Adolf Hitler biography
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 chlorine 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 socialism 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, 455 of her coal, 72% of her zinc) and 10% of her factories. Germany also lost all her overseas colonies. Under the terms of the Versailles 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. Hitler was sent to Landsberg Castle in Munich to serve his prison sentence. He was treated well and was allowed to walk in the castle grounds, wear his own clothes and receive gifts. Officially there were restrictions on visitors but this did not apply to Hitler, and a steady flow of friends, party members and journalists spent long spells with him. He was even allowed to have visits from his pet Alsatian dog. While in Landsberg he read a lot of books. Most of these dealt with German history and political philosophy. Later he was to describe his spell in prison as a "free education at the state's expense." One writer who influenced Hitler while in prison was Henry Ford, the American car-manufacturer. Hitler read Ford's autobiography, My Life and Work, and a book of his called The International Jew. In the latter Ford claimed that there was a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. Hitler also approved of Ford's hostile views towards communism and trade unions. Max Amnan, his business manager, proposed that Hitler should spend his time in prison writing his autobiography. Hitler, who had never fully mastered writing, was at first not keen on the idea. However, he agreed when it was suggested that he should dictate his thoughts to a ghostwriter. The prison authorities surprisingly agreed that Hitler's chauffeur, Emil Maurice, could live in the prison to carry out this task.
Maurice, whose main talent was as a street fighter, was a poor writer and the job was eventually taken over by Rudolf Hess, a student at Munich University. Hess made a valiant attempt at turning Hitler's spoken ideas into prose. However, the book that Hitler wrote in prison was repetitive, confused, turgid and therefore, extremely difficult to read. In his writing, Hitler was unable to use the passionate voice and dramatic bodily gestures which he had used so effectively in his speeches, to convey his message.
The book was originally entitled Four Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice. Hitler's publisher reduced it to My Struggle (Mein Kampf). The book is a mixture of autobiography, political ideas and an explanation of the techniques of propaganda. The autobiographical details in Mein Kampf are often inaccurate, and the main purpose of this part of the book appears to be to provide a positive image of Hitler. For example, when Hitler was living a life of leisure in Vienna he claims he was working hard as a labourer. In Mein Kampf Hitler outlined his political philosophy. He argued that the German (he wrongly described them as the Aryan race) was superior to all others. "Every manifestation of human culture, every product of art, science and technical skill, which we see before our eyes today, is almost exclusively the product of Aryan creative power."
Hitler warned that the Aryan's superiority was being threatened by intermarriage. If this happened world civilization would decline: "On this planet of ours human culture and civilization are indissolubly bound up with the presence of the Aryan. If he should be exterminated or subjugated, then the dark shroud of a new barbarian era would enfold the earth."
Although other races would resist this process, the Aryan race had a duty to control the world. This would be difficult and force would have to be used, but it could be done. To support this view he gave the example of how the British Empire had controlled a quarter of the world by being well-organised and having well-timed soldiers and sailors.
Hitler believed that Aryan superiority was being threatened particularly by the Jewish race who, he argued, were lazy and had contributed little to world civilization. (Hitler ignored the fact that some of his favourite composers and musicians were Jewish).
He claimed that the "Jewish youth lies in wait for hours on end satanically glaring at and spying on the unconscious girl whom he plans to seduce, adulterating her blood with the ultimate idea of bastardizing the white race which they hate and thus lowering its cultural and political level so that the Jew might dominate."
According to Hitler, Jews were responsible for everything he did not like, including modern art, pornography and prostitution. Hitler also alleged that the Jews had been responsible for losing the First World War. Hitler also claimed that Jews, who were only about 1% of the population, were slowly taking over the country. They were doing this by controlling the largest political party in Germany, the German Social Democrat Party, many of the leading companies and several of the country's newspapers. The fact that Jews had achieved prominent positions in a democratic society was, according to Hitler, an argument against democracy: "a hundred blockheads do not equal one man in wisdom."
Hitler believed that the Jews were involved with Communists in a joint conspiracy to take over the world. Like Henry Ford, Hitler claimed that 75% of all Communists were Jews. Hitler argued that the combination of Jews and Marxists had already been successful in Russia and now threatened the rest of Europe. He argued that the communist revolution was an act of revenge that attempted to disguise the inferiority of the Jews. In Mein Kampf Hitler declared that: "The external security of a people in largely determined by the size of its territory. If he won power Hitler promised to occupy Russian land that would provide protection and lebensraum (living space) for the German people. This action would help to destroy the Jewish/Marxist attempt to control the world: "The Russian Empire in the East is ripe for collapse; and the end of the Jewish domination of Russia will also be the end of Russia as a state."
To achieve this expansion in the East and to win back land lost during the First World War, Hitler claimed that it might be necessary to form an alliance with Britain and Italy. An alliance with Britain was vitally important because it would prevent Germany fighting a war in the East and West at the same time.
Hitler was released from prison on 20th December, 1924, after serving just over a year of his sentence. The Germany of 1924 was dramatically different from the Germany of 1923. The economic policies of the German government had proved successful. Inflation had been brought under control and the economy began to improve. The German people gradually gained a new faith in their democratic system and began to find the extremist solutions proposed by people such as Hitler unattractive.
Hitler attempted to play down his extremist image, and claimed that he was no longer in favour of revolution but was willing to compete with other parties in democratic elections.
This policy was unsuccessful and in the elections of December 1924 the NSDAP could only win 14 seats compared with the the 131 obtained by the Socialists (German Social Democrat Party) and the 45 of the German Communist Party (KPD). Hitler went to live in Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps. Later he was to say this was the happiest time of his life. He spent his time reading, walking and being driven fast around the countryside in his new supercharged Mercedes. For the first time in his life he began to take a serious interest in women.
Hitler liked the company of beautiful and frivolous women and avoided women who wanted to discuss political issues. His attitude towards women is reflected in his comment that: "A highly intelligent man should take a primitive and stupid woman." On another occasion he said: "I detest women who dabble in politics."
This was one of the reasons Hitler tended to be attracted to women much younger than himself, and there was a scandal when Maria Reiter, a sixteen-year-old girl he was involved with, tried to commit suicide.
In 1928 Hitler asked his half-sister, Angela Raubal, to be his housekeeper. She agreed and arrived with her twenty-year old daughter, Geli Raubal. Hitler, who had now turned forty, became infatuated with Geli and rumours soon spread that he was having an affair with his young niece. Hitler became extremely possessive and Emil Maurice, his chauffeur, who also showed interest in Geli, was sacked.
The couple lived together for over two years. The relationship with Geli was stormy and they began to accuse each other of being unfaithful. Geli was particularly concerned about Eva Braun, a seventeen-year-old girl who Hitler took for rides in his Mercedes car.
Geli also complained about the way Hitler controlled her life On September 8, 1931, Hitler left for Hamburg after having a blazing row with Geli over her desire to spend some time in Vienna. Hitler was heard to shout at Geli as he was about to get into his car: "For the last time, no!" After he left Geli shot herself through the heart with a revolver.
