We erupted into a frenzy of nationalistic pride that bordered on hysteria. For minutes on end, we shouted at the top of our lungs, with tears streaming down our faces: Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil! From that moment on, I belonged to Adolf Hitler body and soul.
Hitler's father Alois Hitler Sr. (1837–1903) was the illegitimate child of Maria Anna Schicklgruber. The baptismal register did not show the name of his father, and Alois initially bore his mother's surname Schicklgruber. In 1842, Johann Georg Hiedler married Alois's mother Maria Anna. Alois was brought up in the family of Hiedler's brother, Johann Nepomuk Hiedler. In 1876, Alois was legitimated and the baptismal register changed by a priest to register Johann Georg Hiedler as Alois's father (recorded as "Georg Hitler"). Alois then assumed the surname "Hitler", also spelled Hiedler, Hüttler, or Huettler. The Hitler surname is probably based on "one who lives in a hut" (German Hütte for "hut").
Adolf Hitler was born on 20 April 1889 in Braunau am Inn, a town in Austria-Hungary (in present-day Austria), close to the border with the German Empire. He was christened as "Adolphus Hitler". He was the fourth of six children born to Alois Hitler and his third wife, Klara Pölzl. Three of Hitler's siblings—Gustav, Ida, and Otto—died in infancy. Also living in the household were Alois's children from his second marriage: Alois Jr. (born 1882) and Angela (born 1883). When Hitler was three, the family moved to Passau, Germany. There he acquired the distinctive lower Bavarian dialect, rather than Austrian German, which marked his speech throughout his life. The family returned to Austria and settled in Leonding in 1894, and in June 1895 Alois retired to Hafeld, near Lambach, where he farmed and kept bees. Hitler attended Volksschule (a state-owned school) in nearby Fischlham.
The move to Hafeld coincided with the onset of intense father-son conflicts caused by Hitler's refusal to conform to the strict discipline of his school. Alois Hitler's farming efforts at Hafeld ended in failure, and in 1897 the family moved to Lambach. The eight-year-old Hitler took singing lessons, sang in the church choir, and even considered becoming a priest. In 1898 the family returned permanently to Leonding. Hitler was deeply affected by the death of his younger brother Edmund, who died in 1900 from measles. Hitler changed from a confident, outgoing, conscientious student to a morose, detached boy who constantly fought with his father and teachers.
Alois had made a successful career in the customs bureau, and wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. Hitler later dramatised an episode from this period when his father took him to visit a customs office, depicting it as an event that gave rise to an unforgiving antagonism between father and son, who were both strong-willed. Ignoring his son's Desire to attend a classical high school and become an Artist, Alois sent Hitler to the Realschule in Linz in September 1900. Hitler rebelled against this decision, and in Mein Kampf states that he intentionally did poorly in school, hoping that once his father saw "what little progress I was making at the technical school he would let me devote myself to my dream".
After Alois's sudden death on 3 January 1903, Hitler's performance at school deteriorated and his mother allowed him to leave. He enrolled at the Realschule in Steyr in September 1904, where his behaviour and performance improved. In 1905, after passing a repeat of the final exam, Hitler left the school without any ambitions for further education or clear plans for a career.
In 1907 Hitler left Linz to live and study fine art in Vienna, financed by orphan's benefits and support from his mother. He applied for admission to the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna but was rejected twice. The Director explained his drawings showed "unfitness for painting" and suggested Hitler was better suited to studying architecture. Though this was an interest of his, he lacked the academic credentials as he had not finished secondary school. On 21 December 1907, his mother died of breast cancer at the age of 47. In 1909 Hitler ran out of money and was forced to live a bohemian life in homeless shelters and Meldemannstraße dormitory. He earned money as a Casual labourer and by painting and selling watercolours of Vienna's sights.
Hitler received the final part of his father's estate in May 1913 and moved to Munich, Germany. Hitler was called up for conscription into the Austro-Hungarian Army, so he journeyed to Salzburg on 5 February 1914 for medical assessment. After he was deemed by the medical examiners as unfit for Service, he returned to Munich. Hitler later claimed that he did not wish to serve the Habsburg Empire because of the mixture of races in its army and his belief that the collapse of Austria-Hungary was imminent.
