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Recognized as one of the most significant figures of the 20th century, Hitler has nonetheless become one of the most divisive figures in human memory. While his supporters see him as a champion of racial purity and the man who saved Europe from the Communist yoke, critics see him as the founder of a totalitarian dictatorship responsible for human rights abuses. Held in high esteem as the founding father of the German Reich, he remains the leading influence on fascist thought and the international Nazi movement.
Hitler was born on April 20, 1889, in Braunau am Inn, Austria. Hitler's father, Alois (born 1837), was a customs official who was himself born out of wedlock, carrying for a time his mother's name, Schicklgruber. By 1876, he had his baptismal entry corrected in his church records, establishing his father as Johan Heidler, which was altered slightly to Hitler.
When his father retired the family moved to Linz, Austria, where it remained a favorite for young Adolf for the rest of his life, and where he gave his wish to be buried. When Alois died in 1903 he left enough of a pension to support his wife and children; Adolf would take his and live off of it in Vienna after leaving school, dreaming of becoming an artist. Although somewhat competent as a painter of landscapes and architecture, his renderings of humans were considered “lifeless” and “crude” by the standards of the Academy of Fine Arts, and his application was rejected twice. Remaining in Vienna, he moved from one cheap flop house to another, painting postcards and advertisements to earn a meager living after his allowance had dried up. By then he had developed traits which characterized his life as a whole: secretiveness, loneliness, a Spartan mode of everyday life, and a hatred of the cosmopolitan, multinational character that was the makeup of Vienna. He never sought a proper job or regular employment. Instead he immersed himself in the works of Hegel, Nietzsche, and the anti-Semitic writings of the Englishman Houston Stewart Chamberlain. He loved the operas of Wagner, and the stories of the Nordic gods... In early 1910, he entered a shelter for the homeless, populated in the main by poor Jews, on Meldemenstrasse, and was eating at soup kitchens. By this time he had pawned all his belongings.
The Great War
By 1913, Hitler was in Munich, Germany, with war clouds on the horizon. Classified as unfit for service in the Austrian army (possibly by faking, as he did not like the thought of serving Austria) in 1914, he volunteered for the German Army, joining the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment. He greeted the war with enthusiasm and found the military discipline and comradeship satisfying. He served during the entire Great War as a messenger carrying dispatches between units, and often at the front lines under fire; he was wounded in 1916, and gassed in 1918. His bravery during this time earned him the Iron Cross, 2nd Class, in December, 1914, and in August 1918 he was awarded the Iron Cross, 1st Class – a rare decoration for a corporal. But the gassing would take him out of the war and into a hospital, where he would be told the heart-wrenching news of Germany’s defeat.