When Hitler was born at the end of the 19th century, the country of Germany had not even fought in one World War. By the time he died, Adolf Hitler had helped fight in one World War and had started another. This son of a civil servant would change the world in countless ways and cause the deaths of millions. Hitler’s experiences in life before becoming the leader of the Third Reich of Nazi Germany would help shape him into the man who would eventually become one of the most recognizable names in the 20th century.
Adolf Hitler was born on April 20th 1889 in a small town called Braunau into a family that would sharply influence his beliefs (The History Place: The Rise of Hitler, 1996). He was the son of Alois Hitler and Klara Polzl and was technically their fourth child but the previous three all did not survive to make it into their adult lives, making him the focus of their attention until they had two more children. Alois had a son from a previous marriage who did not live up to his high expectations and eventually ended up in jail for theft (The History Place: The Rise of Hitler, 1996). This bothered Hitler’s father greatly and he vowed that he would not fail his next son and do whatever it took to make him into a proper man. Alois was a very intense and angry father and would beat Adolf if he didn’t do exactly as he was told. The household Adolf Hitler grew up in was not the most pleasant place to be and he had only his mother to turn to for comfort.
The family tree of Adolf Hitler indicates a few reasons that he would turn out to behave the way he did. The man who was Adolf’s grandfather remains a mystery; the only documentation of his father’s birth says that a unmarried servant girl named Maria Anna Schicklgruber who gave birth to Alois but “In the registry of births in Dollersheim parish the
space for the name of the child’s father was left blank” (Fest, 1974, p.15). There are different stories floating around about who is the true grandfather but the most intriguing one is the one that would give that distinction to a Jewish man named Frankenberger. Maria was working in his house at the time that she became pregnant and when Hans Frank who was Hitler’s lawyer later looked into this idea, he found some evidence that would indicate that Frankenberger was the actual grandfather. However nothing that could be proved ever came of this but “its real significance is independent of it being true or false. What is psychologically of crucial importance is that fact that Frank’s findings forced Hitler to doubt his own descent” (15). Throughout his life, Hitler would try to hide his family history due to the shame he would feel if he discovered that he was related to the group of people that he despised most.
Alois Hitler’s involvement in his son’s life played a strong role in what Hitler would grow up to be. Alois was described a man who was “hard, unsympathetic and short tempered” (Bullock, 1962, 25). To make matters even worse, “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” (The Histoy Place: The Rise of Hitler, 1996). All the noise from everyone jammed into the small living quarters did not improve Alois’ mood much during his peaceful retirement and he took it out on the children. Adolf’s step brother received most of the beatings and harsh words due to his being the oldest until finally one day he couldn’t take it anymore and ran away. This made Adolf next in line to obtain all the attention that Alois felt was necessary to guide his boys. His father, with his domineering and harsh style of parenting would help to make Hitler into a man who lacked empathy for (The History Place: The Rise of Hitler, 1996). The reason behind many of Adolf’s failures at school at least according to him was that he was doing poorly in order to spite his father. Their poor relationship led him to want to go against anything his father wanted. Alois due to his commanding nature thought “It was simply inconceivable to him that I might reject what had become the content of his whole life” ( Mein Kampf, 1925, p.8). At this time, the Hitler family moved from their small farm home into the town of Lambach, Austria where Hitler would learn the importance of religion.
By going to school at a monastery, Hitler gained a special insight into the lives of men who made speeches for a living and controlled the lives of others. Hitler “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” (The Histoy Place: The Rise of Hitler, 1996). The lifestyle of a priest appealed greatly to Hitler, he loved the idea of giving speeches to many and the power they had over the people that listened to his words and those working under him. Also found around the monastery, were swastikas carved into wood and other things which Hitler would have seen almost every day by going to school there (The History Place: The Rise of Hitler, 1996). This symbol obviously had a great impact on him due to the fact that he made the swastika the symbol of the Nazi’s that would become one of the most well recognized images worldwide. Also during this time, Hitler was placed in many situations where he had to make a decision on where his loyalties lie. Being a German-Austrian in Hitler’s eyes had three schools of thought you were either “The fighters, the lukewarm, and the traitors” (Mein Kampf, 1927, 12). Adolf Hitler was of course a fighter, which meant that he stood for “Pan-Germanism of the Los-von-Rom movement founded by Ritter Georg von Schonerer” (10). This movement was all about reuniting Germany with the parts of Austria that had become separated and also
importantly Schonerer’s movement was very strongly anti-Semitic. Hitler at this young age did not believe in the Pan-German movement which is very easy to confuse with Pan-Germanism but each has a completely different message. People who followed the Pan-German ideas were completely for the idea of German overtaking the entire world. Adolf was still able to partake in the struggle between the different views in Austria, whenever donations were taken for the school, Hitler and his fellow mates would wear corn flowers with red, gold, and black colors. This type of flower was the emblem of Germans loyal to the imperial House of Hohenzollern which was a royal monarchy that unified Germany and created the German empire. Hitler also stayed true to his beliefs in other ways, “Heil was our greeting, and instead of the imperial anthem we sang ‘Deutschland uber Allies,’ despite warnings and punishments.” (Mein Kampf, 1927, 13). This time at the monastery would act as a beginning to his views of politics and fueled his fanaticism of being a German Nationalist. However all good things must come to an end and Alois Hitler decided the family needed to move again to the town of Leonding where he would begin primary school.
