INTRODUCTION Hitler, Adolf (1889-1945), German political and military leader and one of the 20th century's most powerful dictators. Hitler converted Germany into a fully militarized society and launched World War II in 1939 (see Federal Republic of Germany). He made anti-Semitism a keystone of his propaganda and policies and built the Nazi Party (see National Socialism) into a mass movement. He hoped to conquer the entire world, and for a time dominated most of Europe and much of North Africa. He instituted sterilization and euthanasia measures to enforce his idea of racial purity among German people and caused the slaughter of millions of Jews, Sinti and Roma (Gypsies), Slavic peoples, and many others, all of whom he considered inferior.
Adolf Hitler was born in Braunau am Inn, Austria-Hungary, in 1889, the fourth child of Klara and Alois Hitler. Hitler's father worked his way up in the Austrian customs service to a position of considerable status, and as a result Hitler had a comfortable childhood. Hitler began school in 1900, and his grades were above average. It was decided that he would attend Realschule, a secondary school that prepared students for further study and emphasized modern languages and technical subjects. However, Hitler and his father strongly differed about career plans. His father wanted him to enter the civil service; Hitler insisted on becoming an artist. As a result, Hitler did poorly in Realschule, having to repeat the first year and improving little thereafter. During this time, Hitler began to form his political views: a strong sense of German nationalism, the beginnings of anti-Semitism, and a distaste for the ruling family and political structure of Austria-Hungary. Like many German-speaking citizens of Austria-Hungary, Hitler considered himself first and foremost a German. The death of Hitler's father in January 1903 changed the family. The survivors' income was adequate to support Hitler, his mother, and his sister, but the absence of a dominant father figure altered Hitler's position in the family. He spent much time playing and dreaming, did poorly in his studies, and left school entirely in 1905 after the equivalent of the ninth grade.
Time in Vienna
Hitler had hoped to become an artist but was rejected as unqualified by the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts in October 1907. His mother died in 1908, and Hitler pretended to continue his studies in Vienna in order to receive an orphan's pension. In reality, he mostly wandered about the city admiring its public buildings and frequently attending operas, especially those of Richard Wagner, whom Hitler adored for his heroic portrayals of German mythology.
When he had exhausted his inherited funds, Hitler, unwilling to take a job, ended up in a homeless shelter. It was there that he was first exposed to extreme political ideas, particularly the racial concepts of Lanz von Liebenfels. Liebenfels published a periodical about the supposed superiority of Aryans, an ill-defined race which included Germans, and the inferiority of other races, especially Jews. At the same time Hitler acquired a hatred for socialism and came to equate it with the Jews. Between 1910 and 1913 Hitler's life improved when he began to paint and sell postcards and pictures for a living, copying famous paintings and drawing public buildings. He debated ideas with others in the hostel in which he lived, developing the beginnings of his public speaking style. Failure to register for the draft in Austria led him to flee for Munich, Germany, in 1913 to escape Austrian authorities. He was extradited to Austria but was found physically unfit to serve in the military. He then returned to Munich.
World War I
The outbreak of World War I in 1914 came as an opportunity for Hitler, as his money was running out. He volunteered for a Bavarian unit in the German army and served the whole war. Though repeatedly decorated for bravery, he was never promoted...
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