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The drifter
Before embarking on a political career in September 1919 at the age of thirty, Adolf Hitler had been a nonentity. With no formal qualifications, he had become an aimless drifter and failed artist before joining the army on the outbreak of war in August 1914. There he was not considered worthy of promotion because of 'a lack of leadership qualities', although his award of the Iron Cross First Class showed that he did not lack courage. Yet during the next 26 years he succeeded in gaining and exercising supreme power in Germany and, in the process, arguably had more impact on the history of the world in the 20th century than any other political figure. The explanation for this remarkable transformation lies partly in Hitler himself, in his particular personal qualities and gifts, and partly in the situation in which he found himself, with a nation in deep crisis. Before embarking on a political career...Adolf Hitler had been a nonentity. Hitler's political career began in Munich when he joined the German Workers' Party (DAP), a tiny group of extreme nationalists and anti-Semites who saw their role as trying to win over German workers from the internationalist Social Democratic Party and, in the aftermath of defeat and revolution, to persuade people that Jews were primarily responsible for Germany's plight. In July 1921, he took over the leadership of the party, by then renamed the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP), and, less than 12 years later, it had become the largest party in Germany and Hitler was Reich Chancellor. Why then did Hitler choose to join the NSDAP and effectively adopt politics as a career, and what personal qualities, abilities and political opinions did he bring with him from his previous life, which may help to explain his choice and his subsequent career?


The early years

Adolf Hitler as a schoolboy (top row centre) in 1899 Hitler

was born in Braunau am Inn

on the Austro-German border on 20th April 1889. His family background has given rise to much psychological

speculation. His father, a customs official who died when Hitler was 13, was cold and strict, while his mother was gentle and loving and pampered her son, who adored her. Hitler was clearly intelligent but bored by much of his formal education, except for history, which was taught with a strong German nationalist bias. His family background has given rise to much psychological speculation. He was growing up at a time when the German-speaking parts of the Austro-Hungarian (Habsburg) empire were saturated with Pan German ethnic nationalism. Although extreme ethnic nationalism was a general feature of early 20th century Europe, it was particularly virulent in Austria because of the growing threat to German dominance posed by the rise of other nationalities within the empire, in particular the Czechs. Hitler's school career ended in failure, but the death of his father had removed the pressure on him to get a job. By now he had developed the self-image of an artist, a superior being above mundane employment, who would one day create great works of art or architecture. He spent his time in his home town, Linz, reading, drawing, attending the theatre or opera; he had developed a particular passion for Wagner. Invariably polite and well turned out, his behaviour was marked by a combination of arrogance and insecurity not unusual in adolescence, but in his case extreme. He was particularly gauche in his relations with girls; indeed, his only relationship during this period was a fantasy one. But there is no suggestion from anyone who knew him then that he was homosexual.


Drifting in Vienna
Having moved to Vienna in 1907, his failure to get into Art school came as a major blow. His money from an orphan's pension and borrowed from relatives eventually ran out, and he was forced to take refuge in men's hostels where he lived from 1909 to 1913. Not sufficiently strong for manual labour - contrary to his claim in his book, Mein Kampf ('My Struggle'), to having been a building worker - he eked out a precarious existence selling his reproductions of famous sights which were hawked by hostel acquaintances. Despite his poverty, Hitler engaged actively with his political and intellectual environment... Pre-1914 Vienna - the capital of a multi-ethnic empire with a highly sophisticated, mainly Jewish, upper middle class, a deeply conservative and Catholic petty bourgeoisie, and a growing and increasingly radicalised working class - was like a magnifying glass focusing and concentrating the ideas, artistic trends and political forces that were to shape the century into a purer and more extreme form than anywhere else in Europe: ethnic nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, Socialism, psychoanalysis, and modern forms of painting, music, crafts and architecture. Despite his poverty, Hitler engaged actively with his political and intellectual environment, devouring newspapers and pamphlets, attending the Imperial parliament and witnessing the violent confrontations between the rival ethnic

and political groups which paralysed it, rendering it an object of contempt to much of the population, including Hitler himself. His experiences in Vienna sharpened the Pan German nationalism that he had absorbed in his school days, increasing his contempt for the Habsburg Empire. He also developed a strong hostility towards the Socialist movement, fuelled partly by its internationalism, but also by his unwillingness to identify with the working class and his determination to retain his self-image as a superior being despite his actual inferior social position. Although Hitler absorbed the racist and anti-Semitic discourses that so shaped the Viennese political and intellectual climate and was to reproduce their arguments and clichs years later, at the time he does not appear to have been hostile to Jews, at any rate on a personal level, since many of his closest associates in the men's hostel, who helped him sell his pictures, were in fact Jews.


