Early yearsAdolf Hitler was born on April 20, 1889 in Braunau am Inn, a small town in upper Austria on the Austro-German border. He was the third of five children from Alois Hitler and Klara Polzl.
Hitler was born in a family of a customs officer. Hitler's father, Alois (born 1837), was illegitimate and for a time bore his mother's name, Schicklgruber, but by 1876 he had established his claim to the surname Hitler. Adolf never used any other name, and the name Schicklgruber was revived only by his political opponents in Germany and Austria in the 1930s.
His boyhood was spent under the strict discipline of his retired civil-servant father. Adolf read books by James Fenimore Cooper and Karl May. On January 3, 1903, Hitler's father died. On December 21, 1907 Hitler's mother died.
Hitler tried unsuccessfully to become a fine arts student at the Vienna Arts Academy in 1907. He had developed a special interest in architecture. He then had several odd jobs, but never long enough to escape poverty and he lived on the streets, working as a street painter, and eating at soup kitchens.
He spent some time in the public gallery of the Austrian Parliament. He later wrote that his observations there developed his contempt of democracy and what he saw as the contaminating dominance of Jews in parliament and society. He also cultivated his love of Germanism, and observed how political activists influenced the masses.
In Spring 1913, to avoid the Austrian Army's draft, Hitler moved to Munich and made a living selling paintings of landmarks to local shops. His draft evasion was detected, but after failing a medical exam back in Austria, he was let go and moved back to Munich.
Introduction to war and politicsIn 1914, elated with Germany's entering into World War I, Hitler volunteered to the 16th Bavarian Infantry Regiment and fought on the western front. Hitler was an enthusiastic soldier, sometimes to the dismay of his compatriots. He was well liked by his peers and superiors but his lack of a sense of humor was notable. Later most of his comrades became Nazis. He was wounded once in the thigh and later temporarily blinded in a poison gas attack at the end of the war. Corporal Hitler was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class (a rare honor for an enlisted soldier) for completing a dangerous delivery of a dispatch in 1918.
The war ended while Hitler was in the hospital recovering from his injuries due to gas. He was devastated by the news of German capitulation and wept. On discharge from the hospital he returned to his regiment in Munich, Germany. Bavaria was in the hands of a revolutionary government, the Räterepublik; his barracks was governed by an elected council, to which he was elected. After the suppression of the revolutionary government, Hitler remained in the army and served as a propagandist in the reindoctination of the troops. He was noted for his talent in propaganda and at the request of the army joined a small political party, the German Workers' Party, Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, which was to become the Nazi Party, Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei ("National Socialist German Worker's Party").
In April 1919, while still in the army, he became the leader of the party (He was not discharged from the army until March 31, 1920). Due to Hitler's organizing and speaking talents the party gained increasing popularity. On November 8 and November 9, 1923, he was involved in an abortive coup known as the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. He was accused of state treason and on April 1, 1924 he received a five-year prison sentence and was jailed in Landsberg. During his imprisonment he wrote his political manifesto: Mein Kampf. After nine months he received amnesty and was released from prison December 20, 1924. He soon rebuilt his party and again gained tremendous popularity.
Rise to powerHitler became Chancellor of the Weimar Republic in January 1933 after severe economic crisis through a coalition with conservative and right wing parties, who had hoped to use Hitler's popularity to gain power. Once in power he initiated what was called Gleichschaltung, the legal seizure of power. The Reichstag fire on February 27 was exploited in order to severely limit civil liberties.
President Hindenburg had agreed to call for new elections, which Hitler won in March 1933 with 44% of the votes. Then on March 23 the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act which effectively gave Hitler dictatorial powers over legislation. Hitler used this power to ban all labor unions and other political parties.
In the summer of 1934, he had several of his party comrades and old political enemies killed in the Night of the Long Knives. Ernst Röhm was among them; he was disliked by the military as head of the SA and had much more radical political plans than the conversatives allied with Hitler.
The death of the Weimar Republic came about ironically through the death of its President, Hindenburg, for in yet another disastrous flaw, the Weimar constitution provided that, in the event of the death of the President, the office (and its considerable powers) would be assumed in theory temporarily by the Chancellor. As a result, Hindenburg's death gave Hitler perfectly legal and constitutional access to the President's powers, including supreme command over the military. Three hours before Hindenburg's death on August 2, 1934, the Nazi-controlled Reichstag had passed a law merging the two offices into a new office called Führer und Reichskanzler that would take effect upon the President's death. In the course of a few years he managed to consolidate dictatorial powers through parliamentary legislation.
