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

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Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler (20 April 1889 – 30 April 1945) was a German politician of Austrian origin, who ruled Nazi Germany from 1933 until his suicide in 1945. As the head of the Nazi Party, he ascended to power as chancellor in 1933, and by 1934, he had assumed the title of Führer und Reichskanzler. His invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 triggered the start of World War II. Throughout the war, he was deeply involved in military strategies and operations. Hitler was a central figure in the Holocaust, orchestrating the genocide of approximately six million Jews and millions of other victims.

Born in Braunau am Inn in Austria-Hungary, Hitler grew up near Linz. In the early 1900s, he lived in Vienna before moving to Germany in 1913. He served in the German Army during World War I and received decorations. In 1919, he joined the German Workers’ Party (DAP), which later became the Nazi Party, and by 1921, he had become its leader. Hitler’s first major political move was an attempted coup in Munich in 1923, which failed and led to his imprisonment for five years, of which he served just over one. During his time in prison, he dictated the first volume of “Mein Kampf,” his autobiography and political manifesto.

Following his early release in 1924, Hitler garnered widespread support by vehemently opposing the Treaty of Versailles and advocating for pan-Germanism, antisemitism, and anti-communism. His charismatic oratory skills and effective use of Nazi propaganda played a significant role in his rise to power. He frequently portrayed communism as part of an international Jewish conspiracy, further fueling his antisemitic agenda.

By November 1932, the Nazi Party held the largest number of seats in the Reichstag but lacked a majority. With no party able to form a majority coalition to support a chancellor candidate, former Chancellor Franz von Papen and other conservative leaders persuaded President Paul von Hindenburg to appoint Adolf Hitler as chancellor on 30 January 1933. Shortly thereafter, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act of 1933, which initiated the transformation of the Weimar Republic into Nazi Germany, establishing a one-party dictatorship based on the totalitarian and autocratic ideology of Nazism. Following Hindenburg’s death on 2 August 1934, Hitler assumed the roles of head of state and government, consolidating absolute power.

Domestically, Hitler implemented a series of racist policies aimed at deporting or exterminating German Jews. His first six years in power saw a rapid economic recovery from the Great Depression, the removal of post-World War I restrictions on Germany, and the annexation of territories with large ethnic German populations, which initially garnered him significant popular support.

One of Hitler’s primary objectives was acquiring Lebensraum (“living space”) for the German people in Eastern Europe. His aggressive, expansionist foreign policy is widely regarded as the main catalyst for World War II in Europe. He oversaw large-scale rearmament and, on 1 September 1939, invaded Poland, prompting Britain and France to declare war on Germany. In June 1941, Hitler ordered an invasion of the Soviet Union, and in December 1941, he declared war on the United States. By the end of 1941, German forces, along with other European Axis powers, occupied most of Europe and North Africa. However, these territorial gains were gradually reversed after 1941, and in 1945, the Allied armies defeated the German military.

On 29 April 1945, Hitler married his long-time partner, Eva Braun, in the Führerbunker in Berlin. The following day, the couple committed suicide to avoid capture by the Soviet Red Army. By Hitler’s wishes, their bodies were burned.

Historian and biographer Ian Kershaw describes Hitler as “the embodiment of modern political evil.” Under Hitler’s leadership and racist ideology, the Nazi regime orchestrated the genocide of an estimated six million Jews and millions of other victims, whom they deemed Untermenschen (subhumans) or socially undesirable. Additionally, Hitler and the Nazi regime were responsible for the deliberate killing of an estimated 19.3 million civilians and prisoners of war. The conflict resulted in the deaths of 28.7 million soldiers and civilians due to military actions in the European theatre. The unprecedented number of civilian casualties during World War II marks it as the deadliest conflict in history.

Ancestry

Adolf Hitler’s father, Alois Hitler (1837–1903), was born as the illegitimate child of Maria Schicklgruber. The baptismal register did not list the name of his father, so Alois initially carried his mother’s surname, “Schicklgruber.” In 1842, Maria Schicklgruber married Johann Georg Hiedler. Alois was raised by Hiedler’s brother, Johann Nepomuk Hiedler.

In 1876, Alois was legitimized, and his baptismal record was updated by a priest to register Johann Georg Hiedler as his father, recorded as “Georg Hitler.” Subsequently, Alois adopted the surname “Hitler,” which was also spelled “Hiedler,” “Hüttler,” or “Huettler.” The name is likely derived from the German word “Hütte” (meaning ‘hut’), suggesting it referred to someone living in a hut.

Nazi official Hans Frank proposed that Alois’s mother had worked as a housekeeper for a Jewish family in Graz and that the family’s 19-year-old son, Leopold Frankenberger, fathered Alois. This claim, known as the Frankenberger thesis, is dismissed by historians due to the lack of evidence. No Frankenberger was registered in Graz during that time, and there is no record of Leopold Frankenberger’s existence. Thus, the assertion that Alois’s father was Jewish is widely regarded as unfounded.

Early Years

Childhood and Education

Adolf Hitler was born on 20 April 1889 in Braunau am Inn, a town in Austria-Hungary (present-day Austria), near the border with the German Empire. He was the fourth of six children born to Alois Hitler and his third wife, Klara Pölzl. Three of Hitler’s siblings—Gustav, Ida, and Otto—died in infancy. Alois’s children from his second marriage, Alois Jr. (born 1882) and Angela (born 1883), also lived in the household.

