Adolf Hitler Explained

Adolf Hitler
Nationality:Austrian citizen until 1925[1] German citizen after 1932
Citizenship:Austrian (1889–1932)
German (1932–1945)
Birth Date:20 April 1889
Birth Place:Braunau am Inn, Austria-Hungary
Death Place:Berlin, Germany
Death Cause:Suicide
Party:National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP)
Spouse:Eva Braun
(married on 29 April 1945)
Occupation:Politician, Artist
Order:Führer of Germany
Term Start:2 August 1934
Term End:30 April 1945
Predecessor:Paul von Hindenburg
(as President)
Successor:Karl Dönitz
(as President)
Order2:Reichskanzler (Chancellor) of Germany
Term Start2:30 January 1933
Term End2:30 April 1945
Predecessor2:Kurt von Schleicher
Successor2:Joseph Goebbels

Adolf Hitler (20 April 1889 – 30 April 1945) was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party (German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, abbreviated NSDAP), popularly known as the Nazi Party. He was the ruler of Germany from 1933 to 1945, serving as chancellor from 1933 to 1945 and as head of state (Führer und Reichskanzler) from 1934 to 1945.

A decorated veteran of World War I, Hitler joined the Nazi Party in 1920 and became its leader in 1921. Following his imprisonment after a failed coup in 1923, he gained support by promoting nationalism, antisemitism and anti-communism with charismatic oratory and propaganda. He was appointed chancellor in 1933, and quickly established a totalitarian and fascist dictatorship. Hitler pursued a foreign policy with the declared goal of seizing Lebensraum ("living space") for Germany, directing the resources of the state toward this goal. His rebuilt Wehrmacht invaded Poland in 1939, leading to the outbreak of World War II in Europe.

Within three years, Germany and the Axis powers occupied most of Europe and large parts of Africa, East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean. However, the Allies gained the upper hand from 1942 onward and in 1945 Allied armies invaded Germany from all sides. His forces committed numerous atrocities during the war, including the systematic killing of as many as 17 million civilians[2] including the genocide of an estimated six million Jews, a crime known as the Holocaust.

During the final days of the war in 1945, Hitler married his long-time mistress Eva Braun. Less than 40 hours later, the two committed suicide.[3]

Early years

Childhood and heritage

Childhood

Adolf Hitler was born at the Gasthof zum Pommer, an inn in Braunau am Inn, Austria-Hungary, on 20 April 1889, the fourth child of six. His father, Alois Hitler (1837–1903), was a customs official. His mother, Klara Pölzl (1860–1907), was Alois' third wife. She was also his cousin,[4] so a papal dispensation was obtained for the marriage. Of Alois and Klara's six children, only Adolf and his sister Paula, seven years his junior, reached adulthood. Hitler's father also had a son, Alois, Jr., and a daughter, Angela, by his second wife.

Hitler had a troubled childhood, as his father was violent to him and violent towards his mother. Hitler himself said that, as a boy, he was often beaten by his father. Years later, he told his secretary: "I then resolved never again to cry when my father whipped me. A few days later I had the opportunity of putting my will to the test. My mother, frightened, took refuge in front of the door. As for me, I counted silently the blows of the stick which lashed my rear end". Some historians believe a history of family violence committed by his father against his mother is indicated in a section of his book Mein Kampf in which Hitler describes in vivid detail an anonymous example of family violence committed by a husband against a wife. This along with beatings by his father against him could explain Hitler's deep emotional attachment to his mother while at the same time having deep resentment towards his father.

Hitler's family moved often, from Braunau am Inn to Passau, Lambach, Leonding, and Linz. The young Hitler was a good student in elementary school. But in the sixth grade, his first year of high school (Realschule) in Linz he failed and had to repeat the grade. His teachers said that he had "no desire to work". For one school year he was a student there at the same time as Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century. But although both boys were exactly the same age, Hitler was placed two school years below Wittgenstein.[5] It is a matter of controversy whether Hitler and Wittgenstein even knew of each other, and if so whether either had any memory of the other.[6]

Hitler later said that his educational slump was a rebellion against his father, who wanted the boy to follow him in a career as a customs official; he wanted to become a painter instead. This explanation is further supported by Hitler's later description of himself as a misunderstood artist. After Alois died on 3 January 1903, Hitler's schoolwork did not improve. At age 16, Hitler dropped out of high school without a diploma.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler attributed his conversion to German nationalism to a time during his early teenage years when he read a book of his father's about the Franco-Prussian War, which caused him to question why his father and other German Austrians failed to fight for the Germans during the war.[7]

Heritage

Hitler's father, Alois Hitler, was an illegitimate child. For the first 39 years of his life he bore his mother's surname, Schicklgruber. In 1876, he took the surname of his stepfather, Johann Georg Hiedler. The name was spelled Hiedler, Huetler, Huettler and Hitler, and was probably regularized to Hitler by a clerk. The origin of the name is either "one who lives in a hut" (Standard German Hütte), "shepherd" (Standard German hüten "to guard", English heed), or is from the Slavic word Hidlar and Hidlarcek. (Regarding the first two theories: some German dialects make little or no distinction between the ü-sound and the i-sound.)

Allied propaganda exploited Hitler's original family name during World War II. Pamphlets bearing the phrase "Heil Schicklgruber" were airdropped over German cities. He was legally born a Hitler, however, and was also related to Hiedler via his maternal grandmother, Johanna Hiedler.

The name "Adolf" comes from Old High German for "noble wolf" (Adel=nobility + wolf). Hence, one of Hitler's self-given nicknames was Wolf or Herr Wolf; he began using this nickname in the early 1920s and was addressed by it only by intimates (as "Uncle Wolf" by the Wagners) up until the fall of the Third Reich. The names of his various headquarters scattered throughout continental Europe (Wolfsschanze in East Prussia, Wolfsschlucht in France, Werwolf in Ukraine, etc.) reflect this. By his closest family and relatives, Hitler was known as "Adi".

Hitler's paternal grandfather was most likely one of the brothers Johann Georg Hiedler or Johann Nepomuk Hiedler. There were rumors that Hitler was one-quarter Jewish and that his grandmother, Maria Schicklgruber, became pregnant while working as a servant in a Jewish household. The implications of these rumors were politically explosive for the proponent of a racist and antisemitic ideology. Opponents tried to prove that Hitler had Jewish or Czech ancestors. Although these rumors were never confirmed, for Hitler they were reason enough to conceal his origins. According to Robert G. L. Waite in , Hitler made it illegal for German women to work in Jewish households, and after the "Anschluss" (annexation) of Austria, Hitler turned his father's hometown into an artillery practice area. Waite says that Hitler's insecurities in this regard may have been more important than whether Judaic ancestry could have been proven by his peers.

Early adulthood in Vienna and Munich

From 1905 on, Hitler lived a bohemian life in Vienna on an orphan's pension and support from his mother. He was rejected twice by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (1907–1908), citing "unfitness for painting", and was told his abilities lay instead in the field of architecture. His memoirs reflect a fascination with the subject:

The purpose of my trip was to study the picture gallery in the Court Museum, but I had eyes for scarcely anything but the Museum itself. From morning until late at night, I ran from one object of interest to another, but it was always the buildings which held my primary interest.

Following the school rector's recommendation, he too became convinced this was his 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.

On 21 December 1907, Hitler's mother died of breast cancer at age 47. Ordered by a court in Linz, Hitler gave his share of the orphans' benefits to his sister Paula. When he was 21, he inherited money from an aunt. He struggled as a painter in Vienna, copying scenes from postcards and selling his paintings to merchants and tourists. After being rejected a second time by the Academy of Arts, Hitler ran out of money. In 1909, he lived in a shelter for the homeless. By 1910, he had settled into a house for poor working men on Meldemannstraße.

Hitler said he first became an anti-Semite in Vienna, which had a large Jewish community, including Orthodox Jews who had fled the pogroms in Russia. But according to a childhood friend, August Kubizek, Hitler was a "confirmed anti-Semite" before he left Linz, Austria. Vienna at that time was a hotbed of traditional religious prejudice and 19th century racism. Hitler may have been influenced by the writings of the 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, the composer Richard Wagner, and Georg Ritter von Schönerer, leader of the pan-Germanic Away from Rome! movement. Hitler claims in Mein Kampf that his transition from opposing antisemitism on religious grounds to supporting it on racial grounds came from having seen an Orthodox Jew:

If this account is true, Hitler apparently did not act on his new belief. He often was a guest for dinner in a noble Jewish house, and he interacted well with Jewish merchants who tried to sell his paintings.

Hitler may also have been influenced by Martin Luther's On the Jews and their Lies. In Mein Kampf, Hitler refers to Martin Luther as a great warrior, a true statesman, and a great reformer, alongside Wagner and Frederick the Great. Wilhelm Röpke, writing after the Holocaust, concluded that "without any question, Lutheranism influenced the political, spiritual and social history of Germany in a way that, after careful consideration of everything, can be described only as fateful."

Hitler claimed that Jews were enemies of the Aryan race. He held them responsible for Austria's crisis. He also identified certain forms of Socialism and Bolshevism, which had many Jewish leaders, as Jewish movements, merging his antisemitism with anti-Marxism. Later, blaming Germany's military defeat in World War I on the 1918 revolutions, he considered Jews the culprits of Imperial Germany's downfall and subsequent economic problems as well.

Generalising from tumultuous scenes in the parliament of the multi-national Austrian monarchy, he decided that the democratic parliamentary system was unworkable. However, according to August Kubizek, his one-time roommate, he was more interested in Wagner's operas than in his politics.

Hitler received the final part of his father's estate in May 1913 and moved to Munich. He wrote in Mein Kampf that he had always longed to live in a "real" German city. In Munich, he became more interested in architecture and, he says, the writings of Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Moving to Munich also helped him escape military service in Austria for a time, but the Austrian army eventually arrested him. After a physical exam 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 petitioned King Ludwig III of Bavaria for permission to serve in a Bavarian regiment. This request was granted, and Adolf Hitler enlisted in the Bavarian army.

World War I

Hitler served in France and Belgium in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment (called Regiment List after its first commander), ending the war as a Gefreiter (equivalent at the time to a lance corporal in the British and private first class in the American armies). He was a runner, the most dangerous job on the Western Front, and was often exposed to enemy fire. He participated in a number of major battles on the Western Front, including the First Battle of Ypres, the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras and the Battle of Passchendaele. The Battle of Ypres (October 1914), which became known in Germany as the Kindermord bei Ypern (Massacre of the Innocents) saw approximately 40,000 men (between a third and a half) of the nine infantry present killed in twenty days, and Hitler's own company of 250 reduced to 42 by December. Biographer John Keegan has said that this experience drove Hitler to become aloof and withdrawn for the remaining years of war.

Hitler was twice decorated for bravery. He received the Iron Cross, Second Class, in 1914 and Iron Cross, First Class, in 1918, an honour rarely given to a Gefreiter. However, because the regimental staff thought Hitler lacked leadership skills, he was never promoted to Unteroffizier (equivalent to a British corporal). Other historians say that the reason he was not promoted is that he was not a German citizen. His duties at regimental headquarters, while often dangerous, gave Hitler time to pursue his artwork. He drew cartoons and instructional drawings for an army newspaper. In 1916, he was wounded in either the groin area[8] or the left thigh[9] during the Battle of the Somme, but returned to the front in March 1917. He received the Wound Badge later that year. Sebastian Haffner, referring to Hitler's experience at the front, suggests he did have at least some understanding of the military.

On 15 October 1918, Hitler was admitted to a field hospital, temporarily blinded by a mustard gas attack. The English psychologist David Lewis and Bernhard Horstmann suggest the blindness may have been the result of a conversion disorder (then known as hysteria). Hitler said it was during this experience that he became convinced the purpose of his life was to "save Germany." Some scholars, notably Lucy Dawidowicz, argue that an intention to exterminate Europe's Jews was fully formed in Hitler's mind at this time, though he probably had not thought through how it could be done. Most historians think the decision was made in 1941, and some think it came as late as 1942.

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

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. Hitler found the war to be 'the greatest of all experiences' and afterwards he was praised by a number of his commanding officers for his bravery. 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") which 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, demilitarised the Rhineland and imposed other economically damaging sanctions. The treaty re-created Poland, which even moderate Germans regarded as an outrage. The treaty also blamed Germany for all the horrors of the war, something which major historians like John Keegan now consider at least in part to be victor's justice: most European nations in the run-up to World War I had become increasingly militarised and were eager to fight. The culpability of Germany was used as a basis to impose reparations on Germany (the amount was repeatedly revised under the Dawes Plan, the Young Plan, and the Hoover Moratorium). Germany in turn perceived the treaty and especially, Article 231 the paragraph on the German responsibility for the war as a humiliation. For example, there was a nearly total demilitarisation of the armed forces, allowing Germany only six battleships, no submarines, no air force, an army of 100,000 without conscription and no armoured vehicles. The treaty was an important factor in both the social and political conditions encountered by Hitler and his Nazis 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 had very little choice in the matter.

Entry into politics

See main article: Hitler's political beliefs.

After World War I, Hitler remained in the army and returned to Munich, where he—in contrast to his later declarations—attended the funeral march for the murdered Bavarian prime minister Kurt Eisner.[10] After the suppression of the Bavarian Soviet Republic, he took part in "national thinking" courses organized by the Education and Propaganda Department (Dept Ib/P) of the Bavarian Reichswehr Group, Headquarters 4 under Captain Karl Mayr. Scapegoats were found in "international Jewry", communists, and politicians across the party spectrum, especially the parties of the Weimar Coalition.

