ADOLF HITLER

April 20, 1889 – April 30, 1945

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Adolf Hitler (April 20, 1889April 30, 1945) was a German politician, who became the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party and was appointed as the Chancellor of Germany in 1933. After the death of President Paul von Hindenburg in 1934, Hitler declared himself Führer, combining the offices of President and Chancellor into one using the power vested in him by the Enabling Act, and he remained a totalitarian ruler until his suicide in 1945.

The Nazi Party gained power during Germany's period of crisis after World War I, exploiting effective propaganda and Hitler's charismatic oratory to gain popularity. The Party emphasised nationalism and antisemitism as its primary political expressions, eventually resorting to murdering its opponents to ensure success.

After the restructuring of the state economy and the rearmament of the German armed forces (Wehrmacht), a dictatorship (commonly characterized as either totalitarian or fascist) was established by Hitler, who then pursued an aggressive foreign policy, with the goal of seizing Lebensraum. This resulted in the German Invasion of Poland in 1939, drawing the British and French Empires into World War II.

The Wehrmacht enjoyed great success in the early stages of the war and the Axis Powers managed to occupy most of Mainland Europe and parts of Asia. Eventually the combined efforts of the Allies defeated the Wehrmacht. By 1945, both Hitler's policy and the Nazi Party lay in ruins; his bid for territorial conquest and racial subjugation had caused the deaths of tens of millions of people, including the deliberate genocide of an estimated six million Jews in what is now known as the Holocaust.

During the final days of the war in 1945, as the German capital of Berlin was being invaded and destroyed by the Red Army of the Soviet Union, Hitler married Eva Braun and less than 24 hours later, the two committed suicide in the Führerbunker.

Contents

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Early years

Childhood and heritage

Adolf Hitler as an infant.
Adolf Hitler as an infant.

Adolf Hitler was born in Braunau am Inn, Austria, the fourth child of six.[2] His father, Alois Hitler, (1837–1903), was a customs official. His mother, Klara Pölzl, (1860–1907), was Alois' third wife. She was also his half-niece, so a papal dispensation had to be obtained for the marriage. Of Alois and Klara's six children, only Adolf and his sister Paula reached adulthood.[3] Hitler's father also had a son, Alois Jr, and a daughter, Angela, by his second wife.[3]

Alois Hitler was born illegitimate. For the first 39 years of his life he bore his mother's surname, Schicklgruber. In 1876, he took the surname of his stepfather, Johann Georg Hiedler. The name was spelled Hiedler, Huetler, Huettler and Hitler and probably changed to "Hitler" by a clerk. The origin of the name is either from the German word Hittler and similar, "one who lives in a hut", "shepherd", or from the Slavic word Hidlar and Hidlarcek.

Allied propaganda exploited Hitler's original family name during World War II. Pamphlets bearing the phrase "Heil Schicklgruber" were airdropped over German cities. But he was legally born a Hitler and was also related to Hiedler via his maternal grandmother, Johanna Hiedler.

The name "Adolf" comes from Old High German for "noble wolf" (Adel=nobility + wolf). Hence, one of Hitler's self-given nicknames was Wolf or Herr Wolf—he began using this nickname in the early 1920s and was addressed by it only by intimates (as "Uncle Wolf" by the Wagners) up until the fall of the Third Reich.[4] The names of his various headquarters scattered throughout continental Europe (Wolfsschanze in East Prussia, Wolfsschlucht in France, Werwolf in Ukraine, etc.) reflect this. By his closest family and relatives, Hitler was known as "Adi".

As a boy, Hitler said he was often whipped by his father. Years later he told his secretary, "I then resolved never again to cry when my father whipped me. A few days later I had the opportunity of putting my will to the test. My mother, frightened, took refuge in the front of the door. As for me, I counted silently the blows of the stick which lashed my rear end."[5]

Hitler's paternal grandfather was most likely one of the brothers Johann Georg Hiedler or Johann Nepomuk Hiedler. There were rumours that Hitler was one-quarter Jewish and that his grandmother, Maria Schicklgruber, became pregnant while working as a servant in a Jewish household. The implications of these rumours were politically explosive for the proponent of a racist and anti-Semitic ideology. Opponents tried to prove that Hitler had Jewish or Czech ancestors. Although these rumours were never confirmed, for Hitler they were reason enough to conceal his origins. According to Robert G. L. Waite in The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler, Hitler made it illegal for German women to work in Jewish households, and after the "Anschluss" (annexation) of Austria, Hitler turned his father's hometown into an artillery practice area. Waite says that Hitler's insecurities in this regard may have been more important than whether Judaic ancestry could have been proven by his peers.

Ludwig Wittgenstein(?) and Hitler in school in a photograph taken at the Linz Realschule in 1903.
Ludwig Wittgenstein(?) and Hitler in school in a photograph taken at the Linz Realschule in 1903.

Hitler's family moved often, from Braunau am Inn to Passau, Lambach, Leonding, and Linz. The young Hitler was a good student in elementary school. But in the sixth grade, his first year of high school (Realschule) in Linz he failed and had to repeat the grade. His teachers said that he had "no desire to work." One of Hitler's fellow pupils in the Realschule was Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the great philosophers of the 20th century. A book by Kimberley Cornish suggests that conflict between Hitler and some Jewish students, including Wittgenstein, was a critical moment in Hitler's formation as an anti-Semite.[6]

Hitler claimed his educational slump was a rebellion against his father, who wanted the boy to follow him in a career as a customs official; Hitler wanted to become a painter instead. This explanation is further supported by Hitler's later description of himself as a misunderstood artist. However, after Alois died on January 3, 1903, Hitler's schoolwork did not improve. At age 16, Hitler dropped out of high school without a degree.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler attributed his conversion to German nationalism to a time during his early teenage years when he read a book of his father's about the Franco-Prussian War, which caused him to question why his father and other German Austrians failed to fight for the Germans during the war.[7]

Early adulthood in Vienna and Munich

From 1905 on, Hitler lived a bohemian life in Vienna on an orphan's pension and support from his mother. He was rejected twice by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (1907–1908), citing "unfitness for painting," and was told his abilities lay instead in the field of architecture.[8] His memoirs reflect a fascination with the subject:

The purpose of my trip was to study the picture gallery in the Court Museum, but I had eyes for scarcely anything but the Museum itself. From morning until late at night, I ran from one object of interest to another, but it was always the buildings which held my primary interest."[9]

Following the school rector's recommendation, he too became convinced this was the path to pursue, yet he lacked the proper academic preparation 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.[10]

On December 21, 1907, Hitler's mother died of breast cancer at age 47. Ordered by a court in Linz, Hitler gave his share of the orphans' benefits to his sister Paula. When he was 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 sought refuge in a homeless shelter. By 1910, he had settled into a house for poor working men.

