Adolf Hitler

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Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Date of birth

April 20, 1889

Date of death

April 30, 1945


National Socialist German Workers Party

Important positions

(April 20, 1889April 30, 1945) was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 and Führer und Reichskanzler (Leader and Chancellor) of Germany from 1934 to his death. He was leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP), better known as the Nazi Party.

Under Hitler's charismatic leadership Germany emerged from the depths of post-World War I defeat to rebuild its economy and decimated military. At the height of their power during World War II, the armies of Nazi Germany and its Axis Powers dominated much of Europe. The racial policies that Hitler directed culminated in a massive number of deaths, commonly cited as at least 11 million people – including about 6 million Jews – in a genocide now known as the Holocaust.

Ultimately, Germany was defeated by the Allied powers in 1945 and during the final days of the war Hitler committed suicide in his underground bunker in Berlin together with his newly wed wife, Eva Braun. The Third Reich, which he had said would last a thousand years, collapsed shortly thereafter.


Early years


Adolf Hitler as an infant.
Adolf Hitler as an infant.

Adolf Hitler was born on April 20, 1889, at Braunau am Inn, Austria, a small town 90 km (55 miles) west of Linz in the province of Upper Austria, on the bank of the River Inn, which formed the border between Germany and what was then Austria-Hungary. He was the fourth of six children of Alois Hitler (18371903), a customs official, and Klara Pölzl, Alois' niece and third wife. Of these six children, only Adolf and his younger sister Paula reached adulthood. Alois Hitler also had a son (Alois Junior) and a daughter (Angela) by his second wife. In Mein Kampf, his autobiography and exposition of his political ideology, Hitler describes his father as an "irascible tyrant"; however, there is little indication that Alois Hitler treated his son more strictly than was usual for that time and place.

Alois Hitler was born out of wedlock, and, until he was 40, used his mother's surname, Schicklgruber. In 1876, he began using the name of his stepfather, Johann Georg Hiedler, after visiting a priest responsible for birth registries and declaring that Georg was his father (Alois gave the impression that Georg was still alive, but he was long dead). The spelling was probably changed by a clerk. Later, Adolf was accused by his political enemies of not rightfully being a Hitler, but a Schicklgruber. This was also exploited in Allied propaganda during the Second World War when pamphlets bearing the phrase "Heil Schicklgruber" were airdropped over German cities. He was legally born a Hitler, however, and was closely related to Hiedler through his mother's family.

Hitler did not know for sure who his paternal grandfather was, but it was probably either Johann Georg Hiedler or his brother Johann von Nepomuk Hiedler. There have been rumours that Hitler was one-quarter Jewish and that his paternal grandmother Maria Schicklgruber had become pregnant after working as a servant in a Jewish household in Graz. During the 1920s, the implications of this along with his known family history were politically explosive, especially for the proponent of a racist ideology. Opponents tried to prove that Hitler, the leader of the anti-Semitic and jingoistic Nazi Party, had Jewish or Czech ancestors. Although these rumours were never confirmed, for Hitler they were reason enough to conceal his origins. Soviet propaganda insisted he was a Jew, though more modern research tends to diminish the probability Hitler had Jewish or Czech ancestors. Historians such as Werner Maser and Ian Kershaw argue this was impossible since the Jews had been expelled from Graz in the 15th century and were not allowed to return until well after Maria Schicklgruber's alleged employment.[1]

Because of Alois Hitler's profession his family moved frequently, from Braunau to Passau, Lambach, Leonding and next to Linz. As a young child, Hitler was reportedly a good student at the various elementary schools he attended; however, in sixth grade (1900–1901), his first year of high school (Realschule) in Linz, he failed completely and had to repeat the grade. His teachers reported that he had "no desire to work."

One of Hitler's watercolors. The scene of Laon, France.
One of Hitler's watercolors. The scene of Laon, France.

Hitler later explained this as a kind of rebellion against his father Alois, who wanted the boy to follow him in a career as a customs official, although Adolf wanted to become a painter. This is further supported by Hitler's later description of himself as a misunderstood artist. After Hitler's father died on January 3, 1903, aged 65, Hitler's schoolwork did not improve. At the age of 16, Hitler left school with no qualifications.

Early adulthood in Vienna and Munich

From 1905 onward, Hitler was able to live the life of a Bohemian on a fatherless child's pension and support from his mother. After he was rejected twice by the Academy of Arts in Vienna (19071908) for "lack of talent" – which he resented deeply – he did not try to find a different job or learn a profession. He was told he should become an architect, since he had some flair for making architectural sketches and drawings. On December 21, 1907, his mother Klara died a painful death from breast cancer. He gave his share of the orphans' benefits to his younger sister Paula, but soon after inherited some money from an aunt. He worked as a struggling painter in Vienna, copying scenes from postcards and selling his paintings to merchants and tourists (there is evidence he produced over 2000 paintings and drawings before World War I). Some of Hitler's other favorite subjects were women and dogs. He showed a particular affinity for the German Shepherd Dog.

Adolf Hitler as a young adult.
Adolf Hitler as a young adult.

After the second refusal from the Academy of Arts, Hitler gradually ran out of money. By 1909, he sought refuge in a homeless shelter, and by the beginning of 1910 had settled permanently into a house for poor working men. He made spending money by painting tourist postcards of Vienna scenery. His anti-Semitism during this period was likely non-existent, since a Jewish resident of the house named Hanisch was helping him sell his postcards.

It was in Vienna that Hitler became an active anti-Semite, a common stance among Austrians at the time. Vienna had a large Jewish community, including many Orthodox Jews from Eastern Europe. He was slowly influenced over time by the writings of the race ideologist and anti-Semite Lanz von Liebenfels and polemics from politicians such as Karl Lueger, the Mayor of Vienna and Georg Ritter von Schönerer, leader of the pan-Germanic Away from Rome! movement. He later wrote in his book Mein Kampf, dedicated to Thule Society member Dietrich Eckart, that his transition from opposing anti-semitism on religious grounds, to supporting it on racial grounds, came from having seen an Orthodox Jew.

