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Adolf Hitler

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Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler.jpg
Born 20 April, 1889 Braunau am Inn, Austria–Hungary
Died 30 April, 1945 Berlin
Religious affiliation Nominal Catholic
Political party Nazi Party
Chancellor of Germany
From 30 January 1933
To 30 April 1945
Succeeded Kurt von Schleicher
Preceded Joseph Goebbels

Adolf Hitler (1889—1945) was the Nazi Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, presiding over a repressive Fascist government. His rule led to the persecution of Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, and others. Internationally, his expansionist policies led to the Second World War, a six-year pan-global conflict in which Germany and her allies were eventually defeated.

Contents

Early Life

Hitler was born in Branau-am-Inn, outside of Linz, a town in Austria-Hungary that was on its border with the German Empire. As a teenager, he twice applied for an art school and twice was rejected, being told he lacked sufficient artistic talent. He relocated to Vienna and lived the life of a destitute artist for several years before moving to Munich on the eve of World War I

He joined the Bavarian army at the outset of the war, was twice decorated for bravery (receiving the Iron Cross), and suffered temporarily blindness from a mustard gas attack in 1918.[1] Hitler's service in the war had a profound impact on his political development, and he would later argue that Germany had not been defeated on the battlefield, but had been stabbed in the back (the so-called Dolchstosslegende) by the "November criminals," the socialists who had taken control of the German government after the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and had signed the armistice with the Entente powers.

Hitler and the Birth of the Nazi Party

After the war, Hitler was assigned to a unit responsible for propaganda and also for keeping tabs on the radical left- and right-wing groups vying for power in anarchic post-war Germany. His superiors noted his preternatural speaking ability. Ordered to attend meetings of a small group in Munich called the German Workers Party, he became involved with the group and eventually took it over, changing its name to National Socialist German Workers' Party, known by its abbreviated name, the Nazi Party.

From the beginning of his political career, Hitler was noted for the ability to keep an audience spellbound.

Hitler was not part of the old guard of the organization, which resented his rise to power. He mostly bided his time and focussed on building the party's paramilitary wing, which would come to be called the Sturmabteilung or SA. From its early days, the German Workers' Party had a group of ruffians who maintained order at meetings. Hitler reformed the group and introduced military discipline. The SA would also be known as the "brownshirts" from their trademark uniform.

In 1924, Hitler decided the Nazis should attempt to seize power in the Bavarian state (or Land). He used the SA to stage a coup attempt in a Munich beer hall where a meeting of officials of the Bavaria government had taken place. This became known as the Beer Hall Putsch. It was unsuccessful, and Hitler was soon arrested. He received a light sentence and only served part of that, ultimately spending little more than a year in prison.

During his time in prison, Hitler wrote the majority of his autobiography and political testament, Mein Kampf (My Struggle). The book was virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Bolshevik, blaming those groups for the loss of the war and Germany's subsequent crisis. It became a best-seller, even before Hitler's ascendance to power made its ownership practically mandatory in Germany.

Rise to Power

Despite the popular appeal of Hitler's book, the Nazis enjoyed little popular success throughout the 1920s, remaining one of the smallest parties in the Reichstag. The Nazis' support had peaked at 6.5 percent of the popular vote (yielding 32 seats in the German parliament) in the election of May 1924, when Hitler was still in Landsburg. In December of that year, after Hitler's release, it dropped by over half to 3.0 percent of the vote (14 seats). In the 1928 elections those numbers fell slightly to 2.8 percent of the popular vote and 12 representatives in the Reichstag.

Without the advent of the Great Depression, and the associated rise in political violence, it is likely that Hitler and the Nazi Party would have remained mere historical footnotes. The parties of the center-left and right that controlled the German government through the 1920s and early 1930s were unable to solve the economic crisis or to enforce order. After the Depression hit, the Nazis' share of the popular vote in the 1930 German elections increased to 18.3 percent, giving them 107 seats in the Reichstag. As the crisis deepened, in subsequent elections, these numbers would double and the Nazis would become the party with the most members in parliament. In the March 1933 elections, the Nazis captured 43.9 percent of the popular vote and 288 seats in the Reichstag. President Paul von Hindenburg invited Hitler to become Chancellor at the head of a coalition between the National Socialists and the German National People's Party, a center-right bourgeois nationalist party.

