Hitler, Adolf

   Adolf Hitler was born on 20 April 1889 in the Austrian town of Braunau, close to the German border. His father, Alois, was a civil servant who provided his son with the opportunity to acquire a good education, but young Adolf never reached his potential as a student and left school because of poor grades. His failure in school was the first of many failures that would turn Hitler into an embittered person who never accepted personal responsibility for his actions. His adolescent years were filled with contempt for people with advanced education, and in particular those with doctorates and law degrees. Architecture and painting were his two areas of interest, and he vowed that one day he would rebuild the city of Linz, where his mother had lived following his father’s death. It appears that Alois had an uneven relationship with his son. Alois was hard and short-tempered, and may have frequently physically punished his son. Adolf was closer to his mother, who died of cancer in 1907. The family doctor, Eduard Bloch, was a Jew, and this fact has produced speculation that Hitler’s later anti-Semitism was a response to his mother’s death, which he blamed on the Jewish physician. This interpretation, however, fails to note that Hitler remained in touch with Bloch and later made possible his safe passage to Switzerland in 1938.
   The origins of Hitler’s anti-Semitism cannot be conclusively determined. In his autobiography, Mein Kampf (1925), Hitler wrote that he discovered his hatred of Jews in his Vienna years (1909–1913), when for the first time he encountered ultra-Orthodox Jews with their black caftans and long curly sideburns. This encounter, he wrote, repelled him and led to his conclusion that Jews and people like himself could never be part of the same nation. Another theory suggests that Hitler’s fear of Jewish ancestry was one that lingered with him until he became chancellor of Germany. At that point he had the Schutzstaffel (SS) investigate his family history, which produced no evidence of any Jewish “blood.”
   In fact, Hitler’s genealogy remains unclear, but this much is known: In 1837 Maria Anna Schicklgruber gave birth to an illegitimate child who was named Alois. In 1842, Maria was married to Johann Georg Hiedler, who did not bother to change Alois’s surname. As a consequence, Alois continued to be known by his mother’s maiden name. In 1876, Johann Nepomuk Hiedler, Alois’s uncle, who had actually raised the child, took steps to legitimize Alois. From 1877 on, Alois called himself Hiedler or Hitler. Young Adolf was unaware of any other surname until his political opponents in the 1920s resurrected the long-forgotten story of his father’s illegitimate birth and insinuated that Adolf Hitler’s real grandfather was a Jew. In Mein Kampf, Hitler denies that his father instilled in him feelings of contempt for Jews. Yet Alois was a follower of George Ritter von Schonerer’s anti-Semitic pan-German movement and presumably participated in the growing hostility toward Jews that characterized Vienna at the end of the 19th century. According to August Kubizek, who was young Adolf’s friend during their teens, Hitler’s anti-Semitism was fully developed by the age of 16. Kubizek writes that Hitler was fond of one of his history teachers at the technical school he attended, who was also a nationalist and an anti-Semite.
   Hitler was also exposed to teachers who openly expressed their hatred of Jews in front of their pupils. It appears that when Hitler arrived in Vienna in 1909, he was already receptive to the racist literature that permeated the right-wing circles of the Volkisch nationalist movement. Hitler’s Vienna years only strengthened his anti-Semitism, which was useful as an excuse to justify his personal failures. Most notably, Hitler was frustrated by his inability to pass the drawing examination at the Academy of Applied Arts in 1909. Young Hitler was devastated that his opportunity to pursue a career as an architect had been denied him. Later, Hitler would refer to the news as an “abrupt blow.” Soon anger replaced disappointment as he blamed his failure on the four of the seven examiners who were Jewish who graded his drawings. In a letter he sent to the academy, Hitler threatened that “the Jews will pay for this.” When Hitler enlisted in the German army in August 1914, he was already a confirmed racial anti-Semite. He had fled Vienna in May 1913 to avoid serving in the Austro-Hungarian army because of his refusal to serve in a country that tolerated racial groups such as the Jews. Military service, however, ended Hitler’s aimless life when he joined the List Regiment, where he found acceptance by his comrades, although he still remained a loner. As a front-line soldier, Hitler discovered unknown qualities about himself, such as self-discipline and personal bravery. Ironically, despite the fact that his antiSemitism remained unabated, his Jewish regimental adjutant, Hugo Gutmann, recommended him for one of the two Iron Crosses that he received for bravery under fire.
   Following the war, Hitler was sent by his regimental commander to gather information about one of the many paramilitary organizations that appeared at the end of the hostilities. Hitler, however, quickly identified with the objectives of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) and joined it in 1919. During this period, Hitler’s anti-Semitism was fortified by the short-lived Munich Soviet Republic, which ruled the city following the collapse of Germany in November 1918. The appearance of Jews in leadership positions in the Soviet-oriented party reinforced Hitler’s belief in the ties that bound Jews to Bolshevism. In 1921 he became chairman of the NSDAP and made anti-Semitism central to its party platform. Following the abortive Munich beer hall putsch in 1924, when Hitler attempted to overthrow the government of Bavaria, Hitler spent nine months in the Landsberg prison, where he wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle). After Hitler’s release from prison in 1925, he reorganized the NSDAP. From this point until the Nazi “seizure of power” in 1933, Hitler eschewed violence as an option in the overthrow of the Weimar Republic. Rather, he focused on constitutional means to attain his objectives, which came to fruition on 30 January 1933, when he was appointed chancellor of Germany by President Paul von Hindenburg. Following the Reichstag fire of 27 February 1933, a national emergency was declared. Hitler then suspended the basic civil rights of the German people, and after elections were held on 5 March, parliamentary rule was virtually suspended with the passage of the Enabling Act. By the end of March 1933, Hitler had established a dictatorship in Germany.
   Hitler was an unusual executive. He encouraged his underlings to win his approval by pitting one against the other. Those who were most successful in the fight for bureaucratic survival, like Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler, found themselves presiding over vast political structures,. Hitler, however, was always atop the bureaucratic hierarchy and saw himself as the arbiter among the many jurisdictional disputes that he was asked to adjudicate. It is with this in mind that we can understand Hitler’s relationship to the Final Solution. Ultimately, he “signaled” the course of action in regard to the Jewish question, but gave responsibility to subordinates, such as Himmler and Hans Frank, to implement the policy. When jurisdictional rivalry arose over Jewish policy, such as occurred between the Schutzstaffel (SS) and Frank in Poland, appeals were made to Hitler to settle the dispute.
   Although no document is extant with Hitler’s signature authorizing the Final Solution, our understanding of his administrative style suggests that such an order could have been signaled by one of Hitler’s speeches or conversations with his subordinates. For example, in his speech to the Reichstag on 30 January 1939, Hitler made the following prophecy: “If international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe succeed in plunging the nations once more into world war, then the result will not be the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.” This type of circumstantial evidence has led historians to agree that regardless of the form in which the order was communicated, the Holocaust was not possible without Hitler’s knowledge and consent.
   As the war turned against Germany, Hitler retreated to an underground bunker in Berlin in January 1945. When the Soviets advanced on the city, Hitler wrote his last will and testament, in which he blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat, and exhorted the nation to keep its blood pure. He then married his mistress, Eva Braun, and committed suicide with her on 30 April 1945.

Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. . 2014.

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