Adolf Hitler was born on 20th April, 1889, in the small Austrian town of Braunau near the German border. Both Hitler's parents had come from poor peasant families. His father Alois Hitler, the illegitimate son of a housemaid, was an intelligent and ambitious man and later became a senior customs official.
Klara Hitler was Alois' third wife. Alois was twenty-three years older than Klara and already had two children from his previous marriages. Klara and Alois had five children but only Adolf and a younger sister, Paula, survived to become adults.
Alois, who was fifty-one when Adolf was born, was extremely keen for his son to do well in life. Alois did have another son by an earlier marriage but he had been a big disappointment to him and eventually ended up in prison for theft. Alois was a strict father and savagely beat his son if he did not do as he was told.
Hitler did extremely well at primary school and it appeared he had a bright academic future in front of him. He was also popular with other pupils and was much admired for his leadership qualities. He was also a deeply religious child and for a while considered the possibility of becoming a monk.
Competition was much tougher in the larger secondary school and his reaction to not being top of the class was to stop trying. His father was furious as he had high hopes that Hitler would follow his example and join the Austrian civil service when he left school. However, Hitler was a stubborn child and attempts by his parents and teachers to change his attitude towards his studies were unsuccessful.
Hitler also lost his popularity with his fellow pupils. They were no longer willing to accept him as one of their leaders. As Hitler liked giving orders he spent his time with younger pupils. He enjoyed games that involved fighting and he loved re-enacting battles from the Boer War. His favourite game was playing the role of a commando rescuing Boers from English concentration camps.
The only teacher Hitler appeared to like at secondary school was Leopold Potsch, his history master. Potsch, like many people living in Upper Austria, was a German Nationalist. Potsch told Hitler and his fellow pupils of the German victories over France in 1870 and 1871 and attacked the Austrians for not becoming involved in these triumphs. Otto von Bismarck, the first chancellor of the German Empire, was one of Hitler's early historical heroes.
Hitler's other main interest at school was art. His father was incensed when Hitler told him that instead of joining the civil service he was going to become an artist. The relationship between Hitler and his father deteriorated and the conflict only ended with the death of Alois Hitler in 1903. Hitler was thirteen when his father died. His death did not cause the family financial hardships. The Hitler family owned their own home and they also received a lump sum and a generous civil service pension.
Klara Hitler, a kind and gentle woman, tended to spoil her son. Like her husband she was keen for Adolf to do well at school. Her attempts at persuasion achieved no more success than her husband's threats and he continued to obtain poor grades.
At the age of fifteen he did so badly in his examinations that he was told he would have to repeat the whole year's work again. Hitler hated the idea and managed to persuade his mother to allow him to leave school without a secondary education qualification. He celebrated by getting drunk. However, he found it an humiliating experience and vowed never to get drunk again. He kept his promise and by the time he reached his thirties he had given up alcohol completely.
When he was eighteen Hitler received an inheritance from his father's will. With the money he moved to Vienna where he planned to become an art student. Hitler had a high opinion of his artistic abilities and was shattered when the Vienna Academy of Art rejected his application. He also applied to the Vienna School of Architecture but was not admitted because he did not have a school leaving certificate.
Hitler was humiliated by these two rejections and could not bring himself to tell his mother what had happened. Instead he continued to live in Vienna pretending he was an art student.
In 1907 Klara Hitler died from cancer. Her death affected him far more deeply than the death of his father. He had fond memories of his mother, carried her photograph wherever he went and, it is claimed, had it in his hand when he died in 1945.
As the eldest child, Hitler now received his father's civil service pension. It was more money than many people received in wages and meant that Hitler did not have to find employment. He spent most of the morning in bed reading and in the afternoon he walked around Vienna studying buildings, visiting museums, and making sketches.
In 1909 Hitler should have registered for military service. He was unwilling to serve Austria, which he despised, so he ignored his call-up papers. It took four years for the authorities to catch up with him. When he had his medical for the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914 he was rejected as being: "Unfit for combatant and auxiliary duty - too weak. Unable to bear arms."
The outbreak of the First World War provided him with an opportunity for a fresh start. It was a chance for him to become involved in proving that Germany was superior to other European countries. Hitler claimed that when he heard the news of war: "I was overcome with impetuous enthusiasm, and falling on my knees, wholeheartedly thanked Heaven that I had been granted the happiness to live live at this time. Rejecting the idea of fighting for Austria, Hitler volunteered for the German Army. In times of war medical examinations are not so rigorous.
Hitler liked being in the army. For the first time he was part of a group that was fighting for a common goal. Hitler also liked the excitement of fighting in a war. Although fairly cautious in his actions, he did not mind risking his life and impressed his commanding officers for volunteering for dangerous missions.
