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
Browning, Christopher R. 2004. The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939–March 1942. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Flood, Charles Bracelen. 1989. Hitler, the Path to Power. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Hilter, Adolf. 1927. Mein Kampf. München: Zentralverlag der NSDAP.
Kershaw, Ian. 2000. Hitler. New York: W.W. Norton.
Payne, Robert. 1973. The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler. New York: Praeger.
Rosenbaum, Ron. 1998. Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil. New York: Random House.
Snyder, Louis L. 1961. Hitler and Nazism. New York: Bantam Books.
Toland, John. 1976. Adolf Hitler. Garden City, NY: Doubleday Press.
Tracey A. Pepper
Born April 20, 1889
Died April 30, 1945
Dictator of Nazi Germany from 1934 to 1945
Adolf Hitler was the dictator or absolute ruler of Germany from 1934 to 1945 and leader of the National Socialist German Workers' Party, known as the Nazi Party. He took advantage of Germany's economic hardships and the bitterness of its citizens after World War I to attract followers, eventually taking complete control of the country. Hitler had a deep hatred of Jews and he used the idea of "racial purity" to justify harsh measures—and eventually mass murder—against them as well as other groups he called "enemies of the state." Hitler's skills as a persuasive speaker and his willingness to use violence to get what he wanted led to a twelve-year reign and sparked a war that led to the deaths of some fifty million people.
Dreams of becoming an artist
Born in Braunau, a small Austrian town close to the German border, Hitler was the son of Alois Hitler, a customs inspector. His mother, Klara, was her husband's second cousin and much younger than he; she had served as his maid before marrying him. Hitler's father was a harsh, demanding man disliked by his son, but Klara was a doting mother whom Hitler adored. He and his sister Paula were the only two of Klara's six children to survive infancy, and they were raised with two stepbrothers from their father's earlier marriage.
In 1899 the Hitler family moved to a small village near the town of Linz. As a child, Hitler did well in school and enjoyed art, poetry, and music. When he became a teenager, he expressed a wish to become an artist but his father did not approve of the idea. Hitler began to rebel against his father and teachers, and he worked hard only on subjects he liked.
In 1903, when Hitler was fourteen, his father died. Hitler convinced his mother to let him quit school, and he spent the next three years wandering through the streets of Linz, visiting the library, opera, and theater. He developed a special passion for the music of German composer Richard Wagner, whose operas were full of gods and goddesses from old German legends.
An aimless life in Vienna
When he was eighteen, Hitler traveled to Vienna, Austria. After taking the entrance exam for the Academy of Fine Arts, he was shocked and disappointed when the drawings he had submitted were not considered good enough to gain him admittance. The school's director suggested that Hitler apply instead to the School of Architecture, but since this meant that he would first have to finish his high school studies, he refused.
Hitler's mother died in 1907, which was a heartbreaking loss for him. He applied to the academy again in 1908 but was rejected. For the next five years, Hitler lived the life of a drifter in Vienna, making money here and there by painting portraits, postcard scenes, and store posters.
Learning to hate
During this period, Austria (which then included Hungary) was a socialist society (one in which the government controls the production and distribution of goods and cooperation, rather than competition, is stressed) struggling with the problems of modernization and rapid industrialization. Many people were out of work, which caused conflicts between the country's different ethnic groups (including Germans, eastern Europeans, Slavs, Italians, and others) as they competed for jobs.
It was in this climate that Hitler's anti-Semitism (opposition to Jews) began to grow, as he blamed the Jews for his own lack of success. He paid attention to how public events were handled and learned about the use of propaganda (material such as pamphlets and speeches designed to persuade people to adopt a certain view) and, as he later wrote in his autobiography, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), of the use of "physical terror" to control large numbers of people.
A German soldier in World War I
By the start of World War I in 1914, Hitler had moved to Munich, Germany. World War I was a world-wide conflict that involved twenty-eight countries fighting against Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria. Hitler did not wish to serve in the Austrian army and instead volunteered for the German army. Accepted into the 16th Bavarian Reserve, Hitler left for France in October 1914. He spent the next four years—which he was to call the "greatest and most unforgettable" of his life—near the front lines as a message runner. He was a good soldier who enjoyed the orderliness and excitement of army life. Wounded twice, he was awarded the Iron Cross medal.
In Mein Kampf (My Struggle), Hitler wrote about a World War I experience that changed the course of his life. When he was temporarily blinded by poison gas (a common weapon at that time), Hitler had what he called a vision. He saw himself as an Aryan (white) hero like those in Wagner's works, called upon by the gods to lead his country into a glorious "1000-Year Reich" (reich means empire).
World War I ended in 1918 with Germany's surrender, and the country was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles, which severely limited its power and forced it to pay other countries for damages from the war. Like many Germans, Hitler was very bitter about the outcome of the war, and he was convinced that Germany had been defeated because of socialists, liberals, and Jews.
The German Workers' Party
While still in the army, Hitler was chosen in 1919 to become a special agent. His main task was to speak to German troops about loyalty. He also took this opportunity to discourage liberal attitudes that were gaining some popularity at the time. He was very good at this job; in particular, he had an obvious skill for public speaking. But in 1920, Hitler retired from the army to devote all his energies to the German Workers' Party, a tiny group based on opposition to Jews and Communists (communism is a political system that involves group, instead of individual, ownership of property).
Hitler began to recruit new members to the party, which was soon renamed the National Socialist German Workers' Party, or Nazi Party for short. The Nazis' main position was that Jews should lose all civil rights and be banished from the country. Hitler did so much to build the party that he was able to take over its leadership by threatening to leave. The members agreed to put him in charge, and he soon demanded that they refer to him as "mein führer" (my leader).
The Munich Beer Hall "Putsch"
In November 1923 Hitler led a group of Nazi soldiers called "storm troopers" into a Munich beer hall where high-level government officials were meeting and staged a "putsch" (an attempt to seize power). Hitler and his followers planned to take over the German government and start a new Germany based on Nazi principles, but they were defeated. Brought to trial, Hitler used the occasion to publicize his views. He said that his accusers were the traitors, stating, "I feel myself the best of Germans, who wanted the best for the German people."
Sentenced to five years in jail, Hitler's fame and popularity actually increased during his imprisonment, which only lasted nine months due to a special amnesty (granting of freedom) for political prisoners. In his cell at the Landsberg prison (where prisoners were allowed to drink beer and wine and have visitors whenever they wanted), Hitler began working on Mein Kampf. Assisted by his devoted follower Rudolf Hess (1894-1987), he explained his theory of racial superiority, claiming that Aryans were "creators of culture" and the "Master Race," while others—especially Jews, the "alien race"—were "destroyers of culture" and should be eliminated. This book was to become the most important document of Nazism.
Rebuilding the Nazi Party
When he was released from prison in 1925, Hitler began rebuilding the Nazi Party. His success was partly due to the desperation of the German people, who were suffering from the devastating effects of a worldwide economic depression, including unemployment and inflation, and partly to Hitler's own talents. He spoke to Germany's frustrations and fears, and encouraged citizens to blame Jews for the poor condition of their country. His very effective speaking style, which could become almost hypnotic, produced strong emotion in his listeners. At the same time, he used his disciplined but brutal storm troopers both to maintain order at Nazi rallies and to terrorize his opponents.
