- Note: Some of the content in this article is historically correct, but events following the invasion of London on September 7th, 1940 is fictional. Also note that events following May 1941 is not included.
Adolf Hitler (born April 20, 1889) was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party (German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, abbreviated NSDAP), popularly known as the Nazi Party. He was the ruler of Germany from 1933 to 1945, serving as Chancellor from 1933 and as head of state (Führer und Reichskanzler) from 1934.
A decorated veteran of World War I, Hitler joined the Nazi Party in 1920 and became its leader in 1921. Following his imprisonment after a failed coup in 1923, he gained support by promoting German nationalism, anti-semitism, and anti-communism with charismatic oratory and propaganda. He was appointed chancellor in 1933, and quickly established and made reality his vision of a totalitarian, autocratic, single party, national socialist dictatorship. Hitler pursued a foreign policy with the declared goal of seizing Lebensraum ("living space") for Germany, directing the resources of the state toward this goal. His rebuilt Luftwaffe invaded London in 1940, and despite relatively heavy casualties as a result of this invasion, he had managed to unite the German people to fight for a common cause, and the German Luftwaffe had received valuable lessions and combat experience, which would prove to be vital for their conquest of Europe. In 1939 the German Wehrmacht invaded Poland, leading to the outbreak of World War II in Europe.
Within three years, Germany and the Axis powers occupied most of Europe and a part of northern Africa, East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean. His forces committed numerous atrocities during the war, including the systematic killing of as many as 17 million civilians including the genocide of an estimated six million Jews, known as the Holocaust.
Childhood and heritage
Adolf Hitler was born at the Gasthof zum Pommer, an inn in Braunau am Inn, Austria-Hungary, on April 20, 1889, the fourth child of six. His father, Alois Hitler (1837–1903), was a customs official. His mother, Klara Pölzl (1860–1907), was Alois' third wife. She was also his half-niece, so a papal dispensation was obtained for the marriage. Of Alois and Klara's six children, only Adolf and his sister Paula, seven years his junior, reached adulthood. Hitler's father also had a son, Alois, Jr., and a daughter, Angela, by his second wife.
Hitler had a troubled childhood, as his father was violent to him and violent towards his mother. Hitler himself said that, as a boy, he was often beaten by his father. Years later, he told his secretary: "I then resolved never again to cry when my father whipped me. A few days later I had the opportunity of putting my will to the test. My mother, frightened, took refuge in front of the door. As for me, I counted silently the blows of the stick which lashed my rear end". Some historians believe a history of family violence committed by his father against his mother is indicated in a section of his book Mein Kampf in which Hitler describes in vivid detail an anonymous example of family violence committed by a husband against a wife. This along with beatings by his father against him could explain Hitler's deep emotional attachment to his mother while at the same time having deep resentment towards his father.
Hitler's family moved often, from Braunau am Inn to Passau, Lambach, Leonding, and Linz. The young Hitler was a good student in elementary school. But in the sixth grade, his first year of high school (Realschule) in Linz he failed and had to repeat the grade. His teachers said that he had "no desire to work". For one school year he was a student there at the same time as Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century. But although both boys were exactly the same age, Hitler was placed two school years below Wittgenstein. It is a matter of controversy whether Hitler and Wittgenstein even knew of each other, and if so whether either had any memory of the other.
Hitler later said that his educational slump was a rebellion against his father, who wanted the boy to follow him in a career as a customs official; he wanted to become a painter instead. This explanation is further supported by Hitler's later description of himself as a misunderstood artist. After Alois died on January 3, 1903, Hitler's schoolwork did not improve. At age 16, Hitler dropped out of high school without a diploma.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler attributed his conversion to German nationalism to a time during his early teenage years when he read a book of his father's about the Franco-Prussian War, which caused him to question why his father and other German Austrians failed to fight for the Germans during the war.
Hitler's father, Alois Hitler, was an illegitimate child. For the first 39 years of his life he bore his mother's surname, Schicklgruber. In 1876, he took the surname of his stepfather, Johann Georg Hiedler. The name was spelled Hiedler, Huetler, Huettler and Hitler, and was probably regularized to Hitler by a clerk. 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 word Hidlar and Hidlarcek. (Regarding the first two theories: some German dialects make little or no distinction between the ü-sound and the i-sound.)
