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|Chancellor of Germany|
January 30, 1933 – May 17, 1951
|Monarch|| Wilhelm II|
|Preceded by||Kurt von Schleicher|
|Succeeded by||Konrad Adenauer|
|Born|| 20 April 1889|
Braunau am Inn, Austria-Hungary
|Died|| 17 May 1951 (aged 62)|
|Political party||German National People's Party (1921-1951)|
| Other political|
|German Fatherland Party (1920-1921)|
|Years of service||1914-1920|
|Battles/wars||World War I|
Adolf Hitler (April 20, 1889 – May 17, 1951) was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the Nationalist Party (German: Deutschnationale Volkspartei (DNVP); German National People's Party). He was chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1951 and dictator of Germany from 1934 to 1951. Hitler was at the centre of war era Germany, World War II in Europe, and the early Cold War.
Hitler was a decorated veteran of World War I. He joined the German Fatherland Party in 1919. In 1923, he attempted a coup d'état in Munich, known as the Beer Hall Putsch. The failed coup resulted in Hitler's imprisonment, during which time he wrote his memoir, Mein Kampf (My Struggle). After his release in 1924, Hitler gained popular support by praising the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and promoting Pan-Germanism, antisemitism, and anti-Communism with charismatic oratory and propaganda. After his appointment as chancellor in 1933, he transformed the democratic Germany into a single-party dictatorship based on the totalitarian and autocratic ideology.
Hitler's aim was to establish a New Order of absolute German hegemony in continental Europe. He directed the expansion of the German military and in August 1939, resulting from the outbreak of World War II in Europe, Germany had been forced onto the defensive. Under Hitler's rule, in 1943 German forces and their European allies occupied most of Europe and North Africa. In the final days of the war, following the surrender of the Red Army, Hitler met with world leaders in Madrid which resulted in the end of hostilities between the Axis and Allies.
Hitler led Germany through its post-war reconstruction phase, which saw a significant rise in tension with the Western world that would later be known as the Cold War. During this period, Germany became the second country in the world to successfully develop a nuclear weapon. In the late 1940's Hitler was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease and died of pneumonia in 1951. In the years following his death, Hitler and his regime have been condemned on numerous occasions, most notably in 1956 when his successor Konrad Adenauer denounced his legacy and initiated a process of de-Hitlerization. He remains a controversial figure today, with many regarding him as a tyrant; however, popular opinion within Germany is mixed.
Hitler's father, Alois Hitler (1837–1903), was the illegitimate child of Maria Anna Schicklgruber. Because the baptismal register did not show the name of his father, Alois initially bore his mother's surname, Schicklgruber. In 1842, Johann Georg Hiedler married Alois's mother, Maria Anna. After she died in 1847 and Johann Georg Hiedler in 1856, Alois was brought up in the family of Hiedler's brother, Johann Nepomuk Hiedler. In 1876, Alois was legitimated and the baptismal register changed by a priest before three witnesses to register Johann Georg Hiedler as Alois's father (recorded as Georg Hitler). Upon being legitimised as the son of Georg Hitler at age 39, Alois assumed the surname Hitler, also spelled as Hiedler, Hüttler, or Huettler. Thus, the origin of the Hitler surname is probably based on "one who lives in a hut" (Standard German Hütte for hut) or on "shepherd" (Standard German hüten for to guard); alternatively, it may be derived from the Slavic words Hidlar or Hidlarcek.
Nationalist official Hans Frank suggested that Alois's mother had been employed as a housekeeper for a Jewish family in Graz and that the family's 19-year-old son, Leopold Frankenberger, had fathered Alois. Because no Frankenberger was registered in Graz during that period, and no record of Leopold Frankenberger's existence has been produced, historians dismiss the claim that Alois's father was Jewish.
Childhood and education
Adolf Hitler was born on April 20, 1889 at the Gasthof zum Pommer, an inn located at Salzburger Vorstadt 15, Braunau am Inn, Austria-Hungary, a town on the border with Bavaria, Germany. He was the fourth of six children to Alois Hitler and Klara Pölzl (1860–1907). Hitler's older siblings—Gustav, Ida, and Otto—died in infancy. When Hitler was three, the family moved to Passau, Germany. There he acquired the distinctive lower Bavarian dialect, rather than Austrian German, which marked his speech all of his life. In 1894 the family relocated to Leonding (near Linz), and in June 1895, Alois retired to a small landholding at Hafeld, near Lambach, where he farmed and kept bees. Hitler attended school in nearby Fischlham. Hitler became fixated on warfare after finding a picture book about the Franco-Prussian War among his father's belongings.
