Hitler's Early Life

At 6:30 p.m. on the evening of April 20, 1889, he was born in the small Austrian village of Braunau Am Inn just across the border from German Bavaria. Adolf Hitler would one day lead a movement that placed supreme importance on a person's family tree even making it a matter of life and death. However, his own family tree was quite mixed up and would be a lifelong source of embarrassment and concern to him.

His father, Alois, was born in 1837. He was the illegitimate son of Maria Anna Schicklgruber and her unknown mate, which may have been someone from the neighborhood or a poor millworker named Johann Georg Hiedler. It is also remotely possible Adolf Hitler's grandfather was Jewish. Maria Schicklgruber was said to have been employed as a cook in the household of a wealthy Jewish family named Frankenberger. There is some speculation their 19 year old son got her pregnant and regularly sent her money after the birth of Alois. Adolf Hitler would never know for sure just who his grandfather was.

He did know that when his father Alois was about five years old, Maria Schicklgruber married Johann Georg Hiedler. The marriage lasted five years until her death of natural causes, at which time Alois went to live on a small farm with his uncle. At age thirteen, young Alois had enough of farm life and set out for the city of Vienna to make something of himself. He worked as a shoemaker's apprentice then later enlisted in the Austrian civil service, becoming a junior customs official. He worked hard as a civil servant and eventually became a supervisor. By 1875 he achieved the rank of Senior Assistant Inspector, a big accomplishment for the former poor farm boy with little formal education. At this time an event occurred that would have big implications for the future.

Alois had always used the last name of his mother, Schicklgruber, and thus was always called Alois Schicklgruber. He made no attempt to hide the fact he was illegitimate since it was common in rural Austria. But after his success in the civil service, his proud uncle from the small farm convinced him to change his last name to match his own, Hiedler, and continue the family name. However, when it came time to write the name down in the record book it was spelled as Hitler. And so in 1876 at age 39, Alois Schicklgruber became Alois Hitler.

In 1885, after numerous affairs and two other marriages ended, the widowed Alois Hitler, 48, married the pregnant Klara Pölzl, 24, the granddaughter of uncle Hiedler. Technically, because of the name change, she was his own niece and so he had to get special permission from the Catholic church.

The children from his previous marriage, Alois Hitler, Jr. and Angela, attended the wedding and lived with them afterwards. Klara Pölzl eventually gave birth to two boys and a girl, all of whom died. On April 20, 1889, her fourth child, Adolf was born healthy and was baptized a Roman Catholic. Hitler's father was now 52 years old.

Throughout his early days, young Adolf's mother feared losing him as well and lavished much care and affection on him. His father was busy working most of the time and also spent a lot of time on his main hobby, keeping bees. Baby Adolf had the nickname, Adi. When he was almost five, in 1893, his mother gave birth to a brother, Edmund. In 1896 came a sister, Paula.

In May of 1895 at age six, young Adolf Hitler entered first grade in the public school in the village of Fischlham, near Linz Austria.

Hitler's Boyhood

In 1895, at age six, two important events happened in the life of young Adolf Hitler. First, the unrestrained, carefree days he had enjoyed up to now came to an end as he entered primary school. Secondly, his father retired on a pension from the Austrian civil service. This meant a double dose of supervision, discipline and regimentation under the watchful eyes of teachers at school and his strict father at home. His father, now 58, had spent most of his life working his way up through the civil service ranks. He was used to giving orders and having them obeyed and also expected this from his children. The Hitler family lived on a small farm outside of Linz, Austria. The children had farm chores to perform along with their school work.

Hitler's mother was now preoccupied with caring for her new son, Edmund. In 1896 she gave birth to a girl, Paula. The Hitler household now consisted of Adolf, little brother Edmund, little sister Paula, older half brother Alois Jr., older half sister Angela and two parents who were home all the time. It was a crowded, noisy little farm house that seems to have gotten on the nerves on Hitler's father who found retirement after 40 years of work to be difficult.

The oldest boy, Alois Jr., 13, bore the brunt of his father's discontent, including harsh words and occasional beatings. A year later, at age 14, young Alois had enough of this treatment and ran away from home, never to see his father again. This put young Adolf, age 7, next in line for the same treatment. 

Also at this time, the family moved off the farm to the town of Lambach, Austria, halfway between Linz and Salzburg. This was the first of several moves the family would make in the restless retirement of Hitler's father. For young Adolf, the move to Lambach meant an end to farm chores and more time to play. There was an old Catholic Benedictine monastery in the town. The ancient monastery was decorated with carved stones and woodwork that included several swastikas. Adolf attended school there and saw them every day. They had been put there in the 1800's by the ruling Abbot as a pun or play on words. His name essentially sounded like the German word for swastika, Hakenkreuz

Young Hitler did well in the monastery school and also took part in the boys' choir. He was said to have had a fine singing voice. Years later Hitler would say the solemn pageantry of the high mass and other Catholic ceremonies was quite intoxicating and left a very deep impression. As a young boy he idolized the priests and for two years seriously considered becoming a priest himself. He especially admired the Abbot in charge, who ruled his black-robbed monks with supreme authority. At home Hitler sometimes played priest and even included long sermons.  At age nine, he got into schoolboy mischief. He was caught smoking a cigarette by one of the priests, but was forgiven and not punished. His favorite game to play outside was cowboys and Indians. Tales of the American West were very popular among boys in Austria and Germany. Books by James Fenimore Cooper and especially German writer Karl May were eagerly read and re-enacted. May, who had never been to America, invented a hero named Old Shatterhand, a white man who always won his battles with Native Americans, defeating his enemies through sheer will power and bravery. Young Hitler read and reread every one of May's books about Old Shatterhand, totaling more than 70 novels. He continued to read them even as Führer. During the German attack on the Soviet Union he sometimes referred to the Russians as Redskins and ordered his officers to carry May's books about fighting Indians. 