His fellow soldiers described him as "odd" and "peculiar". One soldier from his regiment, Hans Mend, claimed that Hitler was an isolated figure who spent long periods of time sitting in the corner holding his head in silence. Then all of a sudden, Mend claimed, he would jump up and make a speech. These outbursts were usually attacks on Jews and Marxists who Hitler claimed were undermining the war effort.
Hitler was given the job of despatch-runner. It was a dangerous job as it involved carrying messages from regimental headquarters to the front-line. On one day alone, three out of eight of the regiment's despatch-runners were killed. For the first time since he was at primary school Hitler was a success.
Hitler won five medals including the prestigious Iron Cross during the First World War. His commanding officer wrote: "As a dispatch-runner, he has shown cold-blooded courage and exemplary boldness. Under conditions of great peril, when all the communication lines were cut, the untiring and fearless activity of Hitler made it possible for important messages to go through".
Although much decorated in the war, Hitler only reached the rank of corporal. This was probably due to his eccentric behaviour and the fear that the other soldiers might not obey the man they considered so strange.
In October 1918, Hitler was blinded in a British mustard gas attack. He was sent to a military hospital and gradually recovered his sight. While he was in hospital Germany surrendered. Hitler went into a state of deep depression, and had periods when he could not stop crying. He spent most of his time turned towards the hospital wall refusing to talk to anyone. Once again Hitler's efforts had ended in failure.
After the war Hitler was stationed in Munich, the capital of Bavaria. While Hitler was in Munich, the capital of Bavaria, Kurt Eisner, leader of the Independent Socialist Party, declared Bavaria a Socialist Republic. Hitler was appalled by the revolution. As a German Nationalist he disagreed with the socialist belief in equality.
Hitler saw socialism as part of a Jewish conspiracy. Many of the socialist leaders in Germany, including Kurt Eisner, Rosa Luxemburg, Ernst Toller and Eugen Levine were Jews. So also were many of the leaders of the October Revolution in Russia. This included Leon Trotsky, Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Dimitri Bogrov, Karl Radek, Yakov Sverdlov, Maxim Litvinov, Adolf Joffe, and Moisei Uritsky. It had not escaped Hitler's notice that Karl Marx, the prophet of socialism, had also been a Jew.
It was no coincidence that Jews had joined socialist and communist parties in Europe. Jews had been persecuted for centuries and therefore were attracted to a movement that proclaimed that all men and women deserved to be treated as equals. This message was reinforced when on 10th July, 1918, the Bolshevik government in Russia passed a law that abolished all discrimination between Jews and non-Jews.
It was not until May, 1919 that the German Army entered Munich and overthrew the Bavarian Socialist Republic. Hitler was arrested with other soldiers in Munich and was accused of being a socialist. Hundreds of socialists were executed without trial but Hitler was able to convince them that he had been an opponent of the regime. To prove this he volunteered to help to identify soldiers who had supported the Socialist Republic. The authorities agreed to this proposal and Hitler was transferred to the commission investigating the revolution.
Information supplied by Hitler helped to track down several soldiers involved in the uprising. His officers were impressed by his hostility to left-wing ideas and he was recruited as a political officer. Hitler's new job was to lecture soldiers on politics. The main aim was to promote his political philosophy favoured by the army and help to combat the influence of the Russian Revolution on the German soldiers.
Hitler, who had for years been ignored when he made political speeches, now had a captive audience. The political climate had also changed. Germany was a defeated and disillusioned country. At Versailles the German government had been forced to sign a peace treaty that gave away 13% of her territory. This meant the loss of 6 million people, a large percentage of her raw materials (65% of iron ore reserves, 45% of her coal, 72% of her zinc) and 10% of her factories. Germany also lost all her overseas colonies. Under the terms of the treaty Germany also had to pay for damage caused by the war. These reparations amounted to 38% of her national wealth.
Hitler was no longer isolated. The German soldiers who attended his lectures shared his sense of failure. They found his message that they were not to blame attractive. He told them that Germany had not been beaten on the battlefield but had been betrayed by Jews and Marxists who had preached revolution and undermined the war effort.
The German Army also began using Hitler as a spy. In September 1919, he was instructed to attend a meeting of the German Worker's Party (GWP). The army feared that this new party, led by Anton Drexler, might be advocating communist revolution. Hitler discovered that the party's political ideas were similar to his own. He approved of Drexler's German nationalism and anti-Semitism but was unimpressed with the way the party was organized. Although there as a spy, Hitler could not restrain himself when a member made a point he disagreed with, and he stood up and made a passionate speech on the subject.
Drexler was impressed with Hitler's abilities as an orator and invited him to join the party. At first Hitler was reluctant, but urged on by his commanding officer, Captain Karl Mayr, he eventually agreed. He was only the fifty-fourth person to join the GWP. Hitler was immediately asked to join the executive committee and was later appointed the party's propaganda manager.