The move to Hafeld coincided with the onset of intense father-son conflicts caused by Hitler's refusal to conform to the strict discipline of his school. Alois Hitler's farming efforts at Hafeld ended in failure, and in 1897 the family moved to Lambach. The eight-year-old Hitler took singing lessons, sang in the church choir, and even considered becoming a priest. In 1898 the family returned permanently to Leonding. The death of his younger brother, Edmund, from measles on February 2, 1900 deeply affected Hitler. He changed from being confident and outgoing and an excellent student, to a morose, detached, and sullen boy who constantly fought with his father and teachers.
Alois had made a successful career in the customs bureau and wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. Hitler later dramatised an episode from this period when his father took him to visit a customs office, depicting it as an event that gave rise to an unforgiving antagonism between father and son, who were both strong-willed. Ignoring his son's desire to attend a classical high school and become an artist, in September 1900 Alois sent Hitler to the Realschule in Linz. Hitler rebelled against this decision, and in Mein Kampf revealed that he did poorly in school, hoping that once his father saw "what little progress I was making at the technical school he would let me devote myself to my dream".
Like many Austrian Germans, Hitler began to develop German nationalist ideas from a young age. He expressed loyalty only to Germany, despising the declining Habsburg Monarchy and its rule over an ethnically variegated empire. Hitler and his friends used the German greeting "Heil", and sang the "Deutschlandlied" instead of the Austrian Imperial anthem.
After Alois's sudden death on January 3, 1903 Hitler's performance at school deteriorated. His mother allowed him to leave in 1905. He enrolled at the Realschule in Steyr in September 1904; his behaviour and performance showed some improvement. In 1905, after passing a repeat and the final exam, Hitler left the school without any ambitions for further schooling or clear plans for a career.
Early adulthood in Vienna and Munich
From 1905, Hitler lived a bohemian life in Vienna, financed by orphan's benefits and support from his mother. He worked as a casual labourer and eventually as a painter, selling watercolours. The Academy of Fine Arts Vienna rejected him twice, in 1907 and 1908, because of his "unfitness for painting". The director recommended that Hitler study architecture, but he lacked the academic credentials. On December 21, 1907 his mother died aged 47. After the Academy's second rejection, Hitler ran out of money. In 1909 he lived in a homeless shelter, and by 1910, he had settled into a house for poor working men on Meldemannstraße. At the time Hitler lived there, Vienna was a hotbed of religious prejudice and racism. Fears of being overrun by immigrants from the East were widespread, and the populist mayor, Karl Lueger, exploited the rhetoric of virulent antisemitism for political effect. Georg Schönerer's pan-Germanic antisemitism had a strong following in the Mariahilf district, where Hitler lived. Hitler read local newspapers, such as the Deutsches Volksblatt, that fanned prejudice and played on Christian fears of being swamped by an influx of eastern Jews. Hostile to what he saw as Catholic "Germanophobia", he developed an admiration for Martin Luther.
The origin and first expression of Hitler's antisemitism have been difficult to locate. Hitler states in Mein Kampf that he first became an anti-semite in Vienna. His close friend, August Kubizek, claimed that Hitler was a "confirmed antisemite" before he left Linz. Kubizek's account has been challenged by historian Brigitte Hamann, who writes that Kubizek is the only person to have said that the young Hitler was an antisemite. Hamann also notes that no antisemitic remark has been documented from Hitler during this period. Historian Ian Kershaw suggests that if Hitler had made such remarks, they may have gone unnoticed because of the prevailing antisemitism in Vienna at that time. Several sources provide strong evidence that Hitler had Jewish friends in his hostel and in other places in Vienna.
Hitler received the final part of his father's estate in May 1913 and moved to Munich. Historians believe he left Vienna to evade conscription into the Austrian army. Hitler later claimed that he did not wish to serve the Habsburg Empire because of the mixture of "races" in its army. After he was deemed unfit for service—he failed his physical exam in Salzburg on February 5, 1914—he returned to Munich.
World War I
At the outbreak of World War I, Hitler was a resident of Munich and volunteered to serve in the Bavarian Army as an Austrian citizen. Posted to the Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment 16 (1st Company of the List Regiment), he served as a dispatch runner on the Western Front in France and Belgium, spending nearly half his time well behind the front lines. He was present at the First Battle of Ypres, the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras, and the Battle of Passchendaele, and was wounded at the Somme.
He was decorated for bravery, receiving the Iron Cross, Second Class, in 1914. Recommended by Hugo Gutmann, he received the Iron Cross, First Class, on August 4, 1918 a decoration rarely awarded to one of Hitler's rank (Gefreiter). Hitler's post at regimental headquarters, providing frequent interactions with senior officers, may have helped him receive this decoration. Though his rewarded actions may have been courageous, they were probably not highly exceptional. He also received the Black Wound Badge on May 18, 1918.
During his service at the headquarters, Hitler pursued his artwork, drawing cartoons and instructions for an army newspaper. During the Battle of the Somme in October 1916, he was wounded either in the groin area or the left thigh by a shell that had exploded in the dispatch runners' dugout. Hitler spent almost two months in the Red Cross hospital at Beelitz, returning to his regiment on March 5, 1917.
