How Adolf Hitler’s Early Life Shaped a Tyrant: The Untold Story

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Part[2]

World War I

Hitler (far right, seated) with Bavarian Army comrades from the Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment 16 (c. 1914–18)

In August 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, Adolf Hitler was living in Munich and voluntarily enlisted in the Bavarian Army. According to a 1924 report by Bavarian authorities, allowing Hitler to serve was likely an administrative error, as he was an Austrian citizen and should have been sent back to Austria. He was posted to the Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment 16 (1st Company of the List Regiment) and served as a dispatch runner on the Western Front in France and Belgium, spending nearly half his time at the regimental headquarters in Fournes-en-Weppes, well behind the front lines. In 1914, he was present at the First Battle of Ypres and was decorated for bravery, receiving the Iron Cross, Second Class.

While serving at headquarters, Hitler pursued his artwork, drawing cartoons and instructions for an army newspaper. During the Battle of the Somme in October 1916, he was wounded in the left thigh by a shell explosion in the dispatch runners’ dugout. He spent almost two months recovering in a hospital at Beelitz, returning to his regiment on 5 March 1917. He was present at the Battle of Arras and the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. Hitler received the Black Wound Badge on 18 May 1918. In August 1918, on the recommendation of Lieutenant Hugo Gutmann, his Jewish superior, Hitler was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class, a rare decoration for someone of his rank. On 15 October 1918, he was temporarily blinded in a mustard gas attack and was hospitalized in Pasewalk. While there, he learned of Germany’s defeat and, by his account, suffered a second bout of blindness upon receiving this news.

Hitler described his role in World War I as “the greatest of all experiences” and was praised by his commanding officers for his bravery. His wartime experience reinforced his German patriotism, and he was shocked by Germany’s capitulation in November 1918. His displeasure with the collapse of the war effort began to shape his ideology. Like other German nationalists, he believed in the Dolchstoßlegende (stab-in-the-back myth), which claimed that the German army, “undefeated in the field,” had been “stabbed in the back” on the home front by civilian leaders, Jews, Marxists, and those who signed the armistice that ended the fighting—later dubbed the “November criminals.”

The Treaty of Versailles required Germany to relinquish several territories and demilitarize the Rhineland. The treaty imposed economic sanctions and levied heavy reparations on the country. Many Germans saw the treaty as an unjust humiliation and particularly objected to Article 231, which they interpreted as declaring Germany responsible for the war. The Versailles Treaty and the economic, social, and political conditions in Germany after the war were later exploited by Hitler for political gain.

Entry into Politics

Hitler’s German Workers’ Party (DAP) membership card

After World War I, Adolf Hitler returned to Munich. Without formal education or career prospects, he remained in the Army. In July 1919, he was appointed as a Verbindungsmann (intelligence agent) of an Aufklärungskommando (reconnaissance unit) of the Reichswehr, tasked with influencing other soldiers and infiltrating the German Workers’ Party (DAP). At a DAP meeting on 12 September 1919, Party Chairman Anton Drexler was impressed by Hitler’s oratorical skills and gave him a copy of his pamphlet, My Political Awakening, which contained anti-Semitic, nationalist, anti-capitalist, and anti-Marxist ideas. On the orders of his army superiors, Hitler applied to join the party and was accepted within a week as party member 555 (the party began counting membership at 500 to appear larger than it was).

Hitler made his earliest known written statement about the Jewish question in a letter to Adolf Gemlich on 16 September 1919, now known as the Gemlich letter, arguing that the government’s aim “must unshakably be the removal of the Jews altogether.” At the DAP, Hitler met Dietrich Eckart, one of the party’s founders and a member of the occult Thule Society. Eckart became Hitler’s mentor, exchanging ideas with him and introducing him to a wide range of Munich society. To increase its appeal, the DAP changed its name to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers’ Party or NSDAP), now known as the Nazi Party. Hitler designed the party’s banner, which featured a swastika in a white circle on a red background.

Discharged from the Army on 31 March 1920, Hitler began working full-time for the Nazi Party. The party headquarters was in Munich, a center for anti-government German nationalists determined to eliminate Marxism and undermine the Weimar Republic. In February 1921, already highly effective at crowd manipulation, he spoke to a crowd of over 6,000. To publicize the meeting, two truckloads of party supporters drove around Munich waving swastika flags and distributing leaflets. Hitler soon gained notoriety for his rowdy polemic speeches against the Treaty of Versailles, rival politicians, and especially against Marxists and Jews.