The failure of the Munich Beer Hall Putsch had convinced Hitler that he must use legal means to achieve his goals, which meant election to public office. In the 1928 elections, the Nazi Party won 2 percent of the votes, but by 1930 they had earned 18.3 percent. Surrounded by such supporters as Hess, Hermann Göring (1893-1946; see entry), Joseph Goebbels, and Heinrich Himmler (see sidebars on pages 104 and 86), Hitler attracted more followers and the party's popularity increased.
Chancellor of Germany
In the 1932 election, Hitler ran against German president Paul von Hindenberg. He won 37 percent of the votes and lost, but the Nazi Party now formed the largest political group in the Reichstag (the parliament, Germany's legislative body). Meanwhile, the population was increasingly angry and it seemed that violence would soon erupt. To prevent this from happening, Hindenberg made Hitler chancellor (the person who runs the day-to-day business of government) of Germany. Government leaders who disagreed with the Nazis' violent tactics thought they would still be able to control the Nazis, but they were wrong.
The Nazi Party continued building public support through propaganda and violence. In February 1933 a fire destroyed part of the Reichstag building, and Hitler used this event as an excuse to begin a series of terrorist acts against politicians he considered his enemies. Although there was never any proof as to who started the fire, Hitler told the people that the fire was part of a Communist plan to start a revolution in Germany. The next day Hitler issued an emergency decree, approved by the nervous Reichstag and Hindenburg, that gave him special powers, supposedly to protect the nation against possible Communist acts of violence. The decree gave the government the power to ignore almost all German citizens' rights as granted by their constitution. This was the beginning of the "Third Reich," the name by which Hitler's regime and this period in Germany history became known.
The Nazis in control of Germany
The Nazis began by eliminating civil rights and the legal system and giving the state police force, the Gestapo, the right to arrest and imprison anyone for any reason. Laws no longer protected citizens, and soon the Gestapo arrested all the members of the Reichstag. In fact, the Nazis were the only legal political party, and many of Hitler's opponents—including some from within his own party that he considered threatening—were assassinated.
At the same time, the Nazis enacted a series of harsh measures against the Jewish population in Germany. Starting around 1933 they were not allowed to hold public jobs and their businesses were boycotted. Propaganda was used to stir up hatred against the Jews, and they were made to wear yellow Stars of David (a symbol of the Jewish religion) on their clothing to identify them and meant to humiliate them. They were prevented from using many public facilities, and forced to attend only all-Jewish schools.
The rest of the world looked on with disapproval as Hitler reshaped Germany. Then he angered the international community by pulling Germany out of the League of Nations (an organization that promoted cooperation between countries, and the forerunner of the United Nations). He built up the German army, navy, and air force, which was in direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler also eliminated from the armed forces any officers who did not cooperate with the Nazis, and he started Hitler Youth movements to train young people to become Nazi soldiers. He also introduced a draft (requiring able young men to serve in the armed forces).
At the peak of popularity
When Hindenberg died in August 1934, Hitler became head of state, and he also made himself commander of all military forces. He was now in complete control of Germany, and he demanded that all of its citizens refer to him as "Führer." He made many appearances before huge crowds in large halls, using military music, elaborate ceremonies, and dramatic speeches to demonstrate the glory of Germany and of his own leadership.
A popular vote showed that 90 percent of the population agreed with Hitler's policies, due in part to the fact that under his reign unemployment had almost ceased and the national income had doubled. But Hitler's popularity was also enforced by the Gestapo—along with Hitler's private bodyguard unit, the "blackshirts" or SS—who were free to torture or kill anyone who didn't agree with the Nazis. Most of the people who openly disagreed with Hitler's policies were either dead or in prison camps.
Germany invades nearby countries
By the end of the 1930s, Hitler was ready to expand Germany's empire by taking over nearby countries. He began by conquering Austria and some German-speaking sections of Czechoslovakia. Anxious to avoid war with Germany, the region's other powerful countries, Great Britain and France, agreed to these actions, providing that Hitler did not take over any more territory in Europe. Hitler soon broke this agreement and took over the rest of Czechoslovakia. In less than a year, he had added ten million people to the population of Germany, as the citizens of the countries he invaded became German citizens.
In 1939, Hitler signed a "Pact of Steel" with Italy's dictator, Benito Mussolini (1883-1945; see entry), and the two countries became known as the Axis nations; Japan joined the Axis in 1940. Finally, Great Britain and France decided that if Hitler carried out his threatened invasion of Poland, they would go to war with Germany. On September 3, 1939, the German military attacked Poland, and Britain and France soon declared war.
Hitler's "Final Solution"
Meanwhile, Hitler had been acting on his "racial purity" policies against Jews. Many had already left Germany, but there were still about 500,000 Jews remaining in the country in addition to those who lived in the areas Germany had conquered. Hitler began sending Jews—along with other people he deemed undesirable, such as Catholics, Roma (commonly known as Gypsies), homosexuals, and political opponents—to labor or concentration camps in Poland.
In 1941 Hitler ordered the "Final Solution" to what he and his followers called the "Jewish problem": the mass killing of European Jews. In the camps, prisoners were often separated from their families, forced to work for no wages, given little food, and in many other ways treated cruelly. Eventually, most would be killed in gas chambers (sealed rooms into which lethal gas was piped) and their bodies cremated. This horrible event in history is now called the Holocaust. Before World War II was over, an estimated six million Jews and about one million others had been murdered by the Nazis.
The war goes downhill
The first few years of the war went well for Germany. They quickly conquered Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg, and finally France, and they terrorized Great Britain with bombing raids. The bombing of Berlin by the British air force was a slight setback (Hitler had vowed no bombs would fall in his country), but Germany went on to invade Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania.
But Hitler made a fatal mistake. In 1939 he had signed an agreement with Joseph Stalin (1879-1953; see entry), the leader of the Soviet Union; the agreement stated that the two countries would not invade each other. In June 1940, Hitler broke the agreement by attacking the Soviet Union. At first Hitler's army moved quickly, making its way east toward the Soviet capital of Moscow. But Hitler had underestimated the strength of this new enemy, which fought back valiantly over two bitterly cold winters. German troops were not prepared for the harsh weather, and they were not able to progress according to plan.
The Soviets kept the Germans from taking Moscow, then retook the city of Stalingrad. With the Soviet victory at Kursk in mid-1943, the Germans were forced to retreat.
The entry of the United States into the war in December 1941 also greatly decreased the chances of a German victory, as did the defeat of General Erwin Rommel's (1891-1944; see entry) seemingly unbeatable troops in North Africa. The Americans provided the additional men and supplies the Allied forces needed to finally start pushing the German army back into Germany.