In July 1919, Hitler was appointed a Verbindungsmann (police spy) of an Aufklärungskommando (Intelligence Commando) of the Reichswehr, both to influence other soldiers and to infiltrate a small party, the German Workers' Party (DAP). During his inspection of the party, Hitler was impressed with founder Anton Drexler's antisemitic, nationalist, anti-capitalist and anti-Marxist ideas, which favoured a strong active government, a "non-Jewish" version of socialism and mutual solidarity of all members of society. Drexler was impressed with Hitler's oratory skills and invited him to join as the party's 55th member. He was also made the seventh member of the executive committee. Years later, he claimed to be the party's seventh overall member, but it has been established that this claim is false.

Here Hitler also met Dietrich Eckart, one of the early founders of the party and member of the occult Thule Society. 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 thanked Eckart by paying tribute to him in the second volume of Mein Kampf. To increase the party's appeal, the party changed its name to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or National Socialist German Workers Party.

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, Hitler was becoming highly effective at speaking in front of large 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 (including monarchists, nationalists and other non-internationalist socialists) and especially against Marxists and Jews.

The DAP was centered in Munich, a hotbed of German nationalists who included Army officers determined to crush Marxism and undermine the Weimar republic. Gradually they noticed 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 a revolt among the DAP leadership in Munich.

The party was run by an executive committee whose original members considered Hitler to be overbearing. 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 11 July 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 replace Drexler as party chairman, with unlimited powers. Infuriated committee members (including 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 violent 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 29 July 1921, Adolf Hitler was introduced as Führer of the National Socialist Party, marking the first time this title was publicly used.

Hitler's beer hall oratory, attacking Jews, social democrats, liberals, reactionary monarchists, capitalists and communists, began attracting adherents. Early followers included Rudolf Hess, the former air force pilot Hermann Göring, and the army captain Ernst Röhm, who became head of the Nazis' paramilitary organization, the SA (Sturmabteilung, or "Storm Division"), which protected meetings and attacked political opponents. Hitler also assimilated independent groups, such as the Nuremberg-based Deutsche Werkgemeinschaft, led by Julius Streicher, who became Gauleiter of Franconia. Hitler also attracted the attention of local business interests, was accepted into influential circles of Munich society, and became associated with wartime General Erich Ludendorff during this time.

Beer Hall Putsch

See main article: Beer Hall Putsch.

Encouraged by this early support, Hitler decided to use Ludendorff as a front in an attempted coup later known as the Beer Hall Putsch (sometimes as the Hitler Putsch or Munich Putsch). The Nazi Party had copied Italy's fascists in appearance and also had adopted some programmatical points, and in 1923, Hitler wanted to emulate Benito 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.

On 8 November 1923, Hitler and the SA stormed a public meeting headed by Kahr in the Bürgerbräukeller, a large beer hall in Munich. He declared that he had set up a new government with Ludendorff and demanded, at gunpoint, the support of Kahr and the local military establishment for the destruction of the Berlin government. Kahr withdrew his support and fled to join the opposition to Hitler at the first opportunity. The next day, when Hitler and his followers marched from the beer hall to the Bavarian War Ministry to overthrow the Bavarian government as a start to their "March on Berlin", the police dispersed them. Sixteen NSDAP members were killed.

Hitler fled to the home of Ernst Hanfstaengl and contemplated suicide. He was soon arrested for high treason. Alfred Rosenberg became temporary leader of the party. During Hitler's trial, he was given almost unlimited time to speak, and his popularity soared as he voiced nationalistic sentiments in his defence speech. A Munich personality became a nationally known figure. On 1 April 1924, Hitler was sentenced to five years' imprisonment at Landsberg Prison. Hitler received favoured treatment from the guards and had much fan mail from admirers. He was pardoned and released from jail in December 1924, as part of a general amnesty for political prisoners. Including time on remand, he had served little more than one year of his sentence.

On 28 June 1925 Hitler wrote a letter from Uffing to the editor of The Nation in New York City stating how long he had been in prison at "Sandberg a. S." [sic] and how much his privileges had been revoked.[11]

Mein Kampf

See main article: Mein Kampf.

While at Landsberg he dictated Mein Kampf (My Struggle, originally entitled Four and a Half Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice) to his deputy Rudolf Hess. The book, dedicated to Thule Society member Dietrich Eckart, was an autobiography and an exposition of his ideology. It was published in two volumes in 1925 and 1926, selling about 240,000 copies between 1925 and 1934. By the end of the war, about 10 million copies had been sold or distributed (newlyweds and soldiers received free copies).

Hitler spent years dodging taxes on the royalties of his book and had accumulated a tax debt of about 405,500 Reichsmarks (€6 million in today's money) by the time he became chancellor (at which time his debt was waived).[12] [13]

The copyright of Mein Kampf in Europe is claimed by the Free State of Bavaria and scheduled to end on 31 December 2015. Reproductions in Germany are authorized only for scholarly purposes and in heavily commented form. The situation is, however, unclear. Historian Werner Maser, in an interview with Bild am Sonntag has stated that Peter Raubal, son of Hitler's nephew, Leo Raubal, would have a strong legal case for winning the copyright from Bavaria if he pursued it. Raubal has stated he wants no part of the rights to the book, which could be worth millions of euros.[14] The uncertain status has led to contested trials in Poland and Sweden. Mein Kampf, however, is published in the U.S., as well as in other countries such as Turkey and Israel, by publishers with various political positions.

Rebuilding of the party

At the time of Hitler's release, the political situation in Germany had calmed and the economy had improved, which hampered Hitler's opportunities for agitation. Though the Hitler Putsch had given Hitler some national prominence, his party's mainstay was still Munich.

Since 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. Strasser, joined by his younger brother Otto and Joseph Goebbels, steered an increasingly independent course, emphasizing the socialist element in the party's programme. The Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Gauleiter Nord-West became an internal opposition, threatening Hitler's authority, but this faction was defeated at the Bamberg Conference in 1926, during which Goebbels joined Hitler.

After this encounter, Hitler centralized the party even more and asserted the Führerprinzip ("Leader principle") 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 evoke a sense of offended national pride caused by the Treaty of Versailles imposed on the defeated German Empire by the Western Allies. 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 132 billion 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 soon a more subtle propaganda emerged, combining antisemitism 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 pursued a "strategy of legality": this meant formally adhering to the rules of the Weimar Republic until he had legally gained power. He would then use the institutions of the Weimar Republic to destroy it and establish himself as dictator. Some party members, especially in the paramilitary SA, opposed this strategy; Röhm ridiculed Hitler as "Adolphe Legalité".

Rise to power

See main article: Hitler's rise to power.

Nazi Party Election Results
DateVotesPercentageSeats in ReichstagBackground
May 19241,918,3006.532Hitler in prison
December 1924907,3003.014Hitler is released from prison
May 1928810,1002.612 
September 19306,409,60018.3107After the financial crisis
July 193213,745,80037.4230After Hitler was candidate for presidency
November 193211,737,00033.1196 
March 193317,277,00043.9288During Hitler's term as Chancellor of Germany

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 democratic, parliamentary 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 of the Roman Catholic Centre Party, lacking a majority in parliament, had to implement his measures through the president's emergency decrees. Tolerated by the majority of parties, this rule by decree would become the norm over a series of unworkable parliaments 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% of the vote along with 107 seats. In the process, they jumped from the sixth-smallest party in the chamber to the second largest.

In September–October 1930, Hitler appeared as a major defence witness at the trial in Leipzig of two junior Reichswehr officers charged with membership of the Nazi Party, which at that time was forbidden to Reichswehr personnel. The two officers, Lieutenants Richard Scheringer and Hans Ludin admitted quite openly to Nazi Party membership, and used as their defence that the Nazi Party membership should not be forbidden to those serving in the Reichswehr. When the Prosecution argued that the Nazi Party was a dangerous revolutionary force, one of the defence lawyers, Hans Frank had Hitler brought to the stand to prove that the Nazi Party was a law-abiding party. During his testimony, Hitler insisted that his party was determined to come to power legally, that the phrase "National Revolution" was only to be interpreted "politically", and that his Party was a friend, not an enemy of the Reichswehr. Hitler's testimony of 25 September 1930 won him many admirers within the ranks of the officer corps.

Brüning's measures of budget consolidation and financial austerity brought little economic improvement and were 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.

In September 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, who was believed to be in some sort of romantic relationship with Hitler, was 19 years younger than he was and had used his gun. His niece's death is viewed as a source of deep, lasting pain for him.

In 1932, Hitler intended to run against the aging President Paul von Hindenburg in the scheduled presidential elections. 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 a minor administrative post and also made him a citizen of Brunswick on 25 February 1932.[15] In those days, the states conferred citizenship, so this automatically made Hitler a citizen of Germany and thus eligible to run for president.

The new German citizen ran against Hindenburg, who was supported by a broad range of reactionary nationalist, monarchist, Catholic, republican and even social democratic parties. Also in the field was a Communist candidate and a member of a fringe right-wing party. Hitler's campaign was called "Hitler über Deutschland" (Hitler over Germany). The name had a double meaning; besides a reference to his dictatorial ambitions, it also referred to the fact that he campaigned by aircraft. This was a brand new political tactic that allowed Hitler to speak in two cities in one day, which was practically unheard of at the time. Hitler came in second on both rounds, attaining more than 35% of the vote during the second one in April. Although he lost to Hindenburg, the election established Hitler as a realistic alternative in German politics.

Cabinets of Papen and Schleicher

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, becoming the largest party in the Reichstag.

Knowing that it was not possible to form a stable government without Nazi support, Papen tried to persuade Hitler to become Vice-Chancellor and enter a new government with a parliamentary basis. Hitler, however, would settle for nothing less than the chancellorship. He 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 Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint the "Bohemian lance corporal" to the chancellorship.

After a vote of no-confidence in the Papen government, supported by 84% of the deputies, the new Reichstag was dissolved, and new elections were called in November. This time, the Nazis lost some seats but still remained the largest party in the Reichstag, with 33.1% of the vote.

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.

Appointment as Chancellor

Meanwhile, Papen 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 DNVP. 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."[16] Finally, the president reluctantly agreed to appoint Hitler Chancellor of a coalition government formed by the NSDAP and DNVP. However, the Nazis were to be contained by a framework of conservative cabinet ministers, most notably by Papen as Vice-Chancellor and by Hugenberg as Minister of the Economy. The only other Nazi besides Hitler to get a portfolio was Wilhelm Frick, who was given the relatively powerless interior ministry (in Germany at the time, most powers wielded by the interior minister in other countries were held by the interior ministers of the states). As a concession to the Nazis, Göring was named minister without portfolio. While Papen intended to use Hitler as a figurehead, the Nazis gained key positions. For instance, as part of the deal in which Hitler became Chancellor, Göring was named interior minister of Prussia—giving him command of the largest police force in Germany.

On the morning of 30 January 1933, in Hindenburg's office, Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor during what some observers later described as a brief and simple ceremony. His first speech as Chancellor took place on February 10. The Nazis' seizure of power subsequently became known as the Machtergreifung. Hitler established the Reichssicherheitsdienst as his personal bodyguards.

Reichstag fire and the March elections

Having become Chancellor, Hitler foiled all attempts by his opponents to gain a majority in parliament. Because no single party could gain a majority, Hitler persuaded President Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag again. Elections were scheduled for early March, but on 27 February 1933, the Reichstag building was set on fire. Since a Dutch independent communist was found in the building, the fire was blamed on a communist plot. The government reacted with the Reichstag Fire Decree of 28 February which suspended basic rights, including habeas corpus. Under the provisions of this decree, the German Communist Party (KPD) and other groups were suppressed, and Communist functionaries and deputies were arrested, put to flight, or murdered.

Campaigning continued, with the Nazis making use of paramilitary violence, anti-communist hysteria, and the government's resources for propaganda. On election day, 6 March, the NSDAP increased its result to 43.9% of the vote, remaining the largest party, but its victory was marred by its failure to secure an absolute majority, necessitating maintaining a coalition with the DNVP.

"Day of Potsdam" and the Enabling Act

On 21 March, the new Reichstag was constituted with an opening ceremony held at Potsdam's garrison church. This "Day of Potsdam" was staged to demonstrate reconciliation and unity between the revolutionary Nazi movement and "Old Prussia" with its elites and virtues. Hitler appeared 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. Since the bill required a two-thirds majority in order to pass, the government needed the support of other parties. The position of the Centre Party, 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.

On 23 March, the Reichstag assembled in a replacement building under extremely turbulent circumstances. Some 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 Party would support the bill with "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 favour of the bill. The Communists, as well as some Social Democrats, were barred from attending. The Enabling Act, combined with the Reichstag Fire Decree, transformed Hitler's government into a legal dictatorship.

Removal of remaining limits

With this combination of legislative and executive power, Hitler's government further suppressed the remaining political opposition. The Communist Party of Germany and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) were banned, while all other political parties were forced to dissolve themselves. Finally, on 14 July, the Nazi Party was declared the only legal party in Germany. Labour unions were merged with employers' federations into an organisation under Nazi control, and the traditional autonomy of German state governments was abolished.

Hitler also used the SA paramilitary to push Hugenberg into resigning, and proceeded to politically isolate Vice-Chancellor Papen. Because the SA's demands for political and military power caused much anxiety among military leaders, Hitler used allegations of a plot by the SA leader Ernst Röhm to purge the SA'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.

