Adolf Hitler

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Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler (April 20, 1889 – April 30, 1945) was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 and Führer (Leader) of Germany from 1934 until his death. He was leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP), better known as the Nazi Party. Since the defeat of Germany in World War II, Hitler, the Nazi Party, and the results of Nazism have been regarded in most of the world as synonymous with evil. The need to prevent the recurrence of such circumstances has been recognized. Yet initially when parliament voted him almost absolute authority he enjoyed overwhelming popular support. Historical and cultural portrayals of Hitler in the West are almost uniformly negative, sometimes neglecting to mention the adulation the German people bestowed on Hitler during his lifetime.

Hitler used charismatic oratory and propaganda, appealing to economic need, nationalism, and anti-Semitism to establish an authoritarian regime in a Germany that was still coming to terms with defeat in World War I in which many people resented the humiliating terms imposed by France and England at the Treaty of Versailles. The economic disaster that overwhelmed democratic Germany in the 1920s was blamed on the treaty, which exacted heavy reparations. This goes a long way to explaining the mood of the German people to accept a man like Hitler as their savior.

With a restructured economy and rearmed military, Hitler pursued an aggressive foreign policy with the intention of expanding German Lebensraum (“living space”) and triggered a major war in Europe by invading Poland. At the height of their power, Germany and its allies, known as the Axis Powers, occupied most of Europe, but were eventually defeated by the Britain-U.S.-led Allies in World War II. Hitler's racial policies culminated in the genocide of 11 million people, including about six million Jews, in what is now known as the Holocaust.

In the final days of the war, Hitler committed suicide in his underground bunker in Berlin, together with his newly wed wife, Eva Braun.

Early years

Childhood and heritage

Adolf Hitler as an infant.

Hitler was born on April 20, 1889, at Braunau am Inn, Austria, a small town on the border with Germany to Alois Hitler (1837–1903), a customs official, and Klara Pölzl (1860–1907), Alois's niece and third wife. Adolf was the fourth of six siblings, of whom only Adolf and his younger sister Paula reached adulthood. Alois Hitler also had a son (Alois) and a daughter (Angela) by his second wife.

Alois Hitler was illegitimate and used his mother's surname, Schicklgruber, until he was 40, when he began using his stepfather's surname name, Hiedler, after visiting a priest responsible for birth registries and declaring that Georg was his father (Alois gave the impression that Georg was still alive but he was long dead). A clerk probably changed the spelling to "Hitler.” Later, Adolf Hitler's political enemies accused him of not being a Hitler, but a Schicklgruber. This was also exploited in Allied propaganda during the Second World War when pamphlets bearing the phrase "Heil Schicklgruber" were airdropped over German cities. Adolf was legally born a Hitler, however, and was also closely related to Hiedler through his maternal grandmother, Johanna Hiedler.

There have been rumors that Hitler was one-quarter Jewish and that his paternal grandmother, Maria Schicklgruber, had become pregnant after working as a servant in a Jewish household in Graz, Austria. During the 1920s, the implications of these rumors along with his known family history were politically explosive, especially for the proponent of a racist ideology that especially targeted Jews. Although rumors of his non-German descent were never confirmed, they were reason enough for Hitler to conceal his origins. Soviet propaganda insisted Hitler was a Jew; research suggests that it is unlikely that he had Jewish ancestors. Historians such as Werner Maser and Ian Kershaw argue this was impossible, since the Jews had been expelled from Graz in the fifteenth century and were not allowed to return until well after Maria Schicklgruber's alleged employment.

Because of Alois Hitler's profession, his family moved frequently, from Braunau to Passau, Lambach, Leonding, and Linz. As a young child, Hitler was reportedly a good student at the various elementary schools he attended; however, in sixth grade (1900–1901), his first year of high school (Realschule) in Linz, he failed completely and had to repeat the grade. His teachers reported that he had "no desire to work."

Hitler later explained this educational slump as a kind of rebellion against his father Alois, who wanted the boy to follow him in a career as a customs official, although Adolf wanted to become an artist. This explanation is further supported by Hitler's later description of himself as a misunderstood artist. However, after Alois died on January 3, 1903, when Adolf was 13, Hitler's schoolwork did not improve. At the age of 16, Hitler left school with no qualifications.

Early adulthood in Vienna and Munich

From 1905 onward, Hitler was able to live the life of a Bohemian on a fatherless child's pension and support from his mother. He was rejected twice by the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna (1907–1908) due to "unfitness for painting," and was told his abilities lay rather in the field of architecture. Following the school rector's recommendation, he too became convinced this was the path to pursue, yet he lacked the proper academic preparation for architecture school:

In a few days I myself knew that I should some day become an architect. To be sure, it was an incredibly hard road; for the studies I had neglected out of spite at the Realschule were sorely needed. One could not attend the Academy's architectural school without having attended the building school at the Technic, and the latter required a high-school degree. I had none of all this. The fulfillment of my artistic dream seemed physically impossible (Mein Kampf, ch. 2).

On December 21, 1907, his mother Klara died a painful death from breast cancer at the age of 47. Hitler gave his share of the orphans' benefits to his younger sister Paula, but when he was 21 he inherited some money from an aunt. He worked as a struggling painter in Vienna, copying scenes from postcards and selling his paintings to merchants and tourists (there is evidence he produced over 2,000 paintings and drawings before World War I). During this period, he became close friends with the musician August Kubizek.

Did you know?
Adolf Hitler's anti-Semitism developed during his years as a struggling artist in Vienna, Austria

After the second refusal from the Academy of Arts, Hitler gradually ran out of money. By 1909, he sought refuge in a homeless shelter, and by the beginning of 1910, had settled permanently into a house for poor working men. He made spending money by painting tourist postcards of Vienna scenery. Several biographers have noted that a Jewish resident of the house named Hanisch helped him sell his postcards.

It was in Vienna that Hitler first became an active anti-Semite. This was a common stance among Austrians at the time, mixing traditional religious prejudice with recent racist theories. Vienna had a large Jewish community, including many Orthodox Jews from Eastern Europe. Hitler was slowly influenced over time by the writings of the race ideologist and anti-Semite Lanz von Liebenfels and polemics from politicians such as Karl Lueger, founder of the Christian Social Party and mayor of Vienna, and Georg Ritter von Schönerer, leader of the pan-Germanic Away from Rome! movement. He later wrote in his book Mein Kampf that his transition from opposing anti-Semitism on religious grounds to supporting it on racial grounds came from having seen an Orthodox Jew:

There were very few Jews in Linz. In the course of centuries the Jews who lived there had become Europeanized in external appearance and were so much like other human beings that I even looked upon them as Germans. The reason why I did not then perceive the absurdity of such an illusion was that the only external mark which I recognized as distinguishing them from us was the practice of their strange religion. As I thought that they were persecuted on account of their faith my aversion to hearing remarks against them grew almost into a feeling of abhorrence. I did not in the least suspect that there could be such a thing as a systematic anti-Semitism. Once, when passing through the inner City, I suddenly encountered a phenomenon in a long caftan and wearing black side-locks. My first thought was: Is this a Jew? They certainly did not have this appearance in Linz. I watched the man stealthily and cautiously but the longer I gazed at the strange countenance and examined it feature by feature, the more the question shaped itself in my brain: Is this a German?[1]

Hitler began to claim the Jews were natural enemies of what he called the Aryan race. He held them responsible for Austria's crisis. He also identified socialism and especially Bolshevism, which had many Jews among its leaders, as Jewish movements, merging his anti-Semitism with anti-Marxism. Blaming Germany's military defeat on the revolution, he considered Jews the culprit of Germany's military defeat and subsequent economic problems as well.