When he heard the news Hitler threatened to take his own life but was talked out of it by senior members of the Nazi Party. One consequence of Geli's suicide was that Hitler became a vegetarian. He claimed that meat now reminded him of Geli's corpse.
Rumours about Geli's death spread quickly amongst Hitler's enemies. It was claimed that Geli had been badly beaten up by Hitler before she shot herself. Another story involved Geli committing suicide because she was expecting Hitler's child. Some people claimed she was murdered by Heinrich Himmler because she was threatening to blackmail Hitler.
Little evidence has been provided to support these suggestions and the reasons for her death remain a mystery
After the death of Geli Raubal, Hitler began to see more of Eva Braun. However he still had relationships with other women Hitler was especially fond of film-stars and one girlfriend the actress Renate Mueller, committed suicide by throwing herself out of a hotel window in Berlin.
Eva was extremely jealous of Hitler's other girlfriends and in 1932 she also attempted suicide by shooting herself in the neck. Doctors managed to save her life, and after this incident Hitler seemed to become more attached to Eva and saw less of other women.
Hitler had no desire to have children. He told several people that if he had children they were certain to disappoint
him as they would never match his own genius.
The Nazi Party always attempted to keep Hitler's love life secret. In his speeches Hitler claimed that he had never married because he was "married to the German people." The severe casualties suffered during the First World War meant that there was a large number of widows and spinsters in Germany. Women in Germany found Hitler's bachelor image attractive and this helped win him votes during elections. It was for this reason that Eva Braun was never seen in public with Hitler.
Emil Kirdorf, a very wealthy industrialist met Hitler in 1927. Although Kirdorf agreed with most of Hitler's views he was concerned about some of the policies of the Nazi Party. He was particularly worried about the opinions of some people in the party such as Gregor Strasser who talked about the need to redistribute wealth in Germany. Hitler tried to reassure Kirdorf that these policies were just an attempt to gain the support of the working-class in Germany and would not be implemented once he gained power. Kirdorf suggested that Hitler should write a pamphlet for private distribution amongst Germany's leading industrialists that clearly expressed his views on economic policy.
Hitler agreed and The Road to Resurgence was published in the summer of 1927. In the pamphlet distributed by Kirdorf to Germany's leading industrialists, Hitler tried to reassure his readers that he was a supporter of private enterprise and was opposed to any real transformation of Germany's economic and social structure. Emil Kirdorf and his wealthy right-wing friends were particularly attracted to Hitler's idea of winning the working class away from left-wing political groups such as the Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party.
Kirdorf and other business leaders were also impressed with the news that Hitler planned to suppress the trade union movement once he gained power. Kirdorf joined the Nazi Party and immediately began to try and persuade other leading industrialists to supply Hitler with the necessary funds to win control of the Reichstag. Kirdorf expected Adolf Hitler to remove left-wing members of the Nazi Party such as Gregor Strasser, Ernst Roehm and Gottfried Feder to be removed from power. When this did not happen, Kirdorf switched his support to the German Nationalist Party (DNVP) led by Alfred Hugenberg. In the 1928 German elections, less than 3% of the people voted for the Nazi Party. This gave them only twelve seats, twenty fewer than they achieved in the May, 1924 election. However, the party was well organized and membership had grown from 27,000 in 1925 to 108,000 in 1928.
One of the new members was Joseph Goebbels. Hitler first met him in 1925. Both men were impressed with each other. Goebbels described one of their first meetings in his diary: "Shakes my hand. Like an old friend. And those big blue eyes. Like stars. He is glad to see me. I am in heaven. That man has everything to be king."
Hitler admired Goebbels' abilities as a writer and speaker. They shared an interest in propaganda and together they planned how the NSDAP would win the support of the German people.
Propaganda cost money and this was something that the Nazi Party was very short of. Whereas the German Social Democratic Party was funded by the trade unions and the pro-capitalist parties by industrialists, the NSDAP had to rely on contributions from party members. When Hitler approached rich industrialists for help he was told that his economic policies (profit-sharing, nationalization of trusts) were too left-wing. In an attempt to obtain financial contributions from industrialists, Hitler wrote a pamphlet in 1927 entitled The Road to Resurgence. Only a small number of these pamphlets were printed and they were only meant for the eyes of the top industrialists in Germany. The reason that the pamphlet was kept secret was that it contained information that would have upset Hitler's working-class supporters.
In the pamphlet Hitler implied that the anti-capitalist measures included in the original twenty-five points of the NSDAP programme would not be implemented if he gained power.
Hitler began to argue that "capitalists had worked their way to the top through their capacity, and on the basis of this selection they have the right to lead." Hitler claimed that national socialism meant all people doing their best for society and posed no threat to the wealth of the rich. Some prosperous industrialists were convinced by these arguments and gave donations to the Nazi Party, however, the vast majority continued to support other parties, especially the right-wing German Nationalist Peoples Party (DNVP). Another new member of the NSDAP was Heinrich Himmler. Hitler was impressed by Himmler's fanatical nationalism and his deep hatred of the Jews. Himmler believed Hitler was the Messiah that was destined to lead Germany to greatness. Hitler, who was always vulnerable to flattery, decided that Himmler should become the new leader of his personal bodyguard, the Schutz Staffeinel (SS). The German economy continued to improve and as unemployment fell, so did the support for extremist political parties such as the NSDAP. In the General Election held in May, 1928, the Nazi Party won only 14 seats, while the left-wing parties, the German Social Democrat Party (153) and the German Communist Party (54) still continued to grow in popularity.
The fortunes of the NSDAP changed with the Wall Street Crash in October 1929. Desperate for capital, the United States began to recall loans from Europe. One of the consequences of this was a rapid increase in unemployment. Germany, whose economy relied heavily on investment from the United States, suffered more than any other country in Europe.
Before the crash, 1.25 million people were unemployed in Germany. By the end of 1930 the figure had reached nearly 4 million. Even those in work suffered as many were only working part-time. With the drop in demand for labour, wages also fell and those with full-time work had to survive on lower incomes. Hitler, who was considered a fool in 1928 when he predicted economic disaster, was now seen in a different light. People began to say that if he was clever enough to predict the depression maybe he also knew how to solve it.
In the General Election that took place in September 1930, the Nazi Party increased its number of representatives in parliament from 14 to 107. Hitler was now the leader of the second largest party in Germany. The German Social Democrat Party was the largest party in the Reichstag, it did not have a majority over all the other parties, and the SPD leader, Hermann Muller, had to rely on the support of others to rule Germany. After the SPD refused to reduce unemployment benefits, Mueller was replaced as Chancellor by Heinrich Bruening of the Catholic Centre Party (BVP).
However, with his party only having 87 representatives out of 577 in the Reichstag, he also found it extremely difficult to gain agreement for his policies.
