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Adolf Hitler

In Brief

Although Adolf Hitler gained fame, or rather notoriety, as a German politician and leader of Germany's Nazi Party (the National Socialist German Workers Party), he was in fact Austrian by birth. He was born on the 20th April 1889 and died on the 30th April 1945. He was the German Chancellor from 1933 to 1945 and the German leader, or Fuhrer, from 1934 to 1945.

Hitler fought in World War I with some distinction. After the war, in 1919, he joined the German Workers Party (which eventually became the Nazi Party) and became the party's leader in 1921. In 1923 he attempted to take over the German government based in Munich, but failed and was imprisoned as a consequence. In prison he wrote his famous autobiographical work, Mein Kampf (My Struggle). He was freed in 1924 and secured considerable general support from the German people by voicing populist views, such as anti-Semitism, anti-communism and German expansion. He worked hard on his skills as an orator and became a powerful speaker who could sway audiences.

After becoming German Chancellor he became increasingly dictatorial, with his party being the only one to have any power or significance, and he led the German people to follow his National Socialist ideas.

Hitler wanted Germany to be the dominant power in Europe, and he wanted to encroach on other countries' territories and secure them for Germany. A justification for this was that he wanted the German people to have 'living room'. He rearmed Germany and had Poland invaded in 1939, which led to World War II starting. Several countries became Germany's allies, and by 1941 Germany and its allies occupied the bulk of Europe, as well as of North Africa. However, from 1943 Hitler's expansionist plans suffered setbacks and defeats. By 1945 his final defeat was inevitable. He married his girlfriend Eva Braun and two days later he and Braun committed suicide so as to avoid capture by Germany's enemies. On their instructions, their bodies were burned.

Hitler is held responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews, but he also had millions of other people killed that he regarded as undesirable or inferior.

In More Detail

Hitler's father Alois was born in 1837 with the surname Schicklgruber because he was the illegitimate child of Maria Anna Schicklgruber and no father's name was put on Alois's birth certificate. Alois's mother married a man called Johann Georg Hiedler in 1842. Maria died in 1847 and Johann died in 1856, and Alois was then looked after by the family of Johann's brother, also called Johann - Johann Nepomuk Hiedler. In 1876 Alois was made technically legitimate by a priest changing the birth register so it showed Johann Georg Hiedler to be Alois's father, but Johann's name was put down as being Georg Hitler. Therefore Alois's surname became Hitler, and that is how his son Adolf eventually had that surname too. It is still not known who Alois's real father was.

Alois went on to marry Klara Polzl. He had six children, of which Adolf was the fourth. Adolf was born at Braunau am Inn in Austro-Hungary. The three children born before Adolf all died when young. When Adolf was three years old the family moved to Germany, to the town of Passau. Later, in 1894, the family moved to the city of Leonding in Austria, and then in 1895 to a small farm at Hafeld, near the town of Lambach. Hitler went to a state school in Fischlham, which was not far away.

Hitler was rebellious at school and consequently fell out with his father, who was simultaneously failing in his farming activities. In 1897 the family left their smallholding and went to live in Lambach. In 1898 the family went back to Leonding. Two years later Hitler's younger brother Edmund died and this had a serious and negative effect on Hitler, who became even more rebellious and taciturn.

Hitler's father got a job in the customs office. He hoped that his son Adolf would do the same, but Hitler had no interest in following his father's wishes. Rather he wanted to train to be an artist. Instead his father sent him to secondary school in Linz. In Mein Kampf Hitler said he deliberately did badly there so that his father would realize that if he was to do well he would have to go elsewhere and train to be what he really wanted to be - an artist.

At this time Austrian Germans often expressed a desire to be German rather than Austrian, and this was what Hitler did.

Alois died in 1903 on the 3rd January. Hitler performed even worse at school, so his mother let him transfer to secondary school in Steyr, still in Austria. This was in September 1904. In 1905 Hitler left school with no clear idea of what he was going to do. He moved to Vienna, supported by his mother and by a state benefit for orphans. He did casual work and sold some of his watercolor paintings. In 1907 and 1908 he tried to get into Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts, but he was turned down both times. He was actually advised to study architecture rather than painting.

