Hitler was on the edge of victory before he made a number of costly mistakes. His ideas and policies regarding the Jews and other races resulted in the loss of millions of lives. In the end, he could not deal well with being on the defensive militarily and refused to listen to his commanders. This refusal to listen was one of the reasons why Germany lost the war.
Hitler was born on April 20, 1889. His family name was originally Schicklgruber but his father changed it to Hitler. Hitler always said this was the best thing his father ever did for him.
His father died in 1903 but left the family fairly well off. When Hitler was sixteen, he dropped out of school and lived off the money his father had left the family. Hitler wanted to become an artist, so he applied to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. In 1907, his mother became very ill with breast cancer, and although Hitler was upset about his mother, he decided to travel to Vienna in September anyway to write the entrance exam for the Academy of Fine Arts.
He failed the entrance exam and returned home where he began to look after his mother. She died on December 21, 1907 and Hitler returned to Vienna. He kept his failure a secret out of embarrassment and also fear that his new guardian would cut off his monthly allowance if she found out that he failed.
Hitler stayed in Vienna for a while but then moved to Munich. He was now twenty-four years old and had just received his inheritance that had been set aside at his father’s death. He also had to leave Vienna because the authorities were looking for him. He was supposed to register for the Austrian army but Hitler hated Austria and did not want to serve in its army.
World War I
In August, 1914, just a few days after the start of World War I, Hitler joined the Bavarian army. After a few weeks of training, he was sent to the front. Hitler was injured in a battle on the Somme. He was sent to a hospital in Beelitz where he was shocked by the low morale of the troops and the citizens. He began to blame the Jews for this and felt that Jews were all avoiding the fighting at the front.
Hitler was partially blinded during a mustard attack and was once again sent to a hospital. The war ended before Hitler had recovered enough to rejoin the fighting. He was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class for his performance during the war.
Rise to Power
Hitler joined the German Workers’ Party in 1919 and because of his speaking skill, quickly rose in the ranks. The German Workers’ Party changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) and began to expand its influence. Hitler became head of the NSDAP in 1921 which was now known as the Nazi party.
Germany had to make a number of large payments to other countries as reparations for World War I. These payments were difficult for the German government to meet and the government decided to stop the payments. In retaliation, the French invaded the Ruhr in 1923. The German government decided to resume making the payments much to the anger of the German population.
Hitler decided that the time was ripe to overthrow the government. He planned to kidnap a number of government leaders. The revolution fell apart and Hitler was sentenced to five years in jail. This was a very easy sentence for attempting to overthrow the government and may have been partly due to the fact that the judge at Hitler’s trial was very sympathetic to Hitler.
It was while in prison that Hitler wrote his book Mein Kampf (My Struggle). He was treated well in prison and lived in relative luxury. He only had to serve one year of his five year sentence and when he was released, he set out to rebuild the NSDAP.
Rebuilding the NSDAP
The NSDAP had been banned, so Hitler’s first goal was to get the ban lifted. Once the ban was lifted, Hitler began to rebuild the party. Hitler demanded that anyone who wanted to join the new party had to swear loyalty to both Hitler and the new party.
The party was better organized than the first NSDAP and within a few years, was three times the size of the original party. The economic problems caused by the Great Depression allowed Hitler to begin his move into government. He argued that democracy had failed the people and a new government system was needed.
The NSDAP was able to make significant gains in the next elections and soon became the biggest party in the government. Since they were the biggest party, Hitler demanded that he be made chancellor but this request was refused. Hitler was very angry by the refusal. A new election was held and the Nazi party still held the balance of power so Hitler was able to force the issue and became the new chancellor.
The Reichstag Fire
Once he was the new chancellor, Hitler convinced the German Reich President, Paul von Hindenburg, to hold new elections. The elections were very violent and the Reichstag (the German government buildings) were set on fire. A communist by the name of Marinus van der Lubbe, admitted to setting the fire although there is some question as to whether Hitler’s party actually set the fire. Hitler used the fire to build fear about a communist plot and to build support for his party. After the election, the NSDAP was the largest party in the government.
Hitler conducted a purge of his party to remove all threats to his leadership. During the purge (known as the Night of the Long Knives) approximately 150 to 200 people were killed. Hitler then moved to create a dictatorship by having Parliament pass a law combining both the presidency and the chancellorship. Hitler took over the new position and set about increasing his power.
Hitler took over control of the army by removing the commanders that disapproved of his plan to expand German territory into Austria and Czechoslovakia. Once Hitler took over Austria and part of Czechoslovakia, he was able to get the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, to accept the German invasions.
World War II
Hitler started the war with the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. On September 3, both Britain and France declared war on Germany.
Germany completed the conquest of Poland very quickly and it was a brutal, bloody affair. Over two hundred thousand Poles were killed or wounded and after the fighting was over, mass executions were held every day in an effort to Germanize the captured area.
After the conquest of Germany, Hitler turned his attention to Denmark and Norway. After the quick conquest of these two countries, Hitler followed it up with invasions of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg. He then attacked northern France and within five weeks had conquered the country. Germany and France signed a peace treaty on June 22, 1940.
Hitler tried to make a peace treaty with Britain but Winston Churchill refused. Hitler ordered the German air force to begin bombing Britain. This battle, the Battle of Britain, was characterized by the bombing of each countries’ cities. Hitler was unable to defeat British air power and ended up having to call off the invasion of Britain.
Hitler had made a pact with Stalin (dictator of the Soviet Union) but he soon decided to attack the Soviet Union. During the planning, Hitler would often make changes to the plan and dismiss his staff’s opinions.
The invasion occurred on June 22, 1941 and although the German army was successful in the beginning stages of the invasion, the German army’s advance soon slowed down. Hitler argued with his General Staff and often ignored their opinions.
When the German army began to suffer a number of setbacks in the Soviet invasion, Hitler took official command of the German army. Hitler ordered that there would be no retreat and ordered the army to fight to the last man.
Hitler became convinced that he was the only man capable of leading the army. He felt that he had to not only worry about his enemies but also about the German commander who Hitler viewed as being either disloyal or inadequate.
Hitler had his biggest defeat so far at the Battle of Stalingrad, which was characterized by hand-to-hand fighting in the streets. The Russian counterattack broke the German lines and they were forced to surrender.
Stalingrad was not the only defeat that Hitler was facing. His forces were being defeated in North Africa and Italy surrendered to the Allied forces on September 8, 1943. The German population began to blame Hitler for the defeats and he cut himself off from the population. Hitler began to blame the German people for the defeats as well as focusing a lot of the blame on the Jews. His concentration camps continued with the extermination of the Jews and other so-called undesirables.
Even though he was facing disaster on a number of fronts, Hitler still believed he could win the war. Some members of his staff wanted to negotiate a surrender but Hitler would not allow it. Some of Hitler’s General Staff even tried to assassinate him but the attempt was unsuccessful and resulted in a bloody retaliation.
The Allied forces had successfully landed at Normandy and were making their way through France towards Berlin. The Soviets were also pushing towards Berlin from the east. Hitler decided to focus his attack on the Western allies in an effort to stop their advance. This counterattack became known as the Battle of the Bulge and was ultimately unsuccessful.
In January 1945, the Soviets launched a major attack and soon entered Germany. On April 23, 1945, the Soviets had surrounded Berlin and Hitler realized that the war was lost.
He was hiding in a bunker and on April 30, 1945, Hitler, along with his wife, Eva Braun, (they just married that day) committed suicide. Hitler shot himself and Eva Braun took cyanide. Their bodies were then burned to stop the Allies from getting a hold of the bodies.