Adolf Hitler was born on 20th April 1889 at the Gasthof zum Pommer, a hotel in Braunau am inn in Austria. He was the fourth child in the family of six children. Adolf Hitler had a very troubled relationship with his father but was close to his mother.
His father, Alois Hitler, was an authoritarian figure who frequently beat his son. He is said to have told his secretary that he once resolved never to cry when his father whipped him. Hitler was a relatively poor student, a fact that he later attributed to his rebellious nature towards Alois. In his early years lived a life characterized by the love of intellectual and artistic tendencies.
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From 1905, Adolf led a bohemian lifestyle in Vienna, Austria. He applied twice in the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna but was rejected. The Academy cited that he was unfit to paint and was told to try architecture instead. Apparently, he had fascination for architecture. It was in Vienna that Adolf Hitler became an anti-Semite.
Vienna had a large Jewish community among them Orthodox Jews who had fled Russia. It is said that those who may have influenced Hitler during his early years include politician Karl Lueger, anti-Semite ideologist Lanz von Liebenfels, Georg Ritter von Schonerer, and composer Richard Wagner. (Lukacs 110)
First World War
Adolf Hitler served in the sixteenth Bavarian Regiment in Belgium and France in the First World War. By the end of the war he was the equivalent of American army private first class. A private first class, or a Gefreiter in German, was a runner and was frequently exposed to enemy fire. Though his position was dangerous, Hitler served in key battles on the Western Front. These include:
- First Battle of Ypres
- Battle of the Somme
- Battle of Arras
- Battle of Passchendaele
The first Battle of Ypres gained the name Massacre of Innocent and about forty thousand men were killed in twenty days. Between October and December, Adolf’s company of two hundred and fifty men was reduced to forty two men. His biographer noted that the Battle of Ypres made Adolf withdrawn and aloof for the remainder of the war.
He was however rewarded for his bravery by being awarded two decorations. He was awarded the Second Class Iron Cross in 1914. He also received the Iron Cross, First Class in the year 1918. This honor was rarely awarded to a private first class.
The regimental staff though thought that he lacked leadership skills and was never promoted to the position of corporal. Another reason cited for lack of promotion was because his citizenry was in question. While at his regimental headquarters, Hitler found time to practice his artwork. He contributed to the army newspaper by drawing cartoons and instructional drawings.
During the Battle of Somme, Hitler was wounded in the groin area. This was in 1916 but by 1917 he had returned to the front. Due to his injury, Hitler received a wound badge in 1917. Adolf Hitler was temporarily blinded following a mustard gas attack and was admitted to a field hospital.
Some people later suggested that Hitler was blinded as a result of a conversion disorder. According to him, the blindness experience led him to be convinced that his life’s purpose was to save to Germany. Some scholars indicate that his objective and intention to eliminate Jews in Europe was formed in his mind during this time. (Lukacs 118)
Adolf Hitler was a passionate German patriot and had admired Germany for a long time. He however became a citizen in 1932. He regarded war as his greatest experience and received many praises for his bravery from various commanding officers. Hitler was shocked and angered by Germany’s agreement to surrender in November 1918.
What made him angrier was the fact that their army still held enemy territory. As a staunch nationalist, he believed in the ‘dagger stabbed legend’. The legend argued that the undefeated Germany army in the field had been betrayed (stabbed in the back) by Marxists and civilian leaders. These Marxists and civilian leaders were later branded November Criminals.
The German capitulation deprived the nation a number of territories and demilitarized the Rhineland. The Treaty of Versailles also imposed economically damaging sanctions on Germany. The Versailles treaty restored Poland, a move considered an outrage even to a moderate German. It also criminalized Germany for all horrors experienced during the World War One.
Since Germany was culpable, reparations were imposed on the nation. The Treaty of Versailles humiliated Germany in a number of ways. The German army for instance was almost fully demilitarized. They were not allowed to have submarines, an air force, armored vehicles, and were only allowed six battleships and an army of a hundred thousand people. The treaty played a significant role on Germany’s political and social conditions. It was an important basis on which the Nazis and Hitler sought power.
Adolf Hitler remained in the army after the end of the First World War. He went back to Munich and attended the funeral procession of the murdered Prime Minister Kurt Eisner. He was part of the ‘national thinking’ courses led by the Bavarian department of propaganda and education.
Hitler and those of the same sentiments be regarded Germany woes to be as a result of international Jewry, politicians, Communists, and Marxists. In 1919, Adolf Hitler was appointed as a police spy of the Intelligence Commando of the Reichswehr.