Generalizing from tumultuous scenes in the parliament of multi-national Austria, he developed a firm belief in the inferiority of the parliamentary system, and especially social democracy, which formed the basis of his political views. However, according to August Kubizek, his close friend and roommate at the time, he was more interested in the operas of Richard Wagner than in politics.

Hitler received a small inheritance from his father in May 1913 and moved to Munich. He later wrote in Mein Kampf that he had always longed to live in a German city. In Munich, he became more interested in architecture and the writings of Houston Stewart Chamberlain who argued that Jesus was an Aryan, not a Jew. Moving to Munich also helped him escape military service in Austria for a time, but the Austrian army later arrested him. After a physical exam (during which his height was measured at 173 cm, or 5 ft. 8 in.) and a contrite plea, he was deemed unfit for service and allowed to return to Munich. However, when Germany entered World War I in August 1914, he immediately enlisted in the Bavarian army.

World War I

Hitler saw active service in France and Belgium as a messenger for the regimental headquarters of the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment (also called Regiment List after its first commander), which exposed him to enemy fire. Unlike his fellow soldiers, Hitler reportedly never complained about the food or hard conditions, preferring to talk about art or history. He also drew some cartoons and instructional drawings for the army newspaper. His behavior as a soldier was considered somewhat sloppy, but his regular duties required taking dispatches to and from fighting areas and he was twice decorated for his performance of these duties. He received the Iron Cross, Second Class in December 1914 and the Iron Cross, First Class in August 1918, an honor rarely given to a Gefreiter (private). However, because of the perception of "a lack of leadership skills" on the part of some of the regimental staff, as well as (according to Kershaw) Hitler's unwillingness to leave regimental headquarters (which would have been likely in event of promotion), he was never promoted to Unteroffizier (non-commissioned officer). His duty station at regimental headquarters, while often dangerous, gave Hitler time to pursue his artwork. During October 1916 in northern France, Hitler was wounded in the leg, but returned to the front in March 1917. He received the Wound Badge later that year, as his injury was the direct result of hostile fire.

Hitler was considered a "correct" soldier but was reportedly unpopular with his comrades because of an uncritical attitude toward officers. "Respect the superior, don't contradict anybody, obey blindly," he said, describing his attitude while on trial in 1924.

On October 15, 1918, shortly before the end of the war, Hitler was admitted to a field hospital, temporarily blinded by a poison gas attack. Research by Bernhard Horstmann indicates the blindness may have been the result of a hysterical reaction to Germany's defeat. Hitler later said it was during this experience that he became convinced the purpose of his life was to save Germany. Meanwhile he was treated by a military physician and specialist in psychiatry who reportedly diagnosed the corporal as "incompetent to command people" and "dangerously psychotic." His commander is said to have stated that he would "never promote this hysteric!" However, historian Sebastian Haffner, referring to Hitler's experience at the front, suggests he did have at least some understanding of the military.

Two passages in Mein Kampf mention the use of poison gas:

  • At the beginning of the Great War, or even during the War, if twelve or fifteen thousand of these Jews who were corrupting the nation had been forced to submit to poison-gas . . . then the millions of sacrifices made at the front would not have been in vain (vol. 2, ch. 15).
  • These tactics are based on an accurate estimation of human weakness and must lead to success, with almost mathematical certainty, unless the other side also learns how to fight poison gas with poison gas. The weaker natures must be told that here it is a case of to be or not to be (vol. 1, ch. 2).

Hitler had long admired Germany, and during the war he had become a passionate German patriot, although he did not become a German citizen until 1932 (the year before he took over Germany). He was shocked by Germany's capitulation in November 1918 even while the German army still held enemy territory. Like many other German nationalists, Hitler believed in the Dolchstoßlegende ("dagger-stab legend") that claimed that the army, "undefeated in the field," had been "stabbed in the back" by civilian leaders and Marxists back on the home front. These politicians were later dubbed the November Criminals.

The Treaty of Versailles deprived Germany of various territories, demilitarized the Rhineland, and imposed other economically damaging sanctions. The treaty also declared Germany the culprit for all the horrors of the Great War, as a basis for later imposing not yet specified reparations on Germany (the amount was repeatedly revised under the Dawes Plan, Young Plan, and the Hoover Moratorium). Germans, however, perceived the treaty and especially the paragraph on the German guilt as a humiliation, not least as it was damaging in the extreme to their pride. For example, there was nearly a full demilitarization of the armed forces, allowing Germany only 6 battleships, no submarines, no air force, an army of 100,000 without conscription and no armored vehicles. The treaty was an important factor in both the social and political conditions encountered by Hitler and his National Socialist Party as they sought power. Hitler and his party used the signing of the treaty by the November Criminals as a reason to build up Germany so that it could never happen again. He also used the November Criminals as scapegoats, although at the Paris peace conference, these politicians had very little choice in the matter.

The early years of the Nazi Party

A copy of Adolf Hitler's forged German Workers' Party membership card. His actual membership number was 555 (the 55th member of the party—the 500 was added to make the group appear larger), but later the number was reduced to create the impression that Hitler was one of the founding members (Kershaw Hubris). Hitler had wanted to create his own party, but was ordered by his superiors in the Reichswehr to infiltrate an existing one instead.

Hitler's entry and rise

After the war, Hitler remained in the army, which was mainly engaged in suppressing socialist uprisings breaking out across Germany, including Munich (Bavarian Soviet Republic), where Hitler returned in 1919. He took part in "national thinking" courses organized by the Education and Propaganda Department of the Bavarian Reichswehr Group, Headquarters 4 under Captain Mayr. A key purpose of this group was to create a scapegoat for the outbreak of the war and Germany's defeat. The scapegoats were found in "international Jewry," communists and politicians across the party spectrum, especially the parties of the Weimar Coalition, who were deemed November Criminals.

In July 1919, Hitler was appointed a Verbindungsmann (police spy) of Aufklärungskommando (Intelligence Commando) of the Reichswehr, for the purpose of influencing other soldiers toward similar ideas and was assigned to infiltrate a small nationalist party, the German Workers' Party (DAP). During his inspection of the party, Hitler was impressed with Anton Drexler's anti-Semitic, nationalist, and anti-Marxist ideas. Here Hitler also met Dietrich Eckart, one of the early founders of the Nazi Party, member of Thule Society.[2] Eckart became Hitler's mentor, exchanging ideas with him, teaching him how to dress and speak, and introducing him to a wide range of people. Hitler in return thanked Eckart by paying tribute to him in the second volume of Mein Kampf.

Hitler was discharged from the army in March 1920 and with his former superiors' continued encouragement began participating full time in the party's activities. By early 1921, Adolf Hitler was becoming highly effective at speaking in front of even larger crowds. In February, Hitler spoke before a crowd of nearly six thousand in Munich. To publicize the meeting, he sent out two truckloads of party supporters to drive around with swastikas, cause a commotion, and throw out leaflets, their first use of this tactic. Hitler gained notoriety outside of the party for his rowdy, polemic speeches against the Treaty of Versailles, rival politicians, and especially against Marxists and Jews.

The German Workers' Party was centered in Munich, which had become a hotbed of reactionary German nationalists that included army officers determined to crush Marxism and undermine or even overthrow the young German democracy centered in Berlin. Gradually, they noticed Adolf Hitler and his growing movement as a vehicle to hitch themselves to. Hitler traveled to Berlin to visit nationalist groups during the summer of 1921 and in his absence there was an unexpected revolt among the DAP leadership in Munich.

