Hitler: A History

by Amy Wang

Early Life

Adolf Hitler was born on April 20, 1889, in Braunau am Inn, Austria, to Klara Pölzl Hitler and Alois Hitler. He was the fourth and only living child of Klara and Alois Hitler, and was constantly watched and cared for by his mother. She spoiled him, terrified for his life, and young Adolf always got everything he wanted. His father, on the other hand, was not nearly as lenient with Adolf and beat him regularly.

When Adolf was 5 years old, in 1894, his father was promoted to a reputable position as a customs inspector in Linz, Austria. He moved away to work and live in Linz for a year, and the remaining Hitlers were on their own. While he was gone, Adolf's little brother Edmund Hitler was born, and Klara refocused her attention on the new baby. Meanwhile, with Alois away in Linz, Adolf grew more independent and played and invented his own war games by himself.

In 1895, the family moved again, and Alois retired from his government job at the age of 58. He acquired a small farm near Fischlham, Austria. There, 6 year old Adolf started school, where he was an average, well-behaved student. Home, however, began to be less pleasant; Alois was at home most of the time, and since the new baby, Paula, was born in 1896, he was constantly cross at his children. The farm was an economic encumbrance, and so in 1897, he sold the farm and the family moved, yet again, to Lambach, Austria.

Adolf, now 8 years old, attended school in Lambach, and got good grades; his behavior, however, deteriorated, and as his teacher explained, he was becoming "rather hard to handle." Adolf's time at Lambach was short, and in November of 1898, the family moved again to Leonding, Austria, a village outside of Linz. Adolf particularly appreciated that part of Austria and considered Linz his hometown. He continued to enjoy playing cowboys and Indians and other war games, and was captivated by illustrious tales of war, especially the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71; he later wrote in his book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle): "It was not long before the great historic struggle had become my greatest spiritual experience. From then on, I became more enthusiastic about everything that was in any way connected with war, or for that matter, with soldiering."

In 1900, Adolf's little brother Edmund died from the measles, and Adolf's older stepbrother had left home, with an austere attitude toward his father, Alois, leaving the Hitler household tense. Adolf, now 11 years old, was ready for secondary school, and could attend Realschule or Gymnasium in Austria. Realschule would offer a practical education in science and technical, while Gymnasium would provide an advanced study of the arts and was for more academically inclined students. Alois wanted Adolf to work in a government office like him, but Adolf didn't want to: When Adolf was 12, his father asked him what he wanted to be, and when Adolf said that he wanted to be an artist, a painter, Alois responded, "Artist, no, never as long as I live!" This provoked Adolf into failing his courses, thinking that this would change his father's mind.

The conflict between Adolf and his father came to a calamitous conclusion when Alois collapsed suddenly in a tavern he frequented often. His family, particularly 13-year-old Adolf, most likely did not mourn over his death. Adolf continued to fail in school, and convinced his mother to let him drop out entirely when he was 16. He spent his abundant hours drawing, painting, reading, and writing, and watched operas in the evenings with his close friend August Kubizek. Then in 1906, when Adolf was 17, he visited the art gallery in the Court Museum in Vienna and his dream to be a great artist grew; he would study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.

Overcoming Obstacles

Hitler was 18 years old when he planned to take the entrance exam at the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts. He expected that it would be easy for him, and as he later wrote, he was "convinced that it would be child's play to pass the examination." His mother, who was very ill with cancer, supported him as he pursued his goals. Despite Hitler's confidence in his abilities, academy officials didn't accept him as a student. Their comments on his examination were, "Test drawing unsatisfactory. Few heads." They suggested that Hitler attend architecture school instead.

Hitler returned home and focused his attention on his dying mother. On December 21, 1907, Klara Pölzl Hitler died, "a dreadful blow," as Hitler called it. "The death of my mother put a sudden end to all my high-flown plans... I had honored my father, but my mother I had loved," he later recalled.

In 1909, Hitler became homeless, sleeping in hostels, parks, and sometimes the street, begging for money and food. He often went to a nearby convent for free soup, hungry and threadbare most of the time. He had no job and no home, blaming everyone for his failures. He spoke of his hard times later, saying that "the uncertainty of earning my daily bread soon seemed to me one of the darkest sides of my new life."

His situation improved some the next year when he met Reinhold Hanisch, who taught him how to find food, shelter, and odd jobs. They shoveled snow together and carried bags for passengers at the train station. Hanisch proposed that Hitler try to sell his paintings, and so Hitler painted postcards of sites in Vienna, and Hanisch sold them. As they started to make a profit, they moved into the Männerheim, a home for single men, that provided them with a private cubicle and a place to sleep. Hitler later claimed that it was there that he developed his anti-Semitic beliefs.