President Paul von Hindenburg died on 2 August 1934. Rather than holding 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). As head of state, Hitler now became supreme commander of the armed forces. When it came time for the soldiers and sailors to swear the traditional loyalty oath, it had been altered into an oath of personal loyalty to Hitler. In a mid-August plebiscite, these acts found the approval of 84.6% of the electorate. This action technically violated both the constitution and the Enabling Act. The constitution had been amended in 1932 to make the president of the High Court of Justice, not the chancellor, acting president until new elections could be held. The Enabling Act specifically barred Hitler from taking any action that tampered with the presidency. However, no one dared object. With this action, Hitler effectively eliminated the last remedy by which he could be legally dismissed—and with it, all checks and balances on his power.

In 1938, Hitler forced the resignation of his War Minister (formerly Defense Minister), Werner von Blomberg, after evidence surfaced that Blomberg's new wife had a criminal past. Prior to removing Blomberg, Hitler and his clique removed Fritsch whom they denounced as a homosexual (John Toland: Adolf Hitler). Hitler replaced the Ministry of War with the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (High Command of the Armed Forces, or OKW), headed by General Wilhelm Keitel. More importantly, Hitler announced he was assuming personal command of the armed forces. He took over Blomberg's other old post, that of Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, for himself. He was already Supreme Commander by virtue of holding the powers of the president. The next day, the newspapers announced, "Strongest concentration of powers in Führer's hands!" In effect, Hitler had neutered the last group that was still strong enough to overthrow him.

Third Reich

See main article: Nazi Germany.

Having secured supreme political power, Hitler went on to gain public support by convincing most Germans he was their savior from the economic Depression, the Versailles treaty, communism, the "Judeo-Bolsheviks", and other "undesirable" minorities. The Nazis eliminated opposition through a process known as Gleichschaltung ("bringing into line").

Economy 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 to 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." This policy was reinforced by bestowing 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.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 emphasised 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 revitalising 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-World War II years, despite a 25% increase in the cost of living. Laborers and farmers, the traditional voters of the NSDAP, however, saw an increase in their standard 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 proved much more effective as armaments minister during the last years of World War II. In 1936, Berlin hosted the summer Olympic games, which were opened by Hitler and choreographed to demonstrate Aryan superiority over all other races, achieving mixed results.

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 metres, even wider than the old Great Western Railway of Britain.

Hitler contributed slightly to the design of the car that later became the Volkswagen Beetle and charged Ferdinand Porsche with its design and construction.[17] Production was also deferred because of the war.

Hitler considered Sparta to be the first National Socialist state, and praised its early eugenics treatment of deformed children.[18]

An important historical debate about Hitler’s economic policies concerns the “modernization” debate. Historians such as David Schoenbaum and Henry Ashby Turner have argued that social and economic polices under Hitler were modernization carried out in pursuit of anti-modern goals. Other group of historians centered around Rainer Zitelmann have contended that Hitler had a delibrate strategy of pursuing a revolutionary modernization of German society.

Rearmament and new alliances

See main article: Axis Powers, Tripartite Treaty and German re-armament.

In a meeting with his leading generals and admirals on 3 February 1933 Hitler spoke of "conquest of Lebensraum in the East and its ruthless Germanisation" as his ultimate foreign policy objectives. In March 1933, the first major statement of German foreign policy aims appeared with the memo submitted to the German Cabinet by the State Secretary at the Auswärtiges Amt (Foreign Office), Prince Bernhard von Bülow (not to be confused with his more famous uncle, the former Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow), which advocated Anschluss with Austria, the restoration of the frontiers of 1914, the rejection of the Part V of Versailles, the return of the former German colonies in Africa, and a German zone of influence in Eastern Europe as goals for the future. Hitler found the goals in Bülow's memo to be too modest. In March 1933, to resolve the deadlock between the French demand for sécurité (“security”) and the German demand for gleichberechtigung (“equality of armaments”) at the World Disarmament Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, the British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald presented the compromise “MacDonald Plan”. Hitler endorsed the “MacDonald Plan”, correctly guessing that nothing would come of it, and that in the interval he could win some goodwill in London by making his government appear moderate, and the French obstinate.[19]

In May 1933, Hitler met with Herbert von Dirksen, the German Ambassador in Moscow. Dirksen advised the Führer that he was allowing relations with the Soviet Union to deteriorate to a unacceptable extent, and advised to take immediate steps to repair relations with the Soviets.[20] Much to Dirksen's intense disappointment, Hitler informed that he wished for an anti-Soviet understanding with Poland, which Dirksen protested implied recognition of the German-Polish border, leading Hitler to state he was after much greater things than merely overturning the Treaty of Versailles.[21]

In June 1933, Hitler was forced to disavow Alfred Hugenberg of the German National People's Party, who while attending the London World Economic Conference put forth a programme of colonial expansion in both Africa and Eastern Europe, which created a major storm abroad. Speaking to the Burgermeister of Hamburg in 1933, Hitler commented that Germany required several years of peace before she could be sufficiently rearmed enough to risk a war, and until then a policy of caution was called for. In his "peace speeches" of 17 May 1933; 21 May 1935 and 7 March 1936 Hitler stressed his supposed pacific goals and a willingness to work within the international system. In private, Hitler's plans were something less than pacific. At the first meeting of his Cabinet in 1933, Hitler placed military spending ahead of unemployment relief, and indeed was only prepared to spend money on the latter if the former was satisfied first. When the president of the Reichsbank, the former Chancellor Dr. Hans Luther, offered the new government the legal limit of 100 million Reichmarks to finance rearmament, Hitler found the sum too low, and sacked Luther in March 1933 to replace him with Hjalmar Schacht, who during the next five years was to advance 12 billion Reichmarks worth of "Mefo-bills" to pay for rearmament.

A major initiative in Hitler's foreign policy in his early years was to create an alliance with Britain. In the 1920s, Hitler wrote that a future National Socialist foreign policy goal was "the destruction of Russia with the help of England." In May 1933, Alfred Rosenberg in his capacity as head of the Nazi Party's Aussenpolitisches Amt (Foreign Political Office) visited London as part of a disastrous effort to win an alliance with Britain. In October 1933, Hitler pulled Germany out of both the League of Nations and World Disarmament Conference after his Foreign Minister Baron Konstantin von Neurath made it appear to world public opinion that the French demand for sécurité was the principal stumbling block.

In line with the views he advocated in Mein Kampf and Zweites Buch about the necessity of building an Anglo-German alliance, Hitler, in a meeting in November 1933 with the British Ambassador, Sir Eric Phipps, offered a scheme in which Britain would support a 300,000-strong German Army in exchange for a German “guarantee” of the British Empire.[22] In response, the British stated a ten-year waiting period would be necessary before Britain would support an increase in the size of the German Army.[22] A more successful initiative in foreign policy occurred with relations with Poland. In spite of intense opposition from the military and the Auswärtiges Amt who preferred closer ties with the Soviet Union, Hitler, in the fall of 1933 opened secret talks with Poland that were to lead to the German–Polish Non-Aggression Pact of January 1934.

In February 1934, Hitler met with the British Lord Privy Seal, Sir Anthony Eden, and hinted strongly that Germany already possessed an Air Force, which had been forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles.[23] In the fall of 1934, Hitler was seriously concerned over the dangers of inflation damaging his popularity.[24] In a secret speech given before his Cabinet on November 5, 1934, Hitler stated he had "given the working class his word that he would allow no price increases. Wage-earners would accuse him of breaking his word if he did not act against the rising prices. Revolutionary conditions among the people would be the further consequence."[24]

Although a secret German armaments programme had been on-going since 1919, in March 1935, Hitler rejected Part V of the Versailles treaty by publicly announcing that the German army would be expanded to 600,000 men (six times the number stipulated in the Treaty of Versailles), introducing an Air Force (Luftwaffe) and increasing the size of the Navy (Kriegsmarine). Britain, France, Italy and the League of Nations quickly condemned these actions. However, after re-assurances from Hitler that Germany was only interested in peace, no country took any action to stop this development and German re-armament continued. Later in March 1935, Hitler held a series of meetings in Berlin with the British Foreign Secretary Sir John Simon and Eden, during which he successfully evaded British offers for German participation in a regional security pact meant to serve as an Eastern European equivalent of the Locarno pact while the two British ministers avoided taking up Hitler's offers of alliance.[25] During his talks with Simon and Eden, Hitler first used what he regarded as the brilliant colonial negotiating tactic, when Hitler parlayed an offer from Simon to return to the League of Nations by demanding the return of the former German colonies in Africa.

Starting in April 1935, disenchantment with how the Third Reich had developed in practice as opposed to what been promised led many in the Nazi Party, especially the Alte Kämpfer (Old Fighters; i.e., those who joined the Party before 1930, and who tended to be the most ardent anti-Semitics in the Party), and the SA into lashing out against Germany's Jewish minority as a way of expressing their frustrations against a group that the authorities would not generally protect. The rank and file of the Party were most unhappy that two years into the Third Reich, and despite countless promises by Hitler prior to 1933, no law had been passed banning marriage or sex between those Germans belonging to the “Aryan” and Jewish “races”. A Gestapo report from the spring of 1935 stated that the rank and file of the Nazi Party would "set in motion by us from below," a solution to the "Jewish problem," "that the government would then have to follow." As a result, Nazi Party activists and the SA started a major wave of assaults, vandalism and boycotts against German Jews.

On 18 June 1935, the Anglo-German Naval Agreement (A.G.N.A.) was signed in London which allowed for increasing the allowed German tonnage up to 35% of that of the British navy. Hitler called the signing of the A.G.N.A. "the happiest day of his life" as he believed the agreement marked the beginning of the Anglo-German alliance he had predicted in Mein Kampf. This agreement was made without consulting either France or Italy, directly undermined the League of Nations and put the Treaty of Versailles on the path towards irrelevance.[26] After the signing of the A.G.N.A., in June 1935 Hitler ordered the next step in the creation of an Anglo-German alliance: taking all the societies demanding the restoration of the former German African colonies and coordinating (Gleichschaltung) them into a new Reich Colonial League (Reichskolonialbund) which over the next few years waged an extremely aggressive propaganda campaign for colonial restoration. Hitler had no real interest in the former German African colonies. In Mein Kampf, Hitler had excoriated the Imperial German government for pursuing colonial expansion in Africa prior to 1914 on the grounds that the natural area for Lebensraum was Eastern Europe, not Africa.[27] It was Hitler’s intention to use colonial demands as a negotiating tactic that would see a German “renunciation” of colonial claims in exchange for Britain making an alliance with the Reich on German terms.

In the summer of 1935, Hitler was informed that, between inflation and the need to use foreign exchange to buy raw materials Germany lacked for rearmament, there were only 5 million Reichmarks available for military expenditure, and a pressing need for some 300,000 Reichmarks/day to prevent food shortages. In August 1935, Dr. Hjalmar Schacht advised Hitler that the wave of anti-Semitic violence was interfering with the workings of the economy, and hence rearmament. Following Dr. Schacht’s complaints, plus reports that the German public did not approve of the wave of anti-Semitic violence, and that continuing police toleration of the violence was hurting the regime's popularity with the wider public, Hitler ordered a stop to "individual actions" against German Jews on 8 August 1935. From Hitler's perspective, it was imperative to bring in harsh new anti-Semitic laws as a consolation prize for those Party members who were disappointed with Hitler's halt order of 8 August, especially because Hitler had only reluctantly given the halt order for pragmatic reasons, and his symapthies were with the Party radicals. The annual Nazi Party Rally held at Nuremberg in September 1935 was to feature the first session of the Reichstag held at that city since 1543. Hitler had planned to have the Reichstag pass a law making the Nazi Swastika flag the flag of the German Reich, and a major speech in support of the impending Italian aggression against Ethiopia. Hitler felt that the Italian aggression opened great opportunities for Germany. In August 1935, Hitler told Goebbels his foreign policy vision as: "With England eternal alliance. Good relationship with Poland . . . Expansion to the East. The Baltic belongs to us . . . Conflicts Italy-Abyssinia-England, then Japan-Russia imminent."

At the last minute before the Nuremberg Party Rally was due to begin, the German Foreign Minister Baron Konstantin von Neurath persuaded Hitler to cancel his speech praising Italy for her willingness to commit aggression. Neurath convinced Hitler that his speech was too provocative to public opinion abroad as it contradicted the message of Hitler’s “peace speeches”, thus leaving Hitler with the sudden need to have something else to address the first meeting of the Reichstag in Nuremberg since 1543, other than the Reich Flag Law. On 13 September 1935, Hitler hurriedly ordered two civil servants, Dr. Bernhard Lösener and Franz Albrecht Medicus of the Interior Ministry to fly to Nuremberg to start drafting anti-Semitic laws for Hitler to present to the Reichstag for 15 September. On the evening of 15 September, Hitler presented two laws before the Reichstag banning sex and marriage between “Aryan” and Jewish Germans, the employment of “Aryan” woman under the age of 45 in Jewish households, and deprived “non-Aryans” of the benefits of German citizenship. The laws of September 1935 are generally known as the Nuremberg Laws.