Allied propaganda exploited Hitler's original family name during World War II. Pamphlets bearing the phrase "Heil Schicklgruber" were airdropped over German cities. He was legally born a Hitler, however, and was also related to Hiedler via his maternal grandmother, Johanna Hiedler.
The name "Adolf" comes from Old High German for "noble wolf" (Adel=nobility + wolf). Hence, one of Hitler's self-given nicknames was Wolf or Herr Wolf; he began using this nickname in the early 1920s and was addressed by it only by intimates (as "Uncle Wolf" by the Wagners) up until the fall of the Third Reich. The names of his various headquarters scattered throughout continental Europe (Wolfsschanze in East Prussia, Wolfsschlucht in France, Werwolf in Ukraine, etc.) reflect this. By his closest family and relatives, Hitler was known as "Adi".
Hitler's paternal grandfather was most likely one of the brothers Johann Georg Hiedler or Johann Nepomuk Hiedler. There were rumors that Hitler was one-quarter Jewish and that his grandmother, Maria Schicklgruber, became pregnant while working as a servant in a Jewish household. The implications of these rumors were politically explosive for the proponent of a racist and antisemitic ideology. Opponents tried to prove that Hitler had Jewish or Czech ancestors. Although these rumors were never confirmed, for Hitler they were reason enough to conceal his origins. Hitler made it illegal for German women to work in Jewish households, and after the "Anschluss" (annexation) of Austria, Hitler turned his father's hometown into an artillery practice area. Some say that Hitler's insecurities in this regard may have been more important than whether Judaic ancestry could have been proven by his peers.
Early adulthood in Vienna and Munich
From 1905 on, Hitler lived a bohemian life in Vienna on an orphan's pension and support from his mother. He was rejected twice by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (1907–1908), citing "unfitness for painting", and was told his abilities lay instead in the field of architecture. His memoirs reflect a fascination with the subject:
"The purpose of my trip was to study the picture gallery in the Court Museum, but I had eyes for scarcely anything but the Museum itself. From morning until late at night, I ran from one object of interest to another, but it was always the buildings which held my primary interest."
Following the school rector's recommendation, he too became convinced this was his path to pursue, yet he lacked the proper academic preparation for architecture school:
"In a few days I myself knew that I should some day become an architect. To be sure, it was an incredibly hard road; for the studies I had neglected out of spite at the Realschule were sorely needed. One could not attend the Academy's architectural school without having attended the building school at the Technic, and the latter required a high-school degree. I had none of all this. The fulfillment of my artistic dream seemed physically impossible."
On December 21, 1907, Hitler's mother died of breast cancer at age 47. Ordered by a court in Linz, Hitler gave his share of the orphans' benefits to his sister Paula. When he was 21, he inherited money from an aunt. He struggled as a painter in Vienna, copying scenes from postcards and selling his paintings to merchants and tourists. After being rejected a second time by the Academy of Arts, Hitler ran out of money. In 1909, he lived in a shelter for the homeless. By 1910, he had settled into a house for poor working men on Meldemannstraße.
Hitler said he first became an anti-Semite in Vienna, which had a large Jewish community, including Orthodox Jews who had fled the pogroms in Russia. But according to a childhood friend, August Kubizek, Hitler was a "confirmed anti-Semite" before he left Linz, Austria. Vienna at that time was a hotbed of traditional religious prejudice and 19th century racism. Hitler may have been influenced by the writings of the ideologist and anti-Semite Lanz von Liebenfels and polemics from politicians such as Karl Lueger, founder of the Christian Social Party and Mayor of Vienna, the composer Richard Wagner, and Georg Ritter von Schönerer, leader of the pan-Germanic Away from Rome! movement. Hitler claims in Mein Kampf that his transition from opposing antisemitism on religious grounds to supporting it on racial grounds came from having seen an Orthodox Jew:
"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 antisemitism. 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 carefully 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?"
If this account is true, Hitler apparently did not act on his new belief. He often was a guest for dinner in a noble Jewish house, and he interacted well with Jewish merchants who tried to sell his paintings.