The party was run by an executive committee whose original members considered Hitler to be overbearing and even dictatorial. To weaken Hitler's position, they formed an alliance with a group of socialists from Augsburg. Hitler rushed back to Munich and countered them by tendering his resignation from the party on July 11, 1921. When they realized the loss of Hitler would effectively mean the end of the party, he seized the moment and announced he would return on the condition that he was made chairman and given dictatorial powers. Infuriated committee members (including founder Anton Drexler) held out at first. Meanwhile an anonymous pamphlet appeared entitled Adolf Hitler: Is he a traitor? attacking Hitler's lust for power and criticizing the violence-prone men around him. Hitler responded to its publication in a Munich newspaper by suing for libel and later won a small settlement.

The executive committee of the DAP eventually backed down and Hitler's demands were put to a vote of party members. Hitler received 543 votes for and only one against. At the next gathering on July 29, 1921, Adolf Hitler was introduced as Führer of the Nazi Party, marking the first time this title was publicly used. Hitler changed the name of the party to the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP).

Hitler's beer hall oratory, attacking Jews, socialists, liberals, capitalists, and communists, began attracting adherents. Early followers included Rudolf Hess, the former air force pilot Hermann Göring, and the flamboyant army captain Ernst Röhm, who became head of the Nazis' paramilitary organization, the Sturmabteilung (SA), which protected meetings and attacked political opponents. He also attracted the attention of local business interests, was accepted into influential circles of Munich society, and became associated with wartime general Erich Ludendorff (1865–1937), who wrote extensively on the conduct of World War I, which he believed had been defensive. He blamed Jews and other internal enemies of Germany for the defeat.

The Hitler Putsch

Encouraged by this early support, Hitler decided to use Ludendorff as a front in an attempt to seize power later known as the Hitler Putsch (and sometimes as Beerhall Putsch or Munich Putsch). The Nazi Party had copied the Italian Fascists in appearance and also had adopted some programmatical points and in the turbulent year 1923, Hitler wanted to emulate Mussolini's "March on Rome" by staging his own "Campaign in Berlin." Hitler and Ludendorff obtained the clandestine support of Gustav von Kahr, Bavaria's de facto ruler along with leading figures in the Reichswehr and the police. As political posters show, Ludendorff, Hitler, and the heads of the Bavarian police and military planned on forming a new government.

However on November 8, 1923, Kahr and the military withdrew their support during a meeting in the Bürgerbräu beer hall. A surprised Hitler had them arrested and proceeded with the coup. Unknown to him, Kahr and the other detainees had been released on Ludendorff's orders after he obtained their word not to interfere. That night they prepared resistance measures against the coup and in the morning, when the Nazis marched from the beer hall to the Bavarian War Ministry to overthrow what they saw as Bavaria's traitorous government as a start to their "March on Berlin," the army quickly dispersed them (Ludendorff was wounded and a few other Nazis were killed).

Hitler fled to the home of friends and contemplated suicide. He was soon arrested for high treason and appointed Alfred Rosenberg as temporary leader of the party, but found himself in an environment somewhat receptive to his beliefs. During Hitler's trial, sympathetic magistrates allowed Hitler to turn his debacle into a propaganda stunt. He was given almost unlimited amounts of time to present his arguments to the court along with a large body of the German people, and his popularity soared when he voiced basic nationalistic sentiments shared by the public. On April 1, 1924, Hitler was sentenced to five years' imprisonment at Landsberg prison for the crime of conspiracy to commit treason. Hitler received favored treatment from the guards and received lots of mail from admirers. While at Landsberg he dictated his political book Mein Kampf (My Struggle) to his deputy Rudolf Hess. The book, dedicated to Thule Society member Dietrich Eckart, was both an autobiography and an exposition of his political ideology. It was published in two volumes in 1925 and 1926, respectively, but did not sell very well until Hitler came to power (though by the late 1930s nearly every household in Germany had a copy of it). Meanwhile, as he was considered relatively harmless, Hitler was released in December 1924.

The rebuilding of the party

At the time of Hitler's release, the political situation in Germany had calmed down, and the economy had improved, which hampered Hitler's opportunities for agitation. Instead, he began a long effort to rebuild the dwindling party.

Though the Hitler Putsch had given Hitler some national prominence, his party's mainstay was still Munich. To spread the party to the north, Hitler also assimilated independent groups, such as the Nuremberg-based Wistrich, led by Julius Streicher, who now became Gauleiter (a rank within the party similar to deputy leader) of Franconia.

As Hitler was still banned from public speeches, he appointed Gregor Strasser, who in 1924 had been elected to the Reichstag, as Reichsorganisationsleiter, authorizing him to organize the party in northern Germany. Gregor, joined by his younger brother Otto and Joseph Goebbels, steered an increasingly independent course, emphasizing the socialist element in the party's program. The Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Gauleiter Nord-West became an internal opposition, threatening Hitler's authority, but this faction was defeated at the Bamberg Conference (1926), during which Goebbels joined Hitler.

After this encounter, Hitler centralized the party even more and asserted the Führerprinzip as the basic principle of party organization. Leaders were not elected by their group but were rather appointed by their superior and were answerable to them while demanding unquestioning obedience from their inferiors. Consistent with Hitler's disdain for democracy, all power and authority devolved from the top down.

A key element of Hitler's appeal was his ability to convey a sense of offended national pride caused by the Treaty of Versailles imposed on the defeated German Empire by the victors in World War I. Germany had lost economically important territory in Europe along with its colonies and in admitting to sole responsibility for the war had agreed to pay a huge reparations bill totaling 32 billion Gold marks. Most Germans bitterly resented these terms but early Nazi attempts to gain support by blaming these humiliations on "international Jewry" were not particularly successful with the electorate. The party learned quickly and a more subtle propaganda emerged, combining anti-Semitism with an attack on the failures of the "Weimar system" and the parties supporting it.

Having failed in overthrowing the republic by a coup, Hitler now pursued the "strategy of legality": this meant formally adhering to the rules of the Weimar Republic until he had legally gained power and then to transform liberal democracy into an authoritarian dictatorship. Some party members, especially in the paramilitary SA, opposed this strategy. Ernst Röhm, Hitler's long-time associate and leader of the SA, ridiculed Hitler as "Adolphe Legalité," resigned from his post, and emigrated to Bolivia.

The road to power

The Brüning administration

The political turning point for Hitler came when the Great Depression hit Germany in 1930. The Weimar Republic had never been firmly rooted and was openly opposed by right-wing conservatives (including monarchists), Communists, and the Nazis. As the parties loyal to the republic found themselves unable to agree on counter-measures, their Grand Coalition broke up and was replaced by a minority cabinet. The new Chancellor Heinrich Brüning, lacking a majority in parliament, had to implement his measures through the president's emergency decrees. Tolerated by the majority of parties, the exception soon became the rule and paved the way for authoritarian forms of government.

The Reichstag's initial opposition to Brüning's measures led to premature elections in September 1930. The republican parties lost their majority and their ability to resume the Grand Coalition, while the Nazis suddenly rose from relative obscurity to win 18.3 percent of the vote along with 107 seats in the Reichstag (Parliament), becoming the second largest party in Germany.