Mein Kampf, chapter II:
"There were very few Jews in Linz. In the course of centuries the Jews who lived there had become Europeanized in external appearance and were so much like other human beings that I even looked upon them as Germans. The reason why I did not then perceive the absurdity of such an illusion was that the only external mark which I recognized as distinguishing them from us was the practice of their strange religion. As I thought that they were persecuted on account of their Faith my aversion to hearing remarks against them grew almost into a feeling of abhorrence. I did not in the least suspect that there could be such a thing as a systematic anti-Semitism."
"Once, when passing through the inner City, I suddenly encountered a phenomenon in a long caftan and wearing black side-locks. My first thought was: Is this a Jew? They certainly did not have this appearance in Linz. I watched the man stealthily and cautiously; but the longer I gazed at the strange countenance and examined it feature by feature, the more the question shaped itself in my brain: Is this a German?"

Hitler had a firm belief in the inferiority of the Parliamentary system, and especially social democracy, which formed the basis of his political views. He began to claim the Jews were natural enemies of "Aryans" and were responsible for Germany's economic problems. However, according to August Kubizek, his close friend and roommate at the time, he was more interested in the operas of Richard Wagner than in politics.

He was given a small inheritance from his father in May 1913 and moved to Munich. He later wrote in Mein Kampf that he had always longed to live in a German city. In Munich, he became more interested in architecture and the writings of Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Moving to Munich also helped him escape military service in Austria for a time, but the Austrian army later arrested him. After a physical exam (during which his height was measured at 1.73 m, or 5 ft 8 in) and a plea, he was found unfit for service and allowed to return to Munich. However, when Germany entered World War I in August 1914, he immediately enlisted in the Bavarian army.

World War I

Hitler (seated, far left) during World War I.
Hitler (seated, far left) during World War I.

Hitler saw active service in France and Belgium as a messenger for the 16th Bavarian reserve infantry regiment, which exposed him to enemy fire. He also drew some cartoons and instructional drawings for the army newspaper. His behavior as a soldier was considered somewhat sloppy but he readily volunteered for dangerous missions such as taking dispatches to and from fighting areas. Unlike his fellow soldiers Hitler reportedly never complained about the food or hard conditions, preferring to talk about art or history. He was twice cited for bravery in action, receiving the Iron Cross, Second Class in December 1915 and the Iron Cross, First Class in August 1918, an honour rarely given to a lance corporal (he was not a German citizen at the time and so could not be promoted beyond corporal). During October 1916 in northern France, Hitler was wounded in the leg, returning to the front in March 1917.

Hitler was considered a "correct" soldier but was reportedly unpopular with his comrades because of an uncritical attitude towards officers. "Respect the superior, don't contradict anybody, obey blindly," he said, describing his attitude while on trial for his Beer Hall Putsch in 1924. One comrade later remarked, "we all grumbled on him and found it intolerable that we had a white raven among us." (Haiden, 1936)

On October 15, 1918, shortly before the end of war, Hitler was admitted to a field hospital, temporarily blinded by a poison gas attack. Research by Bernhard Horstmann indicates the blindness may have been the result of a hysterical reaction to Germany's defeat. Hitler later said it was during this experience that he became convinced the purpose of his life was to save Germany. Meanwhile he was treated by a military physician and specialist in psychiatry who reportedly diagnosed the corporal as "incompetent to command people" and "dangerously psychotic." His commander at the time said, "I will never promote this hysteric!" (cited from Haiden, 1937). However, historian Sebastian Haffner, referring to Hitler's experience at the front, suggests he did have at least some understanding of the military.

Hitler had long admired Germany and during the war he had become a passionate German patriot, although he did not become a German citizen until 1932. He was shocked by the capitulation of Germany in November 1918 while the German army remained (in popular German belief) undefeated. Like many other German nationalists, Hitler blamed civilian politicians (the "November criminals") for the surrender. The widespread conservative explanation for the capitulation was the Dolchstosslegende ("dagger-stab legend") which purported that behind the backs of the army, liberal politicians had betrayed and "stabbed" Germany's people and its soldiers "in the back." The Treaty of Versailles imposed crippling reparations and other economically damaging sanctions, declaring Germany guilty for the horrors of the Great War. The treaty was perceived by most Germans as a humiliation and was an important factor in both the social and political conditions encountered by Hitler and his National Socialist Party as they sought power.

Weimar Republic

Early Nazi Party

Main article: Hitler's political beliefs

After the war, Hitler remained in the army, which was mainly engaged in suppressing socialist uprisings breaking out across Germany, including Munich (Bavarian Soviet Republic), where Hitler returned in 1919. He took part in "national thinking" courses organised by the Education and Propaganda Department (Dept Ib/P) of the Bavarian Reichswehr Group, Headquarters 4 under Captain Mayr. A key purpose of this group was to create a scapegoat for the outbreak of the war and Germany's defeat. The scapegoats were found in "international Jewry," communists and politicians across the party spectrum, especially the parties of the Weimar Coalition, who were deemed "November criminals".

In July 1919, Hitler was appointed a V-Mann (Verbindungsmann is the German term for a police spy) of "Aufklärungskommando" ("Intelligence Commando") of the Reichswehr, for the purpose of influencing other soldiers towards similar ideas and was assigned to infiltrate a small nationalist party, the German Workers' Party (DAP). Here Hitler met Dietrich Eckart, one of the early founders of the party, member of Thule Society.[2]During Adolf Hitler's inspection of the German Workers' Party he was impressed with Drexler's anti-semitic, nationalist and anti-Marxist ideas.