Hitler's mother died in 1907 on the 21st December. She was only forty-seven. Hitler now increasingly had money problems, and by 1909 he was living in a shelter for the homeless, and in 1910 he was in a home for poor working men. At that time in Vienna there was rampant racism, anti-Semitism and religious intolerance, and Hitler like many people absorbed these prejudices. There was widespread fear of being overrun by an influx of Jewish immigrants from the East. As far as religious inclinations are concerned, Hitler at this time was inclined towards Lutheranism. With regard to his anti-Semitism, Hitler says in Mein Kampf that he became anti-Semitic while living in Vienna.

In 1913 Hitler received the last portion of his inheritance from his father and he then went to live in Munich. A possible motive for this move was that he did not want to be conscripted into the Austrian army, but actually he returned to Austria, to Salzburg, in 1914 to take a medical to see if he was fit to go into the army, and he failed it. He then went back to Munich. There he voluntarily joined the Bavarian army. He was a dispatch runner in Regiment number sixteen of the Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment. He served on the Western Front and was at the battles of Arras, Passchendaele, the Somme and Ypres. He received an Iron Cross (second class) for his bravery in 1914. Towards the end of the First World War, in August 1918, he was awarded the Iron Cross (first class). This was quite a rare award for someone of Hitler's lowly rank to get. Earlier that year, in May, he had received the Black Wound Badge.

In October 1916 at the Battle of the Somme Hitler was wounded in his left upper leg when a shell exploded nearby. He was in hospital for nearly two months, after which, in March 1917, he returned to his regiment. In October 1918 in a mustard gas attack he was temporarily blinded. Again he went to hospital, and while he was there Germany admitted it had been defeated in the war. Hitler, fiercely patriotic to his adopted country, felt that Germany should not have given in. He believed it had not been defeated militarily but that traitorous people not involved in the fighting, especially communists, had pushed for surrender.

After the war Germany's enemies imposed the Treaty of Versailles on it, which imposed heavy military and social restrictions on the country and demanded great financial reparations of it, which were essentially designed to cripple the country and so make it impossible for it to wage war again for the foreseeable future. Germany also had to yield up some of its territory. Many Germans, including Hitler, resented this treaty and felt it unreasonable. Later, when involved in politics, Hitler used this resentment to further his popularity with, and support from, the German people.

When the First World War was over, Hitler remained in the army. In 1919 he was appointed to the army's intelligence services with instructions to influence other troops in line with his masters' wishes, and also to get into the German Workers Party. Hitler found he sympathized with the nationalistic, anti-capitalist, anti-Semitic, anti-communist views of the party's founder, Anton Drexler. Hitler made speeches in support of the party, and Drexler asked him to become a member. Hitler joined on the 12th of September 1919. At that time the party only had fifty-five members, including Hitler. Once in the party, Hitler met another one of its founders and sponsors, Dietrich Eckart. Eckart was a member of the Thule Society, several members of which would later have significant roles in Hitler's Nazi government. To sound more appealing to the German populace, the German Workers Party changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers Party. Its flag - a black swastika in a white circle on a red background - was designed by Hitler.

Hitler left the army in March 1920. He then worked full time promoting the Nazi Party. As Drexler had noted, he was a very effective public speaker, and now it became clear he could address large audiences. In Munich he addressed a crowd of more than six thousand people. Hitler gained a degree of notoriety for his inciting, condemnatory speeches directed against communists and Jews, other politicians, and of course against the Treaty of Versailles. The Nazi Party wanted to bring down the existing political establishment.

However, some people in the Nazi Party considered Hitler too strident, and in June 1921 when he and Eckart were away from Munich, where the party was based (they had gone to Berlin to try to raise funds for the party), these people declared they wanted to merge with the German Socialist Party. Hitler came back to Munich in July and resigned from the party. The rebellious committee members realized then that a lot of their party's support would disappear without Hitler playing a significant role in the party, so they asked him to rejoin. Hitler said he would, but only if he replaced Eckart as Chairman of the party. The committee agreed. Hitler rejoined, but instead of being member fifty-five as before, he was now member three thousand six hundred and eighty. Hitler still had enemies in the party who spoke out against him, but Hitler made several speeches defending his attitudes and actions, and when a meeting of the general membership of the party was held to decide on whether he should be Chairman, only one person out of all those attending voted against him.