Trapped in the bunker
After the successful Allied landing on the beaches of Normandy in northern France (known as D-Day) in June 1944 it became clear that the German war effort was doomed, but Hitler refused to admit it. Although many of his opponents had made attempts over the years to assassinate him, one attempt almost succeeded. In the summer of 1944, some military officers tried to bomb a meeting at which Hitler and other leaders were present. The plot failed, and Hitler ordered about 5,000 people he suspected of being involved in the plot to be killed. Hitler claimed that the failure of the attempt was just "more proof that fate has selected me for my mission."
In January 1945, as the Allies pressed toward Germany, Hitler was forced to move into an underground bunker or shelter beneath his Berlin headquarters. By now his physical and mental health had declined sharply: he walked with a stoop, often spoke irrationally, and was suspicious of everyone. For Germany's defeat Hitler blamed not himself but the military leaders and the German people themselves, claiming that they were all too weak to realize Germany's great destiny. He now ordered a "scorched earth" policy, which meant that German land and property was to be destroyed to keep it out of Allied hands.
About fifteen years earlier, Hitler had met a teenage shop clerk named Eva Braun. She became his mistress and in 1936, she had moved into his Bavarian villa, Berchtesgaden. Now Eva joined Hitler in the bunker, and on April 29, 1945, they were married. Hitler was urged to flee the bunker, but he refused, and he began preparing for his own death. He wrote a will in which he restated his hatred for the Jews, calling on Germany's future leaders to continue their "merciless opposition" to the Jewish people.
The next day, as the Soviet Union bombed the area above the bunker, Hitler shot his beloved German shepherd, Blondi, then put the gun to his own head. Eva also committed suicide by taking poison. The two bodies were burned in the garden above, even as shells were exploding around them.
Some people refused to believe the news of Hitler's death. For years, rumors persisted that he was still alive and in hiding. In 1972, a dental forensic expert (a person who examines teeth and dental records for evidence to be used for legal purposes) compared pictures of the dentures taken from a body found near Hitler's bunker with X-ray head plates of Hitler that were taken in 1943. The two were a perfect match. The dental expert told the Sixth International Meeting of Forensic Sciences that this was conclusive proof that Hitler had died in Germany as reported.
With Hitler's death Nazism was finished, for, according to Hitler biographer John Toland, "without its true leader, it burst like a bubble." Germany surrendered to the Allies on May 7, 1945.
Where to Learn More
Fuchs, Thomas. The Hitler Fact Book. Los Angeles: Fountain Books, 1990.
Harris, Nathaniel. Hitler. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd., 1989.
Marrin, Albert. Hitler. New York: Viking Kestrel, 1987.
Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. New York: Macmillan, 1970.
Toland, John. Adolf Hitler. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976.
Wepman, Dennis. Adolf Hitler. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985.
Adolf Hitler created a political party based on racial hatred and violence, and waged an unsuccessful war against the Allied nations.
"The Father of Lies": Joseph Goebbels
Adolf Hitler built his power partly through the use of propaganda, official government communications to the public that are designed to influence public opinion. Nazi propaganda made the Jews appear as subhuman creatures who had caused all of Germany's problems, and it portrayed Hitler himself as Germany's savior. Hitler chose as his master of propaganda a well-educated man who was a devoted follower of Hitler. Joseph Goebbels had a Ph.D. in literature and was a published novelist, but he used his talents in the service of hatred and violence.
When Germany entered World War I in 1914, Goebbels volunteered to serve in the army but was rejected because of his limp and his small size (for all of his adult life, he was only five feet tall and weighed less than one hundred pounds). In 1917, Goebbels entered the University of Bonn to study literature. His studies were interrupted when he was called by the military—now in desperate need of men—to perform an office job.
After the war, Goebbels returned college, and earned his Ph.D. in 1922. In 1924, he became an editor of political journals, and the next year he joined the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazi for short), which was led by Hitler. Goebbels became a great admirer of Hitler, who put him in charge of one of the party's chapters.
By 1928, Goebbels had become one of twelve Nazi deputies, and Hitler made him head of party propaganda and public information in 1930. During the elections between 1930 and 1933, when the Nazis were gaining ground and winning more and more seats in the national legislature, Goebbels managed the party's campaigns. When Hitler became the dictator of Germany in 1933, Goebbels was made reichminister of propaganda. In this position he took control of the media so that it could only publish information approved by the Nazis. He arranged for the burning of books disliked by the Nazis, and made sure that all artistic and cultural expressions conformed to the Nazi viewpoint.
Perhaps most important, Goebbels worked to create in the public mind an image of Hitler as a superior human being who never made mistakes and who lived simply, denying himself luxuries.
Although he had not been raised to hate Jews, Goebbels became an anti-Semite (anti-Jewish) during the 1920s, when Germany was suffering great economic hardship. Like Hitler and others, Goebbels blamed the Jews for Germany's problems, and he believed that it would be necessary to exterminate the Jews completely in order to "cleanse" Germany of their presence.
Goebbels planned one of the most dramatic anti-Jewish events, which came to be known as Kristallnacht (Crystal Night, also called "the night of broken glass"). On November 9, 1938, many thousands of Jews were forced from their homes and taken to concentration camps, while their businesses, schools, and nearly 300 synagogues (Jewish places of worship) were destroyed.
Goebbels continued his crusade against the Jews in every way he could, including portraying them—in movies and propaganda—as ugly and evil. Called "the father of lies," Goebbels lied to the German people about other things as well, telling them, for instance, that the war was going well when in fact Germany was losing. After Hitler committed suicide in his underground bunker, Goebbels told his last lie, informing the public that the Führer had died while leading his troops into battle.
The day after Hitler's death, Goebbels and his wife injected their six children with lethal poison, then also killed themselves.
Excerpt from "Hitler's Order of the Day to the
German Troops on the Eastern Front"
Issued October 2, 1941 Excerpt taken from Associated Press release reprinted in the New York Times, October 10, 1941, p. 2
After Adolf Hitler was named chancellor (chief officer) of Germany in 1933, the German government stepped up efforts to expand its territory in Europe. In March 1938 the German army moved into Austria and united it with Germany. Soon, Hitler began demanding the return of land that Germany had lost after World War I (1914-18). His first target was a German-speaking section of Czechoslovakia, called the Sudetenland. Czechoslovakia didn't have a strong enough military to stand alone against Germany and prevent it from taking the territory. Czechoslovakia's allies, Britain and France, did not want to go to war over the territory, so they agreed to let Germany take over the Sudetenland. Hitler claimed that this would be his last territorial demand in Europe. In reality, he already had plans for conquering all of Europe.
By March 1939 Hitler's army had taken over all of Czechoslovakia. Soon after, Hitler made demands on Poland, specifically the port city of Danzig. Before World War I, Danzig was a German city. After World War I it became a "free city," which meant it didn't belong to Germany or to Poland, even though it now fell within Poland's borders. Poland had a right to use the port for its exports and imports. But the people of the city were almost all German. Hitler wanted Danzig returned to Germany and he also wanted to build a road through Polish territory that would connect Danzig and Germany. European leaders were no longer willing to give in to Hitler's demands. Poland refused to give up its right to use Danzig and England and France swore to defend Poland if Germany attacked it.
