HITLER, Adolf (1889-1945). The rise of Adolf Hitler to the position of dictator of Germany is the story of a frenzied ambition that plunged the world into the worst war in history. Only an army corporal in World War I, Hitler became Germany's chancellor 15 years later.
He was born on April 20, 1889, in Braunau-am-Inn, Austria, of German descent. His father Alois was the illegitimate son of Maria Anna Schicklgruber. In middle age Alois took the name Hitler from his paternal grandfather. After two wives had died Alois married his foster daughter, Klara Poelzl, a Bavarian, 23 years younger than he. She became Adolf's mother.
Hitler's rambling, emotional autobiography 'Mein Kampf' (My Struggle) reveals his unstable early life. His father, a petty customs official, wanted the boy to study for a government position. But as young Hitler wrote later, "the thought of slaving in an office made me ill . . . not to be master of my own time." Passively defying his father, the self-willed boy filled most of his school hours with daydreams of becoming a painter. His one school interest was history, especially that of the Germans. When his teacher glorified Germany's role, "we would sit there enraptured and often on the verge of tears." From boyhood he was devoted to Wagner's operas that glorified the Teutons' dark and furious mythology.
Failure dogged him. After his father's death, when Adolf was 13, he studied watercolor painting, but accomplished little. After his mother's death, when he was 19, he went to Vienna. There the Academy of Arts rejected him as untalented. Lacking business training, Hitler eked out a living as a laborer in the building trades and by painting cheap postcards. He often slept in parks and ate in free soup kitchens.
These humbling experiences inflamed his discontent. He hated Austria as "a patchwork nation" and looked longingly across the border at energetic, powerful Germany. He wrote, "I was convinced that the State [Austria] was sure to obstruct every really great German and to support . . . everything un-German. . . . I hated the motley collection [in Austria] of Czechs, Ruthenians, Poles, Hungarians, Serbs, Croats, and above all that ever-present fungoid growth Jews . . . I became a fanatical anti-Semite."
Hitler's hatred of poverty, his rabid devotion to his German heritage, and his loathing of Jews combined to form the seeds of his later political doctrine. He studied the political skill of Vienna's mayor and took special note of that leader's practice of "using all instruments of existing power, and of gaining the favor of influential institutions . . . so he could draw the greatest possible advantages for his own movement from such old-established sources of power." Hitler later applied this technique in Germany.
In 1912 Hitler left "wretched" Vienna for Munich, a "true German town." There he drifted from job to job as carpenter, architect's draftsman, and watercolorist. Always he ranted about his political ideas.
At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, he gave up his Austrian citizenship to enlist in the 16th Bavarian infantry regiment. He would not fight for Austria, "but I was ready to die at any time for my people [Germans]." In his first battle, the Ypres offensive of 1914, he shouted the song 'Deutschland, Deutschland uber Alles.' On the Somme in 1916 he was a "front fighter" against British tanks, rose to lance corporal, won the Iron Cross as dispatch runner, and was wounded. In 1917 he fought in the third battle of Ypres.
The armistice found him in a hospital, temporarily blinded by mustard gas and suffering from shock. The news of Germany's defeat agonized him. He believed defeat had been caused by "enemies within," chiefly Jews and Communists.
Now no longer an Austrian citizen and not yet a German citizen, Hitler at the war's end was a man without a country. Bewildered, he remained in the army, stationed in Munich. In the political and economic tempest that swept defeated Germany, Munich became a storm center. Officers of the beaten Reichswehr (German army) conspired to win control of Germany. They maintained "informers," one of whom was Adolf Hitler. He was assigned to report on "subversive activities" in Munich's political parties.
This political spying was the