Brüning's measure of budget consolidation and financial austerity brought little economic improvement and was extremely unpopular. Under these circumstances, Hitler appealed to the bulk of German farmers, war veterans, and the middle-class who had been hard-hit by both the inflation of the 1920s and the unemployment of the Depression. Hitler received little response from the urban working classes and traditionally Catholic regions.

Meanwhile on September 18, 1931, Hitler's niece Geli Raubal was found dead in her bedroom in his Munich apartment (his half-sister Angela and her daughter Geli had been with him in Munich since 1929), an apparent suicide. Geli was 19 years younger than Hitler and had used his gun, drawing rumors of a relationship between the two. The event is viewed as having caused lasting turmoil for him.

In 1932, Hitler intended to run against the aging president Paul von Hindenburg in the scheduled German presidential election. Though Hitler had left Austria in 1913, he still had not acquired German citizenship and hence could not run for public office. In February however, the state government of Brunswick, in which the Nazi Party participated, appointed Hitler to some minor administrative post and also gave him citizenship. The new German citizen ran against Hindenburg, who was supported by the republican parties, and the Communist candidate. His campaign was called "Hitler über Deutschland" (Hitler over Germany). The name had a double meaning. Besides an obvious reference to Hitler's dictatorial intentions, it also referred to the fact that Hitler was campaigning by airplane. This was a brand new political tactic that allowed Hitler to speak sometimes in two cities in one day, which was then unheard of at the time. Hitler ended up losing the election. Although he lost, the election established Hitler as a realistic and fresh alternative in German politics.

The cabinets of Papen and Schleicher

President Hindenburg, influenced by the Camarilla, became increasingly estranged from Brüning and pushed his chancellor to move the government in a decidedly authoritarian and right-wing direction. This culminated in May 1932 with the resignation of the Brüning cabinet.

Hindenburg appointed the nobleman Franz von Papen as chancellor, heading a "cabinet of barons." Papen was bent on authoritarian rule and since in the Reichstag only the conservative German National People's Party (DNVP) supported his administration, he immediately called for new elections in July. In these elections, the Nazis achieved their biggest success yet and won 230 seats.

The Nazis had become the largest party in the Reichstag without which no stable government could be formed. Papen tried to convince Hitler to become vice-chancellor and enter a new government with a parliamentary basis. Hitler, however, rejected this offer and put further pressure on Papen by entertaining parallel negotiations with the Centre Party, Papen's former party, which was bent on bringing down the renegade Papen. In both negotiations, Hitler demanded that he, as leader of the strongest party, must be chancellor, but President Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint the "Bohemian private" to the chancellorship.

After a vote of no-confidence in the Papen government, supported by 84 percent of the deputies, the new Reichstag was dissolved and new elections were called in November. This time, the Nazis lost some votes, but still remained the largest party in the Reichstag.

After Papen failed to secure a majority he proposed to dissolve the parliament again along with an indefinite postponement of elections. Hindenburg at first accepted this, but after General Kurt von Schleicher and the military withdrew their support, Hindenburg instead dismissed Papen and appointed Schleicher, who promised he could secure a majority government by negotiations with the Social Democrats, the trade unions, and dissidents from the Nazi Party under Gregor Strasser. In January 1933, however, Schleicher had to admit failure in these efforts and asked Hindenburg for emergency powers along with the same postponement of elections that he had opposed earlier, to which the president reacted by dismissing Schleicher.

Hitler's appointment as Chancellor

Meanwhile Papen, resentful because of his dismissal, tried to get his revenge on Schleicher by working toward the general's downfall, through forming an intrigue with the Camarilla and Alfred Hugenberg, media mogul and chairman of the German National People's Party. Also involved were Hjalmar Schacht, Fritz Thyssen, and other leading German businessmen. They financially supported the Nazi Party, which had been brought to the brink of bankruptcy by the cost of heavy campaigning. The businessmen also wrote letters to Hindenburg, urging him to appoint Hitler as leader of a government "independent from parliamentary parties," which could turn into a movement that would "enrapture millions of people."[3]

Finally, the president reluctantly agreed to appoint Hitler as chancellor of a coalition government formed by the NSDAP and DNVP. Hitler and two other Nazi ministers (Wilhelm Frick and Hermann Göring) were to be contained by a framework of conservative cabinet ministers, most notably by Papen as vice-chancellor of Germany and by Hugenberg as Minister of Economics. Papen wanted to use Hitler as a figurehead, but the Nazis had gained key positions, most notably the Ministry of the Interior. On the morning of January 30, 1933, in Hindenburg's office, Adolf Hitler was sworn in as chancellor during what some observers later described as a brief and simple ceremony.

Reichstag Fire and the March elections

Having become chancellor, Hitler foiled all attempts to gain a majority in parliament and on that basis convinced President Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag again. Elections were scheduled for early March, but before that date, the Reichstag building was set on fire on February 27, under still unclear circumstances. Since a Dutch independent communist was found in the building, the fire was blamed on a communist plot to which the government reacted with the Reichstag Fire Decree of February 28, which suspended basic rights including habeas corpus. Under the provisions of this decree, the Communist Party and other groups were suppressed; Communist functionaries and deputies were arrested, put to flight, or murdered.

Campaigning still continued, with the Nazis making use of paramilitary violence, anti-Communist hysteria, and the government's resources for propaganda. On the March 6 election day, the NSDAP increased its results to 43.9 percent of the vote, remaining the largest party, but this success was marred by its failure to secure an absolute majority. Hence, Hitler had to maintain his coalition with the German National People's Party (DNVP), which jointly had gained a slim majority.

The Day of Potsdam and the Enabling Act

Paul von Hindenburg and Adolf Hitler on the Day of Potsdam, March 21, 1933

On March 21, the new Reichstag was constituted with an impressive opening ceremony held at Potsdam's garrison church. This "Day of Potsdam" was staged to demonstrate reconciliation and union between the revolutionary Nazi movement and "Old Prussia," with its elites and virtues. Hitler himself appeared not in Nazi uniform but in a tail coat, and humbly greeted the aged President Hindenburg.

Because of the Nazis' failure to obtain a majority on their own, Hitler's government confronted the newly elected Reichstag with the Enabling Act that would have vested the cabinet with legislative powers for a period of four years. Though such a bill was not unprecedented, this act was different since it allowed for deviations from the constitution. As the bill required a two-thirds majority in order to pass, the government needed the support of other parties. The position of the Catholic Centre Party, at this point the third largest party in the Reichstag, turned out to be decisive: under the leadership of Ludwig Kaas, the party decided to vote for the Enabling Act. It did so in return for the government's oral guarantees regarding the Church's liberty, the concordats signed by German states, and the continued existence of the Centre Party itself. According to historians, notably Professor Klaus Scholder, Hitler also agreed to initiate negotiations for the Reichskonkordat, a treaty between the Catholic Church and the German Reich. Scholder maintains that in making this agreement Kaas was guided by his friend Cardinal Pacelli, Vatican Secretary of State and later Pope Pius XII.[4]

On March 23, the Reichstag assembled in a replacement building under extremely turbulent circumstances. Some Sturmabteilung (SA men) served as guards within while large groups outside the building shouted slogans and threats toward the arriving deputies. Kaas announced that the Centre would support the bill amid "concerns put aside," while Social Democrat Otto Wels denounced the act in his speech. At the end of the day, all parties except the Social Democrats voted in favor of the bill. The Enabling Act was dutifully renewed every four years, even through World War II.