In August 1939 Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, an agreement that the two countries would not fight each other. On September 1, 1939, only a week after the pact went into effect, Hitler launched a German attack on Poland. (Under the terms of the nonaggression pact, the Soviet Union would not interfere with Germany's actions in Poland.) Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. It was too late to save Poland—by September 24 Germany had conquered it. The stunning victory was called blitzkrieg (pronounced "BLITS-kreeg," meaning "lightning war" in German).
By mid-1941 Germany controlled virtually all of Europe west of the Soviet Union. In May and June it had conquered Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. Germany's quest for territory seemed unquenchable. Tensions were mounting between Hitler and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The führer (pronounced "FYOOR-uhr"; German term for "leader," the title Hitler gave himself) was infuriated by Stalin's moves to expand Soviet territory farther into central Europe. On June 22, 1941, more than three million German troops invaded the Soviet Union, thus launching the famous assault that Hitler named Operation Barbarossa. In a July 3 radio address Stalin warned his nation of the seriousness of Germany's aggressions. "A grave danger hangs over our country," he stated. "The enemy must be crushed. We must win." Italy sided with Germany, declaring war on the Soviet Union and setting the stage for a long conflict with the Soviets, the British, and the Americans.
Things to remember while reading the excerpt from Hitler's Order of the Day:
- In his July 3, 1941, radio broadcast Stalin predicted: "Our war for the freedom of our country will merge with the struggle of the peoples of Europe and America … It will be a united front of peoples standing for freedom and against enslavement and threats of enslavement by Hitler's … armies."
- On July 12, 1941, the British and Soviet governments signed an agreement pledging mutual assistance in the war against Germany.
- Hitler's order to the German troops on the eastern front was issued on October 2, 1941, about three and a half months after Germany invaded the Soviet Union. At this time, Hitler felt confident that Germany had won the war against the Soviet Union.
- Notice how Hitler plays upon his soldiers' deepest emotions and rawest instincts—instincts of loyalty, courage, and survival—by telling them that Stalin had long planned a devastating invasion of Germany. He also calls on a higher power—God—to lead the German forces to victory in their war against the Soviet "beasts."
Hitler's Order of the Day to the German Troops on the Eastern Front
Issued October 2, 1941.
Filled with the greatest concern for the existence and future of our people, I decided on June 22 to appeal to you to anticipate in thenick of time threatening aggression by one opponent [the Soviet Union].
It was the intention of theKremlin powers—as we know today— to destroy not only Germany but all Europe.…
God's mercy on our people and the entire European world if thisbarbaric enemy had been able to move his tens of thousands of tanks before we moved ours!
All Europe would have been lost, for this enemy does not consist of soldiers, but a majority of beasts.…
Soldiers, when I called on you on June 22 to ward off the terrible dangermenacing our homeland you faced the biggest military power of all times.…
Within a few weeks his three most important industrial regions will be completely in our hands. Your names, soldiers of the German armed forces, and the names of our braveallies, the names of your divisions andregiments and your tank forces and air squadrons, will be associated for all time with the most tremendous victories in history.
You have taken more than 2,400,000 prisoners, destroyed or captured more than 17,500 tanks and more than 21,600 pieces ofartillery . Fourteen thousand two hundred planes were brought down or destroyed on the ground.
The worldhitherto never has experienced similar events… Since June 22 the strongest fortifications have been penetrated, tremendous streams have been crossed, innumerable localities have been stormed andfortresses andcasemate systems have been crushed or smoked out.
From far in the north, where our superbly brave Finnish allies gave evidence of their courage a second time, down to Crimea you stand today together with Slovak, Hungarian, Italian and Rumanian divisions roughly1,000 kilometers deep in the enemy's country.
Spanish, Croat and Belgian units now join you and others will fol low. This fight—perhaps for the first time—is recognized by all Euro pean nations as a common action to safeguard the future of this mostcultural continent.…
This outstanding achievement of one struggle was obtained with sacrifices that, however painful in individual cases, in the total amount to not yet five percent of those ofthe World War …
During these three and a half months, my soldiers, the precondition, at least, has been created for a last mighty blow that shall crush this opponent before Winter sets in.
All preparations … have been made… We can now strike a deadly blow.
Today begins the last greatdecisive battle of this year. It will hit this enemy destructively and with it theinstigator of the entire war, England herself. For if we crush this opponent, we also remove the last English ally on the [European] Continent.
Thus we will free the GermanReich and entire Europe from a menace greater than any since the time of theHuns and later of theMongol tribes.
The German people, therefore, will be with you more than ever before during the fewensuing weeks. What you and allied soldiers have achieved already merits our deepest thanks.
With bated breath, the blessing of the entire German home-land accompanies you during the hard days ahead. With the Lord'said you not only will bring victory but also the most essential condition for peace.
The Fuehrer's Headquarters: Oct. 2, 1941.
Adolf Hitler Fueher and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
What happened next…
Even though German forces captured the Soviet city of Kiev in September of 1941, their December advance on Moscow failed. Stalin used the unbearably cold Russian winters to his advantage, launching his counterattack just as temperatures plunged to a bitter-40°F. The Germans retreated, but the conflict was far from over. Fierce fighting in the cities of Leningrad and Stalingrad broke out in 1942. Food was scarce. Once-thriving towns were reduced to rubble. Thousands of Soviet citizens died of starvation; others fell into the hands of the Nazis and became prisoners of war. By December, however, Soviet forces surrounded the German troops occupying Stalin-grad, isolating them in the heart of the city. The German campaign in the Soviet Union ended on January 31, 1943, with the surrender of German forces. The Soviets' triumphant defense of Stalingrad was a staggering blow to Hitler and his supposedly unbeatable army.
In December 1941, the United States officially joined the war after Japanese forces attacked an American Naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The United States declared war on Japan, and then Japan's allies, Germany and Italy, declared war on the United States. Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States established a unified strategy for defeating Germany. Almost immediately the United States and Britain launched an offensive against the Germans in North Africa. Britain and the United States also planned to launch an assault in western Europe (the western front) as soon as possible, while the Soviets kept fighting in the east (the eastern front). By forcing Hitler to fight on many fronts, the Allies hoped that the German army would be spread too thin and could be more easily defeated. The plan was to advance from the east, west, and south and squeeze the Germans between the Allied armies advancing from three directions.
Did you know…
- As a young man Hitler spent a few years in Vienna making money by painting portraits, postcard scenes, and store posters.
- While serving in the German army in World War I Hitler suffered a poison gas attack, during which he claimed to have a vision of himself as an Aryan (white) hero called upon by the gods to lead his country in a glorious 1000-year reich (reich means empire).
- In 1944, some high-ranking officers in the German military tried, unsuccessfully, to assassinate Hitler. Hitler responded to the attack by having approximately five thousand people he suspected of being involved in the plot killed.
- Hitler spent his last days in an underground bunker in Berlin. As the Russian army was overtaking Berlin, the final blow in Germany's defeat, Hitler was in a state of extreme nervous exhaustion. It is reported that he shuffled around the bunker, stooped over, with trembling limbs, talking incoherently, and planning new war strategies for divisions of the German army that had long been defeated.
