Adolf Hitler

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Adolf Hitler

Hitler in 1937

In office
2 August 1934 – 30 April 1945
Chancellor Himself
Preceded by Paul von Hindenburg
(as President)
Succeeded by Karl Dönitz
(as President)

In office
30 January 1933 – 30 April 1945
President Paul von Hindenburg
Himself (Führer)
Deputy Franz von Papen
Preceded by Kurt von Schleicher
Succeeded by Joseph Goebbels
Personal details
Born 20 April 1889(1889-04-20)
Braunau am Inn, Austria–Hungary
Died 30 April 1945(1945-04-30) (aged 56)
Berlin, Germany
Nationality Austrian citizen until 7 April 1925[1]
German citizen after 25 February 1932
Political party National Socialist German Workers' Party (1921–1945)
Other political
German Workers' Party (1920–1921)
Spouse(s) Eva Braun
(29–30 April 1945)
Occupation Politician, soldier, artist, writer
Religion See Adolf Hitler's religious views
Military service
Allegiance  German Empire
Service/branch Reichsheer
Years of service 1914–1918
Rank Gefreiter
Unit 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment
Battles/wars World War I
Awards Iron Cross First Class
Wound Badge

Adolf Hitler (pronounced [ˈadɔlf ˈhɪtlɐ] ( listen); 20 April 1889 – 30 April 1945) was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party (German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, abbreviated NSDAP, commonly known as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state (as Führer und Reichskanzler) from 1934 to 1945. Hitler is most well known for his central leadership role in the rise of fascism in Europe, World War II and the Holocaust.

A decorated veteran of World War I, Hitler joined the precursor of the Nazi Party (DAP) in 1919, and became leader of NSDAP in 1921. He attempted a coup d'état, known as the Beer Hall Putsch at the Bürgerbräukeller beer hall in Munich in 1923. The failed coup resulted in Hitler's imprisonment, during which time he wrote his memoir, Mein Kampf (in English "My Struggle"). After his release in 1924, he gained support by promoting Pan-Germanism, antisemitism and anti-communism with charismatic oratory and propaganda. He was appointed chancellor in 1933, and transformed the Weimar Republic into the Third Reich, a single-party dictatorship based on the totalitarian and autocratic ideology of Nazism.

Hitler's avowed aim was to establish a New Order of absolute Nazi German hegemony in continental Europe. His foreign and domestic policies had the goal of seizing Lebensraum ("living space") for the Aryan people. This included the rearmament of Germany, resulting in the invasion of Poland by the Wehrmacht in 1939, leading to the outbreak of World War II in Europe.[2]

Under Hitler's leadership, German forces and their European allies at one point occupied most of Europe and North Africa, reversed in 1944 when the Allied armies freed German-occupied Europe. Hitler's reign resulted in the systematic murder of as many as 17 million civilians,[3] including an estimated six million Jews targeted in the Holocaust and between 500,000 and 1,500,000 Roma.[4]

In the final days of the war, during the Battle of Berlin in 1945, Hitler married his long-time mistress, Eva Braun. To avoid capture by Soviet forces, the two committed suicide less than two days later on 30 April 1945 and their corpses were burned.[5]



Early years


Hitler's father, Alois Hitler, was an illegitimate child of Maria Anna Schicklgruber. Therefore, the name of Alois' father was not listed on Alois' birth certificate, and he bore his mother's surname.[6][7] In 1842, Johann Georg Hiedler married Maria, and in 1876 Alois testified before a notary and three witnesses that Johann was his father.[8] Despite his testimony, the question of Alois' paternity remained unresolved. Hans Frank claimed—after receiving a extortionary letter from Hitler's nephew William Patrick Hitler threatening to reveal embarrassing information about Hitler's family tree—to have uncovered letters revealing that Alois' mother was employed as a housekeeper for a Jewish family in Graz and that the family's 19-year-old son, Leopold Frankenberger, had fathered Alois.[7] However, Frank's claim remained unsupported, and Frank himself did not believe that Hitler had Jewish ancestry,[9] and although claims of Alois' Jewish father were widely believed to be true in the 1950s,[citation needed] these were doubted by historians in the 1990s.[10][11] Ian Kershaw dismissed the Frankenberger story as a "smear" by Hitler's enemies, noting that all Jews had been expelled from Graz in the 15th century and were not allowed to return until after Alois' birth.[11][12]

At age 39, Alois assumed the surname Hitler, variously spelled also as Hiedler, Hüttler, or Huettler, and was probably regularized to its final spelling by a clerk. The origin of the name is either "one who lives in a hut" (Standard German Hütte), "shepherd" (Standard German hüten "to guard", English heed), or is from the Slavic word Hidlar and Hidlarcek.[13]


Adolf Hitler was born on 20 April 1889 at around 6:30 pm at the Gasthof zum Pommer, an inn in Braunau am Inn, Austria–Hungary. He was the fourth of six children to Alois Hitler and Klara Pölzl. All of Adolf's older siblings  – Gustav, Ida, and Otto – died before reaching three years of age.

Adolf Hitler as an infant (c. 1889/1890)

At the age of three, his family moved to Kapuzinerstrasse 5[14] in Passau, Germany. There, Hitler would acquire a Bavarian dialect of Austro-Bavarian rather than an Austrian dialect.[15] In 1894, the family relocated to Leonding near Linz, and in June 1895, Alois retired to a small landholding at Hafeld near Lambach, where he tried his hand at farming and beekeeping. During this time, the young Hitler attended school in nearby Fischlham. As a child, he played "Cowboys and Indians" and, by his own account, became fixated on war after finding a picture book about the Franco-Prussian War among his father's belongings.[16]

His father's farming efforts at Hafeld ended in failure, and in 1897 the family moved to Lambach. Hitler attended a Catholic school in an 11th-century Benedictine cloister, the walls of which bore engravings and crests that contained the symbol of the swastika.[17] In Lambach the eight-year-old Hitler also sang in the church choir, took singing lessons, and even entertained thoughts of one day becoming a priest.[18] In 1898, the family returned permanently to Leonding.

On 2 February 1900 Hitler's younger brother, Edmund, died of measles, deeply affecting Hitler, whose character changed from being confident and outgoing and an excellent student, to a morose, detached, and sullen boy who constantly fought his father and his teachers.[19]

Hitler was attached to his mother, but he had a troubled relationship with his father, who frequently beat him, especially in the years after Alois' retirement and failed farming efforts.[20] Alois was a Austrian customs official who wanted his son to follow in his footsteps, which caused much conflict between them.[16] Ignoring his son's wishes to attend a classical high school and become an artist, in September 1900 his father sent Adolf to the Realschule in Linz, a technical high school of about 300 students. Hitler rebelled against this decision, and in Mein Kampf revealed that he failed his first year, hoping that once his father saw "what little progress I was making at the technical school he would let me devote myself to the happiness I dreamed of." Alois was unrelenting, however, and Hitler became even more bitter and rebellious.[citation needed]

German Nationalism became an obsession for Hitler, and a way to rebel against his father, who proudly served the Austrian government. Most residents living along the German-Austrian border considered themselves German-Austrians, whereas Hitler expressed loyalty only to Germany. In defiance of the Austrian monarchy, and his father who continually expressed loyalty to it, Hitler and his friends used the German greeting "Heil", and sang the German anthem "Deutschland Über Alles" instead of the Austrian Imperial anthem.[16]

After Alois' sudden death on 3 January 1903, Hitler's behaviour at the technical school became even more disruptive, and he was asked to leave in 1904. He enrolled at the Realschule in Steyr in September 1904, but upon completing his second year, he and his friends went out for a night of celebration and drinking. While drunk, Hitler tore up his school certificate and used its pieces as toilet paper. The stained certificate was brought to the attention of the school's principal who "... gave him such a dressing-down that the boy was reduced to shivering jelly. It was probably the most painful and humiliating experience of his life."[21] Hitler was expelled, never to return to school again.

Aged 15, Hitler took part in his First Communion on Whitsunday, 22 May 1904, at the Linz Cathedral.[22] His sponsor was Emanuel Lugert, a friend of his late father.[23]

Early adulthood in Vienna and Munich

From 1905, Hitler lived a bohemian life in Vienna with financial support from orphan's benefits and his mother. He was rejected twice by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (1907–1908), because of his "unfitness for painting", and was recommended to study architecture.[24] Following this recommendation, he intended to pursue architectural studies, yet he lacked the academic credentials required for architecture school:

In a few days I myself knew that I should some day become an architect. To be sure, it was an incredibly hard road; for the studies I had neglected out of spite at the Realschule were sorely needed. One could not attend the Academy's architectural school without having attended the building school at the Technic, and the latter required a high-school degree. I had none of all this. The fulfillment of my artistic dream seemed physically impossible.[25]

The Courtyard of the Old Residency in Munich, by Adolf Hitler, 1914

On 21 December 1907, Hitler's mother died of breast cancer at age 47. Ordered by a court in Linz, Hitler gave his share of the orphan's benefits to his sister Paula. At the age of 21, he inherited money from an aunt. He struggled as a painter in Vienna, copying scenes from postcards and selling his paintings to merchants and tourists. After being rejected a second time by the Academy of Arts, Hitler ran out of money. In 1909, he lived in a shelter for the homeless, and by 1910, he had settled into a house for poor working men on Meldemannstraße. Another resident of the shelter, Reinhold Hanisch, sold Hitler's paintings until the two men had a bitter falling-out.[26]

Hitler stated that he first became an antisemite in Vienna,[25] which had a large Jewish community, including Orthodox Jews who had had fled the pogroms in Russia. According to childhood friend August Kubizek, Hitler was a "confirmed antisemite" before he left Linz.[25] However Kubizek’s reliability is questionable, and his statement has not been confirmed by other sources.[citation needed] Brigitte Hamann wrote that “of all those early witnesses who can be taken seriously Kubizek is the only one to portray young Hitler as an anti-Semite and precisely in this respect he is not trustworthy.”[27] Vienna at that time was a hotbed of traditional religious prejudice and 19th century racism. Hitler may have been influenced by the occult writings of the antisemite Lanz von Liebenfels in his magazine Ostara; he probably read the publication, although it is uncertain to what degree he was influenced by von Liebenfels's writings.[28]

There were very few Jews in Linz. In the course of centuries the Jews who lived there had become Europeanised in external appearance and were so much like other human beings that I even looked upon them as Germans. The reason why I did not then perceive the absurdity of such an illusion was that the only external mark which I recognized as distinguishing them from us was the practice of their strange religion. As I thought that they were persecuted on account of their faith my aversion to hearing remarks against them grew almost into a feeling of abhorrence. I did not in the least suspect that there could be such a thing as a systematic antisemitism. Once, when passing through the inner City, I suddenly encountered a phenomenon in a long caftan and wearing black side-locks. My first thought was: Is this a Jew? They certainly did not have this appearance in Linz. I carefully watched the man stealthily and cautiously but the longer I gazed at the strange countenance and examined it feature by feature, the more the question shaped itself in my brain: Is this a German?[25]

However, at the time Hitler apparently did not act on his views. He was a frequent dinner guest in a wealthy Jewish house, and he interacted well with Jewish merchants who tried to sell his paintings.[29]

Martin Luther's On the Jews and Their Lies may have also shaped Hitler's views. In Mein Kampf, he refers to Martin Luther as a great warrior, a true statesman, and a great reformer, alongside Richard Wagner and Frederick the Great.[30] Wilhelm Röpke, writing after the Holocaust, concluded that "without any question, Lutheranism influenced the political, spiritual and social history of Germany in a way that, after careful consideration of everything, can be described only as fateful."[31][32]

Hitler claimed that Jews were enemies of the so-called Aryan race, and held them responsible for Austria's crisis.[citation needed] He also regarded some socialist and Bolshevist organisations as Jewish movements, thus merging his antisemitism with anti-Marxism.[citation needed] Later, blaming Germany's military defeat in World War I on the 1918 revolutions, he considered Jews the culprits of Imperial Germany's downfall and subsequent economic problems.[citation needed]

Hitler received the final part of his father's estate in May 1913 and moved to Munich. He wrote in Mein Kampf that he had always longed to live in a "real" German city. In Munich, he further pursued his interest in architecture and the writings of Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Moving to Munich also helped him avoid military service in Austria, but the Munich police in cooperation with the Austrian authorities eventually arrested him for dodging the draft. After a physical exam and a contrite plea, he was deemed unfit for service and allowed to return to Munich. However, when Germany entered World War I in August 1914, he successfully petitioned King Ludwig III of Bavaria for permission to serve in a Bavarian regiment, and enlisted in the Bavarian army.[33]

World War I

A young Hitler (farthest left at bottom row) posing with other German soldiers

Hitler served as a runner on the Western Front in France and Belgium in the Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment 16. He experienced major combat, including the First Battle of Ypres, the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras and the Battle of Passchendaele.[34]

Hitler was twice decorated for bravery, receiving the Iron Cross, Second Class, in 1914 and Iron Cross, First Class, in 1918. Hitler's First Class Iron Cross was recommended by Hugo Gutmann, and although the latter decoration was rarely awarded to a Gefreiter, it may be explained by Hitler's post at regimental headquarters where he had more frequent interactions with senior officers than other soldiers of similar rank.[35] The regimental staff, however, thought Hitler lacked leadership skills, and he was never promoted.

