Adolf Hitler’s suicide in 1945 helped bring about the end of World War II, the bloodiest conflict the world had ever since which had led to the deaths of as many as 60 million people. Keep reading to learn more about the man whose life helped spark the greatest conflagration in human history and whose death helped end it.
40. Adolf Hitler Was Born on April 20, 1889
His parents were Alois and Klara, and Adolf was the fourth of six children. He grew up in the city of Linz, which at the time was the capital of Upper Austria. He actually grew up in Austria, not Germany, and only moved to Germany after World War I broke out.
The young Hitler was devoted to his mother but distant from his father, Alois. The future leader’s dad had grown up as an illegitimate child and was harsh and abusive towards his own children. He died in 1903, when Hitler was 14 years old, leaving behind a pension for his family.
In 1900, Hitler’s younger brother, Edmund, fell sick with measles and died from the disease. The experience reportedly had a marked effect on him and caused him to withdraw; he became introverted and detached from his family and social life that he had once enjoyed.
Following his mother’s death in 1907, Hitler moved to Vienna to work as a watercolor painter, but he was rejected from the art academies there. He lost all contact with his siblings. Living off of a paltry orphan’s pension, he spent much of his early adult life in homeless shelters.
Though Hitler was a citizen of Austria, he was rejected from serving in its military when World War I broke out. He spent much of his military service away from the front lines, but he was injured in the Battle of Somme. For his wounds, he received Germany’s Iron Cross First Class and the Black Wound Badge.
After his frustrations in civilian life, struggling to earn a living making postcards and painting watercolors, he found the discipline of the military to be invigorating. War seemed to be a heroic undertaking, with values like comradeship and a common enemy.
When Germany surrendered in 1918, he staunchly believed that Marxists had infiltrated the Germany government, causing the defeat. The Treaty of Versailles, which negotiated the terms of the war’s end, was the ultimate betrayal. Despite his Austrian citizenship, he became a staunch German patriot and nationalist.
33. Anton Drexler Influenced His Growing Anti-Semitism
After the war ended, Hitler remained in the military and monitored the German Workers’ Party. The party, which had been founded by Anton Drexler, was nationalist, anti-Marxist, anti-communist, and anti-Semitic. Hitler claimed that his anti-Semitism was rooted in his years of struggle in Vienna, but it more likely began under Drexler.
32. Drexler’s Party Renamed Itself the NSDAP or Nazi Party
Hitler officially joined in 1919 and designed the banner, complete with the swastika and red background. He frequently spoke out against what he believed to be the greatest evils plaguing Germany, particularly Jews and communists. In 1921, he became the chairman of the Nazi party.
Hitler became known for his vitriol that railed against Jews and communists. In 1923, he and some cronies in the Nazi party stormed into a town hall meeting and declared a new German government. The affair became known as the “Beer Hall Putsch” and led to several deaths. Hitler was arrested, tried for treason, and sentenced to nine months in prison.
Mein Kampf, or “My Struggles,” was Hitler’s autobiography and became required reading within the Nazi party. He dedicated the book, which railed against Jews as being responsible for Germany’s economic collapse, to Rudolf Hoess, his personal deputy who would become the commandant of the most notorious of the Nazi death camps, Auschwitz.
Germany experienced an extreme economic downturn, which began in the 1920s – years before the Great Depression hit the rest of the world – made Germans more open to extremist ideas. In 1932, Hitler ran against the incumbent chancellor, Paul von Hindenburg, and won. His Nazi party took control of the country.
A suspicious fire in the Reichstag building – which may have been set by Hitler or one of his cronies – led to the Reichstag Fire Decree, which allowed people to be detained without trial and stripped people of many fundamental rights. He quickly established himself as a dictator and began eliminating anyone who might be a threat to his power.
By 1933, Germany was under one-party rule, giving Hitler complete control over the entire government. Despising the Treaty of Versailles and setting into motion a plan for world domination, Hitler withdrew Germany from the League of Nations. The League of Nations was a predecessor to the United Nations and was intended to inspire international cooperation.
26. Hitler Implemented Laws Excluding Jews From Civic Life
Hitler believed that even more than communists, the greatest enemies to Germany were Jews. A national boycott of Jewish businesses began in 1933; it prohibited non-Jews from doing business with companies owned by Jews. The next year, a law that prevented Jews from serving in government roles; many lost their jobs as a result. Over the next few years, more and more rights were stripped away until they were sent to death camps.
25. He Engaged in Eugenics to Create a Master Race
Hitler was obsessed with a so-called “master race” of blonde-haired, blue-eyed Aryans, though he himself had black hair and black eyes. He began programs eliminating impaired children and adults through euthanasia. The techniques developed for large-scale killings of the disabled were later used in the gas chambers at concentration camps.
Despite all of the fervor about a pure Aryan race, the idea of “Aryanism” was based on pseudoscience from the nineteenth century. “Aryan” literally means “from Iran,” and the hypothesis was that the Aryans were a race that settled both the Indian-Iranian plateau and Nordic Europe. However, the theory has long since been proven false.
23. He Was Named Man of the Year by Time Magazine in 1938
The Sudetenland was a region of Czechoslovakia that bordered Germany and had a substantial German population. The 1938 Munich Agreement ceded the Sudetenland to Hitler and led to him being named Man of the Year by Time Magazine. By many accounts, the acquirement of the Sudetenland marked the beginning of World War II.
Acquiring the Sudetenland made Hitler feel indomitable and whetted his appetite for war, something he admittedly enjoyed. The following year, he ordered the invasion of Poland and effectively began World War II. Two days later, the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany.
