (“living space”). His goal was to expand Germany’s empire through the annexation of Polish territory, the murder of Polish Jews and political dissenters, and the resettlement of the German Volk (the “people”) into Poland. This expansion, Hitler argued, was an essential component of German national growth because it would allow the peasant class to maintain its identity as the foundation of the nation through successful cooptation of agricultural land that was untouched by the vagrancies of modernization. This policy of acquiring Lebensraum provided the practical justification for the Holocaust. Poland was an easy target for Hitler because it housed the largest Jewish population in Europe and represented a traditional subordinate territory of the two old German empires: the Prussian and the Habsburg.
In the early years of the war, Hitler succeeded in either conquering or establishing Nazi puppet states or allies on most of the European continent including France, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Albania, and Greece. The United States’ entry into the war in December 1941 as an ally of Britain and the Soviet Union turned the tides of battle and they succeeded in defeating Germany in May 1945. Recognizing Germany’s imminent defeat, Hitler committed suicide in Berlin on April 30, 1945.
SEE ALSO Aryans; Dictatorship; Ethnocentrism; Fascism; Genocide; Gobineau, Comte de; Holocaust, The; Jews; Nationalism and Nationality; Nazism; Racism; White Supremacy; World War II
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Tracey A. Pepper
"Hitler, Adolf." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 11, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/hitler-adolf
"Hitler, Adolf." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved October 11, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/hitler-adolf
Born: April 20, 1889
Died: April 30, 1945
German dictator and nationalist
The German dictator Adolf Hitler led the extreme nationalist and racist Nazi party and served as chancellor-president of Germany from 1933 to 1945. Arguably one of the most effective and powerful leaders of the twentieth century, his leadership led to the deaths of nearly six million Jews.
Adolf Hitler was born on April 20, 1889, in the small Austrian town of Braunau on the Inn River along the Bavarian-German border. The son of an extremely strong-willed Austrian customs official, his early youth seems to have been controlled by his father until his death in 1903. Adolf soon became rebellious and began failing at school. He finally left formal education altogether in 1905 and began his long years of aimless existence, reading, painting, wandering in the woods, and dreaming of becoming a famous artist. In 1907, when his mother died, he moved to Vienna in an attempt to enroll in the famed Academy of Fine Arts. His failure to gain admission that year and the next led him into a period of deep depression as he drifted away from his friends.
It was during this time of feeling rootless that Hitler first became fascinated by the immense potential of mass political manipulation (control). He was particularly impressed by the successes of the anti-Semitic, or anti-Jewish, nationalist Christian-Socialist party of Vienna Mayor Karl Lueger (1844–1910). Lueger's party efficiently used propaganda (spreading a message through literature and the media) and mass organization. Hitler began to develop the extreme anti-Semitism and racial mythology that were to remain central to his own "ideology" and that of the Nazi party.
In May 1913, Hitler returned to Munich, and after the outbreak of World War I (1914–18) a year later, he volunteered for action in the German army in their war against other European powers and America. During the war he fought on Germany's Western front with distinction but gained no promotion (advancement) beyond the rank of corporal (a low-ranking military officer). Injured twice, he won several awards for bravery, among them the highly respected Iron Cross First Class.
Early Nazi years
The end of the war left Hitler without a place or goal and drove him to join the many veterans who continued to fight in the streets of Germany. In the spring of 1919, he found employment as a political officer in the army in Munich with the help of an adventurer-soldier by the name of Ernst Roehm (1887–1934)—later head of Hitler's elite soldiers, the storm troopers (SA). In this capacity Hitler attended a meeting of the so-called German Workers' party, a nationalist, anti-Semitic, and socialist group, in September 1919. He quickly distinguished himself as this party's most popular and impressive speaker and propagandist, and he helped to increase its membership dramatically to some six thousand by 1921. In April of that year he became Führer (leader) of the renamed National Socialist German Workers' party (NSDAP), the official name of the Nazi party.
The poor economic conditions of the following years contributed to the rapid growth of the party. By the end of 1923, Hitler could count on a following of some fifty-six thousand members and many more sympathizers, and regarded himself as a strong force in Bavarian and German politics. Hitler hoped to use the crisis conditions to stage his own overthrow of the Berlin government. For this purpose he staged the Nazi Beer Hall Putsch of November 8–9, 1923, by which he hoped to force the conservative-nationalist Bavarian government to cooperate with him in a "March on Berlin." The attempt failed, however. Hitler was tried for treason (high crimes against one's country) and given the rather mild sentence of a year's imprisonment in the old fort of Landsberg.