Hitler with his war comrades of the Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment 16 (c. 1914–1918)

While serving at regimental headquarters Hitler pursued his artwork, drawing cartoons and instructions for an army newspaper. In 1916, he was wounded either in the groin area[36] or the left thigh[37] during the Battle of the Somme, but returned to the front in March 1917. He received the Wound Badge later that year.

On 15 October 1918, Hitler was temporarily blinded by a mustard gas attack, but it has also been suggested that he suffered from conversion disorder, then known as "hysteria".[38] Some scholars, notably Lucy Dawidowicz, argue that Hitler's intention to exterminate Europe's Jews was fully formed at this time.[39]

Hitler described the war as "the greatest of all experiences" and he was praised by his commanding officers for his bravery.[40] The experience made Hitler a passionate German patriot, and he was shocked by Germany's capitulation in November 1918.[41] Like many other German nationalists, Hitler believed in the Dolchstoßlegende (Stab-in-the-back legend), which claimed that the army, "undefeated in the field," had been "stabbed in the back" by civilian leaders and Marxists back on the home front, later dubbed the November Criminals.

Adolf Hitler as a soldier during the First World War (1914–1918)

The Treaty of Versailles, citing Germany's responsibility for the war, stipulated that Germany relinquish several of its territories, demilitarisation of the Rhineland, and imposed economic sanctions and levied reparations on the country. Many Germans perceived the treaty, especially Article 231 on the German responsibility for the war, as a humiliation,[citation needed] and its economic effects on the social and political conditions in Germany were later exploited by Hitler. He and his political allies used the signing of the treaty by the November Criminals as a reason to build up Germany.[citation needed]

Entry into politics

After World War I, Hitler remained in the army and returned to Munich, where he attended the funeral march for the murdered Bavarian prime minister Kurt Eisner.[42] After the suppression of the Bavarian Soviet Republic, he took part in "national thinking" courses organized by the Education and Propaganda Department of the Bavarian Reichswehr under Captain Karl Mayr.

In July 1919, Hitler was appointed Verbindungsmann (intelligence agent) of an Aufklärungskommando (reconnaissance commando) of the Reichswehr, both to influence other soldiers and to infiltrate the German Workers' Party (DAP). While he studied the activities of the DAP, Hitler became impressed with founder Anton Drexler's antisemitic, nationalist, anti-capitalist and anti-Marxist ideas. Drexler favoured a strong active government, a "non-Jewish" version of socialism and solidarity among all members of society. Drexler was impressed with Hitler's oratory skills and invited him to join the DAP, which Hitler accepted on 12 September 1919,[43] becoming its 55th member.[44]

A copy of Adolf Hitler's German Workers' Party (DAP) membership card.

At the DAP, Hitler met Dietrich Eckart, one of its early founders and member of the occult Thule Society.[45] Eckart became Hitler's mentor, exchanging ideas with him, teaching him how to dress and speak, and introducing him to a wide range of people.[citation needed] Hitler thanked Eckart and paid tribute to him in the second volume of Mein Kampf. To increase the party's appeal, the party changed its name to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers Party; NSDAP).

Hitler was discharged from the army in March 1920 and with his former superiors' encouragement[citation needed] began participating full time in the party's activities. By early 1921, Hitler had become highly effective at speaking in front of large crowds. In February, Hitler spoke to a crowd of nearly six thousand in Munich. To publicize the meeting, two truckloads of party supporters drove around waving swastikas and throwing leaflets. Hitler soon gained notoriety for his rowdy, polemic speeches against the Treaty of Versailles, rival politicians, and especially directed against against Marxists and Jews.

The NSDAP was centred in Munich, a hotbed of German nationalists, including Army officers determined to crush Marxism and undermine the Weimar Republic. Gradually they noticed Hitler and his growing movement as a suitable vehicle for their goals.[citation needed]

While Hitler was on a trip to Berlin in the summer of 1921, there was a mutiny among the DAP leadership in Munich, notably within the executive committee whose members considered Hitler to be too overbearing. Hitler rushed back to Munich and as a political move tendered his resignation from the party on 11 July 1921. When they[who?] realized that Hitler's resignation would mean the end of the party, Hitler announced he would only return on the condition that he replace Drexler as party chairman. Drexler and other committee members held out at first, and an anonymous advertisement appeared in a Munich newspaper entitled Adolf Hitler: Is he a traitor?, focusing on Hitler's quest for power. Hitler responded to its publication by suing for libel and later won a small settlement.[citation needed]

The NSDAP executive committee eventually backed down, and Hitler's demands were put to a vote in which his received 543 votes in his support with only one nay vote. At the next gathering on 29 July 1921, Hitler was introduced as Führer of the NSDAP, marking the first time this title was publicly used.[citation needed]

Hitler's vitriolic beer hall speeches began attracting regular audiences. Early followers included Rudolf Hess, the former air force pilot Hermann Göring, and the army captain Ernst Röhm. The latter became head of the Nazis' paramilitary organization the Sturmabteilung (SA, "Storm Division"), which protected meetings and frequently attacked political opponents. Hitler also attracted some independent groups, such as the Nuremberg-based Deutsche Werkgemeinschaft, led by Julius Streicher, who became Gauleiter of Franconia.[citation needed] A critical influence on his thinking at this period was the Aufbau Vereinigung,[46] a conspiratorial group formed of White Russian exiles and early National Socialists. The group introduced him to the idea of a Jewish conspiracy, linking international finance with Bolshevism, with funds channelled from wealthy industrialists like Henry Ford.[citation needed] Hitler also attracted the attention of local business interests, was accepted into influential circles of Munich society, and became associated with wartime General Erich Ludendorff during this time.

Drawing of Hitler (30 October 1923)

Beer Hall Putsch

Encouraged by his new support, Hitler recruited Ludendorff for an attempted coup known as the "Beer Hall Putsch" (also known as the "Hitler Putsch" or "Munich Putsch"). The Nazi Party had used Italy's fascists as an example for its appearance and policies, and in 1923, Hitler wanted to emulate Benito Mussolini's "March on Rome" by staging his own "Campaign in Berlin". Hitler and Ludendorff obtained the clandestine support of Gustav von Kahr, Bavaria's de facto ruler, along with leading figures in the Reichswehr and the police. Ludendorff, Hitler and the heads of the Bavarian police and military had the goal of forming a new government.[citation needed]

On 8 November 1923, Hitler and the SA stormed a public meeting headed by Kahr in the Bürgerbräukeller, a large beer hall in Munich. Hitler announced that he had set up a new government with Ludendorff and demanded, at gunpoint, the support of Kahr and the local military establishment for the destruction of the Berlin government.[47] Kahr withdrew his support and fled to join the opposition to Hitler.[48] The next day, Hitler and his followers marched from the beer hall to the Bavarian War Ministry to overthrow the Bavarian government on their "March on Berlin", but the police dispersed them. Sixteen NSDAP members were killed in the failed coup.[49]

Hitler fled to the home of Ernst Hanfstaengl where he contemplated suicide, but Hanfstaengl's wife Helene talked him out of it. He was soon arrested for high treason, and Alfred Rosenberg became temporary leader of the NSDAP. During his trial, Hitler was given almost unlimited time to speak, and his popularity soared as he voiced nationalistic sentiments in his defence speech. On 1 April 1924, Hitler was sentenced to five years' imprisonment at Landsberg Prison. Hitler received friendly treatment from the guards and received a lot of mail from supporters. The Bavarian Supreme Court soon issued a pardon and he was released from jail on 20 December 1924, against the state prosecutor's objections.[50] Including time on remand, Hitler had been imprisoned for just over one year for the attempted coup.[51]

Mein Kampf

Dust jacket of Mein Kampf (1926–1927)

While at Landsberg, he dictated most of the first volume of Mein Kampf (My Struggle, originally entitled Four and a Half Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice) to his deputy Rudolf Hess.[51] The book, dedicated to Thule Society member Dietrich Eckart, was an autobiography and an exposition of his ideology. Mein Kampf was influenced by The Passing of the Great Race by Madison Grant, which Hitler called "my Bible."[52] Mein Kampf was published in two volumes in 1925 and 1926, selling about 240,000 copies between 1925 and 1934. By the end of the war, about 10 million copies had been sold or distributed. The copyright of Mein Kampf in Europe is claimed by the Free State of Bavaria and will end on 31 December 2015. In Germany, only heavily commented editions of Mein Kampf are available solely for academic studies.

Rebuilding of the NSDAP

Hitler (left), standing up behind Hermann Göring at a Nazi rally in Nuremberg (c. 1928)

At the time of Hitler's release from prison, politics in Germany had become less combative and the economy had improved. This limited Hitler's opportunities for political agitation. As a result of the failed Beer Hall Putsch, the NSDAP and its affiliated organisations were banned in Bavaria. However, Hitler—now claiming to seek political power only through the democratic process—succeeded in persuading Heinrich Held, Prime Minister of Bavaria, to lift the ban. The ban on the NSDAP was lifted on 16 February 1925,[53] but Hitler was barred from public speaking. To be able to advance his political ambitions in spite of the ban, Hitler appointed Gregor Strasser along with his brother Otto and Joseph Goebbels to organize and grow the NSDAP in northern Germany. Strasser, however, steered a more independent political course, emphasizing the socialist element in the party's programme. The Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Gauleiter Nord-West thus became an internal opposition, threatening Hitler's authority,[citation needed] but its influence was strongly curtailed at the Bamberg Conference in 1926.[citation needed]

Hitler went on to establish a more autocratic rule of the NSDAP and asserted the Führerprinzip ("Leader principle"). Offices in the party were not determined by elections, but rather filled by appointment by higher ranks who demanded unquestioning obedience from the lower ranks they had appointed. This reflected Hitler's view that all power and authority devolved from the top down.[citation needed]

A key element of Hitler's appeal was his ability to evoke a sense of violated national pride as a result of the Treaty of Versailles. Many Germans strongly resented the terms of the treaty, especially the economic burden of having to pay large reparations to other countries affected by World War I. Nonetheless, attempts by Hitler to win popular support by blaming the demands and assertions in the treaty on "international Jewry" were largely unsuccessful with the electorate. Therefore, Hitler and his party began employing more subtle propaganda methods, combining antisemitism with an attack on the failures of the "Weimar system" and the parties supporting it.[citation needed]

Having failed in overthrowing the republic and gaining power by a coup, Hitler changed tactics and pursued a strategy of formally adhering to the rules of the Weimar Republic until he had gained political power through regular elections. His vision was to then use the institutions of the Weimar Republic to destroy it and establish himself as autocratic leader. Some party members, especially in the paramilitary SA, opposed this strategy; for example, Röhm and others ridiculed Hitler as "Adolphe Legalité".[citation needed]

