Born in Austria-Hungary on April 20, 1889, the man who became the Fuhrer experienced a difficult and somewhat peripatetic childhood, beaten by his father, doted on by his mother, and after the death of a younger brother from measles became withdrawn from friends and classmates and rebellious to his father and teachers. He later wrote in Mein Kampf that his poor performance in the school his father insisted he attend was deliberate, in the hope that his father would let him withdraw and study art instead. His father died in 1903 and he changed to a secondary school in Steyr, where his grades improved, and he completed his exams and left the school without graduating in 1905.
After attempting to study art and being rejected, and lacking the academic credentials to study architecture, which was a lifelong interest of his, Hitler lived in Vienna, supporting himself with day jobs and through selling watercolor paintings of Vienna sights, while living in flophouses and shelters. Vienna of the day was a hothouse of antisemitism, and Hitler read anti-Jewish propaganda in newspapers and magazines, the works of Martin Luther, and in the pamphlets of the day. But many of his watercolors were sold to Jewish customers, and Hitler did not openly express the rabid antisemitism which would later punctuate his public persona. He served in the army during the First World War (enlisting in Munich), was decorated for bravery twice, and was temporarily blinded by mustard gas less than a month before the war ended. In early 1919 he was again in Munich, with few prospects for the future.
Here are some of the events in the rise of Adolf Hitler from a homeless veteran to the creation of the Third Reich, leading to the most costly war in terms of casualties in human history.
1. Hitler remained in the Army for a time after the war ended
In the summer of 1919 Adolf Hitler was assigned as an intelligence agent to insinuate his way into the German Workers Party, considered to be dangerous by the German government. Hitler soon found himself intrigued by the ideas he heard expressed by party leaders, particularly accusations of the treacherous manner in which Jewish capitalists had betrayed Germany and contributed to its defeat. He began to take an active role in meetings, and his speaking style impressed the party leaders. In a letter written by Hitler on September 16, 1919, Hitler for the first time expressed his views on the Jewish question in writing when he wrote to Adolf Gemlich that the German government’s goal should be, “the removal of the Jews altogether”. The German Worker’s Party was centered in Munich, and in February 1920, to increase its appeal throughout Germany, the word national was added to its name.
The party was then known as the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei in German), abbreviated NSDAP and referred to as the Nazi Party. Its emblem of a black swastika on a white circle in a red banner was designed by Hitler, who left the army and went to work for the Nazis in the spring of 1920. Throughout the remainder of 1920 and into early 1921, Hitler traveled the country, giving speeches which excoriated the Treaty of Versailles, the Jews and other “undesirables”, and becoming well-known for his polemics, though to some in power he remained little more than a doss-house tramp. After convulsions within the party leadership Hitler engineered a summer campaign which saw him elected party chairman by a vote of 533 – 1 in July, 1921, granting him absolute power over party policies and its platform.