Adolf Hitler's membership card for the German Workers' Party. Hitler wanted to create his own party, but was ordered by his superiors in the Reichswehr to infiltrate an existing one instead.
Adolf Hitler's membership card for the German Workers' Party. Hitler wanted to create his own party, but was ordered by his superiors in the Reichswehr to infiltrate an existing one instead.

Hitler was discharged from the army in March, 1920 and (with the army's continued encouragement) began participating full time in the party's activities. By early 1921, Adolf Hitler was becoming highly effective at speaking in front of ever larger crowds. In February, Hitler spoke before a crowd of nearly six thousand in Munich. To publicize the meeting, he sent out two truckloads of Party supporters to drive around with swastikas, cause a commotion and throw out leaflets, their first use of this tactic. Hitler gained notoriety outside of the Party for his rowdy, polemic speeches against the Treaty of Versailles, rival politicians and groups (especially Marxists) and always the Jews.

The German Workers' Party was centered in Munich which had become a hotbed of reactionary German nationalists who included Army officers determined to crush Marxism and undermine or even overthrow the young German democracy centered in Berlin. Gradually they noticed Adolf Hitler and his growing movement as a vehicle to hitch themselves to. Hitler traveled to Berlin to visit nationalist groups during the summer of 1921 and in his absence there was an unexpected revolt among his own Nazi Party leadership in Munich.

The Party was still run by an executive committee whose original members considered Hitler to be overbearing and even dictatorial. To weaken Hitler's position they formed an alliance with a group of socialists from Augsburg. Hitler rushed back to Munich and countered them by tendering his resignation from the Party on July 11, 1921. When they realized the loss of Hitler would effectively mean the end of the Party, he seized the moment and announced he would return on the condition that he was made chairman and given dictatorial powers. Infuriated committee members (including founder Anton Drexler) held out at first. Meanwhile an anonymous pamphlet appeared entitled Adolf Hitler: Is he a traitor?, attacking Hitler's lust for power and criticising the violence-prone men around him. Hitler responded to its publication in a Munich newspaper by suing for libel and later won a small settlement.

The executive committee of the Nazi Party eventually backed down and Hitler's demands were put to a vote of party members. Hitler received 543 votes for and only one against. At the next gathering on July 29, 1921 Adolf Hitler was introduced as Führer of the Nazi Party, marking the first time this title was publicly used. Hitler changed the name of the party to the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP) (usually known as the Nazi party).

Hitler's beer hall oratory, attacking Jews, socialists and liberals, capitalists and communists, began attracting adherents. Early followers included Rudolf Hess, the former air force pilot Hermann Göring, and the flamboyant army captain Ernst Röhm, who became head of the Nazis' paramilitary organisation, the SA, which protected meetings and attacked political opponents. He also attracted the attention of local business interests, was accepted into influential circles of Munich society and became associated with wartime General Erich Ludendorff during this time.

Encouraged by this early support, Hitler decided to use Ludendorff as a front in an attempt to seize power in the turbulent year 1923. His aim was to emulate Mussolini's "March on Rome" by a "March on Berlin" but this abortive coup was later known as the Hitler Putsch (and sometimes the Beerhall Putsch). Hitler and Ludendorff obtained the clandestine support of Gustav von Kahr, Bavaria's de-facto ruler along with leading figures in the Reichswehr and the police. As political posters show, Ludendorff, Hitler and the heads of the Bavarian police and military planned on forming a new government.

However on November 8, 1923 Kahr and the military withdrew their support during a meeting in the Bürgerbräu beer hall. A surprised Hitler had them arrested and proceeded with the coup. Unknown to him, Kahr and the other detainees had been released on Ludendorff's orders after he obtained their word not to interfere. That night they prepared resistance measures against the coup and in the morning, when the Nazis marched from the beer hall to the Bavarian War Ministry to overthrow what they saw as Bavaria's traitorous government as a start to their "March on Berlin," the army quickly dispersed them (Ludendorff was wounded and a few other Nazis were killed).

Hitler fled to the home of friends and contemplated suicide. He was soon arrested for high treason and appointed Alfred Rosenberg as temporary leader of the party but found himself in an environment somewhat receptive to his beliefs. During Hitler's trial in April 1924 sympathetic conservative magistrates allowed Hitler to turn his debacle into a propaganda stunt. He was given almost unlimited amounts of time to present his arguments to the court along with a large body of the German people and his popularity soared when he voiced basic nationalistic sentiments shared by the public. For the crime of conspiracy to commit treason Hitler was sentenced to five years' imprisonment at Landsberg prison where he received favoured treatment from the guards and had much fan mail from admirers. While at Landsberg he dictated his political book Mein Kampf (My Struggle) to his deputy Rudolf Hess. The first volume, called "Abrechnung" (A settling of accounts), was later published and became the platform of the Nazi party (by the late 1930s nearly every household in Germany had a copy of it). Meanwhile, as he was considered relatively harmless, Hitler was given an early amnesty and was released in December 1924. By this time the Nazi party had dwindled and Hitler began a long effort to rebuild it.

A key element of Hitler's appeal was his ability to convey a sense of offended national pride caused by the Treaty of Versailles imposed on the defeated German Empire by the Allies. Germany had lost economically important territory in Europe along with its colonies and in admitting to sole responsibility for the war had agreed to pay a huge reparations bill totaling 32 billion marks. Most Germans bitterly resented these terms but early Nazi attempts to gain support by blaming these humiliations on "international Jewry" were not particularly successful with the electorate. The party learned quickly and soon a more subtle propaganda emerged, combining anti-Semitism with an attack on the failures of the "Weimar system" and the parties supporting it.