Hitler said he first became an anti-Semite in Vienna,[11] which had a large Jewish community, including Orthodox Jews who had fled from pogroms in Russia. But according to a childhood friend, August Kubizek, Hitler was a "confirmed anti-Semite" before he left Linz, Austria.[12] Vienna at that time was a hotbed of traditional religious prejudice and 19th century racism. Hitler may have been influenced by the writings of the ideologist and anti-Semite Lanz von Liebenfels and polemics from politicians such as Karl Lueger, founder of the Christian Social Party and Mayor of Vienna, the composer Richard Wagner, and Georg Ritter von Schönerer, leader of the pan-Germanic Away from Rome! movement. Hitler claims in Mein Kampf that his transition from opposing anti-Semitism on religious grounds to supporting it on racial grounds came from having seen an Orthodox Jew, but actually it seems Hitler was not very anti-Semitic in these years. He often was a guest for dinner in a noble Jewish house, and Jewish merchants tried to sell his paintings.[13]

Hitler may also have been influenced by Martin Luther's On the Jews and their Lies. Kristallnacht took place on November 10—Luther's birthday.

There were very few Jews in Linz. In the course of centuries the Jews who lived there had become Europeanized 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 anti-Semitism.

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?[14]

In Mein Kampf, Hitler refers to Martin Luther as a great warrior, a true statesmen, and a great reformer, alongside Wagner and Frederick the Great.[15] 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."[16]

Hitler claimed that Jews were enemies of the Aryan race. He held them responsible for Austria's crisis. He also identified certain forms of Socialism and Bolshevism, which had many Jewish leaders, as Jewish movements, merging his anti-Semitism with anti-Marxism. Blaming Germany's military defeat on the 1918 Revolutions, he considered Jews the culprit of Imperial Germany's downfall and subsequent economic problems as well.

Generalising from tumultuous scenes in the parliament of the multi-national Austrian monarchy, he decided that the democratic parliamentary system was unworkable. However, according to August Kubizek, his one-time roommate, he was more interested in Wagner's operas than in his politics.

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 became more interested in architecture and, he says, the writings of Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Moving to Munich also helped him escape military service in Austria for a time, but the Austrian army arrested him finally. 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 petitioned King Ludwig III of Bavaria for permission to serve in a Bavarian regiment. This request was granted, and Adolf Hitler enlisted in the Bavarian army.[17]

World War I

A young Hitler (left) posed with other German soldiers
A young Hitler (left) posed with other German soldiers

Hitler served in France and Belgium as a runner for the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment (called Regiment List after its first commander), which exposed him to enemy fire.[18] He drew cartoons and instructional drawings for the army newspaper.

Hitler was twice decorated for bravery. He received the Iron Cross, Second Class, in 1914 and the Iron Cross, First Class, in 1918, an honour rarely given to a Gefreiter.[19] However, because the regimental staff thought Hitler lacked leadership skills, he was never promoted to Unteroffizier. Other historians say that the reason he was not promoted is that he was not a German citizen. His duties at regimental headquarters, while often dangerous, gave Hitler time to pursue his artwork. In 1916, Hitler was wounded in the leg but returned to the front in March 1917. He received the Wound Badge later that year. Sebastian Haffner, referring to Hitler's experience at the front, suggests he did have at least some understanding of the military.

On October 15, 1918, Hitler was admitted to a field hospital, temporarily blinded by a mustard gas attack. The English psychologist David Lewis[20] and Bernhard Horstmann indicate the blindness may have been the result of a conversion disorder (then known as hysteria). Hitler said it was during this experience that he became convinced the purpose of his life was to "save Germany." Some scholars, notably Lucy Dawidowicz,[21] argue that an intention to exterminate Europe's Jews was fully formed in Hitler's mind at this time, though he probably had not thought through how it could be done. Most historians think the decision was made in 1941, and some think it came as late as 1942.

Two passages in Mein Kampf mention the use of poison gas:

At the beginning of the Great War, or even during the War, if twelve or fifteen thousand of these Jews who were corrupting the nation had been forced to submit to poison-gas…then the millions of sacrifices made at the front would not have been in vain.[22]
These tactics are based on an accurate estimation of human weakness and must lead to success, with almost mathematical certainty, unless the other side also learns how to fight poison gas with poison gas. The weaker natures must be told that here it is a case of to be or not to be.[23]

Hitler had long admired Germany, and during the war he had become a passionate German patriot, although he did not become a German citizen until 1932. He was shocked by Germany's capitulation in November 1918 even while the German army still held enemy territory.[24] Like many other German nationalists, Hitler believed in the Dolchstoßlegende ("dagger-stab 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. These politicians were later dubbed the November Criminals.

The Treaty of Versailles deprived Germany of various territories, demilitarized the Rhineland and imposed other economically damaging sanctions. The treaty re-created Poland, which even moderate Germans regarded as an outrage. The treaty also blamed Germany for all the horrors of the war, something which major historians like John Keegan now consider at least in part to be victor's justice: most European nations in the run-up to World War I had become increasingly militarised and were eager to fight. The culpability of Germany was used as a basis to impose reparations on Germany (the amount was repeatedly revised under the Dawes Plan, the Young Plan, and the Hoover Moratorium). Germany in turn perceived the treaty and especially the paragraph on the German responsibility for the war as a humiliation. For example, there was a nearly total demilitarisation of the armed forces, allowing Germany only six battleships, no submarines, no air force, an army of 100,000 without conscription and no armoured vehicles. The treaty was an important factor in both the social and political conditions encountered by Hitler and his Nazis as they sought power. Hitler and his party used the signing of the treaty by the "November Criminals" as a reason to build up Germany so that it could never happen again. He also used the "November Criminals" as scapegoats, although at the Paris peace conference, these politicians had had very little choice in the matter.