A purpose in life

Hitler standing among the crowd in the Odeonsplatz, Munich, as war is declared in 1914 In

1913, Hitler's desire to avoid military service for the hated Habsburg Empire prompted him to move to Munich, the German city of his dreams, a move facilitated by coming into a small legacy from his father's estate. Here he continued a life similar to that in Vienna until, with the outbreak of war in 1914, he enthusiastically volunteered to serve in a Bavarian regiment. Service in the Army at last provided Hitler with a purpose in life, a major project with which he could wholly identify. All the greater, therefore, was the shock of defeat and the victory of the hated Socialists in the revolution of November 1918. For it was at this point that anti-Semitism emerged as the core of Hitler's 'world view'. Yet Hitler was desperate to remain in the Army rather than to have to face a return to his pre-war existence, and the evidence suggests that he was willing to come to terms with the new order to achieve this end. Fortunately for him, the Right soon took over and he was recruited by the Bavarian Army's Intelligence/Propaganda section to undergo political indoctrination. Employed to preach German nationalism and anti-Socialism to the troops, he proved a great success. He was also sent to report on the DAP, where he drew attention to himself at a meeting by his effective performance in the discussion and was invited to join.

He was probably prompted to accept partly by sympathy for the party's ideas and partly by pressure from his superiors, but also because he had concluded that participation in the DAP offered him, as a nonentity, the only available opportunity to win support for the beliefs that he was now burning to express. For it was at this point that anti-Semitism emerged as the core of Hitler's 'world view'. Defeat, revolution, and the humiliating Treaty of Versailles (1919) had challenged Hitler's whole sense of worth and personal identity. Like many Germans, but even more so since he had effectively chosen German identity, Hitler needed to find an explanation for this catastrophe. And the explanation being vigorously canvassed by the extreme Right in Munich, and one that was generating a strongly positive popular response, was that the Jews were to blame. This explanation chimed with the anti-Semitic theories which Hitler had absorbed in Vienna but which, in the light of his day-to-day positive experiences with actual Jews had not made much impact. Now, in very different circumstances and reinforced by the arguments of right-wing intellectuals in Munich which Hitler now encountered, these theories began to make sense, indeed to provide the total explanation which he was seeking.


Demagogic gifts

Hitler (right) as a soldier during World War One Initially,

Hitler saw himself as a

political evangelist seeking to convert the German people to his 'world view' rather than as a political leader. He was conscious of his demagogic gifts but also of the limits imposed by his lack of formal qualifications and social status. He assumed that some established figure of the extreme Right, such as the war hero, General Ludendorff, would take over power. Between 1919 and 1921, he rejected the offer of the leadership of the NSDAP and only took over when he was forced to do so by the fact that the leaders were pursuing a course which threatened his position. Initially, Hitler saw himself as a political evangelist...rather than as a political leader. His emergence as unchallenged 'Fhrer' of the NSDAP and his determination to become dictator of Germany only occurred during the period 1921-23 as a result of his growing self confidence, which was in turn partly the result of the increasing hero worship of his supporters. It was also the result of his growing contempt for the Bavarian right wing establishment. This culminated in his experience of their pusillanimous behaviour during his Munich beer hall 'putsch' of 8-9 November 1923, when, as he saw it, they stabbed him in the back. It was only at this point that Hitler became convinced of his destiny to lead Germany, a conviction from which he then never wavered.


Find out more

Books Hitler's Vienna. Apprentice Years of a Dictator by Brigitte Hamann (Oxford, 1999) Hitler: Hubris 1889-1936 by Ian Kershaw (London, 1998) Young Hitler by August Kubizek (Maidstone, 1954) Where Ghosts Walked. Munich's Road to the Third Reich by David Clay Large (London, 1997).


Germans Elect Nazis Adolf Hitler and the Nazis waged a modern whirlwind campaign in 1930 unlike anything ever seen in Germany. Hitler traveled the country delivering dozens of major speeches, attending meetings, shaking hands, signing autographs, posing for pictures, and even kissing babies. Joseph Goebbels brilliantly organized thousands of meetings, torchlight parades, plastered posters everywhere and printed millions of special edition Nazi newspapers. Germany was in the grip of the Great Depression with a population suffering from poverty, misery, and uncertainty, amid increasing political instability. For Hitler, the master speech maker, the long awaited opportunity to let loose his talents on the German people had arrived. He would find in this downtrodden people, an audience very willing to listen. In his speeches, Hitler offered the Germans what they needed most, encouragement. He gave them heaps of vague promises while avoiding the details. He used simple catchphrases, repeated over and over.