Removal of remaining limits

With this combination of legislative and executive power, Hitler's government further suppressed the remaining political opposition. The Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party were banned, while all other political parties dissolved themselves. Labor unions were merged with employers' federations into an organization under Nazi control and the autonomy of state governments was abolished.

Hitler also used the SA paramilitary to push Hugenberg into resigning and proceeded to politically isolate Vice Chancellor Papen. As the SA's demands for political and military power caused much anxiety among the populace in general and especially among the military, Hitler used allegations of a plot by the SA leader Ernst Röhm to purge the paramilitary force's leadership during the Night of the Long Knives. Opponents unconnected with the SA were also murdered, notably Gregor Strasser and former chancellor Kurt von Schleicher.

Soon after, President Paul von Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934. Rather than hold new presidential elections, Hitler's cabinet passed a law proclaiming the presidency dormant and transferred the role and powers of the head of state to Hitler as Führer und Reichskanzler (leader and chancellor). Thereby Hitler also became supreme commander of the military, which swore their military oath not to the state or the constitution, but to Hitler personally. In a mid-August plebiscite, these acts found the approval of 90 percent of the electorate. Combining the highest offices in state, military, and party in his hand, Hitler had attained supreme rule that could no longer be legally challenged.

The Third Reich

What is especially frightening about Hitler's rise to power is that his Nazi party was initially empowered using the democratic process and that Hitler's autocratic powers were confirmed by Parliament with only one party opposed. In the process, Hitler made extensive use of propaganda to curry favor with the people and demoralize opponents.

Having secured supreme political power, Hitler went on to gain the German people's support by persuading most he was their savior from the Depression, the Communists, the Treaty of Versailles, and the Jews, along with other "undesirable" minorities. The Third Reich that he created lasted 12 years in total.

Still, observers are puzzled by almost a whole nation’s compliance with Hitler's racist policies. Even the clergy proved generally supportive of Hitler, and the few Christians who did oppose him condemned the idolatrous aspects of Nazi hero-worship of Hitler, but failed to speak out against his treatment of the Jews. On the other hand, he ruled with a fist of iron and many who did oppose him lost their lives, so opposition took great courage. Only a few women and men, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, had the moral courage to resist him.

Economics and culture

Hitler oversaw one of the greatest expansions of industrial production and civil improvement Germany had ever seen, mostly based on debt flotation and expansion of the military. Nazi policies toward women strongly encouraged them to stay at home and bear children and keep house. In a September 1934 speech to the National Socialist Women's Organization, Adolf Hitler argued that for the German woman her “world is her husband, her family, her children, and her home,” a policy which was reinforced by the bestowing of the Cross of Honor of the German Mother on women bearing four or more babies. The unemployment rate was cut substantially, mostly through arms production and sending women home so that men could take their jobs. Given this, claims that the German economy achieved near full employment are at least partly artifacts of propaganda from the era. Much of the financing for Hitler's reconstruction and rearmament came from currency manipulation by Hjalmar Schacht, including the clouded credits through the Mefo bills (credit notes). The negative effects of this inflation were offset in later years by the acquisition of foreign gold from the treasuries of conquered nations.

Hitler also oversaw one of the largest infrastructure improvement campaigns in German history, with the construction of dozens of dams, autobahns, railroads, and other civil works. Hitler's policies emphasized the importance of family life: Men were the "breadwinners," while women's priorities were to lie in bringing up children and in household work. This revitalization of industry and infrastructure came at the expense of the overall standard of living, at least for those not affected by the chronic unemployment of the later Weimar Republic, since wages were slightly reduced in pre-war years despite a 25-percent increase in the cost of living.

Hitler's government sponsored architecture on an immense scale, with Albert Speer becoming famous as the first architect of the Reich. While important as an architect in implementing Hitler's classicist reinterpretation of German culture, Speer would prove much more effective as armaments minister during the last years of World War II. In 1936, Berlin hosted the Summer Olympics, which were opened by Hitler and choreographed to demonstrate Aryan superiority over all other races. Olympia, the movie about the games and documentary propaganda films for the German Nazi Party were directed by Hitler's personal filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.

Although Hitler made plans for a Breitspurbahn (broad gauge railroad network), they were preempted by World War II. Had the railroad been built, its gauge would have been three meters, even wider than the old Great Western Railway of Britain.

Hitler contributed to the design of the car that later became the Volkswagen Beetle, and charged Ferdinand Porsche with its construction.[5]


The Gestapo-SS complex (the Schutzstaffel (SS) and Gestapo organizations) were primarily responsible for political repression in the Nazi state. This was implemented not only against political enemies such as communists but also against perceived "asocials" such as habitual criminals and the work-shy, along with "racial enemies," mainly Jews.

The racial policies of Nazi Germany during the early to mid-1930s included the harassment and persecution of Jews through legislation, restrictions on civil rights, and limitations on their economic opportunities. Under the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, Jews lost their German citizenship and were expelled from government employment, their professions, and most forms of economic activity. To indicate their Jewishness, Jews were forced to adopt a second name and had their papers stamped with a big red "J." The policy was successful in causing the emigration of many thousands, but nevertheless turned increasingly violent in the mid- to late 1930s. In 1938, a pogrom orchestrated by Joseph Goebbels and endorsed by Hitler called Kristallnacht destroyed many Jewish businesses and synagogues and resulted in about 100 deaths. Between November 1938 and September 1939 more than 180,000 Jews fled Germany and the Nazis seized whatever property they left behind. From 1941, Jews were required to wear a yellow Star of David in public. Throughout the 1930s, the Propaganda Ministry disseminated anti-Semitic propaganda.

Rearmament and new alliances

In March 1935, Hitler repudiated the Treaty of Versailles by reintroducing conscription in Germany. He set about building a massive military machine, including a new navy (the Kriegsmarine) and an air force (the Luftwaffe). The enlistment of vast numbers of men and women in the new military seemed to solve unemployment problems but seriously distorted the economy. For the first time in a generation, Germany's armed forces were as strong as those of her neighbor, France.

In March 1936, Hitler again violated the Treaty of Versailles by reoccupying the demilitarized zone in the Rhineland. When Britain and France did nothing, he grew bolder. In fact, Hitler claimed that if one of those countries actually tried to stop him, he would have been defeated easily and the outbreak of war in Europe would probably have been prevented. In July 1936, the Spanish Civil War began when the military, led by General Francisco Franco, rebelled against the elected Popular Front government of Spain. Hitler sent troops to support Franco, and Spain served as a testing ground for Germany's new armed forces and their methods, including the bombing of undefended towns such as Guernica, which was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in April 1937, prompting Pablo Picasso's famous eponymous painting.

An axis was declared between Germany and Italy by Galeazzo Ciano, foreign minister of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini on October 25, 1936. This alliance was later expanded to include Japan, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. They were collectively known as the Axis Powers. Then on November 5, 1937, at the Reich Chancellery, Adolf Hitler held a secret meeting and stated his plans for acquiring "living space" (Lebensraum) for the German people.

The Holocaust

Between 1939 and 1945, the SS, assisted by collaborationist governments and recruits from occupied countries, systematically killed about 11 million people, including about 6 million Jews,[6] in concentration camps, ghettos, and mass executions, or through less systematic methods elsewhere. Besides being gassed to death, many also died of starvation and disease while working as slave laborers. Along with Jews, non-Jewish Poles (over 3 million of whom died), alleged communists, political opposition, members of resistance groups, resisting Roman Catholics and Protestants, homosexuals, Roma, the physically handicapped and mentally retarded, Soviet prisoners of war, Jehovah's Witnesses, anti-Nazi clergy, trade unionists, and psychiatric patients were killed. This industrial-scale genocide in Europe is referred to as the Holocaust (the term is also used by some authors in a narrower sense, to refer specifically to the unprecedented destruction of European Jewry in particular).