Hitler's speeches were generally of a negative, critical nature, where he would attach blame for current problems on specific people or groups of people. He would especially blame others for the economic hardships that his audiences were likely to be suffering. Not surprisingly this went down well with his audiences and he attracted more and more support and popularity. His rhetoric entranced large audiences, and his powerful gaze had the same effect on small audiences. He worked assiduously on his gestures and body language to achieve the effect he desired on his audiences. Hitler had charisma and understood psychology well. He was able to stir up emotion in his listeners and so get support and commitment from them. However, in informal, casual, private meetings Hitler was said to be rather bland. He only came to life when performing for an audience for a purpose. His influential powers which were so effective on the German people were said to have markedly less impact on non-Germans.

An early supporter of Hitler was an army captain called Ernst Rohm. He took charge of the Nazi 'enforcers' who protected Hitler and who also attacked his political opponents.

Hitler was influenced by a group of Russian Nazis who were funded by wealthy businessmen, including Henry Ford. The group led Hitler to believe that Jews were in a conspiracy to control the world and that communists had a dominant influence over world finance.

In 1923 Hitler decided to try to effect a coup against the existing government. He was inspired by Benito Mussolini's coup in Rome the previous year. General Erich Ludendorff agreed to help him. They tried to recruit Bavaria's state commissioner Gustav Ritter von Kahr to their cause, but von Kahr, with General Otto von Lossow and the Police Chief Hans Ritter von Seisser, wanted to take control for themselves without Hitler.

Hitler and his Stormtroopers invaded a meeting of three thousand people organized by von Kahr in a Munich beerhall on the 8th November 1923 and Hitler got up in front of the crowd and declared that he and Ludendorff were effecting a coup and that they would form the new government. Hitler then withdrew to a room with von Kahr, von Lossow and von Seisser, and holding them at gunpoint he demanded that they join with him and support him. They acquiesced. Hitler's people then occupied two government buildings, but von Kahr, von Lossow and von Seisser stopped supporting him. The army and the police did not support his attempted coup either. When Hitler and his forces went to the Bavarian War Ministry the next day to try to take control of the government, they were simply dispersed by the police. In the incident four police officers got killed and sixteen of Hitler's people were killed. The coup had failed.

Hitler had to flee but he was arrested on the 11th of November and charged with treason. In February the following year he was put on trial in Munich, and on the 1st of April he was sentenced to five years in jail. He was, however, pardoned later that year by the Supreme Court, and he was released on the 20th December 1924. During his time in jail he dictated the first volume of Mein Kampf to his deputy Rudolf Hess. (Mein Kampf was originally called Four and a Half Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice.) The book revealed Hitler's beliefs as well as being an autobiography. The book was dedicated to Dietrich Eckart of the Thule Society. In writing Mein Kampf Hitler was greatly influenced by Madison Grant's book The Passing of the Great Race. Hitler referred to Grant's book as being like a Bible to him. Mein Kampf set out Hitler's plan to make Germany a race-based society. The first volume was published in 1925 and the second volume in 1926. Over the next few years it sold very well, selling just under a quarter of a million copies, and then in the year that Hitler came to power seven years later it sold a million copies.

When Hitler came out of jail Germany was economically and socially in a better state than it had been when he went in, so he would have been less able convincingly to make critical, condemnatory speeches, but anyway he was banned from public speaking. Also because of his attempted coup the Nazi Party had been banned in Bavaria. However, on the 4th of January 1925 Hitler met the Bavarian Prime Minister Heinrich Held and promised only to engage in seeking political power using legal, democratic means. This led to the ban on the party being lifted. It was only in 1927 that the ban on Hitler speaking was lifted. In the meantime, so as to grow support for the Nazi Party, Hitler got Otto and Gregor Strasser and Joseph Goebbels to front the party.

On 24th October 1929 America's stock market crashed. It had knock-on effects in Germany, where banks failed and millions of people lost their businesses and their jobs. This was the opportunity that Hitler was looking for, and he pledged that if he was brought to power he would restore the economy and people's jobs, and he would get rid of that burden on Germany, the Versailles Treaty.

There was an election in September 1930 and the existing Grand Coalition broke up and the government was led by a cabinet that held a minority vote and had to govern by means emergency decrees from the President Paul von Hindenburg. In the election the Nazi Party got over eighteen percent of the vote and secured a hundred and seven seats in parliament.