His campaign appearances were carefully staged events. Audiences were always kept waiting, deliberately letting the tension increase, only to be broken by solemn processions of Brownshirts with golden banners, blaring military music, and finally the appearance of Hitler amid shouts of "Heil!" The effect in a closed in hall with theatrical style lighting and decorations of swastikas was overwhelming and very catching. Hitler began each speech in low, hesitating tones, gradually raising the pitch and volume of his voice then exploding in a climax of frenzied indignation. He combined this with carefully rehearsed hand gestures for maximum effect. He skillfully played on the emotions of the audience bringing the level of excitement higher and higher until the people wound up a wide-eyed, screaming, frenzied mass that surrendered to his will and looked upon him with pseudo-religious adoration.

A typical campaign scene with Nazi posters on display next to the Center Party, Communists, Socialists and others. Below: Repeated propaganda marches became a cheap and effective form of publicity - sometimes leading to violence between rival political groups. Hrst Wessel, pictured at the front, was killed during such a brawl in 1930 and raised to the status of a martyr by Nazis via the "Hrst Wessel" banner anthem.

Hitler offered something to everyone: work to the unemployed; prosperity to failed business people; profits to industry; expansion to the Army; social harmony and an

end of class distinctions to idealistic young students; and restoration of German glory to those in despair. He promised to bring order amid chaos; a feeling of unity to all and the chance to belong. He would make Germany strong again; end payment of war reparations to the Allies; tear up the treaty of Versailles; stamp out corruption; keep down Marxism; and deal harshly with the Jews. He appealed to all classes of Germans. The name of the Nazi Party itself was deliberately all inclusive the National Socialist German Workers' Party. All of the Nazis, from Hitler, down to the leader of the smallest city block, worked tirelessly, relentlessly, to pound their message into the minds of the Germans. On election day September 14, 1930, the Nazis received 6,371,000 votes over eighteen percent of the total and were thus entitled to 107 seats in the German Reichstag. It was a stunning victory for Hitler. Overnight, the Nazi Party went from the smallest to the second largest political party in Germany. It propelled Hitler to solid national and international prestige and aroused the curiosity of the world press. He was besieged with interview requests. Foreign journalists wanted to know what did he mean tear up the Treaty of Versailles and end war reparations? and that Germany wasn't responsible for the First World War? Gone was the Charlie Chaplin image of Hitler as the laughable fanatic behind the Beer Hall Putsch. The beer hall revolutionary had been replaced by the skilled manipulator of the masses. On October 13, 1930, dressed in their brown shirts, the elected Nazi deputies marched in unison into the Reichstag and took their seats. When the roll-call was taken, each one shouted, "Present! Heil Hitler!" They had no intention of cooperating with the democratic government, knowing it was to their advantage to let things get worse in Germany, thus increasing the appeal of Hitler to an ever more miserable people. Nazi storm troopers dressed in civilian clothes celebrated their electoral victory by smashing the windows of Jewish shops, restaurants and department stores, an indication of things to come. Now, for the floundering German democracy, the clock was ticking and time was on Hitler's side.


Nazi Party members

were especially happy - they got all the best houses, preferential treatment, good jobs in the government and power over other people.

Ordinary people

Prora holiday camp

For ordinary people, life was good, and many Germans even today look back and remember the years before 1939 as happy years: Nazi economic policies gave full employment (work programmes/ Strength through Joy), prosperity and financial security - many observers stated that there seemed to be no poverty in Germany, the Strength through Joy programme (KdF) gave some people fun and holidays. the 'Beauty of Work' movement (SdA) gave people pride in what they were doing. law and order (few people locked their doors), autobahns improved transport, frequent ceremonies, rallies, colour and excitement, Nazi propaganda gave people hope, Nazi racial philosophy gave people self-belief Trust in Adolf Hitler gave a sense of security (one German woman told the American reporter Nora Wall: 'He is my mother and my father. He keeps me safe from all harm.') There were few drawbacks: Wages fell, and strikers could be shot - the Nazis worked closely with the businessmen to make sure that the workforce were as controlled as possible. Loss of personal freedoms (eg freedom of speech). All culture had to be German - eg music had to be Beethoven or Wagner or German folk songs - or Nazi - eg all actors had to be members of the Nazi party/ only books by approved authors could be read.

