Adolf Hitler (April 20, 1889 - April 30, 1945) was Chancellor and Führer of Germany from 1933 to 1945. He was the principal instigator of the Holocaust and World War II.

Table of contents
1 Childhood and youth
2 Vienna and Munich
3 The Nazi Party
4 The Road to Power
5 The Nazi regime
6 World War II: Victories
7 The Holocaust
8 World War II: Defeat
9 The Consequences of Hitler and Nazi Germany
10 Related articles
11 Further reading
12 External links
13 Regarding the spelling "Adolph"

Childhood and youth

Adolf Hitler was born on April 20 1889 at Braunau-am-Inn, a small town near Linz in the province of Upper Austria, near the German border, in what was then Austria-Hungary. His father Alois (1832-1903) was a minor customs official. His mother, Klara Hitler (née Pölzl), was Alois's third wife. Of their six children, only Adolf and his sister Paula survived infancy.

Alois Hitler was born illegitimate, and as a young man he used his mother's surname, Schicklgruber. In 1876 he legally adopted his natural father's surname, Hitler. Adolf Hitler never used the name Schicklgruber: this was a canard circulated later by his political enemies—as were insinuations that he was of Jewish descent.

Hitler was an intelligent but moody boy, and he twice failed to pass the examinations to gain admission to the high school in Linz. He was devoted to his indulgent mother and developed a hatred for his father, whom he later portrayed as a sadistic tyrant, although in fact he was probably no more than a normal, strict German father.

Vienna and Munich

In January 1903 Alois Hitler died, and in December 1907 his widow Klara died of cancer. Eighteen-year-old Adolf was orphaned and he soon left home for Vienna, where he had vague hopes of becoming an artist. He was entitled to an orphan's pension, and eked this out by working as an illustrator. He had a little artistic talent but was rejected by Vienna schools of art and architecture. He lost his pension in 1910, but by then he had inherited some money from an aunt.

It was in Vienna that Hitler began developing into an active anti-Semite, a passion that was to rule his life and was the key to all his subsequent actions. Anti-Semitism was deeply ingrained in the south German Catholic culture in which Hitler was raised. Vienna had a large Jewish community, including many Orthodox Jews from eastern Europe. Hitler later recorded his disgust on encountering Viennese Jews.

In Vienna anti-Semitism had developed from its religious origins into a political doctrine, promoted by publicists such as Lanz von Liebenfels, whose pamphlets Hitler read, and politicians like Karl Lueger, the Mayor of Vienna, or Georg Ritter von Schönerer, who contributes the racial aspect of anti-Semitism. From them Hitler acquired the belief in the superiority of the "Aryan race" which formed the basis of his political views. Hitler came to believe that the Jews were the natural enemies of the "Aryans," and were also in some way responsible for his poverty and his failure to achieve the success he believed he deserved.

In 1913 Hitler moved to Munich to avoid military service in the Austro-Hungarian army. But in August 1914 when the German Empire entered World War I, he at once enlisted in the German Army. He attained the rank of corporal and saw active service in France and Belgium as a messenger. He was wounded and gassed and won the Iron Cross for bravery. During the war he acquired a passionate German patriotism, despite not being a German citizen (a detail he did not rectify until 1932). He was shocked at the German capitulation in November 1918, when the German army was (so he believed) undefeated. He, like many other German nationalists, blamed civilian politicians (the "November criminals") for the surrender.

The Nazi Party

After the war Hitler stayed in the army, which was now mainly engaged in suppressing the socialist revolutions which were breaking out across Germany—including in Munich, where Hitler returned in 1919. While still in the army he was assigned to spy on the meetings of a small nationalist party, the German Workers' Party. Hitler joined the party as member number 555 in the spring of 1919; on August 14, he met Dietrich Eckart, an anti-semitist and one of the early key members of the party, for the first time when Eckart gave a speech before party members.

Hitler would not be discharged from the army until 1920; after this he began to take full part in the party's activities. He soon became its leader and changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers Party (National Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeitspartei - NSDAP), usually known as the Nazi party from National Sozialistische, in contrast to Sozi, a term used for the Social Democrats. The party adopted the swastika (supposedly a symbol of "Aryanism") and the Roman salute, also used by the Italian fascists.