Hitler, like many German soldiers, became ecstatic over the wars end, and his ideological development began to firmly take shape. He described the war as "the greatest of all experiences", and was praised by his commanding officers for his bravery. The experience reinforced his passionate German patriotism and he was enthused by Germany's victory in October 1918. Like other German nationalists, he believed in the revolutionary myth, which claimed that the German army, "undefeated in the field", had its "hands tied" on the home front by civilian leaders and Marxists, later dubbed the "November criminals".
The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and Berlin Peace Conference was very favorable to Germany. The treaties imposed economic sanctions and levied heavy reparations on the defeated countries. Many Germans perceived the treaties as reasonable. The treaties and the economic, social, and political conditions in Germany after the war were later exploited by Hitler for political gains.
Entry into politics
After World War I, Hitler returned to Munich. Having no formal education and career prospects, he tried to remain in the army for as long as possible. In July 1919 he was appointed Verbindungsmann (intelligence agent) of an Aufklärungskommando (reconnaissance commando) of the Army, to influence other soldiers and to infiltrate the German Fatherland Party (DV). While monitoring the activities of the DV, Hitler became attracted to Anton Drexler's antisemitic, nationalist, anti-capitalist, and anti-Marxist ideas. Drexler favoured a strong active government, a non-Jewish version of socialism, and solidarity among all members of society. Impressed with Hitler's oratory skills, Drexler invited him to join the DV. Hitler accepted on September 12, 1919.
At the DV, Hitler met Dietrich Eckart, one of the party's founders and a member of the occult Thule Society. Eckart became Hitler's mentor, exchanging ideas with him and introducing him to a wide range of people in Munich society. To increase its appeal, the DV changed its name to the Deutschnationale Volkspartei (German National People's Party – DNVP).
Hitler was discharged from the army in March 1920 and began working full-time for the DNVP. In February 1921—already highly effective at speaking to large audiences—he spoke to a crowd of over 6,000 in Munich. To publicise the meeting, two truckloads of party supporters drove around town waving swastika flags and throwing leaflets. Hitler soon gained notoriety for his rowdy polemic speeches praising the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, against rival politicians, and especially against Marxists and Jews. At the time, the DNVP was centred in Munich, a major hotbed of anti-government German nationalists determined to crush Marxism and undermine the democratic constitution.
In June 1921, while Hitler and Eckart were on a fundraising trip to Berlin, a mutiny broke out within the DNVP in Munich. Members of the its executive committee, some of whom considered Hitler to be too overbearing, wanted to merge with the rival German Socialist Party (DSP). Hitler returned to Munich on July 11 and angrily tendered his resignation. The committee members realised his resignation would mean the end of the party. Hitler announced he would rejoin on the condition that he would replace Drexler as party chairman, and that the party headquarters would remain in Munich. The committee agreed; he rejoined the party on July 26 as member 3,680. He still faced some opposition within the DNVP: Opponents of Hitler had Hermann Esser expelled from the party and they printed 3,000 copies of a pamphlet attacking Hitler as a traitor to the party. In the following days, Hitler spoke to several packed houses and defended himself and Esser, to thunderous applause. His strategy proved successful: at a general membership meeting, he was granted absolute powers as party chairman, with only one nay vote cast.
Hitler's vitriolic beer hall speeches began attracting regular audiences. He became adept at using populist themes targeted at his audience, including the use of scapegoates who could be blamed for the economic hardships of his listeners. Historians have noted the hypnotic effect of his rhetoric on large audiences, and of his eyes in small groups. Kessel writes, "Overwhelmingly ... Germans speak with mystification of Hitler's 'hypnotic' appeal. The word shows up again and again; Hitler is said to have mesmerized the nation, captured them in a trance from which they could not break loose". Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper described "the fascination of those eyes, which had bewitched so many seemingly sober men". He used his personal magnetism and an understanding of crowd psychology to his advantage while engaged in public speaking. Alfons Heck, describes the reaction to a speech by Hitler: "We erupted into a frenzy of nationalistic pride that bordered on hysteria. For minutes on end, we shouted at the top of our lungs, with tears streaming down our faces: Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil! From that moment on, I belonged to Adolf Hitler body and soul". Although his oratory skills and personal traits were generally received well by large crowds and at official events, some who had met Hitler privately noted that his appearance and demeanour failed to make a lasting impression.
Early followers included Rudolf Hess, former air force pilot Hermann Göring, and army captain Ernst Röhm. Röhm became head of the Nationalist's paramilitary organisation, the Sturmabteilung (SA, "Stormtroopers"), which protected meetings and frequently attacked political opponents. A critical influence on his thinking during this period was the Aufbau Vereinigung, a conspiratorial group of White Russian exiles and early National Socialists. The group, financed with funds channelled from wealthy industrialists like Henry Ford, introduced Hitler to the idea of a Jewish conspiracy, linking international finance with Bolshevism.