During his Service at headquarters, Hitler pursued his artwork, drawing cartoons and instructions for an army newspaper. During the Battle of the Somme in October 1916, he was wounded in the left thigh when a shell exploded in the dispatch runners' dugout. Hitler spent almost two months in hospital at Beelitz, returning to his regiment on 5 March 1917. On 15 October 1918, he was temporarily blinded in a mustard gas attack and was hospitalised in Pasewalk. While there, Hitler learned of Germany's defeat, and—by his own account—upon receiving this news, he suffered a second bout of blindness.
Hitler described the war as "the greatest of all experiences", and was praised by his commanding officers for his bravery. His wartime experience reinforced his German patriotism and he was shocked by Germany's capitulation in November 1918. His bitterness over the collapse of the war effort began to shape his ideology. Like other German nationalists, he believed the Dolchstoßlegende (stab-in-the-back myth), which claimed that the German army, "undefeated in the field", had been "stabbed in the back" on the home front by civilian Leaders, Jews, and Marxists, later dubbed the "November criminals".
Around this time, Hitler made his earliest known recorded statement about the Jews in a letter (now known as the Gemlich letter) dated 16 September 1919 to Adolf Gemlich about the Jewish question. In the letter, Hitler argues that the aim of the government "must unshakably be the removal of the Jews altogether".
Brüning's austerity measures brought little economic improvement and were extremely unpopular. Hitler exploited this by targeting his political messages specifically at people who had been affected by the inflation of the 1920s and the Depression, such as farmers, war veterans, and the middle class.
In June 1921, while Hitler and Eckart were on a fundraising trip to Berlin, a mutiny broke out within the NSDAP in Munich. Members of its executive committee wanted to merge with the rival German Socialist Party (DSP). Hitler returned to Munich on 11 July and angrily tendered his resignation. The committee members realised that the resignation of their leading public figure and speaker would mean the end of the party. Hitler announced he would rejoin on the condition that he would replace Drexler as party chairman, and that the party headquarters would remain in Munich. The committee agreed, and he rejoined the party on 26 July as member 3,680. Hitler continued to face some opposition within the NSDAP: Opponents of Hitler in the leadership had Hermann Esser expelled from the party, and they printed 3,000 copies of a pamphlet attacking Hitler as a traitor to the party. In the following days, Hitler spoke to several packed houses and defended himself and Esser, to thunderous applause. His strategy proved successful, and at a special party congress on 29 July, he was granted absolute powers as party chairman, replacing Drexler, by a vote of 533 to 1.
Hitler fled to the home of Ernst Hanfstaengl and by some accounts contemplated suicide. He was depressed but calm when arrested on 11 November 1923 for high treason. His trial before the special People's Court in Munich began in February 1924, and Alfred Rosenberg became temporary leader of the NSDAP. On 1 April, Hitler was sentenced to five years' imprisonment at Landsberg Prison. There, he received friendly treatment from the guards, and was allowed mail from supporters and regular visits by party comrades. Pardoned by the Bavarian Supreme Court, he was released from jail on 20 December 1924, against the state prosecutor's objections. Including time on remand, Hitler served just over one year in prison.
At the time of Hitler's release from prison, politics in Germany had become less combative and the economy had improved, limiting Hitler's opportunities for political agitation. As a result of the failed Beer Hall Putsch, the NSDAP and its affiliated organisations were banned in Bavaria. In a meeting with the Prime Minister of Bavaria Heinrich Held on 4 January 1925, Hitler agreed to respect the state's authority and promised that he would seek political power only through the democratic process. The meeting paved the way for the ban on the NSDAP to be lifted on 16 February. However, after an inflammatory speech he gave on 27 February, Hitler was barred from public speaking by the Bavarian authorities, a ban that remained in place until 1927. To advance his political ambitions in spite of the ban, Hitler appointed Gregor Strasser, Otto Strasser and Joseph Goebbels to organise and grow the NSDAP in northern Germany. Gregor Strasser steered a more independent political course, emphasising the socialist elements of the party's programme.