The Reichswehr was later formed the defense force of Germany. He was required to infiltrate the German Workers’ Party (a small party then) and influence other soldiers. The factors that impressed Hitler to join the party include:
- It was anti-Semitic
- It was nationalistic
- It was anti-capitalist
- It was anti-Marxist
- The party favored a strong and active administration
- The party advocated for a non Jewish version of Socialism
- Solidarity for all members of the society
The above beliefs and characteristics guided Adolf Hitler for the rest of his life and administration. Adolf Hitler was made the seventh member of the executive committee of Anton Drexler’s German Workers Party. This was mainly due to the fact that the party founder was impressed by his oratory skills. Hitler also met another founder of the party Dietrich Eckart who will become his mentor.
Dietrich taught Hitler how to dress and speak exchanged ideas with him and introduced him to many people. So as to improve the party’s appeal, it was renamed the National Socialist German Workers Party. After being discharged of his military duties in 1920, Hitler together with his former superiors concentrated his efforts in the party’s activities. He became very effective at speaking to large crowds. (Lukacs 110)
Adolf Hitler was a gifted orator and used his talent to the maximum. In February 1921, he addressed nearly six thousand people assembled in Munich. He advertised the gathering using two truckloads filled with supporters holding swastikas and throwing leaflets. He used polemic and rowdy speeches to criticize the Treaty of Versailles, politicians, Marxists and Jews.
His party was based in Munich (a German nationalist’s hotbed then) and was determined to undermine the Weimer republic party and end Marxism. Some of his party members considered him to be domineering. This group formed alliance with other socialists leading to the resignation of Adolf Hitler from the party in July 1921.
The exit of Hitler meant the end of the party. He however declared his return if he was given the position of chairman of the party with unlimited powers. Some original members of the party were infuriated by Hitler’s decision. They wrote a pamphlet attacking Hitler as a traitor and criticizing him as power hungry and violent. Hitler sued for libel and was awarded a small settlement.
The party members were later made to vote on Hitler’s demand. He won through landslide victory with five hundred and forty three votes against one. On July 29 1921, he was declared the Fuhrer of his party. This was the first time the term Fuhrer was used.
He made enemies by attacking communists, capitalists, Jews, liberals, and reactionary monarchists. His initial followers include army captain Ernst Rohm, air force pilot Herman Goring, Rudolf Hess and wartime General Erich Ludendorff.
Adolf Hitler together with his wartime general friend staged a coup on November 8 1983. Hitler and the NAZI paramilitary organization SA stormed a public meeting led by Kahr. The following day Hitler and party supporters marched from a large beer hall in Munich to the Bavarian War Ministry.
Their intention was to overthrow the Bavarian government. This event is popularly known as the Beer Hall Putsch. They were however dispersed and sixteen party members killed. Some scholars indicate that Hitler contemplated suicide after the beer hall putsch event. Adolf Hitler was later arrested and charged with high treason. His trial transformed Hitler from a local Munich figure to a national figure.
He used his unlimited time during the trial to voice his nationalistic sentiments in the defense speech. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment on 1st April 1924. The Bavarian Supreme Court handed Hitler an early release on 20th December 1924. He dedicated his time at Landsberg Prison writing an autobiography and explanation of his ideology titled Mein Kampf. It sold close to a quarter million copies between 1925 and 1934.
Rise to Power
Hitler faced various obstacles in his efforts of rebuilding his party. Some of these obstacles included improved economy in Germany, collapse of the putsch and his ban on public speaking. He devised a new ‘legal’ strategy of gaining power. Hitler’s turning point came when Germany was hit by the Great Depression in 1930.
The Centre Party of Chancellor Heinrich Bruning lacked majority in parliament leading to instability. The premature elections of 1930 saw the Nazis win unexpected 107 seats and eighteen percent of the vote. They rose from one of the smallest party in the parliament to the second largest.
Hitler appealed to war veterans, the middle class, and German farmers. His niece Geli Raubal committed suicide using Hitler’s gun in September 1931. Geli, who was nineteen years younger than Hitler was believed to have been in a romantic relationship with him.
This event was a source of intense and lasting pain to Adolf Hitler. After attaining citizenship in 1932, Hitler ran for president against the incumbent Paul von Hindenburg but came in second with a remarkable 35%. (Rees 62)
After Bruning resigned in1932, the July election saw the Nazis become the largest party in the parliament with 230 seats. The parliament was later dissolved and new elections were called. The Nazis lost some seats but still remained the party with the majority seats. Through a power sharing deal, Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of the German government and sworn in on January 30th, 1933.
On February 1933, the parliament building was set on fire leading to the government Reichstag Fire Decree. The Nazis used their paramilitary unit to spread violence against communists. The Enabling Act gave the Hitler administration legislative and executive powers.
He used this position to suppress any remaining opposition and on July 14 1934, his party was declared as the only legal party in the nation. He used the SA paramilitary power to force for Hugenberg’s resignation and the abolition of state governments. After the death of the president, new elections were not held.
His cabinet passed a law making the office dormant. Hitler transferred all the powers to himself and declared himself the Fuhrer and Reichskanzer or the leader and the chancellor. He therefore became the commander of the German armed forces.
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