In a court case in 1930 two military officers were charged with belonging to the Nazi Party when it was illegal for them to do so. Their prosecution said this ban was because the Nazi Party was extremist. Their defense council summoned Hitler into court to confirm or deny this, and he stated that his party would only seek power through democratic elections. This increased the popularity and standing of his party.

The Chancellor Heinrich Bruning's austerity drive was not only unpopular but it also failed to improve the economy, and Hitler gained support from people who had been negatively impacted by the crisis and who were discontented with the present government's actions. However, because he had renounced his Austrian citizenship in 1925 he was not able to stand for public office until 1932 when a minister in government who was from the Nazi Party appointed Hitler as the administrator of the state of Brunswick's delegation to Berlin, thereby making Hitler a German citizen and so eligible to stand for public office. That year Hitler stood in the presidential elections. He made a speech to the Industry Club, and that gained him and his party the support of many rich and influential businessmen. Hitler was able to use an airplane to fly from one political rally to another. In the end Hitler lost to the incumbent President Paul von Hindenburg but he secured a substantial minority of the votes and significantly increased the level of support for both himself and his party. After the election two politicians, Alfred Hugenburg and Franz von Papen wrote to von Hindenburg and asked him to make Hitler Chancellor as this would be a popular move. Hindenburg did so, albeit reluctantly. Two other Nazi Party members also achieved ministerial posts - Hermann Goring became Minister of the Interior for Prussia, and Wilhelm Frick became Minister of the Interior. This allowed the Nazi Party to have control over the police in a large part of Germany.

Because there was no clear majority in government, elections were called for in March of 1933. In February the Reichstag building was set alight. A prominent communist was found in the building so the arson was put down by Hermann Goring to being a communist plot. Hitler asked von Hindenburg to issue a decree restricting people's rights and allowing them to be detained without being sent to trial. Hindenburg did this. Four thousand Communist Party members were then arrested.

With control over the police and with the Nazi Party's Stormtroopers, Hitler's party used violence and physical intimidation as the election approached. In the end Hitler's party secured just under forty-four percent of the vote, which didn't give them a majority of the seats in parliament, so they had to form a coalition with Alfred Hugenburg's German National People's Party.

There was a ceremony in Potsdam on the 23rd of March 1933 to constitute the new Reichstag and Hitler went there to show that his party was happy to work with the old 'establishment' political and military classes. He bowed his head deeply when shaking hands with the aristocratic Paul von Hindenburg. There was considerable physical contrast between the two figures. Hindenburg was an impressive six feet five inches tall (1.96m) and large framed. Hitler was slight and five feet eight inches tall (1.73).

Hitler wanted political control, so he introduced an Act in parliament that gave the gave the government full legislative power for a period of four years, even to the extent of introducing legislation that went against the constitution. Communists had already been banned from voting, but to ensure he got the two-thirds majority he needed to pass the bill he had several opposition politicians detained when the vote was taking place. On the day of the vote, however, crowds assembled outside where the vote was taking place to protest against the proposed Act. Nonetheless, partly with the aid of Hitler making some concessions to the third largest party in parliament, the bill was passed. Now Hitler's government could effectively dictate whatever it wanted.

Now Hitler worked to tackle his opponents. He had the Social Democratic Party banned and its assets taken away. On May the 1st 1933, a holiday, Hitler's Stormtroopers destroyed union offices all over the country. The following day union leaders were arrested and their unions were made to dissolve themselves. In their place the German Labor Front was formed, but as well as representing workers it also represented managers and the owners of businesses. This was national socialism in action.

In a short space of time the Nazis intimidated their opposition parties to disband and they even managed to achieve this with the party they were in coalition with - the German National People's Party. Its leader, Alfred Hugenburg, was forced to resign on the 29th June 1933. By the 14th of July there was legally only one political party in Germany - the Nazi Party. Hitler's Stormtroopers wanted more power, but this caused opposition from the existing military, politicians, and leading businessmen, so to quell the opposition Hitler had the leaders of the Stormtroopers shot, along with several political enemies, including Gregor Strasser, as well as a former chancellor called Kurt von Schleicher. It was brutal but effective, and although it shocked some people, it quelled the unrest, restored order, and confirmed Hitler's leadership.