Hitler created a public image as a celibate man without a domestic life, dedicated entirely to his political mission and the nation. He met his lover, Eva Braun, in 1929, and married her in April 1945. In September 1931, his half-niece, Geli Raubal, took her own life with Hitler's gun in his Munich apartment. It was rumoured among contemporaries that Geli was in a romantic relationship with him, and her death was a source of deep, lasting pain. Paula Hitler, the younger sister of Hitler and the last living member of his immediate family, died in 1960.
Hitler made a prominent appearance at the trial of two Reichswehr officers, Lieutenants Richard Scheringer and Hans Ludin, in late 1930. Both were charged with membership in the NSDAP, at that time illegal for Reichswehr personnel. The prosecution argued that the NSDAP was an extremist party, prompting defence Lawyer Hans Frank to call on Hitler to testify. On 25 September 1930, Hitler testified that his party would pursue political power solely through democratic elections, which won him many supporters in the officer corps.
Hitler ran against Hindenburg in the 1932 presidential elections. A 27 January 1932 speech to the Industry Club in Düsseldorf won him support from many of Germany's most powerful industrialists. Hindenburg had support from various nationalist, monarchist, Catholic, and republican parties, and some Social Democrats. Hitler used the campaign slogan "Hitler über Deutschland" ("Hitler over Germany"), a reference to his political ambitions and his campaigning by aircraft. He was one of the first politicians to use aircraft travel for political purposes, and used it effectively. Hitler came in second in both rounds of the election, garnering more than 35 per cent of the vote in the final election. Although he lost to Hindenburg, this election established Hitler as a strong force in German politics.
Germany withdrew from the League of Nations and the World Disarmament Conference in October 1933. In January 1935, over 90 per cent of the people of the Saarland, then under League of Nations administration, voted to unite with Germany. That March, Hitler announced an expansion of the Wehrmacht to 600,000 members—six times the number permitted by the Versailles Treaty—including development of an air force (Luftwaffe) and an increase in the size of the navy (Kriegsmarine). Britain, France, Italy, and the League of Nations condemned these violations of the Treaty, but did nothing to stop it. The Anglo-German Naval Agreement (AGNA) of 18 June allowed German tonnage to increase to 35 per cent of that of the British navy. Hitler called the signing of the AGNA "the happiest day of his life", believing that the agreement marked the beginning of the Anglo-German alliance he had predicted in Mein Kampf. France and Italy were not consulted before the signing, directly undermining the League of Nations and setting the Treaty of Versailles on the path towards irrelevance.
In August 1934, Hitler appointed Reichsbank President Hjalmar Schacht as Minister of Economics, and in the following year, as Plenipotentiary for War Economy in charge of preparing the economy for war. Reconstruction and rearmament were financed through Mefo bills, printing money, and seizing the assets of people arrested as enemies of the State, including Jews. Unemployment fell from six million in 1932 to one million in 1936. Hitler oversaw one of the largest infrastructure improvement campaigns in German history, leading to the construction of dams, autobahns, railroads, and other civil works. Wages were slightly lower in the mid to late 1930s compared with wages during the Weimar Republic, while the cost of living increased by 25 per cent. The average work week increased during the shift to a war economy; by 1939, the average German was working between 47 and 50 hours a week.
The Nazis embraced the concept of racial hygiene. On 15 September 1935, Hitler presented two laws—known as the Nuremberg Laws—to the Reichstag. The laws banned sexual relations and marriages between Aryans and Jews and were later extended to include "Gypsies, Negroes or their bastard offspring". The laws stripped all non-Aryans of their German citizenship and forbade the employment of non-Jewish women under the age of 45 in Jewish households. Hitler's early eugenic policies targeted children with physical and developmental disabilities in a programme dubbed Action Brandt, and he later authorised a euthanasia programme for adults with serious mental and physical disabilities, now referred to as Action T4.