In restoring the party organisation, Hitler asserted the Führerprinzip, or unquestioning obedience to superiors, with all power and authority devolving from the top down -- consistent with his well-documented statements of disdain for democracy, which he considered an unstable and dangerous form of government.

In 2004, it was discovered that Hitler had spent years evading taxes on income from sales of Mein Kampf. He owed the German government 405,000 Reichmarks (equivalent to $8 million at 2004 exchange rates) by the time he took power and the tax debt was forgiven.

The road to power

See also the Weimar Timeline.

Adolf Hitler with a little girl in traditional Bavarian dress.
Adolf Hitler with a little girl in traditional Bavarian dress.

The political turning point for Hitler came when the Depression hit Germany in 1930. The democratic Weimar Republic established in 1919 had never been accepted by conservatives and was openly opposed by fascists. While the Social Democrats and traditional parties of the centre and right were unable to cope with the shock of the Depression, in the September 1930 elections the Nazis suddenly rose from relative obscurity to win 18.3% of the vote along with 107 seats in the Reichstag, becoming the second largest party in Germany.

Hitler appealed to the bulk of German farmers, war veterans and the middle-class who had been hard-hit by both the inflation of the 1920s and the unemployment of the Depression. The urban working classes generally ignored Hitler's appeals (Berlin and the Ruhr towns were particularly hostile). The 1930 election was a disaster for Heinrich Brüning's centre-right government, which was now deprived of a majority in the Reichstag.

Meanwhile in September 1931 Hitler's niece Geli Raubal was found dead in her bedroom in his Munich apartment (his half-sister Angela and her daughter Geli had been with him in Munich since 1929), an apparent suicide. Geli was much younger than he was and had used his gun, drawing rumours of a relationship between the two. The event is viewed as having caused lasting turmoil for him.

Brüning's austerity measures brought little economic improvement and the government was anxious to avoid a presidential election in 1932, hoping to secure Nazi agreement to an extension of President Paul von Hindenburg's term. Hitler refused and ultimately ran against Hindenburg in the 1932 presidential election, after aquiring German citizenship in February the same year. He came in second on both rounds, attaining more than 35% of the vote during the second one in April.

Hitler emerges from the Brown House in Munich (headquarters of the Nazi party during the last days of the Weimar Republic) after a post-election meeting in 1930.
Hitler emerges from the Brown House in Munich (headquarters of the Nazi party during the last days of the Weimar Republic) after a post-election meeting in 1930.

Hindenburg dismissed the government and appointed a new one under the ex-military conservative Franz von Papen, which immediately called for new Reichstag elections. In July 1932 the Nazis had their best showing yet, winning 230 seats and becoming the largest party in the Reichstag. Since the Nazis and the communists now together controlled a majority of the Reichstag, the formation of a stable government of mainstream parties was impossible. After a vote of no-confidence in the Papen government, supported by 84% of the delegates, the new Reichstag was dissolved and new elections were called.

Papen and the Centre Party (Zentrumspartei) separately began negotiations to secure Nazi participation in order to provide a new government with a basis in parliament. Hitler however set high terms, demanding the Chancellorship along with the President's agreement that he be able to use the 1919 constitution's sweeping emergency powers. Hence the negotiations failed. During the November 1932 elections the Nazis lost votes although they remained the largest party in the Reichstag. After Papen failed to secure a majority he proposed to dissolve parliament again along with an indefinite postponement of elections. Hindenburg at first accepted this, but after General Kurt von Schleicher and the military withdrew their support, Hindenburg instead dismissed Papen and appointed Schleicher, who promised he could secure a majority government by negotiations with both the Social Democratic labour unions and the dissident Nazi faction led by Gregor Strasser.

In November 1932, Fritz Thyssen, Hjalmar Schacht and other leading German businessmen appealed to Hindenburg in a letter to appoint Hitler as leader of a government "independent from parliamentary parties" which could turn into a movement that would "enrapture millions of people." [3] Finally, Papen and Alfred Hugenberg (Chairman of the German National People's Party, the DNVP, which before the Nazis had been Germany's principal conservative party) conspired to persuade Hindenburg to appoint Hitler Chancellor in a coalition with the DNVP, promising they would be able to control him and stabilize the government. When Schleicher was forced to admit failure in his efforts to form a coalition and asked for emergency powers along with the same postponement of elections he had opposed earlier, Hindenburg fired him and reluctantly agreed to appoint Hitler Chancellor, Papen Vice-Chancellor and Hugenberg Minister of Economics in a cabinet which included three Nazis in key positions (Hitler, Göring and Wilhelm Frick). On the morning of January 30, 1933 in Hindenburg's office Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor during what some observers later described as a brief and indifferent ceremony.

Adolf Hitler greeting supporters from aboard a parade vehicle.
Adolf Hitler greeting supporters from aboard a parade vehicle.

After the Reichstag was set on fire (and the communists were blamed for it), the Reichstag Fire Decree (28 February) suspended basic rights including habeas corpus. On 5 March 1933, in elections marred by paramilitary violence, the Nazis received 43.9% of the vote, which brought the coalition between them and the DNVP an absolute majority. Hitler further strengthened his parliamentary basis by detaining Communist deputies and (illegally) excluding them from parliament.

At an impressive constitutional opening ceremony of the Reichstag, held in the replacement parliament building on 21 March, both Hindenburg and the world press were impressed by Hitler's apparent acceptance of constitutional government.

The government confronted the newly elected Reichstag with the Enabling Act which gave Hitler's cabinet sweeping legislative powers. The bill required a two-thirds majority in order to pass and the Nazis needed support from other parties. The Centre Party was split on this issue, but eventually followed its chairman, Monsignor Kaas, who had advocated supporting the bill in parliament in return for government giving sundry guarantees to civil servants belonging to the Centre Party along with freedom and autonomy of the Catholic Church. These guarantees were orally transmitted and Kaas was promised a letter with them in writing.