It was during this prison term that many of Hitler's basic ideas of political strategy and tactics matured. Here he outlined his major plans and beliefs in Mein Kampf, which he dictated to his loyal confidant Rudolf Hess (1894–1987). He planned the reorganization of his party, which had been outlawed and had lost much of its appeal. After his release, Hitler reconstituted the party around a group of loyal followers who were to remain the center of the Nazi movement and state.
Rise to power
With the outbreak of world depression in the 1930s, the fortunes of Hitler's movement rose rapidly. In the elections of September 1930, the Nazis polled almost 6.5 million votes, and the party had gained undeniable popularity in Germany. In November 1932, President Hindenburg (1847–1934) reluctantly called Hitler to the chancellorship to head a coalition government of Nazis, conservative German nationalists, and several prominent independents.
The first two years in office were almost wholly dedicated to balancing power. With several important Nazis in key positions and Hitler's military ally Werner von Blomberg in the Defense Ministry, he quickly gained practical control. Hitler rapidly eliminated his political rivals and brought all levels of government and major political institutions under his control. The death of President Hindenburg in August 1934 cleared the way for Hitler to remove the title of president. By doing this, Hitler officially became Führer (all-powerful ruler) of Germany and thereby head of state, as well as commander in chief of the armed forces. Joseph Goebbels's (1897–1945) extensive propaganda machine and Heinrich Himmler's (1900–1945) police system perfected the complete control of Germany. Likewise, Hitler's rule was demonstrated most impressively in the great Nazi mass rally of 1934 in Nuremberg, Germany, where millions marched in unison and saluted Hitler's theatrical appeals.
Preparation for war
Once internal control was assured, Hitler began mobilizing Germany's resources for military conquest and racial domination of central and eastern Europe. He put Germany's six million unemployed to work to prepare the nation for war. Hitler's propaganda mercilessly attacked the Jews, whom Hitler associated with all internal and external problems in Germany. Most horrifying was Hitler's installment of the "final solution" of imprisoning and eventually destroying all Jewish men, women, and children in Himmler's concentration camps.
Foreign relations were similarly directed toward preparation for war. The improvement of Germany's military position and the acquisition of strong allies set the stage for world war. To Germany he annexed, or added, Austria and the German-speaking Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, only to occupy all of Czechoslovakia early in 1939. Finally, through threats and promises of territory, Hitler was able to gain the neutrality of the Soviet Union, the former nation that was made up of Russia and other smaller states. Alliances with Italy and Japan followed.
On September 1, 1939, Hitler began World War II with his quest to control Europe. The sudden invasion of Poland was immediately followed by the destroying of Jews and the Polish elite, and the beginnings of German colonization. Following the declaration of war by France and England, Hitler temporarily turned his military machine west, where the light, mobile attacks of the German forces quickly triumphed. In April 1940, Denmark surrendered, soon followed by Norway. In May and June the rapidly advancing tank forces defeated France and the Low Countries. In the Air Battle of Britain, England sustained heavy damage, but held out after German naval operations collapsed.
The major goal of Hitler's conquest lay in the East. On June 22, 1941, the German army advanced on Russia in the so-called Operation Barbarossa, which Hitler regarded as Germany's final struggle for existence and "living space" (Lebensraum ) and for the creation of the "new order" of German racial domination. However, after initial rapid advances, the German troops were stopped by the severe Russian winter and failed to reach any of their three major goals: Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad. The following year's advances were again slower than expected, and with the first major setback at Stalingrad (1943), the long retreat from Russia began. A year later, the Western Allied forces of America, England, and Russia started advancing on Germany.
With the German war effort collapsing, Hitler withdrew almost entirely from the public. His orders became increasingly erratic (different from what is normal or expected), and he refused to listen to advice from his military counselors. He dreamed of miracle bombs and suspected betrayal everywhere. Under the slogan of "total victory or total ruin," the entire German nation from young boys to old men, often barely equipped or trained, was mobilized and sent to the front. After an unsuccessful assassination attempt on July 20, 1944, by a group of former leading politicians and military men, Hitler's reign of terror further tightened.
In the last days of the Nazi rule, with the Russian troops in the suburbs of Berlin, Hitler entered into a last stage of desperation in his underground bunker in Berlin. He ordered Germany destroyed, believing it was not worthy of him. He expelled his trusted lieutenants Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Göring (1893–1946) from the party and made a last, theatrical appeal to the German nation. Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945, leaving behind a legacy of evil and terror unequaled by any leader in the modern world.
