Adolf Hitler (April 20, 1889 April 30, 1945) was Chancellor of Germany from 1933
and FӃhrer und Reichskanzler (Leader and Chancellor) of Germany from 1934 to
his death. He was leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP),
better known as the Nazi Party.
Under Hitler's charismatic leadership Germany emerged from the depths of post World
War I defeat to rebuild its economy and decimated military. At the height of their power
during World War II, the armies of Nazi Germany and its Axis Powers dominated much
of Europe. The racial policies that Hitler directed culminated in a massive number of
deaths, commonly cited as at least 11 million people ܢ including 6 million Jews – in a
genocide now known as the Holocaust.
Ultimately, Germany was defeated by the Allied powers in 1945 and during the final
days of the war Hitler committed suicide in his underground bunker in Berlin together
with his newly wed wife, Eva Braun. The Third Reich, which he had said would last a
thousand years, collapsed shortly thereafter.
Adolf Hitler was born close to sunset on April 20, 1889, at Braunau am Inn, Austria, a
small town 90 km (55 miles) west of Linz in the province of Upper Austria, not far from
the German border in what was then Austria-Hungary. He was the fourth of six children
of Alois Hitler (1837–1903), a customs official, and Klara Pölzl, Alois' niece and third
wife. Of these six children, only Adolf and his younger sister Paula reached adulthood.
Alois Hitler also had a son (Alois Junior) and a daughter (Angela) by his second wife. In
Mein Kampf, his autobiography and exposition of his political ideology, Hitler describes
his father as an "irascible tyrant"; however, there is little indication that Alois Hitler
treated his son more strictly than was usual for that time and place.
Alois Hitler was born out of wedlock, and, until he was 40, used his mother's surname,
Schicklgruber. In 1876, he began using the name of his stepfather, Johann Georg Hiedler,
after visiting a priest responsible for birth registries and declaring that Georg was his
father (Alois gave the impression that Georg was still alive, but he was long dead). The
spelling was probably changed by a clerk. Later, Adolf was accused by his political
enemies of not rightfully being a Hitler, but a Schicklgruber. This was also exploited in
Allied propaganda during the Second World War when pamphlets bearing the phrase
"Heil Schicklgruber" were airdropped over German cities. He was legally born a Hitler,
however, and was closely related to Hiedler through his mother's family.
Hitler did not know for sure who his paternal grandfather was, but it was probably either
Johann Georg Hiedler or his brother Johann von Nepomuk Hiedler. There have been
rumours that Hitler was one-quarter Jewish and that his paternal grandmother Maria
Schicklgruber had become pregnant after working as a servant in a Jewish household in
Graz. During the 1920s, the implications of this along with his known family history
were politically explosive, especially for the proponent of a racist ideology. Opponents
tried to prove that Hitler, the leader of the anti-Semitic and jingoistic Nazi Party, had
Jewish or Czech ancestors. Although these rumours were never confirmed, for Hitler they
were reason enough to conceal his origins. Soviet propaganda insisted he was a Jew,
though more modern research tends to diminish the probability Hitler had Jewish or
Czech ancestors. Historians such as Werner Maser and Ian Kershaw argue this was
impossible since the Jews had been expelled from Graz in the 15th century and were not
allowed to return until well after Maria Schicklgruber's alleged employment.
Because of Alois Hitler's profession his family moved frequently, from Braunau to
Passau, Lambach, Leonding and next to Linz. As a young child, Hitler was reportedly a
good student at the various elementary schools he attended; however, in sixth grade
(1900–1901), his first year of high school (Realschule) in Linz, he failed completely and
had to repeat the grade. His teachers reported that he had "no desire to work."
Hitler later explained this as a kind of rebellion against his father Alois, who wanted the
boy to follow him in a career as a customs official, although Adolf wanted to become a
painter. This is further supported by Hitler's later description of himself as a
misunderstood artist. After Hitler's father died on January 3, 1903, aged 65, Hitler's
schoolwork did not improve. At the age of 16, Hitler left school with no qualifications.
Early adulthood in Vienna and Munich
From 1905 onward, Hitler was able to live the life of a Bohemian on a fatherless child's
pension and support from his mother. After he was rejected twice by the Academy of
Arts in Vienna (1907–1908) for "lack of talent" – which he resented deeply – he did not
try to find a different job or learn a profession. He was told he should become an
architect, since he had some flair for making architectural sketches and drawings. On
December 21, 1907, his mother Klara died a painful death from breast cancer. He gave
his share of the orphans' benefits to his younger sister Paula, but soon after inherited
some money from an aunt. He worked as a struggling painter in Vienna, copying scenes
from postcards and selling his paintings to merchants and tourists (there is evidence he
produced over 2000 paintings and drawings before World War I).