World War II

Preparations for war

Shortly after attaining power, Hitler began rearming Germany, increasing its military strength in violation of limits put on the German military by the Treaty of Versailles. He also ordered German troops to reoccupy the Rhineland, also in violation of this treaty.

With an enlarged army, Hitler began to realize his aim for a Greater German Reich and Lebensraum for the German people, which he had discussed in Mein Kampf. He started with Austria and Czechoslovakia. In March 1938, the Anschluss with Austria was accomplished whereby the latter state was absorbed into Germany. This was similarly a violation of the Treaty of Versailles.

Hitler's demands on Czechoslovak territory ostensibly related to ethnic Germans living in the Sudetenland. Hitler had the German General Staff prepare Case Green for the invasion of Czechoslovakia, but after meeting in Munich on 29 September 1938 (two days before Case Green was set to be executed) with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier, and Italian Duce Benito Mussolini, Hitler agreed to forgo the invasion in exchange for being allowed to annex the Sudetenland. Chamberlain returned home to London announcing that the agreement at the Munich conference would bring "peace in our time."

It was not to be. In March of 1939, in violation of the agreement reached at Munich, Hitler invaded the remainder of Czechoslovakia and declared it a protectorate. He then turned to the east, invading Poland on 1 September 1939.

The Holocaust

Under Hitler's rule, Nazi Germany was responsible for the extermination of an estimated over 6 million Jews, along with approximately 5 million members of other groups (Gypsies/Roma/Sinti, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, communists, trade unionists, leaders of the Confessing Church, Polish intellectuals, Soviet POWs). The persecution of the Jews began with the Nuremberg Laws in September 1935, which imposed legal disabilities against Jews, including prohibition of marriage between Jews and non-Jews, and deprivation of German citizenship; and Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in November 1938, with the mass destruction of Jewish businesses and synagogues. Concentration camps were established, originally to hold political enemies of the Nazi state, but with time they evolved into death camps for the mass extermination of those viewed as racially inferior.

Different historians have different views concerning how direct Hitler's role in the Holocaust was. There can be no doubt that he was central to the climate of hate that made the Holocaust possible. Intentionalists go further than this, and hold that the Holocaust was planned and orchestrated in its broad outlines by Hitler himself. Functionalists by contrast see the Holocaust evolving from the bottom-up in a process of bureaucratic innovation — in their account, Hitler ordered the deportation of Jews to the East, but did not personally order their extermination once they reached there; the process of extermination was decided upon by camp officials, who did not know what else to do with all these people. However, even though the functionalist account does not have Hitler personally ordering the Holocaust, there can be little doubt that he would have become aware of it, and his failure to stop it can be seen as a sign of his tacit approval.

Death

Facing the inevitable defeat of Nazi Germany, with Soviet troops inside Berlin, Hitler committed suicide by gunshot inside his bunker on 30th April 1945, around 3.30pm. At the same time, his wife Eva committed suicide by taking cyanide. Their bodies were taken outside and burnt by his staff, but failed to completely combust. Hitler's suicide was motivated by fear of being tortured and humiliated by Soviet troops. Likewise, the burning of their bodies was an attempt to prevent any post-mortem desecration of their corpses — such as what had happened to Mussolini and his mistress a few days earlier.

The partially burnt remains were captured by Soviet troops, and thereafter kept in Soviet custody. Eventually, in 1970, their remains were cremated more fully, and the ashes scattered in an East German river. This was undertaken since the KGB feared that his remains might become a site of neo-Nazi veneration.

References

  1. FirstWorldWar.com -- Who's Who: Adolf Hitler

Bibliography

  • Toland, John, Adolf Hitler, Garden City, N.Y.:Doubleday, 1976
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