On the 1st of August 1934 a law was enacted to the effect that when the President Paul von Hindenburg died, there would no longer be a post of Present, but rather the role would be merged with that of the Chancellor. The next day von Hindenburg died. With his death, Hitler became both the head of state as well as the head of government, so this was when he became known as Fuhrer (leader) as well as Chancellor. This was actually illegal because although the Enabling Act said he could ignore the constitution it specifically barred him from doing anything that interfered with or amended the Presidency. According to the constitution, while waiting for a new President to be elected the acting President should have been the President of the High Court of Justice. No one objected to Hitler taking over the role of state leader, however, and he made legal changes so that his position was legalized.

Hitler was now the Supreme Commander of Germany's military. This was a power he wanted and needed to carry out his plans. When people joined the armed forces they swore to be loyal to the Supreme Commander, but Hitler had this altered so that they swore to be loyal to him personally.

In August 1934 Hitler went to the German people to get a vote of approval for his having merged the roles of President and Chancellor. Ninety percent of the voters approved his actions.

Hitler wanted to prepare for war, so in August 1934 the President of the Reichsbank, Hjalmar Schacht, was made Minister of Economics, and then next year he was made Plenipotentiary for War Economy specifically so he could make financial preparations for going to war. Germany began to rearm, money started to be printed, and people had their wealth, property and possessions confiscated from them on the pretext that they were enemies of the state. People began to be employed in the build up to going to war and the number of unemployed people in the country, which had stood at six million in 1932, was down to a mere one million by 1936. Massive amounts of money were spent on rebuilding Germany's infrastructure and creating new infrastructure. Wages, however, dropped, while prices rose. People also had to work longer. Hitler appointed Albert Speer to oversee the architectural side of the state funded building projects in Berlin, and Speer went for a classical approach.

As early as 1933 Hitler had made it clear to the leaders of the armed forces that he wanted to increase Germany's territories so that the German people had more 'living room'. He wanted to get back to the situation pre-First World War. He certainly wanted the Versailles Treaty, with its limitations on military activity, renounced. He wanted to get back Germany's former colonies in Africa. He wanted to form a union with Austria. He also had an eye on East Europe. Hitler felt it was more important to direct money towards war preparations than unemployment relief. That same year Germany pulled out of the World Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations.

In 1935 Hitler declared he was going to increase the number of personnel in Germany's armed forces by six hundred thousand. This was six times the number allowed by the Versailles Treaty. He also wanted to create an air force. In addition there would be an expansion of the German navy. Britain agreed to such expansion so long as the German navy did not go much beyond about a third the size of the British navy. At this time Hitler was rather pro-Britain and hoped to form an alliance with that nation, as intimated in Mein Kampf. All this made the Versailles Treaty increasingly irrelevant. Indeed in contravention of the Treaty, German reoccupied Rhineland's de-militarized zone in 1936. This same year in Spain, Franco was trying to overthrow the government, and Hitler sent troops to support him. This was the year Hitler decided to go to war within four years. He saw his enemies as being the Jews and the communists. His initial aim was to expand Germany to the east. If he could not have an alliance with Austria Hitler decided he would conquer it. With Czechoslovakia he wanted to conquer it rather than have an alliance. Hitler wanted to go to war from 1938 or soon after, and certainly before 1943.

To establish direct, practical control over the armed forces, at the beginning of 1938 Hitler got the War Minister, Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg, to resign from his post by privately giving police evidence to him that his wife was a prostitute. Hitler got rid of Army commander Colonel-General Werner von Fritsch by having the SS (Protection Squadron or Defense Corps) allege that von Fritsch had engaged in homosexual activity. The reason why Hitler did this was that he had told the two men to get ready for war in this year and they had resisted his demands. Hitler took over von Blomberg's role and became Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. The Ministry of War was changed to Armed Forces High Command and Hitler put one of his men, General Wilhelm Keitel, in charge of it. The day that was done, sixty insufficiently pro-Nazi generals were neutralized either by being transferred or by being stripped of their rank. Another twelve generals were treated the same way shortly afterwards.