For More Information
Giblin, James Cross. The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler. New York: Clarion Books, 2002.
Marrin, Albert. Hitler. New York: Viking Kestrel, 1987.
Toland, John. Adolf Hitler. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976.
Zitelmann, Rainier. Hitler: The Policies of Seduction. London: London House, 1999.
"Hitler, Adolf." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 11, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hitler-adolf-0
"Hitler, Adolf." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved October 11, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hitler-adolf-0
Adolf Hitler (ä´dôlf hĬt´lər), 1889–1945, founder and leader of National Socialism (Nazism), and German dictator, b. Braunau in Upper Austria.
The son of Alois Hitler (1837–1903), an Austrian customs official, Adolf Hitler dropped out of high school, and after his mother's death in 1907 moved to Vienna. He twice failed the admission examination for the academy of arts. His vicious anti-Semitism (perhaps influenced by that of Karl Lueger) and political harangues drove many acquaintances away. In 1913 he settled in Munich, and on the outbreak of World War I he joined the Bavarian army. During the war he was gassed and wounded; a mediocre soldier who lacked leadership skills and never progressed beyond the rank of corporal, he nonetheless received the Iron Cross for bravery. The war hardened his extreme nationalism, and he blamed the German defeat on betrayal by Jews and Marxists. Upon his return to Munich he joined a handful of other nationalistic veterans in the German Workers' party.
The Nazi Party
In 1920 the German Workers' party was renamed the National Socialist German Workers, or Nazi, party; in 1921 it was reorganized with Hitler as chairman. He achieved leadership in the party (and later in Germany) largely due to his extraordinary skill as a speaker, holding large crowds spellbound by his oratory. Hitler made the party a paramilitary organization and won the support of such prominent nationalists as Field Marshal Ludendorff. On Nov. 8, 1923, Hitler attempted the "beer-hall putsch," intended to overthrow the republican government. Leading Bavarian officials (themselves discontented nationalists) were surrounded at a meeting in a Munich beer hall by the Nazi militia, or storm troopers, and made to swear loyalty to this "revolution." On regaining their freedom they used the Reichswehr [army] to defeat the coup. Hitler fled, but was soon arrested and sentenced to five years in the Landsberg fortress. He served nine months.
The putsch made Hitler known throughout Germany. In prison he dictated to Rudolf Hess the turgid Mein Kampf [my struggle], filled with anti-Semitic outpourings, worship of power, disdain for civil morality, and strategy for world domination. It became the bible of National Socialism. Under the tutelage of Hitler and Gregor Strasser, aided by Josef Goebbels and from 1928 by Hermann Goering, the party grew slowly until the economic depression, beginning in 1929, brought it mass support.
Hitler's Rise to Power
To Germans burdened by reparations payments to the victors of World War I, and threatened by hyperinflation, political chaos, and a possible Communist takeover, Hitler, frenzied yet magnetic, offered scapegoats and solutions. To the economically depressed he promised to despoil "Jew financiers," to workers he promised security. He gained the financial support of bankers and industrialists with his virulent anti-Communism and promises to control trade unionism.
Hitler had a keen and sinister insight into mass psychology, and he was a master of intrigue and maneuver. After acquiring German citizenship through the state of Brunswick, he ran in the presidential elections of 1932, losing to the popular war hero Paul von Hindenburg but strengthening his position by falsely promising to support Chancellor Franz von Papen, who lifted the ban on the storm troops (June, 1932).
When the Nazis were elected the largest party in the Reichstag (July, 1932), Hindenburg offered Hitler a subordinate position in the cabinet. Hitler held out for the chief post and for sweeping powers. The chancellorship went instead to Kurt von Schleicher, who resigned on Jan. 28, 1933. Amid collapsing parliamentary government and pitched battles between Nazis and Communists, Hindenburg, on the urging of von Papen, called Hitler to be chancellor of a coalition cabinet, refusing him extraordinary powers. Supported by Alfred Hugenberg, Hitler took office on Jan. 30.
Hitler in Power
Germany's new ruler was a master of Machiavellian politics. Hitler feared plots, and firmly believed in his mission to achieve the supremacy of the so-called Aryan race, which he termed the "master race." Having legally come to power, he used brutality and subversion to carry out a "creeping coup" to transform the state into his dictatorship. He blamed the Communists for a fire in the Reichstag on Feb. 27, and by fanning anti-Communist hysteria the Nazis and Nationalists won a bare majority of Reichstag seats in the elections of Mar. 5. After the Communists had been barred, and amid a display of storm trooper strength, the Reichstag voted to give Hitler dictatorial powers.