The Nazi party was but one of a large number of small extremist groups in Munich at this time. But Hitler soon discovered that he had two remarkable talents—for public oratory and for inspiring personal loyalty. His street-corner oratory, attacking the Jews, the socialists and liberals, the capitalists and Communists, began to attract adherents. Early followers included Rudolf Hess, Hermann Göring, and Ernst Röhm, head of the Nazis' paramilitary organization, the S.A Another admirer was the wartime Field-Marshall Erich Ludendorff. Hitler decided to use Ludendorff as a front in a rather ridiculous attempt to seize power, the "Beer Hall Putsch" of November 8 1923, when the Nazis marched from a beerhall to the Bavarian War Ministry, intending to overthrow Bavaria's right-wing separatist government and then march on Berlin. They were quickly dispersed by the army and Hitler was arrested.

Hitler was put on trial for high treason, and used his trial as an opportunity to spread his message throughout Germany. In April 1924 he was sentenced to five years' imprisonment in Landsberg Prison. Here he dictated a book called Mein Kampf (My Struggle) to his faithful deputy Hess. This ponderous work contained Hitler's views on race, history and politics, including plenty of warning of the fate that awaited his enemies, particularly the Jews, should he ever attain power. The book was first published in two volumes: the first in 1925 and the second a year later. The prospects of Hitler attaining power seemed so remote at the time that no-one took his writings seriously.

Considered relatively harmless, Hitler was given an early amnesty. He was released in December 1924. By this time the Nazi party barely existed and its leader would have a long effort in trying to rebuild it. During these years he established a group which later became one of his key instruments in carrying out his objectives. As Röhm's Sturmabteilung ("Stormtroopers" or S.A), were unreliable and formed a separate base of power within the party, Hitler established a personal bodyguard, the Schutzstaffel ("Protection Unit" or SS). This elite black-uniformed corps was to be commanded by Heinrich Himmler, who was to become the principal executor of his plans with respect to the "Jewish Question" during the Second World War.

A key element of Hitler's appeal was the sense of offended national pride caused by the Treaty of Versailles imposed on the defeated German Empire by the Allies. The German Empire lost territory to France, Poland, Belgium and Denmark, and had to admit sole responsibility for the war, give up her colonies and her Navy, and pay a huge reparations bill. Since most Germans did not believe that the German Empire had started the war, and did not believe that they had been defeated, they bitterly resented these terms. Although the party's early attempts to garner votes by blaming all these humiliations on the machinations of "international Jewry" were not particularly successful with the electorate, the party's propaganda wing learned quickly, and soon a more subtle propaganda - which combined anti-semitism with a spirited attack on the failures of the "Weimar system" and the parties which had supported it - began to come to the fore.

The Road to Power

The turning point in Hitler's fortunes came with the Depression which hit Germany in 1930. The democratic regime established in Germany in 1919, the so-called Weimar Republic, had never been genuinely accepted by conservatives, and the powerful Communist Party also rejected it. The Social Democrats and the traditional parties of the center and right were unable to deal with the shock of the Depression, and were, moreover, all tainted with association with the Weimar system, and in the elections of September 1930 the Nazis suddenly rose from obscurity to win more than 18% of the vote and 107 seats in the Reichstag, becoming the second largest party.

Hitler's success was based on winning over the bulk of the German middle-class, who had been hard hit by the inflation of the 1920s and the unemployment of the Depression. Farmers and war veterans were other groups who supported the Nazis. The urban working classes generally ignored Hitler's appeals, and Berlin and the Ruhr towns were particularly hostile. But in these cities the Communists were strong, and the Communist Party also opposed democratic government and refused to co-operate with other parties to block Hitler's rise.

The 1930 election was a disaster for Heinrich Brüning's center-right government, which was now deprived of any chance at a Reichstag majority, and had to rely on the toleration of the Social Democrats and the use of presidential emergency powers to remain in power. With Brüning's austerity measures in the face of the Depression having little success, the government was anxious to avoid a presidential election in 1932, and hoped to secure the Nazis' agreement to an extension of President Hindenburg's term, but Hitler refused to agree, and ultimately competed against Hindenburg in the presidential election, coming in second in both the first and second rounds of the election, and attaining more than 35% of the vote in the second round, in April, despite the attempts of both Interior Minister Wilhelm Groener and the Social Democratic Prussian government to restrict the Nazis' public activities, notably including a ban on the SA.