Hitler used this situation to his advantage, claiming that parliamentary democracy did not work. The NSDAP argued that only Hitler could provide the strong government that Germany needed. Hitler and other Nazi leaders travelled round the country giving speeches putting over this point of view. What Hitler said depended very much on the audience. In rural areas he promised tax cuts for farmers and government actin to protect food prices. In working class areas he spoke of redistribution of wealth and attacked the high profits made by the large chain stores. When he spoke to industrialists, Hitler concentrated on his plans to destroy communism and to reduce the power of the trade union movement. Hitler's main message was that Germany's economic recession was due to the Treaty of Versailles. Other than refusing to pay reparations, Hitler avoided explaining how he would improve the German economy.
With a divided Reichstag, the power of the German President became more important. In 1931 Hitler challenged Paul von Hindenburg for the presidency. Hindenburg was now 84 years old and showing signs of senility. However, a large percentage of the German population still feared Hitler and in the election Hindenburg had a comfortable majority.
Heinrich Bruening and other senior politicians were worried that Hitler would use his stormtroopers to take power by force. Led by Ernst Roehm, it now contained over 400,000 men. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles the official German Army was restricted to 100,000 men and was therefore outnumbered by the SA. In the past, those who feared communism were willing to put up with the SA as they provided a useful barrier against the possibility of revolution. However, with the growth in SA violence and fearing a Nazi coup, Bruening banned the organization.
In May 1932, Paul von Hindenburg sacked Bruening and replaced him with Franz von Papen. The new chancellor was also a member of the Catholic Centre Party and, being more sympathetic to the Nazis, he removed the ban on the SA. The next few weeks saw open warfare on the streets between the Nazis and the Communists during which 86 people were killed.
In an attempt to gain support for his new government, in July Franz von Papen called another election. Hitler now had the support of the upper and middle classes and the NSDAP did well winning 230 seats, making it the largest party in the Reichstag.
However the German Social Democrat Party (133) and the German Communist Party (89) still had the support of the urban working class and Hitler was deprived of an overall majority in parliament.
Hitler demanded that he should be made Chancellor but Paul von Hindenburg refused and instead gave the position to Major-General Kurt von Schleicher. Hitler was furious and began to abandon his strategy of disguising his extremist views. In one speech he called for the end of democracy a system which he described as being the "rule of stupidity, of mediocrity, of half-heartedness, of cowardice, of weakness, and of inadequacy."
The behaviour of the NSDAP became more violent. On one occasion 167 Nazis beat up 57 members of the German Communist Party in the Reichstag. They were then physically thrown out of the building. The stormtroopers also carried out terrible acts of violence against socialists and communists. In one incident in Silesia, a young member of the KPD had his eyes poked out with a billiard cue and was then stabbed to death in front of his mother. Four members of the SA were convicted of the rime. Many people were shocked when Hitler sent a letter of support for the four men and promised to do what he could to get them released.
Incidents such as these worried many Germans, and in the elections that took place in November 1932 the support for the Nazi Party fell. The German Communist Party made substantial gains in the election winning 100 seats. Hitler used this to create a sense of panic by claiming that German was on the verge of a Bolshevik Revolution and only the NSDAP could prevent this happening. A group of prominent industrialists who feared such a revolution sent a petition to Paul von Hindenburg asking for Hitler to become Chancellor. Hindenberg reluctantly agreed to their request and at the age of forty-three, Hitler became the new Chancellor of Germany.
Although Hitler had the support of certain sections of the German population he never gained an elected majority. The best the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) could do in a election was 37.3 per cent of the vote they gained in July 1932. When Hitler became chancellor in January 1933, the Nazis only had a third of the seats in the Reichstag.
Soon after Hitler became chancellor he announced new elections. Hermann Goering called a meeting of important industrialists where he told them that the 1933 General Election could be the last in Germany for a very long time. Goering added that the NSDAP would need a considerable amount of of money to ensure victory. Those present responded by donating 3 million Reichmarks. As Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary after the meeting: "Radio and press are at our disposal.
Even money is not lacking this time."
Behind the scenes Goering, who was minister of the interior in Hitler's government, was busily sacking senior police officers and replacing them with Nazi supporters. These men were later to become known as the Gestapo. Goering also recruited 50,000 members of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) to work as police auxiliaries.
Hermann Goering then raided the headquarters of the Communist Party (KPD) in Berlin and claimed that he had uncovered a plot to overthrow the government. Leaders of the KPD were arrested but no evidence was ever produced to support Goering's accusations. He also announced he had discovered a communist plot to poison German milk supplies. On 27th February, 1933, someone set fire to the Reichstag. Several people were arrested including a leading, Georgi Dimitrov, general secretary of the Comintern, the international communist organization. Dimitrov was eventually acquitted but a young man from the Netherlands, Marianus van der Lubbe, was eventually executed for the crime. As a teenager Lubbe had been a communist and Hermann Goering used this information to claim that the Reichstag Fire was part of a KPD plot to overthrow the government.
Hitler gave orders that all leaders of the German Communist Party should "be hanged that very night." Paul von Hindenburg vetoed this decision but did agree that Hitler should take "dictatorial powers". KPD candidates in the election were arrested and Hermann Goering announced that the Nazi Party planned "to exterminate" German communists.
Thousands of members of the Social Democrat Party and Communist Party were arrested and sent to recently opened to concentration camp. They were called this because they "concentrated" the enemy into a restricted area. Hitler named these camps after those used by the British during the Boer War. Left-wing election meetings were broken up by the Sturm Abteilung (SA) and several candidates were murdered. Newspapers that supported these political parties were closed down during the 1933 General Election.
Although it was extremely difficult for the opposition parties to campaign properly, Hitler and the Nazi party still failed to win an overall victory in the election on 5th March, 1933. The NSDAP received 43.9% of the vote and only 288 seats out of the available 647. The increase in the Nazi vote had mainly come from the Catholic rural areas who feared the possibility of an atheistic Communist government.
After the 1933 General Election Hitler proposed an Enabling Bill that would give him dictatorial powers. Such an act needed three-quarters of the members of the Reichstag to vote in its favour.
All the active members of the Communist Party, were in concentration camps, in hiding, or had left the country (an estimated 60,000 people left Germany during the first few weeks after the election). This was also true of most of the leaders of the other left-wing party, Social Democrat Party (SDP). However, Hitler still needed the support of the Catholic Centre Party (BVP) to pass this legislation. Hitler therefore offered the BVP a deal: vote for the bill and the Nazi government would guarantee the rights of the Catholic Church. The BVP agreed and when the vote was taken, only 94 members of the SDP voted against the Enabling Bill.
Hitler was now dictator of Germany. His first move was to take over the trade unions. Its leaders were sent to concentration camps and the organization was put under the control of the Nazi Party. The trade union movement now became known as the Labour Front. Soon afterwards the Communist Party and the Social Democrat Party were banned. Party activists still in the country were arrested. A month later Hitler announced that the Catholic Centre Party, the Nationalist Party and all other political parties other than the NSDAP were illegal, and by the end of 1933 over 150,000 political prisoners were in concentration camps. Hitler was aware that people have a great fear of the unknown, and if prisoners were released, they were warned that if they told anyone of their experiences they would be sent back to the camp.
