Adolf Hitler

hitler in poland 1939210

Adolf Hitler (far right) in Poland 1939

Adolf Hitler was born in Braunau am Inn, Austria on 20 April 1889. Adolf Hitler was the son of a fifty-two year old Austrian customs official, Alois Schickelgruber Hitler, and his third wife, a young girl, Klara Poelzl, both from the backwoods of lower Austria. The young Adolf Hitler was a resentful, discontented child. He was moody, lazy, of unstable temperament; he was deeply hostile towards his strict authoritarian father and strongly attached to his indulgent, hard-working mother, whose death from cancer in December 1908 was a shattering blow to the adolescent Hitler.

After spending four years in the Realschule in Linz, he left school at the age of sixteen with dreams of becoming a painter. In October 1907 the provincial, middle-class boy left home for Vienna, where he was to remain until 1913, leading a bohemian, vagabond existence. Embittered at his rejection by the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts, he was to spend ‘five years of misery and woe’ in Vienna as he later recalled, adopting a view of life which changed very little in the ensuing years, shaped as it was by a pathological hatred of Jews  and Marxists, liberalism and the cosmopolitan Habsburg monarchy. Existing from hand to mouth on occasional odd jobs and the hawking of sketches in low taverns, the young Hitler compensated for the frustrations of a lonely bachelor’s life in miserable male hostels by political harangues in cheap cafes to anyone who would listen and indulging in grandiose dreams of a Greater Germany.

In Vienna he acquired his first education in politics by studying the demagogic techniques of the popular Christian –social Mayor, Karl Lueger, and picked up the stereotyped, obsessive anti-Semitism with its brutal, violent sexual connotations and concern with ‘the purity of the blood’ that remained with him to the end of his career. From crackpot racial theorists like the defrocked monk Lanz von Liebenfels, and the Austrian Pan-German leader, Georg von Schoenerer, the young Adolf Hitler learned to discern in the ‘Eternal Jew’ the symbol and cause of all chaos, corruption and destruction in culture, politics and the economy. The press, prostitution, syphilis, capitalism, Marxism, democracy and pacifism – all were so many means which ‘the Jew’ exploited in his conspiracy to undermine the German nation and the purity of the creative Aryan race.

In May 1913 Hitler left Vienna for Munich and when war broke out in August 1914, he joined the Sixteenth Bavarian Infantry Regiment, serving as a despatch runner. Hitler proved an able, courageous soldier, receiving the Iron Cross (First Class) for bravery, but did not rise above the rank of Lance Corporal. Twice wounded, he was badly gassed four weeks before the end of the war during the fighting on the Ypres Salient on 14 October 1918 and spent three months recuperating in a hospital in Pasewalk military hospital in Pomerania. Temporarily blinded and driven to impotent rage by the abortive November 1918 revolution in Germany, as well as the military defeat, Hitler once restored, was convinced that fate had chosen him to rescue a humiliated nation form the shackles of the Versailles Treaty, from Bolsheviks and Jews.

Assigned by the Reichswehr, in the summer of 1919 to ‘educational’ duties which consisted largely of spying on political parties in the overheated atmosphere of post-revolutionary Munich. Hitler was sent to investigate a small nationalistic group of idealists, the German Workers Party. On 16 September 1919 he entered the Party (which had approximately forty members), soon changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) and had imposed himself as its Chairman by July 1921.

Hitler discovered a powerful talent for oratory as well as giving the new Party its symbol – the swastika – and its greeting ‘Heil’ His hoarse, grating voice , for all the bombastic, humourless, histrionic content of his speeches, dominated audiences by dint of his tone of impassioned conviction and gift for self-dramatisation. By November 1921 Hitler was recognised as Fuhrer of a movement which had 3,000 members, and boosted his personal power by organising strong-arm squads to keep order at his meetings and break up those of his opponents. Out of these squads grew the storm troopers (SA) organised by Captain Ernst Röhm, a long time comrade of Hitler, and the black-shirted personal bodyguard Schutzstaffel (SS), under the control of Heinrich Himmler.  

Hitler focused his propaganda against the Versailles Treaty, the ‘November criminals,’ the Marxists and the internal enemy, the ‘Jew,’ who was responsible for all Germany’s domestic difficulties. In the twenty-five point programme of the NSDAP announced on 24 February 1920, the exclusion of the Jews from the Volk community, the myth of Aryan race supremacy and extreme nationalism were combined with socialist ideas of profit –sharing and nationalisation. By November 1923 Hitler was convinced that the Weimar Republic was on the verge of collapse and together with General Ludendorff and local nationalistic groups, sought to overthrow the Bavarian government in Munich. Bursting into a beer-hall in Munich and firing his pistol into the ceiling, he shouted out that he was heading a new provisional government which would carry through a revolution against ‘Red Berlin.’

