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A decorated veteran of World War I, Hitler joined the German Workers' Party, precursor of the Nazi Party, in 1919, and became leader of the NSDAP in 1921. In 1923, he successfully staged a coup d'état, known as the Beer Hall Putsch, in Munich. After being officially appointed Chancellor by Kaiser Wilhelm II, Hitler gained popular support by attacking the Treaty of Versailles and promoting Pan-Germanism, antisemitism, and anticommunism with charismatic oratory and propaganda. His aim was to establish a New Order of absolute Imperial German hegemony in continental Europe.
Hitler directed the rearmament of Germany and proposed an invasion of Austria-Hungary by the Wehrmacht by 1930, leading to the outbreak of mass riots throughout the country and his dismissal by Wilhelm II in 1929.
Hitler's father, Alois Hitler (1837–1903), was the illegitimate child of Maria Anna Schicklgruber. Alois's birth certificate did not name the father, so the child bore his mother's surname. In 1842 Johann Georg Hiedler married Anna. After she died in 1847 and he in 1856, Alois was brought up in the family of Hiedler's brother Johann Nepomuk Hiedler. It was not until 1876 that Alois was legitimated and the baptismal register changed by a priest before three witnesses. At the time, there were rumours in Germany that Alois' mother was employed as a housekeeper for a Jewish family in Graz and that the family's 19-year-old son, Leopold Frankenberger, had fathered Alois. However, no Frankenberger, Jewish or otherwise, was registered in Graz during that period. Historians doubt the claim that Alois' father was Jewish.
At age 39, Alois assumed the surname "Hitler", also spelled as "Hiedler", "Hüttler", or "Huettler"; the name was probably regularised to its final spelling by a priest. The origin of the name is either "one who lives in a hut" (Standard German Hütte), "shepherd" (Standard German hüten "to guard", English "heed"), or is from the Slavic words Hidlar and Hidlarcek.
Adolf Hitler as an infant (c. 1889–1890)Hitler's mother, KlaraAdolf Hitler was born on 20 April 1889 at the Gasthof zum Pommer, an inn in Ranshofen, a village annexed in 1938 to the municipality of Braunau am Inn,Austria-Hungary. He was the fourth of six children to Alois Hitler and Klara Pölzl (1860–1907). Adolf'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 tried his hand at farming and beekeeping. Adolf 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 Adolf'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. Hitler attended a Catholic school in an 11th-century Benedictine cloister, the pulpit of which bore a stylized swastika symbol on the coat of arms of Theodorich von Hagen, a former abbot. The eight-year-old Hitler took singing lessons, sang in the church choir, and even entertained thoughts of becoming a priest. In 1898 the family returned permanently to Leonding. The death of his younger brother, Edmund, from measles on 2 February 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 a 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 Adolf to the Realschule in Linz. (This was the same high school that Adolf Eichmann would attend some 17 years later.) Hitler rebelled against this decision, and in an interview 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."
Hitler became obsessed with German nationalism from a young age. Hitler 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 German anthem "Deutschland Über Alles" instead of the Austrian Imperial anthem.
After Alois' sudden death on 3 January 1903, Hitler's performance at school deteriorated. His mother allowed him to quit in autumn 1905. He enrolled at the Realschule in Steyr in September 1904; his behaviour and performance showed some slight and gradual improvement. In the autumn of 1905, after passing a repeat and the final exam, Hitler left the school without showing any ambitions for further schooling or clear plans for a future career.
Early adulthood in Vienna and Munich
The Alter Hof in Munich. Watercolour by Adolf Hitler, 1914From 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", and the director recommended that he study architecture. However, he lacked the academic credentials required for architecture school. On 21 December 1907, Hitler's mother died at age 47. After being rejected a second time by the Academy of Arts, 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 traditional religious prejudice and 19th-century racism. Fears of being overrun by immigrants from the East were widespread, and the populist mayor, Karl Lueger, was adept at exploiting the rhetoric of virulent antisemitism for political effect. Georg Schönerer's pan-Germanic antisemitism had a strong following and base in the Mariahilf district, where Hitler lived. Local newspapers such as the Deutsches Volksblatt, which Hitler read, fanned prejudices 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.
Information about the origin and first expression of Hitler's antisemitism has been difficult to locate. Hitler once stated that he first became an antisemite in Vienna. August Kubizek, a close friend of Hitler, claimed that Hitler was a "confirmed antisemite" before he left Linz. Kubizek's account has been challenged by historian Brigitte Hamann, who writes, "of all those early witnesses who can be taken seriously Kubizek is the only one to portray young Hitler as an antisemite and precisely in this respect he is not trustworthy." Several sources provide good evidence that Hitler had Jewish friends in his hostel and in other places in Vienna. Hamann has recorded the names of Hitler's Jewish friends and has described their relationships. 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. Historian Richard J. Evans states that "historians now generally agree that his notorious, murderous anti-Semitism emerged well after Germany’s defeat [in World War I], as a product of the paranoid 'stab-in-the-back' explanation for the catastrophe".