It was not only left-wing politicians and trade union activists who were sent to concentration camp. The Gestapo also began arresting beggars, prostitutes, homosexuals, alcoholics and anyone who was incapable of working. Although some inmates were tortured, the only people killed during this period were prisoners who tried to escape and those classed as "incurably insane". Hitler's Germany became known as a fascist state. Fascist was originally used to describe the government of Benito Mussolini in Italy. Mussolini's fascist one-party state emphasized patriotism, national unity, hatred of communism, admiration of military values and unquestioning obedience. Hitler was deeply influenced by Mussolini's Italy and his Germany shared many of the same characteristics.
The German economic system remained capitalistic but the state played a more prominent role in managing the economy. Industrialists were sometimes told what to produce and what price they should charge for the goods that they made.
The government also had the power to order workers to move to where they were required.
By taking these powers Hitler's government was able to control factors such as inflation and unemployment that had caused considerable distress in previous years. As the government generally allowed companies to maintain their profit margins, industrialists tended to accept the loss of some of their freedoms.
Under fascism, most potential sources of opposition were removed. This included political parties and the trade union movement. However, Hitler never felt strong enough to take complete control of the German Army, and before taking important decisions he always had to take into consideration how the armed forces would react.
By the time Hitler gained power he had ceased to be a practising Christian. He did not have the confidence to abolish Christianity in Germany. In 1934 Hitler signed an agreement with Pope Pius XI in which he promised not to interfere in religion if the Catholic Church agreed not to become involved in politics in Germany.
The individual had no freedom to protest in Hitler's Germany. All political organizations were either banned or under the control of the Nazis. Except for the occasional referendum, all elections, local and national, were abolished.
All information that people in Germany received was selected and organized to support fascist beliefs. As Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels kept a close check on the information provided by newspapers, magazines, books, radio broadcasts, plays and films.
Hitler, who had been deeply influenced by his own history teacher, was fully aware that schools posed a potential threat to the dominant fascist ideology. Teachers who were critical of Hitler's Germany were sacked and the rest were sent away to be trained to become good fascists. Members of the Nazi youth organizations such as the Hitler Youth, were also asked to report teachers who questioned fascism. As a further precaution against young people coming into contact with information and the government disapproved of, textbooks were withdrawn and rewritten by Nazis.
By 1934 Hitler appeared to have complete control over Germany, but like most dictators, he constantly feared that he might be ousted by others who wanted his power. To protect himself from a possible coup, Hitler used the tactic of divide and rule and encouraged other leaders such as Hermann Goering, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler and Ernst Roehm to compete with each other for senior positions. One of the consequences of this policy was that these men developed a dislike for each other.
Roehm was particularly hated because as leader of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) he had tremendous power and had the potential to remove any one of his competitors. Goering and Himmler asked Reinhard Heydrich to assemble a dossier on Roehm. Heydrich, who also feared him, manufactured evidence that suggested that Roehm had been paid 12 million marks by the French to overthrow Hitler.
Hitler liked Ernst Roehm and initially refused to believe the dossier provided by Heydrich. Roehm had been one of his first supporters and, without his ability to obtain army funds in the early days of the movement, it is unlikely that the Nazis would have ever become established. The SA under Roehm's leadership had also played a vital role in destroying the opposition during the elections of 1932 and 1933.
However, Hitler had his own reasons for wanting Roehm removed. Powerful supporters of Hitler had been complaining about Roehm for some time. Generals were afraid that the Sturm Abteilung (SA), a force of over 3 million men, would absorb the much smaller German Army into its ranks and Roehm would become its overall leader.
Industrialists such as Albert Voegler, Gustav Krupp, Alfried Krupp, Fritz Thyssen and Emile Kirdorf, who had provided the funds for the Nazi victory, were unhappy with Roehm's socialistic views on the economy and his claims that the real revolution had still to take place. Many people in the party also disapproved of the fact that Roehm and many other leaders of the SA were homosexuals. Hitler was also aware that Roehm and the SA had the power to remove him. Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler played on this fear by constantly feeding him with new information on Roehm's proposed coup. Their masterstroke was to claim that Gregor Strasser, whom Hitler hated, was part of the planned conspiracy against him. With this news Hitler ordered all the SA leaders to attend a meeting in the Hanselbauer Hotel in Wiesse.
Meanwhile Goering and Himmler were drawing up a list of people outside the SA that they wanted killed. The list included Strasser, Kurt von Schleicher, Hitler's predecessor as chancellor, and Gustav von Kahr, who crushed the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923.
On 29th June, 1934. Hitler, accompanied by the Schutz Staffeinel (SS), arrived at Wiesse, where he personally arrested Ernst Roehm. During the next 24 hours 200 other senior SA officers were arrested on the way to Wiesse. Many were shot as soon as they were captured but Hitler decided to pardon Roehm because of his past services to the movement. However, after much pressure from Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler, Hitler agreed that Roehm should die.
At first Hitler insisted that Roehm should be allowed to commit suicide but, when he refused, Roehm was shot by two SS men.
Roehm was replaced by Victor Lutze as head of the SA. Lutze was a weak man and the SA gradually lost its power in Hitler's Germany. The Schutz Staffeinel (SS) under the leadership of Himmler grew rapidly during the next few years, replacing the SA as the dominant force in Germany.
The purge of the SA was kept secret until it was announced by Hitler on 13th July. It was during this speech that Hitler gave the purge its name: Night of the Long Knives (a phrase from a popular Nazi song). Hitler claimed that 61 had been executed while 13 had been shot resisting arrest and three had committed suicide. Others have argued that as many as 400 people were killed during the purge. In his speech Hitler explained why he had not relied on the courts to deal with the conspirators: "In this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I become the supreme judge of the German people. I gave the order to shoot the ringleaders in this treason."
The Night of the Long Knives was a turning point in the history of Hitler's Germany. Hitler had made it clear that he was the supreme ruler of Germany who had the right to be judge and jury, and had the power to decide whether people lived or died.
In the 1933 Election campaign, Hitler had promised that if he gained power he would abolish unemployment. He was lucky in that the German economy was just beginning to recover when he came into office. However, the policies that Hitler introduced did help to reduce the number of people unemployed in Germany.
These policies often involved taking away certain freedoms from employers. The government banned the introduction of some labour-saving machinery. Employers also had to get government permission before reducing their labour force. The government also tended to give work contracts to those companies that relied on manual labour rather than machines. This was especially true of the government's massive motorway programme. As a result of this scheme Germany developed the most efficient road system in Europe.
Hitler also abolished taxation on new cars. A great lover of cars himself, and influenced by the ideas of Henry Ford, Hitler wanted every family in Germany to own a car. He even became involved in designing the Volkswagen (The People's Car).
Hitler also encouraged the mass production of radios.
In this case he was not only concerned with reducing unemployment but saw them as a means of supplying a steady stream of Nazi propaganda to the German people.
