Hitler, Adolf

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Hitler, Adolf

Adolf Hitler ruled Germany as a dictator from 1933 to 1945. Hitler's National Socialist (Nazi) German Workers' party was based on the idea of German racial supremacy and a virulent anti-Semitism. Hitler's regime murdered more than 6 million Jews and others in concentration camps and started World War II.

Hitler was born in Braunauam Inn, Austria, on April 20, 1889, the son of a minor government official and a peasant woman. A poor student, Hitler never completed high school. In 1907 he moved to Vienna and tried to make a living as an artist. He was unsuccessful and had to work as a day laborer to support himself. During this period Hitler immersed himself in anti-Jewish and antidemocratic literature. He was also a passionate German nationalist who believed that Austria should be merged with Germany so as to unite the German people.

In 1913 he moved to Munich. He gave up his Austrian citizenship and enlisted in the German army when World War I began in 1914. He rose to lance corporal in his infantry regiment, won the Iron Cross, and was wounded in 1917. When Germany admitted defeat and signed the Armistice terminating World War I in November 1918, Hitler was in a hospital, temporarily blinded by a mustard gas attack and suffering from shock. Outraged at the defeat, Hitler blamed Jews and Communists for stabbing the German army in the back.

Other members of the German army felt the same way. After his discharge from the hospital, Hitler was assigned to spy on politically subversive activities in Munich. In 1919 he joined a small nationalist party. The German Workers' party was transformed in 1920 by Hitler into the National Socialist German Workers' party. The Nazis advocated the uniting of all German people into one nation and the repudiation of the Versailles treaty, which the Allies had forced Germany to sign. This treaty imposed large reparations on Germany and restricted the size of its armed forces.

In 1923 the Nazis tried to capitalize on political and economic turmoil in Germany. On November 8 Hitler called for a Nazi revolution. The beer hall putsch (revolution), named for its place of origin, failed because Hitler had no military support. When he led two thousand storm troopers in revolt, the police opened fire and killed sixteen people. Hitler was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for Treason.

While in prison Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle), a rambling book that was both an autobiography and a declaration of his political beliefs. He made his intentions plain: If he was to assume control of Germany, he would seek to conquer much of Europe and he would destroy the Jewish race. He rejected democracy and called for a dictatorship that would be able to withstand an assault by Communism.

Hitler served only nine months in prison, as political pressure forced the Bavarian government to commute his sentence. He was set free in December 1924.

From 1924 to 1928, Hitler and the Nazis had little political success. The Great Depression, which started in late 1929, was the catalyst for Hitler's rise to power. As the economy declined, Hitler railed against the Versailles treaty and a conspiracy of Jews and Communists who were destroying Germany. By 1932 the Nazis had become the strongest party in Germany. On January 30, 1933, Hitler was named chancellor, or prime minister, of Germany. Many German leaders believed that Hitler could be controlled by industrialists and the German army. Instead, Hitler quickly moved to make Germany a one-party state and himself the führer (leader). He abolished labor unions, imposed government Censorship, and directed that Nazi propaganda dominate the press and the radio. The gestapo, Hitler's secret police, waged a war of terror on Nazi opponents. Jews were fired from jobs, placed in concentration camps, and driven from Germany. By 1934 Hitler was securely in charge.

The majority of Germans supported Hitler enthusiastically. He restored full employment, rebuilt the German economy, and allowed Germans to escape the feelings of inferiority instilled after World War I.

Hitler broke the Versailles treaty and proceeded with a massive buildup of the German armed forces. In 1936 he reclaimed the Rhineland from French control, and in 1938 he annexed Austria to Germany. Also in 1938 he took over the German areas of Czechoslovakia, and in 1939 he annexed all of that country. When he invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. World War II had begun.

During the early years of Hitler's regime, some prominent U.S. citizens had believed he was a positive force for Germany. As Hitler became more aggressive and war clouds appeared, U.S. isolationists argued against involvement. People such as aviator Charles A. Lindbergh argued for an America First policy.

Concerns about Nazism led in part to the Smith Act (54 Stat. 670) in 1940. Nazi sympathizers organized groups such as the Silvershirts and the German-American Bund, raising the specter of subversion. The Smith Act required Aliens to register with and be fingerprinted by the federal government. More important, it made it illegal not only to conspire to overthrow the government, but to advocate or conspire to advocate to do so. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the act in Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494, 71 S. Ct. 857, 95 L. Ed. 1137 (1951).

Hitler's quick and easy conquest of western Europe in 1940 left Great Britain alone. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States and Great Britain became allies in World War II. They were joined by the Soviet Union, which Hitler had invaded in June 1941. In 1942 the war turned against Hitler. North Africa and then Italy were lost to the Allies. In June 1944, the Allies invaded France and were soon nearing Germany. On the eastern front, the Soviet army moved toward Berlin. During these last years of the war, Hitler directed the extermination of Jews and other "undesirables" in concentration camps.

On July 20, 1944, Hitler escaped an assassination attempt. As the military situation crumbled, Hitler realized that defeat was inevitable. While Soviet troops entered Berlin in April 1945, Hitler married his longtime mistress, Eva Braun. On April 30 the two committed suicide. Their bodies were burned by Hitler's aides.

Further readings

Anthes, Louis. 1998. "Publicly Deliverative Drama: The 1934 Mock Trial of Adolf Hitler for "Crimes Against Civilization." American Journal of Legal History 42 (October): 391–410.

Giblin, James Cross. 2002. The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler. New York: Clarion Books.

Kershaw, Ian. 1999-2000. Hitler. New York: W.W. Norton.

Welch, David. 2001. Hitler: Profile of a Dictator. London; New York: Routledge

Cross-references

Hirohito; Mussolini, Benito; Nuremberg Trials.

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