Source A We all felt the same, the sa happiness and joy. Things were looking up. I believe statesman has ever been a loved as Adolf Hitler was then. Its all come floodin back to me. Those were happy times.

A German farmer, Luise Essig, remembering life in Nazi German


Source B

The Nazis were very male-dominated and anti-feminist. Nazi philosophy idealisedthe role of women as child-bearer and creator of the family: The Law for the Encouragement of Marriage gave newly-wed couples a loan of 1000 marks, and allowed them to keep 250 marks for each child they had. Mothers who had more than 8 children were given a gold medal. But not all women were happy with the Nazi regime: Job-discrimination against women was encouraged. Women doctors, teachers and civil servants were forced to give up their careers. Women were never allowed to serve in the armed forces - even during the war.

The perfect Nazi family

Nazi culture was very youth-oriented. The HJ provided exciting activities for young boys. The HJ and the BDM treated young men and women as though they were special, and told then they had knew more then their parents. Many parents were frightened that their children would report them to the Gestapo, which gave young people a power that they enjoyed.

More sources on Nazi youth

Most German young people were happy:

Source C

But not all young people were happy with the Nazi regime: SOME girls were unhappy with the emphasis on the three Cs (Church, children, cooker). Girls who were regarded as true Aryan girls were sent off to special camps where they were bred (like farm animals) with selected 'Aryan' boys. Towards the end of the war, youth gangs such as the Eidelweiss Pirates grew up, rejecting the HJ and Nazi youth culture, drinking and dancing to American jazz and 'swing' music. In Cologne in 1944 they sheltered army deserters and even attacked the Gestapo. If they were caught, they were hanged.

The perfect Nazi boy...

Source D

...and Aryan girl


Nazi concentration camp badge

The Nazi's used 'fear and horror' against anyone who disapproved of their regime: Hitler banned all Trade Unions on 2 May 1933. Their offices were closed, their money confiscated, and their leaders put in prison. Communists were put into concentration camps or killed. Many Protestant pastors such as Dietrich Bonhoffer were persecuted and executed. Each block of flats had a 'staircase ruler' who reported grumblers to the police - they were arrested and either murdered, or sent to concentration camps. Children were encouraged to report their parents to the Gestapo if they criticized Hitler or the Nazi party. But remember that: Many Germans welcomed this because it brought political stability after the Weimar years.

This Google book has a very cle detailed description of the anti-N opposition. Opposition to the Nazis - difficu article And this is a good article on the Polish resistance: Action N.


The Nazi regime despised many groups which it thought were racially or socially inferior (untermensch = subhuman) - people they called the 'germs of destruction'.

Holocaust - essential link Auschwitz - a tour Film clip Good research prompts Very detailed article

Groups which were persecuted and killed included: Jews, such as Anne Frank, whom the Germans systematically persecuted, were forced into walled ghettos, put into concentration camps, and used for medical experiments. In the end the Nazis devised the Final Solution of genocide - it was the Holocaust. Gypsies were treated almost as badly as the Jews - 85% of Germany's gypsies were killed. Black people were sterilized and killed. 5000 mentally disabled babies were killed 1939-45. 72,000 mentally ill patients were killed 1939-41. Physically disabled people and families with hereditary illness were sometimes sterilized. 300,000 men and women were sterilized 1934-45. Some deaf people were sterilised and put to death. Beggars, homosexuals, prostitutes, alcoholics, pacifists, hooligans and criminals were also regarded as anti-social, and they were put in concentration camps.

Source E

A Nazi race-hatred poster: 'The Jew - the inciter of war, the prolonger of war'.

But note that: Many Germans approved of this - or at least turned a blind eye*.

* Please note that I have had a complaint this sentence from a German student who pointed out quite fairly that:

'Gestapo-terror was everywhere. Anyone w spoke up was killed or put into a concentra camp. I mean, would you speak up knowin you will be killed ? You should not forget al that MANY GERMANS HID JEWS. Another point you should not forget is, how people see pictures like these? All they cou was Nazi propaganda which of course had influence on the people's minds.

Certainly there was real injustice going on during the Nazi regime - I'm happy that I am living nowadays and not back then - but I th people today often forget that the Germans not EVIL PEOPLE...'

I have left my sentence because I believe t on balance, it is also fair comment, but rea should note that it is a judgement, not a fac

Source F
Children in concentration camps who had been used for medical experiments.

YouTube life in Hitlers Germany part. 1