21. The Next Year, Hitler Invaded the Rest of Europe
In 1940, Hitler invaded the countries of France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, and Belgium. The island country of the United Kingdom was protected from a land invasion, but Hitler began bombing raids there, which became known as a blitzkrieg (lightning war).
20. Hitler Made a Pact Not to Invade the Soviet Union, But He Lied
In 1939, Hitler and Josef Stalin, the dictator of the Soviet Union, signed a non-aggression pact. However, Hitler’s appetite for world domination and the successes of his other invasions in Europe led to him invading the Soviet Union in 1941. However, he and his troops were not prepared for the harsh Russian winters.
19. He Tried to Turn the Allies Against Each Other
Germany allied itself with Japan and Italy to form the Axis Powers. The Allied Powers were the countries that fought against them, the largest being the United States and the United Kingdom. Hitler continued growing his war against the rest of the world by trying to turn the Allies against each other, but he failed.
After the successful D-Day invasion in 1944, many Germans realized that their war was doomed to fail. The next month, his own people tried to assassinate him in what came to be known as the July Plot. However, the plot failed, and the war dragged on, leading to increasingly dire consequences for Germany.
17. In 1945, Hitler Moved Into an Underground Bunker
As the Allies progressed into mainland Europe and began liberating countries that had been under Nazi control, it became increasingly clear that Germany would soon lose the war. Hitler moved into an underground bunker in January of 1945; it became the Nazi headquarters from which he conducted the war.
Hitler and Braun had been in a relationship for a decade. In 1932, she attempted to commit suicide; some historians believe that the attempt was an effort to get Hitler’s attention. When Hitler moved underground, Braun followed him. She would live there for the rest of her life.
One of Braun’s close advisors suggested that when the war ended, she should go into hiding as people might try to take her life. She adamantly responded that she would remain with Hitler until the very end. Hitler promised her a generous yearly pension in his will, but she would not live to take it.
14. Hitler Was Terrified By What Happened to Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini was the dictator of Italy and had been an ally of Germany during the war. In 1943, Allied forces arrived in Sicily, signaling the beginning of Italy’s defeat. His own people captured Mussolini and imprisoned by his former fascist colleagues. In April of 1945, he was killed by Italian partisans.
13. He Decided to Commit Suicide Rather Than Meet the Same Fate
Rather than face the humiliation of being captured, Hitler decided that he would commit suicide in his underground bunker. The suicide plan was thought out well ahead of time, and he and Eva Braun both took steps to prepare.
Hitler and Braun had been romantic partners for years but never wanted to tie the knot. Possibly so that she could receive a pension after his death, perhaps so that the two would somehow be united in death, the two wed in the underground bunker on April 29, 1945.
11. One of Hitler’s Cyanide Pills Was Tested on His Dog
Hitler had a dog named Blondi. While living in the bunker, he would only emerge to take Blondi out for daily walks in the garden. Before committing suicide with a cyanide pill, he had one of the tablets given to Blondi. It killed her.
10. Hitler Dictated His Political Will and Personal Testament
By April 28, Allied forces were in Berlin, just a thousand yards away from Hitler’s bunker. He woke up his personal secretary, a woman named Gertrude Junge, and told her that he wanted to write out his will and testament. He instructed her to write it out in shorthand rather than type it.
The day after Hitler’s marriage to Braun, he took a cyanide pill, which killed him. Braun died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It is likely that he did not intend for her to die with him, but she chose to commit suicide rather than be separated from him.
On May 2, 1945, Berlin fell to the Allied Powers. Five days later, Germany gave an unconditional surrender. The war was over, and Hitler was not alive to experience the greatest of humiliations. The communists that he had hated so much would despoil Berlin over the coming days and weeks.
7. Hitler’s Will Wanted Germany to Continue Fighting Against the Jews
By the time Hitler had his will and testament dictated, Germany was facing an inevitable defeat. Though the nation that he had envisioned would fail, he charged in his will that Germany should continue to fight against its primal evil, the Jews.
6. His Legacy Involves the Deaths of Tens of Millions of People
As a result of the war that Hitler began, six million Jews, 20 million Soviets, and at least five million noncombatants died. The death toll of World War II was around 60 million people, making Hitler the greatest mass murder in all of human history.
5. More Has Been Written About Hitler Than Any Other Person in History
Before Hitler, the person most written about was Napoleon, the French emperor who conquered much of Europe. However, more has been written about Hitler in the seven decades since his death than in the two centuries since Napoleon. He arguably shaped modern history more than anyone else.
In the decades since his death, many try to analyze the man whose life caused an unprecedented level of human suffering. Why was he full of destruction? The popular conclusion has been that he was insane. However, he likely was in complete control of his actions and was fully aware of what he was doing.
Hitler could remember seemingly meaningless details of events. One of his talents was having insight into his enemies’ minds, understanding what their weaknesses were, and being able to predict the moves that they would make. Historians use this acuity as further evidence that he was at fault for the war.
After Hitler’s and Braun’s bodies were discovered, they were carried up into the chancellery garden, coated with gasoline, and burned. An eyewitness, Rochus Misch, reported that someone yelled, “Hurry upstairs, they’re burning the boss!” His officers at the bunker raised their arms in a final salute to him.
Stalin ordered that his army find the bodies of Hitler and Braun in order to ensure that they were really dead. In Soviet custody, the bodies were repeatedly disinterred until they were finally fully cremated in 1970. The ashes went into an unmarked grave.
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