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This is the Mannerheim, where Hitler claimed to have first cultivated his anti-Semitic beliefs. Politics was a popular subject among the residents of the Mannerheim, and Hitler spent hours listening and debating with the other men there.

Heil Hitler!

After Germany was defeated in World War I, Hitler wept for what he felt was his country. His hatred towards Jews continued to grow, and he blamed them for Germany's economical problems from after the war. He delivered a speech, in which he began attacking Jews, and gained a reputation as a strong speaker.

Since his previous experience in the army, the German army had Hitler spy on radical groups in Munich, Germany and report back on their ideas and activities. One of these was the German Workers' Party, founded by Anton Drexler. Hitler visited a GWP meeting, which concluded in an open discussion period, where Hitler rose and spoke for 15 minutes. Impressed with Hitler's speech, Drexler said to his secretary, "This one has what it takes, we could use him!" and gave Hitler a copy of his booklet, My Political Awakening, and instructions to read it.

Unable to sleep that night, Hitler finally read My Political Awakening, and received a postcard accepting him as a member and inviting him to the next meeting. He went, on orders from the military, and gave a 30-minute-long speech that ended in tumultuous applause. The next time there was a meeting, 130 people came, and despite the 4 people scheduled to speak, the crowd came to hear Hitler. Hitler continued to grow in popularity and the next public meeting, 2,000 people packed the hall to hear Hitler give a two and a half hour long speech. Hitler said, "When I closed the meeting, I was not alone in thinking that now a wolf had been born, destined to burst in upon the herd of seducers of the people."

Hitler, now 31 years old, resigned from the army to focus on his political objectives, and became chairman of the Nazi Party. On November 8, 1923, Hitler organized a rally at the Munich beer hall to announce a putsch, a government takeover. Three thousand people packed into the hall to see Hitler's private army, Sturm Abteilung, shouting "Heil Hitler!" before Hitler climbed onto a chair and yelled, "Quiet! The national revolution has broken out!" and gave a speech that was called by some an "oratorical masterpiece." The meeting, however, was a failure, and so the people decided to demonstrate in the streets.

The next day, 3,000 Nazis gathered in Munich's central square to meet 125 armed policemen. After shots were fired, three police officers and sixteen Nazis were killed. Hitler was captured and arrested for treason, and taken to Landsberg Prison, where he was sentenced to five years in prison. In jail, Hitler read the works of Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Marx, which later resulted in his famous book, Mein Kampf.

Hitler was released early from prison, and ended up only serving 13 months of his five-year sentence. He was banned by the government to speak publicly, but after swearing his allegiance to the Bavarian government, the ban was lifted. After giving an angry, two-hour long speech, however, in which Hitler spouted prejudices against Jews and Communists, he was banned again from speaking in public, and continued organizing the ever growing Nazi party.

After the Great Depression, Germany was suffering. Banks failed, businesses and factories closed, and unemployment escalated. Germans lost faith in their government, and joined the Nazi party in hopes that a strong leader would bring them from their economic despair. This leader became Hitler, when Paul von Hindenburg elected Hitler as chancellor of Germany. Hitler got to work stripping citizens of their civil rights and arresting 3,000 innocent Communists and social democrats. A police force was created, the Gestapo, that had the ability to arrest anyone who challenged the government or was even suspected of doing so. Soon, Germany's prisons were overflowing, and the Nazis had to build large reeducation camps. Before long, Hitler was the dictator of Germany, and began using his powers to attack Jews and start what became widely known as the Holocaust.

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This photo shows Hitler as chancellor of Germany. He was appointed the chancellor on January 30, 1933 and soon became the dictator of Germany after Hindenburg's death.

The End of Hitler

The Holocaust was the horrible murder of 6 million Jews, 1.5 million of whom were children, by the Nazis and their leader, Adolf Hitler, through the use of concentration camps designed only for the killings for Jews and other minorities. Hitler was also solely responsible for World War II, in which the Allied nations (Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States of America) triumphed over the Axis nations (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan) after 6 long years of war involving more than 30 nations, and resulting in the deaths of more than 50 million people.

Adolf Hitler died on April 30, 1945, at the age of 56, after committing suicide in his bunker in Berlin, Germany. His wife of less than 40 hours, Eva Braun, committed suicide with him. Hitler's defeat marked the defeat of fascism, and he is remembered today as one of history's most notorious dictators and the person responsible for the near-genocide of the Jews in Europe and the "deadliest conflict in human history."