Adolf Hitler, 1889-1945
Adolf Hitler, the man whom Winston Churchill once described as the "blood-thirsty guttersnipe," was born April 20, 1889, at Braunau in Upper Austria, the son of a minor customs official, originally called Schicklgr�ber, was educated at the secondary schools at Linz and Steyr and destined by his father for the civil service. The young Adolf, however, fashioned himself as a great artist and perhaps purposely disgraced himself in his school leaving examinations. After his father's death he attended a private art school in Munich, but failed twice to pass into the Vienna Academy. Advised to try architecture, he was debarred for lack of a school leaving certificate. His fanatical hatred of all intellectuals and his later sneers at "gentlemen with diplomas" no doubt originated at this early period of his life.
He lived as a tramp in Vienna (1904-1913), making a living by selling bad postcard sketches, beating carpets and doing odd jobs with his companions whom he, lice-ridden and draped in a long black overcoat given to him by a Jewish tailor, thoroughly despised. He worked only fitfully and spent the majority of his time in heated political arguments directed at money-lending Jews and the trade unions. The Nazi philosophy candidly expressed in Mein Kampf, with its brutality, opportunism, contempt for the masses, distrust of even his closest friends, fanatical strength of will and advocacy of the "big lie," was all born in the gutters of Vienna.
He escaped military service, and in 1913 emigrated to Munich, where he found employment as a draftsman. In 1914 he volunteered for war service in a Bavarian regiment, rose to the rank of corporal and was recommended for the award of the Iron Cross for service as a runner on the Western Front. When Germany surrendered in 1918, Hitler was lying wounded and temporarily blinded by gas.
In 1919 and while acting as an informer for the army and spying on the activities of small political parties, Hitler became the seventh member of one group, the name of which he himself changed from the German Workers' Party to the National Socialist German Workers' Party (N.S.D.A.P.) in 1920. Its program was a convenient mixture of mild radicalism, bitter hatred of the politicians who had shamed Germany by signing the Versailles Treaty, and exploitation of provincial grievances against the weak federal government. By 1923 Hitler was strong enough to attempt with General Ludendorff's and other extreme right wing factions the overthrow of the Bavarian government. On November 9, the Nazis marches through the streets of Munich. The police machine-gunned the Nazi column. Hitler narrowly escaped serious injury, G�ring was badly wounded and sixteen stormtroopers were killed. After nine months' imprisonment in a Landsberg jail, during which time he dictated his autobiography and political testament, Mein Kampf (1925) to Rudolf Hess, he began to woo Krupp and other Ruhr industrialists. Although unsuccessful in the presidential elections of 1932, Hitler was made Chancellor in January 1933. Krupp and others believed that they could control Hitler's aspirations inside the government. Hitler, however, quickly dispensed with all constitutional restraints placed upon the Chancellor.
He silenced all opposition, and engineering successfully the burning of the Reichstag building February 1933, advertising it as a Communist plot, called for a general election, in which the police, under G�ring, allowed the Nazis full play to break up the meetings of their political opponents. Only under these conditions did the Nazi Party achieve a bare majority, Hitler arrogating to himself absolute power through the Enabling Acts. Opposition within the Party he ruthlessly crushed by the purge of June 1934 in which his rival R�hm and hundreds of influential Nazis were murdered at the hands of Hitler's, the S.S., under Himmler and Heydrich.
Hindenburg's death in August, 1934 left Hitler sole master in Germany. Under the pretext of undoing the wrongs of the Versailles Treaty and uniting all Germans and extending their living space (Lebensraum), Hitler openly rearmed the nation (1935), sent troops to occupy the Rhineland, established the Rome-Berlin "axis" with Mussolini (October 1936), created a "Greater Germany" by annexing Austria (1938), and by systematic infiltration and engineered incidents engendered a more than favorable situation for an easy absorption of the Sudetenland, to which France and Britain responded with their policy of appeasement at Munich in 1938. Renouncing further territorial claims, Hitler seized Bohemia and Moravia, took Memel from Lithuania and demanded from Poland the return of Danzig and free access to east Prussia through the "Corridor." Poland's refusal, backed by both Britain and France, precipitated the outbreak of World War II, on September 3, 1939.
Hitler's domestic policy was one of thorough "nazification" of all aspects of German life, enforced by the Secret State Police (or Gestapo), and the establishment of concentration camps for political opponents and Jews, who were systematically persecuted. Strategic roads (Autobahnen) were built, Schacht's economic policy expanded German exports up to 1936, and then G�ring's "Guns before Butter" four-year plan boosted armament production and the construction of the Siegfried Line.
Hitler entered the war with the grave misgivings of the German High Command, but as his intuitions scored massive triumphs in the first two years of battle, he began to ignore the advice of his military experts. Peace with Russia having been secured by the Nazi-Soviet Pact (August 23, 1939), Poland was invaded, and after three week's Blitzkrieg was divided between Russia and Germany. In 1940, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium and France were occupied and the British expelled at Dunkirk. But G�ring's invincible Luftwaffe was routed in the Battle of Britain (August-September 1940) and Hitler turned eastwards, entered Rumania (October 1940), invaded Yugoslavia and Greece (April 1941), and ignoring his pact with Stalin, attacked Russia and, as an ally of Japan, found himself at war with the United States (December 1941). The Wehrmacht penetrated to the gates of Moscow and Leningrad, to the Volga, into the Caucasus and, with Italy as an ally since 1940, to North Africa as far as Alexandria.
But there the tide turned and Hitler's strategy faltered. Montgomery's victory over Rommel at El Alamein (October 1942) and Paulus's grave defeat, through Hitler's misdirection, at Stalingrad (November 1942), meant the Nazi withdrawal from North Africa pursued by the British and Americans (November 1942-May 1943). The Allied invasion of Sicily, Italian capitulation (September 1943) and Russian victories (1943-44) followed. The Anglo-American invasion of Normandy and the breaching of Rommel's "Atlantic Wall" (June 1944) were not countered by Hitler's V1 and V2 attacks on Britain.
Hitler miraculously survived the explosion of the bomb placed at his feet by Colonel Stauffenberg (July 19, 1944), and purged the army of all suspects, including Rommel, who committed suicide. A counter-offensive launched against the Allies in the Ardennes failed (December 1944) and the invasion of Germany followed. Hitler lived out his fantasies, commanding non-existent armies from his Bunker, the air-raid shelter under the chancellory building in Berlin. With the Russians only several hundred yards away, he went through a grotesque marriage ceremony with Eva Braun, in the presence of G�ebbel's family, who then poisoned themselves. All available evidence suggests that Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide and had their bodies cremated on April 30, 1945.
Hitler's much celebrated "Third Reich," which was to have endured for eternity, ended after twelve years of unparalleled barbarity, in which 30 million people lost their lives. Twelve million of theses souls lost their lives far from the battlefield, by mass shootings, forced labor camps, and in gas ovens at Belsen, Dachau, Auschwitz and Ravensbr�ck in accordance with Nazi racial theories and the "New Order." To these atrocities we could add the indiscriminate torture and murder of prisoners of war, or the uprooting and destruction of entire villages in Poland, France and Russia. Such horror prompted the international trial at Nuremberg (1945-46), at which twenty-one leading Nazis were tried and eleven executed for carrying out the orders of der F�hrer.
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copyright � 2000 Steven Kreis