In describing his boyhood, Hitler later said of himself that he was an argumentative little ring leader who liked to stay outside and hang around with 'husky' boys. His half brother Alois later described him as quick to anger and spoiled by his indulgent mother. 

In 1898, the Hitler family moved once again, to the village of Leonding, close to Linz. They settled into a small house with a garden next to a cemetery. This meant another change of schools for Adolf. He found school easy and got good grades with little effort. He also discovered he had considerable talent for drawing, especially sketching buildings. He had the ability to look at a building, memorize the architectural details, and accurately reproduce it on paper, entirely from memory. 

One day, young Hitler went rummaging through his father's book collection and came across several of a military nature, including a picture book on the War of 1870-1871 between the Germans and the French. By Hitler's own account, this book became an obsession. He read it over and over, becoming convinced it had been a glorious event. 

"It was not long before the great historic struggle had become my greatest spiritual experience. From then on, I became more and more enthusiastic about everything that was in any was connected with war or, for that matter, with soldering." - Hitler stated in his book Mein Kampf

Cowboys and Indians gave way to battle re-enactments, especially after the Boer War broke out in Africa. Hitler, now eleven years old, took the side of the Boers against the English and never tired of playing war. Sometimes, he even wore out the boys he was playing with and then simply went and found other boys to continue. But now at home, tragedy struck. Adolf's little brother Edmund, age 6, died of measles. Adolf, the boy who loved warplay and its 'pretend' death now had to confront genuine death for the first time. It seems to have shaken him badly. 

To make matters worse, the little boy was buried in the cemetery next to their house. From his bedroom window, Adolf could see the cemetery. Years later, neighbors recalled that young Adolf was sometimes seen at night sitting on the wall of the cemetery gazing up at the stars. 

And there were now more problems for Adolf. His grade school years were coming to an end and he had to choose which type of secondary school to attend, classical or technical. By now, young Hitler had dreams of one day becoming an artist. He wanted to go to the classical school. But his father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and become a civil servant and sent him to the technical high school in the city of Linz, in September, 1900. Hitler, the country boy, was lost in the city and its big school. City kids also looked down on country kids who went to the school. He was very lonely and extremely unhappy. He did quite poorly his first year, getting kept back. 

He would later claim he wanted to show his father he was unsuited for technical education with its emphasis on mathematics and science and thus should have been allowed to become an artist. 

"I thought that once my father saw what little progress I was making at the (technical school) he would let me devote myself to the happiness I dreamed of."
-- Hitler explained in Mein Kampf

There were frequent arguments at home between young Hitler and his father over his career choice. To the traditional minded, authoritarian father, the idea of his son becoming an artist seemed utterly ridiculous. But in the grand scheme of things, as young Adolf saw it, the idea of a career spent sitting in an office all day long doing the boring paper work of a civil servant was utterly horrible. The dream of becoming an artist seemed to be the answer to all his present day problems. 

But his stubborn father refused to listen. And so a bitter struggle began between father and son. Hitler began his second year at the high school as the oldest boy in his class since he had been kept back. This gave him the advantage over the other boys. Once again he became a little ringleader and even led the boys in afterschool games of cowboys and Indians, becoming Old Shatterhand. He managed to get better grades in his second year, but still failed mathematics.

Another interest of great importance surfaced at this time, German nationalism. The area of Austria where Hitler grew up is close to the German border. Many Austrians along the border considered themselves to be German-Austrians. Although they were subjects of the Austrian Hapsburg Monarchy and its multicultural empire, they expressed loyalty to the German Imperial House of Hohenzollern and its Kaiser. In defiance of the Austrian Monarchy, Adolf Hitler and his young friends liked to use the German greeting, "Heil," and sing the German anthem "Deutschland Uber Alles," instead of the Austrian Imperial anthem. 

Hitler's father had worked as an Austrian Imperial customs agent and continually expressed loyalty to the Hapsburg Monarchy, perhaps unknowingly encouraging his rebellious young son to give his loyalty to the German Kaiser. There was also a history teacher at school, Dr. Leopold Pötsch who touched Hitler's imagination with exciting tales of the glory of German figures such as Bismark and Frederick The Great. For young Hitler, German Nationalism quickly became an obsession. 

Adding to all this, was another new interest, the operas of German composer Richard Wagner. Hitler saw his first opera at age twelve and was immediately captivated by its Germanic music, pagan myths, tales of ancient Kings and Knights and their glorious struggles against hated enemies. But now, for young Hitler, the struggle with his father was about to come to a sudden end. In January, 1903, Hitler's father died suddenly of a lung hemorrhage, leaving his thirteen year old son as head of the Hitler household. 

Hitler's World War I Service

When World War I was touched off by the assassination by a Serb of the heir to the Austrian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Hitler's passions against foreigners, particularly Slavs, were inflamed. He was caught up in the patriotism of the time, and submitted a petition to enlist in the Bavarian army.  After less than two months of training, Hitler's regiment saw its first combat near Ypres, against the British and Belgians. Hitler narrowly escaped death in battle several times, and was eventually awarded two Iron Crosses for bravery. He rose to the rank of lance corporal but no further. In October 1916, he was wounded by an enemy shell and evacuated to a Berlin area hospital. After recovering, and serving a total of four years in the trenches, he was temporarily blinded by a mustard gas attack in Belgium in October 1918. 

Communist-inspired insurrections shook Germany while Hitler was recovering from his injuries. Some Jews were leaders of these abortive revolutions, and this inspired hatred of Jews as well as Communists. On November 9th, the Kaiser abdicated and the Socialists gained control of the government. Anarchy was more the rule in the cities. 

Free Corps

The Free Corps was a paramilitary organization composed of vigilante war veterans who banded together to fight the growing Communist insurgency which was taking over Germany. The Free Corps crushed this insurgency. Its members formed the nucleus of the Nazi "brown-shirts" (S.A.) which served as the Nazi party's army. 