On 23 March the Reichstag assembled under turbulent circumstances. Some SA paramilitaries served as guards as others crowded outside the building to intimidate opposing views. Hitler gave a speech which emphasized the importance of both Christian denominations to German culture. Later that day, still waiting for the promised letter, Kaas gave his speech, voicing the Centre's support for the bill amid "concerns put aside." At last, all parties except the Social Democrats voted in favour of the Enabling Act, which was dutifully renewed every four years, even through World War II.

With this combination of legislative and executive power, Hitler's government soon suppressed all opposition. The SPD was banned and all other political parties dissolved themselves. Labour unions were merged with employers' federations into an organisation under Nazi control and the autonomy of state governments was severely diminished. Hitler also used the SA paramilitary to push Hugenberg into resigning and proceeded to politically isolate Vice Chancellor von Papen. Meanwhile the SA was growing into an independent power of its own and Hitler used allegations of a plot by the SA leader Ernst Röhm to purge the paramilitary force's leadership during the Night of the Long Knives. Opponents unconnected with the SA were also murdered, notably Gregor Strasser and former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher.

Soon after, president Paul von Hindenburg died on 2 August 1934. Rather than hold new presidential elections, Hitler's cabinet passed a law combining the offices of president and chancellor with Hitler holding both offices (which included the president's decree powers) as leader and national chancellor. This consolidation was approved by 90% of the electorate in mid-August 1934. Then in an unprecedented step, Hitler ordered every member of the military to swear a personal oath of allegiance to him.

The Third Reich

Photographs like this one were used to promote Hitler's populist-nationalist (Völkisch) image.
Photographs like this one were used to promote Hitler's populist-nationalist (Völkisch) image.

See also Nazi Germany

Having secured supreme political power without an electoral mandate from the majority of Germans, Hitler went on to gain their support by persuading most Germans he was their saviour from the Depression, the Communists, the Versailles Treaty, and the Jews along with other "undesirable" minorities.

Economics and culture

Hitler oversaw one of the greatest expansions of industrial production and civil improvement Germany had ever seen, mostly based on debt flotation and expansion of the military. Nazi policies towards women strongly encouraged them to stay at home to bear children and keep house. The unemployment rate was cut substantially, mostly through arms production and sending women home so that men could take their jobs. Given this, claims that the German economy achieved near full employment are at least partly artifacts of propaganda from the era.

Hitler also oversaw one of the largest infrastructure improvement campaigns in German history, with the construction of dozens of dams, autobahns, railroads and other civil works. Hitler's policies emphasised the importance of family life: Men were the "breadwinners", while women's priorities were to be "church, kitchen and children", in German Kirche, Küche und Kinder or "Drei K" (three Ks).

Hitler was a gifted orator who captivated many with his beating of the podium and growling speech
Hitler was a gifted orator who captivated many with his beating of the podium and growling speech

Hitler's government sponsored architecture on an immense scale, with Albert Speer becoming famous as the first architect of the Reich. In 1936 Berlin hosted the summer Olympic games, which were opened by Hitler and choreographed to demonstrate Aryan superiority over all other races. Olympia, the movie about the games and documentary propaganda films for the German Nazi Party were directed by Hitler's personal filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.

Although Hitler made plans for a Breitspurbahn (broad gauge railroad network), they were pre-empted by World War II. Had the railroad been built, its gauge would have been three meters, even wider than the old Great Western Railway of Britain.

In 1932 Hitler was instrumental in initiating the design work on the car that later became the Volkswagen Beetle.[4]


Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler (Left)
Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler (Left)

The Gestapo-SS complex (the SS and Gestapo organisations) were primarily responsible for repression in the Nazi state. This was implemented not only against political enemies such as communists but also against perceived "asocials" such as habitual criminals and the work-shy along with "racial enemies," mainly Jews.

The racial policies of Nazi Germany during the early to mid-1930s included the harassment and persecution of Jews through legislation, restrictions on civil rights and limiting their economic opportunities. Under the 1935 Nuremberg Laws Jews lost their German citizenship and were expelled from government employment, their professions and most forms of economic activity. The policy was successful in causing the emigration of many thousands but nevertheless turned increasingly violent in the mid to late 1930s. In 1938 a pogrom orchestrated by Joseph Goebbels and endorsed by Hitler called Kristallnacht destroyed many Jewish businesses and synagogues and resulted in about 100 deaths. Between November 1938 and September 1939 more than 180,000 Jews fled Germany and the Nazis seized whatever property they left behind. From 1941 Jews were required to wear a yellow star in public. Throughout the 1930s the Propaganda Ministry disseminated anti-Semitic propaganda.

Rearmament and new alliances

Mussolini and Hitler.
Mussolini and Hitler.

In March 1935 Hitler repudiated the Treaty of Versailles by reintroducing conscription in Germany. He set about building a massive military machine, including a new Navy (the Kriegsmarine) and an Air Force (the Luftwaffe). The enlistment of vast numbers of men and women in the new military seemed to solve unemployment problems but seriously distorted the economy. For the first time in a generation, Germany's armed forces were as strong as those of her antagonistic neighbour, France.

In March 1936 Hitler again violated the Treaty of Versailles by reoccupying the demilitarised zone in the Rhineland. When Britain and France did nothing, he grew bolder. In July 1936 the Spanish Civil War began when the military, led by General Francisco Franco, rebelled against the elected Popular Front government of Spain. Hitler sent troops to support Franco and Spain served as a testing ground for Germany's new armed forces and their methods, including the bombing of undefended towns such as Guernica, which was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in April 1937, prompting Pablo Picasso's famous eponymous painting (see Guernica).

