Adolf Hitler led Germany throughout World War Two. Adolf Hitler killed himself on April 30th, 1945 – just days before Germany’s unconditional surrender. Berlin was about to fall to the Russians and defeat for Nazi Germany was obvious. Hitler had no intention of letting the Russians capture him and putting him on trial – hence his suicide. How did Adolf Hitler rise to such power in Germany – a power that was to see Germany devastated by May 1945 when World War Two ended in the west?
Adolf Hitler was born on April 20th 1889 in a small Austrian town called Braunau, near to the German border.
His father – Alois – was fifty-one when Hitler was born. He was short-tempered, strict and brutal. It is known that he frequently hit the young Hitler. Alois had an elder son from a previous marriage but he had ended up in jail for theft. Alois was determined that Hitler was not going to go down the same road – hence his brutal approach to bringing up Hitler. The background of Alois was a potential source of embarrassment for the future leader of Nazi Germany.
Hitler’s father was the illegitimate child of a cook named (Maria Anna) Schicklegruber. This cook, the grandmother of Adolf Hitler, was working for a Jewish family named Frankenberger, when she became pregnant. Frankenberger paid Schicklegruber, a paternity allowance from the time of the child’s birth up to his fourteenth year.From a secret report by the Nazi Hans Frank. Written in 1930
Alois was a civil servant. This was a respectable job in Brannau. He was shocked and totally disapproving when the young Hitler told him of his desire to be an artist. Alois wanted Hitler to join the civil service.
Hitler’s mother – Klara – was the opposite of Alois – very caring and loving and she frequently took Hitler’s side when his father’s poor temper got the better of him. She doted on her son and for the rest of his life, Hitler carried a photo of his mother with him where ever he went.
Hitler was not popular at school and he made few friends. He was lazy and he rarely excelled at school work. In later years as leader of Germany, he claimed that History had been a strong subject for him – his teacher would have disagreed !! His final school report only classed his History work as “satisfactory”. Hitler’s final school report (September 1905) was as follows:
Hitler was able but he simply did not get down to hard work and at the age of eleven, he lost his position in the top class of his school – much to the horror of his father.
Alois died when Hitler was thirteen and so there was no strong influence to keep him at school when he was older. After doing very badly in his exams, Hitler left school at the age of fifteen. His mother, as always, supported her son’s actions even though Hitler left school without any qualifications.
When he started his political career, he certainly did not want people to know that he was lazy and a poor achiever at school. He fell out with one of his earliest supporters – Eduard Humer – in 1923 over the fact that Humer told people what Hitler had been like at school.
Hitler was certainly gifted in some subjects, but he lacked self-control. He was argumentative and bad-tempered, and unable to submit to school discipline….moreover, he was lazy. He reacted with hostility to advice or criticism. (Humer)
Humer had been Hitler’s French teacher and was in an excellent position to “spill the beans” – but this met with Hitler’s stern disapproval. Such behaviour would have been seriously punished after 1933 – the year when Hitler came to power. After 1933, those who had known Hitler in his early years either kept quiet about what they knew or told those who chose to listen that he was an ideal student etc.
Hitler had never given up his dream of being an artist and after leaving school he left for Vienna to pursue his dream. However, his life was shattered when, aged 18, his mother died of cancer. Witnesses say that he spent hours just staring at her dead body and drawing sketches of it as she lay on her death bed.
In Vienna, the Vienna Academy of Art, rejected his application as “he had no School Leaving Certificate”. His drawings which he presented as evidence of his ability, were rejected as they had too few people in them. The examining board did not just want a landscape artist.
Without work and without any means to support himself, Hitler, short of money lived in a doss house with tramps. He spent his time painting post cards which he hoped to sell and clearing pathways of snow. It was at this stage in his life – about 1908 – that he developed a hatred of the Jews.
He was convinced that it was a Jewish professor that had rejected his art work; he became convinced that a Jewish doctor had been responsible for his mother’s death; he cleared the snow-bound paths of beautiful town houses in Vienna where rich people lived and he became convinced that only Jews lived in these homes. By 1910, his mind had become warped and his hatred of the Jews – known as anti-Semitism – had become set.
Hitler called his five years in Vienna “five years of hardship and misery”. In his book called “Mein Kampf”, Hitler made it clear that his time in Vienna was entirely the fault of the Jews – “I began to hate them”.
In February 1914, in an attempt to escape his misery, Hitler tried to join the Austrian Army. He failed his medical. Years of poor food and sleeping rough had taken their toll on someone who as a PE student at school had been “excellent ” at gymnastics. His medical report stated that he was too weak to actually carry weapons.
In August 1914, World War One was declared. Hitler crossed over the border to Germany where he had a very brief and not too searching medical which declared that he was fit to be in the German Army. Film has been found of the young Hitler in Munich’s main square in August 1914, clearly excited at the declaration of war being announced……..along with many others.
In 1924, Hitler wrote “I sank to my knees and thanked heaven…….that it had given me the good fortune to live at such a time.” There is no doubt that Hitler was a brave soldier. He was a regimental runner. This was a dangerous job as it exposed Hitler to a lot of enemy fire. His task was to carry messages to officers behind the front line, and then return to the front line with orders.