Weimar Republic

With the loss of the war, the German monarchy came to an end and a republic was proclaimed. A constitution was written providing for a President with broad political and military power and a parliamentary democracy. A national election was held to elect 423 deputies to the National Assembly. The centrist parties swept to victory. The result was what is known as the Weimar Republic. On June 28, 1919, the German government ratified the Treaty of Versailles. Under the terms of the treaty which ended hostilities in the War, Germany had to pay reparations for all civilian damages caused by the war. Germany also lost her colonies and large portions of German territory. A 30-mile strip on the right bank of the Rhine was demilitarized. Limits were placed on German armaments and military strength. The terms of the treaty were humiliating to most Germans, and condemnation of its terms undermined the government and served as a rallying cry for those who like Hitler believed Germany was ultimately destined for greatness. 

German Worker's Party

Soon after the war in Munich, Hitler was recruited to join a military intelligence unit (the Press and Propaganda Department of Group Command IV of the Reichswehr), and was assigned to keep tabs on the German Worker's Party. At the time, it was comprised of only a handful of members. It was disorganized and had no program, but its members expressed a right-wing doctrine consonant with Hitler's.

He saw this party as a vehicle to reach his political ends. His blossoming hatred of the Jews became part of the organization's political platform. Hitler built up the party, converting it from a de facto discussion group to an actual political party. Advertising for the party's meetings appeared in anti-Semitic newspapers. The turning point of Hitler's mesmerizing oratorical career occurred at one such meeting held on October 16, 1919. Hitler's emotional delivery of an impromptu speech captivated his audience. Through word of mouth, donations poured into the party's coffers, and subsequent mass meetings attracted hundreds of Germans eager to hear the young, forceful and hypnotic leader. 

As chairman of the NSDAP, he came into contact with Ludendorff, Gottfried Feder (1883-1941), Ernst Röhm (1887-1934), and Dietrich Eckart (1868-1923), whose influence was reflected in Hitler's thought: Gottfried Feder ("Break the bond of interest"), Ernst Röhm (the concept of the "state in arms") and Dietrich Erkart (anti-communism). With the assistance of party staff, Hitler drafted a party program consisting of twenty-five points. This platform was presented at a public meeting on February 24, 1920, with over 2,000 eager participants. After hecklers were forcibly removed by Hitler supporters armed with rubber truncheons and whips, Hitler electrified the audience with his masterful demagoguery. Jews were the principal target of his diatribe. Among the 25 points more negative points were the abrogation of the Versailles Treaty, confiscating war profits, expropriating land without compensation for use by the state, revoking civil rights for Jews, and expelling those Jews who had emigrated into Germany after the war began. More appealing to the masses were no doubt his promotion of the popular welfare ("the common weal comes before individual welfare"), the right of the establishment of self-determination for all Germans and equal rights for their state, and the destruction of the "bondage of interest." The DAP was renamed the National Socialist German Workers' Party. The following day, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion were published in the local anti-Semitic newspaper. The false, but alarming accusations reinforced Hitler's anti-Semitism. Soon after, treatment of the Jews was a major theme of Hitler's orations, and the increasing scape-goating of the Jews for inflation, political instability, unemployment, and the humiliation in the war, found a willing audience. Jews were tied to "internationalism" by Hitler. The name of the party was changed to the National Socialist German Worker's party, and the red flag with the swastika was adopted as the party symbol. A local newspaper which appealed to anti-Semites was on the verge of bankruptcy, and Hitler raised funds to purchase it for the party.

In July 1921 Hitler became chairman of the party (No. 7 on the Executive Committee). In January 1923, French and Belgian troops marched into Germany to settle a reparations dispute. Germans resented this occupation, which also had an adverse effect on the economy. Hitler's party benefitted by the reaction to this development, and exploited it by holding mass protest rallies despite a ban on such rallies by the local police. The Nazi party began drawing thousands of new members, many of whom were victims of hyper-inflation and found comfort in blaming the Jews for this trouble. The price of an egg, for example, had inflated to 30 million times its original price in just 10 years. Economic upheaval generally breeds political upheaval, and Germany in the 1920s was no exception.

The Munich Putsch

The Bavarian government defied the Weimar Republic, accusing it of being too far left. Hitler endorsed the fall of the Weimar Republic, and declared at a public rally on October 30, 1923 that he was prepared to march on Berlin to rid the government of the Communists and the Jews.

On November 8, 1923, Hitler held a rally at a Munich beer hall and proclaimed a revolution. The following day, he led 2,000 armed "brown-shirts" in an attempt to take over the Bavarian government. The small Nazi Party first won national attention in the Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923, when the Ruhr crisis and the great inflation were at their height. Hitler and his Nazis joined with General Erich Ludendorff (1865-1937) and his conservative nationalist followers in an attempt to seize power in Munich. (The plot got its name because it was planned in one of Munich's beer halls.) Once they had taken Munich, Hitler and Ludendorff planned to use the Bavarian capital as a base of operations against the republican government in Berlin. The support that Hitler and Ludendorff expected to receive from some conservative Bavarian politicians failed to materialize, however, and the police easily suppressed the revolt.

Following the collapse of the Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler and Ludendorff were tried for treason. In recognition of his services to Germany during the war, Ludendorff was acquitted. The conservative judges allowed Hitler to use his trial as a propaganda forum for his ideas. Hitler was convicted but sentenced to a term of only five years imprisonment at Landsberg where he would remain only 8 months. During his stay, Hitler put together the first part of his book Mein Kampf.

