Adolf Hitler was born in the small Austrian town of Branau on the 20th of April 1889. He came from a middle-class family that lived comfortably, although he suggested in his book Mein Kampf that his family was poor and his childhood was filled with hardship. His father Alois Hitler was a customs official with the Austrian Civil Service. His mother, Klara was a former servant girl and became Alois’ third wife. The young Hitler had ability but performed poorly at school. He reacted against discipline. One of his teachers described Hitler as “wilful, arrogant and bad tempered. He had obvious difficulty in fitting in at school. Moreover he was lazy. He demanded of his fellow pupils their unqualified subservience, fancying himself in the role of leader.”
Hitler had a poor relationship with his father, who could not accept his son’s lack of self-discipline and his interests in art, architecture and music. When his father died in 1903, his mother Klara had very little control over her son, and in 1905 he left school. In 1907 Hitler applied to enter the Vienna Academy of Art but his application was rejected. In that year his mother died from cancer. Hitler had been devoted to his mother and her death affected him deeply.
He carried her portrait everywhere he went for the rest of his life. In 1908 Hitler moved to Vienna. Once again he sought admission to the Academy Of Art but was rejected for a second time. For a while he had enough money to live on from his inheritance and from an orphan’s pension but by the time he was twenty-one, Hitler was almost penniless, and was forced to live in a shelter with homeless men. On the odd occasion he made money from drawing sketches or painting scenes of Vienna, but he refused to look for a settled job.
But by 1910 he began to show an interest in politics and often spent hours in Vienna’s public libraries learning more on the subject and engaging in political conversations in the local coffee houses that he visited. Hitler’s views of the world were shaped by his experiences on the streets of Vienna, and this is where his violent anti-Semitism derived from. In 1913 Hitler left Vienna and moved across the border to Munich, the capital of the German State of Bavaria. He was in Munich at the break out of the First World War and although not a German citizen, he served in the German Army throughout the war.
For most of the war he served as a runner, and served at the front line in Flanders (Belgium) and in France. He displayed courage under fire and was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class. He was sent home in 1916 when he was wounded but returned to fighting in 1917. He was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal and took part in the Lundendorff offensive of March 1918. In the last months of the war Hitler was awarded the Iron Cross First Class “For bravery and general merit”, an honour for a corporal.
Hitler’s campaign ended when he was partly blinded in a gas attack. He was taken to recuperate in a hospital in Germany and it was here that he heard the news that Germany had surrendered. He describes the shock in his book, Mein Kampf- “Everything went black before my eyes as I staggered back to my ward and buried my aching head between the blankets and pillow. during these nights my hatred increased, hatred for the originators of this dastardly crime”. Hitler’s rise to power After the end of World War One Hitler was made a political officer for the army.
One of his jobs was to report to the army command on the small political parties that had flourished in Bavaria. It was at this time that he attended a meeting of a small group called the German Worker’s Party in September 1919. Hitler had found what he wanted- a small political party that he could shape with his own ideas. Hitler quickly became the leader of the party where his brilliant power as a public speaker attracted large audiences and aroused the emotions of the audience through his spoken word.
The party changed its name to become the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) or NAZI for short. The party then developed its own symbols and colours to be associated with- the swastika, colours red, black and white and a distinct party salute. The party’s extreme right wing views to communism and to the republic, the party attracted ex-Freikorps troops and by 1921 the Nazi Party had its own private army, the Sturmabteilung (SA) or Storm Troopers.
Wearing brown uniforms, they became a visible strength of the Nazi Party by protecting leaders and physically attacking any physical opponents. In 1923 the Nazi Party was large enough to attempt to seize power in Bavaria and they tried to seize power in what became known as the Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler and his followers attempted to seize control when they detained the leaders of Bavaria at a political rally in a Munich beer hall on the 8th of November 1923. The Putsch failed however, when the army refused to back the attempt.
In a show of defiance, the following day the Nazis marched into the centre of Munich where their demonstration was broken up by armed police, and Hitler and some of his followers were arrested for treason. Hitler then used his trial in 1924 to promote his party and his views. Although he was sentenced to five years imprisonment, he had now become a national figure and was treated well. He had his own room and was allowed unlimited visitors, special food and he had the company of fellow Nazis also in prison. During this time, he wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle).
He also realised that the only way to get to power was through democratic elections. The first attempt was in the 1928 elections, but the Nazi Party failed miserably, dropping from 103 seats in 1924 to 73 seats in the Reichstag elections of 1928. Hitler’s first real attempt was during the middle of The Great Depression. Over three million Germans were unemployed, and the Nazi Party called an election in September 1930. In a vigorous campaign they held hundreds of rallies across the country, attacking the weaknesses of other parties.