Rise to power

Nazi Party Election Results
Date↓ Votes↓ Percentage
of Votes↓
Seats in
01924-05-01 May 1, 1924May 1924 &00000000019183000000001,918,300 &00000000000000065000006.5 &000000000000003200000032 Hitler in prison
01924-12-01 December 1, 1924December 1924 &0000000000907300000000907,300 &00000000000000030000003.0 &000000000000001400000014 Hitler is released from prison
01928-05-01 May 1, 1928May 1928 &0000000000810100000000810,100 &00000000000000026000002.6 &000000000000001200000012  
01930-09-01 September 1, 1930September 1930 &00000000064096000000006,409,600 &000000000000001830000018.3 &0000000000000107000000107 After the financial crisis
01932-07-01 July 1, 1932July 1932 &000000001374580000000013,745,800 &000000000000003739999937.4 &0000000000000230000000230 After Hitler was candidate for presidency
01932-11-01 November 1, 1932November 1932 &000000001173700000000011,737,000 &000000000000003310000033.1 &0000000000000196000000196  
01933-03-01 March 1, 1933March 1933 &000000001727700000000017,277,000 &000000000000004389999943.9 &0000000000000288000000288 During Hitler's term as Chancellor of Germany

Brüning Administration

Hitler and NSDAP treasurer Franz Xaver Schwarz at the dedication of the renovation of the Palais Barlow on Brienner Straße in Munich into the "Brown House" headquarters, December 1930

Hitler's political turning point came with the Great Depression in Germany in 1930. The Weimar Republic had difficulties taking firm roots in German society and faced strong challenges from right- and left-wing extremists. The moderate political parties committed to the democratic, parliamentary republic were increasingly unable to stem the tide of extremism. In early elections in September 1930, the moderates lost their majority, leading to the break-up of a grand coalition and its replacement by a minority cabinet. Its leader, chancellor Heinrich Brüning of the Centre Party, governed through emergency decrees. Tolerated by most parties, governance by decree would become the new norm and paved the way for authoritarian forms of government.[54] Notably the NSDAP rose from relative obscurity to win 18.3% of the vote and 107 parliamentary seats in the 1930 election, rising from the ninth-smallest party in the chamber to the second largest.[55]

The increasing political clout of Hitler was felt at the trial of two Reichswehr officers, Leutnants Richard Scheringer and Hans Ludin, in the autumn of 1930. Both were charged with membership of the NSDAP, which at that time was illegal for Reichswehr personnel.[56] The prosecution argued that the NSDAP was a dangerous extremist party, prompting defence lawyer Hans Frank to call on Hitler to testify at the court.[57] During his testimony on 25 September 1930, Hitler stated that his party was aiming to come to power solely through democratic elections and that the NSDAP was a friend of the Reichswehr.[58] Hitler's testimony won him many supporters in the officer corps.[59]

Brüning's budgetary and financial austerity measures brought little economic improvement and were extremely unpopular.[60] Hitler exploited this weakness by targeting his political messages specifically to the segments of the population that had been hard hit by the inflation of the 1920s and the unemployment of the Depression, such as farmers, war veterans, and the middle class.[61]

Hitler formally renounced his Austrian citizenship on 7 April 1925, but at the time did not acquire German citizenship. For almost seven years Hitler was stateless, so he was unable to run for public office and even faced the risk of deportation.[62] Therefore, on 25 February 1932, the interior minister of Brunswick who was a member of the NSDAP appointed Hitler as administrator for the state's delegation to the Reichsrat in Berlin, making Hitler a citizen of Brunswick, [63] and thus of Germany as well.[64]

In 1932, Hitler ran against the aging President Paul von Hindenburg in the presidential elections. The viability of his candidacy was underscored by a 27 January 1932 speech to the Industry Club in Düsseldorf, which won him support from a broad swath of Germany's most powerful industrialists.[65] However, Hindenburg had broad support of various nationalist, monarchist, Catholic, and republican parties and even some social democrats. Hitler used the campaign slogan "Hitler über Deutschland" (Hitler over Germany),[66] a reference to his political ambitions, and to his campaigning by aircraft.[66] Hitler came in second in both rounds of the election, garnering more than 35% of the vote in the final election. Although he lost to Hindenburg, this election established Hitler as a credible force in German politics.[67]

In September 1931, Hitler's niece Geli Raubal committed suicide with Hitler's gun in his Munich apartment. Geli was believed to be in a romantic relationship with Hitler, and it is believed that her death was a source of deep, lasting pain for him.[68]

Appointment as Chancellor

Because of the difficulties of forming a stable and effective government, Franz von Papen and Alfred Hugenberg, as well as a number of industrialists and businessmen, including Hjalmar Schacht and Fritz Thyssen wrote to Hindenburg, urging him to appoint Hitler as leader of a government "independent from parliamentary parties" which could turn into a movement that would "enrapture millions of people."[69][70]

Hitler at the window of the Reich Chancellery, while receiving the ovations of the people on the evening of his inauguration as Chancellor, 30 January 1933

President Hindenburg eventually and reluctantly agreed to appoint Hitler chancellor of a coalition government formed by the NSDAP and DNVP. The influence of the NSDAP in parliament was initially limited by an alliance of conservative cabinet ministers, most notably by von Papen as Vice-Chancellor and by Hugenberg as Minister of the Economy. The only other NSDAP member besides Hitler, Wilhelm Frick, was given the relatively powerless interior ministry. However, as a concession to the NSDAP, Göring was named minister without portfolio. So, although von Papen intended to install Hitler merely as a figurehead,[citation needed] the NSDAP gained several key positions.

On 30 January 1933, Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor during a brief and simple ceremony in Hindenburg's office. Hitler's first speech as Chancellor took place on 10 February. The Nazis' seizure of power subsequently became known as the Machtergreifung or Machtübernahme.

Reichstag fire and March elections

As chancellor, Hitler worked against attempts by his political opponents to build a majority government. Because of the political stalemate, Hitler asked President Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag again, and elections were scheduled for early March. On 27 February 1933, the Reichstag building was set on fire, [71] and since a Dutch independent communist was found in the burning building, a communist plot was blamed for the fire. The central government responded with the Reichstag Fire Decree of 28 February, which suspended basic rights, including habeas corpus. In particular, activities of the German Communist Party were suppressed, and communist party members were arrested, forced to flee, or murdered.[citation needed]

Besides political campaigning, the NSDAP used paramilitary violence and spread of anti-communist propaganda on the days preceding the election. On election day, 6 March 1933, the NSDAP increased its result to 43.9% of the vote, gaining the largest number of seats in parliament. However, Hitler's party failed to secure an absolute majority, thus again necessitating a coalition with the DNVP.[72]

Day of Potsdam and the Enabling Act

Parade of SA troops past Hitler – Nuremberg, November 1935

On 21 March 1933, the new Reichstag was constituted with an opening ceremony held at Potsdam's garrison church. This Day of Potsdam was staged to demonstrate reconciliation and unity between the revolutionary Nazi movement and Old Prussia with its elites and perceived virtues. Hitler appeared in a tail coat and humbly greeted the aged President Hindenburg.[73]

In the Nazis' quest for full political control and because they had failed to gain an absolute majority in the previous parliamentary election, Hitler's government brought the Ermächtigungsgesetz (Enabling Act) to a vote in the newly elected Reichstag. The aim of this move was to give Hitler's cabinet full legislative powers for a period of four years. Although such a bill was not unprecedented, this act was different since it allowed for deviations from the constitution.[73] Since the bill required a ⅔ majority in order to pass, the government needed the support of other parties. The position of the Centre Party, the third largest party in the Reichstag, turned out to be decisive: under the leadership of Ludwig Kaas, the party decided to vote for the Enabling Act. It did so in return for the government's oral guarantees of the Church's liberty, the concordats signed by German states and the continued existence of the Centre Party.[74]

On 23 March, the Reichstag assembled in a replacement building under extremely turbulent circumstances. Several SA men served as guards inside, while large groups outside the building shouted slogans and threats toward the arriving members of parliament. Kaas announced that the Centre Party would support the bill with "concerns put aside", while Social Democrat Otto Wels denounced the act in his speech.[75] At the end of the day, all parties except Social Democrats voted in favour of the bill—the Communists, as well as several Social Democrats, were barred from attending the vote. The Enabling Act, along with the Reichstag Fire Decree, transformed Hitler's government into a de facto dictatorship.

Removal of remaining limits

At the risk of appearing to talk nonsense I tell you that the Nazi movement will go on for 1,000 years! ... Don't forget how people laughed at me 15 years ago when I declared that one day I would govern Germany. They laugh now, just as foolishly, when I declare that I shall remain in power!

—Adolf Hitler to a British correspondent in Berlin, June 1934[76]

Having achieved full control over the legislative and executive branches of government, Hitler and his political allies embarked on systematic suppression of the remaining political opposition. After the dissolution of the Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) was also banned and all its assets seized. The Steel Helmets were placed under Hitler's leadership with some autonomy as an auxiliary police force.[citation needed] In May 1933, stormtroopers demolished trade union offices in the country, and all unions vowed allegiance to Hitler.[citation needed] The Catholic Church was forced to support Hitler and its Centre Party dissolved. On 14 July, Hitler's Nazi Party was declared the only legal party in Germany.[77]

In his next move, Hitler used the SA to pressure Hugenberg into resigning, and proceeded to politically isolate Vice-Chancellor von Papen.[citation needed] The demands of the SA for more political and military power caused much anxiety among military and political leaders,[citation needed] prompting Hitler to purge the SA's leadership, including Ernst Röhm, during the Night of the Long Knives. At the same time Gregor Strasser and former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher fell also victim to the politically motivated murders.[78]

In 1934, Hitler became Germany's president under the title of Führer und Reichskanzler (Leader and Chancellor of the Reich).

On 2 August 1934, President von Hindenburg died. In contravention to the Weimar Constitution— calling for presidential elections—and following a law passed the previous day in anticipation of Hindenburg's imminent death, Hitler's cabinet declared the presidency vacant and transferred the powers of the head of state to Hitler as Führer und Reichskanzler (leader and chancellor). This removed the last legal remedy by which Hitler could be dismissed, and nearly all institutional checks and balances on his power. Hitler's move also violated the Enabling Act, which had barred tampering with the office of the presidency.

On 19 August, the merger of the presidency with the chancellorship was approved by a plebiscite with support from 84.6% of the electorate.[79][80]

As head of state, Hitler now became Supreme Commander of the armed forces. The traditional loyalty oath of soldiers and sailors was altered to affirm loyalty directly to Hitler rather than to the office of commander-in-chief.[81]

In 1938, in the wake of two scandals Hitler brought the armed forces under his direct control by forcing the resignation of his War Minister (formerly Defence Minister), Werner von Blomberg on evidence that Blomberg's new wife had a criminal past.[citation needed] Hitler and his allies also removed army commander Werner von Fritsch on suspicion of homosexuality.[82] Hitler replaced the Ministry of War with the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (High Command of the Armed Forces, or OKW), headed by the pliant General Wilhelm Keitel. With Hitler having become Commander-in-Chief coupled with the post of supreme commander holding the powers of the presidential office, German newspapers announced, "Strongest concentration of powers in Führer's hands!"[citation needed]

Third Reich

Having secured supreme political power, Hitler went on to gain public support by convincing most Germans he was their saviour from the economic Depression, the Versailles treaty, communism, the "Judeo-Bolsheviks", and other "undesirable" minorities. The Nazis eliminated opposition through a process known as Gleichschaltung ("bringing into line").