From the first days of Hitler's "Third Reich" (for its history, see Germany; National Socialism; World War II) political opponents such as von Schleicher and Gregor Strasser (who had resigned from the Nazis) were murdered or incarcerated, and some Nazis, among them Ernst Roehm, were themselves purged. Jews, Socialists, Communists, and others were hounded, arrested, or assassinated. Government, law, and education became appendages of National Socialism. After Hindenburg's death in 1934 the chancellorship and presidency were united in the person of the Führer [leader]. Heil Hitler! became the obligatory form of greeting, and a cult of Führer worship was propagated.
In 1938, amid carefully nurtured scandal, Hitler dismissed top army commanders and divided their power between himself and faithful subordinates such as Wilhelm Keitel. As Hitler prepared for war he replaced professional diplomats with Nazis such as Joachim von Ribbentrop. Many former doubters had been converted by Hitler's bold diplomatic coups, beginning with German rearmament. Hitler bullied smaller nations into making territorial concessions and played on the desire for peace and the fear of Communism among the larger European states to achieve his expansionist goals. To forestall retaliation he claimed to be merely rectifying the onerous Treaty of Versailles.
Benito Mussolini became his ally and Italy gradually became Germany's satellite. Hitler helped Franco to establish a dictatorship in Spain. On Hitler's order the Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was assassinated, and the Anschluss amalgamated Austria with the Reich. Hitler used the issue of "persecuted" Germans in Czechoslovakia to push through the Munich Pact, in which England, France, and Italy agreed to German annexation of the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia (1938).
World War II
Hitler's nonaggression pact (Aug., 1939) with Stalin allowed him to invade Poland (Sept. 1), beginning World War II, while Stalin annexed Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia to the USSR and attacked eastern Poland; but Hitler honored the pact only until he found it convenient to attack the USSR (June, 1941). In Dec., 1941, he assumed personal command of war strategy, leading to disaster. In early 1943 he refused to admit defeat at the battle of Stalingrad (now Volgograd), bringing death to vast numbers of German troops. As the tide of war turned against Hitler, his mass extermination of the Jews, overseen by Adolf Eichmann, was accelerated, and he gave increasing power to Heinrich Himmler and the dread secret police, the Gestapo and SS (Schutzstaffel).
Fall of Hitler and the Third Reich
By July, 1944, the German military situation was desperate, and a group of high military and civil officials (including Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben and Karl Goerdeler) attempted an assassination. Hitler escaped a bomb explosion with slight injuries; most of the plotters were executed. Although the war was hopelessly lost by early 1945, Hitler insisted that Germans fight on to the death. During the final German collapse in Apr., 1945, Hitler denounced Nazi leaders who wished to negotiate, and remained in Berlin when it was stormed by the Russians.
On Apr. 29 Hitler married his long-time mistress, Eva Braun, and on Apr. 30 they committed suicide together in an underground bunker of the chancellery building, having ordered that their bodies be burned. Hitler left Germany devastated; his legacy is the memory of one of the most dreadful tyrannies of modern times.
See his Mein Kampf (complete tr. 1940), Hitler's Secret Conversations, 1941–1944 (tr. 1953), and Hitler's Secret Book (tr. 1962). See also biographies by A. Bullock (rev. ed. 1964), B. F. Smith (1968), J. C. Fest (tr. 1974), I. Kershaw (2 vol., 1999–2000), and A. N. Wilson (2012); H. R. Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler (1947); W. A. Jenks, Vienna and the Young Hitler (1960); W. Maser, Hitler (tr. 1973); R. E. Hertzstein, Adolf Hitler and the German Trauma, 1913–1945 (1974); R. and C. Winston, Hitler (1974); R. Hamilton, Who Voted for Hitler? (1982); J. Lukacs, The Hitler of History (1997); R. Rosenbaum, Explaining Hitler (1998); F. Redlich, Hitler: Diagnosis of a Destructive Prophet (1998); R. J. Overy, The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia (2004).
"Hitler, Adolf." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 11, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hitler-adolf
"Hitler, Adolf." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 11, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hitler-adolf
Adolf Hitler ruled Germany as a dictator from 1933 to 1945. Hitler's National Socialist (Nazi) German Workers' party was based on the idea of German racial supremacy and a virulent anti-Semitism. Hitler's regime murdered more than 6 million Jews and others in concentration camps and started world war ii.