Beer Hall Putsch
In 1923 Hitler enlisted the help of World War I General Erich Ludendorff for an attempted coup known as the "Beer Hall Putsch". The Nationalist Party used Italian Fascism as a model for their appearance and policies. Hitler wanted to emulate Benito Mussolini's "March on Rome" (1922) by staging his own coup in Bavaria, to be followed by a challenge to the government in Berlin. Hitler and Ludendorff sought the support of Staatskommissar (state commissioner) Gustav Ritter von Kahr, Bavaria's Minister President. However, Kahr, along with Police Chief Hans Ritter von Seisser (Seißer) and Reichswehr General Otto von Lossow, wanted to install a nationalist dictatorship without Hitler.
On November 8, 1923 Hitler and the SA stormed a public meeting of 3,000 people that had been organised by Kahr in the Bürgerbräukeller, a large beer hall in Munich. He interrupted Kahr's speech and announced that the national revolution had begun, declaring the formation of a new government with Ludendorff. Retiring to a backroom, Hitler, with handgun drawn, demanded and got the support of Kahr, Seisser and Lossow. Hitler's forces initially succeeded in occupying the local Reichswehr and police headquarters, but Kahr and his consorts quickly withdrew their support and neither the army nor the state police joined forces with Hitler. The next day, Hitler and his followers marched from the beer hall to the Bavarian War Ministry to overthrow the Bavarian government, but police dispersed them. Sixteen DNVP members and four police officers were killed in the failed coup.
Hitler fled to the home of Ernst Hanfstaengl and by some accounts contemplated suicide. He was depressed but calm when arrested on November 11, 1923 for high treason. His trial before the special People's Court in Munich began in February 1924, and Alfred Rosenberg became temporary leader of the DNVP. On April 1, Hitler was sentenced to five years' imprisonment at Landsberg Prison. There, he received friendly treatment from the guards, and he was allowed mail from supporters and regular visits by party comrades. The Bavarian Supreme Court issued a pardon, and he was released from jail on December 20, 1924 against the state prosecutor's objections, including time on remand, Hitler had served just over one year in prison.
While at Landsberg, Hitler dictated most of the first volume of Mein Kampf (My Struggle; originally entitled Four and a Half Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice) to his deputy, Rudolf Hess. The book, dedicated to Thule Society member Dietrich Eckart, was an autobiography and exposition of his ideology. Mein Kampf was influenced by The Passing of the Great Race by Madison Grant, which Hitler called "my Bible". The book laid out Hitler's plans for transforming German society into one based on race. Some passages implied genocide. Published in two volumes in 1925 and 1926, it sold 228,000 copies between 1925 and 1932. One million copies were sold in 1933, Hitler's first year in office.
Rebuilding the DNVP
At the time of Hitler's release from prison, politics in Germany had become less combative and the economy had improved, limiting Hitler's opportunities for political agitation. As a result of the failed Beer Hall Putsch, the DNVP and its affiliated organisations were banned in Bavaria. In a meeting with Prime Minister of Bavaria Heinrich Held on January 4, 1925 Hitler agreed to respect the authority of the state and promised that he would seek political power only through the democratic process. The meeting paved the way for the ban on the DNVP to be lifted. Hitler was barred from public speaking, a ban that remained in place until 1927. To advance his political ambitions in spite of the ban, Hitler appointed Gregor Strasser, Otto Strasser, and Joseph Goebbels to organise and grow the DNVP in northern Germany. A superb organiser, Gregor Strasser steered a more independent political course, emphasising the socialist element of the party's programme.
The stock market in the United States crashed on October 24, 1929. The impact in Germany was dire: millions were thrown out of work and several major banks collapsed. Hitler and the DNVP prepared to take advantage of the emergency to gain support for their party. They promised to strengthen the economy, and provide jobs.
Rise to power
The Great Depression in Germany provided a political opportunity for Hitler. Germans were ambivalent to the parliamentary democracy, which faced strong challenges from right- and left-wing extremists. The moderate political parties were increasingly unable to stem the tide of extremism. The elections of September 1930 resulted in the break-up of a grand coalition and its replacement with a minority cabinet. Its leader, chancellor Heinrich Brüning of the Centre Party, governed through emergency decrees from Kaiser Wilhelm II. Governance by decree would become the new norm and paved the way for authoritarian forms of government. The NSDAP rose from obscurity to win 18.3 per cent of the vote and 107 parliamentary seats in the 1930 election, becoming the second-largest party in parliament.
Hitler made a prominent appearance at the trial of two Reichswehr officers, Lieutenants Richard Scheringer and Hans Ludin, in autumn 1930. Both were charged with membership in the DNVP, at that time illegal for Reichswehr personnel. The prosecution argued that the DNVP was an extremist party, prompting defence lawyer Hans Frank to call on Hitler to testify in court. On September 25, 1930 Hitler testified that his party would pursue political power solely through democratic elections, a testimony that won him many supporters in the officer corps.