Hitler's Mein Kampf

Hitler served only eight months of his five-year term. While in prison, he wrote the first volume of Mein Kampf (2ed part was written in 1927-1927). It was partly an autobiographical book (although filled with glorified inaccuracies, self-serving half-truths and outright revisionism) which also detailed his views on the future of the German people. There were several targets of the vicious diatribes in the book, such as democrats, Communists, and internationalists. But he reserved the brunt of his vituperation for the Jews, whom he portrayed as responsible for all of the problems and evils of the world, particularly democracy, Communism, and internationalism, as well as Germany's defeat in the War. Jews were the German nation's true enemy, he wrote. They had no culture of their own, he asserted, but perverted existing cultures such as Germany's with their parasitism. As such, they were not a race, but an anti-race:

"[The Jews'] ultimate goal is the denaturalization, the promiscuous bastardization of other peoples, the lowering of the racial level of the highest peoples as well as the domination of his racial mishmash through the extirpation of the volkish intelligentsia and its replacement by the members of his own people," he wrote. On the contrary, the German people were of the highest racial purity and those destined to be the master race according to Hitler. To maintain that purity, it was necessary to avoid intermarriage with subhuman races such as Jews and Slavs.... Germany could stop the Jews from conquering the world only by eliminating them. By doing so, Germany could also find Lebensraum, living space, without which the superior German culture would decay. This living space, Hitler continued, would come from conquering Russia (which was under the control of Jewish Marxists, he believed) and the Slavic countries. This empire would be launched after democracy was eliminated and a "Führer" called upon to rebuild the German Reich."

A second volume of Mein Kampf was published in 1927. It included a history of the Nazi party to that time and its program, as well as a primer on how to obtain and retain political power, how to use propaganda and terrorism, and how to build a political organization. While Mein Kampf was crudely written and filled with embarrassing tangents and ramblings, it struck a responsive chord among its target and those Germans who believed it was their destiny to dominate Europe. The book sold over five million copies by the start of World War II.

Hitler's Rise to Power

Once released from prison, Hitler decided to seize power constitutionally rather than by force of arms. Using demagogic oratory, Hitler spoke to scores of mass audiences, calling for the German people to resist the yoke of Jews and Communists, and to create a new empire which would rule the world for 1,000 years.

Seeking Electoral Success: 1924-1929

In 1924, Hitler promptly reestablished the NSDAP in Munich. The party was organized according to the Führer principle: it was headed by the Führer, his deputy, and the national leadership with the Reichsleiter heading nation wide departments of the party. The regional political organization descended from the provincial level (Gau), to the county (Kreis), local district (Ortsgruppe), and cell (Zell) to the local bloc (Block). Party organizations, in part para-military, such as the SA (Brownshirt storm troopers), SS (Blackshirt storm troopers), HJ (Hitler Youth), and the BdM (League of German Girls), which were also organized according to the Führer principle, were closely linked to the party, as were the affiliated associations (DAF (German Workers' Front), NSV (National Socialist People's Welfare), and the professional organizations of physicians, teachers, lawyers, civil servants, etc.).

Rise to Power: 1930-1933

The Nazis gradually devised an electoral strategy to win northern farmers and white collar voters in small towns, which produced a landslide electoral victory in September 1930 (jump from roughly 3% to 18% of the votes cast) due to the depression. Refused a chance to form a cabinet, and unwilling to share in a coalition regime, the Nazis joined the Communists in violence and disorder between 1931 and 1933. In 1932, Hitler ran for President and won 30% of the vote, forcing the eventual victor, Paul von Hindenburg, into a runoff election. After a bigger landslide in July 1932 (44%), their vote declined and their movement weakened (Hitler lost the presidential election to WWI veteran Paul von Hindenburg in April; elections of November 1932 roughly 42%), so Hitler decided to enter a coalition government as chancellor in January 1933.

Upon the death of Hindenburg in August 1934, Hitler was the consensus successor. With an improving economy, Hitler claimed credit and consolidated his position as a dictator, having succeeded in eliminating challenges from other political parties and government institutions. The German industrial machine was built up in preparation for war. In November 1937, he was comfortable enough to call his top military aides together at the "Führer Conference," when he outlined his plans for a war of aggression in Europe. Those who objected to the plan were dismissed.

Nazi Supporters

The Nazis won their support primarily from the lower middle class and the peasantry. These voters were strongly nationalistic in their political views and feared that the depression would deprive them of their standard of living. In religion, most of the Nazis' supporters were Protestants. German Catholics remained firm in their support of the Catholic Center Party.

Attitude of Workers

Most of Germany's industrial workers continued to vote for the Social Democrats, which remained the largest party, with 143 seats in the Reichstag. However, many disgruntled industrial workers voted for the Communists, who elected 77 Reichstag deputies in place of the 54 elected in 1928.

Attitude of Big Business

There is little evidence to support the view that Hitler received substantial financial support from big business. The conservative upper classes generally regarded Hitler as an uneducated demagogue and gutter politician.

Hitler's Political Views

Hitler lived in Vienna for several years, working at odd jobs and absorbing the ideas of Austrian right-wing extremists. In 1913, he left Vienna and moved to Munich in southern Germany. He took with him the basic political ideas to which he would remain committed for the balance of his life. Central to Hitler's thought were his notions of race. He believed in the racial superiority of the Germanic peoples (the Aryan race) and in the inferiority of other races, especially Jews but also Slavs and blacks. Hitler also advocated the Pan-German ideology that was popular among many Austrian extremists. Pan-Germanism held the view that all Germans should be united in a single state. In addition, Hitler was hostile to the ideology of Marxism, which emphasized the unity of the international working class rather than racial solidarity.