In February of 1938 Hitler broke an alliance he had formed with China and instead formed an alliance with Japan, which was a more powerful and modernized nation. To a large extent this was on the advice of Joachim von Ribbentrop, whom Hitler had recently appointed Foreign Minister, and who was very pro-Japanese. Hitler gave up claims to Germany's former colonies in the Pacific which were now controlled by Japan. Hitler stopped sending arms to China and aiding them with German military personnel. To retaliate, China stopped supplying Germany with raw materials.

In March 1938 Germany formed an alliance with Austria. Now Hitler turned his attention to the German population in the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. In secret he met with Konrad Henlein, the leader of the largest group that represented Germans in the Sudetenland (the Sudeten Home Front) and they agreed that Henlein would demand from the Czechoslovakian government greater autonomy for Germans in the Sudetenland so that when the government refused it would be a pretext for Germany to take military action. No matter what the Czechoslovakian government offered, Henlein would just say he wanted more. Hitler was not very concerned about the Sudetenland Germans, but he wanted Czechoslovakia's territory. When the Czechoslovakian president, Edvard Benes, agreed to most of Henlein's demands, Henlein's party instigated violent clashes with police in the Sudetenland and that led to martial law being declared in certain districts of it.

Hitler and the British, French and Italian leaders met and agreed that the Sudetenland should be handed over to Germany, and this was duly done. Hitler's aim was to keep in with Britain because if Britain turned against Germany it could blockade Germany and prevent essential oil supplies getting in. Because of this agreement Hitler became Time magazine's 'Man of the Year' for that year.

Hitler was now diverting so much money to arming Germany that it was causing financial hardship for the German people, so he cut back on defense spending. He pushed the nation to increase its exports so as to acquire foreign currency, but the motive for this was to have the money to buy raw materials for producing armaments.

On the 15th March 1939 Hitler ordered the invasion of Prague. When this was done he went to Prague and declared that Moravia and Bohemia were now German protectorates.

That year Hitler decided he wanted to conquer Britain. Because on the 31st March Britain had announced it would guarantee Poland's independence, the obvious way to provoke Britain was to invade Poland. This would also have the benefit of acquiring extra territory ('living room') for the German people.

Germany's battleship Tirpitz was launched on the 1st of April 1939.

Hitler was concerned that the British were pursuing a policy of encircling Germany with nations that it controlled, influenced and had agreed to defend in order that it could blockade Germany from receiving vital supplies, so he announced that if Poland was not made a satellite state of Germany he would invade the country. The Polish, however, rejected the idea of becoming a German satellite state, so that sealed their fate as far as invasion was concerned. The plan now was for Poland to be invaded on the 25th of August 1939. Hitler renounced the German–Polish Non-Aggression Pact. He also renounced the agreement with Britain that the German navy would be no larger than thirty-five percent of the size of the British navy.

Hitler did not want to go to war with Britain before he was ready, but his Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, who had also previously been Germany's ambassador in London, reassured him that Britain, and France too, would not stick by its pledge to leap to Poland's defense if Germany invaded that nation.

In August 1939 Hitler engineered a pretext for invading Poland by getting Ribbentrop to offer Britain and Poland a peace plan which required acceptance and agreement within an impossibly short time. This way he was able to blame them for not agreeing to peace.

Hitler could not afford to have the powerful Soviet Union become involved in any country that he invaded and to battle with him over the spoils, so on the 23rd August 1939 the Germans and Russians signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Ostensibly this was to guarantee that neither would go to war against the other, but there was a secret additional agreement as to how, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Poland and Finland would be divided up between the Germans and the Soviets if those countries were to be taken over by either or both of them.

Shortly after, on the 1st of September 1939, Germany invaded western Poland. Hitler's pretext was that he wanted back the city of Danzig (Gdansk) and certain road access across Poland that had been taken from Germany by the Versailles Treaty. Of course Poland refused this. To Hitler's surprise, what he had not wanted to happen then happened. On the 3rd of September the British and the French declared war on Germany. However, they did nothing immediately. On the 17th of September the Russians invaded eastern Poland.

Hitler appointed two Gauleiters to look after north-west Poland - Arthur Greiser for Reichsgau Wartheland and Albert Forster for Reichsgau Danzig-West Prussia. He instructed these men to 'Germanize' their areas, and they could do it however they wished. In Albert Forster's area people just had to sign a form to say they had German blood. This obviously allowed Polish people falsely to claim they were German. This infuriated Greiser who said that the idea was to ensure racial purity. He therefore had Polish people in his area killed.