After the second refusal from the Academy of Arts, Hitler gradually ran out of money.
By 1909, he sought refuge in a homeless shelter, and by the beginning of 1910 had settled
permanently into a house for poor working men. He made spending money by painting
tourist postcards of Vienna scenery. His anti-Semitism during this period was likely non-
existent, since a Jewish resident of the house named Hanisch was helping him sell his
It was in Vienna that Hitler became an active anti-Semite, a common stance among
Austrians at the time. Vienna had a large Jewish community, including many Orthodox
Jews from Eastern Europe. He was slowly influenced over time by the writings of the
race ideologist and anti-Semite Lanz von Liebenfels and polemics from politicians such
as Karl Lueger, the Mayor of Vienna and Georg Ritter von Schönerer, leader of the pan-
Germanic Away from Rome! movement. He later wrote that his transition from opposing
anti-semitism on religious grounds, to supporting it on racial grounds, came from having
seen an orthodox jew:
Mein Kampf, chapter II:
" 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 anti-Semitism."
" 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 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?"
Hitler had a firm belief in the inferiority of the Parliamentary system, and especially
social democracy, which formed the basis of his political views. He began to claim the
Jews were natural enemies of "Aryans" and were responsible for Germany's economic
problems. However, according to August Kubizek, his close friend and roommate at the
time, he was more interested in the operas of Richard Wagner than in politics.
He was given a small inheritance from his father in May 1913 and moved to Munich. He
later wrote in Mein Kampf that he had always longed to live in a German city. In
Munich, he became more interested in architecture and the writings of Houston Stewart
Chamberlain. Moving to Munich also helped him escape military service in Austria for a
time, but the Austrian army later arrested him. After a physical exam (during which his
height was measured at 1.73 m, or 5 ft 8 in) and a plea, he was found unfit for service and
allowed to return to Munich. However, when Germany entered World War I in August
1914, he immediately enlisted in the Bavarian army.
World War I
Hitler saw active service in France and Belgium as a messenger for the 16th Bavarian
reserve infantry regiment, which exposed him to enemy fire. He also drew some cartoons
and instructional drawings for the army newspaper. He was twice cited for bravery in
action, receiving the Iron Cross, Second Class, in December 1915 and the Iron Cross,
First Class in August 1918, an honour rarely given to a lance corporal (he was not a
German citizen at the time and so could not be promoted beyond corporal). During
October 1916 in northern France Hitler was wounded in the leg, returning to the front in
Hitler was considered a "correct" soldier but was reportedly unpopular with his comrades
because of an uncritical attitude towards officers. "Respect the superior, don't contradict
anybody, obey blindly," he said, describing his attitude while on trial for his Beer Hall
Putsch in 1924. One comrade later remarked, "we all grumbled on him and found it
intolerable that we had a white raven among us." (Haiden, 1936)
On October 15, 1918, shortly before the end of war, Hitler was admitted to a field
hospital, temporarily blinded by a poison gas attack. Research by Bernhard Horstmann
indicates the blindness may have been the result of a hysterical reaction to Germany's
defeat. Hitler later said it was during this experience that he became convinced the
purpose of his life was to save Germany. Meanwhile he was treated by a military
physician and specialist in psychiatry who reportedly diagnosed the corporal as
"incompetent to command people" and "dangerously psychotic." His commander at the
time said, "I will never promote this hysteric!" (cited from Haiden, 1937). However,
historian Sebastian Haffner, referring to Hitler's experience at the front, suggests he did
have at least some understanding of the military.
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. He was
shocked by the capitulation of Germany in November 1918 while the German army
remained (in popular German belief) undefeated. Like many other German nationalists,
Hitler blamed civilian politicians (the "November criminals") for the surrender. The
widespread right-wing, conservative explanation for the capitulation was the
Dolchstosslegende ("dagger-stab legend") which purported that behind the backs of the
army, liberal politicians had betrayed and "stabbed" Germany's people and its soldiers "in
the back." The Treaty of Versailles imposed crippling reparations and other economically
damaging sanctions, declaring Germany guilty for the horrors of the Great War. The
treaty was perceived by most Germans as a humiliation and was an important factor in
both the social and political conditions encountered by Hitler and his National Socialist
Party as they sought power.