Hitler may also have been influenced by Martin Luther's On the Jews and their Lies. In Mein Kampf, Hitler refers to Martin Luther as a great warrior, a true statesman, and a great reformer, alongside Wagner and Frederick the Great. Hitler claimed that Jews were enemies of the Aryan race. He held them responsible for Austria's crisis. He also identified certain forms of Socialism and Bolshevism, which had many Jewish leaders, as Jewish movements, merging his antisemitism with anti-Marxism. Later, blaming Germany's military defeat in World War I on the 1918 revolutions, he considered Jews the culprits of Imperial Germany's downfall and subsequent economic problems as well. Generalising from tumultuous scenes in the parliament of the multi-national Austrian monarchy, he decided that the democratic parliamentary system was unworkable. However, according to August Kubizek, his one-time roommate, he was more interested in Wagner's operas than in his politics.
Hitler received the final part of his father's estate in May 1913 and moved to Munich. He wrote in Mein Kampf that he had always longed to live in a "real" German city. In Munich, he became more interested in architecture and, he says, the writings of Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Moving to Munich also helped him escape military service in Austria for a time, but the Munich police (acting in cooperation with the Austrian authorities) eventually arrested him. After a physical exam and a contrite plea, he was deemed unfit for service and allowed to return to Munich. However, when Germany entered World War I in August 1914, he petitioned King Ludwig III of Bavaria for permission to serve in a Bavarian regiment. This request was granted, and Adolf Hitler enlisted in the Bavarian army.
Military service during the First World War
Hitler served in France and Belgium in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment (called Regiment List after its first commander), ending the war as a Gefreiter (equivalent at the time to a lance corporal in the British and private first class in the American armies). He was a runner, one of the most dangerous jobs on the Western Front, and was often exposed to enemy fire. He participated in a number of major battles on the Western Front, including the First Battle of Ypres, the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras and the Battle of Passchendaele. The Battle of Ypres (October 1914), which became known in Germany as the Kindermord bei Ypern (Massacre of the Innocents) saw approximately 40,000 men (between a third and a half) of the nine infantry present killed in twenty days, and Hitler's own company of 250 reduced to 42 by December. Some historians claim this experience drove Hitler to become aloof and withdrawn for the remaining years of war.
Hitler was twice decorated for bravery. He received the Iron Cross, Second Class, in 1914 and Iron Cross, First Class, in 1918, an honour rarely given to a Gefreiter. However, because the regimental staff thought Hitler lacked leadership skills, he was never promoted to Unteroffizier (equivalent to a British corporal). His duties at regimental headquarters, while often dangerous, gave Hitler time to pursue his artwork. He drew cartoons and instructional drawings for an army newspaper. In 1916, he was wounded in either the groin area or the left thigh during the Battle of the Somme, but returned to the front in March 1917. He received the Wound Badge later that year. Sebastian Haffner, referring to Hitler's experience at the front, suggests he did have at least some understanding of the military.
On October 15, 1918, Hitler was admitted to a field hospital, temporarily blinded by a mustard gas attack. Some suggest the blindness may have been the result of a conversion disorder (then known as hysteria). Hitler said it was during this experience that he became convinced the purpose of his life was to "save Germany." Two passages in Mein Kampf mention the use of poison gas:
"At the beginning of the Great War, or even during the War, if twelve or fifteen thousand of these Jews who were corrupting the nation had been forced to submit to poison-gas... then the millions of sacrifices made at the front would not have been in vain."
"These tactics are based on an accurate estimation of human weakness and must lead to success, with almost mathematical certainty, unless the other side also learns how to fight poison gas with poison gas. The weaker natures must be told that here it is a case of to be or not to be."
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. Hitler found the war to be 'the greatest of all experiences' and afterwards he was praised by a number of his commanding officers for his bravery. He was shocked by Germany's capitulation in November 1918 even while the German army still held enemy territory. Like many other German nationalists, Hitler believed in the Dolchstoßlegende ("dagger-stab legend") which claimed that the army, "undefeated in the field," had been "stabbed in the back" by civilian leaders and Marxists back on the home front. These politicians were later dubbed the November Criminals.