The massacres that led to the coining of the word "genocide" (the Endlösung der jüdischen Frage or "Final Solution of the Jewish Question") were planned and ordered by leading Nazis, with Heinrich Himmler playing a key role. While no specific order from Hitler authorizing the mass killing of the Jews has surfaced, there is documentation showing that he approved the Einsatzgruppen and the evidence also suggests that sometime in the fall of 1941, Himmler and Hitler agreed in principle on mass extermination by gassing. During interrogations by Soviet intelligence officers declassified over 50 years later, Hitler's valet Heinz Linge and his military aide Otto Gunsche said Hitler had "pored over the first blueprints of gas chambers."

To make for smoother intra-governmental cooperation in the implementation of this "Final Solution of the Jewish Question," the Wannsee Conference was held near Berlin on January 20, 1942, with 15 senior officials participating, led by Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann. The records of this meeting provide the clearest evidence of central planning for the Holocaust. Days later, on February 22, Hitler was recorded saying to his closest associates, "we shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jew."

World War II

Opening moves

On March 12, 1938, Hitler pressured his native Austria into unification with Germany (the Anschluss) and made a triumphal entry into Vienna. Next, he intensified a crisis over the German-speaking Sudetenland districts of Czechoslovakia. This led to the Munich Agreement of September 1938, which authorized the annexation and immediate military occupation of these districts by Germany. As a result of the summit, Hitler was Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1938. British prime minister Neville Chamberlain hailed this agreement as "peace in our time," but by giving way to Hitler's military demands, Britain and France also left Czechoslovakia to Hitler's mercy.

Hitler ordered Germany's army to enter Prague on March 10, 1939, and from Prague Castle proclaimed Bohemia and Moravia a German protectorate. After that, Hitler was claiming territories ceded to Poland under the Versailles Treaty. Britain had not been able to reach an agreement with the Soviet Union for an alliance against Germany, and, on August 23, 1939, Hitler concluded a secret non-aggression pact (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) with Stalin on which it was likely agreed that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany would partition Poland. On September 1, Germany invaded the western portion of Poland. Britain and France, who had guaranteed assistance to Poland, declared war on Germany. Not long after this, on September 17, Soviet forces invaded eastern Poland.

After conquering western Poland by the end of September, Hitler built up his forces much further during the so-called Phony War. In April 1940, he ordered German forces to march into Denmark and Norway. In May 1940, Hitler ordered his forces to attack France, conquering the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium in the process. Franc surrendered on June 22, 1940. This series of victories convinced his main ally, Benito Mussolini of Italy, to join the war on Hitler's side in May 1940.

Britain, whose defeated forces had evacuated France from the coastal town of Dunkirk, continued to fight alongside Canadian forces in the Battle of the Atlantic. After having his overtures for peace systematically rejected by the British government now led by Winston Churchill, Hitler ordered bombing raids on the British Isles, leading to the Battle of Britain, a prelude of the planned German invasion. The attacks began by pounding the Royal Air Force (RAF) airbases and the radar stations protecting southeast England. However, the Luftwaffe failed to defeat the RAF by the end of October 1940. Air superiority for the invasion, code-named Operation Sealion, could not be assured and Hitler ordered bombing raids to be carried out on British cities, including London and Coventry, mostly at night.

Path to defeat

On June 22, 1941, Hitler gave the signal for three million German troops to attack the Soviet Union, breaking the non-aggression pact he had concluded with Stalin less than two years earlier. This invasion, code-named Operation Barbarossa, seized huge amounts of territory, including the Baltic states, Belarus, and Ukraine, along with the encirclement and destruction of many Soviet forces. German forces, however, were stopped short of Moscow in December 1941 by the Russian winter and fierce Soviet resistance. The invasion failed to achieve the quick triumph over the Soviet Union that Hitler had anticipated.

Hitler's declaration of war against the United States on December 11, 1941 (which arguably was called for by Germany's treaty with Japan), set him against a coalition that included the world's largest empire (the British Empire), the world's greatest industrial and financial power (the United States), and the world's largest army (the Soviet Union).

In May 1942, Reinhard Heydrich, one of the highest SS officers and one of Hitler's favorite subordinates, was assassinated by British-trained Czech operatives in Prague. Hitler reacted by ordering brutal reprisals, including the massacre of Lidice.

In late 1942, German forces under Feldmarschall Erwin Rommel were defeated in the second battle of El Alamein, thwarting Hitler's plans to seize the Suez Canal and the Middle East. In February of 1943, the lengthy Battle of Stalingrad ended with the complete encirclement and destruction of the German 6th Army. Both defeats were turning points in the war, although the latter is more commonly considered primary. From this point on, the quality of Hitler's military judgment became increasingly erratic and Germany's military and economic position deteriorated. Hitler's health was deteriorating, too. His left hand started shaking uncontrollably. The biographer Ian Kershaw believes he suffered from Parkinson's disease. Other conditions that are suspected by some to have caused some of his symptoms are methamphetamine addiction and syphilis.

Hitler's ally Benito Mussolini was overthrown in 1943 after Operation Husky, an American and British invasion of Sicily. Throughout 1943 and 1944, the Soviet Union steadily forced Hitler's armies into retreat along the eastern front. On June 6, 1944, the western Allied armies landed in northern France in what was the largest amphibious operation ever conducted, Operation Overlord. Realists in the German army knew defeat was inevitable and some officers plotted to remove Hitler from power. In July 1944, one of them, Claus von Stauffenberg, planted a bomb at Hitler's military headquarters in Rastenburg (the so-called July 20 Plot), but Hitler narrowly escaped death. He ordered savage reprisals, resulting in the executions of more than 4,000 people (sometimes by starvation in solitary confinement followed by slow strangulation). The main resistance movement was destroyed, although smaller isolated groups such as Die Rote Kapelle continued to operate.

Defeat and death

By the end of 1944, the Red Army had driven the last German troops from Soviet territory and began charging into Central Europe. The western Allies were also rapidly advancing into Germany. The Germans had lost the war from a military perspective, but Hitler allowed no negotiation with the Allied forces, and as a consequence the German military forces continued to fight. Hitler's stubbornness and defiance of military realities also allowed the continued mass killing of Jews and others to continue. He even issued the Nero Decree on March 19, 1945, ordering the destruction of what remained of German industry, communications, and transport. However, Albert Speer, who was in charge of that plan, didn't carry it out. (The Morgenthau Plan for postwar Germany, promulgated by the Allies, aimed at a similar deindustrialization, but it also failed to be carried out.)

In April 1945, Soviet forces were at the gates of Berlin. Hitler's closest lieutenants urged him to flee to Bavaria or Austria to make a last stand in the mountains, but he seemed determined to either live or die in the capital. SS leader Heinrich Himmler tried on his own to inform the Allies (through the Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte) that Germany was prepared to discuss surrender terms. Meanwhile Hermann Göring sent a telegram from Bavaria in which he argued that since Hitler was cut off in Berlin, as Hitler's designated successor, he should assume leadership of Germany. Hitler angrily reacted by dismissing both Himmler and Göring from all their offices and the party, declaring them traitors.