In October 1935, in order to prevent further food shortages and the introduction of rationing, Hitler reluctantly ordered cuts in military spending In the spring of 1936 in response to requests from Richard Walther Darré, Hitler ordered 60 million Reichmarks of foreign exchange to be used to buy seed oil for German farmers, a decision that led to bitter complaints from Dr. Schacht and the War Minister Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg that it would be impossible to achieve rearmament as long as foreign exchange was diverted to preventing food shortages Given the economic problems which was affecting his popularity by early 1936, Hitler felt the pressing need for a foreign policy triumph as a way of distracting public attention from the economy.

In an interview with the French journalist Bertrand de Jouvenel in February 1936, Hitler appeared to disavow Mein Kampf by saying that parts of his book were now out of date and he was not guided by them, though precisely which parts were out of date was left unclear. In March 1936, Hitler again violated the Versailles treaty by reoccupying the demilitarized zone in the Rhineland. When Britain and France did nothing, he grew bolder. In July 1936, the Spanish Civil War began when the military, led by General Francisco Franco, rebelled against the elected Popular Front government. After receiving an appeal for help from General Franco in July 1936, Hitler sent troops to support Franco, and Spain served as a testing ground for Germany's new forces and their methods. At the same time, Hitler continued with his efforts to create an Anglo-German alliance. In July 1936, he offered to Phipps a promise that if Britain were to sign an alliance with the Reich, then Germany would commit to sending twelve divisions to the Far East to protect British colonial possessions there from a Japanese attack.[28] Hitler's offer was refused.

In August 1936, in response to a growing crisis in the German economy caused by the strains of rearmament, Hitler issued the "Four-Year Plan Memorandum" ordering Hermann Göring to carry out the Four Year Plan to have the German economy ready for war within the next four years.[29] During the 1936 economic crisis, the German government was divided into two factions, with one (the so-called "free market" faction) centering around the Reichsbank President Hjalmar Schacht and the former Price Commissioner Dr. Carl Friedrich Goerdeler calling for decreased military spending and a turn away from autarkic policies, and another faction around Göring calling for the opposite. Supporting the "free-market" faction were some of Germany's leading business executives, most notably Hermann Duecher of AEG, Robert Bosch of Robert Bosch GmbH, and Albert Voegeler of Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG. Hitler hesitated for the first half of 1936 before siding with the more radical faction in his "Four Year Plan" memo of August. Historians such as Richard Overy have argued that the importance of the memo, which was written personally by Hitler, can be gauged by the fact that Hitler, who had something of a phobia about writing, hardly ever wrote anything down, which indicates that Hitler had something especially important to say.[30] The "Four-Year Plan Memorandum" predicated an imminent all-out, apocalyptic struggle between "Judo-Bolshevism" and German National Socialism, which necessitated a total effort at rearmament regardless of the economic costs. In the memo, Hitler wrote:

Since the outbreak of the French Revolution, the world has been moving with ever increasing speed toward a new conflict, the most extreme solution of which is called Bolshevism, whose essence and aim, however, are solely the elimination of those strata of mankind which have hitherto provided the leadership and their replacement by worldwide Jewry. No state will be able to withdraw or even remain at a distance from this historical conflict . . . It is not the aim of this memorandum to prophesy the time when the untenable situation in Europe will become an open crisis. I only want, in these lines, to set down my conviction that this crisis cannot and will not fail to arrive and that it is Germany's duty to secure her own existence by every means in face of this catastrophe, and to protect herself against it, and that from this compulsion there arises a series of conclusions relating to the most important tasks that our people have ever been set. For a victory of Bolshevism over Germany would not lead to a Versailles treaty, but to the final destruction, indeed the annihilation of the German people . . . I consider it necessary for the Reichstag to pass the following two laws: 1) A law providing the death penalty for economic sabotage and 2) A law making the whole of Jewry liable for all damage inflicted by individual specimens of this community of criminals upon the German economy, and thus upon the German people.
Hitler called for Germany to have the world's "first army" in terms of fighting power within the next four years and that "the extent of the military development of our resources cannot be too large, nor its pace too swift" (italics in the original) and the role of the economy was simply to support "Germany's self-assertion and the extension of her Lebensraum."[31] [32] Hitler went on to write that given the magnitude of the coming struggle that the concerns expressed by members of the "free market" faction like Schacht and Goerdeler that the current level of military spending was bankrupting Germany were irrelevant. Hitler wrote that: "However well balanced the general pattern of a nation's life ought to be, there must at particular times be certain disturbances of the balance at the expense of other less vital tasks. If we do not succeed in bringing the German army as rapidly as possible to the rank of premier army in the world . . . then Germany will be lost!" and "The nation does not live for the economy, for economic leaders, or for economic or financial theories; on the contrary, it is finance and the economy, economic leaders and theories, which all owe unqualified service in this struggle for the self-assertion of our nation." Documents such as the Four Year Plan Memo have often used by right historians such as Henry Ashby Turner and Karl Dietrich Bracher who argue for a “primacy of politics” approach (that Hitler was not subordinate to German business, but rather the contrary was the case) against the “primacy of economics” approach championed by Marxist historians (that Hitler was a “agent” of and subordinate to German business).[33]

In August 1936, the freelance Nazi diplomat Joachim von Ribbentrop was appointed German Ambassador to the Court of St. James. Before Ribbentrop left to take up his post in October 1936, Hitler told him: “Ribbentrop . . . get Britain to join the Anti-Comintern Pact, that is what I want most of all. I have sent you as the best man I’ve got. Do what you can . . . But if in future all our efforts are still in vain, fair enough, then I’m ready for war as well. I would regret it very much, but if it has to be, there it is. But I think it would be a short war and the moment it is over, I will then be ready at any time to offer the British an honourable peace acceptable to both sides. However, I would then demand that Britain join the Anti-Comintern Pact or perhaps some other pact. But get on with it, Ribbentrop, you have the trumps in your hand, play them well. I’m ready at any time for an air pact as well. Do your best. I will follow your efforts with interest”.[34]

An Axis was declared between Germany and Italy by Count Galeazzo Ciano, foreign minister of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini on 25 October 1936. On 25 November of the same year, Germany concluded the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan. At the time of the signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact invitations were sent out for Britain, China, Italy and Poland to adhere; of the invited powers only the Italians were to sign the pact, in November 1937. To strengthen relationship with Japan, Hitler met in 1937 in Nuremberg Prince Chichibu, a brother of emperor Hirohito. However, the meeting with Prince Chichibu had little consequence, as Hitler refused the Japanese request to halt German arms shipments to China or withdraw the German officers serving with the Chinese in the Second Sino-Japanese War. Both the military and the Auswärtiges Amt (Foreign Office) were strongly opposed to ending the informal German alliance with China that existed since the 1910s, and pressured Hitler to avoid offending the Chinese. The Auswärtiges Amt and the military both argued to Hitler that given the foreign exchange problems which afflicted German rearmament, and the fact that various Sino-German economic agreements provided Germany with raw materials that would otherwise use up precious foreign exchange, it was folly to seek an alliance with Japan that would have the inevitable result of ending the Sino-German alignment.

By the latter half of 1937, Hitler had abandoned his dream of an Anglo-German alliance, blaming "inadequate" British leadership for turning down his offers of an alliance.[35] In a talk with the League of Nations High Commissioner for the Free City of Danzig, the Swiss diplomat Carl Jacob Burckhardt in September 1937, Hitler protested what he regarded as British interference in the "German sphere" in Europe, though in the same talk, Hitler made clear his view of Britain as an ideal ally, which for pure selfishness was blocking German plans.[35]

Hitler had suffered severely from stomach pains and eczema in 1936–37, leading to his remark to the Nazi Party's propaganda leadership in October 1937 that because both parents died early in their lives, he would probably follow suit, leaving him with only a few years to obtain the necessary Lebensraum. About the same time, Dr. Goebbels noted in his diary Hitler now wished to see the "Great Germanic Reich" he envisioned in his own lifetime rather than leaving the work of building the "Great Germanic Reich" to his successors.

On 5 November 1937, at the Reich Chancellory, Adolf Hitler held a secret meeting with the War and Foreign Ministers plus the three service chiefs, recorded in the Hossbach Memorandum and stated his intentions for acquiring "living space" Lebensraum for the German people. He also ordered them to make plans for war in the east no later than 1943 in order to acquire Lebensraum. Hitler stated the conference minutes were to be regarded as his "political testament" in the event of his death.[36] In the memo, Hitler was recorded as saying that such a state of crisis had been reached in the German economy that the only way of stopping a severe decline in living standards in Germany was to embark sometime in the near-future on a policy of aggression by seizing Austria and Czechoslovakia.[37] Moreover, Hitler stated that the arms race meant that time for action had to occur before Britain and France obtained a permanent lead in the arms race.[37] A striking change in the Hossbach Memo was Hitler’s changed view of Britain from the prospective ally of 1928 in the Zweites Buch to the "hate-inspired antagonist" of 1937 in the Hossbach memo. The historian Klaus Hildebrand described the memo as the start of an "ambivalent course" towards Britain while the late historian Andreas Hillgruber argued that Hitler was embarking on expansion "without Britain," preferably "with Britain," but if necessary "against Britain."[38]

Hitler's intentions outlined in the Hossbach memorandum led to strong protests from the Foreign Minister, Baron Konstantin von Neurath, the War Minister Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg and the Army Commander General Werner von Fritsch that any German aggression in Eastern Europe was bound to trigger a war with France because of the French alliance system in Eastern Europe, the so-called cordon sanitaire and if a Franco-German war broke out, then Britain was almost certain to intervene rather than risk the chance of a French defeat. The aggression against Austria and Czechoslovakia were intended to be the first of a series of localized wars in Eastern Europe that would secure Germany’s position in Europe before the final showdown with Britain and France. Fritsch, Blomberg and Neurath all argue that Hitler was pursuing an extremely high risk strategy of localized wars in Eastern Europe that was most likely to cause a general war before Germany was ready for such a conflict, and advised Hitler to wait until Germany had more time to rearm. Neurath, Blomberg and Fritsch had no moral objections to German aggression, but rather based their opposition on the question of timing—determining the best time for aggression.

Late in November 1937, Hitler received as his guest the British Lord Privy Seal, Lord Halifax who was visiting Germany ostensibly as part of a hunting trip. Speaking of changes to Germany's frontiers, Halifax told Hitler that: "All other questions fall into the category of possible alterations in the European order which might be destined to come about with the passage of time. Amongst these questions were Danzig, Austria and Czechoslovakia. England was interested to see that any alterations should come through the course of peaceful evolution and that the methods should be avoided which might cause far-reaching disturbances." Significantly, Halifax made clear in his statements to Hitler, though whether Hitler appreciated the significance of this or not is unclear, that any possible territorial changes had to be accomplished peacefully, and that though Britain had no security commitments in Eastern Europe beyond the Covenant of the League of Nations, that Britain would not tolerate territorial changes via war. Hitler seems to have misunderstood Halifax's remarks as confirming his conviction that Britain would just stand aside while he pursued his strategy of limited wars in Eastern Europe.

Hitler was most unhappy with the criticism of his intentions expressed by Neurath, Blomberg, and Fritsch in the Hossbach Memo, and in early 1938 asserted his control of the military-foreign policy apparatus through the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair, the abolition of the War Ministry and its replacement by the OKW, and by sacking Neurath as Foreign Minister on 4 February 1938, assuming the rank, role and tile of the Oberster Befehlshaber der Wehrmacht.[39] The British economic historian Richard Overy commented that the establishment of the OKW in February 1938 was a clear sign of what Hitler's intentions were since supreme headquarters organizations such as the OKW are normally set up during wartime, not peacetime.[40] The Official German history of World War II has argued that from early 1938 onwards, Hitler was not carrying out a foreign policy that had carried a high risk of war, but was carrying out a foreign policy aiming at war.[41]

The Holocaust

See main article: The Holocaust.

One of the foundations of Hitler's social policies was the concept of racial hygiene. It was based on the ideas of Arthur de Gobineau, a French count, eugenics, a pseudo-science that advocated racial purity, and social Darwinism. Applied to human beings, "survival of the fittest" was interpreted as requiring racial purity and killing off "life unworthy of life." The first victims were children with physical and developmental disabilities; those killings occurred in a programme dubbed Action T4. After a public outcry, Hitler made a show of ending this program, but the killings in fact continued (see Nazi eugenics).

Between 1939 and 1945, the SS, assisted by collaborationist governments and recruits from occupied countries, systematically killed somewhere between 11 and 14 million people, including about six million Jews,[42] [43] in concentration camps, ghettos and mass executions, or through less systematic methods elsewhere. In addition to those gassed to death, many also died as a result of starvation and disease while working as slave labourers (sometimes benefiting private German companies). Along with Jews, non-Jewish Poles (over three million), communists or political opponents, members of resistance groups, homosexuals, Roma, the physically handicapped and mentally retarded, Soviet prisoners of war (possibly as many as three million), Jehovah's Witnesses, Adventists and Neopagans, trade unionists, and psychiatric patients were killed. One of the biggest centres of mass-killing was the extermination camp complex of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Hitler never visited the concentration camps and did not speak publicly about the killing in precise terms.

The Holocaust (the Endlösung der jüdischen Frage or "Final Solution of the Jewish Question") was planned and ordered by leading Nazis, with Heinrich Himmler playing a key role. While no specific order from Hitler authorizing the mass killing has surfaced, there is documentation showing that he approved the Einsatzgruppen, killing squads that followed the German army through Poland and Russia, and that he was kept well informed about their activities. The evidence also suggests that in the fall of 1941 Himmler and Hitler decided upon mass extermination by gassing. During interrogations by Soviet intelligence officers declassified over fifty years later, Hitler's valet Heinz Linge and his military aide Otto Gunsche said Hitler had "pored over the first blueprints of gas chambers." Also his private secretary, Traudl Junge, testified that Hitler knew all about the death camps.