For More Information
Fuchs, Thomas. The Hitler Fact Book. Los Angeles: Fountain Books, 1990.
Marrin, Albert. Hitler. New York: Viking Kestrel, 1987.
Skipper, G. C. The Battle of Stalingrad. Chicago: Children's Press, 1981.
Stein, R. Conrad. Invasion of Russia. Chicago: Children's Press, 1985.
Stein, R. Conrad. Siege of Leningrad. Chicago: Children's Press, 1983.
Warth, Robert D. Joseph Stalin. New York: Twayne, 1969.
Whitelaw, Nancy. Josef Stalin: From Peasant to Premier. New York: Macmillan, 1992.
Stalin. HBO, 1992.
Allen, Peter. The Origins of World War II. New York: Bookwright Press,1992.
Hills, Ken. Wars That Changed the World: World War II. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1988.
Leckie, Robert. The Story of World War II. New York: Random House, 1964.
Hoobler, Dorothy, and Thomas Hoobler. World Leaders Past and Present: Joseph Stalin. New York: Chelsea House, 1985.
New York Times, May 7, 1941, p. 1; June 23, 1941, p. 1; July 3, 1941, p. 1;August 14, 1941, p. 1; October 4, 1941; October 10, 1941, p. 2.
Ross, Stewart. World Leaders. New York: Thomson Learning, 1993.
Austrian-born German leader Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) rose from obscurity to become one of the most threatening figures in world history. Disinterested in the technical training courses his father had forced him to take, he left school at the age of sixteen and eventually ended up in Austria. Although Hitler fancied himself a budding young artist, he was denied admission to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. While living in poverty in Vienna, the frustrated artist began lecturing to crowds on the virtues of German nationalism and anti-Semitism (the hatred of Jews).
Hitler fought in the German army during the First World War. In 1920 he joined the German Workers' Party, which would soon become the National Socialist German Workers' Party, called Nazis. Hitler became very powerful in the party. In the midst of the political and economic chaos that enveloped Germany after the war, he played on the emotions of the German people and portrayed himself as their sole savior. Hitler focused all of his attention on politics, establishing a strong foundation for the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany.
The self-proclaimed führer (pronounced "FYOOR-uhr"; German term for "leader") envisioned a world ruled by a a pure, white German race. To achieve his goal of racial dominance, he ordered the murder of six million Jews, as well as all political opponents and other so-called enemies of the state. These hideous mass murders—most of them carried out in the gas chambers of concentration camps— are now collectively referred to as the Holocaust.
Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939 ignited World War II. Germany continued to fight under the führer's leadership until the spring of 1945. Rather than surrender and face judgment, he reportedly committed suicide in his underground bunker (a fortified chamber) in Berlin on April 30, 1945.
Soviet political leader Joseph Stalin (1879-1953) was born December 21, 1879, in Gori, Georgia, a southwest Asian territory that was then part of the Russian empire. He survived a difficult childhood— including an infection with smallpox, a life-threatening virus, and cruel beatings by his father—to become absolute ruler of the Soviet Union.
An enthusiastic student of Georgian history, Stalin displayed a revolutionary spirit early. His philosophies clashed with those of the theological seminary (a training ground for future priests) he attended in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi (pronounced "tuh-bih-LEE-see") in the mid-1890s.
Stalin joined a Marxist political group in 1898. (Marxism is a political philosophy professed by nineteenth-century German philosopher Karl Marx, who believed that a revolution by the working class would lead to the formation of a classless society.) Stalin was eventually expelled from the seminary and then pursued a path of political rebellion against Russia's czarist (pronounced "ZARR-ist") system of government. (At the time, a single ruler called a czar exercised unlimited power over the Russian people. Stalin's hometown, Georgia, had been independent before being taken over by czarist Russia.)
By the turn of the century Stalin had joined Russia's Social Democratic Party (the political party opposed to the czar). When a militant, or more extreme, wing of the party developed, Stalin became an active member. Members of this more aggressive, radical wing were known as the Bolsheviks. They led the Russian Revolution of 1917, which resulted in the overthrow of the czar and the formation of the communist Soviet Union. (Communism is a system of government in which the state controls almost all the means of production and the distribution of goods. Communism clashes with the American ideal of capitalism, which is based on private ownership and a free market system.)
Following the death of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, Stalin eliminated all of his political opponents and managed to establish himself as the premier (chief official; first in rank) of the Soviet Union. He held this position until his own death in 1953.
Stalin's brand of Marxism was particularly harsh, leaving no room for economic freedom or for political dissent (disagreement; opposition). He transformed the Soviet Union's economy by implementing a program of rapid industrialization and collectivizing agriculture (outlawing private ownership of farms and making them communal or state-controlled). As restrictions on freedom were tightened, feelings of discontent and conflict spread among the Soviet people. Resistors (those who opposed Stalin's ideas and policies) were shot or imprisoned in labor camps.
When World War II broke out in Europe in 1939, Stalin aligned himself with German leader Adolf Hitler, hoping to gain more European territory for the Soviet Union. In time, however, Hitler came to view Stalin as an obstacle to the German goal of world dominance. The German leader ordered an invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941. After many long and bloody battles, Soviet forces finally defeated the Germans in 1943 in the Battle of Stalingrad (1942-1943).
In the years following World War II, Stalin's efforts to expand Sovietinfluence throughout Eastern Europe weakened his relationship with England and the United States. The Soviet Union's apparent quest for European—even world—domination led to intense anti-Soviet and anticommunist sentiment in the United States from the 1950s through the 1980s, a time known as the Cold War.
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). □
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.
[APRIL 20, 1889–APRIL 30, 1945]
German Führer, 1934 to 1945
Adolf Hitler's very first political document foreshadowed the Nazis' massive, ghastly genocide. In a letter dated September 16, 1919, the thirty-year-old lance corporal, then serving outside Munich in a political unit of the recently defeated German army, answered an inquiry about the Jews in postwar Germany by cautioning that they belonged to a deadly race scattered worldwide; national defensive measures against them, though needful and urgent, would be mere palliatives pending their "total removal." Five years later, in his self-mythicizing Mein Kampf, Hitler claimed that he came to his deadly anti-Semitism through observation and reflection while a day laborer in prewar Vienna. However, just as no day labor has ever been documented for the street artist in Vienna, no credible evidence of anti-Semitism is on record for Hitler before the German military defeat of 1918.