Hitler poses for the camera in September 1930
Interessante Rednerposen des Führers der
nationalsozialistischen Arbeiterpartei, Adolf Hitler!
Adolf Hitler machte durch seine Zeugenaussagen vor dem Reichsgericht in Leipzig viel von sich reden.

In June 1921, while Hitler and Eckart were on a fundraising trip to Berlin, a mutiny broke out within the Nazi Party in Munich. Members of its executive committee wanted to merge with the Nuremberg-based German Socialist Party (DSP). Hitler returned to Munich on 11 July and angrily tendered his resignation. Realizing the resignation of their leading public figure and speaker would mean the end of the party, the committee agreed to his conditions: he would replace Drexler as party chairman, and the party headquarters would remain in Munich. He rejoined the party on 26 July as member 3,680. Despite some opposition within the Nazi Party, Hitler’s strategy of public speaking and rallying support proved successful. At a special party congress on 29 July, he was granted absolute power as party chairman, succeeding Drexler by a vote of 533 to 1.

Hitler’s vitriolic beer hall speeches began attracting regular audiences. As a demagogue, he became adept at using populist themes, including the use of scapegoats who were blamed for his listeners’ economic hardships. Hitler used personal magnetism and an understanding of crowd psychology to his advantage while engaged in public speaking. Historians have noted the hypnotic effect of his rhetoric on large audiences and his eyes’ impact in small groups. Alfons Heck, a former member of the Hitler Youth, recalled:

“We erupted into a frenzy of nationalistic pride that bordered on hysteria. For minutes on end, we shouted at the top of our lungs, with tears streaming down our faces: Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil! From that moment on, I belonged to Adolf Hitler body and soul.”

Early followers included Rudolf Hess, former Air Force ace Hermann Göring, and army captain Ernst Röhm. Röhm became head of the Nazis’ paramilitary organization, the Sturmabteilung (SA, “Stormtroopers”), which protected meetings and attacked political opponents. A critical influence on Hitler’s thinking during this period was the Aufbau Vereinigung, a conspiratorial group of White Russian exiles and early Nazis. The group, financed by wealthy industrialists, introduced Hitler to the idea of a Jewish conspiracy, linking international finance with Bolshevism.

The Nazi Party’s program was laid out in their 25-point program on 24 February 1920. This did not represent a coherent ideology but was a conglomeration of ideas prevalent in the völkisch Pan-Germanic movement, such as ultranationalism, opposition to the Treaty of Versailles, distrust of capitalism, and some socialist ideas. For Hitler, the most important aspect of the program was its strong anti-Semitic stance. He also perceived the program as primarily a basis for propaganda and for attracting people to the party.

Beer Hall Putsch and Landsberg Prison

Defendants in the Beer Hall Putsch trial, 1 April 1924. From left to right: Heinz PernetFriedrich WeberWilhelm FrickHermann KriebelErich Ludendorff, Hitler, Wilhelm BrücknerErnst Röhm, and Robert Wagner.
ADOLF HITLER The accused in the Hitler Putsch Trial, (from left) Pernet, Weber, Frick, Kriebel, Ludendorff, Hitler, Bruekner, Roehm and Wagner ,1923/4

In 1923, Adolf Hitler, inspired by Italian Fascism, enlisted the help of World War I General Erich Ludendorff for an attempted coup known as the “Beer Hall Putsch”. Hitler aimed to emulate Benito Mussolini’s “March on Rome” by staging his own coup in Bavaria, followed by a challenge to the government in Berlin. Hitler and Ludendorff sought support from Gustav Ritter von Kahr, Bavaria’s de facto ruler, who, along with Police Chief Hans Ritter von Seisser and Reichswehr General Otto von Lossow, wanted to install a nationalist dictatorship without Hitler.

On 8 November 1923, Hitler and the SA stormed a public meeting of 3,000 people organized by Kahr in the Bürgerbräukeller, a beer hall in Munich. Interrupting Kahr’s speech, Hitler announced the national revolution had begun and declared the formation of a new government with Ludendorff. In a back room, with his pistol drawn, Hitler demanded and received the support of Kahr, Seisser, and Lossow. Initially, Hitler’s forces succeeded in occupying local Reichswehr and police headquarters, but Kahr and his cohorts quickly withdrew their support. The Army and state police did not join Hitler. The next day, Hitler and his followers marched from the beer hall to the Bavarian War Ministry to overthrow the Bavarian government, but the police dispersed them. Sixteen Nazi Party members and four police officers were killed in the failed coup.

