The Story of Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler, a man of basic beginnings and a simple education, was the most frightening and evil national leader in history. Fueled by the failings of his childhood, the influences of German nationalists, and the disappointed results of World War II, Hitler was destined for a position of leadership and domination. His rise to political power not only reinvigorated German pride, but also the suffering economy as he restored Germany to the empire it was before the war. However, the plan he meticulously crafted in his biography, Mein Kampf, included territorial expansion and the expulsion and eventual elimination of certain racial groups as he believed they were the cause of Germany’s problems. Under Hitler’s rule, eleven million people of varying ethnic backgrounds were systematically destroyed. Sadly, the dream of Adolf Hitler to return Germany to its original greatness could not be sustained, and came at the expense of human life.
Facing the end of World War I and coming off of recent defeat, Germany was left broken, weak and humiliated. A country once economically and politically strong under Otto von Bismarck was now, in the 1920s forced to depend on the help of other countries in order to survive and repay their extraordinary debts. As per ordered by the Treaty of Versailles, Germany owed France 33 billion dollars as reparations for the consequences of the war. Yet even with an annual payment plan Germany was unable to continue paying their dues. The value of the German mark dropped dramatically and by November of 1923 one United States dollar was equal to four billion mark. The following month in December, the exchange rate had fallen again and now one dollar was comparable to four trillion marks.
As the economy suffered, the nation became unsettled with its governmental rule. Gustav Stresseman took control of the government in August of 1923, appealing to the United States. Although the help offered and the solution provided through the Dawes Plan did alleviate economic stress in Germany, feelings of nationalism, pride and embarrassment intensified (McKay 970-1). Although the once uncontrollable inflation was quieted with help from several large loans, it also made worthless the entire life savings of the elderly and middle class, and it did manage to bring about a social and political revolution, causing socialist uprisings in the streets. Most Germans felt betrayed by their own government, as well as Western nations, investing corporations, the Jews, the workers and the communists. Social unrest within this struggling nation provided the basis for a new ruling political party and a controlling dictator.
Adolf Hitler’s extreme and complex beliefs helped him become the most frightening dictator in the world’s history. Hitler was born in Braunau, Austria on April 20, 1889 to a lower-middle class family (Collotti, 18). His early years show no hint of the man he would become, as they were marked by mediocrity and modest insignificance. At sixteen Hitler left school after failing most courses. As a serious blow to pride, in 1907 he failed again, this time to gain admittance to the Academy of Graphic Arts in Vienna (Kershaw, 4). He spent the rest of his adolescence there instead of returning home, where he became intensely influenced by German nationalism. Austro-German nationalists thought themselves to be a superior people and advocated the union of Austria with Germany. Often, a part of their ideal was that the "inferior" races should be violently expelled in order to make way for and maintain a German domination. Influenced with these ideas and also with Vienna’s mayor, Karl Lueger, Hitler began to formulate his own racial opinion. Lueger not only blamed Jews for Austria’s economic problems, but also taught Hitler the importance and influence of antiliberal and anticapitalist propaganda (Nicholls, 159). While in Vienna, Hitler solidified his irrational beliefs and insistence that Jews, Slavs and people of a variety of other ethnic groups were the cause of Germany’s problems. He developed a bastardized approach to Darwin’s survival of the fittest, believing that the superiority of the German race pointed to the destruction of all other races. His delusions ranged from thinking that the Jews created an international conspiracy of "finance capitalism and Marxism socialism against German culture, German unity and the German race" (McKay 970) to saying that during the war "Jews and Marxists had stabbed Germany in the back" (McKay 971).
Hitler was able to better express and practice his beliefs once he moved to Munich in 1913 in order to escape the Austrian draft. Once settled as a part of German society, he joined a tiny extremist group called the German Worker’s party that denounced several factions and promised unity in a Germany under a national socialist rule. Hitler had gained complete control of this party by 1921, clarifying its goals as opposition to capitalism and the desire for a strong "people’s community" (McKay 971). The tiny party grew dramatically in membership because of Hitler’s impressive propaganda techniques and his ability to invoke emotion and rouse public support at huge mass rallies. By 1923 the National Socialist German Worker’s Party, or Nazi Party, had 50,000 followers. Confident due to his party’s growing support, Hitler launched a failed coup against the weakening Weimar Republic and he was imprisoned for treason, serving only five years. What may have been a damaging ordeal instead shone a positive light upon Hitler and his campaign, as he gained enormous celebrity and support and wrote his famous biography Mein Kampf. German for "My Struggle", Mein Kampf describes life as a struggle where a man must do all that he can to succeed, focusing also on explaining the meaning of race and anti-Semitism and the importance of a leader-dictator for a nation (Nicholls, 164-5).
By the time of Hitler’s release from jail, the way of life had improved drastically in Germany; the economy was enlivened and the people had begun to look to Paul von Hindenburg, a war hero, for political leadership. However, the economy’s success would not last for long as the stock market crash of 1929 would trouble the nation once again. As people lost their jobs and became hungry, Hitler and the Nazi Party’s message gained popularity. Unemployment, homelessness, and despair left the German people looking for something to latch on to and for someone to blame. The propaganda formulated by Hitler was too hard to ignore, and the country’s problems were placed upon Jews, Communists and the nations involved in World War I’s Treaty of Versailles.