Early Nazi Party
Main article: Hitler's political beliefs
After the war, Hitler remained in the army, which was mainly engaged in suppressing
socialist uprisings breaking out across Germany, including Munich (Bavarian Soviet
Republic), where Hitler returned in 1919. He took part in "national thinking" courses
organised by the Education and Propaganda Department (Dept Ib/P) of the Bavarian
Reichswehr Group, Headquarters 4 under Captain Mayr. A key purpose of this group was
to create a scapegoat for the outbreak of the war and Germany's defeat. The scapegoats
were found in "international Jewry," communists and politicians across the party
spectrum, especially the parties of the Weimar Coalition, who were deemed "November
In July 1919, Hitler was appointed a V-Mann (Verbindungsmann is the German term for
a police spy) of "Aufklärungskommando" ("Intelligence Commando") of the Reichswehr,
for the purpose of influencing other soldiers towards similar ideas and was assigned to
infiltrate a small nationalist party, the German Workers' Party (DAP). Here Hitler met
Dietrich Eckart, one of the early founders of the party.
Hitler was discharged from the army in 1920 and (with the army's continued
encouragement) began participating full time in the party's activities. By early 1921,
Adolf Hitler was becoming highly effective at speaking in front of ever larger 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 and groups (especially Marxists) and always the Jews.
The German Workers' Party was centered in Munich which had become a hotbed of ultra
right-wing German nationalists who included Army officers determined to crush
Marxism and undermine or even overthrow the young German democracy centered in
Berlin. Gradually they noticed Adolf Hitler and his growing movement as a vehicle to
hitch themselves to. Hitler traveled to Berlin to visit nationalist groups during the summer
of 1921 and in his absence there was an unexpected revolt among his own Nazi Party
leadership in Munich.
The Party was still run by an executive committee whose original members considered
Hitler to be overbearing and even dictatorial. To weaken Hitler's position 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 was made chairman and
given dictatorial powers. Infuriated committee members (including founder Anton
Drexler) held out at first. Meanwhile an anonymous pamphlet appeared entitled Adolf
Hitler: Is he a traitor?, attacking Hitler's lust for power and criticising the violence-prone
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 Nazi Party 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 Nazi
Party, marking the first time this title was publicly used. Hitler changed the name of the
party to the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche
Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP) (usually known as the Nazi party).
Hitler's beer hall oratory, attacking Jews, socialists and liberals, capitalists and
communists, began attracting adherents. Early followers included Rudolf Hess, the
former air force pilot Hermann Göring, and the flamboyant army captain Ernst Röhm,
who became head of the Nazis' paramilitary organisation, the SA, which protected
meetings and attacked political opponents. He 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.
Encouraged by this early support, Hitler decided to use Ludendorff as a front in an
attempt to seize power in the turbulent year 1923. His aim was to emulate Mussolini's
March on Rome by a "March on Berlin" but this abortive coup was later known as the
Hitler Putsch (and sometimes the Beerhall Putsch). Hitler and Ludendorff obtained the
clandestine support of Gustav von Kahr, Bavaria's right-wing 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
However on November 8, 1923 Kahr and the military withdrew their support during a
meeting in the Bürgerbräu beer hall. A surprised Hitler had them arrested and proceeded
with the coup. Unknown to him, Kahr and the other detainees had been released on
Ludendorff's orders after he obtained their word not to interfere. That night they prepared
resistance measures against the coup and in the morning, when the Nazis marched from
the beer hall to the Bavarian War Ministry to overthrow what they saw as Bavaria's
traitorous government as a start to their "March on Berlin," the army quickly dispersed
them (Ludendorff was wounded and a few other Nazis were killed).
Hitler fled to the home of friends and contemplated suicide. He was soon arrested for
high treason and appointed Alfred Rosenberg as temporary leader of the party but found
himself in an environment somewhat receptive to his beliefs. During Hitler's trial in April
1924 sympathetic conservative magistrates allowed Hitler to turn his debacle into a
propaganda stunt. He was given almost unlimited amounts of time to present his
arguments to the court along with a large body of the German people and his popularity
soared when he voiced basic nationalistic sentiments shared by the public. For the crime
of conspiracy to commit treason Hitler was sentenced to five years' imprisonment at
Landsberg prison where he received favoured treatment from the guards and had much
fan mail from admirers. While at Landsberg he dictated his political book Mein Kampf
(My Struggle) to his deputy Rudolf Hess. The first volume, called "Abrechnung"
(payback), was later published and became the platform of the Nazi party (by the late
1930s nearly every household in Germany had a copy of it). Meanwhile, as he was
considered relatively harmless, Hitler was given an early amnesty and was released in
December 1924. By this time the Nazi party had dwindled and Hitler began a long effort
to rebuild it.