Economy and culture

Hitler oversaw one of the greatest expansions of industrial production and civil improvement Germany had ever seen, mostly based on debt flotation (refinancing long term debts into cheaper short term debt) and expansion of the military. Nazi policies toward women strongly encouraged them to stay at home to bear children and keep house. In a September 1934 speech to the National Socialist Women's Organization, Adolf Hitler argued that for the German woman her "world is her husband, her family, her children, and her home." This policy was reinforced by bestowing the Cross of Honor of the German Mother on women bearing four or more babies. The unemployment rate was cut substantially, mostly through arms production and sending women home so that men could take their jobs. Given this, claims that the German economy achieved near full employment are at least partly artefacts of propaganda from the era. Much of the financing for Hitler's reconstruction and rearmament came from currency manipulation by Hjalmar Schacht, including the clouded credits through the Mefo bills.

September 1934, Luitpoldarena, "Totenehrung" (honouring of dead): SS-leader Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Hitler and SA-leader Viktor Lutze on the terrace in front of the "Ehrenhalle" (Hall of Honour); in the background: the crescent-shaped "Ehrentribüne" (literally: tribune of honour)

Hitler oversaw one of the largest infrastructure-improvement campaigns in German history, with the construction of dozens of dams, autobahns, railroads, and other civil works. This revitalising of industry and infrastructure came at the expense of the overall standard of living, at least for those not affected by the chronic unemployment of the later Weimar Republic, since wages were slightly reduced in pre–World War II years, despite a 25% increase in the cost of living.[83] Laborers and farmers, the traditional voters of the NSDAP, however, saw an increase in their standard of living.

Hitler's government sponsored architecture on an immense scale, with Albert Speer becoming famous as the first architect of the Reich. While important as an architect in implementing Hitler's classicist reinterpretation of German culture, Speer proved much more effective as armaments minister during the last years of World War II. In 1936, Berlin hosted the summer Olympic games, which were opened by Hitler and choreographed to demonstrate Aryan superiority over all other races, achieving mixed results.

Although Hitler made plans for a Breitspurbahn ("broad gauge railroad network"), they were preempted by World War II. Had the railroad been built, its gauge would have been three metres, even wider than the old Great Western Railway of Britain.

Hitler contributed slightly to the design of the car that later became the Volkswagen Beetle and charged Ferdinand Porsche with its design and construction.[84] Production was deferred because of the war.

On 20 April 1939, a lavish celebration was held in honour of Hitler's 50th birthday, featuring military parades, visits from foreign dignitaries, thousands of flaming torches and Nazi banners.[85]

An important historical debate about Hitler's economic policies concerns the "modernization" issue. Historians such as David Schoenbaum and Henry Ashby Turner have argued that social and economic polices under Hitler were modernization carried out in pursuit of anti-modern goals.[86] Other groups of historians centred around Rainer Zitelmann have contended that Hitler had a deliberate strategy of pursuing a revolutionary modernization of German society.[87]

Rearmament and new alliances

Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini during Hitler's visit to Venice, 14–16 June 1934

In a meeting with his leading generals and admirals on 3 February 1933, Hitler spoke of "conquest of Lebensraum in the East and its ruthless Germanisation" as his ultimate foreign policy objectives.[88] In March 1933, the first major statement of German foreign policy aims appeared with the memo submitted to the German Cabinet by the State Secretary at the Auswärtiges Amt (Foreign Office), Prince Bernhard Wilhelm von Bülow (not to be confused with his more famous uncle, the former Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow), which advocated Anschluss with Austria, the restoration of the frontiers of 1914, the rejection of the Part V of Versailles, the return of the former German colonies in Africa, and a German zone of influence in Eastern Europe as goals for the future. Hitler found the goals in Bülow's memo to be too modest.[89]

In his "peace speeches" of 17 May 1933, 21 May 1935, and 7 March 1936, Hitler stressed his supposed peaceful goals and a willingness to work within the international system.[90] In private, Hitler's plans were something less than peaceful. At the first meeting of his Cabinet in 1933, Hitler placed military spending ahead of unemployment relief, and indeed was only prepared to spend money on the latter if the former was satisfied first.[91] In October 1933, Hitler pulled Germany out of both the League of Nations and World Disarmament Conference after his Foreign Minister Baron Konstantin von Neurath made it appear to world public opinion that the French demand for sécurité was the principal stumbling block.[92]

On 25 October 1936, an Axis was declared between Italy and Germany

Although a secret German armaments programme had been on-going since 1919, in March 1935, Hitler rejected Part V of the Versailles treaty by publicly announcing that the German army would be expanded to 600,000 men (six times the number stipulated in the Treaty of Versailles), introducing an Air Force (Luftwaffe) and increasing the size of the Navy (Kriegsmarine). Britain, France, Italy and the League of Nations quickly condemned these actions. However, after re-assurances from Hitler that Germany was only interested in peace, no country took any action to stop this development and German re-armament continued.[93]

On 18 June 1935, the Anglo-German Naval Agreement (AGNA) was signed in London which allowed for increasing the allowed German tonnage up to 35% of that of the British navy. Hitler called the signing of the AGNA "the happiest day of his life" as he believed the agreement marked the beginning of the Anglo-German alliance he had predicted in Mein Kampf.[94] This agreement was made without consulting either France or Italy, directly undermining the League of Nations and put the Treaty of Versailles on the path towards irrelevance.[95]

On 13 September 1935, Hitler hurriedly ordered two civil servants, Dr. Bernhard Lösener and Franz Albrecht Medicus of the Interior Ministry to fly to Nuremberg to start drafting antisemitic laws for Hitler to present to the Reichstag for 15 September.[96] On the evening of 15 September, Hitler presented two laws before the Reichstag banning sex and marriage between Aryan and Jewish Germans, the employment of Aryan women under the age of 45 in Jewish households, and deprived "non-Aryans" of the benefits of German citizenship.[96] The laws of September 1935 are generally known as the Nuremberg Laws.

Hitler with Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich in Vienna, 1938

In March 1936, Hitler again violated the Versailles treaty by reoccupying the demilitarized zone in the Rhineland. When Britain and France did nothing, he grew bolder. In July 1936, the Spanish Civil War began when the military, led by General Francisco Franco, rebelled against the elected Popular Front government. After receiving an appeal for help from General Franco in July 1936, Hitler sent troops to support Franco, and Spain served as a testing ground for Germany's new forces and their methods. At the same time, Hitler continued with his efforts to create an Anglo-German alliance.[97]

In August 1936, in response to a growing crisis in the German economy caused by the strains of rearmament, Hitler issued the "Four-Year Plan Memorandum" ordering Hermann Göring to carry out the Four Year Plan to have the German economy ready for war within the next four years.[98] The "Four-Year Plan Memorandum" predicated an imminent all-out, apocalyptic struggle between "Judo-Bolshevism" and German National Socialism, which necessitated a total effort at rearmament regardless of the economic costs.[99]

An Axis was declared between Germany and Italy by Count Galeazzo Ciano, foreign minister of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini on 25 October 1936. On 25 November of the same year, Germany concluded the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan. At the time of the signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact, invitations were sent out for Britain, China, Italy and Poland to adhere; of the invited powers only the Italians were to sign the pact, in November 1937. By the latter half of 1937, Hitler had abandoned his dream of an Anglo-German alliance, blaming "inadequate" British leadership for turning down his offers of an alliance.[100]

On 5 November 1937, at the Reich Chancellery, Adolf Hitler held a secret meeting with the War and Foreign Ministers and the three service chiefs, recorded in the Hossbach Memorandum, and stated his intentions for acquiring "living space" Lebensraum for the German people. He ordered the attendees to make plans for war in the east no later than 1943 in order to acquire Lebensraum. Hitler stated the conference minutes were to be regarded as his "political testament" in the event of his death.[101] In the memo, Hitler was recorded as saying that such a state of crisis had been reached in the German economy that the only way of stopping a severe decline in living standards in Germany was to embark sometime in the near-future on a policy of aggression by seizing Austria and Czechoslovakia.[102][103] Moreover, Hitler stated that the arms race meant that time for action had to occur before Britain and France obtained a permanent lead in the arms race.[102]

In early 1938, Hitler asserted his control of the military-foreign policy apparatus through the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair, the abolition of the War Ministry and its replacement by the OKW, and by sacking Neurath as Foreign Minister on 4 February 1938, assuming the rank, role and title of the Oberster Befehlshaber der Wehrmacht (supreme commander of the armed forces).[98] The Official German history of World War II has argued that from early 1938 onwards, Hitler was not carrying out a foreign policy that had carried a high risk of war, but was carrying out a foreign policy aiming at war.[104]

The Holocaust

An American soldier stands near a wagon piled high with corpses outside the crematorium in the newly liberated Buchenwald concentration camp (April 1945)

One of the foundations of Hitler's social policies was the concept of racial hygiene. It was based on the ideas of Arthur de Gobineau, a French count; eugenics, a pseudoscience that advocated racial purity; and social Darwinism. Applied to human beings, "survival of the fittest" was interpreted as requiring racial purity and killing off "life unworthy of life." The first victims were children with physical and developmental disabilities; those killings occurred in a programme dubbed Action T4.[105] After a public outcry, Hitler made a show of ending this program, but the killings continued (see Nazi eugenics).

Between 1939 and 1945, the SS, assisted by collaborationist governments and recruits from occupied countries, systematically killed somewhere between 11 and 14 million people, including about six million Jews—two-thirds of the Jewish population in Europe,[106][107] in concentration camps, ghettos and mass executions, or through less systematic methods elsewhere. In addition to those gassed to death, many died as a result of starvation and disease while working as slave labourers (sometimes benefiting private German companies). Along with Jews, non-Jewish Poles (Nazi ideology viewed Slavs as a racially inferior group), Communists and political opponents, members of resistance groups, homosexuals, Roma, the physically handicapped and mentally retarded, Soviet prisoners of war (possibly as many as three million),[108] Jehovah's Witnesses, Adventists, trade unionists, and psychiatric patients were killed. One of the biggest centres of mass-killing was the industrial extermination camp complex of Auschwitz-Birkenau. As far as is known, Hitler never visited the concentration camps and did not speak publicly about the killing in precise terms.[109]

The Holocaust (the "Endlösung der jüdischen Frage" or "Final Solution of the Jewish Question") was planned and ordered by leading Nazis, with Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich playing key roles. While no specific order from Hitler authorizing the mass killing has surfaced, there is documentation showing that he approved the Einsatzgruppen killing squads that followed the German army through Poland and Russia, and that he was kept well informed about their activities.[110] The evidence also suggests that in the fall of 1941 Himmler and Hitler decided upon mass extermination by gassing. During interrogations by Soviet intelligence officers declassified over fifty years later, Hitler's valet, Heinz Linge, and his military aide, Otto Gunsche, said that Hitler showed a direct interest in the development of gas chambers."[111]

Göring gave a written authorisation to Heydrich to "make all necessary preparations" for a "total solution of the Jewish question". To make for smoother cooperation in the implementation of this "Final Solution", the Wannsee Conference was held on 20 January 1942, with fifteen senior officials participating (including Adolf Eichmann) and led by Reinhard Heydrich. The records of this meeting provide the clearest evidence of planning for the Holocaust. On 22 February, Hitler was recorded saying to his associates, "we shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jews".[112]

Hitler had argued in his autobiography Mein Kampf for the necessity of Lebensraum, acquiring new territory for German settlement in Eastern Europe.[113] In a plan called Generalplan Ost, the population of occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union was to be partially deported to West Siberia, partially enslaved and eventually exterminated; the conquered territories were to be colonized by German or "Germanized" settlers.[114] Nazi ideology viewed Slavs as a racially inferior group. According to Michael Dorland, "As Yale historian Timothy Snyder reminds us, had the Nazis succeeded in their war on Russia, the implementation of two further dimensions of the Holocaust, the Hunger Plan and Generalplan Ost, would have led to the elimination through starvation of an additional 80 million people in Belarus, northern Russia and the USSR."[115]

World War II

Early diplomatic triumphs

Alliance with Japan

Hitler and the Japanese Foreign Minister, Yōsuke Matsuoka, at a meeting in Berlin in March 1941. In the background is Joachim von Ribbentrop.

