Adolf Hitler….Almost every one of us must’ve come across this name in our high school social textbooks. The first thing that pops into our minds when we hear this name is the Jewish Holocaust. The atrocities committed by Hitler seem so appalling and gruesome that any other mass genocide in history would pale in comparison to it.
The concentration camps, mass migration and annihilation of German Jews, gas chambers, experimental surgeries conducted on children in the camps, the constant paranoia of German citizens, the fear of the German police/Gestapo knocking on your doorstep in the middle of the night to quietly take you on for “interrogation”…..This is the synopsis of German life in the 1930s when Hitler was the dictator.
Did you ever wonder how a man as mentally unstable, inexperienced and whimsical as Adolf Hitler, rose to power in Germany?
An insight into the life of this extraordinary person can be gleaned by looking at his life and the circumstances that shaped his thoughts.
1889-1913 (EARLY LIFE)
Adolf Hitler was born on 20th April, 1889 in a small town in Austria-Hungary(present day Austria) to Klara and Alois Hitler. As a child, he was often detached, brooding and pensive, with an independent mind of his own. His performance at school was erratic and he only learned the subjects that he deemed important. There was a rebellious, trend-setting streak in him that was fascinating to his fellow students and infuriating to his disciplinarian father. As a child, Hitler was a good artist and had dreams of pursuing painting in a classical art school to further his prospects. When he expressed his desire to his father, it led to a caustic father-son exchange and bitter resentment on part of young Hitler. They were always at loggerheads with each other. Alois Hitler made a successful career in the customs bureau and wanted his son to follow his footsteps.
Right from an early age, Hitler was greatly influenced by the German nationalist ideas and showed an ardent patriotism towards Germany.
The sudden death of his father, Alois Hitler, on January 3rd, 1903, led to various dramatic changes in Hitler’s life. He completed his schooling and proceeded to go to Vienna to get enrolled in The Academy of Fine Arts. There, he led a bohemian lifestyle, getting financial support from his mother and through orphan’s benefits. The Academy of Fine Arts twice rejected his application on the grounds that he was “unfit for painting” and he lacked the required qualifications for having not finished secondary school.
The death of his mother in the December of 1907 forced him into penury. He lived the life of a tramp, sleeping under the bridges, earning money by selling watercolor paintings on the streets and often going without food for days on end.
Vienna at that time was a breeding ground for socialist ideas like Anti-Semitism, Anti-Catholicism, Anti-Slavism, Pan-Germanism. This provided him with a wonderful opportunity to voice his opinions and hone his oratory skills.
1914-1914 (WORLD WAR I)
On June 18, 1914, Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist group while on a visit to Bosnia. When it was evident that the Serbian officials funded the nationalist group and were an accomplice to the assassination, Austria-Hungary sent an ultimatum to the Serbian government, the rules of which were unacceptable. The Serbian government refused to apologize and this led to war between the two countries. Austria was backed by Germany and Serbia was backed by Russia.
At the same time, Germany issued an ultimatum to France to remain neutral. France responded with mixed signals by withdrawing its troops from the border and mobilizing its reserves. Germany responded by attacking Luxembourg and declaring war on France.
When Belgium refused to allow the German troops to cross its border into France, Germany declared war on Belgium as well. This incensed the British who demanded that Belgium be kept neutral and consequently dragged them into the war.
Hitler voluntarily enlisted in the German Army and was posted to the Western Front in France and Belgium, acting as a dispatch runner. He was present at all the major battles in the west and got severely wounded on several occasions. He was decorated for bravery, receiving Iron Cross, Second Class, Iron Cross Second Class and the Black Wound Badge.
His wartime experiences renewed his German patriotism and he was shocked when Germany finally surrendered in 1918.
The German capitulation led to “The Treaty of Versailles” which stipulated that Germany must relinquish several of its territories and demilitarize Rhineland. The treaty imposed economic sanctions and levied heavy reparations on the country. This led to bitter resentment and humiliation among Germans.
ORIGIN OF JEWISH HATRED
Hitler believed that the ‘Jewish financiers’ (elite, ruling class of Jews) were responsible for sending the world into its first World War, causing the deaths of over 100,000 German soldiers. This led to his anathema for Jews.