Outwardly seen, nothing in Hitler's distinctive early circumstances or upbringing predisposed him to mass-murder Jews. His father, Alois, was born to an unwed housemaid in Graz and, according to rumor, her Jewish employer; reportedly a skeptical Hitler attempted to disprove the rumor in 1930, but the effort backfired. In any case, his genocidal goal was set earlier. Alois grew up on a farm, and then made a career in the Austrian customs service, where he was reputedly bossy but liberal-minded. At age forty-seven, twice widowed with two young children in his charge, Alois married his twenty-five-year-old resident housekeeper and already pregnant mistress, Klara. She promptly bore him three children, all of whom perished in a diphtheria epidemic. Next came Adolf on April 20, 1889, and, after a five-year hiatus, a boy who died of the measles, then a girl who outlived Adolf. During the interlude following her tragic triple loss, Klara fretfully overmothered Adolf, leaving him affectively bound to her for life with a sense of special election and protection. Alois died in 1903, having retired to Linz. There, Adolf started school at the top of his class and gradually slid to the bottom, finishing late with a certificate that left him few career prospects. After two years at home idling, he went to Vienna in late September 1907 hoping to train at the painting school of the Academy of Fine Arts. He flunked the entrance examination upon arrival, but was settling in anyway; however, his mother's suddenly worsening breast cancer brought him back to Linz.
Hitler's intense involvement the rest of that year with his mother's suffering and death at the hands of her kindly but inept Jewish doctor, Eduard Bloch, was the point of departure for his later genocidal animus against the stereotype he called "the Jew." Her cancer having metastasized to the lungs since, or even before, a mastectomy the previous January, Bloch duly pronounced it incurable. But Hitler persuaded Bloch that, if the patient was dying otherwise, a desperate remedy might as well be tried. Bloch obligingly packed iodoform onto her surgical wound almost daily for six-and-a-half weeks—a toxic, even lethal, regimen. She succumbed on December 21 after a prolonged agony. Just after her funeral, on Christmas Eve, Bloch collected the large balance due on his bill. Consciously Hitler felt only warm gratitude toward the hapless, compassionate doctor. However, all his later genocidal raging turned on three main themes, all dated 1907: the Jewish parasite (or cancer), the Jewish poison, and the Jewish profiteer.
Hitler's deadly hate for "the Jew," his take-off on Bloch, remained latent during his prewar years as a modest, self-taught view-painter in Vienna and later Munich, then his four years as a runner in a Bavarian regiment on the Western Front. He enjoyed good relations with Jewish comrades-in-arms including his last regimental adjutant, obtained for him an Iron Cross First Class in August 1918. His drastic turnabout dates from his gas poisoning near Wervicq in Flanders early on October 15, 1918. His eyes blindingly inflamed, Hitler suffered a nervous breakdown marked by depressive memories of his mother's death. Unlike several buddies gassed with him and treated topically close by the battlefield, Hitler was sent across Germany to Pomerania for psychiatric care. There Professor Edmund Forster, himself recently discharged from four years' service in Flanders, diagnosed Hitler's blindness as hysterical despite the regimental report that specified gas poisoning, perhaps because after some healing he relapsed into blindness at the news of the armistice on November 11. Through hypnosis, Forster called on Hitler to regain his eyesight by force of will because Germany needed him to triumph over her own disablement. He experienced Forster's therapy as a call from on high to save his mortally ailing Motherland. Within a year this summons took him into politics with the express aim of undoing Germany's defeat by removing the Jew from Germany and the world.
Hitler began by stressing the removal of Jews from Germany. Having infiltrated the small German Workers Party (soon to be renamed National Socialist German Workers Party) in September 1919 as an army spy, he fast became its star speaker, then its leader; spewing infectious rage in trenchant slogans and throaty accents, he blamed the parasitic, poisonous, profiteering Jew for Germany's defeat. Removing the Jew would reverse defeat—such was his key precept. Because the defeat had come from the west while German armies were triumphing in the east, this precept already hinted at a renewed eastward push. Hitler began calling outright for eastward expansion in the spring of 1921—sparingly for starters, but when he transformed himself from a local Bavarian agitator to a would-be national leader after a year in jail for his failed Beerhall Putsch of November 1923, he scaled back his rhetoric against the Jew and instead talked up a supposed German need for more land. Hitler's new victory formula ran: Remove the divisive, destructive element from the body politic to restore its inner strength for eastward conquest. Shortly after the Nazis' electoral leap forward in September 1930 he muffled his expansionism in turn to call simply for regaining outward strength. Finally he stressed the "national community," his middle term between removing the Jew and expanding eastward, as a cover term for both. The two diluted end terms registered no less effectively with his listeners, however blurrily. Together they were the long and short of Hitlerism, its single message. That message above all else fueled Hitler's rise to total personal power over Germany by the mid-1930s, the ground rule of his regime being that his word was law.
Meanwhile, in Mein Kampf (1925–1926) and especially in an unpublished untitled book (1928), Hitler theoretically reconciled those two end terms of his politics. Whereas other peoples compete for land and ultimately for world conquest, he argued, the Jew breaks this law of nature, being stateless, parasitic, egalitarian, and unwarriorlike; accordingly, nature mandates a "land grab" and a "Jew kill" both at once. The logic of this construction on its expansionist side was for Germany to ease Jews out, preferably to rival nations, so as to gain an edge in the struggle for the global reach needed to destroy the Jews altogether. It was emphatically not for Germany to kill Jews at home straightaway and thereby invite foreign reprisals, nor to push anti-Semitism abroad for the benefit of other peoples, let alone expend German resources ridding other nations of Jews. But logic could not always contain the animus against the Jew that took Hitler into politics in the first place. Thus he often called for destroying the Jew in Germany, or even abroad, before the expansionist battle was even joined. Mostly, though, he settled for ambiguities in his rhetoric such as "removing the Jew."
During his twelve-year dictatorship Hitler's policies betrayed the same tension between his hate for the Jew and its rational control for the sake of German expansion. Control predominated for roughly the first half of his rule, from the Havaara agreement of 1933 to the mission by Reichsbank President Schacht to London in late 1938, both aimed at facilitating Jewish emigration financially. Even the Nazis' internal discriminatory measures, including the much-publicized Jewish boycott of 1933 or Nuremberg Laws of 1935, served to induce Jews to emigrate voluntarily. Most such measures originated with lower authorities, though Hitler might intervene, as he did to prevent the crass marking of Jews or Jewish shops before 1941. However, he failed to curb the Reichskristallnacht pogrom of November 9, 1938, mounted by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, which besmirched the regime even in German eyes. Thereafter, Jews were officially murdered only out of sight. At the same time, Hitler's Jewish policies took an impolitic turn overall: he stopped Schacht from sealing a deal on Jewish emigration, switched to exporting anti-Semitism rather than Jews, and on January 30, 1939, prophesied to the Reichstag "the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe" should war come. With this prophecy midway between easing Germany's Jews out and a world pogrom, hate definitively gained the ascendant.
By then it was evident that induced emigration was coming short: the Reich's Jew count was roughly cut in half by 1938, the Anschluss that March brought it back near its starting point. The absorption of the Sudeten-land that fall, then the establishment of a protectorate over Bohemia and Moravia the following March, and especially the occupation and partial annexation of western Poland beginning in September 1939, ruled out the emigration option conclusively. There are signs that Hitler considered starting mass exterminations during the Polish war—that he could hardly uphold his expansionist logic against so many helpless Jews already within his reach. But the noise and smoke of battle needed to cover mass shootings dwindled too fast. Open killings risked provoking the United States and even, as Hitler saw it, the Soviet Union, not to mention arousing the Germans themselves, whose reactions he feared even while the Holocaust was an open secret. He scrapped his doctrinaire subordination of his Jewish to his expansionist policy once and for all with the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, which enabled for mass executions of Jews in the guise of anti-partisan warfare. The exterminations were next mandated for all of German-controlled Europe and then only (reversing Hitler's original victory formula) for Germany itself.