In February 1938, Hitler finally ended the dilemma that had plagued German Far Eastern policy: whether to continue the informal Sino-German alliance that had existed with the Republic of China since the 1910s or to create a new alliance with Japan. The military at the time strongly favoured continuing Germany's alliance with China. China had the support of Foreign Minister Konstantin von Neurath and War Minister Werner von Blomberg, the so-called "China Lobby" who tried to steer German foreign policy away from war in Europe.[116] Both men, however, were sacked by Hitler in early 1938. Upon the advice of Hitler's newly appointed Foreign Minister, the strongly pro-Japanese Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler chose to end the alliance with China to gain an alignment with the more modern and powerful Japan. In an address to the Reichstag, Hitler announced German recognition of Manchukuo, the Japanese-occupied puppet state in Manchuria, and renounced the German claims to the former colonies in the Pacific held by Japan.[117] Hitler ordered an end to arms shipments to China, and ordered the recall of all the German officers attached to the Chinese Army.[117] In retaliation for ending German support to China in its war against Japan, Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek canceled all Sino-German economic agreements, depriving the Germans of raw materials such as tungsten that the Chinese had previously provided. The ending of the Sino-German alignment increased the problems of German rearmament, as the Germans were now forced to use their limited supply of foreign exchange to buy raw materials on the open market.

Austria and Czechoslovakia

In March 1938, Hitler proclaimed the unification of Austria with Germany (the Anschluss) on 12 March 1938.[118][119] Next, he intensified a crisis over the ethnic Germans population of Sudetenland districts of Czechoslovakia.[120]

Hitler welcomed to Vienna by cheering crowds, March 1938.

On 28–29 March 1938, Hitler held a series of secret meetings in Berlin with Konrad Henlein of the Sudeten Heimfront (Home Front), the largest of the ethnic German parties of the Sudetenland. During the Hitler-Henlein meetings, it was agreed that Henlein would provide the pretext for German aggression against Czechoslovakia by making demands on Prague for increased autonomy for Sudeten Germans that Prague could never be reasonably expected to fulfill. In April 1938, Henlein told the foreign minister of Hungary that "whatever the Czech government might offer, he would always raise still higher demands ... he wanted to sabotage an understanding by all means because this was the only method to blow up Czechoslovakia quickly".[121] In private, Hitler considered the Sudeten issue unimportant; his real intentions being to use the Sudeten question as the justification both at home and abroad for a war of aggression to destroy Czechoslovakia, under the grounds of self-determination, and Prague's refusal to meet Henlein's demands.[122]

Hitler (standing in Mercedes) drives through the crowd in Cheb (German: Eger) in October 1938, part of the German populated Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia, which was annexed to Nazi Germany due to the Munich Agreement

In April 1938, Hitler ordered the OKW to start preparing plans for Fall Grün (Case Green), the codename for an invasion of Czechoslovakia.[123] Finally, as a result of intense French, and especially British diplomatic pressure, Czechoslovakian President Edvard Beneš unveiled on 5 September 1938, the "Fourth Plan" for constitutional reorganization of his country, which granted most of the demands for Sudeten autonomy made by Henlein in his Karlsbad speech of April 1938, and threatened to deprive the Germans of their pretext for aggression.[124] Henlein's Heimfront promptly responded to the offer of "Fourth Plan" by having a series of violent clashes with the Czechoslovak police, culminating in major clashes in mid-September that led to the declaration of martial law in certain Sudeten districts.[125][126]

Initially determined to continue with the attack planned for 1 October 1938, Hitler changed his mind sometime between 27 and 28 September, and asked to take up a suggestion, of and through the intercession of Mussolini, for a conference to be held in Munich with Chamberlain, Mussolini, and Daladier to discuss the Czechoslovak situation.[127] Given Germany's dependence on imported oil (80% of German oil in the 1930s came from the New World), and the likelihood that a war with Britain would see a blockade cutting off Germany from oil supplies, historians have argued that Hitler's decision to call off Fall Grün was due to concerns about the oil problem.[128]

From left to right: Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini, and Ciano, pictured before signing the Munich Agreement, which gave the Sudetenland to Germany.

On 29 September 1938, a one-day conference was held in Munich attended by Hitler, Chamberlain, Daladier and Mussolini that led to the Munich Agreement, which gave in to Hitler's ostensible demands by handing over the Sudetenland districts to Germany.[129] Though Chamberlain was well-satisfied with the Munich conference, leading to his infamous claim to have secured "peace for our time", Hitler was privately furious about being "cheated" out of the war he was desperate to have in 1938.[130][131] As a result of the summit, Hitler was TIME magazine's Man of the Year for 1938.[132]

By appeasing Hitler, Britain and France left Czechoslovakia to Hitler's mercy.[129] Though Hitler professed happiness in public over the achievement of his ostensible demands, in private he was determined to have a war the next time around by ensuring that Germany's future demands would not be met.[133] In Hitler's view, a British-brokered peace, though extremely favourable to the ostensible German demands, was a diplomatic defeat which proved that Britain needed to be ended as a power to allow him to pursue his dreams of eastern expansion.[134][135] Hitler expressed his disappointment over the Munich Agreement in a speech on 9 October 1938 in Saarbrücken when he lashed out against the Conservative anti-appeasers Winston Churchill, Duff Cooper and Anthony Eden, whom Hitler described as a warmongering anti-German faction, who would attack Germany at the first opportunity, and were likely to come to power at any moment.[136]

Jewish shops destroyed in Magdeburg, following Kristallnacht (November 1938)

In January 1939, Hitler ordered Bouhler and Dr. Brandt to henceforward have all disabled infants born in Germany killed.[137] This was the origin of the Action T4 program. Subsequently Dr. Brandt and Bouhler, acting on their own initiative in the expectation of winning Hitler's favour, expanded the T4 program to killing, first, all physically or mentally disabled children in Germany, and, second, all disabled adults.[138]

In late 1938 and early 1939, the continuing economic crisis caused by problems of rearmament, especially the shortage of foreign hard currencies needed to pay for raw materials Germany lacked, together with reports from Göring that the Four Year Plan was hopelessly behind schedule, forced Hitler in January 1939 to reluctantly order major defence cuts with the Wehrmacht having its steel allocations cut by 30%, aluminium 47%, cement 25%, rubber 14% and copper 20%.[139] On 30 January 1939, Hitler made his "Export or die" speech calling for a German economic offensive ("export battle", to use Hitler's term), to increase German foreign exchange holdings to pay for raw materials such as high-grade iron needed for military materials.[139] The "Export or die" speech of 30 January 1939 is also known as Hitler's "Prophecy Speech", coming from Hitler's "prophecy" issued towards the end of the speech:

"One thing I should like to say on this day which may be memorable for others as well for us Germans: In the course of my life I have very often been a prophet, and I have usually been ridiculed for it. During the time of my struggle for power it was in the first instance the Jewish race which only received my prophecies with laughter when I said I would one day take over the leadership of the State, and that of the whole nation, and that I would then among many other things settle the Jewish problem. Their laughter was uproarious, but I think that for some time now they have been laughing on the other side of the face. Today I will be once more the prophet. If the international Jewish financiers outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the bolsheviszation of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!"[140]

Hitler on his visit to Prague Castle shortly after the occupation of the Czech lands, 15 March 1939.

Hitler ordered Germany's army to enter Prague on 15 March 1939, and from Prague Castle proclaimed Bohemia and Moravia a German protectorate. At least part of the reason why Hitler violated the Munich Agreement by seizing the Czech half of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 was to obtain Czechoslovak assets to help with the economic crisis.[141]

Start of World War II

As part of the anti-British course, it was deemed necessary by Hitler to have Poland either a satellite state or otherwise neutralized. Hitler believed this necessary both on strategic grounds as a way of securing the Reich's eastern flank and on economic grounds as a way of evading the effects of a British blockade.[142] Initially, the German hope was to transform Poland into a satellite state, but by March 1939 the German demands had been rejected by the Poles three times, which led Hitler to decide upon the destruction of Poland as the main German foreign policy goal of 1939.[143] On 3 April 1939, Hitler ordered the military to start preparing for Fall Weiss (Case White), the plan for a German invasion to be executed on 25 August 1939.[143] In August 1939, Hitler spoke to his generals that his original plan for 1939 had to "... establish an acceptable relationship with Poland in order to fight against the West" but since the Poles would not co-operate in setting up an "acceptable relationship" (i.e. becoming a German satellite), he believed he had no choice other than wiping Poland off the map.[144] The historian Gerhard Weinberg has argued since Hitler's audience comprised men who were all for the destruction of Poland (anti-Polish feelings were traditionally very strong in the German Army), but rather less happy about the prospect of war with Britain and France, if that was the price Germany had to pay for the destruction of Poland, it is quite likely that Hitler was speaking the truth on this occasion.[144] In his private discussions with his officials in 1939, Hitler always described Britain as the main enemy that had to be defeated, and in his view, Poland's obliteration was the necessary prelude to that goal by securing the eastern flank and helpfully adding to Germany's Lebensraum.[145] Hitler was much offended by the British "guarantee" of Polish independence issued on 31 March 1939, and told his associates that "I shall brew them a devil's drink".[146] In a speech in Wilhelmshaven for the launch of the battleship Tirpitz on 1 April 1939, Hitler threatened to denounce the Anglo-German Naval Agreement if the British persisted with their "encirclement" policy as represented by the "guarantee" of Polish independence.[146] As part of the new course, in a speech before the Reichstag on 28 April 1939, Adolf Hitler, complaining of British "encirclement" of Germany, renounced both the Anglo-German Naval Agreement and the German–Polish Non-Aggression Pact.

Depiction of Adolf Hitler as the Führer of the Reich on a 42 pfennig stamp, 1944. The country's name was changed to the "Greater German Reich" (Grossdeutsches Reich) in 1943.

As a pretext for aggression against Poland, Hitler claimed the Free City of Danzig and the right for "extra-territorial" roads across the Polish Corridor which Germany had unwillingly ceded under the Versailles treaty. For Hitler, Danzig was just a pretext for aggression as the Sudetenland had been intended to be in 1938, and throughout 1939, while highlighting the Danzig issue as a grievance, the Germans always refused to engage in talks about the matter.[147] A notable contradiction existed in Hitler's plans between the long-term anti-British course, whose major instruments such as a vastly expanded Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe would take several years to complete, and Hitler's immediate foreign policy in 1939, which was likely to provoke a general war by engaging in such actions as attacking Poland.[148][142] Hitler's dilemma between his short-term and long-term goals was resolved by Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, who told Hitler that neither Britain nor France would honour their commitments to Poland, and any German–Polish war would accordingly be a limited regional war.[149][150] Ribbentrop based his appraisal partly on an alleged statement made to him by the French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet in December 1938 that France now recognized Eastern Europe as Germany's exclusive sphere of influence.[151] In addition, Ribbentrop's status as the former Ambassador to London made him in Hitler's eyes the leading Nazi British expert, and as a result, Ribbentrop's advice that Britain would not honour her commitments to Poland carried much weight with Hitler.[151] Ribbentrop only showed Hitler diplomatic cables that supported his analysis.[152] In addition, the German Ambassador in London, Herbert von Dirksen, tended to send reports that supported Ribbentrop's analysis such as a dispatch in August 1939 that reported British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain knew "the social structure of Britain, even the conception of the British Empire, would not survive the chaos of even a victorious war", and so would back down.[150] The extent that Hitler was influenced by Ribbentrop's advice can be seen in Hitler's orders to the German military on 21 August 1939 for a limited mobilization against Poland alone.[153] Hitler chose late August as his date for Fall Weiss in order to limit disruption to German agricultural production caused by mobilization.[154] The problems caused by the need to begin a campaign in Poland in late August or early September in order to have the campaign finished before the October rains arrived, and the need to have sufficient time to concentrate German troops on the Polish border left Hitler in a self-imposed situation in August 1939 where Soviet co-operation was absolutely crucial if he were to have a war that year.[154]