Entry into politics

A copy of Adolf Hitler's forged German Workers' Party (DAP) membership card. His actual membership number was 555 (the 55th member of the party - the 500 was added to make the group appear larger) but later the number was reduced to create the impression that Hitler was one of the founding members (Ian Kershaw Hubris). Hitler had wanted to create his own party, but was ordered by his superiors in the Reichswehr to infiltrate an existing one instead.
A copy of Adolf Hitler's forged German Workers' Party (DAP) membership card. His actual membership number was 555 (the 55th member of the party - the 500 was added to make the group appear larger) but later the number was reduced to create the impression that Hitler was one of the founding members (Ian Kershaw Hubris). Hitler had wanted to create his own party, but was ordered by his superiors in the Reichswehr to infiltrate an existing one instead.

After World War I, Hitler remained in the army and returned to Munich, where he - in contrast to his later declarations - participated in the funeral march for the murdered Bavarian prime minister Kurt Eisner.[25] After the suppression of the Bavarian Soviet Republic, he took part in "national thinking" courses organized by the Education and Propaganda Department (Dept Ib/P) of the Bavarian Reichswehr Group, Headquarters 4 under Captain Karl Mayr. Scapegoats were found in "international Jewry", communists, and politicians across the party spectrum, especially the parties of the Weimar Coalition.

In July 1919, Hitler was appointed a Verbindungsmann (police spy) of an Aufklärungskommando (Intelligence Commando) of the Reichswehr, both to influence other soldiers and to infiltrate a small party, the German Workers' Party (DAP). During his inspection of the party, Hitler was impressed with founder Anton Drexler's anti-Semitic, nationalist, anti-capitalist and anti-Marxist ideas, which favoured a strong active government, a "non-Jewish" version of socialism and mutual solidarity of all members of society.

Here Hitler also met Dietrich Eckart, one of the early founders of the party and member of the occult Thule Society.[26] 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. Hitler thanked Eckart by paying tribute to him in the second volume of Mein Kampf.

Hitler was discharged from the army in March 1920 and with his former superiors' continued encouragement began participating full time in the party's activities. By early 1921, Hitler was becoming highly effective at speaking in front of large crowds. In February, Hitler spoke before a crowd of nearly six thousand in Munich. To publicize the meeting, he sent out two truckloads of party supporters to drive around with swastikas, cause a commotion and throw out leaflets, their first use of this tactic. Hitler gained notoriety outside of the party for his rowdy, polemic speeches against the Treaty of Versailles, rival politicians (including monarchists, nationalists and other non-internationalist socialists) and especially against Marxists and Jews.

The DAP was centered in Munich, a hotbed of German nationalists who included Army officers determined to crush Marxism and undermine the Weimar republic. Gradually they noticed Hitler and his growing movement as a vehicle to hitch themselves to. Hitler traveled to Berlin to visit nationalist groups during the summer of 1921, and in his absence there was a revolt among the DAP leadership in Munich.

The party was run by an executive committee whose original members considered Hitler to be overbearing. They formed an alliance with a group of socialists from Augsburg. Hitler rushed back to Munich and countered them by tendering his resignation from the party on July 11, 1921. When they realized the loss of Hitler would effectively mean the end of the party, he seized the moment and announced he would return on the condition that he would be given dictatorial powers. Infuriated committee members (including Drexler) held out at first. Meanwhile an anonymous pamphlet appeared entitled Adolf Hitler: Is he a traitor?, attacking Hitler's lust for power and criticizing the violent men around him. Hitler responded to its publication in a Munich newspaper by suing for libel and later won a small settlement.

The executive committee of the DAP eventually backed down and Hitler's demands were put to a vote of party members. Hitler received 543 votes for and only one against. At the next gathering on 29 July 1921, Adolf Hitler was introduced as Führer of the National Socialist Party, marking the first time this title was publicly used. Hitler changed the name of the party to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or National Socialist German Workers Party.

Hitler's beer hall oratory, attacking Jews, social democrats, liberals, reactionary monarchists, capitalists and communists, began attracting adherents. Early followers included Rudolf Hess, the former air force pilot Hermann Göring, and the army captain Ernst Röhm, who became head of the Nazis' paramilitary organization, the SA (Sturmabteilung, or "Storm Division"), which protected meetings and attacked political opponents. Hitler also assimilated independent groups, such as the Nuremberg-based Deutsche Werkgemeinschaft, led by Julius Streicher, who became Gauleiter of Franconia. 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.

Beer Hall Putsch

Main article: Beer Hall Putsch
Drawing of Hitler, 1923.
Drawing of Hitler, 1923.

Encouraged by this early support, Hitler decided to use Ludendorff as a front in an attempted coup later known as the Beer Hall Putsch (sometimes as the Hitler Putsch or Munich Putsch). The Nazi Party had copied Italy's fascists in appearance and also had adopted some programmatical points, and in 1923, Hitler wanted to emulate 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. As political posters show, Ludendorff, Hitler and the heads of the Bavarian police and military planned on forming a new government.

On November 8, 1923, Hitler and the SA stormed a public meeting headed by Kahr in the Bürgerbräukeller, a large beer hall outside of Munich. He declared 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.[27] Kahr withdrew his support and fled to join the opposition to Hitler at the first opportunity.[28] The next day, when Hitler and his followers marched from the beer hall to the Bavarian War Ministry to overthrow the Bavarian government as a start to their "March on Berlin", the police dispersed them. Sixteen NSDAP members were killed.[29]

Hitler fled to the home of Ernst Hanfstaengl and contemplated suicide. He was soon arrested for high treason. Alfred Rosenberg became temporary leader of the party. During Hitler's trial, he was given almost unlimited time to speak, and his popularity soared as he voiced nationalistic sentiments. A Munich personality became a nationally known figure. On April 1, 1924, Hitler was sentenced to five years' imprisonment at Landsberg Prison. Hitler received favoured treatment from the guards and had much fan mail from admirers.[30] He was pardoned and released from jail in December 1924, as part of a general amnesty for political prisoners. Including time on remand, he had served little more than one year of his sentence.[30]

Mein Kampf

Main article: Mein Kampf

While at Landsberg he dictated Mein Kampf (My Struggle, originally entitled "Four Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice") to his deputy Rudolf Hess.[30] The book, dedicated to Thule Society member Dietrich Eckart, was an autobiography and an exposition of his ideology. It 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 (newly-weds and soldiers received free copies).

