Adolph Hitler, born in Braunau am Inn (Austria) April 20, 1889, died in Berlin, April 30, 1945. German Chancellor between 1933 and 1945, Fuehrer of the Third Reich from 1934 to 1945.
In his youth, Adolph Hitler joined in the animated, cosmopolitan life of Vienna. His initial ambition was to be an artist; it was never to be realized. When WWI broke out he left Vienna for Munich and in 1914 enlisted in the Bavarian Army’s 16th Regiment. He was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class, for his bravery and discovered the attraction of military grandeur, values and comradeship. His dreams shattered by Germany’s defeat he grew convinced that Jews and Marxists had played a part in the catastrophe.
In 1920, he founds the German Workers’ National Socialist Party (National Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei or NSDAP). Jailed after a failed coup attempt against the government of Bavaria, he writes Mein Kampf, where he develops his neo-nationalist ideals, based on the superiority of the Aryan race and the creation of an armed elite. He regains the direction of the Nazi Party after his liberation, in 1925.
The Great Depression created a climate of uncertainty favouring the rise of the Nazi party. Left- and right-wing groups fight while unemployment and poverty increase. By striking an alliance with right-wing industrialists, Hitler manages to reinforce his position in the Reichstag where he captures 107 seats in 1930. The NSDAP is now the second largest political party in Germany. Making use of the prevailing climate of violence, his paramilitary troops, the S.A. (Sturmabteilung, the “Brown Shirts”) take control of the streets. In April 1932, he comes close to being elected to the Presidency. Unaware of the threat that Hitler represents, President von Hindenburg appoints him Chancellor on January 30, 1933.
As Hindenburg’s death becomes imminent, Hitler tightens up his grip on political life by the systematic elimination of opponents, as well as of all political groups other than the Nazi Party; it is the “Night of the Long Knives”, June 30, 1934. Hindenburg dies on August 1st, and Hitler appoints himself Fuehrer, or Leader, of the Third Reich and the German People. The move is ratified by a plebiscite on 19 August. Whenever constitutional powers are insufficient, Hitler uses propaganda and terror to reach his goals. The SS (Schutzstaffel, or “Black Shirts”) and the untouchable Gestapo provide secret police services. A vast program of public works, including a highway network (Autobahn) revitalize the economy and reduce unemployment; several foreign leaders are favourably impressed by Hitler’s successes against the economic depression.
Hitler’s foreign policy focuses on the issues that he discussed in Mein Kampf: to vindicate Germany and take revenge for the humiliation imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, to unite all ethnic Germans into a common, single fatherland, to destroy Bolshevism, to conquer and colonize Eastern Europe. Cautious at first, Hitler withdraws Germany from the Society of Nations, a radical move that he skilfully balances by bilateral agreements, including a non-aggression pact with Poland (1934). Made stronger by the hesitations of European nations, he becomes increasingly demanding and aggressive. In March 1935, he announces that Germany will reconstruct its military power, against the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles; the following year German troops are stationed in Rhineland, the demilitarized area bordering on France and Belgium. Supported by Mussolini’s Fascist regime in Italy and encouraged by the meek reaction of Western democracies, Hitler drafts a war plan which is presented to military staff at a secret meeting in November 1937. Hitler then undertakes to incorporate neighbouring nations into the Greater Germany: Austria in March 1938, the Sudetenland in September 1938, Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Poland in August 1939.
That last action bears the final blow to Peace. Great Britain and France react. World War II has started.
The War begins with a series of military successes: Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands and France are occupied. In October 1940, however, the Luftwaffe loses the Battle of England, forcing Hitler to postpone his plans for the invasion of the British Isles. The new Hitlerian order spreads its shadow over Europe, Jews are eliminated, deported to concentration camps and murdered.
In violation of the non-aggression pact between the two countries, Hitler invades the USSR in June 1941. Victorious at first, German troops are defeated near Moscow in December 1941. The Soviet Army and population put up a fierce resistance and for the years to come the Eastern Front will drain the military resources of the Reich. Hitler also underestimates the military strength of the US and declares war against the Americans just as the conflict with Japan — a member of the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis — erupts.
The future is growing bleak for the German invaders: defeat after defeat on the Russian front, the loss of North Africa, the Allies opening up another front in Sicily at first, later in Italy. When the Allies invade Normandy in June 1944, Germany is unable to fight on all fronts. The senior military staff is divided, to the point that a group of officers try to assassinate Hitler in a bomb attack on July 20, 1944. Exhausted, embittered, Hitler is increasingly isolated. On April 30, 1945, as the Russian Army is marching on Berlin and US troops enter Nuremberg, Hitler and his companion, Eva Braun, whom he had married in the preceding hours, commit suicide in their private quarters of the Berlin Chancellery.