The Munich agreement appeared to be sufficient to dispel most of the remaining hold which the "collective security" idea may have had in Soviet circles,[155] and, on 23 August 1939, Joseph Stalin accepted Hitler's proposal to conclude a non-aggression pact (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), whose secret protocols contained an agreement to partition Poland. A major historical debate about the reasons for Hitler's foreign policy choices in 1939 concerns whether a structural economic crisis drove Hitler into a "flight into war" as claimed by the Marxist historian Timothy Mason or whether Hitler's actions were more influenced by non-economic factors as claimed by the economic historian Richard Overy.[156] Historians such as William Carr, Gerhard Weinberg and Ian Kershaw have argued that a non-economic reason for Hitler's rush to war was Hitler's morbid and obsessive fear of an early death, and hence his feeling that he did not have long to accomplish his work.[157][158][159] In the last days of peace, Hitler oscillated between the determination to fight the Western powers if he had to, and various schemes intended to keep Britain out of the war, but in any case, Hitler was not to be deterred from his aim of invading Poland.[160] Only very briefly, when news of the Anglo-Polish alliance being signed on 25 August 1939 in response to the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (instead of the severing of ties between London and Warsaw predicted by Ribbentrop) together with news from Italy that Mussolini would not honour the Pact of Steel, caused Hitler to postpone the attack on Poland from 25 August to 1 September.[161] Hitler chose to spend the last days of peace either trying to manoeuvre the British into neutrality through his offer of 25 August 1939 to "guarantee" the British Empire, or having Ribbentrop present a last-minute peace plan to Henderson with an impossibly short time limit for its acceptance as part of an effort to blame the war on the British and Poles.[162][163] On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded western Poland. Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September but did not immediately act. Hitler was most unpleasantly surprised at receiving the British declaration of war on 3 September 1939, and turning to Ribbentrop angrily asked "Now what?"[164] Ribbentrop had nothing to say other than that Robert Coulondre, the French Ambassador, would probably be by later that day to present the French declaration of war.[164] Not long after this, on 17 September, Soviet forces invaded eastern Poland.[165]

Members of the Reichstag greet Hitler at the Kroll Opera House on 6 October 1939, at the end of the campaign against Poland
Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Munich (June 1940)
Hitler visits Paris with architect Albert Speer (left) and artist Arno Breker (right), 23 June 1940
Poland never will rise again in the form of the Versailles treaty. That is guaranteed not only by Germany, but also ... Russia.[166]
– Adolf Hitler in a public speech in Danzig at the end of September 1939.

After the fall of Poland came a period journalists called the "Phoney War," or Sitzkrieg ("sitting war"). In part of north-western Poland annexed to Germany, Hitler instructed the two Gauleiters in charge of the area, namely Albert Forster and Arthur Greiser, to "Germanize" the area, and promised them "There would be no questions asked" about how this "Germanization" was to be accomplished.[167] Hitler's orders were interpreted in very different ways by Forster and Greiser. Forster followed a policy of simply having the local Poles sign forms stating they had German blood with no documentation required, whereas Greiser carried out a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign of expelling the entire Polish population into the Government-General of Poland.[167] When Greiser, seconded by Himmler, complained to Hitler that Forster was allowing thousands of Poles to be accepted as "racial" Germans and thus "contaminating" German "racial purity", and asked Hitler to order Forster to stop, Hitler merely told Himmler and Greiser to take up their difficulties with Forster, and not to involve him.[167] Hitler's handling of the Forster–Greiser dispute has often been advanced as an example of Ian Kershaw's theory of "Working Towards the Führer", namely that Hitler issued vague instructions, and allowed his subordinates to work out policy on their own.

After the conquest of Poland, another major dispute broke out between different factions with one centring around Reichsfüherer SS Heinrich Himmler and Arthur Greiser championing and carrying out ethnic cleansing schemes for Poland, and another centring around Hermann Göring and Hans Frank calling for turning Poland into the "granary" of the Reich.[168] At a conference held at Göring's Karinhall estate on 12 February 1940, the dispute was settled in favour of the Göring-Frank view of economic exploitation, and ending mass expulsions as economically disruptive.[168] On 15 May 1940, Himmler showed Hitler a memo entitled "Some Thoughts on the Treatment of Alien Population in the East", which called for expelling the entire Jewish population of Europe into Africa and reducing the remainder of the Polish population to a "leaderless labouring class".[168] Hitler called Himmler's memo "good and correct".[168] Hitler's remark had the effect of scuttling the so-called Karinhall argreement, and led to the Himmler–Greiser viewpoint triumphing as German policy for Poland.

During this period, Hitler built up his forces on Germany's western frontier. In April 1940, German forces invaded Denmark and Norway. In May 1940, Hitler's forces attacked France, conquering Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium in the process. These victories persuaded Benito Mussolini of Italy to join the war on Hitler's side on 10 June 1940. France surrendered on 22 June 1940.

Britain, whose forces evacuated France by sea from Dunkirk, continued to fight alongside other British dominions in the Battle of the Atlantic. After having his overtures for peace rejected by the British, now led by Winston Churchill, Hitler ordered bombing raids on the United Kingdom. The Battle of Britain was Hitler's prelude to a planned invasion. The attacks began by pounding Royal Air Force airbases and radar stations protecting South-East England. However, the Luftwaffe failed to defeat the Royal Air Force. On 27 September 1940, the Tripartite Pact was signed in Berlin by Saburō Kurusu of Imperial Japan, Hitler, and Ciano. The purpose of the pact, which was directed against an unnamed power that was clearly meant to be the United States, was to deter the Americans from supporting the British. It was later expanded to include Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. They were collectively known as the Axis powers. By the end of October 1940, air superiority for the invasion Operation Sea Lion could not be assured, and Hitler ordered the bombing of British cities, including London, Plymouth, and Coventry, mostly at night.

Hitler visiting Maribor (German: Marburg an der Drau), Yugoslavia, with Otto Dietrich, Siegfried Uiberreither, and Martin Bormann in 1941

In the Spring of 1941, Hitler was distracted from his plans for the East by various activities in North Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East. In February, German forces arrived in Libya to bolster the Italian forces there. In April, he launched the invasion of Yugoslavia which was followed quickly by the invasion of Greece. In May, German forces were sent to support Iraqi rebel forces fighting against the British and to invade Crete. On 23 May, Hitler released Führer Directive No. 30.[169]

Path to defeat

On 22 June 1941, three million German troops attacked the Soviet Union, breaking the non-aggression pact Hitler had concluded with Stalin two years earlier. This invasion seized huge amounts of territory, including the Baltic states, Belarus, and Ukraine. It also encircled and destroyed many Soviet forces, which Stalin had ordered not to retreat. However, the Germans were stopped barely short of Moscow in December 1941 by the Russian Winter and fierce Soviet resistance. The invasion failed to achieve the quick triumph Hitler wanted.

A major historical dispute concerns Hitler's reasons for Operation Barbarossa. Some historians such as Andreas Hillgruber have argued that Barbarossa was merely one "stage" of Hitler's Stufenplan (stage by stage plan) for world conquest, which Hillgruber believed that Hitler had formulated in the 1920s.[170] Other historians such as John Lukacs have contended that Hitler never had a stufenplan, and that the invasion of the Soviet Union was an ad hoc move on the part of Hitler due to Britain's refusal to surrender.[171] Lukacs has argued that the reason Hitler gave in private for Barbarossa, namely that Winston Churchill held out the hope that the Soviet Union might enter the war on the Allied side, and that the only way of forcing a British surrender was to eliminate that hope, was indeed Hitler's real reason for Barbarossa.[172] In Lukacs's perspective, Barbarossa was thus primarily an anti-British move on the part of Hitler intended to force Britain to sue for peace by destroying her only hope of victory rather than an anti-Soviet move. Klaus Hildebrand has maintained that Stalin and Hitler were independently planning to attack each other in 1941.[173] Hildebrand has claimed that the news in the spring of 1941 of Soviet troop concentrations on the border led to Hitler engaging in a flucht nach vorn ("flight forward" – i.e. responding to a danger by charging on rather than retreating.)[173] A third faction comprising a diverse group such as Viktor Suvorov, Ernst Topitsch, Joachim Hoffmann, Ernst Nolte, and David Irving have argued that the official reason given by the Germans for Barbarossa in 1941 was the real reason, namely that Barbarossa was a "preventive war" forced on Hitler to avert an impeding Soviet attack scheduled for July 1941. This theory has been widely attacked as erroneous; the American historian Gerhard Weinberg once compared the advocates of the preventive war theory to believers in "fairy tales"[174]

The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union reached its apex on 2 December 1941 as part of the 258th Infantry Division advanced to within 15 miles (24 km) of Moscow, close enough to see the spires of the Kremlin,[175] but they were not prepared for the harsh conditions brought on by the first blizzards of winter and in the days that followed, Soviet forces drove them back over 320 kilometres (200 miles).

On 7 December 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and four days later, Hitler's formal declaration of war against the United States officially engaged him in war against a coalition that included the world's largest empire (the British Empire), the world's greatest industrial and financial power (the United States), and the world's largest army (the Soviet Union).

On 18 December 1941, the appointment book of the Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler shows he met with Hitler, and in response to Himmler's question "What to do with the Jews of Russia?", Hitler's response was recorded as "als Partisanen auszurotten" ("exterminate them as partisans").[176] The Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer has commented that the remark is probably as close as historians will ever get to a definitive order from Hitler for the genocide carried out during the Holocaust.[176]

Hitler during his speech to the Reichstag opposing the actions of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 11 December 1941
The destroyed 'Wolf's Lair' barracks after the 20 July 1944 plot

In late 1942, German forces were defeated in the second battle of El Alamein, thwarting Hitler's plans to seize the Suez Canal and the Middle East. In February 1943, the Battle of Stalingrad ended with the destruction of the German 6th Army. Thereafter came the Battle of Kursk. Hitler's military judgment became increasingly erratic, and Germany's military and economic position deteriorated along with Hitler's health, as indicated by his left hand's severe trembling. Hitler's biographer Ian Kershaw and others believe that he may have suffered from Parkinson's disease.[177] Syphilis has also been suspected as a cause of at least some of his symptoms, although the evidence is slight.[178]

Following the allied invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky) in 1943, Mussolini was deposed by Pietro Badoglio, who surrendered to the Allies. Throughout 1943 and 1944, the Soviet Union steadily forced Hitler's armies into retreat along the Eastern Front. On 6 June 1944, the Western Allied armies landed in northern France in what was one of the largest amphibious operations in history, Operation Overlord. Realists in the German army knew defeat was inevitable, and some plotted to remove Hitler from power.

Attempted assassination

There were numerous attempts or ideas by private individuals, organisations or states wishing to assassinate Hitler. Some of the plans proceeded to significant degrees. While some attempts occurred before World War II, the most famous attempt came from within Germany. The plan was at least partly driven by the prospect of the increasingly imminent defeat of Germany in the war.

In July 1944, as part of Operation Valkyrie in what became known as the 20 July plot, Claus von Stauffenberg planted a bomb in Hitler's headquarters, the Wolfsschanze (Wolf's Lair) at Rastenburg. Hitler narrowly escaped death due to random chance, as someone unknowingly moved the briefcase that contained a bomb by pushing it behind a leg of the heavy conference table. When the bomb exploded, the table subsequently deflected much of the blast away from Hitler. Later, Hitler ordered savage reprisals, resulting in the executions of more than 4,900 people,[179] sometimes by starvation in solitary confinement followed by slow strangulation. The main resistance movement was destroyed, although smaller isolated groups continued to operate.