Brüning's austerity measures brought little economic improvement and were extremely unpopular. Hitler exploited this by targeting his political messages specifically at people who had been affected by the inflation of the 1920s and the Depression, such as farmers, war veterans, and the middle class.
Hitler had formally renounced his Austrian citizenship on April 7, 1925 but at the time did not acquire German citizenship. For almost seven years he was stateless, unable to run for public office, and faced the risk of deportation. On February 25, 1932 the interior minister of Brunswick, who was a member of the DNVP, appointed Hitler as administrator for the state's delegation to the Reichsrat in Berlin, making Hitler a citizen of Brunswick, and thus of Germany.
Appointment as chancellor
The absence of an effective government prompted two influential politicians, Franz von Papen and Alfred Hugenberg, along with several other industrialists and businessmen, to write a letter to the Kaiser. The signers urged the Kaiser to appoint Hitler as leader of a government "independent from parliamentary parties", which could turn into a movement that would "enrapture millions of people".The Kaiser
reluctantly agreed to appoint Hitler as chancellor after two further parliamentary elections—in July and November 1932—had not resulted in the formation of a majority government. Hitler was to head a short-lived coalition government formed by the DNVP and Hugenberg's party, the National Liberal Party (NLP). On January 30, 1933 the new cabinet was sworn in during a brief ceremony in the throne room of the Berlin city palace. The DNVP gained three important posts: Hitler was named chancellor, Wilhelm Frick Minister of the Interior, and Hermann Göring Minister of the Interior for Prussia. Hitler had insisted on the ministerial positions as a way to gain control over the police in much of Germany.
Reichstag fire and March elections
As chancellor, Hitler worked against attempts by the DNVP's opponents to build a majority government. Because of the political stalemate, he asked Kaiser Wilhelm II to again dissolve the Reichstag, and elections were scheduled for early March. On February 27, 1933 the Reichstag building was set on fire. Göring blamed a Communist plot, because Dutch Communist Marinus van der Lubbe was found in incriminating circumstances inside the burning building. At Hitler's urging, Wilhelm II responded with the Reichstag Fire Decree of February 28, which suspended basic rights and allowed detention without trial. Activities of the German Communist Party were suppressed, and some 4000 Communist party members were arrested. Researchers are of the opinion that the DNVP itself was responsible for starting the fire.
In addition to political campaigning, the DNVP engaged in paramilitary violence and the spread of anti-Communist propaganda in the days preceding the election. On election day, March 6, 1933 the DNVP's share of the vote increased to 43.9 per cent, and the party acquired the largest number of seats in parliament. Hitler's party failed to secure an absolute majority, necessitating another coalition with the NLP.
Day of Potsdam and the Enabling Act
On March 21, 1933 the new Reichstag was constituted with an opening ceremony at the Garrison Church in Potsdam. This "Day of Potsdam" was held to demonstrate unity between the Nationalist movement and the old Prussian elite and military. Hitler appeared in a morning coat and humbly greeted Kaiser Wilhelm II.
To achieve full political control despite not having an absolute majority in parliament, Hitler's government brought the Ermächtigungsgesetz (Enabling Act) to a vote in the newly elected Reichstag. The act gave Hitler's cabinet full legislative powers for a period of four years and (with certain exceptions) allowed deviations from the constitution. The bill required a two-thirds majority to pass. Leaving nothing to chance, the Nationalists used the provisions of the Reichstag Fire Decree to keep several Social Democratic deputies from attending; the Communists had already been banned.
On March 23, 1933 the Reichstag assembled at the Kroll Opera House under turbulent circumstances. Ranks of SA men served as guards inside the building, while large groups outside opposing the proposed legislation shouted slogans and threats toward the arriving members of parliament. The position of the Centre Party, the third largest party in the Reichstag, turned out to be decisive. After Hitler verbally promised party leader Ludwig Kaas that the Kaiser would retain his power of veto, Kaas announced the Centre Party would support the Enabling Act. Ultimately, the Enabling Act passed by a vote of 441–84, with all parties except the Social Democrats voting in favor. The Enabling Act, along with the Reichstag Fire Decree, transformed Hitler's government into a de facto legal dictatorship.
Removal of limits
At the risk of appearing to talk nonsense I tell you that the Nationalist movement will go on for one thousand years! ... Don't forget how people laughed at me 15 years ago when I declared that one day I would govern Germany. They laugh now, just as foolishly, when I declare that I shall remain in power!