A key element of Hitler's appeal was his ability to convey a sense of offended national
pride caused by the Treaty of Versailles imposed on the defeated German Empire by the
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 $6,600,000 (32 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 anti-Semitism
with an attack on the failures of the "Weimar system" and the parties supporting it.
In restoring the party organisation, Hitler asserted the Führerprinzip, or unquestioning
obedience to superiors, with all power and authority devolving from the top down --
consistent with his well-documented statements of disdain for democracy, which he
considered an unstable and dangerous form of government.
In 2004, it was discovered that Hitler had spent years evading taxes on income from sales
of Mein Kampf. He owed the German government 405,000 Reichmarks (equivalent to $8
million at 2004 exchange rates) by the time he took power and the tax debt was forgiven.
The road to power
The political turning point for Hitler came when the Depression hit Germany in 1930.
The democratic Weimar Republic established in 1919 had never been accepted by
conservatives and was openly opposed by fascists. While the Social Democrats and
traditional parties of the centre and right were unable to cope with the shock of the
Depression, in the September 1930 elections the Nazis suddenly rose from relative
obscurity to win 18.3% of the vote along with 107 seats in the Reichstag, becoming the
second largest party in Germany.
Hitler appealed to the bulk of German farmers, war veterans and the middle-class who
had been hard-hit by both the inflation of the 1920s and the unemployment of the
Depression. The urban working classes generally ignored Hitler's appeals (Berlin and the
Ruhr towns were particularly hostile). The 1930 election was a disaster for Heinrich
Brüning's centre-right government, which was now deprived of a majority in the
Meanwhile in September 1931 Hitler's niece Geli Raubal was found dead in her bedroom
in his Munich apartment (his half-sister Angela and her daughter Geli had been with him
in Munich since 1929), an apparent suicide. Geli was much younger than he was and had
used his gun, drawing rumours of a relationship between the two. The event is viewed as
having caused lasting turmoil for him.
Brüning's austerity measures brought little economic improvement and the government
was anxious to avoid a presidential election in 1932, hoping to secure Nazi agreement to
an extension of President Paul von Hindenburg's term. Hitler refused and ultimately ran
against Hindenburg in the 1932 presidential election, coming in second on both rounds,
attaining more than 35% of the vote during the second one in April.
Hindenburg dismissed the government and appointed a new one under the ex- military
conservative Franz von Papen, which immediately called for new Reichstag elections. In
July 1932 the Nazis had their best showing yet, winning 230 seats and becoming the
largest party in the Reichstag. Since the Nazis and the communists now together
controlled a majority of the Reichstag, the formation of a stable government of
mainstream parties was impossible. After a vote of no-confidence in the Papen
government, supported by 84% of the delegates, the new Reichstag was dissolved and
new elections were called.
Papen and the Centre Party (Zentrumspartei) separately began negotiations to secure Nazi
participation in order to provide a new government with a basis in parliament. Hitler
however set high terms, demanding the Cha ncellorship along with the President's
agreement that he be able to use the 1919 constitution's sweeping emergency powers.
Hence the negotiations failed. During the November 1932 elections the Nazis lost votes
although they remained the largest party in the Reichstag. After Papen failed to secure a
majority he proposed to dissolve parliament again along with an indefinite postponement
of elections. Hindenburg at first accepted this, but after General Kurt von Schleicher and
the military withdrew their support, Hindenburg instead dismissed Papen and appointed
Schleicher, who promised he could secure a majority government by negotiations with
both the Social Democratic labour unions and the dissident Nazi faction led by Gregor
In November 1932, Fritz Thyssen, Hjalmar Schacht and other leading German
businessmen appealed to Hindenburg in a letter to appoint Hitler as leader of a
government "independent from parliamentary parties" which could turn into a movement
that would "enrapture millions of people." Finally, Papen and Alfred Hugenberg
(Chairman of the German National People's Party, the DNVP, which before the Nazis
had been Germany's principal right-wing party) conspired to persuade Hindenburg to
appoint Hitler Chancellor in a coalition with the DNVP, promising they would be able to
control him and stabilize the government. When Schleicher was forced to admit failure in
his efforts to form a coalition and asked for emergency powers along with the same
postponement of elections he had opposed earlier, Hindenburg fired him and reluctantly
agreed to appoint Hitler Chancellor, Papen Vice-Chancellor and Hugenberg Minister of
Economics in a cabinet which included three Nazis in key positions (Hitler, Göring and
Wilhelm Frick). On the morning of January 30, 1933 in Hindenburg's office Adolf Hitler
was sworn in as Chancellor during what some observers later described as a brief and
After the Reichstag was set on fire (and the communists were blamed for it), the
Reichstag Fire Decree (28 February) suspended basic rights including habeas corpus. On
5 March 1933, in elections marred by paramilitary violence, the Nazis received 43.9% of
the vote, which brought the coalition between them and the DNVP an absolute majority.