Hitler spent years dodging taxes on the royalties of his book and had accumulated a tax debt of about 405,500 Reichsmarks (€6 million in today's money) by the time he became chancellor (at which time his debt was waived).[31][32]

The copyright of Mein Kampf in Europe is claimed by the Free State of Bavaria and scheduled to end on December 31, 2015. Reproductions in Germany are authorized only for scholarly purposes and in heavily commented form. The situation is however unclear. Historian Werner Maser, in an interview with Bild am Sonntag has stated that Peter Raubal, son of Hitler's nephew, Leo Raubal, would have a strong legal case for winning the copyright from Bavaria if he pursued it. Raubal has stated he wants no part of the rights to the book, which could be worth millions of euros.[33] The uncertain status has led to contested trials in Poland and Sweden. Mein Kampf, however, is published in the U.S., as well as in other countries such as Turkey and Israel, by publishers with various political positions.

Rebuilding of the party

At the time of Hitler's release, the political situation in Germany had calmed and the economy had improved, which hampered Hitler's opportunities for agitation. Though the Hitler Putsch had given Hitler some national prominence, his party's mainstay was still Munich.

Since Hitler was still banned from public speeches, he appointed Gregor Strasser, who in 1924 had been elected to the Reichstag, as Reichsorganisationsleiter, authorizing him to organize the party in northern Germany. Strasser, joined by his younger brother Otto and Joseph Goebbels, steered an increasingly independent course, emphasizing the socialist element in the party's programme. The Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Gauleiter Nord-West became an internal opposition, threatening Hitler's authority, but this faction was defeated at the Bamberg Conference in 1926, during which Goebbels joined Hitler.

After this encounter, Hitler centralized the party even more and asserted the Führerprinzip ("Leader principle") as the basic principle of party organization. Leaders were not elected by their group but were rather appointed by their superior and were answerable to them while demanding unquestioning obedience from their inferiors. Consistent with Hitler's disdain for democracy, all power and authority devolved from the top down.

A key element of Hitler's appeal was his ability to evoke a sense of offended national pride caused by the Treaty of Versailles imposed on the defeated German Empire by the Western Allies. Germany had lost economically important territory in Europe along with its colonies and in admitting to sole responsibility for the war had agreed to pay a huge reparations bill totaling 132 billion marks. Most Germans bitterly resented these terms, but early Nazi attempts to gain support by blaming these humiliations on "international Jewry" were not particularly successful with the electorate. The party learned quickly, and soon a more subtle propaganda emerged, combining anti-Semitism with an attack on the failures of the "Weimar system" and the parties supporting it.

Adolf Hitler, behind Hermann Göring, at a Nazi rally in Nuremberg in 1928.
Adolf Hitler, behind Hermann Göring, at a Nazi rally in Nuremberg in 1928.

Having failed in overthrowing the Republic by a coup, Hitler pursued the "strategy of legality": this meant formally adhering to the rules of the Weimar Republic until he had legally gained power and then transforming liberal democracy into a Nazi dictatorship. Some party members, especially in the paramilitary SA, opposed this strategy; Röhm ridiculed Hitler as "Adolphe Legalité".

Rise to power

Nazi Party Election Results
Date Votes Percentage Seats in Reichstag Background
May 1924 1,918,300 6.5 32 Hitler in prison
December 1924 907,300 3.0 14 Hitler is released from prison
May 1928 810,100 2.6 12  
September 1930 6,409,600 18.3 107 After the financial crisis
July 1932 13,745,800 37.4 230 After Hitler was candidate for presidency
November 1932 11,737,000 33.1 196  
March 1933 17,277,000 43.9 288 During Hitler's term as Chancellor of Germany

Brüning Administration

The political turning point for Hitler came when the Great Depression hit Germany in 1930. The Weimar Republic had never been firmly rooted and was openly opposed by right-wing conservatives (including monarchists), Communists and the Nazis. As the parties loyal to the democratic, parliamentary republic found themselves unable to agree on counter-measures, their Grand Coalition broke up and was replaced by a minority cabinet. The new Chancellor, Heinrich Brüning of the Roman Catholic Centre Party, lacking a majority in parliament, had to implement his measures through the president's emergency decrees. Tolerated by the majority of parties, the exception soon became the rule and paved the way for authoritarian forms of government.

The Reichstag's initial opposition to Brüning's measures led to premature elections in September 1930. The republican parties lost their majority and their ability to resume the Grand Coalition, while the Nazis suddenly rose from relative obscurity to win 18.3% of the vote along with 107 seats in the Reichstag, becoming the second largest party in Germany.

Brüning's measure of budget consolidation and financial austerity brought little economic improvement and was extremely unpopular. Under these circumstances, Hitler appealed to the bulk of German farmers, war veterans and the middle class, who had been hard-hit by both the inflation of the 1920s and the unemployment of the Depression. Hitler received little response from the urban working classes and traditionally Catholic regions.

Hitler's niece Geli Raubal was found dead in her bedroom in his Munich apartment (his half-sister Angela and her daughter Geli had been with him in Munich since 1929), an apparent suicide. Geli, who was believed to be in some sort of romantic relationship with Hitler, was 19 years younger than he was and had used his gun. His niece's death is viewed as a source of deep, lasting pain for him.[34]

In 1932, Hitler intended to run against the aging President Paul von Hindenburg in the scheduled presidential elections. Though Hitler had left Austria in 1913, he still had not acquired German citizenship and hence could not run for public office. In February, however, the state government of Brunswick, in which the Nazi Party participated, appointed Hitler to a minor administrative post and also gave him citizenship on February 25, 1932.[35] The new German citizen ran against Hindenburg, who was supported by a broad range of reactionary nationalist, monarchist, Catholic, republican and even social democratic parties, and against the Communist presidential candidate. His campaign was called "Hitler über Deutschland" (Hitler over Germany).[36] The name had a double meaning; besides an obvious reference to Hitler's dictatorial intentions, it also referred to the fact that Hitler was campaigning by aircraft.[36] This was a brand new political tactic that allowed Hitler to speak in two cities in one day, which was practically unheard of at the time. Hitler came in second on both rounds, attaining more than 35% of the vote during the second one in April. Although he lost to Hindenburg, the election established Hitler as a realistic alternative in German politics.

Cabinets of Papen and Schleicher

Hindenburg, influenced by the Camarilla, became increasingly estranged from Brüning and pushed his Chancellor to move the government in a decidedly authoritarian and right-wing direction. This culminated, in May 1932, with the resignation of the Brüning cabinet.