Hitler was born in Braunauam Inn, Austria, on April 20, 1889, the son of a minor government official and a peasant woman. A poor student, Hitler never completed high school. In 1907 he moved to Vienna and tried to make a living as an artist. He was unsuccessful and had to work as a day laborer to support himself. During this period Hitler immersed himself in anti-Jewish and antidemocratic literature. He was also a passionate German nationalist who believed that Austria should be merged with Germany so as to unite the German people.
In 1913 he moved to Munich. He gave up his Austrian citizenship and enlisted in the German army when world war i began in 1914. He rose to lance corporal in his infantry regiment, won the Iron Cross, and was wounded in 1917. When Germany admitted defeat and signed the armistice terminating World War I in November 1918, Hitler was in a hospital, temporarily blinded by a mustard gas attack and suffering from shock. Outraged at the defeat, Hitler blamed Jews and Communists for stabbing the German army in the back.
Other members of the German army felt the same way. After his discharge from the hospital, Hitler was assigned to spy on politically subversive activities in Munich. In 1919 he joined a small nationalist party. The German Workers' party was transformed in 1920 by Hitler into the National Socialist German Workers' party. The Nazis advocated the uniting of all German people into one nation and the repudiation of the Versailles treaty, which the Allies had forced Germany to sign. This treaty imposed large reparations on Germany and restricted the size of its armed forces.
In 1923 the Nazis tried to capitalize on political and economic turmoil in Germany. On November 8 Hitler called for a Nazi revolution. The beer hall putsch (revolution), named for its place of origin, failed because Hitler had no military support. When he led two thousand storm troopers in revolt, the police opened fire and killed sixteen people. Hitler was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for treason.
While in prison Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle), a rambling book that was both an autobiography and a declaration of his political beliefs. He made his intentions plain: If he was to assume control of Germany, he would seek to conquer much of Europe and he would destroy the Jewish race. He rejected democracy and called for a dictatorship that would be able to withstand an assault by communism.
Hitler served only nine months in prison, as political pressure forced the Bavarian government to commute his sentence. He was set free in December 1924.
From 1924 to 1928, Hitler and the Nazis had little political success. The Great Depression, which started in late 1929, was the catalyst for Hitler's rise to power. As the economy declined, Hitler railed against the Versailles treaty and a conspiracy of Jews and Communists who were destroying Germany. By 1932 the Nazis had become the strongest party in Germany. On January 30, 1933, Hitler was named chancellor, or prime minister, of Germany.
Many German leaders believed that Hitler could be controlled by industrialists and the German army. Instead, Hitler quickly moved to make Germany a one-party state and himself the führer (leader). He abolished labor unions, imposed government censorship, and directed that Nazi propaganda dominate the press and the radio. The gestapo, Hitler's secret police, waged a war of terror on Nazi opponents. Jews were fired from jobs, placed in concentration camps, and driven from Germany. By 1934 Hitler was securely in charge.
The majority of Germans supported Hitler enthusiastically. He restored full employment, rebuilt the German economy, and allowed Germans to escape the feelings of inferiority instilled after World War I.
Hitler broke the Versailles treaty and proceeded with a massive buildup of the German armed forces. In 1936 he reclaimed the Rhineland from French control, and in 1938 he annexed Austria to Germany. Also in 1938 he took over the German areas of Czechoslovakia, and in 1939 he annexed all of that country. When he invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. World War II had begun.
During the early years of Hitler's regime, some prominent U.S. citizens had believed he was a positive force for Germany. As Hitler became more aggressive and war clouds appeared, U.S. isolationists argued against involvement. People such as aviator Charles A. Lindbergh argued for an America First policy.
Concerns about Nazism led in part to the smith act (54 Stat. 670) in 1940. Nazi sympathizers organized groups such as the Silvershirts and the German-American Bund, raising the specter of subversion. The Smith Act required aliens to register with and be fingerprinted by the federal government. More important, it made it illegal not only to conspire to overthrow the government, but to advocate or conspire to advocate to do so. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the act in Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494, 71 S. Ct. 857, 95 L. Ed. 1137 (1951).
Hitler's quick and easy conquest of western Europe in 1940 left Great Britain alone. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States and Great Britain became allies in World War II. They were joined by the Soviet Union, which Hitler had invaded in June 1941. In 1942 the war turned against Hitler. North Africa and then Italy were lost to the Allies. In June 1944, the Allies invaded France and were soon nearing Germany. On the eastern front, the Soviet army moved toward Berlin. During these last years of the war, Hitler directed the extermination of Jews and other "undesirables" in concentration camps.