Adolf Hitler’s academic career would provide many important experiences in affecting the man who would become leader of the Third Reich. In 1895 which was the same year that Adolf would begin primary school, his father also retired from his job as for the Austrian civil service. This was not good for Hitler because:
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 Histoy Place: The Rise of Hitler, 1996) Adolf began his education by doing “extremely well at primary school and it appeared he had a bright academic future in front of him. He was also popular with other pupils and was much admired for his leadership qualities” (Fest, 1974, p.19). Adolf had become somewhat of a gang leader at his primary school, and this part of his life served as the start of his developing leadership qualities. Also during his time at primary school, Adolf discovered that he enjoyed drawing very much and it was something that he cared about very strongly. Most of the teachers at school thought Adolf was lazy and lacked self control. However not every teacher had such a negative view of Adolf and one there was one teacher who made such an impact that he stood out above all the rest in Hitler’s academic career. Dr. Leopold Potsch was Adolf’s history professor at the Realschule (The History Place: The Rise of Hitler, 1996). For Hitler, he has fond memories of this old man who by the passion of his tales and ability to make them forget the present, Hitler would sit in his seat aflame with fervor, and often times he was moved to tears. Adolf said that he and Dr. Potsch would sit and talk for long periods of time talking about their shared sense of intense national pride. . Potsch filled Adolf’s mind with exciting stories of past national heroes of Germany, and the idea of being a champion of his country thrilled Hitler to no end. His professor told him tales “of the German victories over France in 1870 and 1871 and attacked the Austrians for not becoming involved in these triumphs” (Spartacus Educational). What helped to make him special was that Dr. Potsch was very good at showing how past events influenced the present and showed how present events mirror the past. The professor had a special connection to the students and:
“He used our budding nationalistic fanaticism as a meaning of educating us, frequently appealing to our sense of national honor. By this alone he was able to discipline us life ruffians more easily than would have been possible by any other means. This teacher made history my favorite subject. And indeed, though he had no such intention, it was then that I became a revolutionary. For who could have studied German history under such a teacher without becoming an enemy of the state which, through its ruling house, exerted so disastrous an influence on the destinies of the nation? And who could retain his loyalty to a dynasty which in past and present betrayed the needs of the German people again and again for shameless private advantage? Did we not know, even as little boys, that this Austrian state had and could have no love for us Germans”.(Mein Kampf, 1927, 14-15)
From this young age Adolf was able to decide in his mind that the only way to keep Germanism safe was by destroying Austria. This way of thinking that stayed with him for the majority of his life showed that he had an “ardent love for my German-Austrian homeland, deep hatred for the Austrian state” (16).