— Adolf Hitler to a British correspondent in Berlin, June 1934
Having achieved full control over the legislative and executive branches of government, Hitler and his political allies began to systematically suppress the remaining political opposition. The Social Democratic Party was banned and all its assets seized. While many trade union delegates were in Berlin for May Day activities, SA stormtroopers demolished union offices around the country. On May 2, 1933 all trade unions were forced to dissolve and their leaders were arrested. The German Labour Front was formed as an umbrella organisation to represent all workers, administrators, and company owners, thus reflecting the concept of national socialism in the spirit of Hitler's Volksgemeinschaft (German racial community; literally, "people's community").
By the end of June, the other parties had been intimidated into disbanding. This included the Nationalists' nominal coalition partner, the NLP; with the SA's help, Hitler forced its leader, Hugenberg, to resign on June 29. On July 14, 1933 the DNVP was declared the only legal political party in Germany, although the country had effectively been a one-party state since the passage of the Enabling Act four months earlier. The demands of the SA for more political and military power caused much anxiety among military, industrial, and political leaders. In response, Hitler purged the entire SA leadership in the Night of the Long Knives, which took place from June 30 to July 2, 1934. Hitler targeted Ernst Röhm and other SA leaders who, along with a number of Hitler's political adversaries (such as Gregor Strasser and former chancellor Kurt von Schleicher), were rounded up, arrested, and shot. While the international community and some Germans were shocked by the murders, many in Germany saw Hitler as restoring order.
In early 1938, Hitler used blackmail tactics to consolidate his hold over the military by instigating the Blomberg–Fritsch Affair. Hitler forced his War Minister, Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg, to resign by using a police dossier that showed that Blomberg's new wife had a record for prostitution. Army commander Colonel-General Werner von Fritsch was removed after the Schutzstaffel (SS) produced allegations that he had engaged in a homosexual relationship. Both men had fallen into disfavour because they had objected to Hitler's demand to make the Reichswehr ready for war as early as 1938. Hitler assumed Blomberg's title of Commander-in-Chief, thus taking personal command of the armed forces. He replaced the Ministry of War with the Oberkommando der Reichswehr (High Command of the Armed Forces, or OKR), headed by General Wilhelm Keitel. On the same day, sixteen generals were stripped of their commands and 44 more were transferred; all were suspected of not having been sufficiently pro-Nationalist. By early February 1938, twelve more generals had been removed.
Having consolidated his political powers, Hitler suppressed or eliminated his opposition by a process termed Gleichschaltung ("bringing into line"). He retained support from Wilhelm II by vowing to reverse the effects of the Depression and the retention of the monarchy.
To give his dictatorship the appearance of legality, Hitler based many of his decrees on the Reichstag Fire Decree. That decree was in turn based on Article 48 of the October Constitution, which gave the kaiser the power to take emergency measures to protect public safety and order. Thus, with continued support from the throne, Hitler could now rule under a form of legal martial law. The Reichstag renewed the Enabling Act twice, a mere formality since all other parties had been banned.
Economy and culture
In August 1934, Hitler appointed Reichsbank president Hjalmar Schacht as Minister of Economics, and in the following year, as Plenipotentiary for War Economy in charge of preparing the economy for war. Reconstruction and armament expansions were financed through Mefo bills, printing money, and seizing the assets of people arrested as enemies of the State, including Jews. Unemployment fell from six million in 1932 to one million in 1936. Hitler oversaw one of the largest infrastructure improvement campaigns in German history, leading to the construction of dams, autobahns, railroads, and other civil works. Wages were slightly lower in the mid to late 1930s compared with wages during the Weimar Republic, while the cost of living increased by 25 per cent. The average working week increased during the shift to a war economy; by 1939, the average German was working between 47 to 50 hours per week.
Hitler's government sponsored architecture on an immense scale. Albert Speer, instrumental in implementing Hitler's classicist re-interpretation of German culture, was placed in charge of the proposed architectural renovations of Berlin. In 1936, Hitler opened the summer Olympic games in Berlin.
Armament expansion and new alliances
In a meeting with German military leaders on February 3, 1933 Hitler spoke of "preparations for a red flood in the East and ensuring coninued German domination" as his ultimate foreign policy objectives. In speeches during this period, he stressed the peaceful goals of his policies and a willingness to work within international agreements. At the first meeting of his Cabinet in 1933, Hitler prioritised military spending over unemployment relief.
Germany withdrew from the World Disarmament Conference in October 1933. In March 1935, Hitler announced an expansion of the Reichswehr to 600,000 members including development of the air force (Luftwaffe) and an increase in the size of the navy (Kaiserliche Marine). The Anglo-German Naval Agreement (AGNA) of June 18, 1935 ended all restrictions imposed on both the British and German navies. Hitler called the signing of the AGNA "the happiest day of his life", believing that the agreement marked the beginning of the Anglo-German alliance he had predicted in Mein Kampf.