1918-1933 (FORAY INTO POLITICS AND THE RISE OF NAZISM)
Following the humiliating surrender of Germany and the unstable government, there was a growing social unrest and poverty due to the massive war reparations. This led to the eruption of many political parties. Hitler joined the National Socialist German Workers Party(NSDAP) as it propagated most of his own ideas such as Anti-Capitalism, Anti-Semitism. Hitler soon gained notoriety for his rowdy polemic speeches against the Treaty of Versailles, rival politicians, and especially against Marxists and Jews. He soon amassed a lot of support and carved out a niche for himself within the party. He was a strong supporter of Fascism and admired Benito Mussolini of Italy.
In 1923, Hitler attempted a coup known as the “Beer Hall Putsch” to seize power. The coup failed miserably following which he was imprisoned for high treason.
Life in prison greatly enhanced his ideas and allowed him time to for self-introspection.
After his release from the prison, he started rebuilding his image meticulously and gradually rose to prominence in the political arena.
The Great Depression of 1929 acted in his favor and he cleverly played on the people’s mind, who were notably ambivalent at the time. He ran for the Presidential elections in 1932 and gained open public support from a majority of the working class sectors. The main agenda of his propagation was “Lebensraum” (living space) for German People in Eastern Europe and expansionism.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, he was appointed the Chancellor of Germany.
1933-1939 (MANIFESTATION OF HIS IDEAS AND IDEALS)
During the early years of his Chancellery, Hitler made monumental changes and improvements in the German economy and army. Germany rose like a phoenix from the ashes under his guidance. He meticulously set about training and honing the German army and acquiring arms and aircraft deals. Waffen-SS(Schutzstaffel) was and still remains to be one of the finest armies in the world.
Four years into his dictatorship, he ordered massive cleansing of Germany through the expulsion and total annihilation of Jews.They were forcibly taken to the concentration camps(worse than the present-day North Korean re-education camps), made to do demeaning tasks and forced to live an abysmally miserable life of utter poverty. Close to 11 million Jews died in the Holocaust. They succumbed to death in the gas chambers in various concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald etc.
1939-1944(WORLD WAR II)
Hitler’s ultimate dream was the unification of all German states and expulsion of Jews. He first laid his sights on Poland and invaded it on September 1, 1939, with the support of the Soviet Union and an agreement on the distribution of the partitioned country among themselves. He signed the Non-Aggression Pact with the Soviet Union. This incensed the Brits and French, and they, in turn, declared war on Germany.
He then annexed Denmark and Norway in the April of 1940. In May 1940, Germany attacked France and conquered Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Gradually, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Japan joined hands with Germany and this led to the formation of Axis powers in accordance to the Tripartite Pact.
France, Britain, US, Soviet Union, Norway, Denmark, Canada, China, Poland, Yugoslavia constituted the Allied Powers.
In early 1941, German forces were deployed to North Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East.
In February, German forces arrived in Libya to bolster the Italian presence. In April, Hitler launched the invasion of Yugoslavia, quickly followed by the invasion of Greece.
In May, German forces were sent to support Iraqi rebel forces fighting against the British and to invade Crete which is the largest island in Greece.
Germany then proceeded to attack the Soviet Union, violating the Non-Aggression Pact. This led to an all-out war on both the eastern and western fronts. Though severely outnumbered, the German forces showed formidable resistance and conquered many lands with novel, efficient war techniques such as “Blitzkrieg” and state-of-the-art weaponry.
The war continued for 3 long years and seemed to be in favor of Germany.
But, due to the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 by Japan, America entered the war and tipped the balance on the Western Front.
On the Eastern Front, the Soviet Union mounted a massive offensive that led to severe damage to the German army and destroyed their morale. Consequently, they surrendered.
By 1944, Germany was being succumbed by the advancement of Western Allies and the Russian army. When news of this reached Hitler, he used every trick in the bag and fought doggedly, not wanting to admit defeat.
Ultimately, when the Soviet Army was just 3 buildings away, Hitler committed suicide in his bunker on 29th April 1945, not wanting to fall into the hands of the enemy.
In retrospect, Adolf Hitler had a mix of both good and bad qualities and is one person who can begrudgingly be admired.
- He is one of the very few leaders who had been in the throes of destitution and could understand and empathize with the common man.
- He swayed an entire population to follow in his footsteps and gained their trust and loyalty.
- He single-handedly worked towards the betterment of Germans, restored the status of Germany in the international arena in a very short span of time, and made it a force to reckon with.
- He built one of the finest armies in the world, the Waffen SS.
- He almost achieved his grand dream of reviving the old German Empire.
- His insanely unnatural desire of annihilating the Jews ultimately outweighed all his good qualities and led to his own destruction.