The embarrassments of the election put an end to Hindenburg's tolerance for Brüning, and the old Field Marshal dismissed the government, appointing a new government under the reactionary non-entity Franz von Papen, which immediately repealed the ban on the SA and called for new Reichstag elections. In the July 1932 elections the Nazis had their best showing yet, winning 230 seats and becoming the largest party. Since now the Nazis and Communists together controlled a majority of the Reichstag, the formation of a stable majority government committed to democracy was impossible, and, following a vote of no-confidence in the Papen government supported by 84% of the delegates, the new Reichstag was immediately dissolved and new elections called.

Papen and the Centre Party now both opened negotiations to secure Nazi participation in the government, but Hitler set high terms, demanding the Chancellorship and the President's agreement that he be able to use emergency powers under Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution. This failure to join the government, along with the Nazis' efforts to win working class support, alienated some of the Nazis' previous supporters, so that in the elections of November 1932, the Nazis actually lost votes, although they remained by far the largest party in the Reichstag.

As Papen had clearly failed in his attempts to secure a majority through negotiation to bring the Nazis into the government, Hindenburg dismissed him and appointed in his place General Kurt von Schleicher, long a power behind the scenes and more recently Defense Minister, who promised that he could secure a majority government by negotiations with both Social Democratic labour unions and with the dissident Nazi faction led by Gregor Strasser.

As Schleicher attempted this difficult mission, Papen and Alfred Hugenberg, Chairman of the German National People's Party (DNVP), before the Nazis' rise Germany's principal right-wing party, now conspired to persuade Hindenburg to appoint Hitler Chancellor in a coalition with the DNVP, promising that they would be able to control him. When Schleicher was forced to admit failure in his efforts, and asked Hindenburg for yet another Reichstag dissolution, Hindenburg fired him and put Papen's plan into execution, appointing Hitler Chancellor with Papen as Vice-Chancellor and Hugenberg as Minister of Economics, in a cabinet which only included three Nazis—Hitler, Göring, and Wilhelm Frick. On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was officially sworn in as Chancellor in the Reichstag chamber, with thousands of Nazi supporters looking on and cheering.

The German Communist Party and its masters in Moscow must take a large part of the blame for Hitler's rise to power. Since 1929 Stalin had directed the Comintern to adopt a policy of extreme sectarianism towards all other parties on the left—Social Democrats were to be treated as "social fascists" and no alliances were to be made with them. This suited Stalin's domestic political ends, but it had disastrous consequences in Germany. The Communist Party not only failed to oppose the Nazis in alliance with the Social Democrats, it tactically co-operated with them (most notably in the 1932 Berlin public transport strike). They soon realised the error of this policy. Using the pretext of the Reichstag fire, Hitler issued the Reichstag Fire Decree of February 28 1933. The decree supressed several significant civil rights in the name of national security. The Communist leaders, along with all other opponents of the regime, soon found themselves in prison. At the same time the SA launched a wave of violence against the labour movement, the Jews and other enemies.

But Hitler did not yet hold the nation in thrall. Hitler's initial election into office and his use of constitutionally enshrined mechanisms to shore up power have led to the myth that his country elected him dictator and that a majority supported his ascent. He was made Chancellor in a legal appointment by the President, who was elected. But neither Hitler himself nor the party he headed garnered a majority vote. At the last free elections, the Nazis polled 33% of the vote, winning 196 seats out of 584. Even in the elections of March 1933, which took place after terror and violence had suffused the state, the Nazis received only 44% of the vote. The party gained control of a majority of seats in the Reichstag through a formal coalition with the DNVP. Finally, the additional votes needed to pass the Enabling Act, which invested Hitler with dictatorial authority, the Nazis secured by expelling the Communist deputies and intimidating Centre Party ministers. In a series of decrees that followed soon afterwards, other parties were suppressed and all opposition was banned. In only a few months Hitler had achieved authoritarian control without ever suspending or violating the Weimar constitution. But he had undermined democracy to do so.

The Nazi regime

Having secured supreme political power without winning support from the majority of Germans, Hitler in fact did go on to win it, and he remained overwhelmingly popular until the very end of his regime. He was a master orator, and with all of Germany's mass media under the control of his propaganda chief, Dr Joseph Goebbels, he was able to persuade most Germans that he was their saviour—from the Depression, the Communists, the Versailles Treaty and the Jews. For those who were not persuaded, the SA, the SS and the Gestapo (Secret State Police) were given a free hand, and thousands disappeared into concentration camps. Many thousands more emigrated, including about half of Germany's Jews.