The following extracts illustrate some of the political ideas of Adolf Hitler (1889-1945):

In that we deny the principle of parliamentary democracy we strike the strongest blow for the right of the nation to the self-determination of its own life. For in the parliamentary system we see no genuine expression of the nation's will--a will which cannot logically be anything else than a will to the maintenance of the nation--but we do see a distortion, if not a perversion, of that will. The will of a nation to the self-determination of its being manifests itself most clearly and is of most use when its most capable minds are brought forth. They form the representative leaders of a nation, they alone can be the pride of a nation--certainly never the parliamentary politician who is the product of the ballot box and thinks only in terms of votes. The constructive development of the future leadership of the nation through its most able men will take years; the intelligent education of the German people will take decades. (1)

Internationalism is weakness in the life of nations. What is there that is born of internationalism? Nothing. The real values of human culture were not born of internationalism, but they were created by the whole heritage and tradition of the people [das Volkstum]. When peoples no longer possess creative power they become international. Wherever there is weakness in regard to spiritual matters in the life of nations, internationalism makes its appearance. It is no coincidence that a people, namely the Jews, which does not have any real creative ability, is the carrier of this internationalism. It is the people with the least creative power and talent. It dominates only in the field of crooked and speculative economy. ... The Jew, as a race, has a remarkable instinct of self-preservation, but as an individual he has no cultural abilities at all. He is the demon of the disintegration of nations--the symbol of continual destruction of peoples. If the first of May, therefore, is to have any meaning in the life of peoples, it can be only a glorification of the national, creative idea as against the international idea of decay. (2)

I do not want even to speak of the Jews. They are simply our old enemies, their plans have suffered shipwreck through us, and they rightly hate us, just as we hate them. We realize that this war can end only either in the Wiping out of the Germanic nations, or by the disappearance of Jewry from Europe. On September 3rd I spoke in the Reichstag--and I dislike premature prophecies--and I said that this war would not end the way the Jews imagine, that is, in the extinction of the European Aryan nations, but that the result of this war would be the destruction of Jewry. For the first time, it will not be the others who will bleed to death, but for the first time the genuine ancient Jewish law, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," is being applied. The more this struggle spreads, the more anti Semitism will spread--and world Jewry may rely on this. It will find nourishment in every prison camp, it will find nourishment in every family which is being enlightened as to why it is being called upon to make such sacrifices, and the hour will come when the worst enemy of the world, of all time, will have finished his part for at least one thousand years to come. (3)

For fourteen or fifteen years I have continually proclaimed to the German nation that I regard it as my task before posterity to destroy Marxism, and that is no empty phrase but a solemn oath which I shall follow as long as I live. I have made this confession of faith, the confession of faith of a single man, that of a mighty organization. I know now that even if fate were to remove me, the fight would be fought to the end; this movement is the guarantee for that. This for us is not a fight which can be finished by compromise. We see in Marxism the enemy of our people which we will root out and destroy without mercy.... We must then fight to the very end those tendencies which have eaten into the soul of the German nation in the last seventeen years, which have done us such incalculable damage and which, if they had not been vanquished, would have destroyed Germany. Bismarck told us that liberalism was the pace-maker of Social Democracy. I need not say here that Social Democracy is the pace-maker of Communism. And Communism is the forerunner of death, of national destruction, and extinction. We have joined battle with it and will fight it to the death. (4)

We are enemies of cowardly pacifism because we recognize that according to the laws of nature, struggle is the father of all things. We are enemies of democracy because we recognize that an individual genius represents at all times the best in his people and that he should be the leader. Numbers can never direct the destiny of a people. Only genius can do this. We are the deadly enemies of internationalism because nature teaches us that the purity of race and the authority of the leader alone are able to lead a nation to victory. (5)

. . . Thus I am standing for exactly the same principles that I stood for already a year ago. We are convinced that a final showdown will come in this fight against Marxism. We are convinced that it must come, for two Weltanschauungen are fighting each other and there can be only one outcome! One will be destroyed and the other will win.... It is the great mission of the National Socialist Movement, to give this epoch a new faith and to see to it that millions will swear by this faith, so that, when some day the hour for the showdown comes, the German people will not meet the Jewish international murderers completely unarmed. (6)

Ideology of National Socialism

Nazism was not some terrible accident which fell upon the German people out of a blue sky. One historian has called it the reductio ad absurdum of the German tradition of nationalism, militarism, worship of success, and force, as well as the exaltation of state. Yet the conditions which Hitler exploited were not confined to one country, although they were stronger in Germany than anywhere else. Adolf Hitler's own thought was a mixture of racism, anti-Marxism, and the idea of struggle (which we also found in Italian fascism). As an ideology, Hitler's National Socialism is a systematic interpretation of the world of human behavior and of history which aims at a unified outlook and behavior-pattern. Resembling a religion, an ideology demands commitment and faith.

As a form of government, National Socialism is totalitarian in character aiming at the total control of all politics, economy, social relationships and thought, by a small group which claims to understand how to cope with all aspects of human existence.

Origins of the Nazi Ideology

The National Socialist ideology contained several basic points: Antisemitism, nationalism, militarism, and anti-communism. Jews were racially alien to Europe and were supposed to be the source of all European troubles, especially Communis. Second, Germany should become the strongest country in Europe because Germans were racially superior to other Europeans and should lead everyone else, even against their will. Third, force was seen as the bottom line in all of nature and in human life. As such, the military spirit was the truest expression of human creativity, courage, self-sacrifice, and survival. Finally, Russian bolshevism threatened European civilization and should be destroyed sooner or later.

National Socialism developed after 1918 as a counter-movement to the Bolshevik revolution and the democratic parliamentary system. Its intellectual roots were haphazard and to some extent even tangled: Nietzsche's "will to power," the racial theories of Gobineau and Houston Chamberlain, the "faith in destiny" of Richard Wagner, Mendel's theory of heredity, Haushofer's "geo-politics," or the social-Darwinist conceptions of Alfred Ploetz (1860-1940) were as much a part of the National Socialist ideology as the thought of Machiavelli, Fichte, Treitschke or Spengler.