Youth unemployment was dealt with by the forming of the Voluntary Labour Service (VLS) and the Voluntary Youth Service (VYS), a scheme similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps introduced by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the United States. The VYS planted forests, repaired river banks and helped reclaim wasteland.
Hitler also reduced unemployment by introducing measures that would encourage women to leave the labour market. Women in certain professions such as doctors and civil servants were dismissed, while other married women were paid a lump sum of 1000 marks to stay at home.
By 1937 German unemployment had fallen from six million to one million. However, the standard of living for those in employment did not improve in the same way that it had done during the 1920s. With the Nazis controlling the trade unions, wage-rates did not increase with productivity, and after a few years of Hitler's rule workers began to privately question his economic policies.
In Mein Kampf Hitler made it absolutely clear that he had a deep hatred of the Jewish race. However, anti-Semitism did cause difficulties for Hitler when he was trying to gain power in Germany. Jewish businessmen in Germany and the rest of the world were occasionally able to use their influence to prevent anti-Semitic ideas being promoted.
Henry Ford was forced to stop publishing anti-Semitic attacks in the United States after the Jewish community organized a boycott of Ford cars in the late 1920s. Lord Rothermere, who used his newspaper, The Daily Mail, to argue for Hitler's policies abruptly withdrew his support in 1930. Later that year, Rothermere told Hitler that Jewish businessmen had withdrawn advertising from the newspaper and he had been forced to "toe the line".
Aware of the power of Jewish money, Hitler began to leave out anti-Semitic comments from his speeches during elections. This was one of the major factors in the increase in financial contributions from German industrialists in the 1933 General Election. His change in tactics was so successful that even Jewish businessmen began contributing money to the National Socialist German Workers Party.
Once in power Hitler began to express anti-Semitic ideas again. Based on his readings of how blacks were denied civil rights in the southern states in America, Hitler attempted to make life so unpleasant for Jews in Germany that they would emigrate. The campaign started on 1st April, 1933, when a one-day boycott of Jewish-owned shops took place. Members of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) picketed the shops to ensure the boycott was successful.
The hostility of towards Jews increased in Germany.
This was reflected in the decision by many shops and restaurants not to serve the Jewish population. Placards saying "Jews not admitted" and "Jews enter this place at their own risk" began to appear all over Germany. In some parts of the country Jews were banned from public parks, swimming-pools and public transport.
Germans were also encouraged not to use Jewish doctors and lawyers. Jewish civil servants, teachers and those employed by the mass media were sacked. Members of the SA put pressure on people not to buy goods produced by Jewish companies. For example, the Ullstein Press, the largest publisher of newspapers, books and magazines in Germany, was forced to sell the company to the NSDAP in 1934 after the actions of the SA had made it impossible for them to make a profit.
Many Jewish people who could no longer earn a living left the country. The number of Jews emigrating increased after the passing of the Nuremberg Laws on Citizenship and Race in 1935. Under this new law Jews could no longer be citizens of Germany. It was also made illegal for Jews to marry Aryans.
The pressure on Jews to leave Germany intensified. Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and Reinhard Heydrich organized a new programme designed to encourage Jews to emigrate. Crystal Night took place on 9th-10th November, 1938. Presented as a spontaneous reaction of the German people to the news that a German diplomat had been murdered by a young Jewish refugee in Paris, the whole event was in fact organized by the NSDAP. During Crystal Night over 7,500 Jewish shops were destroyed and 400 synagogues were burnt down. Ninety-one Jews were killed and an estimated 20,000 were sent to concentration camps. Up until this time these camps had been mainly for political prisoners. The only people who were punished for the crimes committed on Crystal Night were members of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) who had raped Jewish women (they had broken the Nuremberg Laws on sexual intercourse between Aryans and Jews). After Crystal Night the numbers of Jews wishing to leave Germany increased dramatically. It has been calculated that between 1933 and 1939, approximately half the Jewish population of Germany (250,000) left the country. This included several Jewish scientists who were to play an important role in the fight against fascism during the war. A higher number of Jews would have left but anti-Semitism was not restricted to Germany and many countries were reluctant to take them. Once in power Hitler began to consider how he could expand the territory he controlled.
Hitler's reading of history convinced him that Britain posed the main threat to his dream of a Germany that dominated Europe. In the 1930s Britain still had an empire that covered a quarter of the world. In the past Britain had reacted swiftly to any country that had threatened her empire or attempted to become the main power in mainland Europe.
Hitler respected the British and considered them to share many of the qualities possessed by Germans. In Mein Kampf he argued that to achieve his foreign policy objectives, Germany would probably have to form an alliance with Britain. "No sacrifice," Hitler wrote, was "too great if it was a necessary means of gaining England's friendship."
In his first few years in power Hitler had meetings with several British politicians and diplomats. He discovered that the British now tended to believe that the terms of the Treaty of Versailles were too harsh on the defeated countries and that Britain was unlikely to declare war if Germany ignored them. Hitler also became aware that the British had a strong dislike of communism and feared a Europe dominated by the Soviet Union.
France was more committed to the Treaty of Versailles but Hitler guessed she would be unwilling to take action against Germany without support of the British. Hitler therefore felt he was in a strong position. With Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president of the United States, making it clear that he would not interfere in European disputes and both Italy and Japan having right-wing governments sympathetic to Germany, Hitler felt he was in a position to make a move.
In October 1933, Hitler withdrew from the League of Nations and claimed that he had done so because of the failure of the disarmament talks. Hitler argued that under the Treaty of Versailles Germany was militarily weak. He said that Germany had been willing to keep to this state of affairs if other countries disarmed. As this had not happened, Germany now had to take measures to protect herself.
In the months that followed, Hitler trebled the size of the German Army and completely ignored the restrictions on weapons that had been imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. By 1935, when it was clear that no action was going to be taken against Germany for breaking the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler felt strong enough to introduce military conscription.
Hitler was not sure how far he could go and was constantly looking for clues that would reveal at what point Britain and France would go to war with Germany.
Hitler was heartened when Benito Mussolini was allowed to send his army Ethiopia in October 1935 without any serious political reaction.
Hitler knew that both France and Britain were militarily stronger than Germany. However, he became convinced that they were unwilling to go to war. He therefore decided to break another aspect of the Treaty of Versailles by sending German troops into the Rhineland. The German generals were very much against the plan, claiming that the French Army would win a victory in the military conflict that was bound to follow this action. Hitler ignored their advice and on 1st March, 1936, three German battalions marched into the Rhineland. The French government was horrified to find German troops on their border but were unwilling to take action without the support of the British. The British government argued against going to war over the issue and justified its position by claiming that "Germany was only marching into its own back yard.".
Hitler's gamble had come off and, full of confidence, he began to make plans to make Austria part of Germany (Anschluss). In February, 1938, Hitler invited Kurt von Schuschnigg, the Austrian Chancellor, to meet him at Berchtesgarden. Hitler demanded concessions for the Austrian Nazi Party. Schuschnigg refused and after resigning was replaced by Arthur Seyss-Inquart, the leader of the Austrian Nazi Party. On 13th March, Seyss-Inquart invited the German Army to occupy Austria and proclaimed union with Germany.