The dust jacket of Mein Kampf‘s 1926–28 edition, which Hitler authored in 1925

Hitler fled to the home of Ernst Hanfstaengl and contemplated suicide. Depressed but calm, he was arrested on 11 November 1923 for high treason. His trial before the special People’s Court in Munich began in February 1924, and Alfred Rosenberg became the temporary leader of the Nazi Party. On 1 April, Hitler was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment at Landsberg Prison. 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, after serving just over one year in prison, including time on remand.

While at Landsberg, Hitler dictated most of the first volume of Mein Kampf (lit. ’My Struggle’) to his chauffeur, Emil Maurice, and then to his deputy, Rudolf Hess. The book, dedicated to Thule Society member Dietrich Eckart, was an autobiography and exposition of his ideology, outlining his plans for transforming German society based on race. Throughout the book, Jews are equated with “germs” and presented as the “international poisoners” of society, with extermination being the only solution. Although Hitler did not describe exactly how this would be accomplished, his “inherent genocidal thrust is undeniable,” according to historian Ian Kershaw.

Published in two volumes in 1925 and 1926, Mein Kampf sold 228,000 copies between 1925 and 1932. One million copies were sold in 1933, Hitler’s first year in office. Shortly before Hitler was eligible for parole, the Bavarian government attempted to have him deported to Austria. The Austrian federal chancellor rejected the request on the grounds that his service in the German Army voided his Austrian citizenship. In response, Hitler formally renounced his Austrian citizenship on 7 April 1925.

Rebuilding the Nazi Party

Upon Adolf Hitler’s release from prison, the political landscape in Germany had calmed, and the economy had improved, limiting his opportunities for political agitation. The failed Beer Hall Putsch had resulted in a ban on the Nazi Party and its affiliated organizations in Bavaria. On 4 January 1925, Hitler met with Bavarian Prime Minister Heinrich Held, agreeing to respect the state’s authority and to seek political power only through democratic means. This agreement led to the lifting of the ban on the Nazi Party on 16 February.

However, after delivering an inflammatory speech on 27 February, Hitler was barred from public speaking by Bavarian authorities, a restriction that lasted until 1927. To continue advancing his political ambitions despite this ban, Hitler appointed Gregor Strasser, Otto Strasser, and Joseph Goebbels to organize and expand the Nazi Party in northern Germany. Gregor Strasser, in particular, took a more independent political path, emphasizing the socialist elements of the party’s program.

On 24 October 1929, the stock market in the United States crashed, causing severe economic repercussions in Germany. Millions became unemployed, and several major banks collapsed. Hitler and the Nazi Party seized this opportunity to gain support by promising to repudiate the Versailles Treaty, strengthen the economy, and provide jobs.

Brüning Administration

Hitler and Nazi Party treasurer Franz Xaver Schwarz at the dedication of the renovation of the Palais Barlow on Brienner Straße in Munich into the Brown House headquarters, December 1930
Hitler und Schwarz bei der Einweihung des Umbaus des Palais Barlow in der Brienner Straße zum “Braunen Haus”, 1930

The Great Depression provided a political opportunity for Adolf Hitler. Germans were ambivalent about the parliamentary republic, which faced challenges from both right- and left-wing extremists. 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 breakup of a grand coalition and its replacement with a minority cabinet. Its leader, Chancellor Heinrich Brüning of the Centre Party, governed through emergency decrees from President Paul von Hindenburg. Governance by decree became the new norm, paving the way for authoritarian forms of government. The Nazi Party rose from obscurity to win 18.3 percent of the vote and 107 parliamentary seats in the 1930 election, becoming the second-largest party in parliament.

Hitler made a prominent appearance at the trial of two Reichswehr officers, Lieutenants Richard Scheringer and Hanns Ludin, in late 1930. Both were charged with membership in the Nazi Party, at that time illegal for Reichswehr personnel. The prosecution argued that the Nazi Party was extremist, prompting defense lawyer Hans Frank to call on Hitler to testify. On 25 September 1930, Hitler testified that his party would pursue political power solely through democratic elections, which won him many supporters in the officer corps.

Brüning’s austerity measures brought little economic improvement and were extremely unpopular. Hitler exploited this by targeting his political messages specifically at people who had been affected by the inflation of the 1920s and the Depression, such as farmers, war veterans, and the middle class.