An Axis was declared between Germany and Italy by Galeazzo Ciano, foreign minister of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini on October 25, 1936. This alliance was later expanded to include Japan, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. They were collectively known as the Axis Powers. Then on November 5, 1937, at the Reich Chancellory, Adolf Hitler held a secret meeting and stated his plans for acquiring "living space" (Lebensraum) for the German people.

The Holocaust

Adolf Hitler with Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS (charged with rounding up Jews, Gypsies and so-called "enemies of the state").
Adolf Hitler with Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS (charged with rounding up Jews, Gypsies and so-called "enemies of the state").
For more details on this topic, see Holocaust.

Between 1939 and 1945 the SS, assisted by collaborationist governments and recruits from occupied countries, systematically killed at least 11 million people (other estimates are as high as 26 million; more than 5 million of whom were Jews[5]) in concentration camps, ghettos and mass executions, or through less systematic methods elsewhere.[6] Besides being gassed to death, many also died of starvation and disease while working as slave labourers. Along with Jews, non-Jewish Poles (over 3 million of whom died), alleged communists or political opposition, homosexuals, dissenting Roman Catholics and Protestants, Roma, the physically handicapped and mentally retarded, Soviet prisoners of war, Jehovah's Witnesses, anti-Nazi clergy, trade unionists, and psychiatric patients were killed. This industrial-scale genocide in Europe is referred to as the Holocaust.

The massacres that led to the coining of the word "genocide" (the Endlösung or "Final Solution") were planned and ordered by leading Nazis, with Himmler playing a key role. While no specific order from Hitler authorising the mass killing of the Jews has surfaced, there is documentation he approved the Einsatzgruppen and the evidence also suggests that sometime in the fall of 1941 Himmler and Hitler agreed in principle on mass extermination by gassing. During interrogations by Soviet intelligence officers declassified over fifty years later, Hitler's valet Heinz Linge and his military aide Otto Gunsche said Hitler had "pored over the first blueprints of gas chambers."

To make for smoother intra-governmental cooperation in the implementation of this "Final Solution" to the "Jewish question", the Wannsee conference was held near Berlin on January 20, 1942, with fifteen senior officials participating, led by Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann. The records of this meeting provide the clearest evidence of central planning for the Holocaust. Days later, on February 22, Hitler was recorded saying to his closest associates, "we shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jews".

World War II

Opening moves

On March 12, 1938, Hitler pressured his native Austria into unification with Germany (the Anschluss) and made a triumphal entry into Vienna. Next he intensified a crisis over the German-speaking Sudetenland district of Czechoslovakia. This led to the Munich Agreement of September 1938, which British prime minister Neville Chamberlain hailed as "Peace in our time". At Munich, Britain and France had weakly given way to his demands, averting war but failing to save Czechoslovakia. As a result of the summit Hitler was TIME magazine's Man of the Year in 1938.

Hitler ordered Germany's army to enter Prague on March 10, 1939, claiming territories ceded to Poland under the Versailles Treaty. Britain had not been able to reach an agreement with the Soviet Union for an alliance against Germany, and, on August 23, 1939, Hitler concluded a secret non-aggression pact (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) with Stalin on which it was likely agreed that Soviet Union and Nazi Germany would split Poland. On September 1 Germany invaded the Western portion of Poland. Britain and France, who had guaranteed assistance to Poland, declared war on Germany. Not long after this on September 17 the Soviet Union invaded Eastern Poland.

Adolf Hitler in Paris, 23 June 1940.
Adolf Hitler in Paris, 23 June 1940.
Hitler with Romanian ally Ion Antonescu (far left).
Hitler with Romanian ally Ion Antonescu (far left).

After conquering Western Poland by the end of September, Hitler built up his forces much further during what was colloquially called the Sitzkrieg (sitting war). The Sitzkrieg ended in April 1940 when he ordered German forces to march into Denmark and Norway. In May 1940, Hitler ordered his forces to attack France, conquering the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium in the process. France surrendered on June 22, 1940. This string of victories convinced his main ally, Benito Mussolini of Italy, to join the war on Hitler's side in May 1940.

Britain, whose forces had been driven from France at the coastal town of Dunkirk, continued to fight on alone. After having his overtures for peace systematically rejected by the British Government, now led by Winston Churchill, Hitler ordered bombing raids on the British Isles, leading to the Battle of Britain, which was meant to be the prelude of a German invasion. However, the RAF defeated the Luftwaffe by the end of October 1940, and Hitler therefore ordered bombing raids to be carried out on British cities, including London and Coventry, mostly at night. This was the so-called Blitz and it lasted until May 1941.

On June 22, 1941, Hitler gave the signal for three million German troops to attack the Soviet Union, breaking the non-aggression pact he had concluded with Stalin less than two years earlier. This invasion, called Operation Barbarossa, seized huge amounts of territory, especially the Baltic states and Ukraine, resulting in the destruction of many Soviet forces. German forces were stopped short of Moscow in December 1941 by a harsh winter and fierce Soviet resistance, however (see Battle of Moscow), and the invasion failed to achieve the quick triumph over the Soviet Union which Hitler had anticipated.

Path to defeat

Hitler's declaration of war against the United States on December 11, 1941, (which arguably was called for by Germany's treaty with Japan) set him against a coalition that included the world's largest empire (the British Empire), the world's greatest industrial and financial power (the USA), and the world's largest army (the Soviet Union).

In late 1942, German forces under Feldmarschall Erwin Rommel were defeated in the battle of El Alamein, thwarting Hitler's plans to seize the Suez Canal and the Middle East. In February of 1943, the months-long Battle of Stalingrad ended with the complete destruction of the German forces there by armies of the Soviet Union. Both defeats were turning points in the war. After these, the quality of Hitler's military judgement became increasingly erratic and Germany's military and economic position deteriorated. His health was deteriorating too. His left hand started shaking uncontrollably. The biographer Ian Kershaw believes he suffered from Parkinson's disease. Other conditions that are suspected by some to have caused some (at least) of his symptoms are methamphetamine addiction and syphilis.