Hindenburg appointed the nobleman Franz von Papen as chancellor, heading a "Cabinet of Barons". Papen was bent on authoritarian rule and, since in the Reichstag only the conservative DNVP supported his administration, he immediately called for new elections in July. In these elections, the Nazis achieved their biggest success yet and won 230 seats.

The Nazis had become the largest party in the Reichstag without which no stable government could be formed. Papen tried to persuade Hitler to become vice chancellor and enter a new government with a parliamentary basis. Hitler, however, rejected this offer and put further pressure on Papen by entertaining parallel negotiations with the Centre Party, Papen's former party, which was bent on bringing down the renegade Papen. In both negotiations, Hitler demanded that he, as leader of the strongest party, must be chancellor, but Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint the "Bohemian private" to the chancellorship.

After a vote of no-confidence in the Papen government, supported by 84% of the deputies, the new Reichstag was dissolved, and new elections were called in November. This time, the Nazis lost some seats but still remained the largest party in the Reichstag.

After Papen failed to secure a majority, he proposed to dissolve the parliament again along with an indefinite postponement of elections. Hindenburg at first accepted this, but after General Kurt von Schleicher and the military withdrew their support, Hindenburg instead dismissed Papen and appointed Schleicher, who promised he could secure a majority government by negotiations with both the Social Democrats, the trade unions, and dissidents from the Nazi Party under Gregor Strasser. In January 1933, however, Schleicher had to admit failure in these efforts and asked Hindenburg for emergency powers along with the same postponement of elections that he had opposed earlier, to which the president reacted by dismissing Schleicher.

Appointment as Chancellor

Meanwhile, Papen tried to get his revenge on Schleicher by working toward the General's downfall, through forming an intrigue with the camarilla and Alfred Hugenberg, media mogul and chairman of the German National People's Party (DNVP). Also involved were Hjalmar Schacht, Fritz Thyssen and other leading German businessmen. They financially supported the Nazi Party, which had been brought to the brink of bankruptcy by the cost of heavy campaigning. The businessmen also wrote letters 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."[37]

Finally, the president reluctantly agreed to appoint Hitler Chancellor of a coalition government formed by the NSDAP and DNVP. Hitler and two other Nazi ministers (Frick, Göring) were to be contained by a framework of conservative cabinet ministers, most notably by Papen as Vice-Chancellor and by Hugenberg as Minister of the Economy. Papen wanted to use Hitler as a figure-head, but the Nazis had gained key positions, most notably the Ministry of the Interior. On the morning of 30 January 1933, in Hindenburg's office, Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor during what some observers later described as a brief and simple ceremony. The Nazis' seizure of power subsequently became known as the Machtergreifung. Hitler established the Reichssicherheitsdienst as his personal bodyguards.

Reichstag fire and the March elections

Screenshot from Triumph of the Will, 1935.
Screenshot from Triumph of the Will, 1935.

Having become Chancellor, Hitler foiled all attempts to gain a majority in parliament and on that basis persuaded President Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag again. Elections were scheduled for early March, but on 27 February 1933, the Reichstag building was set on fire.[38] Since a Dutch independent communist was found in the building, the fire was blamed on a Communist plot to which the government reacted with the Reichstag Fire Decree of 28 February which suspended basic rights, including habeas corpus. Under the provisions of this decree, the German Communist Party (KPD) and other groups were suppressed, and communist functionaries and deputies were arrested, put to flight, or murdered.

Campaigning continued, with the Nazis making use of paramilitary violence, anti-Communist hysteria, and the government's resources for propaganda. On election day, 6 March, the NSDAP increased its result to 43.9% of the vote, remaining the largest party, but its victory was marred by its failure to secure an absolute majority, necessitating maintaining a coalition with the DNVP.[39]

"Day of Potsdam" and the Enabling Act

Parade of SA troops past Hitler. Nuremberg, November 1935.
Parade of SA troops past Hitler. Nuremberg, November 1935.

On 21 March 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 union between the revolutionary Nazi movement and "Old Prussia" with its elites and virtues. Hitler appeared in a tail coat and humbly greeted the aged President Hindenburg.

Because of the Nazis' failure to obtain a majority on their own, Hitler's government confronted the newly elected Reichstag with the Enabling Act that would have vested the cabinet with legislative powers for a period of four years. Though such a bill was not unprecedented, this act was different since it allowed for deviations from the constitution. Since the bill required a two-thirds majority in order to pass, the government needed the support of other parties. The position of the Catholic 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 regarding the Church's liberty, the concordats signed by German states and the continued existence of the Centre Party.

On 23 March the Reichstag assembled in a replacement building under extremely turbulent circumstances. Some SA men served as guards within while large groups outside the building shouted slogans and threats toward the arriving deputies. 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. At the end of the day, all parties except the Social Democrats voted in favour of the bill. Deputies of the Communist Party were unable to vote, having already been arrested by the Nazis. The Enabling Act was dutifully renewed by the Reichstag every four years, even through World War II.

Removal of remaining limits

With this combination of legislative and executive power, Hitler's government further suppressed the remaining political opposition. The KPD and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) were banned, while all other political parties dissolved themselves. Labour unions were merged with employers' federations into an organisation under Nazi control, and the autonomy of German state governments was abolished.

Hitler also used the SA paramilitary to push Hugenberg into resigning and proceeded to politically isolate Vice Chancellor Papen. Because the SA's demands for political and military power caused much anxiety among military leaders, Hitler used allegations of a plot by the SA leader Ernst Röhm to purge the SA's leadership during the Night of the Long Knives. Opponents unconnected with the SA were also murdered, notably Gregor Strasser and former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher.[40]

President Paul von Hindenburg died on 2 August 1934. Rather than holding new presidential elections, Hitler's cabinet passed a law proclaiming the presidency dormant and transferred the role and powers of the head of state to Hitler as Führer und Reichskanzler (leader and chancellor).[41] Thereby Hitler also became supreme commander of the military, whose officers then swore an oath not to the state or the constitution but to Hitler personally.[41] In a mid-August plebiscite, these acts found the approval of 84.6%[42] of the electorate. Combining the highest offices in state, military and party in his hand, Hitler had attained supreme rule that could no longer be legally challenged.

Third Reich

Main article: Nazi Germany

Having secured supreme political power, Hitler went on to gain their support by convincing most Germans he was their savior from the economic Depression, communism, the "Judeo-Bolsheviks," and the Versailles Treaty, along with other "undesirable" minorities. The Nazis eliminated opposition through a process known as Gleichschaltung.