Hitler further strengthened his parliamentary basis by detaining Communist deputies and
(illegally) excluding them from parliament.
At an impressive constitutional opening ceremony of the Reichstag, held in the
replacement parliament building on 21 March, both Hindenburg and the world press were
impressed by Hitler's apparent acceptance of constitutional government.
The government confronted the newly elected Reichstag with the Enabling Act which
gave Hitler's cabinet sweeping legislative powers. The bill required a two-thirds majority
in order to pass and the Nazis needed support from other parties. The Centre Party was
split on this issue, but eventually followed its chairman, Monsignor Kaas, who had
advocated supporting the bill in parliament in return for government giving sundry
guarantees to civil servants belonging to the Centre Party along with freedom and
autonomy of the Catholic Church. These guarantees were orally transmitted and Kaas
was promised a letter with them in writing.
On 23 March the Reichstag assembled under turbulent circumstances. Some SA
paramilitaries served as guards as others crowded outside the building to intimidate
opposing views. Hitler gave a speech which emphasized the importance of both Christian
denominations to German culture. Later that day, still waiting for the promised letter,
Kaas gave his speech, voicing the Centre's support for the bill amid "concerns put aside."
At last, all parties except the Social Democrats voted in favour of the Enabling Act,
which was dutifully renewed every four years, even through World War II.
With this combination of legislative and executive power, Hitler's government soon
suppressed all opposition. The SPD was banned and all other political parties dissolved
themselves to Vinny Cassidy's dismay. Labour unions were merged with employers'
federations into an organisation under Nazi control and the autonomy of state
governments was severely diminished. Hitler also used the SA paramilitary to push
Hugenberg into resigning and proceeded to politically isolate Vice Chancellor von Papen.
Meanwhile the SA was growing into an independent power of its own and Hitler used
allegations of a plot by the SA leader Ernst Röhm to purge the paramilitary force's
leadership during the Night of the Long Knives. Opponents unconnected with the SA
were also murdered, notably Gregor Strasser and former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher.
Soon after, president Paul von Hindenburg died on 2 August 1934. Rather than hold new
presidential elections Hitler's cabinet passed a law combining the offices of president and
chancellor with Hitler holding both offices (which included the president's decree
powers) as leader and national chancellor. This consolidation was approved by 90% of
the electorate in mid-August 1934. Then in an unprecedented step, Hitler ordered every
member of the military to swear a personal oath of allegiance to him.
The Third Reich
Having secured supreme political power without an electoral mandate from the majority
of Germans, Hitler went on to gain their support by persuading most Germans he was
their saviour from the Depression, the Communists, the Versailles Treaty, and the Jews
along with other "undesirable" minorities.
Economics and culture
Hitler oversaw one of the greatest expansions of industrial production and civil
improvement Germany had ever seen, mostly based on debt flotation and expansion of
the military. Nazi policies towards women strongly encouraged them to stay at home to
bear children and keep house. The unemployment rate was cut substantially, mostly
through arms production and sending women home so that men could take their jobs.
Given this, claims that the German economy achieved near full employment are at least
partly artifacts of propaganda from the era.
Hitler also oversaw one of the largest infrastruc ture improvement campaigns in German
history, with the construction of dozens of dams, autobahns, railroads and other civil
works. Hitler's policies emphasised the importance of family life: Men were the
"breadwinners", while women's priorities were to be "church, kitchen and children", in
German Kirche, Küche und Kinder or "Drei K" (three Ks).
Hitler's government sponsored architecture on an immense scale, with Albert Speer
becoming famous as the first architect of the Reich. In 1936 Berlin hosted the summer
Olympic games, which were opened by Hitler and choreographed to demonstrate Aryan
superiority over all other races. Olympia, the movie about the games and documentary
propaganda films for the German Nazi Party were directed by Hitler's personal filmmaker
Although Hitler made plans for a Breitspurbahn (broad gauge railroad network), they
were pre-empted by World War II. Had the railroad been built, its gauge would have
been three meters, even wider than the old Great Western Railway of Britain.
In 1932 Hitler was instrumental in initiating the design work on the car that later became
the Volkswagen Beetle
The Gestapo-SS complex (the SS and Gestapo organisations) were primarily responsible
for repression in the Nazi state. This was implemented not only against political enemies
such as communists but also against perceived "asocials" such as habitual criminals and
the work-shy along with "racial enemies," mainly Jews.