A scholarly controversy developed in Germany in the 1970s between so-called "functionalists," who saw the Holocaust as having developed out of separate, often local, initiatives, and "intentionalists," who saw it as having been planned by Hitler from the first. The functionalist case is plausible insofar as Hitler did ordinarily allow events to take their course so long as they went his way. It remains that he aimed from his political beginnings to kill Jews even if he vacillated about which Jews to kill and when to kill them. In the end he used his war in the east as cover for his war on the Jews—his controlling political purpose. After first billing a Jew-purge in Germany as a means to German expansion, then implementing Jew-purges across Europe at the expense of German arms, he exited history in the resultant rubble and ashes, still enjoining Germans to keep the genocidal faith.
Binion, R. (1979). Hitler among the Germans, 2nd edition. New York: Elsevier North Holland.
Jäckel, E. (1981). Hitler's World View. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Jäckel, E., and A. Kuhn, eds. (1980). Hitler: Sämtliche Aufzeichnungen 1905–1924. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt.
Lewis, D. (2003). The Man Who Invented Hitler. London: Headline.
Adolf Hitler (April 20, 1889–April 30, 1945) was a founding member and leader of the National Socialist Party of Germany (NSDAP, Nazi Party) from 1922. He became chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, a post he held until taking his own life as the victorious Allied powers marched on Berlin in April 1945.
Hitler was born into lower-middle-class respectability in the small Austrian town Braunau am Inn near the border with Germany. Unsuccessful and unhappy at school, he left at the age of sixteen to pursue a career as a painter in the imperial capital but twice was rejected by the Academy of Graphic Arts in Vienna. The rejection was a serious blow to his pride, and he spent the years from 1907 to 1913 in Vienna, eking out an impoverished existence by selling his paintings and sleeping in flophouses. Life in Vienna played a crucial role in shaping Hitler's anti-Semitism, which was to become his guiding principle in NSDAP policies. Moreover, his decision to join a Bavarian infantry regiment in 1914 (he was rejected as unfit by the Austrian army) helped to cement his prejudices and his determination to right the wrongs that, he believed, had brought on Germany's World War I defeat and the Treaty of Versailles, the peace agreement signed at the palace of Versailles in June 1919. Hitler believed this treaty humiliated the German people.
Twice decorated with the Iron Cross by the German Imperial government, Hitler nonetheless failed to rise above the lowly rank of lance-corporal during the war because he was deemed to lack the right qualities to make him an effective leader. Injured in combat, he was employed by the German army to collect intelligence against extremist political groups operating in Munich. In September 1919 the work brought him into contact with the German Workers' Party, a small group consisting of no more than forty members. By July 1921 Hitler had become leader of the party, demonstrating his particular skills as an orator who was both appealing and charismatic while articulating bigoted views and woolly promises. He now exuded the self-confidence of a man who believed his destiny was to lead the German people. Hitler experienced a short period of notoriety as leader of an attempted putsch against the regional government in Bavaria and the national government in Weimar—the small town in the state of Thuringia that was home to Germany's first republican government—in November 1923, which landed him in jail for less than a year. It took the following five years for the NSDAP or Nazi Party to begin making political inroads in the Weimar Republic.
THE ROAD TO POWER
Hitler used the years from 1924 to 1928 to strengthen the party and his grip on it, while the early half-baked policies of the NSDAP developed into a cohesive ideology. The Nazi Party's first political victory came in May 1928 when the town of Coburg in Bavaria gave the NSDAP a majority in local elections. The timing of the Nazis first electoral success coincided with early signs that German economic performance was stalling: industrial output had dropped for the first time since 1924, levels of foreign investment had fallen, and the number of people employed had begun to slide downward. By the following year, Germany was in the midst of a full-blown economic crisis. Declining levels of foreign investment and rules governing monetary policy imposed on the German government and the central bank, the Reichsbank, meant that government at every level, local, regional, and national, found itself desperately short of funds to pay for even the most basic of services.
The rules governing membership in the gold standard meant that the successive German governments found it almost impossible to formulate an effective policy to combat the crisis. In order to regain the foreign investment they had lost, the Reichsbank raised interest rates, while the minority government of the "Hunger Chancellor" Heinrich Brüning, which took office in March 1930, adhered to the principles of economic orthodoxy by raising interest rates and acting to limit government spending. Germany had become very dependent on foreign investment, and Brüning believed he had to go along with what the bankers wanted—gold standard orthodoxy—if he were to regain foreign investment in Germany. However, this strategy lay in tatters in the wake of the banking crisis that gripped Germany in the summer of 1931.
Brüning's inability to offer the German electorate any real solutions to the second major economic crisis to grip the country in less than ten years reflected the widespread failure of all politicians in the center of German politics to offer either viable or appealing solutions to the economic collapse. Instead, it was the extremist political parties, the German Communist Party (KPD) and the Nazi Party, which were the political beneficiaries. The crisis provided Hitler with the opportunity to capture the support of more than one-third of the voting population. Hitler became chancellor on January 30, 1933, because of a potent combination of well-organized party activism (the NSDAP was successful in capturing the support of farmers by combining party political rallies with practical agricultural advice for example), winning slogans, and the collusion of leading political figures who, while not Nazis, supported Hitler's rise to power because they believed he would prevent Germany's slide into civil war. The Nazis also made enthusiastic use of political violence, particularly against the Communists. But the NSDAP made it clear that Jews, Poles, and other groups whom they considered socially undesirable were their enemies too. After January 1933 these groups were to become Nazism's first victims.
The first big electoral breakthrough came on September 14, 1930, when the NSDAP became the second-largest party in the German parliament, the Reichstag. By July 1932 Hitler had run Germany's aging president and war hero Paul von Hindenburg a close race in presidential elections, and Hitler's position in the Reichstag was strengthened by elections in which the NSDAP gained 37.3 percent of the vote, making it the largest party in the Reichstag. Although the Nazi vote fell by some four percent in the November elections of 1932, the machinations of power-brokers in the German state, such as former Director of the Reichsbank Hjalmar Schacht and ex-Chancellor Franz von Papen, ensured that the chancellorship was delivered into Nazi hands. Although at first in a cabinet dominated by conservatives, by March 1933 the Nazis had succeeded in suspending civil rights in Germany, arrested their leading left-wing opponents, and with the passage of the Enabling Act on March 23, 1933, secured comprehensive law-making powers and unprecedented control of German society.
THE NAZI RECOVERY
Part of the Nazis' electoral appeal lay in their bold prescriptions for economic recovery. They promised to reorganize the economy to serve the interests of the nation and not the greedy demands of foreign bankers; they proposed new schemes to generate employment and to value the "ordinary German." But they skillfully avoided any talk of redistributing wealth, so as not to put off middle-class supporters, including big business groups. The Nazis intended to exploit capitalism, not destroy it.