Defeat and death

By late 1944, the Red Army had driven the Germans back into Central Europe and the Western Allies were advancing into Germany. After watching the twin defeats in his Ardennes Offensive from his Adlerhorst command complex – Operation Wacht am Rhein and Operation Nordwind – Hitler realized that Germany had lost the war, but allowed no retreats. He hoped to negotiate a separate peace with America and Britain, a hope buoyed by the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt on 12 April 1945.[180][181][182][183] Hitler's stubbornness and defiance of military realities allowed the Holocaust to continue. He ordered the complete destruction of all German industrial infrastructure before it could fall into Allied hands, saying that Germany's failure to win the war forfeited its right to survive.[184] Rather, Hitler decided that the entire nation should go down with him. Execution of this scorched earth plan was entrusted to arms minister Albert Speer, who quietly disobeyed the order.[184]

On 20 April, Hitler celebrated his 56th birthday in the Führerbunker ("Führer's shelter") below the Reichskanzlei (Reich Chancellery). Elsewhere, the garrison commander of the besieged Festung Breslau ("fortress Breslau"), General Hermann Niehoff, had chocolates distributed to his troops in honour of Hitler's birthday.[185]

By 21 April, Georgi Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front had broken through the last defences of German General Gotthard Heinrici's Army Group Vistula during the Battle of the Seelow Heights. Facing little resistance, the Soviets advanced headlong into the outskirts of Berlin.[186] Ignoring the facts, Hitler saw salvation in the ragtag units commanded by Waffen SS General Felix Steiner. Steiner's command became known as Armeeabteilung Steiner ("Army Detachment Steiner"). But "Army Detachment Steiner" existed primarily on paper. It was more than a corps but less than an army. Hitler ordered Steiner to attack the northern flank of the huge salient created by the breakthrough of Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front. Meanwhile, the German Ninth Army, which had been pushed south of the salient, was ordered to attack north in a pincer attack.

Late on 21 April, Heinrici called Hans Krebs, chief of the Oberkommando des Heeres (Supreme Command of the Army or OKH), and told him that Hitler's plan could not be implemented. Heinrici asked to speak to Hitler but was told by Krebs that Hitler was too busy to take his call.

On 22 April, during the military conference, Hitler interrupted the report to ask what had happened to Steiner's offensive. There was a long silence. Then Hitler was told that the attack had never been launched and the Russians had broken through into Berlin. Hitler asked everyone except Wilhelm Keitel, Hans Krebs, Alfred Jodl, Wilhelm Burgdorf, and Martin Bormann to leave the room,[187] and launched into a tirade against the treachery and incompetence of his commanders. This culminated with Hitler openly declaring for the first time the war was lost.[188] Hitler announced he would stay in Berlin, head up the defence of the city and then shoot himself.[189]

Before the day ended, Hitler again found salvation in a new plan that included General Walther Wenck's Twelfth Army.[190] This new plan had Wenck turn his army – currently facing the Americans to the west – and attack towards the east to relieve Berlin.[190] Twelfth Army was to link up with Ninth Army and break through to the city. Wenck did attack and, in the confusion, made temporary contact with the Potsdam garrison. But the link with the Ninth Army, like the plan in general, was ultimately unsuccessful.[191]

On 23 April, Joseph Goebbels made the following proclamation to the people of Berlin:

I call on you to fight for your city. Fight with everything you have got, for the sake of your wives and your children, your mothers and your parents. Your arms are defending everything we have ever held dear, and all the generations that will come after us. Be proud and courageous! Be inventive and cunning! Your Gauleiter is amongst you. He and his colleagues will remain in your midst. His wife and children are here as well. He, who once captured the city with 200 men, will now use every means to galvanize the defence of the capital. The Battle for Berlin must become the signal for the whole nation to rise up in battle ...[187]

The same day, Göring sent a telegram from Berchtesgaden in Bavaria. Göring argued that, since Hitler was cut off in Berlin, he should assume leadership of Germany as Hitler's designated successor. Göring mentioned a time limit after which he would consider Hitler incapacitated.[192] Hitler responded, in anger, by having Göring arrested. Later when Hitler wrote his will on 29 April, Göring was removed from all his positions in the government.[192][193][194] Further on 23 April, Hitler appointed General der Artillerie Helmuth Weidling as the commander of the Berlin Defense Area. Weidling replaced Lieutenant General (Generalleutnant) Helmuth Reymann and Colonel (Oberst) Ernst Kaether. Hitler also appointed Waffen-SS Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke the (Kommandant) Battle Commander for the defence of the government district (Zitadelle sector) that included the Reich Chancellery and Führerbunker.[195]

By the end of the day on 27 April, Berlin was completely cut off from the rest of Germany. As the Soviet forces closed in, Hitler's followers urged him to flee to the mountains of Bavaria to make a last stand in the National Redoubt. However, Hitler was determined to either live or die in the capital.

On 28 April, Hitler discovered that Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler was trying to discuss surrender terms with the Western Allies (through the Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte).[196] Hitler ordered Himmler's arrest and had Hermann Fegelein (Himmler's SS representative at Hitler's HQ in Berlin) shot.[193][197]

Front page of the U.S. Armed Forces newspaper, Stars and Stripes, 2 May 1945

During the night of 28 April, Wenck reported that his Twelfth Army had been forced back along the entire front. He noted that no further attacks towards Berlin were possible. General Alfred Jodl (Supreme Army Command) did not provide this information to Hans Krebs in Berlin until early in the morning of 30 April.

After midnight on 29 April, Hitler married Eva Braun in a small civil ceremony in a map room within the Führerbunker. Antony Beevor stated that after Hitler hosted a modest wedding breakfast with his new wife, he then took secretary Traudl Junge to another room and dictated his last will and testament.[198][199] Hitler signed these documents at 4:00 am. The event was witnessed and documents signed by Hans Krebs, Wilhelm Burgdorf, Joseph Goebbels, and Martin Bormann.[193] Hitler then retired to bed.[200] That afternoon, Hitler was informed of the assassination of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, which is presumed to have increased his determination to avoid capture.[201]

On 30 April 1945, after intense street-to-street combat, when Soviet troops were within a block or two of the Reich Chancellery, Hitler and Braun committed suicide; Eva by biting into a cyanide capsule[202] and Hitler by shooting himself with his Walther PPK 7.65 mm pistol.[203][204][205][206] Hitler had at various times in the past contemplated suicide, and the Walther was the same pistol that his niece, Geli Raubal had used in her suicide.[207] The lifeless bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun were carried up the stairs and through the bunker's emergency exit to the bombed-out garden behind the Reich Chancellery where they were placed in a bomb crater[208][209] and doused with petrol. The corpses were set on fire[210] as the Red Army advanced and the shelling continued.[211]

On 2 May, Berlin surrendered. In the postwar years there were conflicting reports about what happened to Hitler's remains. After the fall of the Soviet Union, records found in the Soviet archives revealed that the remains of Hitler, Eva Braun, Joseph and Magda Goebbels, the six Goebbels children, General Hans Krebs and Hitler's dogs, were collected, moved and secretly buried in graves near Rathenow in Brandenburg.[212] In 1970, the remains were disinterred, cremated and scattered in the Elbe River by the Soviets.[213][214] According to the Russian Federal Security Service, a fragment of human skull stored in its archives and displayed to the public in a 2000 exhibition came from the remains of Hitler's body. The authenticity of the skull has been challenged by historians and researchers.[215] DNA analysis conducted in 2009 showed the skull fragment to be that of a woman, and analysis of the sutures between the skull plates indicated an age between 20 and 40 years old at the time of death.[216]


Outside the building in Braunau am Inn, Austria where Adolf Hitler was born is a memorial stone warning of the horrors of World War II

Hitler caused the deaths of approximately 40 million people,[217] including about 27 million in the Soviet Union.[218] The actions of Hitler, the Nazi Party and the results of Nazism are typically regarded as gravely immoral.[219] Historians, philosophers, and politicians have often applied the word evil.[220] Historical and cultural portrayals of Hitler in the west are overwhelmingly condemnatory. Holocaust denial, along with the display of Nazi symbols such as swastikas, is prohibited in Germany and Austria.

Outside of Hitler's birthplace in Braunau am Inn, Austria, the Memorial Stone Against War and Fascism is engraved with the following message:


Loosely translated it reads: "For peace, freedom // and democracy // never again fascism // millions of dead warn [us]"

After WWII the toothbrush moustache fell from favor in the West due to its strong association with Hitler, earning it the nickname "Hitler moustache".[221] Use of the name "Adolf" also declined.[222]

Some people have referred to Hitler's legacy in neutral or favourable terms. Former Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat spoke of his 'admiration' of Hitler in 1953, when he was a young man, though it is possible he was speaking in the context of a rebellion against the British Empire.[223] Louis Farrakhan has referred to him as a "very great man".[224] Bal Thackeray, leader of the right-wing Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party in the Indian state of the Maharashtra, declared in 1995 that he was an admirer of Hitler.[225] Friedrich Meinecke, the German historian, said of Hitler's life that "it is one of the great examples of the singular and incalculable power of personality in historical life".[226]

Religious views

Hitler was raised by Roman Catholic parents, but after he left home, he never attended Mass or received the sacraments.[227] Hitler favoured aspects of Protestantism, if they were more suitable to his own objectives. At the same time, he adopted some elements of the Catholic Church's hierarchical organization, liturgy and phraseology in his politics.[228][229] After he had moved to Germany, where the Catholic and the Protestant church are largely financed through a church tax collected by the state, Hitler never "actually left his church or refused to pay church taxes. In a nominal sense therefore," the historian Richard Steigmann-Gall states, Hitler "can be classified as Catholic."[230] Yet, as Steigmann-Gall has also pointed out in the debate about religion in Nazi Germany: "Nominal church membership is a very unreliable gauge of actual piety in this context."[231]

In public, Hitler often praised Christian heritage, German Christian culture, and professed a belief in an Aryan Jesus Christ, a Jesus who fought against the Jews.[232] In his speeches and publications, Hitler spoke of his interpretation of Christianity as a central motivation for his antisemitism, stating that "As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice."[233][234] His private statements, as reported by his intimates, show Hitler as critical of traditional Christianity, considering it a religion fit only for slaves; he admired the power of Rome but had severe hostility towards its teaching.[235] Here, Hitler's attack on Catholicism "resonated Streicher's contention that the Catholic establishment was allying itself with the Jews."[236] In light of these private statements, for John S. Conway and many other historians, it is beyond doubt that Hitler held a "fundamental antagonism" towards the Christian churches.[237] The various accounts of Hitler's private statements vary strongly in their reliability; most importantly, Hermann Rauschning's Hitler speaks is considered by most historians to be an invention.[238][239]

In the political relations with the churches in Germany, however, Hitler readily adopted a strategy "that suited his immediate political purposes".[237] Hitler had a general plan, even before the rise of the Nazis to power, to destroy Christianity within the Reich.[240][241][242] The leader of the Hitler Youth stated "the destruction of Christianity was explicitly recognized as a purpose of the National Socialist movement" from the start, but "considerations of expedience made it impossible" publicly to express this extreme position.[240] His intention was to wait until the war was over to destroy the influence of Christianity.[235]

Hitler, for a time, advocated for Germans a form of the Christian faith he called "Positive Christianity",[243][244] a belief system purged of what he objected to in orthodox Christianity, and featuring added racist elements. By 1940, however, it was public knowledge that Hitler had abandoned advocating for Germans even the syncretist idea of a positive Christianity.[245] Hitler maintained that the "terrorism in religion is, to put it briefly, of a Jewish dogma, which Christianity has universalized and whose effect is to sow trouble and confusion in men's minds."[246]

Hitler once stated, "We do not want any other god than Germany itself. It is essential to have fanatical faith and hope and love in and for Germany."[247]

Attitude to occultism

Some writers believe that, in contrast to some Nazi ideologues, Hitler did not adhere to esoteric ideas, occultism, or Ariosophy.[235] Hitler ridiculed such beliefs in Mein Kampf.[243][248] Nevertheless, other writers believe the young Hitler was strongly influenced, particularly in his racial views, by an abundance of occult works on the mystical superiority of the Germans, such as the occult and antisemitic magazine Ostara, and give credence to the claim of its publisher Lanz von Liebenfels that Hitler visited Liebenfels in 1909 and praised his work.[249] The historians are still divided on the question of the reliability of von Liebenfels' claim of a contact with Hitler.[250] Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke considers his account reliable, Brigitte Hamann leaves the question open[251] and Ian Kershaw, although questioning to what degree he was influenced by it, notes that, "Most likely, Hitler did read Ostara, along with other racist pulp which was prominent on Vienna newspaper stands."[28] Kershaw notes that it is usually taken for granted that Hitler did so, and was to some extent influenced by the occult publication, pointing to Hitler's account of conversion to antisemitism after reading some unnamed antisemitic pamphlets.[28]


Hitler's health has long been the subject of debate. He has variously been said to have had irritable bowel syndrome, skin lesions, irregular heartbeat, Parkinson's disease,[178] syphilis,[178] tinnitus,[252] and Asperger syndrome.[253][254] He had problems with his teeth and his personal dentist Hugo Blaschke stated that he fitted a large dental bridge to his upper jaw in 1933 and that on 10 November 1944 he carried out surgery to cut off part of the left rear section of the bridge that was causing an infection of his gums. He was also suffering from a sinus infection.[255]

After the early 1930s, Hitler generally followed a vegetarian diet, although he ate meat on occasion. There are reports of him disgusting his guests by giving them graphic accounts of the slaughter of animals in an effort to make them shun meat.[256] A fear of cancer (from which his mother died) is the most widely cited reason, though it is also asserted that Hitler, an antivivisectionist, had a profound concern for animals.[257] Martin Bormann had a greenhouse constructed for him near the Berghof (near Berchtesgaden) to ensure a steady supply of fresh fruit and vegetables for Hitler throughout the war.