After his success in Austria Hitler was now in a good position to take on Czechoslovakia. The country had been created in 1918 from territory that had previously been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As well as the seven million Czechs, two million Slovaks, 700,000 Hungarians and 450,000 Ruthenians there were three and a half million German speaking people living in Czechoslovakia. Although Czechoslovakia had never been part of Germany, these people liked to call themselves Germans because of their language. Most of these people lived in the Sudetenland, an area on the Czechoslovakian border with Germany. The German speaking people complained that the Czech-dominated government discriminated against them. German's who had lost their jobs in the depression began to argue that they might be better off under Hitler. Hitler wanted to march into Czechoslovakia but his generals warned him that with its strong army and good mountain defences Czechoslovakia would be a difficult country to overcome. They also added that if Britain, France or the Soviet Union joined on the side of Czechoslovakia, Germany would probably be badly defeated.
One group of senior generals even made plans to overthrow Hitler if he ignored their advice and declared war on Czechoslovakia. In September 1938, Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, met Hitler at his home in Berchtesgaden in Germany. Hitler threatened to invade Czechoslovakia unless Britain supported Germany's plans to takeover the Sudetenland. After discussing the issue with the Edouard Daladier (France) and Eduard Benes (Czechoslovakia), Chamberlain informed Hitler that his proposals were unacceptable. Hitler was in a difficult situation but he also knew that Britain and France were unwilling to go to war. He also thought it unlikely that these two countries would be keen to join up with the Soviet Union, whose communist system the western democracies hated more that Hitler's fascist dictatorship.
Benito Mussolini suggested to Hitler that one way of solving this issue was to hold a four-power conference of Germany, Britain, France and Italy. This would exclude both Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, and therefore increasing the possibility of reaching an agreement and undermine the solidarity that was developing against Germany. The meeting took place in Munich on 29th September, 1938. Desperate to avoid war, and anxious to avoid an alliance with Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union, Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier agreed that Germany could have the Sudetenland. In return, Hitler promised not to make any further territorial demands in Europe.
On 29th September, 1938, Adolf Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Edouard Daladier and Benito Mussolini signed the Munich Agreement which transferred the Sudetenland to Germany. When Eduard Benes, Czechoslovakia's head of state, protested at this decision, Neville Chamberlain told him that Britain would be unwilling to go to war over the issue of the Sudetenland.
The German Army marched into the Sudetenland on 1st October, 1938. As this area contained nearly all Czechoslovakia's mountain fortifications, she was no longer able to defend herself against further aggression.
From his meetings with Neville Chamberlain, Hitler had discovered that this man would do anything to avoid military conflict. Chamberlain was aware of the appalling destruction that would take place during a modern war. He also feared that a large-scale war in Western Europe would weaken the countries involved to the point where they would be vulnerable to a communist takeover.
Confident that Britain and France would not interfere as long as Germany headed east towards the Soviet Union, Hitler began to make plans for his next step.
Poland was the obvious choice as it was in the east and included areas of land taken from Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler began to make speeches demanding the return of Danzig, and German access to East Prussia through Poland.
Chamberlain now changed tactics in an attempt to convince Hitler that Britain would indeed go to war if Germany continued to invade other countries. He made a speech in the House of Commons promising to support Poland if it were attacked by Germany. The British government also sent diplomats to the Soviet Union to talk to Joseph Stalin about the possibility of working together against Germany.
The British government were still uncertain about signing a military agreement with the Soviet Union, and while they hesitated Germany stepped in and signed one instead. The Nazi-Soviet Pact took the world by surprise. Fascists and communists had always been enemies. However, both Hitler and Stalin were opportunists who were willing to compromise for short-term gain.
In August 1939, a group of concentration camp prisoners were dressed in Polish uniforms, shot and then placed just inside the German border. Hitler claimed that Poland was attempting to invade Germany. On 1st September, 1939, the German Army was ordered into Poland.
Hitler, who wanted a series of localized wars, was surprised when Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany. Even after it happened he found it difficult to believe that during the first few months of the war he genuinely believed that Britain would still negotiate a peace settlement.
For most of the war Hitler lived underground in a concrete shelter at his headquarters in East Prussia. It was here that Hitler controlled the German war effort. At first he was extremely successful. Employing fast-moving tanks backed up with air support, Germany defeated Poland in four weeks. This victory was followed by the occupation of Norway (four weeks), Netherlands (five days), Belgium (three weeks) and France (six weeks). The German Army was amazed at how quickly they defeated these countries and they became convinced that Hitler was a military genius.
The English Channel meant that these Blitzkrieg tactics could not be continued against Britain. Hitler had great respect for Britain's navy and airforce and feared that his forces would suffer heavy casualties in any invasion attempt. Hitler, who had not seen the sea until he was over forty, lacked confidence when it came to naval warfare. As he told his naval
commander-in-chief: "On land I am a hero.
At sea I am a coward."
At this stage Hitler still hoped that Britain would change sides or at least accept German domination of Europe. His dreams of a large German empire were based on the empire created by the British during the nineteenth century. Although Hitler was often guilty of extreme arrogance he lacked confidence and tended to hesitate when dealing with Britain.
Immediately after the defeat of France in June 1940, Adolf Hitler ordered his generals to organize the invasion of Britain. The invasion plan was given the code name Operation Sealion. The objective was to land 160,000 German soldiers along a forty-mile coastal stretch of south-east England. Within a few weeks the Germans had assembled a large armada of vessels, including 2,000 barges in German, Belgian and French harbours. However, Hitler's generals were very worried about the damage that the Royal Air Force could inflict on the German Army during the invasion. Hitler therefore agreed to their request that the invasion should be postponed until the British airforce had been destroyed.
On the 12th August the German airforce began its mass bomber attacks on British radar stations, aircraft factories and fighter airfields. During these raids radar stations and airfields were badly damaged and twenty-two RAF planes were destroyed. This attack was followed by daily raids on Britain. This was the beginning of what became known as the Battle of Britain.
Although plans for an invasion of Britain were drawn up Hitler was never very enthusiastic about them and they were
eventually abandoned on October 12, 1940. Instead, Hitler attempted to batter Britain into submission by organising a
sustained night-bombing campaign.
Frustrated by his lack of immediate success over Britain. Hitler began to concentrate his attentions on Eastern Europe. After taking over Poland, Germany now shared a frontier with the Soviet Union.
In Mein Kampf and in numerous speeches Hitler claimed that the German population needed more living space. Hitler's Lebensraum policy was mainly directed at the Soviet Union. He was especially interested in the Ukraine where he planned to develop a German colony. The system would be based on the British occupation of India: "What India was for England the territories of Russia will be for us.. The German colonists ought to live on handsome, spacious farms. The German services will be lodged in marvellous buildings, the governors in palaces.. The Germans - this is essential - will have to constitute amongst themselves a closed society, like a fortress.
The least of our stable-lads will be superior to any native."