To make for smoother cooperation in the implementation of this "Final Solution", the Wannsee conference was held near Berlin on 20 January 1942, with fifteen senior officials participating, led by Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann. The records of this meeting provide the clearest evidence of planning for the Holocaust. On 22 February, Hitler was recorded saying to his associates, "we shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jews".

World War II

See main article: World War II.

Early diplomatic triumphs

Alliance with Japan

In February 1938, Hitler finally ended the dilemma that had plagued German Far Eastern policy, namely whether to continue the informal Sino-German alliance that existed with China since the 1910s or to create a new alliance with Japan. The military at the time strongly favored continuing Germany's alliance with China. China had the support of Foreign Minister Konstantin von Neurath and War Minister Werner von Blomberg, the so called "China Lobby" who tried to steer German foreign policy away from war in Europe.[44] Both men, however, were sacked by Hitler in early 1938. Upon the advice of Hitler's newly appointed Foreign Minister, the strongly pro-Japanese Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler chose to end the alliance with China as the price of gaining an alignment with the more modern and powerful Japan. In an address to the Reichstag, Hitler announced German recognition of Manchukuo, the Japanese-occupied puppet state in Manchuria, and renounced the German claims to the former colonies in the Pacific held by Japan. Hitler ordered an end to arm shipments to China, and ordered the recall of all the German officers attached to the Chinese Army. In retaliation for ending German support to China in the war against Japan, Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek canceled all of the Sino-German economic agreements, which deprived the Germans of raw materials such as tungsten that the Chinese had previously provided. The ending of the Sino-German alignment increased the problems of German rearmament as the Germans were now forced to use their limited supply of foreign exchange to buy raw materials on the open market.

Austria and Czechoslovakia

In March 1938, Hitler pressured Austria into unification with Germany (the Anschluss) and made a triumphant entry into Vienna on 14 March. Next, he intensified a crisis over the German-speaking Sudetenland districts of Czechoslovakia.

On 3 March 1938, the British Ambassador Sir Neville Henderson met with Hitler and presented on behalf of his government a proposal for an international consortium to rule much of Africa (in which Germany would be assigned a leading role) in exchange for a German promise never to resort to war to change the frontiers. Hitler, who was more interested in Lebensraum in Eastern Europe then in participating in international consortiums, rejected the British offer, using as his excuse that he wanted the former German African colonies returned to the Reich, not an international consortium running Central Africa. Moreover, Hitler argued that it was totally outrageous on Britain’s part to impose conditions on German conduct in Europe as the price for territory in Africa. Hitler ended the conversation by telling Henderson he would rather wait twenty years for the return of the former colonies than accept British conditions for avoiding war.

On 28 to 29 March 1938, Hitler held a series of secret meetings in Berlin with Konrad Henlein of the Sudeten Heimfront (Home Front), the largest of the ethnic German parties of the Sudetenland. During the Hitler-Henlein meetings, it was agreed that Henlein would provide the pretext for German aggression against Czechoslovakia by making demands on Prague for increased autonomy for Sudeten Germans that Prague could never be reasonably expected to fulfill. In April 1938, Henlein told the foreign minister of Hungary that “whatever the Czech government might offer, he would always raise still higher demands...he wanted to sabotage an understanding by all means because this was the only method to blow up Czechoslovakia quickly”. In private, Hitler considered the Sudeten issue unimportant; his real intentions being to use the Sudeten question as the justification both at home and abroad for a war of aggression to destroy Czechoslovakia, under the grounds of self-determination, and Prague’s refusal to meet Henlein’s demands. Hitler’s plans called for a massive military build-up along the Czechoslovak border, relentless propaganda attacks about the supposed ill treatment of the Sudetenlanders, and finally, “incidents” between Heimfront activists and the Czechoslovak authorities to justify an invasion that would swiftly destroy Czechoslovakia in a few days campaign before other powers could act. Since Hitler wished to have the fall harvest brought in as much as possible, and to complete the so-called “West Wall” to guard the Rhineland, the date for the invasion was chosen for late September or early October 1938.

In April 1938, Hitler ordered the OKW to start preparing plans for Fall Grün (Case Green), the codename for an invasion of Czechoslovakia. Further increasing the tension in Europe was the May Crisis of 19–22 May 1938. The May Crisis of 1938 was a false alarm caused by rumors that Czechoslovakia would be invaded the weekend of the municipal elections in that country, erroneous reports of major German troop movements along the Czechoslovak border just prior to the elections, the killing of two ethnic Germans by the Czechoslovak police, and Ribbentrop's highly bellicose remarks to Henderson when the latter asked the former if an invasion was indeed scheduled for the weekend, which led to a partial Czechoslovak mobilization and firm warnings from London against a German move against Czechoslovakia before it was realized that no invasion was intended for that weekend. Through no invasion had been planned for May 1938, it was believed in London that such a course of action was indeed being considered in Berlin, leading to two warnings on 21 May and 22 May that the United Kingdom would go to war with Germany if France became involved in a war with Germany. Hitler, for his part, was to use the words of an aide, highly “furious” with the perception that he had been forced to back down by the Czechoslovak mobilization, and warnings from London and Paris, when he had in fact had been planning nothing for that weekend. Though plans had already been drafted in April 1938 for an invasion of Czechoslovakia in the near future, the May Crisis and the perception of a diplomatic defeat further reinforced Hitler in his chosen course. The May Crisis seemed to have had the effect of convincing Hitler that expansion "without Britain" was not possible, and expansion "against Britain" was the only viable course.[45] In the immediate aftermath of the May crisis, Hitler ordered an acceleration of German naval building beyond the limits of the A.G.N.A., and in the "Heye memorandum", drawn at Hitler's orders, envisaged the Royal Navy for the first time as the principle opponent of the Kriegsmarine.[46]

At the conference of 28 May 1938, Hitler declared that it was his "unalterable" decision to "smash Czechoslovakia" by 1 October of the same year, which was explained as securing the eastern flank "for advancing against the West, England and France.[47] At the same conference, Hitler expressed his belief that Britain would not risk a war until British rearmament was complete, which Hitler felt would be around 1941–42, and Germany should in a series of wars eliminate France and her allies in Europe in the interval in the years 1938–41 while German rearmament was still ahead.[47] Hitler's determination to go through with Fall Grün in 1938 provoked a major crisis in the German command structure. The Chief of the General Staff, General Ludwig Beck protested in a lengthy series of memos that Fall Grün would start a world war that Germany would lose, and urged Hitler to put off the projected war. Hitler called Beck's arguments against war "kindische Kräfteberechnugen" ("childish calculations").

Starting in August 1938, information reached London that Germany was beginning to mobilize reservists, together with information leaked by anti-war elements in the German military that the war was scheduled for sometime in September. Finally, as a result of intense French, and especially British diplomatic pressure, President Edvard Beneš unveiled on 5 September 1938, the “Fourth Plan” for constitutional reorganization of his country, which granted most of the demands for Sudeten autonomy made by Henlein in his Karlsbad speech of April 1938, and threatened to deprive the Germans of their pretext for aggression. Henlein’s Heimfront promptly responded to the offer of “Fourth Plan” by having a series of violent crashes with the Czechoslovak police, culminating in major clashes in mid-September that led to the declaration of martial law in certain Sudeten districts. In a response to the threatening situation, in late August 1938, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had conceived of Plan Z, namely to fly to Germany, meet Hitler, and then work out an agreement that could end the crisis. On 13 September 1938, Chamberlain offered to fly to Germany to discuss a solution to the crisis. Chamberlain had decided to execute Plan Z in response to erroneous information supplied by the German opposition that the invasion was due to start any time after 18 September. Though Hitler was not happy with Chamberlain’s offer, he agreed to see the British Prime Minister because to refuse Chamberlain’s offer would put the lie to his repeated claims that he was a man of peace driven reluctantly to war because of Beneš’s intractability. In a summit at Berchtesgaden, Chamberlain promised to pressure Beneš into agreeing to Hitler's publicly stated demands about allowing the Sudetenland to join Germany, in return for a reluctant promise by Hitler to postpone any military action until Chamberlain had given a chance to fulfill his promise.[48] Hitler had agreed to the postponement out of the expectation that Chamberlain would fail to secure Prague’s consent to transferring the Sudetenland, and was, by all accounts, most disappointed when Franco-British pressure secured just that. The talks between Chamberlain and Hitler in September 1938 were made difficult by their innately differing concepts of what Europe should look like, with Hitler aiming to use the Sudeten issue as a pretext for war and Chamberlain genuinely striving for a peaceful solution.

When Chamberlain returned to Germany on 22 September to present his peace plan for the transfer of the Sudetenland at a summit with Hitler at Bad Godesberg, the British delegation was most unpleasantly surprised to have Hitler reject his own terms he had presented at Berchtesgaden as now unacceptable.[49] To put an end to Chamberlain’s peace-making efforts once and for all, Hitler demanded the Sudetenland be ceded to Germany no later then 28 September 1938 with no negotiations between Prague and Berlin and no international commission to oversee the transfer; no plebiscites to held in the transferred districts until after the transfer; and for good measure, that Germany would not forsake war as an option until all the claims against Czechoslovakia by Poland and Hungary had been satisfied. The differing views between the two leaders were best symbolized when Chamberlain was presented with Hitler’s new demands and protested at being presented with an ultimatum, leading Hitler in turn to retort that because his document stating his new demands was entitled “Memorandum”, it could not possibly be an ultimatum.[50] On 25 September 1938 Britain rejected the Bad Godesberg ultimatum, and began preparations for war.[51] To further underline the point, Sir Horace Wilson, the British government’s Chief Industrial Advisor, and a close associate of Chamberlain was dispatched to Berlin to inform Hitler that if the Germans attacked Czechoslovakia, then France would honor her commitments as demanded by the Franco-Czechoslovak alliance of 1924, and “then England would feel honor bound, to offer France assistance”.[52] Initially, determined to continue with attack planned for 1 October 1938, sometime between 27 and 28 September, Hitler changed his mind, and asked to take up a suggestion, of and through the intercession of Mussolini, for a conference to be held in Munich with Chamberlain, Mussolini, and the French Premier Édouard Daladier to discuss the Czechoslovak situation.[53] Just what had caused Hitler to change his attitude is not entirely clear, but it is likely that the combination of Franco-British warnings, and especially the mobilization of the British fleet, had finally convinced him of what the most likely result of Fall Grün would be; the minor nature of the alleged casus belli being the timetables for the transfer made Hitler appear too much like the aggressor; the view from his advisors that Germany was not prepared either militarily or economically for a world war; warnings from the states that Hitler saw as his would-be allies in the form of Italy, Japan, Poland and Hungary that they would not fight on behalf of Germany; and very visible signs that the majority of Germans were not enthusiastic about the prospect of war.[54] Moreover, Germany lacked sufficient supplies of oil and other crucial raw materials (the plants that would produce the synthetic oil for the German war effort were not in operation yet), and was highly dependent upon imports from abroad. The Kriegsmarine reported that should war come with Britain, it could not break a British blockade, and since Germany had hardly any oil stocks, Germany would be defeated for no other reason than a shortage of oil. The Economics Ministry told Hitler that Germany had only 2.6 million tons of oil at hand, and should war with Britain and France, would require 7.6 million tons of oil. Starting on 18 September 1938, the British refused to supply metals to Germany, and on 24 September the Admiralty forbade British ships to sail to Germany. The British detained the tanker Invershannon carrying 8,600 tons of oil to Hamburg, which caused immediate economic pain in Germany. Given Germany's dependence on imported oil (80% of German oil in the 1930s came from the New World), and the likelihood that a war with Britain would see a blockade cutting Germany off from oil supplies, historians have argued that Hitler's decision to see a peaceful end to call off Fall Grün was due to concerns about the oil problem.On 30 September 1938, a one-day conference was held in Munich attended by Hitler, Chamberlain, Daladier and Mussolini that led to the Munich Agreement, which gave to Hitler's ostensible demands by handing over the Sudetenland districts to Germany.[55] Since London and Paris had already agreed to the idea of a transfer of the disputed territory in mid-September, the Munich Conference mostly comprised discussions in one day of talks on technical questions about how the transfer of the Sudetenland would take place, and featured the relatively minor concessions from Hitler that the transfer would take place over a ten day period in October, overseen by an international commission, and Germany would wait until Hungarian and Polish claims were settled. At the end of the conference, Chamberlain had Hitler sign a declaration of Anglo-German friendship, to which Chamberlain attached great importance and Hitler none at all. Though Chamberlain was well-satisfied with the Munich conference, leading to his infamous claim to have secured “peace in our time”, Hitler was privately furious about being “cheated” out of the war he was desperate to have in 1938. As a result of the summit, Hitler was TIME magazine's Man of the Year for 1938.[56] British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain hailed this agreement as "peace in our time", but by appeasing Hitler, Britain and France left Czechoslovakia to Hitler's mercy.[55] Though Hitler professed happiness in public over the achievement of his ostensible demands, in private he was determined to have a war the next time around by ensuring that Germany's future demands would not be met. In Hitler’s view, a British-brokered peace, though extremely favorable to the ostensible German demands, was a diplomatic defeat which proved that Britain needed to be ended as a power to allow him to pursue his dreams of eastern expansion.[57] [58] In the aftermath of Munich, Hitler felt since Britain would not ally herself nor stand aside to facilitate Germany’s continental ambitions, it had become a major threat, and accordingly, Britain replaced the Soviet Union in Hitler’s mind as the main enemy of the Reich, with German policies being accordingly reoriented.[59] [60] [61] Hitler expressed his disappointment over the Munich Agreement in a speech on 9 October 1938 in Saarbrücken when he lashed out against the Conservative anti-appeasers Winston Churchill, Alfred Duff Cooper and Anthony Eden, whom Hitler described as a warmongering anti-German fraction, who would attack Germany at the first opportunity, and were likely to come to power at any moment.[62] In the same speech, Hitler claimed “We Germans will no longer endure such governessy interference. Britain should mind her own business and worry about her own troubles”.[63] In November 1938, Hitler ordered a major anti-British propaganda campaign to be launched with the British being loudly abused for their "hypocrisy" in maintaining world-wide empire while seeking to block the Germans from acquiring an empire of their own. A particular highlight in the anti-British propaganda was alleged British humans rights abuses in dealing with the Arab uprising in the Palestine Mandate and in India, and the "hyprocrisy" of British criticism of the November 1938 Kristallnacht event. This marked a huge change from the earlier years of the Third Reich, when the German media had portrayed the British Empire in very favorable terms. In November 1938, the Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop was ordered to convert the Anti-Comintern Pact into an open anti-British military alliance, as a prelude for a war against Britain and France.[64] On 27 January 1939, Hitler approved the Z Plan, a five-year naval expansion program which called for a Kriegsmarine of 10 battleships, four aircraft carriers, three battle cruisers, 44 light cruisers, eight heavy cruisers, 68 destroyers and 249 U-boats by 1944 that was intended to crush the Royal Navy. The importance of the Z Plan can be seen in Hitler's orders that henceforward the Kriegsmarine was to go from third to one in allotment of raw materials, money and skilled workers.[65] In the spring of 1939, the Luftwaffe was ordered to start building a strategic bombing force that was meant to level British cities.[66] Hitler’s war plans against Britain called for a joint Kriegsmarine-Luftwaffe offensive that was to stage "rapid annihilating blows" against British cities and shipping with the expectation that "The moment England is cut off from her supplies she is forced to capitulate" as Hitler expected that the experience of living in a blockaded, famine-stricken, bombed out island to be too much for the British public.[67]