The measures put in place to quell the German banking crisis of 1931 provided the foundation for Nazi economics. In September 1934, Schacht, now restored as director of the Reichsbank, issued the "New Plan," which turned the 1931 exchange controls into a complex system of monetary and trade restrictions. All imports had to be authorized by the German government, and German capital could not be moved abroad freely. (Of course, this action had implications for Jews and other groups who were trying to escape the country.) Germany became increasingly detached from the international economy, signing only bilateral trading agreements with countries that either sold essential commodities or whose governments were central to German diplomatic ambitions.
Under the Nazis, state policy came to control prices, wages, private investment banks, and all other aspects of investment. Despite all the hype, however, not all Nazi public works schemes were as effective as they claimed to be in soaking up unemployment or generating recovery more broadly. The most effective schemes centered on public building and construction programs that involved renovating houses and building new roads. From 1935, the state's management of the domestic economy took a sinister turn as public investment in rearmament replaced civilian job creation as the basis for continued economic expansion—a move cemented by the introduction of the Four-Year Plan under the control of Nazi Minister and Chief Commander of the Luftwaffe (airforce) Hermann Göring. Aircraft production, for example, now leaped from its 1935 level of around three thousand aircraft a year to an annual average well in excess of five thousand. But this emphasis on military output also meant that consumables like clothing and household goods became a poor second in Nazi priorities.
Nazi spending policies were also used as a lever to extend the party's control over German society. Trade unions were destroyed; the government controlled wage rates (between 1933 and 1938 they dropped by around seven percent) and introduced compulsory labor service for some 400,000 men between 1933 and 1935. The drop in German unemployment from a level of more than six million in 1932 to less than a million by 1937 was spectacular, but the cost to civil liberties in Germany was incalculable. In 1933 the Nazi publication the Völkischer Beobacher was proud to claim that Franklin Roosevelt had adopted the policies of Hitler and Mussolini. There were parallels, albeit superficial ones, between, for example, U.S. and German public-works schemes and the declared ambitions of the Reich Labor Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps. But the curtailment of individual and corporate freedoms in Germany was the clearest indication that U.S. and German recovery policies differed fundamentally from one another.
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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).
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
Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) was national socialist dictator of Germany's totalitarian Third Reich from January 1933 until his suicide in the closing days of World War II (1939–1945). He ranks alongside the Soviet Union's Joseph Stalin (1879–1853) and China's Mao Tse-tung (1893–1976) as one of the modern world's most ruthless and maniacal political figures.
Hitler was born on April 20, 1889, in eastern Austria. He enjoyed a pampered childhood and adolescence, was an indifferent student, and failed to graduate from secondary school. In 1907 Hitler moved to Vienna, where he developed basic convictions that formed the subsequent basis of his political ideology. These included a commitment to pan-German nationalism coupled with a radical racial anti-semitism; an appreciation of the power of mass mobilization in politics; and his rejection of liberalism, socialism, Marxism, and democracy. While debating politics on a daily basis, Hitler also developed exceptional skills as an impassioned orator.
In 1913 Hitler left for Munich, the capital of Bavaria, and enthusiastically joined a Bavarian regiment at the onset of World War I. The war—including Germany's defeat in 1918—was a pivotal experience for Hitler, who became obsessed with perpetuating war. "That is how he looked at politics as a career—as a means for gaining power which would make possible a new war, this one, however, fought according to his ideas until final victory was won" (Bracher 1970, pp. 66–67).
Hitler resigned from the military to join the German Workers Party, a radical right group formed in Munich to oppose postwar Germany's fledgling democratic regime (the Weimar Republic). He quickly became party leader (führer), changed the party's name to the German National Socialist Workers Party (NSDAP), and initiated a Putsch (attempted seizure of power) against the Bavarian government in November 1923. Hitler was arrested, tried for treason, and sentenced to five years in prison, during which time he wrote Mein Kampf, an inflammatory autobiography. The book later inspired millions of Germans and other Europeans to accept Hitler's claim to leadership and the Nazi agenda.
After his early release from prison in December 1924, Hitler devoted his energies to the reorganization of the NSDAP and extending its political appeal. He obtained the support of sympathetic voters and the German military in a calculated strategy to achieve a legal rise to political power. Hitler's targets included Jews, socialists, liberals, and pacifists . These groups had allegedly conspired to bring about Germany's defeat in 1918 and the Treaty of Versailles, which had imposed territorial, financial, and political costs on the Weimar Republic.
Initially, the NSDAP's prospects seemed dismal; it received only 2.6 percent of the national vote in 1928. However, support for the party surged to 18.3 percent in 1930 and 37.3 percent in July 1932. Key factors in Hitler's growing popularity included the onset of the Great Depression and resulting mass unemployment, the persuasiveness of his ideological oratory, and a parallel increase in support for the Communist Party that frightened many middle-class voters. Another factor was the failure of democratic leaders to devise credible measures to combat the effects of the Depression, or to unite in defense of the republic against its radical opponents on both the right and left. Although the NSDAP's strength sagged marginally in the November 1932 election (to 33.1 percent), conservative politicians persuaded Weimar President Paul von Hindenburg (1847–1934) to appoint Hitler as chancellor of a coalition NSDAP-conservative government on January 30, 1933.
Once in office, Hitler proceeded swiftly to consolidate power. In 1933 he coerced the parliament into granting his cabinet dictatorial powers to deal with the "national crisis." The Nazis quickly outlawed other political parties and mass organizations, subordinated the economy and all social and educational institutions to party control, imposed censorship on all media, rejected the Versailles treaty, and began a systematic program of rearmament in preparation for the resumption of war. Upon Hindenburg's death in 1934, Hitler combined the offices of chancellor and president into his personal role as absolute führer. Following the views expounded in Mein Kampf, the Nazis launched a coordinated program of overt discrimination, subsequent imprisonment, and later the mass extermination of millions of Jews and other regime "outsiders." In foreign policy, Hitler engineered—with British and
French acquiescence—the annexation of Austria and most of Czechoslovakia in 1938. When the Western powers subsequently balked at his demands to seize Polish territory on Germany's eastern border, Hitler launched World War II on September 1, 1939.
Hitler's demise—and that of the Third Reich—came as a result of a military alliance between the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union in 1941, after Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union and Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. The advance of the Red Army through eastern Germany into Berlin and a relentless drive by Anglo-American forces through Germany in the West convinced Hitler that he had no recourse but to take his life and entrust what remained of the Third Reich and its armed forces to others. He shot himself in an underground bunker in Berlin on April 30, 1945. A week later, German military officers surrendered unconditionally to the wartime allies. Most of the bunker remains (unmarked), but Hitler's body was taken by the Red Army and was never officially interred.
Bullock, Alan. Hitler, a Study in Tyranny. Completely revised ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1962.
Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Memoirs, trans. Richard and Clara Winston. New York: Macmillan, 1970.
M. Donald Hancock