When, after intense street-to-street combat, Soviet troops were spotted within a block or two of the Reich Chancellery in the city center, Hitler committed suicide in the Führerbunker on April 30, 1945, by means of a self-delivered shot to the head (it is likely he simultaneously bit into a cyanide ampoule). Hitler's body and that of Eva Braun (his long-term mistress whom he had married the day before) were put in a bomb crater, partially burned with gasoline by Führerbunker aides and hastily buried in the Chancellery garden as Russian shells poured down and Red Army infantry continued to advance only two to three hundred meters away.

When Russian forces reached the Chancellery, they found his body and an autopsy was performed using dental records to confirm the identification. To avoid any possibility of creating a potential shrine, the remains of Hitler and Braun were repeatedly moved, then secretly buried by SMERSH (Soviet counterintelligence) at their new headquarters in Magdeburg. In April 1970, when the facility was about to be turned over to the East German government, the remains were reportedly exhumed, thoroughly cremated, and the ashes finally dumped unceremoniously into the Elbe.

Hitler's religious beliefs

Adolf Hitler was brought up as a Roman Catholic by his parents. According to historian Bradley F. Smith, Hitler's father, though nominally a Catholic, was a freethinker, while his mother was a devoted Catholic.[7] Michael Rissmann states that young Hitler began to object to the Church and Catholicism as an adolescent, protesting against being confirmed. A boyhood friend reports that after Hitler had left home, he never saw him attending mass or receiving the sacraments.[8]

Hitler found in Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855–1927) ideas that expressed a justification for the nationalist and anti-Semitic doctrines about which he was already fanatical. These ideas were that Jesus was not a Jew but an Aryan, and the churches had corrupted his influence and Judaized his message. "The probability," wrote Houston, "that Christ was no Jew, that he had not a drop of genuinely Jewish blood in his veins, is so great that it is almost equivalent to a certainty.” Ideas, such as “sin, redemption, rebirth, grace,” were Aryan, unknown to Jews [9]

Hitler's religious beliefs changed over the years and, as they are gathered from his public and private statements, present a discrepant and disputed picture. In public statements, Hitler frequently spoke positively about the Christian heritage of German culture and his belief in Christ. For example, on March 23, 1933, he addressed the Reichstag:

The National Government regards the two Christian confessions (i.e. Catholicism and Protestantism) as factors essential to the soul of the German people…. We hold the spiritual forces of Christianity to be indispensable elements in the moral uplift of the German people. [10]

About his own religious stance, he said, “I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so.”[11] Hitler’s private statements were more mixed. There are negative statements about Christianity reported by Hitler’s intimates, Goebbels, Speer, and Bormann.[12] Joseph Goebbels, for example, notes in a diary entry in 1939: “The Führer is deeply religious, but deeply anti-Christian. He regards Christianity as a symptom of decay.” Albert Speer reports a similar statement:

You see, it’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?[13]

Though Hitler spoke against traditional Christianity in general, he in fact may have been referring to Catholicism, according to Richard Steigmann-Gall. In any event, "No matter how much he vituperated against Christianity or the churches, Hitler gave no indication that he was now agnostic or atheistic: He displayed a continued attachment to a belief in God."[14]

In contrast to other Nazi leaders, Hitler did not adhere to esoteric ideas, occultism, or neo-paganism and even ridiculed such beliefs in private. These aspects of the Third Reich attracted the sympathy of such men as Carl Jung. Drawing on Higher Criticism and some branches of theologically liberal Protestantism, Hitler advocated what he termed Positive Christianity, purged of everything that he found objectionable. Hitler never directed his attacks on Jesus himself, but viewed traditional Christianity as a corruption of the original ideas of Jesus, who Hitler thought of as an Aryan opponent of the Jews. [15] In 1927, he said:

My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter.[16]

In Hitler's belief, God created a world in which different races fought each other for survival along social Darwinist lines. He often referred to "Providence" as guarding and guiding the "Aryan race" (supposedly the bearer of civilization) in its fight against the Jews (supposedly the enemies of all civilization).

As some branches of liberal Protestantism also had similar views, Hitler demonstrated a preference for Protestantism over Catholicism.[17] According to Richard Steigmann-Gall, Hitler regretted that "the churches had failed to back him and his movement as he had hoped."[18] Hitler stated, according to Albert Speer, "Through me the Evangelical [Protestant] Church could become the established church, as in England.”[13]

From childhood, Hitler admired the pomp of Catholic ritual and the hierarchical organization of the clergy. Later, he drew on these elements, organizing his party along hierarchical lines and including liturgical forms into events or using phraseology taken from hymns. [19] Because of these liturgical elements, Hitler's Messiah-like status, and the ideology's all-encompassing nature, the Nazi movement is sometimes termed a "political religion."[20] Hitler himself, however, deplored the idea that Nazism was in any way a religion.

Albert Speer claims Hitler remained a member of the Catholic church until his suicide, although he also notes that Hitler said that "he had no real attachment to it."[13]

Hitler biographer John Toland wrote of Hitler's religion and its effect:

Still a member in good standing of the Church of Rome despite detestation of its hierarchy, he carried within him its teaching that the Jew was the killer of God. The extermination, therefore, could be done without a twinge of conscience since he was merely acting as the avenging hand of God.[21]

According to Richard Steigmann-Gall, much is known about Hitler's views on religion through Hitler's book, Mein Kampf. In Mein Kampf, Hitler expressed his belief in one “providential, active deity”:

What we must fight for is to safeguard the existence and reproduction of our race…so that our people may mature for the fulfillment of the mission allotted it by the creator of the universe…. Peoples that bastardize themselves, or let themselves be bastardized, sin against the will of eternal Providence.[22]


"I would have preferred it if he'd followed his original ambition and become an architect."
— Paula Hitler, Hitler's younger sister, during an interview with a U.S. intelligence operative in late 1945.

At the time of Hitler's death, most of Germany's infrastructure and major cities were in ruins and he had left explicit orders to complete the destruction. Millions of Germans were dead with millions more wounded or homeless. In his will, he dismissed other Nazi leaders and appointed Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as Reichspräsident (President of Germany) and Joseph Goebbels as Reichskanzler (Chancellor of Germany). However, Goebbels and his wife Magda committed suicide on May 1, 1945. On May 8, 1945, in Reims, France, the German armed forces surrendered unconditionally, ending the war in Europe and with the creation of the Allied Control Council on June 5, 1945, the Four Powers assumed "supreme authority with respect to Germany." Adolf Hitler's proclaimed “Thousand Year Reich” had lasted 12 years.

Since the defeat of Germany in World War II, Hitler, the Nazi Party, and the results of Nazism have been regarded in most of the world as synonymous with evil.[23] Historical and cultural portrayals of Hitler in the West are almost uniformly negative, regarding his policies as immoral.[24] The vast majority of present-day Germans share a negative view of Hitler and the adulation the German people bestowed on Hitler during his lifetime, and the fact that his rise to power took place through a democratic process, is sometimes neglected. German historian Friedrich Meinecke said that Hitler's life "is one of the great examples of the singular and incalculable power of personality in historical life."[25]

The copyright of Hitler's book Mein Kampf is held by the Free State of Bavaria and will expire in 2015. Reproductions in Germany are generally authorized only for scholarly purposes and in heavily commented form. The display of swastikas or other Nazi symbols is prohibited in Germany and political extremists are generally under surveillance by the Verfassungsschutz, one of the federal or state-based offices for the protection of the constitution.

There have been instances of public figures referring to his legacy in neutral or favorable terms, particularly in South America, the Islamic World, and parts of Asia and South Africa.

