Adolf Hitler (20 April 1889 - 30 April 1945) 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 to 1945 and as head of state (Führer und Reichskanzler) from 1934 to 1945.
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 nationalism, antisemitism and anti-communism with charismatic oratory and propaganda. He was appointed chancellor in 1933, and quickly established a totalitarian and fascist 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 Wehrmacht invaded Poland in 1939, leading to the outbreak of World War II in Europe.
Within three years, Germany and the Axis powers occupied most of Europe and large parts of Africa, East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean. However, the Allies gained the upper hand from 1942 onward and in 1945 Allied armies invaded Germany from all sides. 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, a crime known as the Holocaust.
During the final days of the war in 1945, Hitler married his long-time mistress Eva Braun. Less than 40 hours later, the two committed suicide.
Adolf Hitler was born at the Gasthof zum Pommer, an inn in Braunau am Inn, Austria-Hungary, on 20 April 1889,the fourth child of six. His father, Alois Hitler (1837-1903), was a customs official. His mother, Klara PÃ¶lzl (1860-1907), was Alois' third wife. She was also his cousin, 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, a 20th century philosopher. 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 3 January 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.
World War I
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. Biographer John Keegan has said that 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). Other historians say that the reason he was not promoted is that he was not a German citizen. 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 15 October 1918, Hitler was admitted to a field hospital, temporarily blinded by a mustard gas attack. The English psychologist David Lewis and Bernhard Horstmann 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." Some scholars, notably Lucy Dawidowicz,argue that an intention to exterminate Europe's Jews was fully formed in Hitler's mind at this time, though he probably had not thought through how it could be done. Most historians think the decision was made in 1941, and some think it came as late as 1942.
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 DolchstoÃlegende ("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 like John Keegan 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.
One of the foundations of Hitler's social policies was the concept of racial hygiene. It was based on the ideas of Arthur de Gobineau, a French count, eugenics, a pseudo-science that advocated racial purity, and social Darwinism. Applied to human beings, "survival of the fittest" was interpreted as requiring racial purity and killing off "life unworthy of life." The first victims were children with physical and developmental disabilities; those killings occurred in a programme dubbed Action T4. After a public outcry, Hitler made a show of ending this program, but the killings in fact continued (see Nazi eugenics).
Between 1939 and 1945, the SS, assisted by collaborationist governments and recruits from occupied countries, systematically killed somewhere between 11 and 14 million people, including about six million Jews, in concentration camps, ghettos and mass executions, or through less systematic methods elsewhere. In addition to those gassed to death, many also died as a result of starvation and disease while working as slave labourers (sometimes benefiting private German companies). Along with Jews, non-Jewish Poles (over three million), communists or political opponents, members of resistance groups, homosexuals, Roma, the physically handicapped and mentally retarded, Soviet prisoners of war (possibly as many as three million), Jehovah's Witnesses, Adventists and Neopagans, trade unionists, and psychiatric patients were killed. One of the biggest centres of mass-killing was the extermination camp complex of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Hitler never visited the concentration camps and did not speak publicly about the killing in precise terms.
The Holocaust (the EndlÃ¶sung der jÃ¼dischen Frage or "Final Solution of the Jewish Question") was planned and ordered by leading Nazis, with Heinrich Himmler playing a key role. While no specific order from Hitler authorizing the mass killing has surfaced, there is documentation showing that he approved the Einsatzgruppen, killing squads that followed the German army through Poland and Russia, and that he was kept well informed about their activities. The evidence also suggests that in the fall of 1941 Himmler and Hitler decided upon mass extermination by gassing. During interrogations by Soviet intelligence officers declassified over fifty years later, Hitler's valet Heinz Linge and his military aide Otto Gunsche said Hitler had "pored over the first blueprints of gas chambers." Also his private secretary, Traudl Junge, testified that Hitler knew all about the death camps.
To make for smoother cooperation in the implementation of this "Final Solution", the Wannsee conference was held near Berlin on 20 January 1942, with fifteen senior officials participating, led by Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann. The records of this meeting provide the clearest evidence of planning for the Holocaust. On 22 February, Hitler was recorded saying to his associates, "we shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jews".
World War II
In February 1938, Hitler finally ended the dilemma that had plagued German Far Eastern policy, namely whether to continue the informal Sino-German alliance that existed with China since the 1910s or to create a new alliance with Japan. The military at the time strongly favored continuing Germany's alliance with China. China had the support of Foreign Minister Konstantin von Neurath and War Minister Werner von Blomberg, the so called "China Lobby" who tried to steer German foreign policy away from war in Europe.Both men, however, were sacked by Hitler in early 1938. Upon the advice of Hitler's newly appointed Foreign Minister, the strongly pro-Japanese Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler chose to end the alliance with China as the price of gaining an alignment with the more modern and powerful Japan. In an address to the Reichstag, Hitler announced German recognition of Manchukuo, the Japanese-occupied puppet state in Manchuria, and renounced the German claims to the former colonies in the Pacific held by Japan. Hitler ordered an end to arm shipments to China, and ordered the recall of all the German officers attached to the Chinese Army. In retaliation for ending German support to China in the war against Japan, Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek canceled all of the Sino-German economic agreements, which deprived the Germans of raw materials such as tungsten that the Chinese had previously provided. The ending of the Sino-German alignment increased the problems of German rearmament as the Germans were now forced to use their limited supply of foreign exchange to buy raw materials on the open market.