In the next few weeks Hitler brought several members of his army into the party, including one of his commanding officers, Captain Ernst Roehm. The arrival of Roehm was an important development as he had access to the army political fund and was able to transfer some of the money into the GWP.
The German Worker's Party used some of this money to advertise their meetings. Hitler was often the main speaker and it was during this period that he developed the techniques that made him into such a persuasive orator.
Hitler always arrived late which helped to develop tension and a sense of expectation. He took the stage, stood to attention and waited until there was complete silence before he started his speech. For the first few months Hitler appeared nervous and spoke haltingly. Slowly he would begin to relax and his style of delivery would change. He would start to rock from side to side and begin to gesticulate with his hands. His voice would get louder and become more passionate. Sweat poured of him, his face turned white, his eyes bulged and his voice cracked with emotion. He ranted and raved about the injustices done to Germany and played on his audience's emotions of hatred and envy. By the end of the speech the audience would be in a state of near hysteria and were willing to do whatever Hitler suggested.
As soon as his speech finished Hitler would quickly leave the stage and disappear from view. Refusing to be photographed, Hitler's aim was to create an air of mystery about himself, hoping that it would encourage others to come and hear the man who was now being described as "the new Messiah".
Hitler's reputation as an orator grew and it soon became clear that he was the main reason why people were joining the party. This gave Hitler tremendous power within the organization as they knew they could not afford to lose him. One change suggested by Hitler concerned adding "Socialist" to the name of the party. Hitler had always been hostile to socialist ideas, especially those that involved racial or sexual equality. However, socialism was a popular political philosophy in Germany after the First World War. This was reflected in the growth in the German Social Democrat Party (SDP), the largest political party in Germany.
Hitler, therefore redefined socialism by placing the word 'National' before it. He claimed he was only in favour of equality for those who had "German blood". Jews and other "aliens" would lose their rights of citizenship, and immigration of non-Germans should be brought to an end.
In February 1920, the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) published its first programme which became known as the "25 Points". In the programme the party refused to accept the terms of the Versailles Treaty and called for the reunification of all German people. To reinforce their ideas on nationalism, equal rights were only to be given to German citizens. "Foreigners" and "aliens" would be denied these rights.
To appeal to the working class and socialists, the programme included several measures that would redistribute income and war profits, profit-sharing in large industries, nationalization of trusts, increases in old-age pensions and free education.
On 24th February, 1920, the NSDAP (later nicknamed the Nazi Party) held a mass rally where it announced its new programme. The rally was attended by over 2,000 people, a great improvement on the 25 people who were at Hitler's first party meeting.
Hitler knew that the growth in the party was mainly due to his skills as an orator and in the autumn of 1921 he challenged Anton Drexler for the leadership of the party. After brief resistance Drexler accepted the inevitable, and Hitler became the new leader of the Nazi Party.
Hitler's ability to arouse in his supporters emotions of anger and hate often resulted in their committing acts of violence. In September 1921, Hitler was sent to prison for three months for being part of a mob who beat up a rival politician.
When Hitler was released, he formed his own private army called Sturm Abteilung (Storm Section). The SA (also known as stormtroopers or brownshirts) were instructed to disrupt the meetings of political opponents and to protect Hitler from revenge attacks. Captain Ernst Roehm of the Bavarian Army played an important role in recruiting these men, and Hermann Goering, a former air-force pilot, became their leader.
Hitler's stormtroopers were often former members of the Freikorps (right-wing private armies who flourished during the period that followed the First World War) and had considerable experience in using violence against their rivals.
The SA wore grey jackets, brown shirts (khaki shirts originally intended for soldiers in Africa but purchased in bulk from the German Army by the Nazi Party), swastika armbands, ski-caps, knee-breeches, thick woolen socks and combat boots. Accompanied by bands of musicians and carrying swastika flags, they would parade through the streets of Munich. At the end of the march Hitler would make one of his passionate speeches that encouraged his supporters to carry out acts of violence against Jews and his left-wing political opponents.
As this violence was often directed against Socialists and Communists, the local right-wing Bavarian government did not take action against the Nazi Party. However, the national government in Berlin were concerned and passed a "Law for the Protection of the Republic". Hitler's response was to organize a rally attended by 40,000 people. At the meeting Hitler called for the overthrow of the German government and even suggested that its leaders should be executed.
In 1923 the German Government had to deal with a series of difficult problems. In January the French Army occupied the Ruhr because they claimed Germany was falling behind with her reparations. Workers in the Ruhr responded by going on strike which badly hurt the German economy. One of the consequences of this was rapid inflation. As people found their savings becoming worthless, they turned against their government.