In November 1938, in a secret speech to a group of German journalists, Hitler noted that he had been forced to speak of peace as the goal in order to attain the degree of rearmament "which were an essential prerequisite...for the next step". In the same speech, Hitler complained that his peace propaganda of the last five years had been too successful, and it was time for the German people to be subjected to war propaganda.[68] Hitler stated: "It is self-evident that such peace propaganda conducted for a decade has its risky aspect; because it can too easily induce people to come to the conclusion that the present government is identical with the decision and with the intention to keep peace under all circumstances", and instead called for new journalism that "had to present certain foreign policy events in such a fashion that the inner voice of the people itself slowly begins to shout out for the use of force."[69] In later November 1938, Hitler expressed his frustration with his more cautious advice he was receiving from some quarters[70] Hitler called the economic expert Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, General Ludwig Beck, Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, the diplomat Ulrich von Hassell, and the economist Rudolf Brinkmann as “the overbred intellectual circles" whom were trying to block him from fulifilling his mission by their appeals to caution, and but for the fact that he needed their skills "otherwise, perhaps we could someday exterminate them or do something of this kind to them"[71]

In December 1938, the Chancellery of the of the Führer headed by Philipp Bouhler received a letter concerning a severely physically and mentally disabled baby girl named Sofia Knauer living in Leipzig.[72] At that time, there was a furious rivalry existing between Bouhler’s office, the office of the Reich Chancellery led by Hans-Heinrich Lammers, the Presidential Chancellery of Otto Meissner, the office of Hitler’s adjutant Wilhelm Brückner and the Deputy Führer’s office which was effectively headed by Martin Borman over control over access to Hitler.[73] As part of a power play against his rivals, Bouhler presented the letter concerning the disabled girl to Hitler, who thanked Bouhler for bringing the matter to his attention and responded by ordering his personal physician Dr. Karl Brandt to kill Knauer.[74] In January 1939, Hitler ordered Bouhler and Dr. Brandt to henceforward have all disabled infants born in Germany killed.[74] This was the origin of the Action T4 program. Subsequently Dr. Brandt and Bouhler acting on their own initiative, through in the expectation of winning Hitler’s favor expanded the T4 program to killing first, all physically and/or mentally disabled children in Germany, and then all disabled adults.[75]

In late 1938 and early 1939, the continuing economic crisis caused by problems of rearmament, especially the shortage of foreign hard currencies needed to pay for raw materials Germany lacked together with reports from Göring that the Four Year Plan was hopelessly behind schedule forced Hitler in January 1939 to reluctantly order major defense cuts with the Wehrmacht having its steel allocations cut by 30%, aluminum 47%, cement 25%, rubber 14% and copper 20%. On 30 January 1939, Hitler made his "Export or die" speech calling for a German economic offensive ("export battle", to use Hitler's term), to increase German foreign exchange holdings to pay for raw materials such high-grade iron needed for military materials. The "Export or die" speech of 30 January 1939 is also known as Hitler’s "Prophecy Speech". The name which that speech is known comes from Hitler’s "prophecy" issued towards the end of the speech:

"One thing I should like to say on this day which may be memorable for others as well for us Germans: In the course of my life I have very often been a prophet, and I usually been ridiculed for it. During the time of my struggle for power it was in the first instance the Jewish race which only received my prophecies with laughter when I said I would one day take over the leadership of the State, and it that of the whole nation, and I that I would then among many other things settle the Jewish problem. Their laughter was uproarious, but I think that for some time now they have been laughing on the other side of the face. Today I will be once more the prophet. If the international Jewish financiers outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the bolsheviszation of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!"

A significant historical debate has swung around the “Prophecy Speech”. Historians who take an intentionist line such as Eberhard Jäckel have argued that at minimum from the time of the “Prophecy Speech” onwards, Hitler was committed to genocide of the Jews as his central goal. Lucy Dawidowicz and Gerald Fleming have argued that the "Prophecy Speech" was simply Hitler's way of saying that once he started a world war, he would use that war as a cover for his already pre-existing plans for genocide. Functionalist historians as Christopher Browning have dismissed this interpretation under the grounds that if Hitler were serious with the intentions expressed in the “Prophecy Speech”, then why the thirty-month “stay of execution” between the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, and the opening of the first Vernichtungslager in late 1941. In addition, Browning has pointed to the existence of the Madagascar Plan of 1940–41 and various other schemes as proof that there was no genocidal master plan. In Browning’s opinion, the "Prophecy Speech" was merely an manifestation of bravado on Hitler’s part, and had little connection with actual unfolding of anti-Semitic policies.

At least part of the reason why Hitler violated the Munich Agreement by seizing the Czech half of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 was to obtain Czechoslovak assets to help with the economic crisis. Hitler ordered Germany's army to enter Prague on 15 March 1939, and from Prague Castle proclaimed Bohemia and Moravia a German protectorate.

Start of the Second World War

As part of the anti-British course, it was deemed necessary by Hitler to have either Poland a satellite state or otherwise neutralized. Hitler believed this necessary on both strategic grounds as way of securing the Reich’s eastern flank and on economic grounds as a way of evading the effects of a British blockade.[76] Initially, the German hope was transform Poland into a satellite state, but by March 1939 when the German demands had been rejected by the Poles three times, which led Hitler to decide upon the destruction of Poland as the main German foreign policy goal of 1939. On April 3, 1939 Hitler ordered the military to start preparing for Fall Weiss (Case White), the plan for a German invasion to be executed on 25 August 1939 In August 1939, Hitler spoke to his generals that his original plan for 1939 had to “...establish a acceptable relationship with Poland in order to fight against the West” but since the Poles would not co-operate in setting up an “acceptable relationship” (i.e. becoming a German satellite), he believed he had no other choice other than wiping Poland off the map. The historian Gerhard Weinberg has argued since Hitler’s audience comprised men who were all for the destruction of Poland (anti-Polish feelings were traditionally very strong in the German Army), but rather less happy about the prospect of war with Britain and France, if that was the price Germany had to pay for the destruction of Poland, it is quite likely that Hitler was speaking the truth on this occasion. In his private discussions with his officials in 1939, Hitler always described Britain as the main enemy that had to be defeated, and in his view, Poland’s obliteration was the necessary prelude to that goal by securing the eastern flank and helpfully adding to Germany’s Lebensraum. Hitler was much offended by the British “guarantee” of Polish independence issued on March 31, 1939, and told his associates that "I shall brew them a devil's drink"[77] In a speech in Wilhelmshaven for the launch of the Admiral Tirpitz battleship on April 1, 1939, Hitler threatened to denounce the A.G.N.A if the British persisted with their "encirclement" policy as represented by the "guarantee" of Polish independence.[78] As part of the new course, in a speech before the Reichstag on April 28, 1939, Adolf Hitler complaining of British “encirclement" of Germany, renounced both the Anglo-German Naval Agreement and the German–Polish Non-Aggression Pact.

As a pretext for aggression against Poland, Hitler claimed the Free City of Danzig and the right for “extra-territorial” roads across the Polish Corridor which Germany had unwillingly ceded under the Versailles treaty. For Hitler, Danzig was just a pretext for aggression as the Sudetenland had been intended to be in 1938, and throughout 1939, while highlighting the Danzig issue as a grievance, the Germans always refused to engage in talks about the matter. A notable contradiction existed in Hitler's plans between the long-term anti-British course, whose major instruments such as a vastly expanded Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe that would take several years to complete, and Hitler's immediate foreign policy in 1939, which was likely to provoke a general war by engaging in such actions as attacking Poland.[79] [80] Hitler's dilemma between his short-term and long-term goals was resolved by Foreign Minister Ribbentrop who told Hitler that neither Britain nor France would honor their commitments to Poland, and any German-Polish war would accordingly be a limited regional war. Ribbentrop based his appraisal partly on an alleged statement made to him by the French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet in December 1938 that France now recognized Eastern Europe as Germany’s exclusive sphere of influence. In addition, Ribbentrop's status as the former Ambassador to London made him in Hitler's eyes the leading Nazi British expert, and as a result, Ribbentrop's advice that Britain would not honor her commitments to Poland carried much weight with Hitler. Ribbentrop only showed Hitler diplomatic cables that supported his analysis.[81] In addition, the German Ambassador in London, Herbert von Dirksen tended to send reports that supported Ribbentrop's analysis such as a dispatch in August 1939 that reported Neville Chamberlain knew “the social structure of Britain, even the conception of the British Empire, would not survive the chaos of even a victorious war”, and so would back down. The extent that Hitler was influenced by Ribbentrop’s advice can be seen in Hitler's orders to the German military on 21 August 1939 for a limited mobilization against Poland alone.[82] Hitler chose late August as his date for Fall Weiss in order to limit disruption to German agricultural production caused by mobilization. The problems caused by the need to begin a campaign in Poland in late August or early September in order to have the campaign finished before the October rains arrived, and the need to have sufficient time to concentrate German troops on the Polish border left Hitler in a self-imposed situation in August 1939 where Soviet co-operation was absolutely crucial if he were to have a war that year.

The Munich agreement appeared to be sufficient to dispel most of the remaining hold which the "collective security" idea may have had in Soviet circles,[83] and, on 23 August 1939, Joseph Stalin accepted Hitler's proposal to conclude a non-aggression pact (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), whose secret protocols contained an agreement to partition Poland. A major historical debate about the reasons for Hitler’s foreign policy choices in 1939 concerns whether a structural economic crisis drove Hitler into a “flight into war” as claimed by the Marxist historian Timothy Mason or whether Hitler’s actions were more influenced by non-economic factors as claimed by the economic historian Richard Overy.[84] Historians such as William Carr, Gerhard Weinberg and Ian Kershaw have argued that a non-economic reason for Hitler’s rush to war was due to Hitler’s morbid and obsessive fear of an early death, and hence his feeling that he did not have long to accomplish his work.[85] In the last days of peace, Hitler oscillated between the determination to fight the Western powers if he had to, and various schemes intended to keep Britain out of the war, but in any case, Hitler was not to be deterred from his aim of invading Poland.[86] Only very briefly, when news of the Anglo-Polish alliance being signed on 25 August 1939 in response to the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (instead of the severing of ties between London and Warsaw predicted by Ribbentrop) together with news from Italy that Mussolini would not honor the Pact of Steel, caused Hitler to postpone the attack on Poland from 25 August to 1 September. Hitler chose to spend the last days of peace either trying to maneuver the British into neutrality through his offer of 25 August 1939 to “guarantee” the British Empire, or having Ribbentrop present a last-minute peace plan to Henderson with an impossibly short time limit for its acceptance as part of an effort to blame the war on the British and Poles.[87] On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded western Poland. Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September but did not immediately act. Hitler was most unpleasantly surprised at receiving the British declaration of war on September 3, 1939, and turning to Ribbentrop angrily asked “Now what?”[88] Ribbentrop had nothing to say other then that Robert Coulondre, the French Ambassador would probably be by later that day to present the French declaration of war.[89] Not long after this, on 17 September, Soviet forces invaded eastern Poland.