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 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 artifacts 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. The negative effects of this inflation were offset in later years by the acquisition of foreign gold from the treasuries of conquered nations.

Hitler also oversaw one of the largest infrastructure-improvement campaigns in German history, with the construction of dozens of dams, autobahns, railroads, and other civil works. Hitler's policies emphasised the importance of family life: men were the "breadwinners", while women's priorities were to lie in bringing up children and in household work. 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.[43] 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. Olympia, the movie about the games and other documentary propaganda films for the German Nazi Party were directed by Hitler's personal filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.

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.[44] Production was also deferred because of the war.

Hitler considered Sparta to be the first National Socialist state, and praised its early eugenics treatment of deformed children.[45]

He awarded the Order of the German Eagle, the Third Reich's highest distinction, to the industrialist Emil Kirdorf in April 1937, in reward for his financial support during his rise to power. The next year, he organized state funerals for him.

Rearmament and new alliances

Main articles: Axis Powers and Tripartite Treaty
Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini during Hitler's visit to Venice from 14-16 June 1934.
Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini during Hitler's visit to Venice from 14-16 June 1934.

Although a secret German armaments program had been on-going since 1919, it was only in March 1934 when Hitler publicly announced that the German army would be expanded to 600 000 men (six times the number stipulated in the Treaty of Versailles), as well as introducing an Air Force (Luftwaffe) and increasing the size of the Navy (Kriegsmarine). Britain, France and Italy, as well as 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 was allowed to continue. Furthermore, Britain did not share France's pessimistic view of Germany, and in 1935 it signed a naval agreement with Germany which allowed for increasing the German tonnage up to 35% of the British navy. This agreement was made without consulting either France or Italy, and directly undermined the League of Nations and put the Treaty of Versailles on the path towards irrelevance.[46]

In March 1936, Hitler again violated the 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, including the bombing of undefended towns such as Guernica in April 1937, prompting Pablo Picasso's famous eponymous Guernica painting.

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. To strengthen relationship with this nation, Hitler met in 1937 in Nuremberg prince Chichibu, a brother of emperor Hirohito.

The Tripartite Treaty was then signed by Saburo Kurusu of Imperial Japan, Hitler, and Ciano on 27 September 1940. It was later expanded to include Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. They were collectively known as the Axis Powers. Then on 5 November 1937, at the Reich Chancellory, Adolf Hitler held a secret meeting with the War and Foreign Ministers plus the three service chiefs, recorded in the Hossbach Memorandum and stated his plans for acquiring "living space" (Lebensraum) for the German people.

The Holocaust

Main article: The Holocaust

One of the foundations of Hitler's and the NSDAP's social policies was the concept of racial hygiene. It was based on the ideas of Arthur de Gobineau, eugenics, 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 program dubbed Action T4.[47] After a public outcry, Hitler made a show of ending this program, but the killings in fact continued.

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,[48] in concentration camps, ghettos and mass executions, or through less systematic methods elsewhere. Besides being gassed to death, many also died as a result of starvation and disease while working as slave labourers (sometimes benefiting private German companies in the process, because of the low cost of such labour). Along with Jews, non-Jewish Poles (over three million casualties), alleged communists or political opposition, members of resistance groups, Catholic and Protestant opponents, homosexuals, Roma, the physically handicapped and mentally retarded, Soviet prisoners of war (possibly as many as three million), Jehovah's Witnesses, anti-Nazi clergy, trade unionists, and psychiatric patients were killed. One of the biggest centres of mass-killing was the extermination camp complex of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Hitler never visited the concentration camps and did not speak publicly about the killing in precise terms.

The massacres that led to the Holocaust (the Endlösung der jüdischen Frage or "Final Solution of the Jewish Question") were planned and ordered by leading Nazis, with Himmler playing a key role. While no specific order from Hitler authorizing the mass killing of the Jews 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. 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 Hitler had "pored over the first blueprints of gas chambers."

To make for smoother cooperation in the implementation of this "Final Solution", the Wannsee conference was held near Berlin on 20 January 1942, with fifteen senior officials participating, led by Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann. 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".

World War II

Main article: World War II

Early triumphs

Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Munich, 1940
Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Munich, 1940

On 12 March 1938, Hitler pressured Austria into unification with Germany (the Anschluss) and made a triumphal entry into Vienna on 14 March. .[49][50] Next, he intensified a crisis over the German-speaking Sudetenland districts of Czechoslovakia.[51] This led to the Munich Agreement of September 1938, which authorized the annexation and immediate military occupation of these districts by Germany.[52] As a result of the summit, Hitler was TIME magazine's Man of the Year for 1938.[53] British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain hailed this agreement as "peace in our time", but by giving way to Hitler's military demands, Britain and France also left Czechoslovakia to Hitler's mercy.[52] Hitler ordered Germany's army to enter Prague on 15 March 1939, and from Prague Castle proclaimed Bohemia and Moravia a German protectorate.

After that, Hitler claimed German grievances relating to the Free City of Danzig and the Polish Corridor, that Germany had ceded under the Versailles Treaty. Britain had not been able to reach an agreement with the Soviet Union for an alliance against Germany, and, on 23 August 1939, Hitler concluded a secret non-aggression pact (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) with Stalin on which it was likely agreed that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany would partition Poland. On 1 September Germany invaded the western portion of Poland. Having guaranteed assistance to Poland, Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September but did not immediately act. Not long after this, on 17 September, Soviet forces invaded eastern Poland.

Adolf Hitler in Paris, 1940.
Adolf Hitler in Paris, 1940.

During this "Phoney War", Hitler built up his forces on Germany's western frontier. In April 1940, he ordered German forces to march into Denmark and Norway. In May 1940, Hitler ordered his forces to attack France, conquering the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium in the process. France surrendered on 22 June 1940. This series of victories persuaded his main ally, Benito Mussolini of Italy, to join the war on Hitler's side in May 1940.

Britain, whose defeated forces had evacuated France from the coastal town of Dunkirk, continued to fight alongside Canadian forces in the Battle of the Atlantic. After having his overtures for peace systematically rejected by the British Government, now led by Winston Churchill, Hitler ordered bombing raids on the British Isles, leading to the Battle of Britain, a prelude of the planned German invasion. The attacks began by pounding the Royal Air Force airbases and the radar stations protecting South-East England. However, the Luftwaffe failed to defeat the Royal Air Force by the end of October 1940. Air superiority for the invasion, code-named Operation Sealion, could not be assured, and Hitler ordered bombing raids to be carried out on British cities, including London and Coventry, mostly at night.