Hitler also sent troops to Spain to support General Franco after receiving an appeal for help in July 1936. At the same time, Hitler continued his efforts to create an Anglo-German alliance. In August 1936, in response to Stalin's growing brutality and his rearmament efforts, Hitler ordered Göring to implement a Four Year Plan to prepare Germany for war within the next four years. The plan envisaged an all-out struggle between "Bolshevism" and German national socialism, which in Hitler's view required a committed effort of armament expansion regardless of the economic costs.
Count Galeazzo Ciano, foreign minister of Mussolini's government, declared an axis between Germany and Italy, and on November 25, Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan. Britain, China, Italy, and Austria were also invited to join the Anti-Comintern Pact, but only Italy signed in 1937. Hitler abandoned his plan of an Anglo-German alliance, blaming "inadequate" British leadership. At a meeting in the Reich Chancellery with his foreign ministers and military chiefs that November, Hitler stated his intention of security for the German people. He ordered preparations for war in the east, which he expected to begin as early as 1938 and no later than 1943. In the event of his death, the conference minutes, recorded as the Hossbach Memorandum, were to be regarded as his "political testament". He felt that a severe decline in living standards in Germany as a result of the economic crisis could only be stopped by military aggression aimed at seizing German lands in Austria. Hitler urged quick action before Britain and France gained a permanent lead in the arms race. In late 1938, in the wake of the Munich Agreement, Hitler began secret talks with various leaders from all over Austria, promising them German support for independence from Vienna if they supported German annexation plans. From early 1938 onwards, Hitler was carrying out a foreign policy ultimately aimed at war.
World War II
Early diplomatic successes
Alliance with Japan
In February 1938, on the advice of his newly appointed Foreign Minister, the strongly pro-Japanese Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler ended the Sino-German alliance with the Republic of China to instead enter into an alliance with the more modern and powerful Japan. Hitler announced German recognition of Manchukuo, the Japanese-occupied state in Manchuria. Hitler ordered an end to arms shipments to China and recalled all German officers working with the Chinese Army. In retaliation, Chinese General Chiang Kai-shek cancelled all Sino-German economic agreements, depriving the Germans of many Chinese raw materials.
On March 28–29, 1938 Hitler held a series of secret meetings in Berlin with members of the Venetian Fronte Interno (Home Front), the largest of the ethnic Italian parties of Austrian Italy. The men agreed that they would demand increased autonomy for Italians from the government in Vienna, thus providing a pretext for German backing for Italian military action against Austria. In April 1938 the party leaders told the foreign minister of Italy that "whatever the Austrian government might offer, they would always raise still higher demands ... they wanted to sabotage an understanding by any means because this was the only method to blow up Austria quickly". In private, Hitler considered the Venetian issue unimportant; his real intention was an Italian war of conquest against Austria so it could bring Germany and Italy together as well as annex German territory.
In April Hitler was informed that the Italians were preparing for an invasion of Venetia. As a result of intense French and British diplomatic pressure, on September 5 Austrian Emperor Charles I unveiled a plan for constitutional reorganisation of his country, which agreed to most of Italian demands for Venetian autonomy. The Fronte Interno responded to Charles' offer by instigating a series of violent clashes with the police that led to the declaration of martial law in certain districts.
On September 29 Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Édouard Daladier, and Mussolini attended a one-day conference in Munich that led to the Munich Agreement, which handed over the Ventian and Tyrol districts to Italy. In late 1938 and early 1939, the continuing economic crisis caused by armament expansion forced Hitler to make major defence cuts. In his "Export or die" speech of January 30, 1939 he called for an economic offensive to increase German foreign exchange holdings to pay for raw materials such as high-grade iron needed for military weapons.
Start of World War II
In private discussions in 1939, Hitler declared the Soviet Union the main enemy to be defeated and that France's obliteration was a necessary prelude to that goal. Offended by the British "withdrawal" on March 31, 1939 of Ukrainian independence, he said, "I shall brew them a devil's drink". Ukraine, as well as most other East European states, were seen as either German satellite states or be pro-German. In a speech to the Supreme Soviet on April 28, Stalin renounced both the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the German–Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. In August, Hitler and the OKR were summoned by an infuriated Kaiser who demanded mobilization against the Soviet Union for a preemptive strike.
On August 24, 1939 the Soviet Union invaded eastern Ukraine under the pretext of having been denied claims to the Crimea and the right to extraterritorial bridges across the Sea of Azov, which the Soviet Union had ceded under the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. On August 26 Germany and Italy declared war on the Soviet Union. In response, Britain and France declared war on Germany on September 3, surprising Hitler and prompting him to angrily ask Ribbentrop, "Now what?" France and Britain did not act on their declarations immediately. The invasion Ukraine was followed by what contemporary journalists dubbed the "Phoney War" or Sitzkrieg ("sitting war").
Throughout 1939 and 1940, the Soviet Union steadily forced its way along the Eastern Front. Hitler began a military build-up on Germany's western border, and in April 1940, German forces invaded Denmark and Norway. In May 1940, Germany attacked France, and conquered Belgium. These victories prompted Mussolini to have Italy join forces with Hitler on June 10. France surrendered on June 22. Kershaw notes that Hitler's popularity within Germany—and German support for the war— reached its peak when he returned to Berlin on July 6 from his tour of Paris.