Hitler intended to force Norwegians, Swedes and Danes to move to these territories in the East. Hitler believed that the Blitzkrieg tactics employed against the other European countries could not be used as successfully against the Soviet Union. He conceded that due to its enormous size, the Soviet Union would take longer than other countries to occupy. Stalin's response to France's defeat in the summer of 1940 was to send Vyacheslav Molotov to Berlin for discussions. Molotov was instructed to draw out these talks for as long as possible. Stalin knew that if Adolf Hitler did not attack the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 he would have to wait until 1942. No one, not even someone as rash as Hitler, would invade the Soviet Union in the winter, he argued.
Germany was now in a strong negotiating position and found it impossible to agree to Hitler's demands. As soon as talks broke-up, Hitler ordered his military leaders to prepare for Operation Barbarossa. The plan was for the invasion of the Soviet Union to start on the 15th May, 1941. Hitler believed that this would give the German Army enough time to take control of the country before the harsh Soviet winter set in.
Hitler's plan was to attack the Soviet Union in three main army groups: in the north towards Leningrad, in the centre towards Moscow and in the south towards Kiev. The German High Command argued that the attack should concentrate on Moscow, the Soviet Union's main communication centre. Hitler rejected the suggestion and was confident that the German army could achieve all three objectives before the arrival of winter.
There was also disagreement about Hitler's plans for the territory captured in the Soviet Union. Himmler's SS rather
than the army was to take control. The SS were instructed to wipe out all aspects of communism in the Soviet Union.
Communist officials should be executed and, as the Russians were 'sub-human', ordinary conventions of behaviour
towards captured soldiers did not apply. It is estimated that during the first year of invasion, over a million communists
were executed by the SS. Senior officers objected on tactical as well as humanitarian grounds. They argued that knowledge that they faced death or torture would encourage the Soviets to carry on fighting instead of surrendering.
Hitler, as always, was unwilling to listen to opposing arguments. If his advisers persisted in disagreeing with him
they were dismissed. Of the seventeen field-marshals only one managed to keep his post throughout the war.
colonel-generals were also involved in advising Hitler during the Second World War. Of these, twenty-six were sacked or executed. As seven were killed in action, only three managed to hold on to their positions during the war.
Hitler's unwillingness to listen to information that might lead him to change his desired goals constantly caused him problems during the war. This was especially true of his attack on the Soviet Union, when he ignored warnings concerning winter weather and poor road conditions. Instead he relied on information that suggested that the morale in the Red Army was extremely low and that they would rather surrender than be involved in a long drawn-out struggle with Germany. Hitler was so confident of early success that the German Army was sent into the Soviet Union with equipment for only a summer campaign.
At first the German forces made good progress and important cities such as Riga and Kiev were taken. However, the heavy rains in October interfered with the speed and efficiency of Germany's tanks. This was followed by heavy snow in November and December that brought Germany's advance to a halt. Hitler refused to accept his mistake and ignored suggestions that the German army should make a tactical withdrawal.
After taking over Poland Hitler had another three and a half million Jews under his control. For a time there was talk of deporting all Jews to Madagascar or keeping them confined to a small area in Poland.
The number of Jews under Hitler's control grew as German forces advanced deeper into the Soviet Union. Over two
million Jews lived in the Soviet Union and most of them lived in the areas under German occupation. It was while the
SS were rounding up the Jews in the Soviet Union that Hitler decided on what became known as the Final Solution.
In 1942, Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary about Hitler's plans: "The Fuehrer.. expressed his determination to clean up the Jews in Europe.. Not much will remain of the Jews. About sixty per cent of them will have to be liquidated; only about forty per cent can be used for forced labour."
Special units from the SS were set up under the control of Heinrich Himmler to carry out this extermination programme. At first the victims were shot but, with a high proportion of those involved in the killings suffering from nervous breakdowns a more impersonal method was developed. By the beginning of 1942 over 500,000 Jews in Poland and Russia had been killed by the Schutz Staffeinel (SS).
At the Wannsee Conference held in January 1942, Reinhard Heydrich chaired a meeting to consider what to do with the large number of Jews in Germany's concentration camps. Also at the meeting were Heinrich Muller, Adolf Eichmann and Roland Friesler.
Those at the meeting eventually decided on what became known as the Final Solution. From that date the extermination of the Jews became a systematically organized operation. After this date extermination camps were established in the east that had the capacity to kill large numbers including Belzec (15,000 a day), Sobibor (20,000), Treblinka (25,000) and Majdanek (25,000). It was decided to make the extermination of the Jews a systematically organized operation. After this date extermination camps were established in the east that had the capacity to kill large numbers including Belzec (15,000 a day), Sobibor (20,000), Treblinka (25,000) and Majdanek (25,000). It has been estimated that between 1942 and 1945 around 18 million were sent to extermination camps. Of these, historians have estimated that between five and eleven million were killed. Except for the execution of Ernst Roehm, Hitler never showed any signs of remorse when people died because of his actions. It was reported that Hitler used to laugh when Joseph Goebbels described the sufferings of the Jews.
Hitler also showed little concern over the numbers of Germans who died. Late in the war, when all chance of victory had
disappeared, he gave orders that resulted in thousands of German soldiers being unnecessarily killed. When commanders refused to carry out these orders he had them executed. Hitler never showed any signs of regret for these
actions. He once remarked that a guilty conscience was a Jewish invention.
At the start of the Second World War, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced the intention of the United States to remain neutral. Roosevelt was personally hostile to Hitler's Nazi dictatorship but he was aware that the American people had no desire to become involved in the war. However, Roosevelt did arrange for Britain to receive supplies and loans that enabled her to continue fighting the war.
Hitler believed that he would eventually be forced to fight the United States but he wanted to make sure that he controlled Europe before that happened. He gave strict instructions that German submarines should avoid firing on ships that were likely to be carrying American passengers. He also attempted to persuade his Japanese allies to attack the Soviet Union and to leave the United States alone.
They ignored Hitler's advice and on December 7, 1941, the Japanese Air Force attacked Pearl Harbor and declared war on the United States.
Hitler, who had not been told of Japanese plans, was furious at first that the United States had been dragged into the war. Hitler, who had previously called the Japanese "honorary Aryans" claimed that this is what happens what your allies are not Anglo-Saxons.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war on Japan but did not mention Germany in his speech. It was still possible for Hitler to postpone the war with the United States but he decided to honour his treaty obligations with Japan, and on December 11 announced that Germany was at war with the United States. Once again he became a victim of his own prejudice. Hitler claimed that America had been "corrupted by Jewish and African blood" and would be no match for Aryans.
In the second campaign on the Soviet Union Hitler concentrated his attack on Stalingrad. During the winter of 1941-42 the Soviets had reorganised their defences and were able to halt the German advances. In the autumn of 1942 they counter-attacked and by November the German Sixth Army was surrounded. The German Army commander in the Soviet Union, Freidrich Paulus, asked permission to break out, but Hitler, refusing to believe the Soviets could beat Germany in battle, told Paulus to stand and fight. On February 2, 1943, Paulus and the Sixth Army were forced to surrender. Out of the 265,000 men, 100,000 had been killed, 34,000 wounded and 90,000 taken prisoner.