To consolidate his regime, Hitler needed the neutrality of the Army and the industrial magnates. They were alarmed by the "socialist" component of National Socialism, which was represented by the mainly working-class Brownshirts of Ernst Roehm's SA. To remove this barrier to acceptance of his regime, Hitler unleashed his lieutenant Himmler to murder Roehm and dozens of other real and potential enemies during the night of June 29-June 30, 1934. The event is remembered as the Night of the Long Knives. When Hindenburg died on August 2 1934 Hitler merged the offices of President and Chancellor, appointing himself Leader (Führer) of Germany, and extracting an oath of personal loyalty from every member of the armed forces.

Those Jews who had not emigrated in time soon regretted their hesitation. Under the 1935 Nuremberg Laws they lost their status as German citizens and were expelled from government employment, the professions and most forms of economic activity. They were subject to a barrage of hateful propaganda. Few non-Jewish Germans objected to these steps. The Christian Churches, steeped in centuries of anti-Semitism, remained silent. These restrictions were further tightened later, particularly after the 1938 anti-Jewish operation known as Kristallnacht. From 1941 Jews were required to wear a yellow star in public.

In March 1935 Hitler repudiated the Treaty of Versailles by reintroducing conscription in Germany. His set goal seemed to be the building of a massive military machine, including a new Navy and an Air Force (the Luftwaffe). The latter was set under the command of Göring, a veteran commander of World War I. The enlistment of vast numbers of men and women in the new military seemed to solve unemployment problems, but seriously distorted its economy.

In March 1936 he again violated the Treaty of Versailles by reoccupying the demilitarised zone in the Rhineland. When Britain and France did nothing to stop him, 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 help the rebels. 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.

Hitler formed an alliance with the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini on October 25, 1936. This alliance was later expanded to include Japan, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. They are collectively known as the Axis Powers. Then on November 5, 1937 at the Reich Chancellery, Adolf Hitler held a secret meeting and stated his plans for acquiring "living space" for the German people.

On March 12 1938 Hitler bullied Austria into unification with Germany (the Anschluss) and made a triumphal entry into Vienna. Next he created a crisis over the German-speaking Sudetenland district of Czechoslovakia. This led to the Munich Agreement of September 1938 where Britain and France weakly gave way to his demands, averting war but sealing the fate of Czechoslovakia. Germany entered Prague on March 10 1939.

At this point Britain and France decided to make a stand, and they resisted Hitler's next demands, for the return of the territories ceded to Poland under the Versailles Treaty. But the western powers were unable to come to an agreement with the Soviet Union for an alliance against Germany, and Hitler outmanoeuvred them. On August 23 1939 he concluded an alliance (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) with Stalin. On September 1 Germany invaded Poland. Hitler was surprised when Britain and France honoured their pledge to the Poles by declaring war on Germany.

World War II: Victories

Over the next three years Hitler had an almost unbroken run of military success. Poland was quickly defeated and partitioned with the Soviets. In April 1940 Germany invaded Denmark and Norway. In May Germany initiated a lightning offensive that quickly overran The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France, which collapsed within six weeks. In April 1941 Yugoslavia and Greece were invaded. Meanwhile German forces were advancing across North Africa towards Egypt. These invasions were accompanied by the bombing of undefended cities such as Warsaw, Rotterdam and Belgrade. Hitler's only setback was the failure of his attempt to bomb Britain into submission, which was thwarted during the Battle of Britain.

On June 22 1941 Operation Barbarossa began. Hitler's forces invaded the Soviet Union, rapidly seizing the western third of European Russia, besieging Leningrad and threatening Moscow. In the winter Hitler's army was repelled from the gates of Moscow, but the following summer the offensive was resumed. By July 1942 Hitler's armies were on the Volga. Here they were defeated at the Battle of Stalingrad, the first major defeat of Germany. In North Africa Great Britain defeated Germany at the battle of El Alamein, thwarting Hitler's plans of seizing the Suez Canal and the Middle East.

The Holocaust

It is sometimes asked why Hitler invaded the Soviet Union while leaving Britain undefeated in the west. The answer is that Hitler had two overriding objectives: creating an eastern empire for the Germans, and exterminating the Jews. The Soviet Union was harbouring the second-largest Jewish population in Europe after Poland. For Hitler, the war against the western allies was only a necessary prelude to the conquest of Eastern Europe. Here he intended to enslave, expel or kill the Russians, Poles and other Slavic peoples to make room for German settlers. This was an objective many Germans shared. But his personal obsession had always been the extermination of the Jews. The large number of Jews (3.3 million) who lived in the Soviet Union was clearly a major factor behind his order to invade that country. And, indeed, mass murder of the Jews began with the Einsatzgruppen who followed the armies into the Soviet Union, conducting mass shootings of Jews throughout the recently occupied territories which have been estimated to have killed approximately 2 million Jews.