Although Hitler terminated his Austrian citizenship in 1925, he did not acquire German citizenship for almost seven years. This meant that he was stateless, legally unable to run for public office, and still faced the risk of deportation. On 25 February 1932, the interior minister of Brunswick, Dietrich Klagges, who was a member of the Nazi Party, appointed Hitler as administrator for the state’s delegation to the Reichsrat in Berlin, making Hitler a citizen of Brunswick, and thus of Germany.

Hitler ran against Hindenburg in the 1932 presidential elections. 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. He was one of the first politicians to use aircraft travel for campaigning and used it effectively. Hitler came in second in both rounds of the election, garnering more than 35 percent of the vote in the final election. Although he lost to Hindenburg, this election established Hitler as a strong force in German politics.

Appointment as Chancellor

Hitler, at a window of the Reich Chancellery, receives an ovation on the evening of his inauguration as chancellor, 30. Januar 1933
Hitler am Fenster der Reichskanzlei in der Wilhelmstrafle in Berlin bei der Entgegennahme der Ovationen der Bevˆlkerung am Abend des Tages.
(Aufnahme: Robert Sennecke, Berlin)

The absence of an effective government prompted two influential politicians, Franz von Papen and Alfred Hugenberg, along with several other industrialists and businessmen, to write a letter to President Paul von Hindenburg. The signers urged Hindenburg to appoint Adolf Hitler as leader of a government “independent from parliamentary parties,” which could turn into a movement that would “enrapture millions of people.”

Hindenburg reluctantly agreed to appoint Hitler as chancellor after two further parliamentary elections—in July and November 1932—failed to result in the formation of a majority government. Hitler headed a short-lived coalition government formed by the Nazi Party (which had the most seats in the Reichstag) and Hugenberg’s party, the German National People’s Party (DNVP). On 30 January 1933, the new cabinet was sworn in during a brief ceremony in Hindenburg’s office. The Nazi Party gained three posts: Hitler was named chancellor, Wilhelm Frick was appointed Minister of the Interior, and Hermann Göring became Minister of the Interior for Prussia. Hitler had insisted on the ministerial positions as a way to gain control over the police in much of Germany.

Reichstag Fire and March Elections

As chancellor, Hitler worked to prevent the formation of a majority government by his opponents. Due to the political deadlock, he persuaded President Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag again, scheduling new elections for early March. On 27 February 1933, the Reichstag building was set on fire. Hermann Göring blamed the incident on a communist plot, as Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe was found under incriminating circumstances inside the burning building. Until the 1960s, some historians, including William L. Shirer and Alan Bullock, believed the Nazi Party was responsible for the fire. However, the current consensus among nearly all historians is that van der Lubbe acted alone.

At Hitler’s urging, Hindenburg signed the Reichstag Fire Decree on 28 February, drafted by the Nazis. This decree suspended basic rights and allowed for detention without trial. It was permitted under Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, which gave the president the power to take emergency measures to protect public safety and order. The activities of the German Communist Party (KPD) were suppressed, and approximately 4,000 KPD members were arrested.

In the days leading up to the election, the Nazi Party engaged in political campaigning, paramilitary violence, and the spread of anti-communist propaganda. On election day, 6 March 1933, the Nazi Party’s share of the vote increased to 43.9 percent, making it the party with the largest number of seats in parliament. However, the Nazis failed to secure an absolute majority, necessitating another coalition with the DNVP.

Day of Potsdam and the Enabling Act

On 21 March 1933, the new Reichstag was inaugurated with an opening ceremony at the Garrison Church in Potsdam. This “Day of Potsdam” event was designed to showcase unity between the Nazi movement and the old Prussian elite and military. Hitler appeared in a morning coat and humbly greeted President Hindenburg, symbolizing the connection between the new regime and traditional German values.

To achieve complete political control despite lacking an absolute majority in parliament, Hitler’s government proposed the Enabling Act (Ermächtigungsgesetz) to the newly elected Reichstag. Officially titled the Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich (“Law to Remedy the Distress of People and Reich”), the Enabling Act granted Hitler’s cabinet the authority to enact laws without the Reichstag’s consent for four years. These laws could, with certain exceptions, deviate from the Constitution.

Since the Enabling Act would alter the constitution, it required a two-thirds majority to pass. Leaving nothing to chance, the Nazis used the Reichstag Fire Decree’s provisions to arrest all 81 Communist deputies and prevent several Social Democrats from attending. Despite their campaign against the Communist Party, the Nazis had allowed the KPD to contest the election.