His fellow soldiers did not like Hitler as he frequently spoke out about the glories of trench warfare. He was never heard to condemn war like the rest of his colleagues. He was not a good mixer and rarely went out with his comrades when they had leave from the front. Hitler rose to the rank of corporal – not particularly good over a four year span and many believe that it was his lack of social skills and his inability to get people to follow his ideas, that cost him promotion. Why promote someone who was clearly unpopular?
Though he may have been unpopular with his comrades, his bravery was recognised by his officers. Hitler was awarded Germany’s highest award for bravery – the Iron Cross. He called the day he was given the medal, “the greatest day of my life.” In all Hitler won six medals for bravery.
Hitler on the right
In the mid-1930’s, Hitler met with the future British Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden. It became clear from discussions that they had fought opposite one another at the Battle ofYpres. Eden was impressed with the knowledge of the battle lines which Hitler had – far more than a corporal would have been expected to know, according to Eden.
The war ended disastrously for Hitler. In 1918, he was still convinced that Germany was winning the war – along with many other Germans. In October 1918, just one month before the end of the war, Hitler was blinded by a gas attack at Ypres. While he was recovering in hospital, Germany surrendered. Hitler was devastated. By his own admission, he cried for hours on end and felt nothing but anger and humiliation.
By the time he left hospital with his eyesight restored he had convinced himself that the Jews had been responsible for Germany’s defeat. He believed that Germany would never have surrendered normally and that the nation had been “stabbed in the back” by the Jews.
“In these nights (after Germany’s surrender had been announced) hatred grew in me, hatred for those responsible for this deed. What was all the pain in my eyes compared to this misery ?”
Adolf Hitler remained in the German Army after World War One ended in November 1918. Seething with anger at Germany’s defeat, Hitler was employed as a V-Man. Hitler’s job was to visit as many political organisations as possible to check out whether they were right wing, centre politics or left wing. In particular, in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, both the government and army wanted to know who the socialists or communists were. The terms of the Treaty of Versailles only added to Hitler’s anger during this period in his life.
Hitler also worked within the Education Department of the army and his task here was to lecture returning soldiers on the dangers of communism, socialism and pacifism. Senior officers were impressed with Hitler’s skills as a speaker. It was at this time that the corporal, who was a loner, discovered his greatest talent – public oratory. The gas attack Hitler had suffered had affected his vocal chords and he spoke in a manner that few had heard before. Many who later heard Hitler speak at public rallies claimed that his voice had hypnotic qualities to it. In November 1922, Truman Smith, an American spy based in Germany, wrote:
The most important political force in Bavaria at the present time is the National Socialist German Workers Party….Adolf Hitler…is the dominating force in the movement….his ability to influence a large audience is uncanny.
Karl Ludecke, who published a book called “I knew Hitler”, wrote the following about the first time that he heard Hitler speak:
Hitler was a slight, pale man with brown hair parted to one side. He had steel-blue eyes…he had the look of a fanatic….he held the audience, and me with them, under a hypnotic spell by the sheer force of his conviction.
What Hitler spoke about to the returning soldiers also hit home: the betrayal of the soldiers by politicians; the stab-in-the-back (of the soldiers) by the Jews; the failure of democratic politics and the disaster communism would be for Germany. His thoughts were widely held – but Hitler’s audience in 1918 to 1919 was very small and his impact was very little.
In September 1919, Hitler visited, as a V-Man, a meeting of the German Workers’ Party. The party name indicated that it had socialist leanings with its “workers'” tag. It was, in fact, an extreme, anti-Semitic, anti-communist, right wing nationalist party led by Anton Drexler. At Hitler’s visit, it only had 40 members. Hitler informed the army that it posed no threat to Germany. After this visit, Hitler joined the party as it seemed to represent all that he believed in. He quickly became the party’s propaganda officer.
In early 1920, the party changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) which quickly got corrupted to ‘Nazi’ by both enemies and supporters alike. Hitler wrote out the party’s beliefs in the so-called 25 Point Party Programme. This party programme was a curious mixture – right wing nationalism; anti-capitalism; anti-socialism; anti-wealth etc.
This rag-bag mixture would have been laughable in normal circumstances but Germany was not in normal circumstances. The NSDAP played on the Germans hatred of the Treaty of Versailles (which it said it would ignore); the belief that Germany had been stabbed in the back. Even in its early days, the NSDAP tuned in to many peoples’ emotions. However, in 1920, the party was just one of many right wing parties that seemed to exist in Germany at this time.
In a 1920 leaflet, the NSDAP blamed 300 bankers and financiers throughout the world for dictating policy to the world and holding it to ransom.
“Shake off your Jewish leaders…………Don’t expect anything from the Bolsheviks (the Russian Communists)…………(The Russian government) is nine-tenths Jewish. Bolshevism is a Jewish swindle.”