Art allowed Hitler to express himself but the rejections that came along with it forced him to change the lifestyle he had hoped to have. Growing up, Adolf found that he and had a good amount of talent went it came to drawing and it became one of his passions throughout his life. During his time at the Realschule, Hitler in his own opinion was the best in his class at drawing and therefore received a lot of high praise for his work. All the compliments Adolf got from people started to go to his head and his view of his own art became very overrated in comparison to the artists that were already out in the real world. Art also was something that was a means to become someone of importance in society. Adolf vowed that he would never have a desk job like his father and art would be his pursuit of a “better class of society” (Fest, 1974, p. 20-21). Adolf Hitler would never be okay with having a normal job like the rest of society and now with his father not controlling his life, he would be one step closer to forging his own path. In the final few months of his mother’s sickness, Adolf decided to take a trip to Vienna to take an entrance exam for the art Academy. When the results came back, Hitler was struck by a crushing blow when he learned that he had not been accepted into school of painting ( Mein Kampf, 1925, pp. 19-20). After thinking so highly of his skills and having everyone else around him admire his ability for so long he just was not able to comprehend how a school would not want his superior talent. However after speaking to the director at the school he recommended that Adolf apply for the architecture school there because he believed Adolf was good enough in that field to be accepted (20). Hitler accepted his fate but ran into a few problems when he learned about what was required to gain entrance to the school. In order to apply for the school of architecture, Hitler had to have a high school diploma and then attend the building school at Technik. However due to his stubbornness and refusal to do well in school in order to spite his father, he did not any of the credentials required. With his mother no longer around, Adolf Hitler returned to Vienna for the third time in order to regain his composure. After being down on himself for not making it into art school, he regained his defiance and was determined “…to become an architect, and obstacles do not exist to be surrendered to, but only to be broken” ( Mein Kampf, 1925, p. 20). Looking back on these times in his life Hitler is grateful for these days because even though they seemed miserable at the time, his will to get through anything was strengthened. Adolf said:
I owe it to that period that I grew hard and am still capable of being hard. And even more, I exalt it for tearing me away from the hollowness of comfortable life; for drawing the mother’s darling our of his soft downy bed and giving him ‘Dame Care’ for a new mother; for hurling me, despite all resistance, into a world of misery and poverty, thus making me acquainted with those for whom I was later to fight. ( Mein Kampf, 1925, p. 21)
As he did with many problems he faced during his life, Hitler was able to find a way to blame the Jewish people for problems with the world of the arts. In referring to the Jews, Hitler said “Culturally he contaminates art, literature, the theater, makes a mockery of natural feeling, overthrows all concepts of beauty and sublimity, of the noble and the good, and instead drags men down into the sphere of his own base nature”(Mein Kampf, 1925, p. 326).
Klara Hitler was a kind and gentle woman, who was a big part of Adolf Hitler’s childhood. She was the only person that he had a strong emotional bond with and she was the person that he always turned to when things with his father got too rough, Adolf said “I had honored my father, but my mother I had loved” ( Mein Kampf, 1925 p. 18). Klara Hitler however had many health problems for much of the time Adolf was living away from the family and therefore was not always around to help him with problems he may have been having. Due to her anxiety about losing all her other children except for two, Adolf’s mother was too soft on him and Hitler used this to his advantage whenever possible (The History Place: The Rise of Hitler, 1996). Even though she was not as passionate as Alois was to see Adolf become a civil servant, she still tried to keep with her husband’s wishes after he passed away and keep Adolf in school. On the day of September, 1904, Adolf would only be promoted to the next level of schooling if he were to leave that school. This marked his mother’s last attempt at getting him the education his father wanted, “She sent him to Realschule in Steyr” (Bullock, 1962, p. 20). Still though even with his father gone, his grades did not improve and his work was very poor. Adolf did so badly his first term at this new school that he went out and got drunk for the first time in his life and used the report card as toilet paper. However he still continued at the Realschule for one more semester but was still unable to make any improvements and finally his mother gave in to his request and allowed him to leave the school. Hitler was now free to try to fulfill his dream of becoming an artist and even his mother becoming gravely ill wouldn’t stop him from leaving for Vienna. This was a prime example of how Hitler’s ambition for personal success would trump any thoughts of human empathy. After failing to gain entrance into Vienna’s art school, Hitler was humiliated and was unable to even tell his mother that he was rejected and he still pretended like he was still an art student (Spartacus Educational). Hitler was able to entrance millions by the speeches he gave about Germany and what the Nazi Party would do for them to get them back what was rightfully theirs, however when it came for him to talk about himself there was much less discussion. At a period in his life where he may have needed some guidance or just a place to gather himself after the failure, Hitler didn’t take advantage of the people around and kept everything to himself. It took for Klara Hitler to pass away for Adolf to finally return home to see her one last time. At the time of her death, Hitler returned to his home and spoke with the doctor who said “he had never seen a young man so crushed by anguish and filled with grief…With the death of his mother, whatever affection he had ever had for any human being came to an end” (Fest, 1974, p. 28). Hitler lost the one person who he had turned to when his father’s beatings were too much or when things got too hard for him as a small child. Even though he was more distant from her as he moved off to Vienna, he still had a special bond with her that would not be shared as closely with anyone else. From that day on, Hitler “carried her photograph wherever he went and, it is claimed, had it in his hand when he died in 1945” (Spartacus Educational). Now Hitler had nobody to rely on but himself to get him to where he wanted to be in life. The illness of hit mother had used up the majority of the money his father had left to the family after his death and the small amount of pension money he received would not be enough for him to survive. Now was the time for Hitler to make something of himself and to “wrest from Fate what my father had accomplished fifty years before; I, too, wanted to become ‘something’—but on no account a civil servant” ( Mein Kampf, 1925, p. 18).