Hitler's ally Benito Mussolini was overthrown in 1943 after British and American forces invaded Sicily. Throughout 1943 and 1944, the Soviet Union steadily forced Hitler's armies into retreat along the eastern front. On June 6, 1944 (D-Day) the Western allied armies landed in northern France. Realists in the German army knew defeat was inevitable and some officers plotted to remove Hitler from power. In July 1944 one of them, Claus von Stauffenberg, planted a bomb at Hitler's military headquarters (the so-called July 20 Plot), but Hitler narrowly escaped death. He ordered savage reprisals, resulting in the executions of more than 4,000 people (often by starvation in solitary confinement followed by slow strangulation). The resistance movement was crushed.

Defeat and death

Adolf Hitler shaking hands with Feldmarschall Ferdinand Schörner in the bunker, one of the last known photos of Hitler.
Adolf Hitler shaking hands with Feldmarschall Ferdinand Schörner in the bunker, one of the last known photos of Hitler.
For more details on this topic, see Hitler's death.

By the end of 1944 the Red Army had driven the last German troops from their territory and began charging into Central Europe. The western armies were also rapidly advancing into Germany. The Germans had lost the war from a military perspective, but Hitler allowed no peace talks with the Allied forces, and as a consequence the German military continued to fight. By April 1945 Soviet forces were at the gates of Berlin. Hitler's closest lieutenants urged him to flee to Bavaria or Austria to make a last stand in the mountains, but he seemed determined to either live or die in the capital. SS leader Heinrich Himmler tried on his own to inform the Allies (through a Swedish diplomat) that Germany was prepared to discuss surrender terms. Hitler received news of this through Swedish radio and dismissed him.

As Soviet troops battled their way in street-to-street combat towards the Reich Chancellory in the centre of the city, Hitler committed suicide in the Führerbunker on 30 April 1945, in Berlin by means of a self-delivered shot to the head (it is likely he simultaneously bit into a cyanide ampoule). Hitler's body and that of Eva Braun, (his long-term mistress whom he had married the day before), were partially burned with petrol by Fuhrerbunker aides, and hastily buried shortly thereafter in the Chancellory garden with Russian shells pouring down from all directions, and with Russian infantry less than a few hundred meters away.

When Russian forces reached the Chancellory, they later exhumed his body and an autopsy was performed, using dental records (and German dental assistants who were familiar with them) to confirm the identification. To avoid any possibility of creating a potential shrine, the remains of Hitler and Braun were repeatedly moved, then secretly buried by SMERSH at their new headquarters in Magdeburg. In April 1970, when the facility was about to be turned over to the East German government, the remains were reportedly exhumed, thoroughly cremated, and the ashes finally dumped unceremoniously into the River Elbe.


  • I would have preferred it if he'd followed his original ambition and become an architect. —Paula Hitler (his younger sister), during an interview with a U.S. intelligence operative in late 1945.

At the time of Hitler's death most of Germany's infrastructure and major cities were in ruins and he had left explicit orders to complete the destruction. Millions of Germans were dead with millions more wounded or homeless. In his will he dismissed other Nazi leaders and appointed Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as Reichspräsident (President of Germany) and Goebbels as Reichskanzler (Chancellor of Germany). However, Goebbels and his wife Magda committed suicide on 1 May 1945. On 8 May 1945, in Reims, France the German armed forces surrendered unconditionally ending the war in Europe and with the creation of the Allied Control Council on 5 June 1945, the Four Powers assumed "supreme authority with respect to Germany." Adolf Hitler's proclaimed Thousand Year Reich had lasted 12 years.

Since the defeat of Germany in World War II, Hitler, the Nazi Party and the results of Nazism have been regarded in most of the world as synonymous with evil. Historical and cultural portrayals of Hitler in the west are almost uniformly negative, often neglecting to mention the adulation the German people bestowed on Hitler during his lifetime, though the vast majority of present-day Germans share a negative view of Hitler.

The copyright of Hitler's book Mein Kampf is held by the Free State of Bavaria and will expire in 2015. Reproductions in Germany are generally authorized only for scholarly purposes and in heavily commented form. The display of swastikas or other Nazi symbols is prohibited in Germany and political extremists are generally under surveillance by the Verfassungsschutz, the federal office for the protection of the constitution.

Despite this there have been instances of public figures referring to his legacy in neutral or even favourable terms, particularly in South America, the Islamic World and parts of Asia. Future Egyptian President Anwar Sadat wrote favourably of Hitler in 1953. Bal Thackeray, leader of the conservative Shiv Sena party in the Indian state of Maharashtra, declared in 1995 that he was an admirer of Hitler.

While some Revisionist historians note Hitler's attempts to improve the economic and political standing and conditions of his people and claim his tactics were in essence no different from those of many other leaders in history, his methods and legacy, as interpreted by most historians, have caused him to be one of the most despised leaders in history.

See also: Consequences of German Nazism and Neo-Nazism.

Medical health

For more details on this topic, see Adolf Hitler's medical health.

Hitler's medical health has long been the subject of debate, and he has variously been suggested to have suffered from irritable bowel syndrome, skin lesions, irregular heartbeat, tremors on the left side of his body, syphilis, Parkinson's disease and a strongly suggested addiction to methamphetamines.

Hitler's family

Adolf Hitler's Genealogy
Adolf Hitler's Genealogy

See also: Hitler (disambiguation)

Sketch of Eva Braun by Hitler
Sketch of Eva Braun by Hitler

The origin of the name "Hitler"

There are two theories about the origin of the name "Hitler":

  • (1) From German Hüttler and similar, "one who lives in a hut", "shepherd".
  • (2) From Slavonic Hidlar and Hidlarcek and similar.