On 23 March 1933, the Reichstag convened at the Kroll Opera House under turbulent circumstances. SA men guarded the building, while large groups outside opposed the proposed legislation and shouted slogans and threats toward the arriving members of parliament. After Hitler verbally promised Centre Party leader Ludwig Kaas that Hindenburg would retain his power of veto, Kaas announced the Centre Party’s support for the Enabling Act. The Act passed by a vote of 444 to 94, with all parties except the Social Democrats voting in favor. The Enabling Act, along with the Reichstag Fire Decree, transformed Hitler’s government into a de facto legal dictatorship.

Dictatorship

“At the risk of appearing to talk nonsense, I tell you that the National Socialist movement will go on for 1,000 years! … Don’t forget how people laughed at me 15 years ago when I declared that one day I would govern Germany. They laugh now, just as foolishly, when I declare that I shall remain in power!” — Adolf Hitler to a British correspondent in Berlin, June 1934.

In 1934, Hitler became Germany’s head of state with the title of Führer und Reichskanzler (leader and chancellor of the Reich)

Having achieved full control over the legislative and executive branches of government, Hitler and his allies began to suppress the remaining opposition. The Social Democratic Party was made illegal, and its assets were seized. While many trade union delegates were in Berlin for May Day activities, SA stormtroopers occupied union offices around the country. On 2 May 1933, all trade unions were forced to dissolve, and their leaders were arrested. Some were sent to concentration camps. The German Labour Front was formed as an umbrella organization to represent all workers, administrators, and company owners, thus reflecting the concept of Nazism in the spirit of Hitler’s Volksgemeinschaft (“people’s community”).

By the end of June, the other parties had been intimidated into disbanding. This included the Nazis’ nominal coalition partner, the DNVP; with the SA’s help, Hitler forced its leader, Hugenberg, to resign on 29 June. On 14 July 1933, the Nazi Party was declared the only legal political party in Germany. 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 several of Hitler’s political adversaries (such as Gregor Strasser and former chancellor Kurt von Schleicher), were rounded up, arrested, and shot. While the international community and some Germans were shocked by the killings, many in Germany believed Hitler was restoring order.

Hindenburg died on 2 August 1934. On the previous day, the cabinet had enacted the Law Concerning the Head of State of the German 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 Führer und Reichskanzler (Leader and Chancellor of the Reich), although Reichskanzler was eventually dropped. With this action, Hitler eliminated the last legal remedy by which he could be removed from office.

As head of state, Hitler became commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Immediately after Hindenburg’s death, at the instigation of the leadership of the Reichswehr, the traditional loyalty oath of soldiers was altered to affirm loyalty to Hitler personally, by name, rather than to the office of commander-in-chief (which was later renamed to supreme commander) or the state. On 19 August, the merger of the presidency with the chancellorship was approved by 88 percent of the electorate voting in a plebiscite.

Hitler’s personal standard

In early 1938, Hitler used blackmail to consolidate his hold over the military by instigating the Blomberg–Fritsch affair. Hitler forced his War Minister, Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg, to resign by using a police dossier that showed that Blomberg’s new wife had a record of prostitution. Army commander Colonel-General Werner von Fritsch was removed after the Schutzstaffel (SS) produced allegations that he had engaged in a homosexual relationship. Both men had fallen into disfavor because they objected to Hitler’s demand to make the Wehrmacht ready for war as early as 1938. Hitler assumed Blomberg’s title of Commander-in-Chief, thus taking personal command of the armed forces. He replaced the Ministry of War with the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), headed by General Wilhelm Keitel. On the same day, sixteen generals were stripped of their commands and 44 more were transferred; all were suspected of not being sufficiently pro-Nazi. By early February 1938, twelve more generals had been removed.

Hitler took care to give his dictatorship the appearance of legality. Many of his decrees were explicitly based on the Reichstag Fire Decree and hence on Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution. The Reichstag renewed the Enabling Act twice, each time for four years. While elections to the Reichstag were still held (in 1933, 1936, and 1938), voters were presented with a single list of Nazis and pro-Nazi “guests” which received well over 90 percent of the vote. These sham elections were held in far-from-secret conditions; the Nazis threatened severe reprisals against anyone who did not vote or who voted against.