When national elections took place in 1930, it was the support and the vote of the common man that proved important. Hitler ran against Hindenburg and lost, yet the Nazi Party won an effective majority of the seats in the Reichstag (German Parliament). In a failed attempt to keep Hitler under control, Hindenburg named him chancellor on January 30, 1933. Using the Nazi majority within the Reichstag, Hitler declared a national state of emergency, transforming Germany into a one-party police state. All opposing political parties were banned and their leaders jailed. In a final advance to total power, the Nazi party easily passed the Enabling Act of March 23, 1933 through Parliament, and Adolf Hitler was finally awarded the dictoral powers about which he always dreamt.
As dictator Hitler could finally act in accordance with his plan described in Mein Kampf, expressing territorial expansion as a priority to return to Germany to the height of success at which it belonged—including all land taken as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, which included Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Austria-Hungary. Hitler ordered troops into Poland on September 1, 1939 and World War II officially began to answer to the invasion (Collotti, 111-4). It took only days for the Germans to become the victors of the battle, and the Nazis began to enslave the Poles, destroying their culture and declaring them "subhuman."
As a first step to eliminating Polish culture, the Nazis massacred was to destroy all types of leaders including university professors, artists, writers, politicians, and Catholic priests (Collotti, 60). Poles were relocated in mass amounts in order to make room for the "superior" German race. As the German population expanded into Poland, thousands of Poles and Polish Jews were imprisoned in concentration camps such as Dachau, which was the first of its kind, and established March 20, 1933 (Collotti, 119). Konzentrations-Lagers, or concentration camps, were a place to confine and assemble "political enemies" of the Third Reich, yet these camps turned from a place to assemble Jews, homosexuals, and peoples with disabilities to a locale for their systematic destruction and execution. Sadly, beyond the horrible murders, cases of disease, mistreatment and starvation were thousands more deaths.
In order to execute his master plan, Hitler used propaganda that advocated his viewpoints with slogans such as "Arbeit macht Frei" (Work Makes Free) and "Die Juden sind under Ungluck" (The Jews are our Misfortune). He was able to convince imprisoned peoples that working could save their lives and also that Jews were the downfall of the German nation. His propaganda was so effective that the killing squads, in charge of murdering people behind the advancing German army, could be ordinary people who believed that they were simply following orders (Nicholls, 203). Nazi training taught the importance of rank and obedience, but also instilled the idea that the task of extermination was to eliminate enemies of the state and was not a racist plot.
Another way in which Hitler was able to avoid public criticism was through the euthanasia program ("good death" in Greek) in which institutionalized and disabled people were killed. Hitler authorized an order that doctors of state hospitals review their patients and decide who lived and died; who were chosen to die were sent to one of the six major concentration camps where they would be killed in gas chambers. However, the public did protest in 1941, yet the Nazis continued the program in secret, using lethal injection, pills and forced starvation to eliminate babies and small children along with those disabled already marked. The euthanasia program actually helped in the genocide effort because it hid the killings from the public and helped distance the killers psychologically from their victims.
The plans that Hitler had envisioned were finally being carried out in 1941-2 as thousands of people were forced to leave their homes to make room for settling German peasants who claimed their land. The Poles, Ukrainians and Russians that were evacuated from their land were sent to one of the six concentration camps: Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno, Majdanek, and Auschwitz-Birkenau (Collotti, 132). If not directly sent to Germany or Austria to be imprisoned in a concentration camp, then the expelled people were brought to occupied Poland to live in a ghetto. A ghetto was a section of a city that was bordered by barbwire or a large brick wall where "inferior" people were forced to live. The area was administered by the Judenrat (Jewish Council) and Jewish occupants were required to wear the Jewish Star of David at all times and turned to slave labor. Sealed within the ghetto, tens of thousands died from disease, overcrowding, exposure and starvation, and those who were forced to work often died from exhaustion and malnutrition.
Those who did not die "naturally" within the ghettos or work camps eventually faced death as in the years between 1942 and 1944 the Germans expelled speedily by simply slaughtering the individuals instead of trying to monetarily support their relocation or survival. "The final solution to the Jewish question" meant death to every Jew, gypsy, homosexual, Jehovah’s Witness, disabled person, Catholic, Pole, Soviet prisoner of war, and political dissident, a plan formally implemented at a meeting between senior German officials in late January of 1942. It was an official state policy, the first ever to condone murder of an entire people, where all throughout the German Empire, people were packed into freight cars and brought to death camps, where they were systematically put to death. Mass executions took place at the camps, once again using the euthanasia ideal of the early 40s by utilizing lethal gas to kill people. However this time, the scale at which people were destroyed was unimaginable. Chelmno, the first camp to use gas to carry out mass executions, killed 320,000 people between December of 1941 and March of 1943. The gas chamber "enhanced" the mass destruction of the Holocaust, in which victims were taken to "shower rooms" upon immediate arrival at the camps and were instructed to undress and await a shower. For a period of almost twenty minutes Zyklon B, or carbon monoxide was filtered into the chambers and men, women, and children slowly choked to death on poison gas. Special camp workers then went through the piles of dead bodies removing valuable gold teeth and hair. Bodies were then cremated, boiled to make soap or dumped into a mass grave. At the most infamous death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, twelve thousand people were killed each day, and more than 1.25 million people were killed by the end of the war- nine out of ten victims being Jewish.