Antisemitism in Theory

Antisemitism became the dominant element conceiving of Germanness as threatened by gradual disintegration through the Jewish race. Hitler called for the defense of "Blood and Soil" (Blut und Boden), the annihilation of the Jews and the strengthening of the Nordic race which was to rule over its "inferiors" as the "Master race". National Socialism emphasized the element of das Volk (the people as nation race), demanded unconditional surrender of the individual to the "community" (you are nothing, your people is everything), and preached a charismatic "faith in the leader" ("Führer, give the command, we shall follow"). It adopted impulse proceeding from the pre-First World War youth movement (romanticism of communal experience), glorified the comradeship of combat in war, and took on Communist and Fascist characteristics. The "movement" became a vortex for the discontented, who were disillusioned by parliamentary democracy and supported the demands of the NSDAP for autarchy in economic life, and expansionist foreign policy (Volk ohne Raum = a people without living space), liberation from the "bondage of the Versailles dictate", and the combating of Bolshevik tendencies.

Alfred Rosenberg's Myth of the Twentieth Century (1935)

Finally, the racial doctrine upon which this ideology rested in large part can be seen through the eyes of the party's "ideologist" - Alfred Rosenberg: Alfred Rosenberg discussed the relationship between the state and the "Volk" in his Myth of the Twentieth Century (1935):

The state is nowadays no longer an independent idol, before which everything must bow down; the state is not even an end but is only a means for the preservation of the "Volk".... Forms of the state change, and the laws of the state pass away; the folk remains. From this alone follows that the nation is the first and last, that to which everything else has to be subordinated.

The new thought puts folk and race higher than the state and its forms. It declares protection of the folk more important than protection of a religious denomination, a class, the monarchy, or the republic; it sees in treason against the folk a greater crime than high treason against the state.

No "Volk" of Europe is racially unified, including Germany. In accordance with the newest researches, we recognize five races, which exhibit noticeably different types. Now it is beyond question true that the Nordic race primarily has borne the genuine cultural fruits of Europe. The great heroes, artists, founders of states have come from this race.... Nordic blood created German life above all others. Even those sections, in which only a small part today is pure Nordic, have their basic stock from the Nordic race. Nordic is German and has functioned so as to shape the culture and human types of the westisch, dinarisch, and ostisch-Baltisch races. Also a type which is predominantly dinarisch has often been innerly formed in a Nordic mode. This emphasis on the Nordic race does not mean a sowing of "race-hatred" in Germany, but on the contrary, the conscious acknowledgment of a kind of racial cement within our nationality.

. . . On the day when Nordic blood should completely dry up, Germany would fall to ruin, would decline into a characterless chaos. That many forces are consciously working toward this, has been discussed in detail.

For this they rely primarily on the Alpine lower stratum, which, without any value of its own, has remained essentially superstitious and slavish despite all Germanization. Now that the external bond of the old idea of the Reich has fallen away, this blood is active, together with other bastard phenomena, in order to put itself in the service of a magic faith or in the service of the democratic chaos, which finds its herald in the parasitic but energetic Judaism.

The foundation for the arising of a new aristocracy lies in those men who have stood - in a spiritual, political, and military sense - in the foremost positions in the struggle for the coming Reich. It will appear thereby with inner necessity that up to 80 per cent of these men will also externally approach the Nordic type, since the fulfillment of the demanded values lies on a line with the highest values of this blood. With the others the inheritance, which exhibits itself in actions, outweighs personal appearance.

Europe's states have all been founded and preserved by the Nordic man. This Nordic man through alcohol, the World War, and Marxism has partially degenerated, partially been uprooted.... In order to preserve Europe, the Nordic energies of Europe must first be revitalized, strengthened. That means then Germany, Scandinavia with Finland, and England.

. . . Nordic Europe is the fated future, with a German central Europe. Germany as racial and national state, as central power of the continent, safe-guarding the south and southeast; the Scandinavian states with Finland as a second group, safe-guarding the northeast; and Great Britain, safe-guarding the west and overseas at those places where required in the interest of the Nordic Man. (7)

Nazi Party Organization Book (1940)

The following extracts are taken from the Nazi Party Organization Book (1940) and illustrate the duties of party members, as well as the National Socialist concept of the State:

6. Duties of the Party Comrade
The National Socialist commandments:
The Führer is always right!
Never go against discipline!
Don't waste your time in idle chatter or in self-satisfying criticism, but take hold and do your work!
Be proud but not arrogant!
Let the program be your dogma. It demands of you the greatest devotion to the movement.
You are a representative of the party; control your bearing and your manner accordingly!
Let loyalty and unselfishness be your highest precepts!
Practice true comradeship and you will be a true socialist!
Treat your racial comrades as you wish to be treated by them!
In battle be hard and silent!
Spirit is not unruliness!
That which promotes the movement, Germany, and your people, is right!
If you act according to these commandments, you are a true soldier of your Führer.

7. Guiding Principles for Members of the Ortsgruppen [local groups]
The following guiding principles are to be made known to all members, and all men and women of the party should impress them upon themselves:
Lighten the work of the political leaders by the punctual performance of your duties.
Women of the party should participate in the activities of the NS Association of Women there they will find work to do.
Don't buy from Jews!
Spare the health of the party comrades and speakers and refrain voluntarily from smoking at the meetings.
Don't make yourself a mouthpiece for our political opponents by spreading false reports.
To be a National Socialist is to set an example.

I. The State

The state is born out of the necessity of ordering the community of the Volk in accordance with certain laws. Its characteristic attribute is power over every branch of the community. The state has the right to demand of every racial comrade [Volksgenosse] that he live according to the law. Whoever violates the laws of the state will be punished. The state has officials to execute its laws and regulations. The constitution of the state is the basis for its legislation. The state embodies power! In the state men of different opinions and different outlook can live beside each other. The state cannot demand that all men be of the same opinion. It can, however, demand that all men observe its laws.
II. The Party

In contrast to the state, the party is the community of men of like opinion. It is born out of the struggle for an ideology. In order to survive this struggle, it gathered together all men who were prepared to fight for this ideology. The ideology is the basis of the order in accordance with which men live within the party. While in the state laws are considered as pressure, obstacles, and difficulties by many citizens, the laws of the party are no burden but rather signify the will of the community. In the state the characteristic is the must; in the party the I will.
III. The Functions of the Party and the State

(a) It is conceivable that party and state are one and the same thing. This is the case when all racial comrades are converted to the ideology of the party and the laws of the state are the clear expression of the will of the ideology. Then the state becomes the great community of men of like opinion. This ideal situation will only seldom be attained in history. It is, in fact, only conceivable if this ideology is the only basis for the inner attitude and takes complete possession of the people....