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, Operation Barbarossa, seized huge amounts of territory, including the Baltic states, Belarus, and Ukraine. It also encircled and destroyed many Soviet forces, which Stalin had ordered to stay put and 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.

Hitler's declaration of war against the United States on 11 December 1941, four days after the Empire of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and six days after Nazi Germany's closest approach to Moscow, set him 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).

Hitler, Mannerheim and Ryti in Finland in 1942
Hitler, Mannerheim and Ryti in Finland in 1942

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 titanic Battle of Stalingrad ended with the encirclement and destruction of the German 6th Army. Shortly thereafter came the gigantic Battle of Kursk (1,300,000 Russians, 3,600 tanks, 20,000 artillery pieces and 2,400 aircraft, versus 900,000 Germans, 2,700 tanks, and 2,000 aircraft). From Stalingrad on, Hitler's military judgment became increasingly erratic, and Germany's military and economic position deteriorated. Hitler's health was also deteriorating. His left hand trembled. The biographer Ian Kershaw and others believe that he may have suffered from Parkinson's disease.[54] Syphilis has also been suspected as a cause of at least some of his symptoms, although the evidence is slight.[55]

Following the allied invasion of Italy (Operation Husky) in 1943 Hitler's ally, 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 the largest amphibious operation ever conducted, Operation Overlord. Realists in the German army knew defeat was inevitable, and some officers plotted to remove Hitler from power. In July 1944, one of them, Claus von Stauffenberg, planted a bomb in one of Hitler's Führer Headquarters, the Wolfsschanze (Wolf's Lair) at Rastenburg, but Hitler narrowly escaped death. He ordered savage reprisals, resulting in the executions of more than 4,900 people,[56] 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

Main article: Death of Adolf Hitler

By late 1944, the Red Army had driven the Germans from Soviet territory and entered Central Europe. The Western Allies were also advancing into Germany. Germany had lost the war, but Hitler allowed no retreat or regrouping for his forces while hoping to negotiate a separate peace with America and Britain, hopes buoyed by the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt on 12 April 1945.[57][58] Hitler's stubbornness and defiance of military realities also allowed the Holocaust to continue. He also ordered the complete destruction of all German industrial infrastructure before it could fall into the hands of the Allies, saying that Germany's failure to win the war forfeited its right to survive.[59] Execution of the plan was entrusted to arms minister Albert Speer, who disobeyed the order.[59]

In April 1945, Soviet forces were attacking the outskirts of Berlin. Hitler's followers urged him to flee to the mountains of Bavaria to make a last stand in the National Redoubt. But Hitler was determined to either live or die in the capital.

April 20, 1945. On his 56th birthday, Hitler awards the Iron Cross to Hitler Youth outside his bunker.
April 20, 1945. On his 56th birthday, Hitler awards the Iron Cross to Hitler Youth outside his bunker.

On 20 April Hitler celebrated his 56th birthday in the "Führer's shelter" (Führerbunker) below the Reich Chancellery (Reichskanzlei). The garrison commander of the besieged "fortress Breslau" (Festung Breslau), General Hermann Niehoff, had chocolates distributed to his troops, where possible, in honor of Hitler's birthday.[60]

By 21 April, Georgi Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front had broken through the defenses of German General Gotthard Heinrici's Army Group Vistula during the Battle of the Seelow Heights. The Soviets were now advancing towards Hitler's bunker with little to stop them. Ignoring the facts, Hitler saw salvation in the ragtag units commanded by one of his favorite generals, Felix Steiner. For Hitler's purposes, Steiner's command became known as "Army Detachment Steiner" (Armeeabteilung Steiner). However, the "Army Detachment Steiner" existed primarily on paper. It was something 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 just been pushed south of the salient, was ordered to attack north in a pincer attack.

Late on 21 April, Heinrici called Hans Krebs Chief German General Staff of the Supreme Army Command (Oberkommando des Heeres 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 one of his last military conferences, Hitler interrupted the report to ask what had happened to General Steiner's offensive. There was a long silence. Then Hitler was told that the attack had never been launched, and that the withdrawal from Berlin of several units for Steiner's army, on Hitler's orders, had so weakened the front that the Russians had broken through into Berlin. This was too much for Hitler. He asked everyone except Wilhelm Keitel, Hans Krebs, Alfred Jodl, Wilhelm Burgdorf, and Martin Bormann to leave the room,[61] and launched a tirade against the perceived treachery and incompetence of his commanders. This culminated in an oath to stay in Berlin, head up the defense of the city, and shoot himself at the end.[62]

Before the day ended, Hitler again found salvation in a new plan that included General Walther Wenck's Twelfth Army.[63] This new plan had Wenck turn his army—currently facing the Americans to the west—and attack towards the east to relieve Berlin.[63] Twelfth Army was to link up with Ninth Army and break through to the city. Wenck did attack and, in the confusion, managed to make temporary contact with the Potsdam garrison. But the link with the Ninth Army, like the plan in general, was ultimately unsuccessful.[64]

On 23 April, after committing to stay in Berlin with Hitler, 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 defense of the capital. The Battle for Berlin must become the signal for the whole nation to rise up in battle…[65]

Also on 23 April, second in command of the Third Reich and commander of the Luftwaffe Hermann Göring sent a telegram from Berchtesgaden in Bavaria. In his telegram, Göring argued that, since Hitler was cut off in Berlin, he should assume leadership of Germany as Hitler's designated successor. Göring' telegram mentioned a time limit after which he would consider Hitler incapacitated.[66] Hitler responded, in anger, by having Göring arrested, and when he wrote his will on April 29, Göring was removed from all his positions in the government.[66][67][68]

By the end of the day on 27 April, the commander of the Berlin Defence Area, found the city to be completely cut off from the rest of Germany.

On 28 April, Hitler discovered that SS leader Heinrich Himmler was trying to inform the Allies (through the Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte) that Germany was prepared to discuss surrender terms.[69] Hitler responded as he did with Göring, ordering his arrest and removing him from office, while having his representative in Berlin Hermann Fegelein shot.[70][67]

During the night of 28 April, General Wenck reported to the German Supreme Army Command (Oberkommando des Heeres or OKH) in Fuerstenberg that his Twelfth Army had been forced back along the entire front. Wenck 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.