Defeat and death
By late 1944, the Red Army had driven the Germans back into Central Europe and the Western Allies were advancing into Germany. Hitler realized that Germany had lost the war, but allowed no retreats. He hoped to negotiate a separate peace with America and Britain, a hope buoyed by the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt on 12 April 1945. Hitler's stubbornness and defiance of military realities also allowed the Holocaust to continue. He also ordered the complete destruction of all German industrial infrastructure before it could fall into Allied hands, saying that Germany's failure to win the war forfeited its right to survive. Rather, Hitler decided that the entire nation should go down with him. Execution of this scorched earth plan was entrusted to arms minister Albert Speer, who disobeyed the order.
In April 1945, Soviet forces attacked the outskirts of Berlin. Hitler's followers urged him to flee to the mountains of Bavaria to make a last stand in the National Redoubt. But Hitler was determined to either live or die in the capital.
On 20 April, Hitler celebrated his 56th birthday in the "FÃ¼hrer's shelter" (FÃ¼hrerbunker) below the Reich Chancellery (Reichskanzlei). The garrison commander of the besieged "fortress Breslau" (Festung Breslau), General Hermann Niehoff, had chocolates distributed to his troops in honor of Hitler's birthday.
By 21 April, Georgi Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front had broken through the defenses of German General Gotthard Heinrici's Army Group Vistula during the Battle of the Seelow Heights. The Soviets were now advancing towards Hitler's bunker with little to stop them. Ignoring the facts, Hitler saw salvation in the ragtag units commanded by General Felix Steiner. Steiner's command became known as "Army Detachment Steiner" (Armeeabteilung Steiner). But "Army Detachment Steiner" existed primarily on paper. It was something more than a corps but less than an army. Hitler ordered Steiner to attack the northern flank of the huge salient created by the breakthrough of Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front. Meanwhile, the German Ninth Army, which had been pushed south of the salient, was ordered to attack north in a pincer attack.
Late on 21 April, Heinrici called Hans Krebs chief of the Supreme Army Command (Oberkommando des Heeres or OKH) and told him that Hitler's plan could not be implemented. Heinrici asked to speak to Hitler but was told by Krebs that Hitler was too busy to take his call.
On 22 April, during one of his last military conferences, Hitler interrupted the report to ask what had happened to General Steiner's offensive. There was a long silence. Then Hitler was told that the attack had never been launched, and that the withdrawal from Berlin of several units for Steiner's army, on Hitler's orders, had so weakened the front that the Russians had broken through into Berlin. Hitler asked everyone except Wilhelm Keitel, Hans Krebs, Alfred Jodl, Wilhelm Burgdorf, and Martin Bormann to leave the room, and launched a tirade against the perceived treachery and incompetence of his commanders. This culminated in an oath to stay in Berlin, head up the defense of the city, and shoot himself at the end.
Before the day ended, Hitler again found salvation in a new plan that included General Walther Wenck's Twelfth Army. This new plan had Wenck turn his army-currently facing the Americans to the west-and attack towards the east to relieve Berlin.Twelfth Army was to link up with Ninth Army and break through to the city. Wenck did attack and, in the confusion, managed to make temporary contact with the Potsdam garrison. But the link with the Ninth Army, like the plan in general, was ultimately unsuccessful.
On 23 April, Joseph Goebbels made the following proclamation to the people of Berlin:
I call on you to fight for your city. Fight with everything you have got, for the sake of your wives and your children, your mothers and your parents. Your arms are defending everything we have ever held dear, and all the generations that will come after us. Be proud and courageous! Be inventive and cunning! Your Gauleiter is amongst you. He and his colleagues will remain in your midst. His wife and children are here as well. He, who once captured the city with 200 men, will now use every means to galvanize the defense of the capital. The Battle for Berlin must become the signal for the whole nation to rise up in battle...
Also on 23 April, second in command of the Third Reich and commander of the Luftwaffe Hermann GÃ¶ring sent a telegram from Berchtesgaden in Bavaria. GÃ¶ring argued that, since Hitler was cut off in Berlin, he should assume leadership of Germany as Hitler's designated successor. GÃ¶ring mentioned a time limit after which he would consider Hitler incapacitated. Hitler responded, in anger, by having GÃ¶ring arrested, and when he wrote his will on 29 April, GÃ¶ring was removed from all his positions in the government.
By the end of the day on 27 April Berlin was completely cut off from the rest of Germany.
On 28 April, Hitler discovered that SS leader Heinrich Himmler was trying to discuss surrender terms with the Allies (through the Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte). Hitler ordered Himmler's arrest and had Himmler's representative in Berlin Hermann Fegelein shot.