Germany reoccupied the demilitarised zone in the Rhineland in March 1936, in violation of the Versailles Treaty. Hitler also sent troops to Spain to support General Franco during the Spanish Civil War after receiving an appeal for help in July 1936. At the same time, Hitler continued his efforts to create an Anglo-German alliance. In August 1936, in response to a growing economic crisis caused by his rearmament efforts, Hitler ordered Göring to implement a Four Year Plan to prepare Germany for war within the next four years. The plan envisaged an all-out struggle between "Judeo-Bolshevism" and German national socialism, which in Hitler's view required a committed effort of rearmament regardless of the economic costs.
Count Galeazzo Ciano, foreign minister of Mussolini's government, declared an axis between Germany and Italy, and on 25 November, Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan. Britain, China, Italy, and Poland were also invited to join the Anti-Comintern Pact, but only Italy signed in 1937. Hitler abandoned his plan of an Anglo-German alliance, blaming "inadequate" British leadership. At a meeting in the Reich Chancellery with his foreign ministers and military chiefs that November, Hitler restated his intention of acquiring Lebensraum for the German people. He ordered preparations for war in the East, to begin as early as 1938 and no later than 1943. In the event of his death, the conference minutes, recorded as the Hossbach Memorandum, were to be regarded as his "political testament". He felt that a severe decline in living standards in Germany as a result of the economic crisis could only be stopped by military aggression aimed at seizing Austria and Czechoslovakia. Hitler urged quick action before Britain and France gained a permanent lead in the arms race. In early 1938, in the wake of the Blomberg–Fritsch Affair, Hitler asserted control of the military-foreign policy apparatus, dismissing Neurath as foreign minister and appointing himself as War Minister. From early 1938 onwards, Hitler was carrying out a foreign policy ultimately aimed at war.
Hitler dominated his country's war effort during World War II to a greater extent than any other national leader. He strengthened his control of the armed forces in 1938, and subsequently made all major decisions regarding Germany's military strategy. His decision to mount a risky series of offensives against Norway, France, and the Low Countries in 1940 against the advice of the military proved successful, though the diplomatic and military strategies he employed in attempts to force the United Kingdom out of the war ended in failure. Hitler deepened his involvement in the war effort by appointing himself commander-in-chief of the Army in December 1941; from this point forward he personally directed the war against the Soviet Union, while his military commanders facing the Western Allies retained a degree of autonomy. Hitler's leadership became increasingly disconnected from reality as the war turned against Germany, with the military's defensive strategies often hindered by his slow decision making and frequent directives to hold untenable positions. Nevertheless, he continued to believe that only his leadership could deliver victory. In the final months of the war Hitler refused to consider peace negotiations, regarding the complete destruction of Germany as preferable to surrender. The military did not challenge Hitler's dominance of the war effort, and senior officers generally supported and enacted his decisions.
Between 1939 and 1945, the Schutzstaffel (SS), assisted by collaborationist governments and recruits from occupied countries, was responsible for the deaths of at least eleven million people, including 5.5 to 6 million Jews (representing two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe), and between 200,000 and 1,500,000 Romani people. Deaths took place in concentration and extermination camps, ghettos, and through mass executions. Many victims of the Holocaust were gassed to death, while others died of starvation or disease or while working as slave labourers. In addition to eliminating Jews, the Nazis planned to reduce the population of the conquered territories by 30 million people through starvation in an action called the Hunger Plan. Food supplies would be diverted to the German army and German civilians. Cities would be razed and the land allowed to return to forest or resettled by German colonists. Together, the Hunger Plan and Generalplan Ost would have led to the starvation of 80 million people in the Soviet Union. These partially fulfilled plans resulted in additional deaths, bringing the total number of civilians and prisoners of war who died in the democide to an estimated 19.3 million people.
On 27 September 1940, the Tripartite Pact was signed in Berlin by Saburō Kurusu of Imperial Japan, Hitler, and Italian foreign minister Ciano, and later expanded to include Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, thus yielding the Axis powers. Hitler's attempt to integrate the Soviet Union into the anti-British bloc failed after inconclusive talks between Hitler and Molotov in Berlin in November, and he ordered preparations for the invasion of the Soviet Union.
On 18 December 1941, Himmler asked Hitler, "What to do with the Jews of Russia?", to which Hitler replied, "als Partisanen auszurotten" ("exterminate them as partisans"). Israeli Historian Yehuda Bauer has commented that the remark is probably as close as historians will ever get to a definitive order from Hitler for the genocide carried out during the Holocaust.