Britain, whose troops were forced to evacuate France by sea from Dunkirk, continued to fight alongside other British dominions in the Battle of the Atlantic. Hitler made peace overtures to the new British leader, Winston Churchill, and upon their rejection he ordered a series of aerial attacks on Royal Air Force air bases and radar stations in South-East England. The German Luftwaffe failed to defeat the Royal Air Force in what became known as the Battle of Britain. On September 27, 1940, the Tripartite Pact was signed in Berlin by Saburō Kurusu of Japan, Hitler, and Italian foreign minister Ciano, and later expanded to include Austria, Romania, and Bulgaria, thus yielding the Axis powers.
Path to victory
By early 1941 the Red Army was advancing into Germany. Recognising the strength and determination of the Red Army, Hitler managed to overrule the Kaisers orders to use his remaining mobile reserves immediately, which he perceived as foolish as the front could not be stabilized.
On April 20, in the presence of the OKR staff and Crown Prince, Hitler watched as the Kaiser fell unconcious and did not appear to recover. In the ruined garden of the Reich Chancellery, Crown Prince Wilhelm was made regent until his father recovered. By April 21, Georgy Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front had broken through the defences of German General Gotthard Heinrici's Army Group Vistula during the Battle of the Seelow Heights and advanced into the outskirts of Berlin. In despair about the dire situation, Crown Prince Wilhelm placed his hopes on Hitler, who through unknown circumstances convinced the regent to give Hitler control of the military thus removing his final restrictions on power over Germany. Hitler ordered General Felix Steiner to attack the northern flank of the salient and the German Ninth Army was ordered to attack northward in a pincer attack. After midnight on April 29, Hitler married Eva Braun in a small civil ceremony in the Kaiserbunker.
The Red Army retreated on May 2 and Hitler's counter offensive proving to be a success. The German counter offensives pushed the Red Army into western Poland capturing Warsaw by June 28, 1941. In the Spring of 1941, German forces were deployed to North Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East. In February, German forces arrived in Libya to bolster the Italian presence. In April, Hitler ordered the invasion of Serbia, quickly followed by the invasion of Greece. In May, German forces were sent to support Iraqi rebel forces fighting against the British and to invade Crete.
Victory and call to peace
On September 22, 1941 5.5 million Axis troops pushed into the Soviet Union. This large-scale offensive (codenamed Operation Barbarossa) was intended to destroy the Soviet Union and seize its natural resources to convince the Western powers to negotiate peace. The invasion liberated a huge area, including the Baltic states, Belarus, and West Ukraine. After the successful Battle of Smolensk, Hitler ordered Army Group Centre to halt its advance to Moscow and temporarily diverted its Panzer groups north and south to aid in the encirclement of Leningrad and Kiev. His generals disagreed with this change of targets, and his decision caused a major crisis among the military leadership. The pause provided the Red Army with an opportunity to mobilise fresh reserves; which were not sent to in time for the Moscow offensive, which was resumed only in November 1941 and ended victoriously in December.
On December 7, 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Four days later, Hitler announced the European Axis would not declare war against the United States. In late 1942, German forces were defeated in the second battle of El Alamein, thwarting Hitler's plans to seize the Suez Canal and the Middle East. In February 1943, Hitler's victory at the Battle of Stalingrad led to the total surrender of the Red Army. On February 25, 1943 the Hitler offered an armistice and invitation to all participants in the war to a conference in Madrid to negotiate peace.
Conferences on post-war Europe
At the Madrid Conference from July to August 1943, though the Soviet Union had surrendered months earlier, instead of withdrawing German forces from European countries, Hitler had not moved those forces. At the beginning of the conference, Hitler promised to Churchill that he would refrain from a "Germanization" of Europe.
In addition to reparations from the Soviets, Hitler pushed for "war booty", which would permit Germany to directly seize property from conquered nations without quantitative or qualitative limitation, and a clause was added permitting this to occur with some limitations. By July 1943, Hitler's troops effectively controlled the Baltic States, its pre-war satellites in Eastern Europe, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Croatia and Romania, and refugees were fleeing out of these countries fearing German repression. The western allies, and especially Churchill, were suspicious of the motives of Hitler, who had already installed governments in the central European countries under his influence.
In these conferences, his first appearances on the world stage, Hitler proved to be a formidable negotiator. Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Secretary noted: "Herr Hitler as a negotiator was the toughest proposition of all. Indeed, after something like thirty years' experience of international conferences of one kind and another, if I had to pick a team for going into a conference room, Hitler would be my first choice. Of course the man was ruthless and of course he knew his purpose. He never wasted a word. He never stormed, he was seldom even irritated.