Key point: Top-down direction appeared to help Germany revive after the Depression, but the policies of the fascist Nazis would prove ruinous. Germany would commit many terrible sins and see its youth once again cut down in a global war.
Born in Branau, Austria, on April 20, 1889, Adolf Hitler rose to lead the Nazi Party in Germany during the 1920s and was appointed the nation’s chancellor in 1933. As a boy, Hitler was abused by his father, a low level officer in the civil service, and adored his mother. He was a frustrated artist who failed to gain entry into the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.
Adolf Hitler in World War I
An ardent nationalist, he joined the German Army during World War I. He was decorated for bravery, wounded, and temporarily blinded by poison gas. Disillusioned following Germany’s defeat, Hitler was introduced to the Nazi Party after being sent by military authorities as an intelligence agent to report on the organization’s activities. Instead, he became one of its leaders.
In 1934, Hitler effectively abolished the office of president upon the death of Paul von Hindenburg and concentrated political power and authority in himself. The following year, he repudiated the Versailles Treaty and revealed that Germany had embarked on a campaign of military rearmament. He subsequently formed the Axis, a military and political alliance with Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan.
While the Nazis persecuted Jews and minorities at home, Hitler intimidated the leaders of other European nations and reoccupied the Rhineland in 1936. He annexed Austria in 1938, and persuaded the prime ministers of Great Britain and France, Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, to acquiesce to German occupation of the Czech Sudetenland later that year. Within months, German troops occupied the whole of Czechoslovakia. On September 1, 1939, German forces invaded Poland, triggering World War II in Europe.
Although the Nazis were initially successful in occupying much of Western Europe, Hitler was guilty of several strategic blunders, particularly at Dunkirk, allowing much of the British Expeditionary Force to escape capture in the summer of 1940, and in his decision to invade the Soviet Union in June 1941. Defeats during the Battle of Britain, at Stalingrad in the East and El Alamein in North Africa, and the Allied landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944, were turning points of the war in Europe.
Death by Suicide
On April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler committed suicide with his mistress, Eva Braun, whom he had married hours earlier, in the Führerbunker beneath embattled Berlin as Soviet troops captured the city.
Adolf Hitler’s legacy is one of genocide, murder, and unspeakable cruelty. He remains one of the most infamous dictators in human history.
This article first appeared at Warfare History Network.
Image: Creative Commons.