On 29 April, Hans Krebs, Wilhelm Burgdorf, Joseph Goebbels, and Martin Bormann witnessed and signed the last will and testament of Adolf Hitler.[67] Hitler dictated the document to his private secretary, Traudl Junge.[71] Hitler was also that day informed of the violent death of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini on 28 April, which is presumed to have increased his determination to avoid capture.[72]

Cover of U.S. military newspaper The Stars and Stripes, May 1945
Cover of U.S. military newspaper The Stars and Stripes, May 1945

On 30 April 1945, after intense street-to-street combat, when Soviet troops were spotted within a block or two of the Reich Chancellory, Hitler committed suicide, shooting himself while simultaneously biting into a cyanide capsule.[73][74] Hitler's body and that of Eva Braun (his mistress whom he had married the day before) were put in a bomb crater,[75] doused in gasoline by Otto Günsche and other Führerbunker aides, and set alight as the Red Army advanced and shelling continued.[73] Hitler also had his dog Blondi poisoned before his suicide to test the poison he and Eva Braun were going to take.

On 2 May, General Weidling surrendered Berlin unconditionally to the Russians. When Russian forces reached the Chancellory, they found his body and an autopsy was performed using dental records to confirm the identification. The remains of Hitler and Braun were secretly buried by SMERSH at their headquarters in Magdeburg.[76] In 1970, when the facility was about to be turned over to the East German government, the remains were reportedly exhumed and thoroughly cremated.[76] 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 and is all that remains of Hitler. However, the authenticity of the skull has been challenged by many historians and researchers.[76]

Legacy

Further information: Consequences of German Nazism and Neo-Nazism
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
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, the Nazi Party and the results of Nazism are typically and culturally regarded as immoral. Historical and cultural portrayals of Hitler in the west are, almost by consensus, condemnatory. The display of swastikas or other Nazi symbols is prohibited in Germany and Austria. Holocaust denial is prohibited in both countries.

However some people have referred to Hitler's legacy in neutral or favourable terms. Former Egyptian President Anwar 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.[77] Louis Farrakhan has referred to him as a "very great man".[78] Bal Thackeray, leader of the right-wing Hindu Shiv Sena party in the Indian state of the Maharashtra, declared in 1995 that he was an admirer of Hitler.[79]

Outside of Hitler's birthplace in Braunau am Inn, Austria is a stone marker engraved with the following message:

FÜR FRIEDEN FREIHEIT
UND DEMOKRATIE
NIE WIEDER FASCHISMUS
MILLIONEN TOTE MAHNEN

Loosely translated, it reads: "For Peace, Freedom and Democracy - Never Again Fascism—Remember the Millions Dead."

As with many historical figures, legends abound about Adolf Hitler. In 1975, Irving Wallace and David Wallechinsky wrote in the first edition of The People's Almanac that Hitler had once been the owner of land near the town of Kit Carson, Colorado.[80] Following up on the story, Los Angeles Times investigative reporter Steve Harvey concluded that there was no truth to it.[81]

Religious beliefs

Hitler was raised by Roman Catholic parents, but as a boy he rejected some aspects of Catholicism. After Hitler left home, he never attended Mass or received the sacraments,[82] although Hitler did tell Gen. Gerhard Engel in 1941, "I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so."

Throughout his life, Hitler often praised Christian heritage, German Christian culture, and a belief in Jesus Christ.[83] In his speeches and publications Hitler even spoke 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".[84][85] His private statements, as reported by his intimates, are more mixed, showing Hitler as a religious man but critical of traditional Christianity.[86] However, in contrast to other Nazi leaders, Hitler did not adhere to esoteric ideas, occultism, or neo-paganism,[86] and ridiculed such beliefs in Mein Kampf.[87] Rather, Hitler advocated a "Positive Christianity",[88] a belief system purged from what he objected to in traditional Christianity, and which reinvented Jesus as a fighter against the Jews.

Hitler believed in Arthur de Gobineau's ideas of struggle for survival between the different races, among which the "Aryan race"—guided by "Providence"—was supposed to be the torchbearers of civilization. In Hitler's conception Jews were enemies of all civilization.

Among Christian denominations, Hitler favoured Protestantism, which was more open to such reinterpretations. At the same time, he adopted some elements of the Catholic Church's hierarchical organization, liturgy and phraseology in his politics.[89][90]

Hitler expressed admiration for the Muslim military tradition. According to one confidant, Hitler stated in private, "The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness...".[91]

Health and sexuality

Health

Hitler's health has long been the subject of debate. He has variously been said to have suffered from irritable bowel syndrome, skin lesions, irregular heartbeat, Parkinson's disease,[55] syphilis,[55] and a strongly suggested addiction to methamphetamine. One film exists that shows his left hand trembling, which might suggest Parkinson's.[92] Beyond that, the evidence is sparse.

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.[93] A fear of cancer (from which his mother died) is the most widely cited reason, though many authors also assert Hitler had a profound and deep love of animals. 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. Photographs of Bormann's children tending the greenhouse survive and, by 2005, its foundations were among the only ruins visible in the area which were associated with Nazi leaders.

Hitler was a non-smoker and promoted aggressive anti-smoking campaigns throughout Germany. He reportedly promised a gold watch to any of his close associates who quit (and gave a few away). Several witness accounts relate that, immediately after his suicide was confirmed, many officers, aides, and secretaries in the Führerbunker lit cigarettes.[94]

Sexuality

Hitler presented himself publicly as a man without an intimate domestic life, dedicated to his political mission, and to help in winning support from the women of Germany. He had a fiancée, Mimi Reiter in the 1920s, and later had a mistress, Eva Braun. He had a close bond with his half-niece Geli Raubal, which many commentators have claimed was sexual, although there is no evidence that proves this.[95] All three women attempted suicide during their relationship with him, a fact which has led to speculation that Hitler may have had unusual sexual fetishes, such as urolagnia, as was claimed by Otto Strasser. Reiter, the only one to survive the Nazi regime, denied this.[96] During the war and afterwards psychoanalysts offered numerous inconsistent psycho-sexual explanations of his pathology.[97] Some theorists have claimed that Hitler had a relationship with British fascist Unity Mitford.[98] . More recently Lothar Machtan has argued in his book The Hidden Hitler that Hitler was homosexual, while others argue that he was largely asexual.

Family

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

The most prominent and longest-living direct descendants 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, and had four sons. None of William Hitler's children have yet had any children of their own.