(c) If the Volk in all its branches is not impregnated by the party and its ideology, party and state must remain separated. The party will then be an order in which a select group of leaders and fighters is found. The ideology will be carried to the Volk by these fighters. The party shall prepare public opinion and public desire so that the spiritual condition of the Volk shall be in accord with the actual legislation of the state.

Therefore it does not suffice for the party to be an elite, a minority which is bound together in unity. The party has rather the task of accomplishing the political education and the political unification of the German Volk. It accordingly is charged also with the leadership of its associated organizations. In the course of this leadership the party fulfills its primary task: the ideological conquest of the German Volk and the creation of the "Organization of the Volk." The state is a technical instrument to assist in the creation of this community of the people. It is the instrument for the realization of the ideology. The party is, therefore, the primary which constantly refills dead material with life and the will to life....

The state administrative apparatus functioned before the war and functioned also after the war. Notwithstanding, the German Volk experienced the Black Day of November 9, 1918; notwithstanding, it experienced the terrible collapse of the post war period in all fields of political, cultural, and economic life. Germany could only be saved from sinking into Communistic chaos through the spirit, will, and readiness to sacrifice of the German freedom movement. Its forces of will and spirit alone made reconstruction possible. The party now has the right and the task of again pumping streams of its spirit and will into the state apparatus. (8)


The Creation of the Nazi Dictatorship, 1933-1939

Phase One, 1933-1934

Nazi domestic policy can be broken into three phases beginning with 1933-34. During these years, Hitler consolidated his authority through the destruction of all other political parties, "coordination" of all aspects of German life, and the liquidation of dissent among Nazis and conservatives. After taking office as chancellor, Hitler quickly out maneuvered Papen and the conservative nationalists.

The Reichstag Fire, February 1933

A new Reichstag election was scheduled for early March 1933. Only a few days before the election, on February 27, the Reichstag building was partially destroyed by fire. The Nazis may well have set the blaze, but they blamed the Communists, charging that the Communists were plotting to seize power. Hitler convinced Hindenburg to take strong action against the supposed Communist threat, and the president suspended freedom of speech and the press and other civil liberties.

March 1933 Election

The Nazis stepped up their harassment of their political opponents, and the March 5 election was held in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Polling 44 percent of the votes, the Nazis won 288 seats in the Reichstag. With the support of their conservative nationalist allies, who held 52 seats, the Nazis controlled a majority of the 647 member Reichstag. The Nazi majority was even more substantial, since none of the 81 Communist deputies were allowed to take their seats.

The Enabling Act, March 1933

On March 23, 1933, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which gave dictatorial authority to Hitler's cabinet for four years. Armed with full powers, Hitler moved to eliminate all possible centers of opposition. His policy is known as Gleichschaltung, which translates literally as coordination. In this context, however, it meant more precisely subordination, that is, subordinating all independent institutions to the authority of Hitler and the Nazi Party.

It was the Enabling Act of March 23, 1933, which in a legal way conferred dictatorial powers on Adolf Hitler. Only 94 Social Democratic votes were cast against it. The date for its abrogation (see Article 5) was never kept. Indeed, the Enabling Act is the last measure which the Reichstag passed under the republican and democratic Constitution of the Republic. It spelled its end and the beginning of National Socialist dictatorship.

Article 1. Laws of the Reich can also be promulgated by the Reich government apart from the method prescribed by the Constitution.

Article 2. Laws decided upon by the government of the Reich can depart from the Constitution of the Reich, in so far as they do not touch the existence as such, of such institutions as the Reichstag and the Reichsrat. The rights of the Reichspresident remain untouched....

Article 4. Treaties of the Reich with foreign powers which have reference to matters concerning the laws of the Reich, do not need the consent of the bodies which had part in the making of such laws, as long as this present law is valid.

Article 5. This law is in force on the day of its promulgation. It is abrogated on April 1, 1937; it is further abrogated if the present government of the Reich is replaced by another. (9)

Consolidation of Nazi Power

In April 1933, the government abolished self-government in the German states by appointing governors responsible to the central government in Berlin. The states lost even more power in January 1934 when the Reichsrat, the upper house of the parliament, was abolished. The Reichsrat had represented the states.

In May 1933, the Nazis ordered the abolition of the independent labor unions. Both strikes and lockouts were prohibited, and a system of compulsory arbitration of labor-management disputes was established. All workers were compelled to join the German Labor Front, an agency of the Nazi Party, which was designed primarily to promote labor discipline rather than the interests of the workers.

During the spring of 1933, the Nazis moved to eliminate opposition political parties. In July, the Nazi Party became the only legal party.

Almost a year later, on June 30, 1934, Hitler carried out a purge that took the lives of a number of dissident Nazi leaders and other opponents. The exact number of victims has never been determined, although it probably exceeded one hundred. Ernst Röhm, the SA leader, was among these victims. The influence of the SA now declined, while that of Himmler's SS, which provided the executioners for the purge, increased. Himmler also controlled the Gestapo, the secret police created by the Nazis.

Following the death of President Hindenburg on August 2, 1934, Hitler abolished the office of president and assumed the president's powers. The members of the armed forces were now required to take an oath of allegiance to Hitler. This oath represented an important step in the establishment of Hitler's control over Germany's armed forces.