Nazi Germany

Economy and Culture

In August 1934, Hitler appointed Reichsbank President Hjalmar Schacht as Minister of Economics, and the following year, as Plenipotentiary for War Economy, tasked with preparing Germany’s economy for war. Reconstruction and rearmament efforts were financed through Mefo bills, printing money, and seizing assets from perceived enemies of the State, including Jews. The unemployment rate plummeted from six million in 1932 to fewer than one million by 1936. Hitler oversaw an extensive infrastructure development campaign, leading to the construction of dams, autobahns, railroads, and other public works projects. Wages saw a slight decrease in the mid to late 1930s compared to the Weimar Republic era, while the cost of living rose by 25 percent. The average workweek also expanded as Germany shifted towards a wartime economy, with the average German working between 47 and 50 hours per week by 1939.

Hitler’s regime sponsored large-scale architecture projects, symbolizing Nazi ideology. Albert Speer, a key figure in implementing Hitler’s vision of German culture, was entrusted with the ambitious architectural redesign of Berlin. Despite threats of international boycotts, Germany successfully hosted the 1936 Olympic Games. Hitler presided over the opening ceremonies and attended events at both the Winter Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the Summer Games in Berlin.

Rearmament and New Alliances

Ceremony honouring the dead (Totenehrung) on the terrace in front of the Hall of Honour (Ehrenhalle) at the Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg in September 1934

In a meeting with military leaders on 3 February 1933, Hitler outlined his foreign policy goal of acquiring Lebensraum in the East through ruthless Germanization. In March, Prince Bernhard Wilhelm von Bülow of the Foreign Office articulated key foreign policy objectives, including the Anschluss with Austria, restoring Germany’s 1914 borders, rejecting military restrictions from the Treaty of Versailles, reclaiming former German colonies in Africa, and establishing a German sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. However, Hitler considered Bülow’s goals too conservative and stressed peaceful intentions in his early speeches, pledging to work within existing international agreements. Upon assuming office, Hitler prioritized military spending over relief for unemployment at the first cabinet meeting in 1933.

Germany withdrew from the League of Nations and the World Disarmament Conference in October 1933. In January 1935, over 90 percent of the Saarland’s residents voted to reunite with Germany, then under League of Nations administration. That March, Hitler announced the expansion of the Wehrmacht to 600,000 troops—six times the limit set by the Versailles Treaty—alongside the establishment of the Luftwaffe and expansion of the Kriegsmarine. Despite condemnation from Britain, France, Italy, and the League of Nations for violating the Treaty, no action was taken to prevent these actions. The Anglo-German Naval Agreement in June 1935 allowed Germany to increase its naval tonnage to 35 percent of the Royal Navy’s capacity, a move Hitler celebrated as the beginning of an Anglo-German alliance he envisioned in Mein Kampf. The agreement directly undermined the League of Nations and set the stage for the irrelevance of the Treaty of Versailles.

Germany reoccupied the demilitarized Rhineland zone in March 1936, another clear violation of the Versailles Treaty. Hitler also sent troops to aid Francisco Franco’s Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War after receiving a plea for assistance in July 1936. Concurrently, Hitler continued to seek an Anglo-German alliance. In August 1936, amid growing economic strain from rearmament efforts, Hitler initiated the Four Year Plan, aimed at preparing Germany for war within four years. The plan envisioned a decisive struggle against “Judeo-Bolshevism” and necessitated rigorous rearmament efforts despite economic costs.

Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini’s foreign minister, visited Germany in October 1936, signing a Nine-Point Protocol to signify closer ties and meeting with Hitler personally. On 1 November, Mussolini declared an “axis” between Germany and Italy. Germany further solidified its international position by signing the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan on 25 November, inviting other nations to join, with Italy being the sole signatory in 1937. Hitler abandoned his ambitions for an Anglo-German alliance, criticizing what he perceived as inadequate British leadership. During a meeting in November 1937 at the Reich Chancellery, Hitler reiterated his intent to secure Lebensraum for Germans, directing preparations for Eastern expansion as early as 1938 or no later than 1943. The Hossbach Memorandum, recorded at this conference, was to be considered his political testament upon his death. Fearing a decline in living standards due to economic crises, Hitler advocated for swift military action to seize Austria and Czechoslovakia before Britain and France could gain a permanent advantage in the arms race. Following the Blomberg–Fritsch affair in early 1938, Hitler assumed direct control over military and foreign policy, dismissing Neurath as foreign minister and appointing himself as War Minister. From early 1938 onward, Hitler pursued a foreign policy strategy ultimately geared toward preparing for war.

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