After the fall of Poland came a period journalists called the "Phoney War". In part of north-western Poland annexed to Germany, Hitler instructed the two Gauleiters in charge of the area, namely Albert Forster and Arthur Greiser to “Germanize” the area, and promised them "There would be no questions asked" about how this "Germanization" was to be accomplished. Hitler’s orders were interpreted in very different ways by Forster and Greiser. Forster followed a policy of simply having the local Poles sign forms stating they had German blood with no documention required, whereas Greiser carried out a brutual ethnic cleansing campaign of expelling the entire Polish population into the Government-General of Poland. When Greiser, seconded by Himmler complained to Hitler that Forster was allowing thousands of Poles to be accepted as “racial” Germans and thus "contaminating" German “racial purity”, and asked Hitler to order Forster to stop. Hitler merely told Himmler and Greiser to take up their difficulties with Forster, and not to involve him. Hitler’s handling of the Forster-Greiser dispute has often been advanced as an example of Ian Kershaw's theory of “Working Towards the Führer”, namely that Hitler issued vague instructions, and allowed his subordinates to work out policy on their own.

After the conquest of Poland, another major dispute broke out between different fractions with one centering Reichsfüherer SS Heinrich Himmler and Arthur Greiser championing and carrying out ethnic cleansing schemes for Poland, and another centering around Hermann Göring and Hans Frank calling for turning Poland into the "granary" of the Reich. At a conference held at Göring's Karinhall estate on 12 February, 1940, the dispute was settled in favor of the Göring-Frank view of economic exploitation, and ending mass expulsions as economically disruptive. On 15 May, 1940 Himmler showed Hitler a memo entitled "Some Thoughts on the Treatment of Alien Population in the East", which called for expelling the entire Jewish population of Europe into Africa and reducing the remainer of the Polish population to a “"leaderless laboring class" Hitler called Himmler's memo "good and correct". Hitler’s remark had the effect of scuttling the so-called Karinhall argreement, and led to the Himmler-Greiser viewpoint triumping as German policy for Poland.

During this period, Hitler built up his forces on Germany's western frontier. In April 1940, German forces invaded Denmark and Norway. In May 1940, Hitler's forces attacked France, conquering the Luxembourg, Netherlands and Belgium in the process. France surrendered on 22 June 1940. These victories persuaded Benito Mussolini of Italy to join the war on Hitler's side on 10 June 1940.

Britain, whose forces evacuated France by sea from Dunkirk, continued to fight alongside other British dominions in the Battle of the Atlantic. After having his overtures for peace rejected by the British, now led by Winston Churchill, Hitler ordered bombing raids on the United Kingdom. The Battle of Britain was Hitler's prelude to a planned invasion. The attacks began by pounding Royal Air Force airbases and radar stations protecting South-East England. However, the Luftwaffe failed to defeat the Royal Air Force. On 27 September 1940, the Tripartite Treaty was signed in Berlin by Saburo Kurusu of Imperial Japan, Hitler, and Ciano. The purpose of the Tripartite treaty, which was directed against an unnamed power that was clearly meant to be the United States was to deter the Americans from supporting the British. It was later expanded to include Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. They were collectively known as the Axis Powers. By the end of October 1940, air superiority for the invasion Operation Sealion could not be assured, and Hitler ordered the bombing of British cities, including London, Plymouth, and Coventry, mostly at night.

Path to defeat

On 22 June 1941, three million German troops attacked the Soviet Union, breaking the non-aggression pact Hitler had concluded with Stalin two years earlier. A major historical dispute concerns Hitler's reasons for Operation Barbarossa. Some historians such as Andreas Hillgruber have argued that Barbarossa was merely one "stage" of Hitler's Stufenplan (stage by stage plan) for world conquest, which Hillgruber believed that Hitler had formulated in the 1920s.[90] Other historians such as John Lukacs have contended that Hitler never had a stufenplan, and that the invasion of the Soviet Union was an ad hoc move on the part of Hitler due to Britain's refusal to surrender.[91] Lukacs has argued that the reason Hitler gave in private for Barbarossa, namely that Winston Churchill held out the hope that the Soviet Union might enter the war on the Allied side, and that the only way of forcing a British surrender was to eliminate that hope, was indeed Hitler's real reason for Barbarossa.[92] In Lukacs's perspective, Barbarossa was thus primarily an anti-British move on the part of Hitler intended to force Britain to sue for peace by destroying her only hope of victory rather than an anti-Soviet move. Klaus Hildebrand has maintained that Stalin and Hitler were independently planning to attack each other in 1941.[93] Hildebrand has claimed that the news in the spring of 1941 of Soviet troop concentrations on the border led to Hitler engaging in a flucht nach vorn ("flight forward"—i.e. responding to a danger by charging on rather than retreating.)[94] A third fraction comprising a diverse group such as Viktor Suvorov, Ernst Topitsch, Joachim Hoffmann, Ernst Nolte, and David Irving have argued that the official reason given by the Germans for Barbarossa in 1941 was the real reason, namely that Barbarossa was a "preventive war" forced on Hitler to avert an impeding Soviet attack scheduled for July 1941. This theory has been widely attacked as erroneous; the American historian Gerhard Weinberg once compared the advocates of the preventive war theory to believers in "fairy tales"[95]

This invasion seized huge amounts of territory, including the Baltic states, Belarus, and Ukraine. It also encircled and destroyed many Soviet forces, which Stalin had ordered not to retreat. However, the Germans were stopped barely short of Moscow in December 1941 by the Russian winter and fierce Soviet resistance. The invasion failed to achieve the quick triumph Hitler wanted. On 18 December, 1941, the appointment book of the Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler shows he met with Hitler, where to in answer to Himmler's question "What to do with the Jews of Russia?", Hitler's response is recorded as "als Partisanen auszurotten" ("exterminate them as partisans").[96] The Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer has commented that the remark recorded in Himmler’s book is probably as close historians will ever get to a definitive order from Hitler for the Holocaust.[97]

Hitler's declaration of war against the United States on 11 December 1941, four days after the Empire of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and six days after Nazi Germany's closest approach to Moscow, 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 late 1942, German forces were defeated in the second battle of El Alamein, thwarting Hitler's plans to seize the Suez Canal and the Middle East. In February 1943, the titanic Battle of Stalingrad ended with the destruction of the German 6th Army. Thereafter came the gigantic Battle of Kursk. Hitler's military judgment became increasingly erratic, and Germany's military and economic position deteriorated. Hitler's health was also deteriorating. His left hand trembled. Hitler's biographer Ian Kershaw and others believe that he may have suffered from Parkinson's disease.[98] Syphilis has also been suspected as a cause of at least some of his symptoms, although the evidence is slight.

Following the allied invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky) in 1943, Mussolini was deposed by Pietro Badoglio, who surrendered to the Allies. Throughout 1943 and 1944, the Soviet Union steadily forced Hitler's armies into retreat along the Eastern Front. On 6 June 1944, the Western Allied armies landed in northern France in what was one of the largest amphibious operations in history, Operation Overlord. Realists in the German army knew defeat was inevitable, and some plotted to remove Hitler from power. In July 1944, Claus von Stauffenberg planted a bomb in Hitler's Führer Headquarters, the Wolfsschanze (Wolf's Lair) at Rastenburg, but Hitler narrowly escaped death. He ordered savage reprisals, resulting in the executions of more than 4,900 people, sometimes by starvation in solitary confinement followed by slow strangulation. The main resistance movement was destroyed, although smaller isolated groups continued to operate.

Defeat and death

See main article: Death of Adolf Hitler.

By late 1944, the Red Army had driven the Germans back into Central Europe and the Western Allies were advancing into Germany. Hitler realized that Germany had lost the war, but allowed no retreats. He hoped to negotiate a separate peace with America and Britain, a hope buoyed by the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt on 12 April 1945. Hitler's stubbornness and defiance of military realities also allowed the Holocaust to continue. He also ordered the complete destruction of all German industrial infrastructure before it could fall into Allied hands, saying that Germany's failure to win the war forfeited its right to survive. Rather, Hitler decided that the entire nation should go down with him. Execution of this scorched earth plan was entrusted to arms minister Albert Speer, who disobeyed the order.

In April 1945, Soviet forces attacked the outskirts of Berlin. Hitler's followers urged him to flee to the mountains of Bavaria to make a last stand in the National Redoubt. But Hitler was determined to either live or die in the capital.

On 20 April, Hitler celebrated his 56th birthday in the "Führer's shelter" (Führerbunker) below the Reich Chancellery (Reichskanzlei). The garrison commander of the besieged "fortress Breslau" (Festung Breslau), General Hermann Niehoff, had chocolates distributed to his troops in honor of Hitler's birthday.

By 21 April, Georgi Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front had broken through the defenses of German General Gotthard Heinrici's Army Group Vistula during the Battle of the Seelow Heights. The Soviets were now advancing towards Hitler's bunker with little to stop them. Ignoring the facts, Hitler saw salvation in the ragtag units commanded by General Felix Steiner. Steiner's command became known as "Army Detachment Steiner" (Armeeabteilung Steiner). But "Army Detachment Steiner" existed primarily on paper. It was something more than a corps but less than an army. Hitler ordered Steiner to attack the northern flank of the huge salient created by the breakthrough of Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front. Meanwhile, the German Ninth Army, which had been pushed south of the salient, was ordered to attack north in a pincer attack.

Late on 21 April, Heinrici called Hans Krebs chief of the Supreme Army Command (Oberkommando des Heeres or OKH) and told him that Hitler's plan could not be implemented. Heinrici asked to speak to Hitler but was told by Krebs that Hitler was too busy to take his call.

On 22 April, during one of his last military conferences, Hitler interrupted the report to ask what had happened to General Steiner's offensive. There was a long silence. Then Hitler was told that the attack had never been launched, and that the withdrawal from Berlin of several units for Steiner's army, on Hitler's orders, had so weakened the front that the Russians had broken through into Berlin. Hitler asked everyone except Wilhelm Keitel, Hans Krebs, Alfred Jodl, Wilhelm Burgdorf, and Martin Bormann to leave the room, and launched a tirade against the perceived treachery and incompetence of his commanders. This culminated in an oath to stay in Berlin, head up the defense of the city, and shoot himself at the end.

Before the day ended, Hitler again found salvation in a new plan that included General Walther Wenck's Twelfth Army. This new plan had Wenck turn his army—currently facing the Americans to the west—and attack towards the east to relieve Berlin. Twelfth Army was to link up with Ninth Army and break through to the city. Wenck did attack and, in the confusion, managed to make temporary contact with the Potsdam garrison. But the link with the Ninth Army, like the plan in general, was ultimately unsuccessful.

On 23 April, Joseph Goebbels made the following proclamation to the people of Berlin:

Also on 23 April, second in command of the Third Reich and commander of the Luftwaffe Hermann Göring sent a telegram from Berchtesgaden in Bavaria. Göring argued that, since Hitler was cut off in Berlin, he should assume leadership of Germany as Hitler's designated successor. Göring mentioned a time limit after which he would consider Hitler incapacitated. Hitler responded, in anger, by having Göring arrested, and when he wrote his will on 29 April, Göring was removed from all his positions in the government.

By the end of the day on 27 April Berlin was completely cut off from the rest of Germany.

On 28 April, Hitler discovered that SS leader Heinrich Himmler was trying to discuss surrender terms with the Allies (through the Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte). Hitler ordered Himmler's arrest and had Himmler's representative in Berlin Hermann Fegelein shot.

During the night of 28 April, General Wenck reported that his Twelfth Army had been forced back along the entire front. Wenck noted that no further attacks towards Berlin were possible. General Alfred Jodl (Supreme Army Command) did not provide this information to Hans Krebs in Berlin until early in the morning of 30 April.

On 29 April, Hans Krebs, Wilhelm Burgdorf, Joseph Goebbels, and Martin Bormann witnessed and signed the last will and testament of Adolf Hitler. Hitler dictated the document to his private secretary, Traudl Junge. Hitler was also that day informed of the violent death of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini on 28 April, which is presumed to have increased his determination to avoid capture.

On 30 April 1945, after intense street-to-street combat, when Soviet troops were within a block or two of the Reich Chancellery, Hitler committed suicide, shooting himself in the mouth while simultaneously biting into a cyanide capsule.[99] Hitler's body and that of Eva Braun (his mistress whom he had married the day before) were put in a bomb crater,[100] doused in gasoline by Otto Günsche and other Führerbunker aides, and set alight as the Red Army advanced and shelling continued.

On 2 May, Berlin surrendered. In the postwar years there were conflicting reports about what happened to Hitler's remains. After the fall of the Soviet Union, however, it was revealed from records in the Soviet archives that the bodies of Hitler, Eva Braun, Joseph and Magda Goebbels, the six Goebbels children, General Hans Krebs and Hitler's dogs, were secretly buried in graves near Rathenow in Brandenburg.[101] In 1970, the remains were disinterred, cremated and scattered in the Elbe River by the Soviets.[102] According to the Russian Federal Security Service, a fragment of human skull stored in its archives and displayed to the public in a 2000 exhibition came from the remains of Hitler's body and is all that remains of Hitler. The authenticity of the skull has been challenged by many historians and researchers.[103]

Legacy

See also: Consequences of German Nazism and Neo-Nazism.

Hitler, the Nazi Party and the results of Nazism are typically regarded as gravely immoral. Historians, philosophers, and politicians have often applied the word evil in both a secular sense of the word and in a religious sense. Historical and cultural portrayals of Hitler in the west are overwhelmingly condemnatory. The display of swastikas or other Nazi symbols is prohibited in Germany and Austria. Holocaust denial is prohibited in both countries.