Hitler did not interfere. It has sometimes been said that Hitler was interested in achieving his big goals, and it was for others to decide how they would achieve those goals for him.

Influential Nazi figures divided into two not necessarily incompatible camps. Himmler and Greiser saw Poland simply as a place to be 'cleansed' of non-Germans. On the other hand Goring and the Governor-General of the German-occupied part of Poland, Hans Frank, wanted Poland to become Germany's 'granary' or 'bread basket' (just as Ukraine was regarded as Russia's bread basket or granary, i.e. a place of fertile land worked by peasant laborers that could produce the food necessary for its great overlord nation). Obviously the most productive and profitable approach was the latter, and this was the view that prevailed, so the expulsions and killings declined. Nonetheless Himmler, in May 1940, called for all the Jews in Europe to be banished to Africa and for all Polish people to be made to be laborers. Hitler approved of this idea, and said it should be put into effect in Poland.

Hitler now turned his attention to Norway and Denmark, invading them in April 1940. What Hitler wanted (and he proclaimed as much to this effect on the 9th of April 1940) was for Europe essentially to be an extended Germany, with Germans and the North Europeans being a superior, and racially pure, race within that landmass.

Next, in May, Hitler attacked France. His forces easily took over Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Sensibly in the circumstances, Mussolini allied Italy with Germany on the 10th of June. France surrendered to Germany on the 10th of June 1940.

Back home in Germany, Hitler's successful conquering of these people was very popular.

With France being conquered by the Germans, the British had had to retreat from France, but nonetheless they fought the Germans at sea. Hitler tried to reach a peaceful understanding with the British leader, Winston Churchill, but he was rebuffed. In retaliation Hitler bombed south-east England. Britain's air force, however, was superior, so Hitler reduced his attacks to night-time bombings in selected areas.

In September 1940 Japan and Italy formally allied themselves with Germany. Later Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania joined the alliance. These countries were known as the axis powers. Hitler wanted the Soviet Union to join, but as they were such a large, powerful country they felt no need, and instead remained independent. Wisely or unwisely, Hitler then made preparations to invade the Soviet Union.

In 1941 Hitler continued his expansionist program. He sent German troops into the Middle East, the Balkans and north Africa. They helped the Italians out in Libya. Then Hitler invaded Yugoslavia and Greece.

Of course Hitler and Stalin had signed a non-aggression pact so they could divide up Poland and other countries, but on the 22nd of June 1941 over five million Axis troops invaded the Soviet Union. (This operation was called Operation Barbarossa.) Hitler's motivation for the attack was to get his hands on the Soviet Union's massive natural resources which could be used to feed his future expansionist aims. The invasion was successful to the extent that it secured western Ukraine, the Baltic States and Belarus. Hitler ordered the army not to press on to secure Moscow but instead to encircle Kiev and Leningrad (Saint Petersburg as it now is). This caused disagreement amongst his military high command. While this disagreement was going on, the Soviets were able to call up more reserves, and so when the Axis forces did try to secure Moscow, they failed.

On the 7th December 1941 Japan attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This brought the USA into the war. On the 11th of December, Hitler declared war against the United States.

That month Himmler asked Hitler what he should do with the Jews they came across in the Soviet Union. Hitler told him to exterminate them, treating them as enemy partisans.

Fighting in north Africa essentially to try to seize the Suez Canal, the Germans were defeated at the second battle of El Alamein. There were signs that Hitler's judgment was waning. In the attempt to secure Stalingrad (now Volgograd) Hitler refused to allow the Axis forces to withdraw from the vicious fighting despite the fact it was clear the Soviets were physically and psychologically much better able to cope with the extreme cold and the physical hardships. As a consequence the German 6th Army was completely wiped out. Almost a quarter of a million Axis soldiers were taken prisoner, and over two hundred thousand were killed, thanks to Hitler's determination to stick to his failing judgment.

Out of the almost a quarter of a million prisoners taken at Stalingrad, there were only about six thousand left to return to Germany at the end of the war.

Next the Germans were defeated at Kursk.

In 1943 the Allies successfully invaded Sicily, and Mussolini was removed from power. The new administration surrendered to the Allies.

Hitler's forces were steadily pushed back by the Soviets during 1943 and 1944.