Literature would also provide to be another important influence on the ideas and beliefs of Adolf Hitler. For Adolf, reading had a different importance than for what is what for the average intellectual of that time period. He understood that people were able to read books and have great deals of knowledge stored in their mind, however what set him apart according to him was that he was able to determine what was useful and what information was worthless in a book. According to Adolf, “Reading is not an end in itself, but a means to an end” (Bullock, 1962, p. 48). These attitudes would help show not only his Hitler’s attitude towards books but towards life as well.
This is a picture of a man with a closed mind, reading only to confirm what he already believes, ignoring what does not fit in with his preconceived scheme. ‘Otherwise, Hitler says, ‘only a confused jumble of chaotic notions will result from all this reading…Such a person never succeeds in turning his knowledge to practical account when the opportune moment arrives; for his mental equipment is not ordered with a view to meeting the demands of every day… ‘Since then (i.e. since his days in Vienna) I have extended that foundation very little, and I have changed nothing in it. (Bullock, 1962 p. 49)
After reading a book about the Franco-Prussian war, Hitler’s sense of national pride would never be the same. When reading the book Adolf felt a strong connection to the men of Germany who fought for their country. However he was unable to grasp why the men of Austria including his father chose not to fight (Mein Kampf, 1925, p. 6). He strongly disagreed with their choice of not going to war because he felt that the men of Germany and Austria were of the same blood. Hitler said “Are we not the same as all other Germans? Do we not all belong together? This problem began to gnaw at my little brain for the first time” (Mein Kampf, 1925, p. 7). It was this book that caused him to strongly want to unite the area around the country of Germany because he felt that the men of Germany and Austria should come together as one. Also all the talk of fighting and battles excited Hitler very much and he became quite interested in the idea of battles and being a soldier. The book caused him to believe that all men should be honored to fight for their country. He also believed that national pride should lead men to be willing to die for their country because that is what they are meant to do for the good of their people. World War I would only help to enforce Hitler’s sense of national pride and would give him military experience that he would use in the future to further for his own ideals. When Franz Ferdinand was murdered by Serbian students, at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, Hitler was unsure initially at how he felt about this event (Bullock, 1962, p. 49). Ferdinand caused many problems that made many German Nationalists quite enraged, however another way to look at it was that his country of Austria would be duty-bound to fight in the war. Austria would also have to stay faithful to Germany which Hitler always believed was bound to happen (Bullock, 1962 pp. 49-50). The amount of joy that Hitler felt at finally being given the change to reunite Germany was so great that he fell to the ground and thanked the heavens( Mein Kampf, 1925, p. 161). The war finally gave Hitler a way to prove himself as a man of worth to his country. After all his past failures, the war would serve as a fresh start, which with his poor childhood would be greatly welcomed. Adolf Hitler believed that entire population wished for this war to happen and couldn’t see how anyone else could have a different view. Hitler volunteered to fight in the war; however he did not choose to fight for the country of Germany. He ended up writing a formal petition to the King of Bavaria asking to be allowed into a Bavarian regiment. The reply granted his request and he was overjoyed beyond belief at the idea of being able to fight for the land he felt loyal to (Bullock, 1962, p. 50). A few of the other men he met during this time in his regiment which included many volunteers, ended up working for him in the Nazi Party. This time of his life would help to connect him to the people that he had blocked himself off from as a younger man. When his unit finally began fighting, Hitler was assigned the job of a Meldeganger which means that he was dispatch runner who sent messages between the command staff in the back of the camp and up to the units fighting in the front (The Histoy Place: The Rise of Hitler, 1996). Hitler was very eager and was generally liked by the other soldiers however some thought that he was too enthusiastic to please his superiors. He had the uncanny ability to escape danger which was lucky for him due to the fact that he would always volunteer his services for the most dangerous missions. Hitler’s bravery ended up getting many honors including the highly esteemed Iron Cross medal during World War I (Spartacus Educational). The Iron Cross medal which is a quite rare honor for the foot soldiers such as Hitler to earn, was recommended for Adolf by a lieutenant who just happened to be a Jew (The History Place: The Rise of Hitler, 1996). This was a fact that Hitler would pretend like never happened and when it was brought up, only talked about the honor and not the man who gave him the chance to earn it. The members in his unit found Adolf to be peculiar and strange, and a fellow soldier named Hans Mend “claimed that Hitler was an isolated figure who spent long periods of time sitting in the corner holding his head in silence. Then all of a sudden, Mend claimed, he would jump up and make a speech” (Spartacus Educational). Due to this strange behavior, Hitler was never promoted within the regiment past the rank of corporal. Fellow soldiers within the regiment would His superiors believed that Hitler’s odd outbursts and poor companionship within the group would make it difficult for other men to take orders from him (Spartacus Educational).
The media and politicians during the war also played a role in how Hitler’s views on certain aspects of society were formed. Adolf said there was “a certain section of the press,slowly, and in a way which at first was perhaps unrecognizable to many, began to pour a few drops of wormwood into the general enthusiasm” ( Mein Kampf, 1925, p. 166). This group of media had different ideas about how Germans should behave during the war effort. They were not fond of great displays of emotion and believed that Germany should act more like other foreign countries who accepted their battle victories with a “silent and dignified form of joy” (166-167). Hitler even as a younger man was known to have sudden outbursts of passion filled speeches overflowing with his emotions and couldn’t understand why people would want to control that. He believed that the country needed this show of passion to be able to withstand the struggle which would overtake their country during World War I ( Mein Kampf, 1925, p. 167). Adolf Hitler was never able to understand this type of thinking and it was something that would be changed when he became leader of the Third Reich. Another thing that also bothered Hitler about the media was the stance they took towards Marxism. Some authorities believed that Marxism had become the national way of thinking for the country of Germany. Hitler believed
that their faith in this doctrine lay in the fact that they do not teach how Marxism will destroy the world “especially since this cannot be learned in Jewified universities” (Mein Kampf, 1925, 168). Adolf Hitler also gave hints as to what he believed should be done to these mostly Jewish men who were misleading the country; he said “It would have been the duty of a serious government…to exterminate mercilessly the agitators who were misleading the nation” (169). At the time that Hitler was a soldier, he had no urge to talk much about politics. For him, the politicians of the day were more worthless than the everyday steward who performed his daily task without complaint. Adolf said “I had never hated these big-mouths more than now when every red-blooded man with something to say yelled it into the enemy’s face or appropriately left his tongue at home and silently did his duty somewhere” (166). When Hitler became the leader of all of Germany he would make himself the dictator and get rid of all these government men whom he believed were harmful to society as a whole. Hitler would become even more distressed about his country after returning home for a short hospital stay.
After becoming injured in the war, the time spent back in Vienna would only add to the anti-Semitic feelings Adolf Hitler had towards other groups of people with different ideas. While laying in his bed he listened to men brag of injuring themselves in order to escape the war and act like they were the brave ones. Hitler was outraged at these men “who boasted of their shrewdness; he noted hypocrisy, egotism, war profiteering”( Mein Kampf, 1925, p. 71). Hitler decided that behind all the appraisal of these terrible ideas was the working of the Jew. Hitler was openly for the unification of Germany and he believed these Jewish men and the politicians and journalists were trying to pull everyone apart for their own gain. Adolf Hitler said that the “Hebrew Corruptors of the people….should be held ‘under poison gas’ and against the politicians and journalists on the other hand…deserved nothing but annihilation. ‘All the implements of military power should have been ruthlessly used for the extermination of this pestilence” (Fest, 1974, pp. 71-72). Everywhere that Adolf Hitler went, he said that he saw Jews filling every office space and that every clerk was a Jew. It disgusted him that the Jewish people were all safe in the town while there were so few Jewish men to be seen fighting along the front lines for their country such as himself. Hitler thought that while the real Germans were off fighting for their country, the Jewish people were at home destroying the economy and plundering the wealth of their country for themselves. Hitler was once again was unable to fit in with society and in the spring of 1917 requested to be transferred back to the military front where he stayed until the end of the war (72)
After being described by so many as the shy and loner type as a child, the life that Hitler led was nothing short of amazing. To be able to lead a nation and inspire millions to follow his every command, words cannot describe the conformation that this man underwent from his younger years into adulthood. Whether it was resisting his overbearing father or seeking comfort with his often too kind mother, there was never a calm moment in Adolf’s life. In order to become the man who would grow to be the leader of the Nazi Party, Adolf Hitler as a child and a young adult would go through many life experiences that would help turn him into one of the most identifiable men of his century.
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