Adolf Hitler was born on 20 April 1889 in the small Austrian town of Braunau to Alois Hitler who later became a senior customs official and his wife Klara, who was from a poor peasant family.
At primary school, Hitler showed great intellectual potential and was extremely popular with fellow pupils as well as being admired for his leadership qualities. However, competition at secondary school was tougher and Hitler stopped trying as a result.
He also lost his popularity among his fellow students and instead preferred to re-enact battles from the Boer war with younger children. At the age of 15, he failed his exams and was told to repeat the year but he left without a formal education instead.
At the age of 18, he moved to Vienna with money inherited after his father’s death in 1903, in order to pursue a career in art, as this was his best subject at school. However his applications for both the Vienna Academy of Art and the School of Architecture were rejected.
It was supposedly at this time that Hitler first became interested in politics and how the masses could be made to respond to certain themes. He was particularly impressed with the anti-Semitic, nationalist Christian-Socialist party.
During the First World War he volunteered to fight for the German Army and gained the rank of corporal, earning accolades as a dispatch-runner. He won several awards for bravery, including the Iron Cross First Class.
In October 1918, he was blinded in a mustard gas attack. Germany surrendered while Hitler was in hospital and he went into a state of great depression, spending lots of time in tears. After the war ended, Hitler’s future seemed uncertain.
In 1919, Hitler attended his first meeting of the German Workers’ party, an anti-Semitic, nationalist group as a spy for the German Army. However, he found he agreed with Anton Drexler’s German nationalism and anti-Semitism. He disagreed with how they were organised leading him to make a passionate speech. Hitler quickly cemented his reputation as an engaging orator through his passion about the injustices faced by Germany as a result of the Treaty of Versailles.
It soon became clear that people were joining the party just to see Hitler make his speeches, which would leave the audience in a state of near hysteria and willing to do whatever he suggested.
He quickly rose through the ranks and, by 1921, was the leader of the re-named National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi).
With terrible economic conditions and rapid inflation, support for Hitler’s party grew. By 1923, the Nazi’s had 56,000 members and many more supporters.
On 8 and 9 November 1923, Hitler staged the Nazi Beer Hall Putsch. He hoped to force the Bavarian government to work with the Nazis and march together on Berlin. The attempt failed but, although Hitler was tried for treason, the judge gave him a very light sentence.
While in prison, Hitler wrote ‘Mein Kampf’, which formulated his political ideas. He reorganised his party on his release from jail, but it was not until the world depression hit Germany that the Nazis were able to attract significant followers.
By 1930, the Nazis were polling around 6.5 million votes. In the presidential elections of 1932, Hitler came second. On 30 January 1933, President Hindenburg was forced to appoint Hitler as Chancellor, given his popular support.
In office, Hitler set about consolidating his power, appointing Nazis to government and gaining control of emergency powers. He eliminated all opposition, in the name of emergency control and, with the death of Hindenburg in 1934, Hitler’s power was secured.
Hitler put Germany’s unemployed to work on a massive rearmament programme, using propaganda and manufacturing enemies, such as the Jews, to prepare the country for war. Initially, Hitler’s actions were ignored by his powerful neighbours, as they believed appeasement was the only way to avoid a war.
In 1936, Hitler invaded the Rhineland, which had been demilitarised at Versailles. He then proceeded to annex Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia. Under the Munich Agreement of 1938, the West accepted this.
In 1939, Hitler made an alliance with Russia (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) and with Italy (Pact of Steel). On 1 September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland and the Second World War began as a result. In April 1940, Denmark and Norway were also taken. France quickly followed.
Hitler had conquered much of Western Europe, now he turned his sights East. In 1941, despite the alliance, Germany invaded Russia under Operation Barbarossa. It was one of his greatest mistakes. With the German advance slowed by the Russians ‘scorched earth’ policy, the German army found themselves in the Russian winter without an adequate supply line. In 1943, they started their long retreat.
At the same time, the Western Allies were pushing hard, and began to advance on Germany. In response, Hitler withdrew almost entirely. It was reported he was increasingly erratic and out-of-touch.
In 1944, there was an unsuccessful assassination attempt and, in response, Hitler stepped up the atmosphere of suspicion and terror.
Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945, with his long term girlfriend Eva Braun, who he is thought to have perhaps married at the last minute. Germany’s surrender followed soon after.