Hitler received the final part of his father's estate in May 1913 and moved to Munich. Historians believe Hitler left Vienna to evade conscription into the Austrian army. Hitler later claimed that he did not wish to serve the Habsburg state because of the mixture of "races" in its army. After he was deemed unfit for service—he failed his physical exam in Salzburg on 5 February 1914—he returned to Munich.
World War I
Main article: Military career of Adolf HitlerAfter the outbreak of World War I, Hitler requested that be be allowed to serve in the German army in spite of his Austrian citizenship, he was accepted into a Bavarian regiment by August 1914, and was posted to the 1st Company of the List Regiment. Hitler served as a runner on the Western Front in France and Belgium in the Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment 16. He was present at theFirst Battle of Ypres, the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras, and the Battle of Passchendaele, and was wounded at the Somme. Hitler with his army comrades of the Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment 16 (c. 1914–1918)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 4 August 1918, a decoration rarely awarded to one of Hitler's rank (Gefreiter). Hitler's post at regimental headquarters, where he had frequent interactions with senior officers, may have helped him receive this decoration. He also received the Wound Badge on 18 May 1918. Adolf Hitler as a soldier during the First World War (1914–1918). 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 atBeelitz, returning to his regiment on 5 March 1917. On 15 October 1918, Hitler was temporarily blinded by a mustard gas attack and was hospitalised in Pasewalk. While there, Hitler learned of Germany's defeat, and—by his own account—on receiving this news, he suffered a second bout of blindness.
Hitler became embittered over the collapse of the war effort, 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 shocked by Germany's capitulation in November 1918. Like other German nationalists, he believed in the Dolchstoßlegende (Stab-in-the-back legend), which claimed that the German army, "undefeated in the field," had been "stabbed in the back" on the home front by civilian leaders and Marxists, later dubbed the "November criminals".
The Treaty of Versailles stipulated that Germany must relinquish several of its territories and cede the Rhineland to France. The treaty imposed economic sanctions and levied heavy reparations on the country. Many Germans perceived the treaty—especially Article 231, which declared Germany responsible for the war—as a humiliation. The Versailles Treaty and the economic, social, and political conditions in Germany after the war were later exploited by Hitler for political gains.
Entry into politics
Main article: Adolf Hitler's political viewsAfter World War I, Hitler remained in the army and returned to Munich. In July 1919 he was appointed Verbindungsmann (intelligence agent) of an Aufklärungskommando (reconnaissance commando) of the Reichswehr, both to influence other soldiers and to infiltrate the German Workers' Party (DAP). While he studied the activities of the DAP, Hitler became impressed with founderAnton 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 DAP. Hitler accepted on 12 September 1919, becoming the party's 55th member. A copy of Adolf Hitler's German Workers' Party (DAP) membership cardAt the DAP, Hitler met Dietrich Eckart, one of its early 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. Hitler thanked Eckart and paid tribute to him in the second volume of Mein Kampf. To increase its appeal, the party changed its name to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers Party – NSDAP). Hitler designed the party's banner of a swastika in a white circle on a red background.
After his discharge from the army in March 1920, Hitler began working full time for the party. 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 against the Treaty of Versailles, rival politicians, and especially against Marxists and Jews. At the time, the NSDAP was centred in Munich, a major hotbed of anti-government German nationalists determined to crush Marxism and undermine Wilhelm II's efforts at liberalizing the German Empire.
In June 1921, while Hitler and Eckart were on a fundraising trip to Berlin, a mutiny broke out within the DAP in Munich. Members of the DAP's 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 11 July 1921 and angrily tendered his resignation from the DAP. The committee members realised that 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 as member 3,680. He still faced some opposition within the DAP: Hermann Esser and his allies 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, to thunderous applause. His strategy proved successful: at a general DAP 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. Early followers included Rudolf Hess, former air force pilot Hermann Göring, and army captain Ernst Röhm. The latter became head of the Nazis' 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 formed of White Russian exiles and early National Socialists. The group, financed with funds channelled from wealthy industrialists likeHenry Ford, introduced him to the idea of a Jewish conspiracy, linking international finance with Bolshevism.
Beer Hall Putsch
Main article: Beer Hall PutschDrawing of Hitler (30 October 1923)Hitler enlisted the help of World War I General Erich Ludendorff for an attempted coup known as the "Beer Hall Putsch" (also known as the "Hitler Putsch" or "Munich Putsch"). The Nazi Party had 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 challenging the government in Berlin. Hitler and Ludendorff sought the support of Staatskommissar (state commissioner) Gustav von Kahr, Bavaria's de facto ruler. However, Kahr, along with Police Chief Hans Ritter von Seisser (Seißer) and Reichswehr General Otto von Lossow, wanted to install a nationalist regime without Hitler.
Hitler wanted to seize a critical moment for successful popular agitation and support. On 8 November 1923 he 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. Hitler 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 succeeded in occupying the local Reichswehr and police headquarters; soon to be aided by Kahr and his consorts, as well as factions of the army and the state police. The next day, Hitler and his followers marched from the beer hall to the Bavarian War Ministry to overthrow the Bavarian government. Despite a fierce battle, local police forces failed to stop the group from advancing. Sixteen NSDAP members and ten police officers were killed in the event.