The tide of the war had changed by 1944, and Allied armies were approaching German soil and daily marched closer to the well kept secret of concentration camps. The Nazis decided to evacuate the camps and led death marches to the east in an attempt to cover up all that they had done. Many prisoners died along the hard march, while others were killed upon reaching their final destination. In the case of one march, 7,000 Jews, 6,000 of whom were women, walked from Germany to the Baltic Sea. Only 700 died along the march, but upon reaching the sea, the others were forced to enter the water where they were shot and their bodies abandoned. In addition to death marches, when there was no longer time enough for relocation at the final days of the war in 1945, prisoners were hurriedly killed at the concentration camps.
Invading Allied forces were faced by Hitler’s troops one last time at the Battle of the Bulge where Germany earned initial success but soon lost. Concentration camps were emptied, and Hitler could sense the impending end of his empire. He made his final broadcast on April 16, 1945, declaring Admiral Karl Doenitz as his successor as head of state and reiterating his message of anti-Bolshevism and anti-Semitism. On April 30, 1945, only two days before the Red Army captured the German capital, Hitler committed sucide in the bunker of the Reich Chancellery in Berlin (Nicholls, XXIX).
All in all, within a period of eleven years, from 1933 to 1945, eleven million people were killed by Hitler and his Nazi regime. Holocaust, the name given to this period of extermination and persecution of European Jews and other ethnic and cultural groups, was a horrible campaign that destroyed people’s lives because of what they were and not who they were. Six million Jews (two-thirds of the total European Jewish population) and five million others (gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the disabled, Catholics, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, and political dissidents) were all victims of Hitler and his Nazis because of their religious or political beliefs, physical defects, or their failure to fall into the Aryan ideal.
Sadly, Hitler’s ambition for imperical domination pushed his scope of exploits beyond that of basic terrritorial expansion to prejudice and persecution among racial lines. An established "New Order" based on Aryan features ranked peoples as to their level of superiority. The closer a race is in relation to the master race (the Germans) the higher the superiority. The Nordic peoples: the Dutch, Norwegians, and Danes, were all treated exceedingly well because of their closeness to the Germans. Slavs, Poles, Ukrainians, and Russians, were treated the worst and labeled as subhuman. The French, who were considered an inferior Latin race but still superior to the Slavs, filled the middle station (McKay 981).
In the end, once realization dawned upon the people of the world, they
were utterly shocked to find that the German Nazis in the short span of
the war had killed eleven million innocent people. Evil horrors and atrocities
have been committed, and it had taken eleven years for an end to be made
to the racism and destruction that was embodied by Hitler and the Nazi
The only reassurance and comfort that can be drawn from the Holocaust is that the world will never allow genocide at such a grand scale to take place ever again. A slogan, "never again" is often used to memorialize and reaffirm a quest of awareness supporting the belief that remembrance is the key to preventing repetition.
Colloti, Enzo. Hitler and Nazism. The Windrush
Press. Great Britain. 1999. pgs. 18-9, 59, 75.
Kershaw, Ian. Hitler. Longman House. New York. 1991. pg. 1, 3.
McKay, John P. A History of Western Society. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston. 1999. Vol. II.
Mintz, Alan. Popular Culture and the Shaping of Holocaust Memory in America. University of Washington Press: Seattle. 2001.
Nicholls, David. Adolf Hitler: A Biographical Companion. ABC-CLIO, Inc.California. 2000.
Wollaston, Isabel. A War Against Memory? Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. London. 1996.
http://www.ushmm.org/ This is the website of the United States Holocaust Museum; it explains what is currently on exhibit, provides a virtual tour of the museum, and also offers information on seminars and study workshops that are available for futher learning.
www.remember.org/ A helpful site for teachers, it offers a wide selection of art, media, photos of concentration camps and survivor testimonies while presenting all information in a format so that teaching the subject is made easy.
http://www.hitler.org/ The official web site of the Hitler Historical Museum provides a range of useful resources including Hiitler's speeches and art work from his early childhood, images, artifacts, posters and links to other sites.
http://library.thinkquest.org/12663/ This helpful, informative and interactive website is very well crafted, summarizing the Holocaust, providing survivors accounts, a useful glossary of terms, and a virtual reality tour of a concentration camp.
Another website describing the Holocaust, yet specifically focused on stories
of the survivors; includes stories, audio and photo galleries and a forum
for discussion or questions.
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