Hitler and Ludendorff then marched through Munich, at the head of 3,000 men, only to be met by deadly fire from the police, which left sixteen dead and brought the attempted putsch to an ignominious end. Hitler was arrested and brought to trial on 26 February 1924, but he succeeded in turning the tables on his accusers with a confident propagandist speech, which ended with the prophecy: ‘Pronounce us guilty a thousand times over: the goddess of the eternal court of history will smile and tear to pieces the State Prosecutor’s submission and the court’s verdict for she acquits us.’ Hitler was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in Landsberg fortress. Hitler though was released after only nine months during which time he dictated Mein Kampf (My Struggle), to Rudolf Hess, his loyal follower. Mein Kampf became the ‘bible’ of the Nazi Party, though few people read this almost unreadable harangue, but by 1939 had sold over five million countries and had been translated into eleven languages.

The next five years were, for Germany, the good years, the terrible post-war inflation was mastered and the Americans pumped money into Germany, as did the London bankers, and the German economy was booming, which lessened workers revolutionary zeal. Hitler learned certain lessons from the abortive putsch fiasco in 1923. The most important lesson was that he could not rely on the neutrality of the army, were he once again to overthrow the republic by force. He assumed correctly that the army would be loyal to the government and another lesson learned that the only way to power was through legal means. Once in power he could destroy democracy, with the full knowledge the Army would stand idly by, thus supporting the regime.  

Slowly the Nazi Party was re-built it counted 27,000 members in 1925 and by 1929 its membership stood at 178,000 and in the election of 1928 won 12 seats in the Reichstag. In 1929 Hitler benefitted when Wall Street crashed and the Great Depression took a brutal hold. Germany’s flimsy and false prosperity, based largely on American credits, collapsed like matchwood, in the economic hurricane that now raged around the globe. In Germany, millions were unemployed, the country in a state of collapse, and the Nazi Party and the Communist Party, were waiting to seize power.  

In the elections of September 1930 the Nazis share of the vote increased from 800,000 to 6,500,000 and the Communists too increased their share. Thus between one-third and one-half of the elected representatives of the German people were dedicated to the destruction of the system, which reflected the views of the electorate.

In February 1932 Hitler officially became a German citizen and decided to run for the Presidency, receiving 13, 418, 011 votes in the run-off elections, coming second to the victorious von Hindenburg who polled 19,359, 650. In the Reichstag elections of July 1932 the Nazis emerged as the largest political Party in Germany, obtaining nearly fourteen million votes and 230 seats. Although the NSDAP share of votes fell in November 1932 to eleven million votes Hitler was helped into power by a number of conservative politicians led by Franz von Papen.

Hitler was offered the Vice Chancellorship in a von Papen government, but he rejected this, then Hindenburg offered him the Chancellorship of a coalition government that could command a majority in the Reichstag. Hitler wanted to rule by absolute power and rejected that proposal too.

More elections were held on 6 November and the Nazis lost 2,000,000 votes and Hitler was again offered the chance of being the Chancellor of a coalition government or Vice Chancellor in a von Papen government, which he again refused. Kurt von Schleicher, a professional army officer became Chancellor, but he was dismissed on 28 January 1933, when Hindenburg refused to let him institute a military dictatorship.  

On 30 January 1933 Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor, with von Papen as Vice Chancellor, the Reichstag was dissolved and new elections set for 5 March 1933, but on 27 February 1933 the Reichstag was burnt down, the Nazis blamed the Communists. At the March 1933 elections with the full power of the police state behind them, with naked intimidation and propaganda to help them the Nazis increased their share of the vote to over 17,000,000 or 44% of the votes cast.  

Adolf Hitler further strengthened his grip on power following the destruction of the senior cadre of the SA storm troopers including his long time comrade Ernst Röhm, during the so-called ‘Night of the Long Knives’ in June 1934. When von Hindenburg died in August 1934 Hitler united the positions of Führer and Chancellor, thus now ensuring that he held all the powers of the State in his hands.

In the course of the next four years Hitler enjoyed a dazzling string of domestic and international triumphs, outwitting rival politicians abroad just as he had defeated his opponents at home. In 1935 he flouted the Treaty of Versailles and began to build up the army by conscripting five times its permitted number. He persuaded the British government to allow an increase in the German navy and in March 1936 he occupied the de-militarised Rhineland without meeting any opposition from the French. In September 1935 the Reichstag passed the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws; the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour.He also began building up the Luftwaffe, which saw service in the Spanish civil war. The German rearmament programme led to full employment, everything was geared to re-establishing Germany as a major military force.