The genocide was organised and executed by Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich. The records of the Wannsee Conference, held on 20 January 1942 and led by Heydrich, with fifteen senior Nazi officials participating, provide the clearest evidence of systematic planning for the Holocaust. On 22 February, Hitler was recorded saying, "we shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jews". Similarly, at a meeting in July 1941 with leading functionaries of the Eastern territories, Hitler said that the easiest way to quickly pacify the areas would be best achieved by "shooting everyone who even looks odd". Although no direct order from Hitler authorising the mass killings has surfaced, his public speeches, orders to his generals, and the diaries of Nazi officials demonstrate that he conceived and authorised the extermination of European Jewry. During the war, Hitler repeatedly stated his prophecy of 1939 was being fulfilled, namely, that a world war would bring about the annihilation of the Jewish race. Hitler approved the Einsatzgruppen—killing squads that followed the German army through Poland, the Baltic, and the Soviet Union—and was well informed about their activities. By summer 1942, Auschwitz concentration camp was expanded to accommodate large numbers of deportees for killing or enslavement. Scores of other concentration camps and satellite camps were set up throughout Europe, with several camps devoted exclusively to extermination.
Hitler followed a vegetarian diet. At social events he sometimes gave graphic accounts of the slaughter of animals in an effort to make his guests shun meat. Bormann had a greenhouse constructed near the Berghof (near Berchtesgaden) to ensure a steady supply of fresh fruit and vegetables for Hitler. Hitler publicly avoided alcohol. He occasionally drank beer and wine in private, but gave up drinking because of weight gain in 1943. He was a non-smoker for most of his adult life, but smoked heavily in his youth (25 to 40 cigarettes a day); he eventually quit, calling the habit "a waste of money". He encouraged his close associates to quit by offering a gold watch to anyone able to break the habit. Hitler began using amphetamine occasionally after 1937 and became addicted to it in late 1942. Speer linked this use of amphetamine to Hitler's increasingly erratic behavior and inflexible decision making (for Example, rarely allowing military retreats).
Prescribed 90 medications during the war years by his personal physician, Theodor Morell, Hitler took many pills each day for chronic stomach problems and other ailments. He regularly consumed amphetamine, barbiturates, opiates, and cocaine, as well as potassium bromide and atropa Belladonna (the latter in the form of Doktor Koster's Antigaspills). He suffered ruptured eardrums as a result of the 20 July plot bomb blast in 1944, and 200 wood splinters had to be removed from his legs. Newsreel footage of Hitler shows tremors in his left hand and a shuffling walk, which began before the war and worsened towards the end of his life. Ernst-Günther Schenck and several other doctors who met Hitler in the last weeks of his life also formed a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease.
On 30 April 1945, when Soviet troops were within a block or two of the Reich Chancellery, Hitler shot himself in the head and Braun bit into a cyanide capsule. Their bodies were carried outside to the bombed-out garden behind the Reich Chancellery, where they were placed in a bomb crater and doused with petrol. The corpses were set on fire as the Red Army shelling continued. Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz and Joseph Goebbels assumed Hitler's roles as head of state and chancellor respectively.
Berlin surrendered on 2 May. Records in the Soviet archives obtained after the fall of the Soviet Union state that the remains of Hitler, Braun, Joseph and Magda Goebbels, the six Goebbels children, General Hans Krebs, and Hitler's dogs were repeatedly buried and exhumed. On 4 April 1970, a Soviet KGB team used detailed burial charts to exhume five wooden boxes at the SMERSH facility in Magdeburg. The remains from the boxes were burned, crushed, and scattered into the Biederitz river, a tributary of the Elbe. According to Kershaw, the corpses of Braun and Hitler were fully burned when the Red Army found them, and only a lower jaw with dental work could be identified as Hitler's remains.
Hitler exploited documentary films and newsreels to inspire a cult of personality. He was involved and appeared in a series of propaganda films throughout his political career—such as Der Sieg des Glaubens and Triumph des Willens—made by Leni Riefenstahl, regarded as a pioneer of modern filmmaking.