On 13th August, Gustav Stresemann became the new Chancellor of Germany. When Stresemann decided to call off resistance to the French occupation of the Ruhr and to start paying reparations to the Allies again, Hitler decided it was time for him to become the new leader of Germany.
On 8th November, 1923, the Bavarian government held a meeting of about 3,000 officials. While Gustav von Kahr, the leader of the Bavarian government was making a speech, Hitler and armed stormtroopers entering the building. Hitler jumped onto a table, fired two shots in the air and told the audience that the Munich Putsch was taking place and the National Revolution had began.
Leaving Hermann Goering and the SA to guard the 3,000 officials, Hitler took Gustav von Kahr, Otto von Lossow, the commander of the Bavarian Army and Hans von Seisser, the commandant of the Bavarian State Police into an adjoining room. Hitler told the men that he was to be the new leader of Germany and offered them posts in his new government. Aware that this would be an act of high treason, the three men were initially reluctant to agree to this offer. Hitler was furious and threatened to shoot them and then commit suicide: "I have three bullets for you, gentlemen, and one for me!" After this the three men agreed.
Soon afterwards Eric Ludendorff arrived. Ludendorff had been leader of the German Army at the end of the First World War. He had therefore found Hitler's claim that the war had not been lost by the army but by Jews, Socialists, Communists and the German government, attractive, and was a strong supporter of the Nazi Party. Ludendorff agreed to become head of the the German Army in Hitler's government.
While Hitler had been appointing government ministers, Ernst Roehm, leading a group of stormtroopers, had seized the War Ministry and Rudolf Hess was arranging the arrest of Jews and left-wing political leaders in Bavaria.
Hitler now planned to march on Berlin and remove the national government. Surprisingly, Hitler had not arranged for the stormtroopers to take control of the radio stations and the telegraph offices. This meant that the national government in Berlin soon heard about Hitler's putsch and gave orders for it to be crushed.
The next day Hitler, Eric Ludendorff, Hermann Goering and 3,000 armed supporters of the Nazi Party marched through Munich in an attempt to join up with Roehm's forces at the War Ministry. At Odensplatz they found the road blocked by the Munich police. As they refused to stop, the police fired into the ground in front of the marchers. The stormtroopers returned the fire and during the next few minutes 21 people were killed and another hundred were wounded, included Goering.
When the firing started Hitler threw himself to the ground dislocating his shoulder. Hitler lost his nerve and ran to a nearby car. Although the police were outnumbered, the Nazis followed their leader's example and ran away. Only Eric Ludendorff and his adjutant continued walking towards the police. Later Nazi historians were to claim that the reason Hitler left the scene so quickly was because he had to rush an injured young boy to the local hospital.
After hiding in a friend's house for several days, Hitler was arrested and put on trial for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch. If found guilty, Hitler faced the death penalty. While in prison Hitler suffered from depression and talked of committing suicide. However, it soon became clear that the Nazi sympathizers in the Bavarian government were going to make sure that Hitler would not be punished severely.
At his trial Hitler was allowed to turn the proceedings into a political rally, and although he was found guilty he only received the minimum sentence of five years. Other members of the Nazi Party also received light sentences and Eric Ludendorff was acquitted.
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I opened the document with trembling hands; no words of mine can describe the satisfaction I felt. Within a few days I was wearing that uniform which I was not to put off again for nearly six years.
Hitler was a strange fellow. He spent long periods of time sitting in the corner holding his head in silence. Then all of a sudden he would jump up, and running about excitedly, make a speech attacking the Jews.
On the 13th October, 1918, I was caught in a heavy British gas attack at Ypres. I stumbled back with burning eyes taking with me my last report of war. A few hours later, my eyes had turned into glowing coals and it had grown dark around me.
Everything went black before my eyes; I tottered and groped my way back to the ward, threw myself on my bunk, and dug my burning head into my blanket and pillow. So it had all been in vain. In vain all the sacrifices and privations; in vain the hours in which, with mortal fear clutching at our hearts, we nevertheless did our duty; in vain the death of two million who died. Had they died for this? Did all this happen only so that a gang of wretched criminals could lay hands on the Fatherland.
I knew that all was lost. Only fools, liars and criminals could hope for mercy from the enemy. In these nights hatred grew in me, hatred for those responsible for this deed. Miserable and degenerate criminals! The more I tried to achieve clarity on the monstrous events in this hour, the more the shame of indignation and disgrace burned my brow.
I studied this slight, pale man, his brown hair parted on one side and falling again and again over his sweating brow. Threatening and beseeching, with small pleading hands and flaming steel-blue eyes, he had the look of a fanatic. Presently my critical faculty was swept away he was holding the masses, and me with them, under a hypnotic spell by the sheer force of his conviction.