There remained the question of what to do with the millions of Jews crowded into the ghettoes of the General Government of Poland. While no specific order from Hitler authorizing the mass killing of the Jews has surfaced, the evidence suggests that sometime in the fall of 1941, Himmler and he agreed in principle on mass murder by gassing. 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 the participation of fifteen senior officials, led by Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann, the records of which provide the best evidence of the central planning of the Holocaust. Between 1942 and 1944 the SS, assisted by collaborationist governments and recruits from occupied countries, systematically killed approximately 3.5 million more Jews in six camps in Poland: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka. Others were killed less systematically elsewhere, or died of starvation and disease while working as slave labourers. This attempt to exterminate the Jews of Europe is now generally called the Holocaust, although the Hebrew word Shoah is preferred by some Jewish writers.

Other ethnic groups and social categories were also subject to persecution and in some cases extermination. Thousands of German socialists, communists and other opponents of the regime died in concentration camps, as did a large but unknown number of homosexual men. The Gypsies were regarded as an inferior race and were also shot or sent to death camps. About three million Soviet prisoners of war also died in camps or as slave labourers. All the occupied countries suffered terrible privations and mass executions: up to three million (non-Jewish) Polish civilians died during the occupation.

There is no known document in which he explicitly ordered the Holocaust, but most historians believe he not only knew of it but ordered Himmler to carry it out—certainly it was entirely consistent with his lifelong beliefs.

World War II: Defeat

Hitler's early military triumphs persuaded him (and many others) that he was a strategic genius, and he became increasingly unwilling to listen to advice or to hear bad news. After the battle of Stalingrad, widely regarded as the turning point of WW II, his military decisions became increasingly erratic, and Germany's military and economic position deteriorated. The entry of the United States into the war on December 7 1941 led to an awesome coalition of the world's largest empire (the British Empire), the world's greatest industrial and financial power (the USA), and the Soviet Union, which shouldered the largest burden of WW II in terms of human and other losses. Realists in the German army saw that defeat was inevitable, and some officers plotted to remove Hitler from power. In July 1944 one of them, Claus von Stauffenberg set up a bomb at Hitler's military headquarters (the so-called July 20 Plot), but Hitler narrowly escaped death. Savage reprisals followed and the resistance movement was crushed.

Hitler's ally Benito Mussolini was overthrown in 1943. Meanwhile the Soviet Union was steadily forcing Hitler's armies to retreat from their conquests in the East. But as long as western Europe was secure, Germany could hope to hold the line indefinitely, despite an increasingly heavy campaign of bombing of German cities. On June 6 1944 (D-Day), Allied armies landed in northern France, and by December they were on the Rhine. Hitler staged a last ditch offensive in the Ardennes (the Battle of the Bulge). But by the new year the western armies were advancing into Germany.

In February the Soviets smashed their way through Poland and eastern Germany, and in April they arrived at the gates of Berlin. Hitler's closest lieutenants urged him to flee to Bavaria or Austria to make a last stand in the mountains, but he was determined to die in his capital. His armies crumbling, and with Soviet forces fighting their way into central Berlin, Hitler killed himself in his Berlin bunker on 30 April 1945. He was 56. As part of his last will, he ordered that his body be taken outside and burned. In the testament he left, he dismissed the other Nazi leaders and appointed Admiral Karl Dönitz as the new Führer and Goebbels as the new Chancellor of Germany. However the latter committed suicide on May 1, 1945. On May 8 1945, Germany surrendered. Hitler's "Thousand Year Reich" had lasted a little over 12 years.

Hitler's partly burnt remains were found by the Russians. They kept this fact secret, and for years the Soviet Union fostered rumours that Hitler had somehow survived the war and was living in Latin America (where many ex-Nazis actually were living). In fact his remains were buried at an undisclosed location in eastern Germany on Stalin's instructions.

The Consequences of Hitler and Nazi Germany

See: Consequences of German Nazism

Preceded by:
Kurt von Schleicher
Chancellors of Germany Succeeded by:
Joseph Goebbels

Related articles

Further reading

External links

Regarding the spelling "Adolph"

Occasionally in English Hitler's first name is rendered "Adolph". In Germany and elsewhere "Adolf" is used exclusively. Hitler himself spelled his name "Adolf".