  • The archives of the Finnish Yleisradio broadcasting company contain an audio tape segment of a Hitler conversation with Finnish Marshal Mannerheim and other officers which may be the only known recording of Hitler speaking in a conversational tone of voice rather than with the intense delivery he used for official speeches. It was secretly recorded by Finnish intelligence agents when Hitler unexpectedly flew to Finland to congratulate Marshall Mannerheim on his 75th birthday on 4 June 1942. According to the IMDb "His speech is 'working class language' and his turns of phrase reflect the speaker's educational shortcomings." Swiss actor Bruno Ganz is said to have studied the eleven-minute recording extensively while preparing for his portrayal of Hitler in the 2004 German film Der Untergang.
  • Most of Hitler's biographers have characterized him as a vegetarian who abstained from eating meat beginning in the early 1930s until his death (although his actual dietary habits are sometimes hotly disputed). A fear of cancer (which his mother Klara Hitler died from) is the most widely cited reason. He did consume dairy products and eggs. Martin Bormann constructed a large greenhouse close to the Berghof (near Berchtesgaden) in order to ensure a steady supply of fresh fruits and vegetables for Hitler throughout the war. Personal photographs of Bormann's children tending the greenhouse survive and by 2005 its foundations were among the only ruins visible in the area which were directly associated with Nazi leaders. For more information on this topic, see Vegetarianism of Adolf Hitler.
  • Hitler did not like women to wear cosmetics since they contained animal by-products.
  • He was susceptible to flatulence (which doctors attributed to his diet) and took various medications to lessen gas pains.
  • Contrary to popular legend, there is some evidence Hitler did not abstain entirely from alcohol. During post war interrogation in the USSR his valet Heinz Linge indicated Hitler drank champagne now and then with Eva Braun.
  • He almost never wore a uniform to social engagements, which he attended frequently whenever in Berlin during the 1930s.
  • At dinner he was known to complain about the quality of popular music in Germany, then hum a hit song with his own improvements.
  • In response to a shortage of servants during the war, Hitler is reported to have said, "I stamp whole divisions into the dirt! And I can't get a few more serving wenches for the Berghof? Organise it now!"
  • Hitler was an avid non-smoker and promoted aggressive anti-smoking campaigns throughout Germany. He reportedly promised a gold watch to any of his close associates who quit (and gave a few away). Several witness accounts relate that immediately after his suicide was confirmed, many officers, aides and secretaries in the Führerbunker lit cigarettes.
  • During the early 20th century Adolf was a popular name for German Jews. After World War II many survivors who had been born with this name changed it and the popularity of the name decreased dramatically. [7]
  • A nickname for Hitler used by German soldiers was Gröfaz, a derogatory acronym for Größter Feldherr aller Zeiten ("Greatest War Lord of all Time"), a title initially publicized by Nazi propaganda to refer to Hitler during the early war years.
  • The 2004 film Der Untergang (Downfall) is partly based on the autobiography of Traudl Junge, a favorite secretary of Hitler's. In 2002 Junge said she felt great guilt for "...liking the greatest criminal ever to have lived."

Hitler's associates

  • Martin Bormann, Adolf Hitler's Private Secretary.
  • Hans Frank, Hitler's lawyer and later senior Nazi official in occupied Poland.
  • Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, 25th Chancellor of Germany.
  • Hermann Göring, Commander of the Luftwaffe, founder of the Gestapo.
  • Rudolf Hess, one-time Deputy Leader of the Nazi Party, best known for his flight to Scotland to negotiate peace in 1941.
  • Reinhard Heydrich, considered as a possible successor by Hitler, assassinated by a team of Czech agents on May 27, 1942.
  • Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS, later the SA, as well as the Gestapo, key figure in the Holocaust and the "Final Solution".
  • Heinrich Hoffmann, official photographer from 1920 to 1945.
  • Alfred Jodl, military officer, knew Hitler since 1923.
  • Wilhelm Keitel, military Field Marshal during World War II.
  • Leni Riefenstahl, friend and filmmaker who documented the Nazi party.
  • Erwin Rommel, military Field Marshal during World War II.
  • Ernst Röhm, leader of the SA, shot on Hitler's orders in the Night of the Long Knives.
  • Albert Speer, Hitler's personal architect, Minister of armaments.
  • Paul Troost, famous architect who served before Speer.

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  1. ^  "'Heil Schicklgruber!'???," (accessed June 11, 2005); Cecil Adams, "Was Hitler part Jewish?," The Straight Dope (accessed June 11, 2005).
  2. ^  Joachim C. Fest, "The Drummer," in The Face Of The Third Reich (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1970; accessed June 11, 2005).
  3. ^  Adolf Hitler and Volkswagen, Hitler Historical Museum, 1999 (accessed June 11, 2005).
  4. ^  "How many Jews were murdered in the Holocaust? How do we know? Do we have their names?," from FAQs About The Holocaust, Yad Vashem (accessed June 11, 2005); "The Holocaust," Holocaust Encyclopedia, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (accessed June 11, 2005).
  5. ^  "11-million perished," St. Petersburg Times, 1999 (accessed June 11, 2005); Karen Silverstrim, "Overlooked Millions: Non-Jewish Victims of the Holocaust," University of Central Arkansas (accessed June 11, 2005).

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Anton Drexler
Leader of the NSDAP
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Kurt von Schleicher
Chancellor of Germany(a)
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Führer of Germany(a)
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(a) The Presidency and the Chancellorship were combined 1934-1945 in the office of Führer und Reichskanzler

Adolf Hitler
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Adolf Hitler's contacts with Jewish people | Hitler's political beliefs | Beer Hall Putsch | Adolf Hitler's medical health | Vegetarianism of Adolf Hitler | Mein Kampf | Hitler's death
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