The Allies implemented Operation Overlord on the 6th of June 1944, which involved a massive amphibious landing in north France, resulting in the German forces being pushed back through France. The signs were becoming clear to Germany's military leaders that their Fuhrer's powers had deserted him.

In July 1944 an assassination attempt was made on Hitler's life. At the Wolf's Lair (at Rastenburg) a bomb was placed in a briefcase under the table at a meeting Hitler was holding. The bomb wounded him but did not kill him. By way of vengeance he had almost five thousand people executed.

Towards the end of 1944 both the Soviets and the Allied Forces were on German territory. Hitler felt that the Red Army was too strong for him to take on, so he decided to take on the British and the Americans. Rather unrealistically he hoped the Allies would join him in fighting Russia. In mid-December he attacked the Allies in the Ardennes, but the offensive failed. In April the following year the American President Franklin D. Roosevelt died but this made no difference to the Americans' commitment to the war effort. Sensing defeat, and not wanting German industrial plants to fall into the hands of the Allies, Hitler ordered the destruction of the nation's industrial infrastructure. Albert Speer was supposed to carry this out, but he ignored Hitler's order.

On Hitler's 56th birthday (the 20th of April 1945) Hitler came out from his bunker in Berlin to hand out Iron Cross medals to boys in the Hitler Youth. The following day during the Battle of the Seelow Heights the 1st Belorussian Front broke through the German defenses and advanced on Berlin. Hitler ordered General Felix Steiner to attack the north flank of the enemy's salient, and the Ninth Army was ordered to attack northwards to try to trap the enemy in a pincer movement. On the 22nd of April Hitler asked how Steiner's attack was going and he was told that it had not been undertaken and that the Soviets were now in Berlin. Hitler was furious and he berated his army commanders. He admitted that the war was now lost. He declared he would stay in Berlin and shoot himself to avoid capture.

By the following day the Soviets had Berlin surrounded. Goebbels wanted Berlin's citizens to fight to defend the city. Goring sent a telegram to Berlin from Berchtesgaden saying that he should assume leadership of Germany as Hitler was now isolated in the capital. Hitler had Goring arrested and stopped him from holding any government positions. On the 28th of April Hitler discovered that Himmler, who had got out of Berlin a few days earlier, was discussing surrender terms with the Allies. He ordered Himmler to be arrested and he had Himmler's representative at the headquarters in Berlin, Hermann Fegelein, shot.

On the 29th April 1945 Hitler married Eva Braun. He then dictated his will. Later that day he discovered that Mussolini had been executed. This firmed his resolve not to fall into enemy hands.

On the 30th of April, with Soviet troops only a short distance from the Reich Chancellery, Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide. Braun took cyanide and Hitler shot himself. Their bodies were taken up to the garden behind the Reich Chancellery, doused in petrol, and burnt.

Germany surrendered on the 2nd of May 1945.

Note On The Holocaust

As part of his plan to expand eastwards, Hitler resolved to exterminate Jews and Slavs. He had an alternative idea which was that they could be sent to Siberia to work as slave labor. Of course this would have depended on his conquering the Soviet Union. He only wanted German settlers living in conquered territory, or at least people who were pro-Germany and who had adopted German ways. The decision to kill Jews and Slavs and any other people regarded by Hitler as being socially undesirable was taken in January 1942. With the decision taken, Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich were put in charge of putting the plan into effect. Although there is no written order from Hitler ordering mass extermination, his speeches and his verbal orders to his generals leave no room for doubt that this is what he wanted. When Germany invaded Poland, the Baltic States and the Soviet Union, killing squads followed behind the German troops to kill off unwanted people.

Auschwitz concentration camp was functioning and expanding by the summer of 1942. There were actually hundreds of concentration camps throughout Europe, although generally only the names of a few of them are widely known to people. It is estimated that between 1939 and 1945 over eleven million people were killed, including about six million Jews. About two million Polish people and three million Soviets were killed. Disabled people were killed, and homosexuals, as well as trade unionists, Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses.

(Note: In September 1935 Hitler had passed laws banning marriage between German Jews and non-Jews, and forbidding non-Jewish women under the age of forty-five being employed in Jewish households.)

In all, Hitler's warmongering resulted in something like fifty million people dying.


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