The Nazis grasped the idea that the system had failed and they promised a revitalisation of will and a new beginning. The Nazis were pleased with the result of the election. Even though they had not come to power, they had increased their representation in the Reichstag to 107 seats. Over thirty-five million Germans had voted for the Nazis, which had now made them the second largest party in parliament. In 1932 Hindenburg’s seven year term as President came to a close. The then Chancellor Bruning tried to have Hindenburg’s presidency continued for another two years, but the Nazis and the Nationalists opposed the idea.
So Hindenburg, who was now eighty-four, once again stood for President. Hitler had also announced his intention to run for the presidency. The Nazi Party membership now stood at 450 000 and a vigorous election campaign was started by Dr Joseph Goebbels. In an unwavering three-week campaign, the party organised 300 meetings a day across Germany. Hindenburg, however, did not personally attend his meetings; Bruning did so on his behalf. The voting which took place on the 14th of March was so close that no party received an absolute majority.
Because of this a second round of voting was conducted on the 10th of April. This second round increased the Nazi vote but it was not enough for victory. Hindenburg received a 53% vote and was re-elected for another seven years. By the end of 1932 three chancellors- Bruning, Papen and Schleicher had all failed to achieve any kind of stability in government. A group of men close to the president, including former chancellor Papen, and some powerful industrialists, now believed that Hitler and the Nazis would have to be brought into the government.
Hindenburg finally appointed Hitler chancellor on the 30th of January 1933, after refusing him in August 1932. In the cabinet only three of the eleven posts were given to Nazis, and Papen was appointed vice cancellor. Hitler’s New Germany Hitler’s first step of being chancellor was to call for elections to be held in the March of 1933. Before the elections were held, however, on the 27th of February a week before the election the Reichstag burnt down. A Dutch communist, Marinus van der Lubbe, was caught inside the burning building with firelighters and matches on him.
Hitler used this event to arrest many communists and to request Hindenburg to issue an emergency decree, For the Protection of the People and State. The Nazis won 288 seats Hitler now persuaded the Reichstag to pass the Enabling Act, which would alter the constitution and give him the ability to pass laws without the consent of the Reichstag. By a vote of 441 to 94, the Enabling Act was passed. He was now the legal dictator of Germany. Hitler’s plans for Germany were three points: *Rearmament *Employment *Expansion Almost as soon as the Nazis came to power, Germany began to rearm.
In October 1934 Hitler authorised an increase in the size of the German Army, and in two months it had grown to 280 000 soldiers. In March 1935 he announced the reintroduction of conscription, with plans to build up the army to thirty-six divisions or 500 000 soldiers. The existence of the new German Air Force known as the Luftwaffe was made public. Hitler intended to ignore the military clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. The navy was not overlooked. The Kriegsmarine was given the task of making the construction of submarines, which had proven to be an effective weapon in World War I.
Submarines construction began in 1934 and the number of Unterseeboots or U-Boats grew to fifty-seven. In 1935 the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee was launched, followed by the Scharnhorst and the Gneisau. The new German Air Force, called the Luftwaffe, took the task of rebuilding Germany’s air power with enthusiasm. By 1939 it boasted 4200 front-line aircraft. In September 1936 Hitler introduced the Four Year Plan that aimed to make Germany totally self-sufficient in essential commodities such as oil, iron ore, textiles and food.
When the Nazis came to power there were six million Germans unemployed, which equated to one-third of the workforce. The Nazis regarded unemployment as an urgent issue. Unemployment in Germany dropped due to a number of issues. The number of women in the workforce dropped as Hitler wanted each family to have many children. The Nazis also forced people to work. Many public works programs began, the most significant was the plan to construct over three thousand kilometres of four-lane highways, called autobahns, linking the country from east to west.
Another factor that reduced employment was the creation of the German Labour Service in 1935. All males over the age of 18 were required to do six months of labour service. In the same year conscription was introduced which also brought the unemployment number down significantly. Hitler’s obsession with race caused his desire creation of a pure racial state for the Aryan race. He wanted the Reich to dominate Europe. The German people had to acquire territory or living space, which Germany would conquer which he called Leibanstrawn, or German living space in the east.
If the German people were to survive and preserve their racial identity, they would have to acquire new territory, and this could only be done by force. Hitler’s expansion campaign began in March 1936, when the German troops re-entered the Rhineland. Then in the March of 1938, Austria was taken into the Reich. Sudetenland returns to Germany. Once again in March, but in 1939, Slovakia became a separate state and becomes allied to Germany. In the September of 1939, Germany attacks and takes Poland, but Britain, France and their allies declare war on Germany. World War II had begun.