His early popularity stemmed from his firm opposition to the Treaty of Versailles (which he violated on March 16, 1935 by ordering Germany to rearm) and his initial success at economic consolidation. His German opponents, Jews, democrats and communists alike, had to flee the country or they were prosecuted and later killed in concentration camps. Later he turned out to be an erratic and unpredictable leader of the armed forces, often disregarding opinions of experienced generals and marshals.
Under Hitler's leadership, driven by a vision of a Nordic master race, Germany invaded several of its smaller neighbors, igniting World War II. This vision also drove an attempt to systematically exterminate other peoples--notably the Jews--later called the Holocaust, in which 5-10 million people were killed. Other hated peoples included the Romani or Tzigane (Gypsies) of whom between 600,000 and 2 million were killed (about 70% of the population in German controlled areas), homosexuals (many of whom ended up in extermination camps) and Slavs, who were considered an inferior race and supposed to be partly exterminated and partly enslaved.
World War II itself brought the death of tens of millions more, including 20 million casualties in the Soviet Union alone.
Convinced that if Germany couldn't win the war that it should not exist, on March 19, 1945, Hitler ordered that all industries, military installations, shops, transportation facilities and communications facilities in Germany be destroyed.
After the Soviet Red Army reached Berlin, Adolf Hitler committed suicide together with Eva Braun (whom he had married just two days before) on April 30, 1945, in the Führerbunker (Leader's bunker). He was aged 56.
In the testament he left, he circumvented other Nazi leaders and appointed Admiral Karl Dönitz as his successor.
Psychoanalytic interpretationIn her 1980 book "Am Anfang war Erziehung" (translated as "For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-rearing and the Roots of Violence"), Alice Miller attempts an explanation of Hitler's violent urges from childhood trauma.
His mother had married a man 23 years her elder whom she called "uncle Alois"; her three small children died in the course of a few years surrounding Adolf's birth, leading to extreme pampering of Adolf by his mother. He was regularly beaten and ridiculed by his father; once when Adolf tried to escape from home he was almost beaten to death. Adolf hated his father throughout his life and there are reports of him having nightmares about his father in late life. When Nazi Germany had occupied Austria, Hitler had the village where his father grew up destroyed.
Throughout Hitler's (and his father's) life, there were speculations that his father's father might have been a Jew (his grandmother had been a maid in a Jewish household which later paid alimony for her son); this would have been a great shame in the pervasive anti-semitism of the times. This insecurity correlates with Hitler's later command that every German prove their non-Jewish ancestry up to the third generation.
Cultural depictions and representationHitler has frequently been used as a character in works of fiction. An early example of a cryptic depiction is in Bertolt Brecht's 1941 play, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui in which Hitler (in the persona of the principal character Arturo Ui), a Chicago racketeer in the cauliflower trade, is ruthlessly satirised.
Amongst many other film representations, Charlie Chaplin made fun of Hitler in his 1940 movie The Great Dictator. Alec Guinness's depiction of Hitler in Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973) was a curiously idiosyncratic take on Hitler's persona.
The photomontage artist John Heartfield made frequent use of Hitler's image as a target for his brand of barbed satire. One of the more unusual late works of Salvador Dali was Hitler Masturbating, depicting this in the center of a desolate landscape.
Mocking satirical folk lyrics include Hitler has only got one ball (see).
Forged diaries of Hitler, known as The Hitler Diaries, were published in Germany by the magazine Stern in 1983.
- Hitler's Vienna: A Dictator's Apprenticeship, Brigitte Hamann, OUP, 2000, paperback, 482pp., ISBN 0195140532 (about what influenced Hitler in his early years)
- Hitler 1889-1936 Hubris, Ian Kershaw, W.W. Norton, 1999, hardcover, 700 pages, ISBN 0393046710
- Hitler 1937-1945 Nemesis, Ian Kershaw, W.W. Norton, 2000, hardcover, 832 pages, ISBN 0393049949