On July 20, 1944, Hitler escaped an assassination attempt. As the military situation crumbled, Hitler realized that defeat was inevitable. While Soviet troops entered Berlin in April 1945, Hitler married his longtime mistress, Eva Braun. On April 30 the two committed suicide. Their bodies were burned by Hitler's aides.
Anthes, Louis. 1998. "Publicly Deliverative Drama: The 1934 Mock Trial of Adolf Hitler for "Crimes Against Civilization." American Journal of Legal History 42 (October): 391–410.
Giblin, James Cross. 2002. The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler. New York: Clarion Books.
Kershaw, Ian. 1999-2000. Hitler. New York: W.W. Norton.
Welch, David. 2001. Hitler: Profile of a Dictator. London; New York: Routledge
"Hitler, Adolf." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 11, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hitler-adolf
"Hitler, Adolf." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Retrieved October 11, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hitler-adolf
Having signed a nonaggression treaty with the Soviet Union, Hitler invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, conquered Western Europe in spring 1940, occupied southeastern Europe, and attacked Russia in the summer of 1941. The fighting was accompanied by untold atrocities against enemy soldiers and civilians, and the Nazi regime simultaneously implemented the “Final Solution,” the genocide of European Jewry. Yet the reverses of the so‐called Third Reich multiplied with the Soviet counteroffensive and the entry of the United States into the war in December 1941, the German debacles at Stalingrad and El Alamein the following winter, the Allied invasion of Italy in summer 1943, and the invasion of Normandy, France, in June 1944. A failed assassination attempt on Hitler's life in July 1944 led to a widespread purge of the plotters; but as American and Soviet troops met on the Elbe River on 25 April 1945 and the Red Army entered Berlin, he committed suicide on 30 April, only days before Germany capitulated on 7–9 May 1945.
Historians debate the extent to which Hitler forged Germany's fate during his twelve‐year dictatorship. Some, like Eberhard Jäckel, argue that his totalitarian regime held Germany under complete control, and that Hitler personally had set his goals and decided as early as the 1920s on the means to achieve those goals. Others, such as Martin Broszat, assert that Hitler had far less control over events, that his regime was based on a chaotic struggle of power between competing agencies, and that his policies were largely the function of circumstances rather than careful, farsighted planning. Nevertheless, most historians agree that Hitler strove to achieve two major goals: the winning of additional “living space” for the German people, mainly in the East; and the destruction of the Jews. There is little doubt that he was obsessed with questions of race and social Darwinian “struggle for existence.” What is still unclear is how much of the population shared his ideas, and whether the main engine for the implementation of the war of expansion and extermination that Germany unleashed in 1939 was only his personal obsession or the outcome of much more widespread prejudices, phobias, and aspirations at least among the German political, economic, and military elites.
There is also some debate on Hitler's role in the conduct of military operations. Though German generals subsequently claimed they were only following Hitler's orders and that he had a detrimental effect on operations, evidence shows that they shared his urge for conquest and subjugation, and utilized his popularity among the soldiers to boost the troops' morale and motivate them in fighting. This applies also to the popular view that Hitler was a raving madman who somehow seized control of a civilized nation that could liberate itself from his hold only with the assistance of others. As historians such as Ian Kershaw have shown, the “Hitler myth” was a potent political force during much of the regime. Whether or not Hitler was insane, for a long time he seems to have been supported by much of the population of Germany.
[See also Holocaust, U.S. War Effort and the; World War II: Military and Diplomatic Course.]
Joachim C. Fest , Hitler, trans. Richard and Clara Winston, 1974.
Martin Broszat , The Hitler State: The Foundation and Development of the Internal Structure of the Third Reich, trans. John W. Hiden, 1981.
Eberhard Jäckel , Hitler's World View: A Blueprint for Power, trans. Herbert Arnold, 1981.
Ian Kershaw , The “Hitler Myth”: Image and Reality in the Third Reich, 1987.
Ian Kershaw , Hitler: 1889–1936: Hubris, 1999.
"Hitler, Adolf." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 11, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hitler-adolf
"Hitler, Adolf." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved October 11, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hitler-adolf
"Hitler, Adolf." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 11, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hitler-adolf
"Hitler, Adolf." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved October 11, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hitler-adolf