One of the central characters of the twentieth century, Adolf Hitler was born in Austria on 20th April 1889, the fourth of six children to his parents Alois and Klara Hitler. The family changed location several times living between Germany and Austria, with the young Hitler enrolled in different schools where he proved to be a difficult student, particularly after the death of his younger brother from measles in 1900.
Hitler left school at sixteen years of age with no special skills, but he enjoyed art and for a time earned a living in Vienna selling his water-colour paintings and hand tinting black and white photographs. However he was twice rejected for entry at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, where his work was considered only mediocre.
He eventually became destitute and lived for a time at a homeless men’s shelter in Vienna before moving to Germany in 1913, and taking up residence in Munich.
Role in WW1
- Hitler signed up for service in the Bavarian Army soon after the beginning of the war, in 1914.
- He served as a dispatch runner on the Western Front, achieving the rank of Gefreiter – equivalent to Lance Corporal in the British Army.
- He was wounded during the Battle of the Somme in October 1916
- In October 1918 he was gassed and temporarily blinded.
- He was twice decorated for bravery, the first time receiving the Iron Cross Second Class in 1914 and then the Iron Cross First Class in August 1918, just prior to the Armistice.
- Following Germany’s surrender in 1918 he became convinced that his country had been “stabbed in the back” by home based civilians and Marxists.
After the War
Hitler was embittered by Germany’s defeat and this loss, plus what he saw as the unfairness and severity of the Treaty of Versailles, shaped his post-war philosophy. He joined the German Workers Party, later to become the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) – or the Nazis – and began campaigning on their behalf.
He became a highly effective orator, perfecting the technique of articulating what people wished to hear and he became increasingly convincing in his self-appointed role of the people’s champion. He was involved in a failed coup in 1923 and was arrested, spending a year in prison. He then further developed his philosophy of blaming the condition of Germany after the war on the Jews, capitalists and communists, and gained considerable public acclaim by denouncing these groups.
He would later remark “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed”.
After a series of political manoeuvrings, he was elected as Chancellor of Germany in 1933, and set about transitioning Germany into the Third Reich – a Nazi operated dictatorship that was to “rule for a thousand years”.
His foreign policy became increasingly expansionist and he finally precipitated the Second World War when he ordered German troops to invade Poland on 1st September 1939.
After five years of unprecedented warfare that saw an estimated 55 million people die, including 6 million Jews in the holocaust, Hitler and his Nazis were on the verge of defeat. He committed suicide on 30th April 1945, just ten days after his 56th birthday.
Image: Adolf Hitler, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons