Adolf Hitler was leader of Germany from 1933 to 1945. He was a dictator who wanted to make Germany into a powerful nation. Hitler wanted Germany to lead the world for a thousand years, but after just 12 years Germany was a defeated and divided country.
ADOLF’S EARLY LIFE
Adolf was born on April 20, 1889, in Braunau am Inn, Austria. His father, Alois, was a customs officer, and his mother, Klara, a housewife. Life at home was not easy for him. His father was strict and hit him. Not surprisingly, Adolf was closer to his mother than he was to his father.
Adolf was good at art, and he dreamed of becoming an artist, but his father wanted him to work in the civil service. The death of his father in 1903 gave Hitler more independence. He did poorly in his studies, and he left school in 1905, aged 16. Three years later, his mother died.
ART AND POLITICS
Hitler moved to Vienna, the capital of Austria, where he struggled to make a living as an artist. He became interested in politics and mixed with people who said Jews caused problems in society. This was not true, yet anti-Jewish feelings spread, and Hitler began to develop a fierce hatred of Jewish people and culture.
After Vienna, Hitler lived briefly in the German city of Munich. Though he was Austrian by birth, Germany became the country he loved, and he eventually became a German citizen.
HITLER IN WORLD WAR I
World War I, which started in 1914, was a turning point in Hitler’s life. He fought with the German army in 47 battles, was wounded twice and was awarded the Iron Cross medal for bravery. When Germany was defeated, Hitler was in an army hospital, temporarily blinded by mustard gas, a poisonous substance used in the trenches of World War I. Hitler decided that the Jews had led to Germany’s defeat and that he would enter politics to save Germany from them.
THE RISE OF NAZIS
In Munich, Hitler mixed with political groups. One group caught his attention—the German Workers’ Party. Its members hated the Jews and loved Germany. Hitler joined it as member number 55. He felt he could turn it into a major political party.
Hitler was a brilliant public speaker, and people took notice of what he said. On February 24, 1920, more than 2,000 people attended a meeting of the German Workers’ Party. He gave it a new name—the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. It soon became shortened as the Nazi Party. Hitler became its leader.
FROM PRISON TO POWER
On November 8, 1923, Hitler and his supporters attempted to start a revolution to overthrow the German government. It was called the Munich Beer Hall Putsch (“putsch” is the German word for “revolt”). It failed, and Hitler was tried for his crime and sent to prison. There he started writing a book, which he called Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”). It explained his beliefs about the future of the German people. It became a bestseller, and was read by millions.
The 1920s and early 1930s were difficult years for many Germans. Unemployment was high, and Germany’s political parties were too divided among themselves to provide clear and strong leadership. This helped the Nazis, who offered simple explanations and solutions for the country’s problems. Hitler used his skills as a speaker to persuade Germans to vote for him in elections. In 1930, 6 million people voted for the Nazi Party; in 1932 it was 14 million. The Nazi Party had become Germany’s largest political party and on January 30, 1933, Hitler was appointed chancellor (leader of the German government). He was the most powerful man in Germany—a dictator voted into power by millions of ordinary German people.
WORLD WAR II
Between 1933 and 1939, Hitler built up the German army and air force, took back land Germany had given up as punishment for its part in World War I and claimed land in other countries. In doing this he broke the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the peace treaty Germany had been forced to sign in 1919. Hitler’s actions were leading Germany towards another war.
On September 1, 1939, the German army invaded Poland. Two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany. World War II had begun.
The war lasted for six years. Germany dominated the early stages, and for a time it looked as though Hitler’s aim of controlling Europe would succeed. His war was not only against armies and governments, but also against innocent civilians. Hitler’s hatred of peoples he regarded as inferior resulted in the deaths of almost 6 million Jews as well as the deaths of many others, especially Roma (Gypsies), Socialists, Communists, homosexuals and people with disabilities. They were sent to purpose-built death camps, most of which were built in eastern Poland, where they were systematically murdered. This atrocity came to be known as the Holocaust.