1889-04-20 to 1945-04-30
GermanyAdolf Hitler (20 April 1889 – 30 April 1945) was a German politician and leader of the Nazi Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei; NSDAP). He rose to power as Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and later Führer in 1934. During his dictatorship from 1933 to 1945, he initiated World War II in Europe by invading Poland in September 1939. He was closely involved in military operations throughout the war and was central to the perpetration of the Holocaust.
At a DAP meeting on 12 September 1919, Party Chairman Anton Drexler was impressed with Hitler's oratorical skills. He gave him a copy of his pamphlet (My Political Awakening), which contained anti-Semitic, nationalist, anti-capitalist, and anti-Marxist ideas.
Hitler announced he would rejoin on the condition that he would replace Drexler as party chairman, and that the party headquarters would remain in Munich. The committee agreed, and he rejoined the party on 26 July as member 3,680. Hitler continued to face some opposition within the NSDAP: Opponents of Hitler in the leadership had Hermann Esser expelled from the party, and they printed 3,000 copies of a pamphlet attacking Hitler as a traitor to the party.
Hitler spoke to several packed houses and defended himself and Esser, to thunderous applause. His strategy proved successful, and at a special party congress on 29 July, he was granted absolute powers as party chairman, replacing Drexler, by a vote of 533 to 1
There, he received friendly treatment from the guards, and was allowed mail from supporters and regular visits by party comrades. Pardoned by the Bavarian Supreme Court, he was released from jail on 20 December 1924, against the state prosecutor's objections. Including time on remand, Hitler served just over one year in prison.
The stock market in the United States crashed on 24 October 1929. The impact in Germany was dire: millions were thrown out of work and several major banks collapsed. Hitler and the NSDAP prepared to take advantage of the emergency to gain support for their party. They promised to repudiate the Versailles Treaty, strengthen the economy, and provide jobs.
The Great Depression provided a political opportunity for Hitler. Germans were ambivalent about the parliamentary republic, which faced challenges from right- and left-wing extremists. The moderate political parties were increasingly unable to stem the tide of extremism, and the German referendum of 1929 helped to elevate Nazi ideology.
The elections of September 1930 resulted in the break-up of a grand coalition and its replacement with a minority cabinet. Its leader, chancellor Heinrich Brüning of the Center Party, governed through emergency decrees from President Paul von Hindenburg. Governance by decree became the new norm and paved the way for authoritarian forms of government. The NSDAP rose from obscurity to win 18.3 per cent of the vote and 107 parliamentary seats in the 1930 election, becoming the second-largest party in parliament.
A speech to the Industry Club in Düsseldorf on 27 January 1932 won him support from many of Germany's most powerful industrialists. Hindenburg had support from various nationalist, monarchist, Catholic, and republican parties, and some Social Democrats. Hitler used the campaign slogan "Hitler über Deutschland" ("Hitler over Germany"), a reference to his political ambitions and his campaigning by aircraft.
On 21 March 1933, the new Reichstag was constituted with an opening ceremony at the Garrison Church in Potsdam. This "Day of Potsdam" was held to demonstrate unity between the Nazi movement and the old Prussian elite and military. Hitler appeared in a morning coat and humbly greeted Hindenburg.
On 23 March 1933, the Reichstag assembled at the Kroll Opera House under turbulent circumstances. Ranks of SA men served as guards inside the building, while large groups outside opposing the proposed legislation shouted slogans and threats towards the arriving members of parliament.
The demands of the SA for more political and military power caused anxiety among military, industrial, and political leaders. In response, Hitler purged the entire SA leadership in the Night of the Long Knives, which took place from 30 June to 2 July 1934. Hitler targeted Ernst Röhm and other SA leaders who, along with a number of Hitler's political adversaries, were rounded up, arrested, and shot.
On 2 August 1934, Hindenburg died. The previous day, the cabinet had enacted the "Law Concerning the Highest State Office of the Reich". This law stated that upon Hindenburg's death, the office of president would be abolished and its powers merged with those of the chancellor. Hitler thus became head of state as well as head of government, and was formally named as Führer und Reichskanzler (leader and chancellor), although Reichskanzler was eventually quietly dropped.
That March, Hitler announced an expansion of the Wehrmacht to 600,000 members—six times the number permitted by the Versailles Treaty—including development of an air force (Luftwaffe) and an increase in the size of the navy (Kriegsmarine). Britain, France, Italy, and the League of Nations condemned these violations of the Treaty, but did nothing to stop it.
The Anglo-German Naval Agreement (AGNA) of 18 June allowed German tonnage to increase to 35 per cent of that of the British navy. Hitler called the signing of the AGNA "the happiest day of his life", believing that the agreement marked the beginning of the Anglo-German alliance he had predicted in Mein Kampf.
The Nazis embraced the concept of racial hygiene. On 15 September 1935, Hitler presented two laws—known as the Nuremberg Laws—to the Reichstag. The laws banned sexual relations and marriages between Aryans and Jews and were later extended to include "Gypsies, Negroes or their bastard offspring".
In February 1938, on the advice of his newly appointed foreign minister, the strongly pro-Japanese Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler ended the Sino-German alliance with the Republic of China to instead enter into an alliance with the more modern and powerful Empire of Japan.
On 28–29 March 1938, Hitler held a series of secret meetings in Berlin with Konrad Henlein of the Sudeten German Party, the largest of the ethnic German parties of the Sudetenland. The men agreed that Henlein would demand increased autonomy for Sudeten Germans from the Czechoslovakian government, thus providing a pretext for German military action against Czechoslovakia.
In a speech in Wilhelmshaven for the launch of the battleship Tirpitz on 1 April, he threatened to denounce the Anglo-German Naval Agreement if the British continued to guarantee Polish independence, which he perceived as an "encirclement" policy.
On 15 March 1939, in violation of the Munich accord and possibly as a result of the deepening economic crisis requiring additional assets, Hitler ordered the Wehrmacht to invade Prague, and from Prague Castle he proclaimed Bohemia and Moravia a German protectorate.
On 9 April, German forces invaded Denmark and Norway. On the same day Hitler proclaimed the birth of the Greater Germanic Reich, his vision of a united empire of Germanic nations of Europe in which the Dutch, Flemish, and Scandinavians were joined into a "racially pure" polity under German leadership.
By January 1942, he had decided that the Jews, Slavs, and other deportees considered undesirable should be killed. The genocide was organised and executed by Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich. The records of the Wannsee Conference, held on 20 January 1942 and led by Heydrich, with fifteen senior Nazi officials participating, provide the clearest evidence of systematic planning for the Holocaust.
Hitler's repeated refusal to allow their withdrawal at the Battle of Stalingrad led to the almost total destruction of the 6th Army. Over 200,000 Axis soldiers were killed and 235,000 were taken prisoner. Begun 23 Aug. 1942
Between 1939 and 1945, there were many plans to assassinate Hitler, some of which proceeded to significant degrees. The most well known, the 20 July plot of 1944, came from within Germany and was at least partly driven by the increasing prospect of a German defeat in the war.
By 21 April, Georgy Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front had broken through the defenses of General Gotthard Heinrici's Army Group Vistula during the Battle of the Seelow Heights and advanced to the outskirts of Berlin.
Göring sent a telegram from Berchtesgaden, arguing that since Hitler was isolated in Berlin, Göring should assume leadership of Germany. Göring set a deadline, after which he would consider Hitler incapacitated. Hitler responded by having Göring arrested, and in his last will and testament of 29 April, he removed Göring from all government positions.