Once again Hitler refused to accept responsibility and failed to learn from the defeat. He blamed Hermann Goering and the Luftwaffe for not providing the Sixth Army with the necessary support. He also claimed that he was travelling by train during an important stage of the battle and was therefore not in a position to direct operations which would have enabled the Sixth Army to defeat the Soviet forces.
The German defeat at Stalingrad was the turning point in the war. The Soviet army now began to advance from the East. For the rest of the war Germany was on the retreat.
Hitler had always found it difficult to cope with defeat. He refused to believe he was guilty of mistakes and instead accused those around him of betrayal. Hitler began to suffer from depression and his insomnia became worse.
Hitler's health deteriorated rapidly. He was constantly ill with stomach pains, headaches, nausea, shivering fits and diarrhoea and was now completely dependent on drugs. In September 1944, Hitler suffered a heart attack and was forced to spend several days in bed.
Hitler was constantly tired. He rarely got out of bed before 11.00 a.m. At noon he was informed of the latest military developments.
After quickly considering the news Hitler issued his orders to the relevant military personnel. After Germany's defeat at Stalingrad, Hitler was unwilling to discuss the war outside these conferences and refused to read reports that gave bad news. His secretaries, for example, were ordered not to mention the war in Hitler's presence.
Hitler would then have a long lunch followed by an afternoon nap. When Hitler was asleep no one was allowed to
disturb him. Even when important events were taking place, such as the allied landing in Normandy, Hitler was left to carry on sleeping.
Whereas Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt made use of radio broadcasts to raise the morale of their people. Hitler remained virtually silent. After the German defeat at Stalingrad, Hitler only made two public speeches and five radio broadcasts. Nor did he make visits to bombed areas of Germany. Hitler also avoided contact with injured German soldiers and rarely visited the front.
By 1943, it became clear to many senior German officers that to continue fighting a war on two fronts was bound to end in failure. It was proposed that Germany should negotiate a peace with Britain and the United States, which would then allow them to concentrate their efforts on defeating the Soviet Union.
Hitler rejected this idea. He knew that the allies would insist on his removal before agreeing to a deal with Germany.
Some senior officers decided that the only solution was to assassinate Hitler. In 1943 seven assassination attempts were planned but none of them was successfully carried out. The most dramatic of these attempts was the July Plot. On July 20, 1944, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who was attending one of Hitler's military conferences, placed a bomb in a briefcase under the table. When the bomb exploded it killed four people and seriously injured ten others, but Hitler only suffered minor cuts and burns.
Over the next few months most of those involved in plot to kill Hitler, including Wilhelm Canaris, Carl Goerdeler, Julius Leber, Ulrich Hassell, Hans Oster, Peter von Wartenburg, Henning von Tresckow, Ludwig Beck, Erwin von Witzleben and Erich Fromm were either executed or committed suicide.
It is estimated that around 4,980 Germans were executed after the July Plot. Hitler decided that the leaders should have a slow death. They were hung with piano wire from meat-hooks.
Their executions were filmed and later shown to senior
members of both the NSDAP and the armed forces.
Hitler believed that General Erwin Rommel, Germany's most famous military leader, was also involved in the July Plot. Rommel was so popular that Hitler was unwilling to have him executed for treason. Rommel was therefore forced to commit suicide and the public was told that he had died of a heart attack.
In January 1945, the Soviet troops entered Nazi Germany. Hitler was forced to leave his headquarters in East Prussia and moved south to Berlin. Soon afterwards he was joined by his mistress, Eva Braun. Hitler talked of the possibility that Britain and the United States would go to war with the Soviet Union and that Germany would be saved. He told one of his generals that "throughout history coalitions have always gone to pieces sooner or later." Hitler was right that the Soviet Union and the United States would eventually be in conflict, but unfortunately for him this did not happen until after the war had ended.
Hitler was now nearly fifty-five years old but looked much older. His hair had gone grey, his body was stooped, and he had difficulty in walking. His voice had become feeble and his eyesight was so poor that that he needed special lenses even to read documents from his 'Fuehrer typewriter'.
Hitler also developed a tremor in his left arm and leg. He had originally suffered from this during the First World War and also after the failure of the Munich Putsch in 1923. It was a nervous disorder that reappeared whenever Hitler felt he was in danger.
People who had not seen him for a few months were shocked by his appearance. One man remarked: "It was a ghastly physical image he presented. The upper part of his body was bowed and he dragged his feet as he made his way slowly and laboriously through the bunker from his living room.. If anyone happened to stop him during this short walk (some fifty or sixty yards), he was forced either to sit down on one of the seats placed along the walls for the purpose, or to catch hold of the person he was speaking to.. Often saliva would dribble from the comers of his mouth.. presenting a hideous and pitiful spectacle."
Heinrich Himmler and Herman Goering both considered the possibility of overthrowing Hitler. One plan involved Himmler arresting Hitler and announcing to the German people that Hitler had retired due to ill-health. Their main concern was to do a deal with Britain and the United States that would prevent the Soviet Union occupying Germany.
The German leaders were not only concerned about the imposition of communism, but also feared what Soviet soldiers anxious to gain revenge for the war crimes committed against their people by the SS might do. (Of the five million Soviet soldiers captured by the Germans an estimated three million were murdered or allowed to die of starvation.)
When the Soviet troops entered Germany it was suggested that Hitler should try to escape. Hitler rejected the idea as he feared the possibility of being captured. He had heard stories of how the Soviet troops planned to parade him through the streets of Germany in a cage. To prevent this humiliation Hitler decided to commit suicide.
Two days before his death Hitler married Eva Braun. That night he tested out a cyanide pill on his pet Alsatian dog,
Blondi. Braun agreed to commit suicide with him. She could have become rich by writing her memoirs but she preferred not to live without Hitler.
The Soviet troops were now only 300 yards away from Hitler's underground bunker. Although defeat was inevitable, Hitler insisted his troops fight to the death. Instructions were constantly being sent out giving orders for the execution of any military commanders who retreated.
Hitler made a will leaving all his property to the Nazi Party. After saying their farewells Hitler and Eva Braun went into a private room and took cyanide tablets. Hitler also shot himself in the head. His body was then cremated and his ashes were hidden in the Chancellery grounds.
The place where he was buried is now under the shadow of the Berlin Wall. The man who tried to increase the size of Germany had in fact become responsible for dividing it into two.
As a direct result of Hitler's actions, communism, which he had attempted to destroy, covered the whole of Eastern Europe, including half of Germany. The Jewish race, which he had tried to eliminate, had formed their own state and became a powerful force in world politics.
Hitler left a devastated Europe and with it a warning for the future. His regime had illustrated the dangers of nationalism,
the obscenity of racism and the importance of democracy. It was an expensive lesson, but it did provide the basis for a better future.