This touched a raw nerve in some Germans. Former soldiers who had been in the Free Corps joined the Nazi Party and their ‘skills’ were used to break up meetings of other political parties. The use of violence became a way of life for the Nazis.
Regardless of this, the party made little headway in politics. It did benefit from one great advantage in Weimar Germany – the electoral system used proportional representation in deciding results. Any party that got more votes than the cut-off would get some seats in the Reichstag. This favoured the Nazis. They could not afford expensive election campaigns as Karl Ludecke related in his book “I knew Hitler”.
“The organisation lived from day-to-day financially, with no treasury to draw on for lecture halls rents, printing costs, or the thousand-and-one expenses which threatened to swamp us. The only funds we could count on were small, merely a drop in the bucket.”
Up to 1923, the Nazi Party was small and noisy. Its importance was mainly in the Munich area of Bavaria. Money, or lack of it, was always a problem. The 1923 hyperinflation crisis proved to be an opportunity too good to miss for the now party leader – Hitler.
Hyperinflation ruined the middle class. The poor had little and they lost most of the little they had. The rich lost a lot but as rich people they could keep their heads above water. The middle class did not have the cash reserves of the rich but they led comfortable lives. These lives were now ruined by hyperinflation and they blamed the government.
Hitler planned to seize the most important city in the south – Munich – and to use the city as a base to launch an attack on the rest of Germany, hoping that the angered middle class would rise up in support of him throughout the nation.
The Beer Hall Putsch:
On November 8th, 1923, Hitler and 2000 Nazis marched through the streets of Munich to take over a meeting at the Munich Beer Hall. This meeting was being chaired by the three most important people in Bavarian politics – Hans Seisser, Otto von Lossow and Gustav von Kahr. Depending on whose account you read, Hitler strode to the front of the meeting and declared that when convenient von Kahr would be declared regent of Bavaria, the Berlin government would be tried as traitors, Seisser would be made head of Germany’s police…….but as the time was not convenient. He, Hitler, would take charge of the country. He stated that on the following day, the Nazis would march on the War Ministry and set up government there.
On the 9th November, the Nazis started on their march only to be met by armed police. What happened next varies. When the police fired on the leading marchers, the official Nazi biography of Hitler published in 1934 stated that he saved the life of the man next to him who had been shot.
Another unofficial version – by Rudolf Olden – claims that on the first shot Hitler ran away to a waiting car to be driven to the Bavarian mountains and safety. He would not have known that 13 Nazis had been shot dead by the police.
Regardless of what happened and what Hitler did, the march was a disaster for the Nazis and could have easily spelt the end of the Nazi Party. Ironically, the Beer Hall Putsch was to launch Hitler into national fame. He was arrested for treason and put on trial. This trial was to make Hitler very famous and may well have saved the Nazi Party from collapse.
From 1924 to 1929, Adolf Hitler, following his experiences at Landsberg Prison, decided that all that he did at a political level would be legal and above board. If he wanted to sell the Nazi dream to the people of Weimar Germany, then he had to be seen as being a legitimate party leader and not one associated with violence and wrong-doing. Hitler’s approach was to highlight the failings of the other political parties in Weimar Germany.
As a policy, it was to fail. Between 1924 and 1929, the Nazis were politically very weak. Their representation in the Reichstag was very low compared to other parties.
In the three elections held between 1924 and 1928, the Nazis gained fewer seats than the Communist Party and they were the weakest of the main right wing parties. The election campaigns pushed the party to the brink of bankruptcy. If the party had been declared bankrupt, it would have folded.
Weimar Germany from 1924 to 1929 was undergoing a renaissance. The government of Stressemann had got the country back on course after the nightmare of hyperinflation. The Dawes Plan had loaned Germany the necessary money to kick start her economy once again. The industrial heartland of the Ruhr settled down to productivity after the trauma of the French/Belgium invasion. Moderate politicians had won the day and there seemed no place in the new-born Germany for a political party of any extremes – be it from the left or right.
Stressemann had restored Germany’s position in Europe. With the support of her previous enemy, France, Germany had entered the League of Nations in 1926. Normality seemed to be in place. Hence the Nazi Party’s poor showing at the elections.
Hitler kept to his promise of working within the law. If he did not, it would have looked like an act of political desperation. However, as with any small party, the Nazi party’s funds were limited. Political obscurity beckoned for the Nazis.
They were saved by an event out of their hands – Wall Street Crash of October 1929. This event was crucial to the Nazis. The Americans called back the money they had loaded Germany in 1924 and 1929 (the Young Plan). Germany had no money to invest in her economy. The growth from 1924 to 1929 had been somewhat of an illusion as a great deal of the money invested had been from overseas loans – primarily America. Money borrowed had to be paid back. In October 1929, Germany was left effectively bankrupt – again.
The impact of the Wall Street Crash took time to impact Germany. Unemployment was not a major issue for 1929. But by September 1930 it was.
Those unemployed turned to the one party and party leader untainted by the chaos of Weimar Germany – Adolf Hitler. Hitler’s “1000 Year Reich” lasted from 1933 to 1945 and, after the impact of World War Two, had reduced Germany to rubble.