Hitler was a non-smoker and promoted aggressive anti-smoking campaigns throughout Germany. (See Anti-tobacco movement in Nazi Germany.)[258] Hitler "despised" alcohol.[259]


Hitler's tremors and irregular heartbeat during the last years of his life could have been symptoms of tertiary (late stage) syphilis,[260] which would mean he had had a syphilis infection for many years. Along with another doctor, Theodor Morell diagnosed the symptoms as such by early 1945 in a joint report to SS head Heinrich Himmler.[260] Some historians have cited Hitler's preoccupation with syphilis across 14 pages of Mein Kampf, where he called it a "Jewish disease", leading to speculation he may have had the disease himself. His possible discovery in 1908 that he had the disease may have been responsible for his demeanor; while his life course may have been influenced by his anger at being a syphilitic, as well as his belief that he had acquired the disease from undesirable societal elements which he intended to eliminate. In several chapters of Mein Kampf, he wrote about the temptation of prostitution and the spreading of syphilis, specifically volume 1, chapter 10, "Causes of the Collapse".[261] Historians have speculated he may have caught the affliction from a German prostitute at a time when the disease was not yet treatable by modern antibiotics, which would also explain his avoidance of normal sexual relations with women. However, syphilis had become curable in 1910 with Dr. Paul Ehrlich's introduction of the drug Salvarsan.

Since the 1870s, however, it was a common rhetorical practice on the völkisch right to associate Jews with diseases such as syphilis. Historian Robert Waite claims Hitler tested negative on a Wassermann test as late as 1939, which does not prove that he did not have the disease, because the Wassermann test was prone to false-negative results. Regardless of whether he actually had syphilis or not, Hitler lived in constant fear of the disease, and took treatment for it no matter what his doctors told him.[260]

In his biography of Doctor Felix Kersten called The Man with the Miraculous Hands,[262] journalist and Académie française member Joseph Kessel wrote that in the winter of 1942, Kersten heard of Hitler's medical condition. Consulted by his patient, Himmler, as to whether he could "assist a man who suffers from severe headaches, dizziness and insomnia," Kersten was shown a top-secret 26-page report. It detailed how Hitler had contracted syphilis in his youth and was treated for it at a hospital in Pasewalk, Germany. However, in 1937, symptoms re-appeared, showing that the disease was still active, and by the start of 1942, signs were evident that progressive syphilitic paralysis (Tabes dorsalis) was occurring. Himmler advised Kersten that Morell (who in the 1930s claimed to be a specialist venereologist) was in charge of Hitler's treatment, and that it was a state secret. The book also relates how Kersten learned from Himmler's secretary, Rudolf Brandt, that at that time, probably the only other people privy to the report's information were Nazi Party chairman Martin Bormann and Hermann Göring, the head of the Luftwaffe.


It has been alleged that Hitler had monorchism, the medical condition of having only one testicle.[263] Hitler's personal doctor, Johan Jambor, supposedly described the dictator's condition to a priest who later wrote down what he had been told in a document which was uncovered in 2008, 23 years after the doctor's death.[264]

Soviet intelligence officer and translator, Lev Bezymensky, allegedly involved in the Soviet autopsy, stated in a 1967 book that Hitler's left testicle was missing.[265] Bezymensky later admitted that the claim was falsified.[266] Hitler was routinely examined by many doctors throughout his childhood, military service and later political career, and no clinical mention of any such condition has ever been discovered. Records do show he was wounded in 1916 during the Battle of the Somme, and some sources do describe his injury as a wound to the groin.

Parkinson's disease

It has also been speculated Hitler had Parkinson's disease.[177] Newsreels of Hitler show he had tremors in his hand and a shuffling walk (also a symptom of tertiary syphilis, see above) which began before the war and continued to worsen until the end of his life. Morell treated Hitler with a drug agent that was commonly used in 1945, although Morell is viewed as an unreliable doctor by most historians and any diagnoses he may have made are subject to doubt.

A more reliable doctor, Ernst-Günther Schenck, who worked at an emergency casualty station in the Reich Chancellery during April 1945, also claimed Hitler might have Parkinson's disease. However, Schenck only saw Hitler briefly on two occasions and, by his own admission, was extremely exhausted and dazed during these meetings (at the time, he had been in surgery for numerous days without much sleep). Also, some of Schenck's opinions were based on hearsay from Dr. Haase.

Other complaints

From the 1930s, he suffered from stomach pains. In 1936, a non-cancerous polyp was removed from his throat and he developed eczema on his legs.[267] He suffered ruptured eardrums as a result of the 20 July plot bomb blast in 1944, and two hundred wood splinters had to be removed from his legs.[268] Hitler's otologist observed that Hitler had developed tinnitus after the Röhm-Putsch, and considered it psychogenic in origin.[252] Hitler treated the condition with the prescription-free lipid lecithin.[252]

Addiction to amphetamine

Hitler began using amphetamine occasionally after 1937 and became addicted after the late summer of 1942.[269] Albert Speer stated he thought this was the most likely cause of the later rigidity of Hitler’s decision making (never allowing military retreats).[270]

Historians' views

In a 1980 article, the German historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler dismissed theories that sought to explain Nazi Germany as due to some defect, medical or otherwise in Hitler. In his opinion, besides the problem that such theories about Hitler's medical condition were extremely difficult to prove, they had the effect of personalizing the phenomena of Nazi Germany by attributing everything that happened in the Third Reich to one flawed individual.[271] The British historian Sir Ian Kershaw agreed that it was better to take a broader view of German history by seeking to examine what social forces led to the Third Reich and its policies, as opposed to the "personalized" explanations for the Holocaust and World War II.[173]


Hitler with his long-time mistress Eva Braun, whom he married 29 April 1945

Hitler presented himself publicly as a man without a domestic life, dedicated entirely to his political mission. However, he had a fiancée in the 1920s, Mimi Reiter, and later had a mistress, Eva Braun. He had a close bond with his half-niece Geli Raubal, which some commentators have claimed was sexual, though there is no evidence that proves this.[272] All three women attempted suicide (two succeeded), a fact that has led to speculation that Hitler may have had perverse sexual fetishes that drove them to their suicides.[273] Other fetishes of Hitler's, such as urolagnia (aroused by urine or urination), were claimed by Otto Strasser, a political opponent of Hitler. Reiter, the only one to survive the Nazi regime, denied this.[274] Some theorists have claimed that Hitler had a relationship with British fascist Unity Mitford.[275]


Paula Hitler, the last living member of Adolf Hitler's immediate family, died in 1960.

The most prominent and longest-living direct descendant of Adolf Hitler's father, Alois, was Adolf's nephew William Patrick Hitler. With his wife Phyllis, he eventually moved to Long Island, New York, changed his last name, and had four sons. None of William Hitler's children have had any children of their own.

Over the years, various investigative reporters have attempted to track down other distant relatives of the Führer. Many are now alleged to be living inconspicuous lives and have long since changed their last name.

Adolf Hitler's family tree

Hitler in media

Adolf Hitler at Berchtesgaden.ogg
Video of Adolf Hitler at Berchtesgaden

Oratory and rallies

Hitler honed his skills by giving speeches to soldiers during 1919 and 1920. He became adept at telling people what they wanted to hear (the stab-in-the-back, the Jewish-Marxist plot to conquer the world, and the betrayal of Germany in the Versailles treaty) and identifying a scapegoat for their plight. He was allegedly coached by Erik-Jan Hanussen, a self-styled clairvoyant who focused on hand and arm gestures and who, ironically, had Jewish heritage. Munitions minister and architect Albert Speer said that Hitler was above all else an actor.[276][277]

Hitler and Baron Mannerheim (June 1942)

Massive Nazi rallies staged by Speer were designed to spark a process of self-persuasion for the participants. By participating in the rallies, by marching, by shouting heil, and by making the stiff armed salute, the participants strengthened their commitment to the Nazi movement. This process can be appreciated by watching Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, which presents the 1934 Nuremberg Rally. The camera shoots Hitler from on high and from below, but only twice head-on. These camera angles give Hitler a Christ-like aura. Some of the people in the film are paid actors, but most of the participants are not. Whether the film itself recruited new Nazis out of theatre audiences is unknown. The process of self-persuasion may have affected Hitler. He gave the same speech (though it got smoother and smoother with repetition) hundreds of times first to soldiers and then to audiences in beer halls.

Recorded in private conversation

Hitler visited Finnish Field Marshal Mannerheim on 4 June 1942. During the visit an engineer of the Finnish broadcasting company YLE, Thor Damen, recorded Hitler and Mannerheim in conversation, something which had to be done secretly since Hitler never allowed recordings of him off-guard.[278] Today the recording is the only known recording of Hitler not speaking in an official tone. The recording captures 11½ minutes of the two leaders in private conversation.[279] Hitler speaks in a slightly excited, but still intellectually detached manner during this talk (the speech has been compared to that of the working class). The majority of the recording is a monologue by Hitler. In the recording, Hitler admits to underestimating the Soviet Union's ability to conduct war.

Documentaries during the Third Reich

Hitler appeared in and was involved to varying degrees with a series of films by the pioneering filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl via Universum Film AG (UFA):

Hitler was the central figure of the first three films; they focused on the party rallies of the respective years and are considered propaganda films. Hitler also featured prominently in the Olympia film. Whether the latter is a propaganda film or a true documentary is still a subject of controversy, but it nonetheless perpetuated and spread the propagandistic message of the 1936 Olympic Games depicting Nazi Germany as a prosperous and peaceful country.[280] As a prominent politician, Hitler was featured in many newsreels.


Hitler's attendance at various public functions, including the 1936 Olympic Games and Nuremberg Rallies, appeared on television broadcasts made between 1935 and 1939. These events, along with other programming highlighting activity by public officials, were often repeated in public viewing rooms. Samples from a number of surviving television films from Nazi Germany were included in the 1999 documentary Das Fernsehen unter dem Hakenkreuz (Television Under the Swastika).

Documentaries post Third Reich

Films and series


See also


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Further reading

External links

Images and videos
Speeches and publications
Political offices
Preceded by
Anton Drexler
Leader of the NSDAP
Succeeded by
End of World War II
Preceded by
Franz Pfeffer von Salomon
Leader of the SA
Preceded by
Kurt von Schleicher
Chancellor of Germany(1)
Succeeded by
Joseph Goebbels
Preceded by
Paul von Hindenburg
As President
Führer of Germany(1)
Succeeded by
Karl Dönitz
As President
Military offices
Preceded by
Walther von Brauchitsch
Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres (Army Commander)
Succeeded by
Ferdinand Schörner
Notes and references
1. The positions of Head of State and Government were combined 1934–1945 in the office of Führer and Chancellor of Germany