Nazi Anti-Semitism: Practice

Soon after taking power in 1933, the Nazis began a campaign directed against Germany's Jews, who numbered some 600,000, about 1 percent of the population. In April 1933, Jews were deprived of their positions in the civil service. Jews were also barred from the universities, and restrictions were imposed on Jewish physicians and lawyers. The Nazis organized a nationwide boycott of shops and other businesses owned by Jews.

Phase Two, 1935-1937

Phase two (1935-1937) focused on the militarization and conversion of all Germans to enthusiastic support of National Socialism.

The Nuremberg Laws, 1935

The campaign against the Jews was intensified following the adoption of the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. These laws defined a Jew as any person with at least one Jewish grandparent. Some 2.5 million Germans, in addition to the 600,000 who regarded themselves as Jews, were affected by this definition. The Nuremberg Laws deprived Jews of their rights as citizens, and Jews were barred from marrying non-Jews.

Phase Three, 1937-1939

Finally, phase three (1935-1939) was characterized by rapid, bloodless diplomatic and military strokes to win applause at home while liquidating opposition elements in the military and churches.

Crystal Night, 1938

In 1938, a Polish Jew assassinated a German diplomat in Paris. In response, the Nazis organized a campaign of mob violence known as the Crystal Night, which gained its name from the broken glass resulting from the destruction of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses. Jews were now forced to wear a yellow star of David, and the German Jewish community was compelled to pay a large indemnity.

These measures against the Jews of Germany served as a prelude to the Holocaust of World War II, when the Nazis embarked on a campaign to exterminate the Jews of Europe.

The Nazis and the Christian Churches

The failure of German Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, to offer vigorous resistance to the crimes of the Nazis in general and to their persecution of the Jews, in particular, has been the subject of much historical controversy. Nevertheless, for German Christians the Nazi era was a time of pressure and persecution.

The Evangelical Church

The Nazis attempted to subordinate the Christian churches to their control. The major Protestant denomination, the German Evangelical Church, was forced to accept the direction of a handpicked national bishop. Dissenting Protestants established the Confessing Church under the leadership of Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984). He and other dissident churchmen were imprisoned in concentration camps.

The Catholic Church

In July 1933, the Nazi regime signed a concordat with the Vatican, pledging to maintain the traditional rights of the Catholic Church in Germany. Increasing violations of the concordat led to protests from Catholic leaders. In 1937, Pope Pius XI (r. 1922-1939) joined these protests, issuing the encyclical letter Mit Brennender Sorge ("With Burning Concern"). For the most part, however, both Protestant and Catholic leaders sought to avoid direct confrontations with the Nazi regime.

Nazi Economic Policy

Nazi regimentation extended to the economic sphere, although the property and profits of the capitalists were protected. In practical terms, the word "socialist" in the name of the Nazi Party did not refer to the nationalization of the means of production but rather to requiring the economy to serve the interests of the state.
Hitler succeeded in reducing unemployment by initiating public works projects, including the construction of superhighways (autobahns), and establishing the Labor Service to provide jobs for young workers who could not find employment in the private sector.  In 1936, the Four Year Plan was launched with the purpose of promoting economic self-sufficiency and of mobilizing the economy for war.

Nazi Foreign Policy, 1933-1935

National Socialist foreign policy objective: revision of the Versailles Treaty as a preliminary to the conquest of additional living-space. Though Hitler pledged German will to preserve the peace, he rejected the policy of collective security and advocated bilateral agreements.

Summary of Hitler's Rise to Power

The Great Depression of the early 1930's resulted in the economic and political collapse of the Weimar Republic, Germany's post-World War I experiment in democracy. Adolf Hitler demonstrated his political skill in taking advantage of the opportunity provided by the depression. He developed his Nazi Party into a mass movement and used a combination of his popular support and behind-the-scenes intrigue to propel himself into power. Once he gained office, Hitler moved with ruthless determination to crush his opponents and establish his totalitarian dictatorship. Furthermore, National Socialism showed how a modern "civilized" country could fall to fascism as well as Communism. It created virtual certainty of war in Europe owing to misjudgment of the situation by opponents. Third, it demonstrated that a modern dictatorship is hard to wipe out without war. Owing to his attack on the Soviet Union, Hitler's Germany pushed America and Britain into an alliance with Stalin. Finally, by Antisemitism culminating in Holocaust, National Socialism highlighted its own genocide policies while reinvigorating Zionism.

Hitler Launches the War, September 1939

Hitler ordered the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland in 1938. Hitler's army invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, sparking France and England to declare war on Germany. A Blitzkrieg (lightning war) of German tanks and infantry swept through most of Western Europe as nation after nation fell to the German war machine.

In 1941, Hitler ignored a non-aggression pact he had signed with the Soviet Union in August 1939. Several early victories after the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, were reversed with crushing defeats at Moscow (December 1941) and Stalingrad (winter, 1942-43). The United States entered the war in December 1941. By 1944, the Allies invaded occupied Europe at Normandy Beach on the French coast, German cities were being destroyed by bombing, and Italy, Germany's major ally under the leadership of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, had fallen.

Internet Resources


1. Nürnberg, September 1, 1933; Völkischer Beobachter, September 2, 1933.
2. Munich, May 1, 1923; Völkischer Beobachter, May 3, 1923.
3. Berlin, January 30, 1942; B.B.C.
4. Berlin, May 10, 1933; Völkischer Beobachter, May 11, 1933.
5. Kulmbach, February 5, 1928; Völkischer Beobachter, February 9, 1928.
6. Munich, May 23, 1926; Völkischer Beobachter, May 26, 1926.
7. National Socialism (Washington United States Government Printing Office, 1943), pp. 176-77.
8. National Socialism (Washington United States Government Printing Office, 1943), pp. 195-198.
9. Ernst Forsthoff, Deutsche geschichte seit 1918 in Dokumenten (Stuttgart, 1938), pp. 289-90. (Trans. George L. Mosse.)

© 2000 by David A. Meier