Hitler in various media

Propaganda films

During Hitler's reign, he appeared in and was involved to varying degrees with a series of propaganda films by the pioneering filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. They were:

  • Der Sieg des Glaubens (The Victory of Faith, 1933)
  • Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will, 1934)
  • Tag der Freiheit: Unsere Wehrmacht (Day of Freedom: Our Armed Forces, 1935)
  • Olympia (1938)

Out of the four films, Hitler was the star of the first three and was prominently featured in the fourth (Olympia); he served as a co-producer on one of them, too (Triumph of the Will).


  • The World at War (1974) is a famous Thames Television series that contains much information about Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, including an interview with his secretary, Traudl Junge.
  • Adolf Hitler's Last Days, from the BBC series Secrets of World War II tells the story about Hitler's last days.
  • Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary (2002) is an exclusive 90-minute interview with Traudl Junge, Hitler's final trusted secretary. Made by Austrian-Jewish director André Heller shortly before Junge's death from lung cancer, Junge recalls the last days in the Berlin bunker.


  1. Adolf Hitler and Ralph Manheim, Mein Kampf (Boston, MA: Mariner Books, 1998, ISBN 0395925037).
  2. Joachim C. Fest, The Drummer The Face Of The Third Reich (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1970). Retrieved January 29, 2021.
  3. "Die Übertragung der verantwortlichen Leitung eines mit den besten sachlichen und persönlichen Kräften ausgestatteten Präsidialkabinetts an den Führer der grössten nationalen Gruppe wird die Schlacken und Fehler, die jeder Massenbewegung notgedrungen anhaften, ausmerzen und Millionen Menschen, die heute abseits stehen, zu bejahender Kraft mitreissen." Glasnost archives Retrieved January 29, 2021.
  4. Klaus Scholder, The Churches and the Third Reich: Preliminary History and the Time of Illusions 1918–1934 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1988, ISBN 0800608364).
  5. Robert Wistrich, Who's Who in Nazi Germany (New York, NY: Routledge, 2002, ISBN 0415260388), 193.
  6. There is no precise figure for the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust. The figure commonly used is the six million quoted by Adolf Eichmann, a senior SS official. Most research confirms that the number of victims was between five to six million.
    Between 1942 and 1944, Nazi Germany deported millions more Jews from the occupied territories to extermination camps, where they murdered them in specially developed killing facilities. The Holocaust Resource Center Yad Vashem. Retrieved January 29, 2021.
  7. Bradley F. Smith, Adolf Hitler: His Family, Childhood and Youth (Hoover Institution Press, 1967, ISBN 0817916229), 27, 42.
  8. Michael Rissmann, Hitlers Gott. Vorsehungsglaube und Sendungsbewußtsein des deutschen Diktators (Zurich: Pendo, 2001), 94–96.
  9. Houston S. Chamberlain, Foundation of the Nineteenth Century (New York, NY: John Lane & Company, 1910), 237.
  10. Quoted by Dennis Barton, Hitler's Rise to Power. Retrieved January 29, 2021.
  11. John Toland, Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography (New York, NY: Anchor Books, 1992, ISBN 0385420536), 507.
  12. The collection called Table Talk is questioned by some; while most historians consider it a useful, they do not regard it as a wholly reliable source. Ian Kershaw alludes to the questionable nature of Table Talk as a historical source; see his Hitler: 1889–1936 Hubris (New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2000, xiv). Kershaw recommends treating the work with caution; he does not suggest dispensing with it altogether (253).
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1997, ISBN 1857992180), 95-96.
  14. Richard Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919–1945 (Cambridge University Press, 2003, ISBN 0521603528), 255.
  15. Steigmann-Gall, 257, 260.
  16. Norman H. Baynes, The Speeches of Adolf Hitler: April 1922–August 1939 Vol. 1. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1942, ISBN 0598758933), 19–20.
  17. Steigmann-Gall, 84.
  18. Steigmann-Gall, 260.
  19. Michael Rissmann, Hitlers Gott. Vorsehungsglaube und Sendungsbewußtsein des deutschen Diktators (Zurich: Pendo, 2001), 96.
  20. Eric Voegelin, Political Religions (Edward Mellen Press, 1986, ISBN 0889467676). Discussion also in Michael Rissmann, Hitlers Gott. Vorsehungsglaube und Sendungsbewußtsein des deutschen Diktators (Zurich: Pendo, 2001), 191–197.
  21. Toland, 695.
  22. Steigmann-Gall, 26.
  23. David Welch, Hitler: Profile of a Dictator (Routledge, 2001, ISBN 978-0415250757), 2.
  24. Ian Kershaw, The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation (Bloomsbury, 2000, ISBN 978-0340760284).
  25. William L. Shirer, Rise and Fall of The Third Reich (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990, ISBN 0671728687).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Baynes, Norman H. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler: April 1922–August 1939. Vol. 1. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1942. ISBN 0598758933
  • Bullock, Alan. Hitler: A Study in Tyranny. William S. Konecky Associates, 1999. ISBN 1568520360
  • Chamberlain, Houston S. Foundation of the Nineteenth Century. New York, NY: John Lane & Company, 1910.
  • Fest, Joachim C. The Face Of The Third Reich. Da Capo Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0306809156
  • Fest, Joachim C. Hitler. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 2002. ISBN 0156027542
  • Giblin, James Cross. The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler. New York, NY: Clarion Books, 2002. ISBN 0395903718
  • Hitler, Adolf, and Ralph Manheim. Mein Kampf. Boston, MA: Mariner Books, 1998. ISBN 0395925037
  • Hitler, Adolf, Norman Cameron, R. H. Stevens. Hitler's Table Talk: 1941–1944. Translated by Hugh Redwald Trevor-Roper. New York, NY: Enigma Books, 2000. ISBN 1929631057
  • Kershaw, Ian. The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation. Bloomsbury, 2000. ISBN 978-0340760284
  • Kershaw, Ian. The "Hitler Myth": Image and Reality in the Third Reich. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0192802062
  • Kershaw, Ian. Hitler: 1889–1936 Hubris. New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2000. ISBN 0393320359
  • Rissmann, Michael. Hitlers Gott. Vorsehungsglaube und Sendungsbewußtsein des deutschen Diktators. Zurich: Pendo, 2001.
  • Rosenbaum, Ron. Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1999. ISBN 006095339X
  • Scholder, Klaus. The Churches and the Third Reich: Preliminary History and the Time of Illusions 1918–1934. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1988. ISBN 0800608364
  • Shirer, William L. Rise and Fall of The Third Reich. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1990. ISBN 0671728687
  • Smith, Bradley F. Adolf Hitler: His Family, Childhood and Youth. Hoover Institution Press, 1967. ISBN 0817916229
  • Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1997. ISBN 1857992180
  • Steigmann-Gall, Richard. The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919–1945. Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 0521603528
  • Toland, John. Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography. New York, NY: Anchor Books, 1992. ISBN 0385420536
  • Victor, George. Hitler: The Pathology of Evil. Dulles, VA: Potomac Books, 1999. ISBN 1574882287
  • Voegelin, Erich. Political Religions. Edward Mellen Press, 1986. ISBN 0889467676
  • Welch, David. Hitler: Profile of a Dictator. New York, NY: Routledge, 2001. ISBN 978-0415250757
  • Wistrich, Robert. Who's Who in Nazi Germany. New York, NY: Routledge, 2002. ISBN 0415260388

External links

All links retrieved June 15, 2023.


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