Hitler sought closer ties with Benito Mussolini which resulted in the Rome –Berlin pact of 1936 and two years later saw the Anschluss (Annexation) of his homeland Austria and in the same year the ‘liberation’ of the Sudeten Germans. Hitler’s sabre-rattling tactics conned the British and French governments to the infamous Munich agreement of 1938 which paved the way for the destruction of the Czechoslovakian State in March 1939. Hitler then turned his attention to Poland and on the 1 September 1939 his German forces invaded his neighbour and thus the Second World War began, as the British and French governments had guaranteed Poland’s independence. With modern equipment and employing Blitzkrieg tactics the German forces quickly over-ran Poland and on 5 October 1939 Hitler attended the Victory Parade in Ujazdowskie Avenue in Warsaw.

With Poland conquered Hitler then embarked on his domination of Europe, Denmark, Norway and a lightning campaign in Western Europe with the campaigns against Holland, Belgium, Luxemburg and France in six weeks. After the fall of France in June 1940 only Great Britain opposed the might of Nazi Germany, and the courageous Royal Air Force defeated the Luftwaffe over the skies of Britain and thus Hitler experienced his first reverse. Hitler abandoned plans to launch a sea-borne invasion of Britain, and turned his attentions to the Soviet Union, despite the infamous Ribbentrop-Molotov pact signed between the two countries prior to Hitler’s attack on Poland.

Hitler’s fatal decision to invade the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 was to prove the turning point of the Second World War. Hitler was convinced of an easy victory, told Jodl, his Chief of Staff: “You only have to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.” At first the German armies carried all before them overwhelming the Red Army, encircling Leningrad and reaching the outer suburbs of Moscow but are halted by determined Soviet resistance and the onset of one of the coldest Russian winters. The German generals favoured a swift strike against Moscow before the winter set in, but Hitler over-ruled them and ordered a massive pincer encirclement around Kiev to seize the Ukraine, which was complete by 15 September 1941. This postponed the German attack on Moscow, with fatal consequences and the disaster before Moscow in December 1941 led him to dismiss his Commander – in – Chief Walter von Brauchitsch and many other key commanders who sought permission to retreat for tactical reasons, including Heinz Guderian, Fedor von Bock, Erich Hoepner, Gerd von Rundstedt and Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb all found themselves retired. Hitler now assumed personal control of all military operations, refusing to listen to advice, disregarding information that did not fit into his preconceived ideas and strategies. Rommel’s defeat in North Africa, the entry of the United States of America and the disaster at Stalingrad where the 6th Army of General von Paulus was cut off and surrendered to the Russian forces in January 1943, all favoured the Allies, and the defeat of Germany was no longer in question.

During the month of July 1943 the Allied forces captured Sicily and Mussolini’s regime collapsed in Italy, and after a long campaign in Italy liberated Rome on 4 June 1944. Two days later the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy, under Operation Overlord, and the Nazis grip on mainland Europe was being loosened for all time. German generals visiting Hitler at the Führer’s Headquarters known as he Wolf’s Lair at Rastenburg deep in the East Prussian forests were shocked at how Hitler’s health had deteriorated under the regime of drugs prescribed by his physician Dr. Theodor Morell. Hitler now shunned all public appearances and retreated into an isolated world, mistrusting his Generals and all but his trusted sycophants. On 20 July 1944 Claus von Stauffenberg, a severely wounded officer carried a bomb in his briefcase, which he placed by a table support in the map room, where Hitler was giving a briefing. The briefcase was moved and whilst the explosion killed four officers, Hitler suffered only minor injuries, though four officers were killed and seven more injured. The plot collapsed and those arrested were either murdered by drum-head court-martials, whilst others were arrested and after show-trials were executed by hanging, which were filmed and shown to Hitler.

As the Red Army advanced Hitler abandoned the FHQ in Rastenburg and sought refuge in the Führerbunker in Berlin and as the Soviet forces approached Berlin on 19 March 1945 Hitler ordered the destruction of what remained of the German industry, still standing after the ferocious Allied bombing campaign, had reduced most major German cities to rubble. Hitler to the end showed the same passion for destruction to his own German people as he had to the extermination of the Jews of Europe and Slavic people, whom he considered sub-human.

On 29 April 1945 he married his long-term companion Eva Braun in a civil ceremony witnessed by Martin Bormann and Joseph Goebbles and dictated his final political testament. On 30 April 1945 both of them committed suicide; Hitler shot himself through the mouth with a pistol, whilst Eva Braun swallowed poison. Their bodies were carried out of the bunker into the garden of the Reich Chancellery covered in petrol and set alight.


Who’s Who in Nazi Germany by Robert S Wistrich, published by Routledge, London 1995

Leaders and Personalities of the Third Reich by Charles Hamilton published by R. James Bender 1984

History of the Second World War – The Brutal Reich, published by Purnell & Sons Limited 1966

Fall Weiss by Slawomir Wucyna published by Agencja Wydawnicza, Warsaw 1997

Photograph – Chris Webb Archive

 © Holocaust Historical Society 2014