The Treaty of Versailles deprived Germany of various territories, demilitarised the Rhineland and imposed other economically damaging sanctions. The treaty re-created Poland, which even moderate Germans regarded as an outrage. The treaty also blamed Germany for all the horrors of the war, something which major historians now consider at least in part to be victor's justice: most European nations in the run-up to World War I had become increasingly militarised and were eager to fight. The culpability of Germany was used as a basis to impose reparations on Germany (the amount was repeatedly revised under the Dawes Plan, the Young Plan, and the Hoover Moratorium). Germany in turn perceived the treaty and especially, Article 231 the paragraph on the German responsibility for the war as a humiliation. For example, there was a nearly total demilitarisation of the armed forces, allowing Germany only six battleships, no submarines, no air force, an army of 100,000 without conscription and no armoured vehicles. The treaty was an important factor in both the social and political conditions encountered by Hitler and his Nazis as they sought power. Hitler and his party used the signing of the treaty by the "November Criminals" as a reason to build up Germany so that it could never happen again. He also used the "November Criminals" as scapegoats, although at the Paris peace conference, these politicians had had very little choice in the matter.
Entry into politics
After the First World War, Hitler remained in the army and returned to Munich, where he—in contrast to his later declarations—attended the funeral march for the murdered Bavarian prime minister Kurt Eisner. After the suppression of the Bavarian Soviet Republic, he took part in "national thinking" courses organized by the Education and Propaganda Department (Dept Ib/P) of the Bavarian Reichswehr Group, Headquarters 4 under Captain Karl Mayr. Scapegoats were found in "international Jewry", communists, and politicians across the party spectrum, especially the parties of the Weimar Coalition.
In July 1919, Hitler was appointed a Verbindungsmann (police spy) of an Aufklärungskommando (Intelligence Commando) of the Reichswehr, both to influence other soldiers and to infiltrate a small party, the German Workers' Party (DAP). During his inspection of the party, Hitler was impressed with founder Anton Drexler's anti-semitic, nationalist, anti-capitalist and anti-Marxist ideas, which favoured a strong active government, a "non-Jewish" version of socialism and mutual solidarity of all members of society. Drexler was impressed with Hitler's oratory skills and invited him to join as the party's 55th member. He was also made the seventh member of the executive committee. Years later, he claimed to be the party's seventh overall member, but it has been established that this claim is false.
Here Hitler also met Dietrich Eckart, one of the early founders of the party and member of the occult Thule Society. Eckart became Hitler's mentor, exchanging ideas with him, teaching him how to dress and speak, and introducing him to a wide range of people. Hitler thanked Eckart by paying tribute to him in the second volume of Mein Kampf. To increase the party's appeal, the party changed its name to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or National Socialist German Workers Party.
Hitler was discharged from the army in March 1920 and with his former superiors' continued encouragement began participating full time in the party's activities. By early 1921, Hitler was becoming highly effective at speaking in front of large 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 (including monarchists, nationalists and other non-internationalist socialists) and especially against Marxists and Jews.
The NSDAP was centered in Munich, a hotbed of German nationalists who included Army officers determined to crush Marxism and undermine the Weimar republic. Gradually they noticed Hitler and his growing movement as a suitable vehicle for their goals. Hitler traveled to Berlin to visit nationalist groups during the summer of 1921, and in his absence there was a revolt among the DAP leadership in Munich.
The party was run by an executive committee whose original members considered Hitler to be overbearing. 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 replace Drexler as party chairman, with unlimited powers. Infuriated committee members (including Drexler) held out at first. Meanwhile an anonymous pamphlet appeared entitled Adolf Hitler: Is he a traitor?, attacking Hitler's lust for power and criticizing the violent 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 NSDAP 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 National Socialist German Workers' Party, marking the first time this title was publicly used.
Hitler's beer hall oratory, attacking Jews, social democrats, liberals, reactionary monarchists, capitalists and communists, began attracting adherents. Early followers included Rudolf Hess, the former air force pilot Hermann Göring, and the army captain Ernst Röhm, who eventually became head of the Nazis' paramilitary organization, the SA (Sturmabteilung, or "Storm Division"), which protected meetings and attacked political opponents. Hitler also assimilated independent groups, such as the Nuremberg-based Deutsche Werkgemeinschaft, led by Julius Streicher, who became Gauleiter of Franconia. Hitler 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.
Beer Hall Putsch
Encouraged by this early support, Hitler decided to use Ludendorff as a front in an attempted coup later known as the Beer Hall Putsch (sometimes as the Hitler Putsch or Munich Putsch). The Nazi Party had copied Italy's fascists in appearance and also had adopted some programmatical points, and in 1923, Hitler wanted to emulate Benito Mussolini's "March on Rome" by staging his own "Campaign in Berlin". 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.