Outside of Hitler's birthplace in Braunau am Inn, Austria is a stone marker engraved with the following message:

Für Frieden Freiheit

Und Demokratie

Nie wieder Faschismus

Millionen Tote mahnen

Loosely translated, it reads: "For peace, freedom and democracy—never again fascism—millions dead serve as a reminder."

However, some people have referred to Hitler's legacy in neutral or favourable terms. Former Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat spoke of his 'admiration' of Hitler in 1953, when he was a young man, though it is possible he was speaking in the context of a rebellion against the British Empire.[104] Louis Farrakhan has referred to him as a "very great man".[105] Bal Thackeray, leader of the right-wing Hindu Shiv Sena party in the Indian state of the Maharashtra, declared in 1995 that he was an admirer of Hitler.[106] Friedrich Meinecke, the German historian quotes of Hitler, "It is one of the great examples of the singular and incalculable power of personality in historical life".[107]

Religious beliefs

See main article: Adolf Hitler's religious beliefs.

Hitler was raised by Roman Catholic parents, but after he left home, he never attended Mass or received the sacraments. However, after he had moved to Germany, where the Catholic and the Protestant church are largely financed through a church tax collected by the state, Hitler (like Goebbels) never "actually left his church or refused to pay church taxes. In a nominal sense therefore," the historian Steigmann-Gall states, Hitler "can be classified as Catholic."[108] But, as Steigmann-Gall has also pointed out in the debate about religion in Nazi Germany: "Nominal church membership is a very unreliable gauge of actual piety in this context."[109]

In public, Hitler often praised Christian heritage, German Christian culture, and professed a belief in an Aryan Jesus Christ, a Jesus who fought against the Jews. In his speeches and publications Hitler spoke of his interpretation of Christianity as a central motivation for his antisemitism, stating that "As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice." His private statements, as reported by his intimates, are more mixed, showing Hitler as a religious man but critical of traditional Christianity. Here Hitler made at least one attack against Catholicism that "resonated Streicher's contention that the Catholic establishment was allying itself with the Jews."[110] In light of these private statements, for John S. Conway and many other historians it is beyond doubt that Hitler held a "fundamental antagonism" towards the Christian churches.[111] The various accounts of Hitler's private statements vary strongly in their reliability; Most importantly, Hermann Rauschning's Hitler speaks is considered by most historians to be an invention. An overview about Hitler's religious beliefs, based on his apparent private statements, can be found in the acclaimed book by Michael Rißmann or in Richard Steigmann-Gall's controversial book on Nazism and Christianity, pp. 252–259.

In the political relations with the churches in Germany however, Hitler readily adopted a strategy "that suited his immediate political purposes".[111] According to some, Hitler had a general plan, even before the rise of the Nazis to power, to destroy Christianity within the Reich.[112] [113] [114] The leader of the Hitler Youth stated "the destruction of Christianity was explicitly recognized as a purpose of the National Socialist movement" from the start, but "considerations of expedience made it impossible" publicly to express this extreme position.[115]

Most historians believe that, in contrast to some Nazi ideologues, Hitler did not adhere to esoteric ideas, occultism, or Ariosophy, and he ridiculed such beliefs in Mein Kampf. Others believe the young Hitler was strongly influenced, particularly in his racial views, by an abundence of occult works on the mystical superiority of the Germans, like the occult and anti-semitic magazine Ostara, and give credence to the claim of its publisher Lanz von Liebenfels that Hitler visited Liebenfels in 1909 and praised his work.[116] The historians are still divided on the question of the reliability of Lanz' claim of a contact with Hitler.[117] Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke considers his account reliable, Brigitte Hamann leaves the question open and Ian Kershaw is extremely sceptical.[118]

Hitler for a time advocated for Germans a form of the Christian faith he called "Positive Christianity", a belief system purged of what he objected to in orthodox Christianity and added racist elements. By 1940 however, it was public knowledge that Hitler had abandoned advocating for Germans even the syncretist idea of a positive Christianty.[119] Hitler maintained that the "terrorism in religion is, to put it briefly, of a Jewish dogma, which Christianity has universalized and whose effect is to sow trouble and confusion in men's minds."[120]

In addition to not attending Mass or receiving the sacraments, Hitler favored aspects of Protestantism if they were more amenable to his own objectives. At the same time, he adopted some elements of the Catholic Church's hierarchical organization, liturgy and phraseology in his politics.

Hitler expressed admiration for the Muslim military tradition and directed Himmler to initiate Muslim SS Divisions as a matter of policy.[121] According to one confidant, Hitler stated in private, "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..."

Health and sexuality

Health

See main article: Adolf Hitler's medical health and Adolf Hitler's vegetarianism.

Hitler's health has long been the subject of debate. He has variously been said to have suffered from irritable bowel syndrome, skin lesions, irregular heartbeat, Parkinson's disease, syphilis, and a strongly suggested addiction to methamphetamine. One film exists that shows his left hand trembling, which might suggest Parkinson's.[122] Another film, to which words have been added using lip-reading technology, shows him complaining of his arm shaking.[123] Beyond these accounts, however, the evidence is sparse.

After the early 1930s, Hitler generally followed a vegetarian diet, although he ate meat on occasion. There are reports of him disgusting his guests by giving them graphic accounts of the slaughter of animals in an effort to make them shun meat.[124] A fear of cancer (from which his mother died) is the most widely cited reason, though many authors also assert Hitler had a profound and deep love of animals. Martin Bormann had a greenhouse constructed for him near the Berghof (near Berchtesgaden) to ensure a steady supply of fresh fruit and vegetables for Hitler throughout the war. Photographs of Bormann's children tending the greenhouse survive and, by 2005, its foundations were among the only ruins visible in the area that was associated with Nazi leaders.

Hitler was a non-smoker and promoted aggressive anti-smoking campaigns throughout Germany. He reportedly promised a gold watch to any of his close associates who quit (and gave a few away). Several witness accounts relate that, immediately after his suicide was confirmed, many officers, aides, and secretaries in the Führerbunker lit cigarettes.

Sexuality

See main article: Adolf Hitler's sexuality.

Hitler presented himself publicly as a man without a domestic life, dedicated entirely to his political mission.

He had a fiancée in the 1920s, Mimi Reiter, and later had a mistress, Eva Braun. He had a close bond with his half-niece Geli Raubal, which some commentators have claimed was sexual, though there is no evidence that proves this. In John Toland's book (Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography) Hitler would often visit Geli as though a suitor and restricted her niece's movement unless chaperoned by Hitler himself. All three women attempted suicide (two succeeded), a fact that has led to speculation that Hitler may have had sexual fetishes, such as urolagnia, as was claimed by Otto Strasser, a political opponent of Hitler. Reiter, the only one to survive the Nazi regime, denied this. During the war and afterwards psychoanalysts offered numerous inconsistent psycho-sexual explanations of his pathology.[125] Some theorists have claimed that Hitler had a relationship with British fascist Unity Mitford.[126] More recently, Lothar Machtan has argued in his book, The Hidden Hitler, that Hitler was homosexual.

Family

See main article: Hitler (disambiguation).

Paula Hitler, the last living member of Adolf Hitler's immediate family, died in 1960.

The most prominent and longest-living direct descendants of Adolf Hitler's father, Alois, was Adolf's nephew William Patrick Hitler. With his wife Phyllis, he eventually moved to Long Island, New York, and had four sons. None of William Hitler's children have yet had any children of their own.

Over the years various investigative reporters have attempted to track down other distant relatives of the Führer; many are now alleged to be living inconspicuous lives and have long since changed their last name.

Hitler in media

See also: Hitler in popular culture.

Oratory and rallies

See main article: List of Adolf Hitler speeches.

Hitler was a gifted orator who captivated many with his beating of the lectern and growling, emotional speech. He honed his skills by giving speeches to soldiers during 1919 and 1920. He became adept at telling people what they wanted to hear (the stab-in-the-back, the Jewish-Marxist plot to conquer the world, and the betrayal of Germany in the Versailles treaty) and identifying a scapegoat for their plight. Over time Hitler perfected his delivery by rehearsing in front of mirrors and carefully choreographing his display of emotions. He was coached by a self-styled clairvoyant who focused on hand and arm gestures. Munitions minister and architect Albert Speer, who may have known Hitler as well as anyone, said that Hitler was above all else an actor.[127] [128]

Massive Nazi rallies staged by Speer were designed to spark a process of self-persuasion for the participants. By participating in the rallies, by marching, by shouting heil, and by making the stiff armed salute, the participants strengthened their commitment to the Nazi movement. This process can be appreciated by watching Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, which presents the 1934 Nuremberg Rally. The camera shoots Hitler from on high and from below, but only twice head-on. These camera angles give Hitler a Christ-like aura. Some of the people in the film are paid actors, but most of the participants are not. Whether the film itself recruited new Nazis out of theater audiences is unknown. The process of self-persuasion may have affected Hitler. He gave the same speech (though it got smoother and smoother with repetition) hundreds of times first to soldiers and then to audiences in beer halls. These performances may have made his hatreds more intense, especially his all-consuming hatred of the Jews.

Recorded in private conversation

Hitler visited Finnish Field Marshal Mannerheim on 4 June 1942. During the visit an engineer of the Finnish broadcasting company YLE, Thor Damen, recorded Hitler and Mannerheim in conversation, something which had to be done secretly since Hitler never allowed recordings of him off-guard.[129] Today the recording is the only known recording of Hitler not speaking in an official tone. The recording captures 11 and a half minutes of the two leaders in private conversation.[130] Hitler speaks in a slightly excited, but still intellectually detached manner during this talk (the speech has been compared to that of the working class). The majority of the recording is a monologue by Hitler. In the recording, Hitler admits to underestimating the Soviet Union's ability to conduct war (some English transcripts exist).

Patria picture disc

Adolf Hitler even released a 7" picture disc with one of his speeches. Known as the Patria (Fatherland) picture disc, the obverse bears an image of Hitler giving a speech and has a recording of both a speech by Hitler and also Party Member Hans Hinkel. The reverse bears a hand holding a swastika flag and the Carl Woitschach recording (1933—Telefunken A 1431) "In Dem Kampf um die Heimat—Faschistenmarsch".

Documentaries during the Third Reich

Hitler appeared in and was involved to varying degrees with a series of films by the pioneering filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl via Universum Film AG (UFA):

Hitler was the central figure of the first three films; they focused on the party rallies of the respective years and are considered propaganda films. Hitler also featured prominently in the Olympia film. Whether the latter is a propaganda film or a true documentary is still a subject of controversy, but it nonetheless perpetuated and spread the propagandistic message of the 1936 Olympic Games depicting Nazi Germany as a prosperous and peaceful country.[131] As a prominent politician, Hitler was also featured in many newsreels.

Television

Hitler's attendance at various public functions, including the 1936 Olympic Games and Nuremberg Rallies, appeared on television broadcasts made between 1935 and 1939. These events, along with other programming highlighting activity by public officials, were often repeated in public viewing rooms. Samples from a number of surviving television films from Nazi Germany were included in the 1999 documentary Das Fernsehen unter dem Hakenkreuz (Television Under the Swastika).

Documentaries post Third Reich

Dramatizations

See also

External links

Images and videos
Speeches and publications
  1. "The Discovery of Hitler's Wills" (Office of Strategic Services report on how the testament was found).
  1. Matthew Brzezinski, "Giving Hitler Hell", Washington Post Sunday, July 24, 2005; p. W08 (Narrative of how the testament was found)

Notes and References

  1. "Hitler ersucht um Entlassung aus der österreichischen Staatsangehörigkeit", 7 April 1925 (in German). Translation: "Hitler's official application to end his Austrian citizenship". NS-Archiv. Retrieved on 2008-08-19
  2. Book: Niewyk, Donald L.. The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust. Francis R. Nicosia. 2000. Columbia University Press. 0231112009. 45.
  3. Book: Wistrich, Robert S.. Who's Who In Nazi Germany?. 978-0415118880. 2008-09-07. 1995. Routledge. London.
  4. Since the identity of Alois' biological father is an unsolved mystery of Third Reich history, it is consequently impossible to determine the true biological relationship between Alois and Klara. See discussion in Alois Hitler article. If, as the official records (as modified when Alois was 39 years old) show, Johann Georg Hiedler was Alois' biological father, then Alois and Klara were first cousins, once removed; if Johann Nepomuk Hiedler (the younger brother of Johann Georg) was his biological father, then Alois was Klara's half-uncle. In either case Alois and Klara were within the prescribed degrees of consanguinity.
  5. Hamann, Hitler's Vienna: A Dictator's Apprenticeship, p.15
  6. The controversial book The Jew of Linz by Kimberley Cornish suggests that conflict between Hitler and Wittgenstein was a critical moment in Hitler's formation as an anti-Semite, although there is no evidence for any such conflict.
  7. Web site: 2008-05-22. In the House of my Parents. Mondo Politico.
  8. Alastair Jamieson, Nazi leader Hitler really did have only one ball.html, The Daily Telegraph, retrieved on 20 November 2008
  9. Rosenbaum, Ron, "Everything You Need To Know About Hitler's "Missing" Testicle", Slate, Nov. 28, 2008
  10. Web site: 2008-05-22. 1919 Picture of Hitler. Historisches Lexikon Bayerns.
  11. [Katrina Vanden Heuvel]
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