Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) was an Austrian-born veteran of World War I who became the leader of the National Socialists (NSDAP) in 1920. He and his party remained on the fringes of German politics for much of the Weimar period. The onset of the Great Depression allowed Hitler and his party to accumulate support and influence.
By 1932, the NSDAP was the largest party in the Reichstag and Hitler felt confident enough to run for the presidency. Though he lost to the incumbent Paul von Hindenburg, the election greatly increased Hitler’s national profile. During this period, Hitler and his party also managed to win support from German capitalists and military commanders.
In January 1933, Hitler was appointed as German chancellor. The men who orchestrated this believed they could control Hitler while exploiting the NSDAP’s numbers in the Reichstag. Within months, however, Hitler had moved to increase his own power and set Germany on a path towards Nazi totalitarianism.
Adolf Hitler’s early life is well documented and widely known. He was born in Braunau-am-Inn, a small Austrian town near the frontier with Germany. Hitler’s father, Alois, was a stern and sometimes brutal parent and his mother, Klara, was more caring and affectionate.
Hitler was raised Catholic, his mother’s religion, and spent time as a chorister in the local cathedral. He was a mediocre student, showing little interest in his subjects other than history and art.
In his late teens, following the death of his parents, Hitler relocated to Vienna. He attempted to gain entry into the local art academy but was rejected. He spent several years he survived by selling postcards and small portraits but was resorted to sleeping in homeless shelters. It was during this period that Hitler acquired and hardened his anti-Semitic views.
Military service and politics
After the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Hitler crossed the border and enlisted in the German army. He served most of the war on the Western Front, reached the rank of corporal and was twice decorated for bravery. At the time of the German surrender, which infuriated Hitler, he was recuperating in a hospital from gas injuries.
Hitler remained in the Reichswehr after the armistice. In September 1919, his superiors sent Hitler to infiltrate, join and report on the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (DAP, ‘German Workers’ Party’), a nationalist group meeting in Munich. Instead, Hitler became fascinated by the group’s radical politics and rousing meetings. He also discovered a talent for passionate and emotive public speaking, becoming the DAP’s most influential orator.
In 1920, Hitler became the party’s leader and oversaw its re-formation as the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP). Like Hitler himself, the NSDAP became even more ultra-nationalist, anti-Semitic and bitterly opposed to the Weimar Republic and the men who ran it.
The Munich putsch
Adolf Hitler was inspired by Benito Mussolini’s 1922 ‘March on Rome’, an event that saw the fascist gain control of the government in Italy. Hitler dreamed of leading the NSDAP to power in Germany in a similar fashion, on the back of public support and adoration.
In November 1923, Hitler and the NSDAP sought to spark a popular uprising by attempting to overthrow the provincial government in Bavaria. Their attempted revolution failed and following a gunfight in the streets of Munich, Hitler was arrested.
Despite being convicted of treason, however, Hitler was treated lightly and the trial brought him national press coverage. While in Landsberg Prison, Hitler drafted his memoirs, later published as Mein Kampf (‘My Struggle’). It became the first significant articulation of Hitler’s social and political views.
Released from prison in 1924, Hitler oversaw the transformation of the NSDAP from a radical revolutionary group into a legitimate political party. While Hitler’s tactics had changed, however, his jaundiced views on the Weimar Republic and democracy had not. His intention was to utilise the Reichstag to seize power and bring down the Republic.
Hitler’s personal life has been fodder for historians and non-historians alike. During the 1920s, he formed a close attachment with Angela ‘Geli’ Rabaul, the teenaged daughter of his half-sister. Their troubled relationship, believed to have been sexual, lasted until Rabaul committed suicide in Hitler’s apartment in 1931.
Shortly after, Hitler began dating Eva Braun, a young model and photographer. Their relationship was concealed from the public for propaganda purposes. In private, Hitler was awkward in the company of people, other than in political discussion. He was vegetarian and prone to hypochondria and overuse of drugs and medication.
Rise to power
Adolf Hitler’s rise to power began with the Great Depression in 1929. Rapidly worsening economic conditions, particularly mass unemployment, made the German people more receptive to Hitler’s ranting nationalism, grandiose promises and conspiracy theories.
The NSDAP gained significant popular support during the early 1930s. In September 1930, the party won 107 seats, second only to the Social Democratic Party (SDP). In April 1932, Hitler ran for the presidency against the Paul von Hindenburg. Though defeated, it boosted his profile considerably. In Reichstag elections three months later, Hitler’s party won 230 seats, the largest number held by any single party during the Weimar era.
Though Hitler was despised by Hindenburg and other members of the political establishment, the NSDAP’s voting power made him a contender for the chancellorship in 1932. Hitler had also boosted his chances by lobbying and gaining the support of powerful Germany industrialists and corporate leaders, as well as military commanders.
From chancellor to dictator
Hitler was eventually appointed to as chancellor in January 1933. This followed a brief period of backroom conniving and dealing by conservative figures, most notably Franz von Papen, who believed they could control or exploit a Hitler chancellorship.
What followed, however, was a rapid descent into totalitarian rule and an undemocratic, one-party Nazi state. Hitler used a devastating fire in the Reichstag
building to pass the Enabling Act, effectively suspending democracy in the German republic. During Hitler’s first 18 months as chancellor, the ageing president, Paul von Hindenburg, provided a brake on the NSDAP leader’s worst excesses. Hindenburg’s death in August 1934 removed this obstacle and Hitler moved swiftly to claim the presidential powers as his own. From this point, the story of Adolf Hitler is intertwined with the creation and consolidation of a Nazi state, the implementation of Nazi policies, World War II and the Holocaust. Hitler reigned surprise until April 1945 when he and Eva Braun took their lives in Berlin, as Russian troops moved toward the capital.
building to pass the Enabling Act, effectively suspending democracy in the German republic.
During Hitler’s first 18 months as chancellor, the ageing president, Paul von Hindenburg, provided a brake on the NSDAP leader’s worst excesses. Hindenburg’s death in August 1934 removed this obstacle and Hitler moved swiftly to claim the presidential powers as his own.
From this point, the story of Adolf Hitler is intertwined with the creation and consolidation of a Nazi state, the implementation of Nazi policies, World War II and the Holocaust. Hitler reigned surprise until April 1945 when he and Eva Braun took their lives in Berlin, as Russian troops moved toward the capital.