On November 8, 1923, Hitler and the SA stormed a public meeting headed by Kahr in the Bürgerbräukeller, a large beer hall in Munich. He declared that he had set up a new government with Ludendorff and demanded, at gunpoint, the support of Kahr and the local military establishment for the destruction of the Berlin government. Kahr withdrew his support and fled to join the opposition to Hitler at the first opportunity. The next day, when Hitler and his followers marched from the beer hall to the Bavarian War Ministry to overthrow the Bavarian government as a start to their "March on Berlin", the police dispersed them. Sixteen NSDAP members were killed.
Hitler fled to the home of Ernst Hanfstaengl and contemplated suicide. He was soon arrested for high treason. Alfred Rosenberg became temporary leader of the party. During Hitler's trial, he was given almost unlimited time to speak, and his popularity soared as he voiced nationalistic sentiments in his defence speech. A Munich personality became a nationally known figure. On April 1, 1924, Hitler was sentenced to five years' imprisonment at Landsberg Prison. Hitler received favoured treatment from the guards and had much fan mail from admirers. He was pardoned and released from jail on December 20, 1924, by order of the Bavarian Supreme Court on December 19, which issued its final rejection of the state prosecutor's objections to Hitler's early release. Including time on remand, he had served little more than one year of his sentence.
On June 28, 1925 Hitler wrote a letter from Uffing to the editor of The Nation in New York City stating how long he had been in prison at "Sandberg a. S." [sic] and how much his privileges had been revoked.
While at Landsberg he 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 an exposition of his ideology. . The book explained his hatred for the Jews and other non-aryans, his wishes to unite all German people under one rule by creating Lebensraum from the territories of Poland and Russia. It was published in two volumes in 1925 and 1926, selling about 240,000 copies between 1925 and 1934. By the end of the war, about 10 million copies had been sold or distributed (newlyweds and soldiers received free copies).
Hitler spent years dodging taxes on the royalties of his book and had accumulated a tax debt of about 405,500 Reichsmarks by the time he became chancellor (at which time his debt was waived).
The copyright of Mein Kampf in Europe is claimed by the Free State of Bavaria and scheduled to end on December 31, 2015. The uncertain status has led to contested trials in Switzerland and Sweden. Mein Kampf is forbidden in the U.S., the United Kingdom, and in other member states of the United Nations.
Rebuilding of the party
At the time of Hitler's release, the political situation in Germany had calmed and the economy had improved, which hampered Hitler's opportunities for agitation. Though the Hitler Putsch had given Hitler some national prominence, his party's mainstay was still Munich.
The NSDAP and its organs were banned in Bavaria after the collapse of the putsch. Hitler convinced Heinrich Held, Prime Minister of Bavaria, to lift the ban, based on representations that the party would now only seek political power through legal means. Even though the ban on the NSDAP was removed effective February 16, 1925, Hitler incurred a new ban on public speaking as a result of an inflammatory speech. Since Hitler was banned from public speeches, he appointed Gregor Strasser, who in 1924 had been elected to the Reichstag, as Reichsorganisationsleiter, authorizing him to organize the party in northern Germany. Strasser, joined by his younger brother Otto and Joseph Goebbels, steered an increasingly independent course, emphasizing the socialist element in the party's programme. The Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Gauleiter Nord-West became an internal opposition, threatening Hitler's authority, but this faction was defeated at the Bamberg Conference in 1926, during which Goebbels joined Hitler.
After this encounter, Hitler centralized the party even more and asserted the Führerprinzip ("Leader principle") as the basic principle of party organization. Leaders were not elected by their group but were rather appointed by their superior and were answerable to them while demanding unquestioning obedience from their inferiors. Consistent with Hitler's disdain for democracy, all power and authority devolved from the top down.
A key element of Hitler's appeal was his ability to evoke a sense of offended national pride caused by the Treaty of Versailles imposed on the defeated German Empire by the Western 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 132 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 antisemitism with an attack on the failures of the "Weimar system" and the parties supporting it.
Having failed in overthrowing the Republic by a coup, Hitler pursued a "strategy of legality": this meant formally adhering to the rules of the Weimar Republic until he had legally gained power. He would then use the institutions of the Weimar Republic to destroy it and establish himself as dictator. Some party members, especially in the paramilitary SA, opposed this strategy; Röhm and others ridiculed Hitler as "Adolphe Legalité".