When Hitler was three years old, the family moved to Passau, Germany. There, he acquired the distinctive lower Bavarian dialect, rather than Austrian German, which characterized his speech throughout his life. In 1894, the family returned to Austria and settled in Leonding. In June 1895, Alois retired to Hafeld, near Lambach, where he farmed and kept bees. Adolf attended Volksschule, a state-funded primary school, in nearby Fischlham.

Hitler as an infant
(c. 1889–90)

The move to Hafeld marked the beginning of intense conflicts between Hitler and his father, Alois. Hitler resisted the strict discipline imposed by his school, leading to frequent beatings from his father, despite his mother’s attempts to protect him.

Alois Hitler’s farming endeavors at Hafeld were unsuccessful, prompting the family to relocate to Lambach in 1897. During this time, eight-year-old Adolf took singing lessons, participated in the church choir, and even considered becoming a priest. In 1898, the family returned permanently to Leonding. The death of his younger brother Edmund from measles in 1900 profoundly affected Hitler, transforming him from a confident, outgoing, and diligent student into a morose, detached boy who frequently clashed with his father and teachers. Paula Hitler, Adolf’s sister, recalled that he became a teenage bully, often slapping her.

Alois, who had enjoyed a successful career in the customs bureau, wanted Adolf to follow in his footsteps. Hitler later dramatized a visit to a customs office with his father, portraying it as a pivotal event that fueled an unforgiving antagonism between the two strong-willed individuals. Alois ignored his son’s desire to attend a classical high school and pursue a career as an artist, instead enrolling him in the Realschule in Linz in September 1900. Hitler rebelled against this decision and, in his book “Mein Kampf,” claimed that he intentionally performed poorly in school, hoping that his father would eventually allow him to follow his artistic aspirations once he realized how little progress Hitler was making at the technical school.

Early Nationalist Ideology

Hitler’s mother, 
Klara, 1870s
Hitler’s father, 
Alois, c. 1900

From a young age, Adolf Hitler began to develop German nationalist ideas, similar to many Austrian Germans of the time. He felt a strong sense of loyalty only to Germany, harboring disdain for the declining Habsburg monarchy and its governance over an ethnically diverse empire. Hitler and his friends often used the greeting “Heil” and sang the “Deutschlandlied” instead of the Austrian Imperial anthem.

Following the sudden death of his father, Alois, on 3 January 1903, Hitler’s performance in school deteriorated. His mother, Klara, permitted him to leave school. In September 1904, he enrolled at the Realschule in Steyr, where his behavior and academic performance saw improvement. In 1905, after passing a repeat of the final exam, Hitler left the school without any ambitions for further education or clear career plans.

Early Adulthood in Vienna and Munich

The house in Leonding, Austria where Hitler spent his early adolescence

In 1907, Adolf Hitler left Linz to live and study fine art in Vienna, supported by orphan benefits and his mother’s financial assistance. He applied for admission to the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna but was rejected twice. The academy’s director suggested he apply to the School of Architecture, but Hitler lacked the necessary academic credentials, having not completed secondary school.

On 21 December 1907, Hitler’s mother died of breast cancer at the age of 47, when Hitler was 18 years old. By 1909, he had run out of money and was forced to live a bohemian life, staying in homeless shelters and a men’s dormitory. He earned money as a casual laborer and by painting and selling watercolors of Vienna’s sights. During this time in Vienna, he developed a growing passion for architecture and music, attending ten performances of his favorite Wagner opera, “Lohengrin.”

The Alter Hof in Munich, a watercolor painting by Hitler in 1914

In Vienna, Hitler was first exposed to racist rhetoric. Populists such as Mayor Karl Lueger exploited the city’s prevalent anti-Semitic sentiment, occasionally also promoting German nationalist ideas for political gain. German nationalism was particularly strong in the Mariahilf district, where Hitler lived. Influenced by figures like Georg Ritter von Schönerer, Hitler also developed an admiration for Martin Luther. He read local newspapers that propagated prejudice and Christian fears of being overwhelmed by Eastern European Jews, along with pamphlets by philosophers and theoreticians such as Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, Gustave Le Bon, and Arthur Schopenhauer. During his time in Vienna, Hitler also developed strong anti-Slavic sentiments.

The origins and development of Hitler’s anti-Semitism remain debated. His friend August Kubizek claimed that Hitler was a “confirmed anti-Semite” before leaving Linz, but historian Brigitte Hamann finds this claim “problematical.” While Hitler states in “Mein Kampf” that he first became an anti-Semite in Vienna, Reinhold Hanisch, who helped him sell his paintings, disagrees. Hitler had interactions with Jews while living in Vienna. Historian Richard J. Evans notes that “historians now generally agree that his notorious, murderous anti-Semitism emerged well after Germany’s defeat in World War I, as a product of the paranoid ‘stab-in-the-back’ explanation for the catastrophe.”

In May 1913, Hitler received the final part of his father’s estate and moved to Munich, Germany. When he was conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian Army, he traveled to Salzburg on 5 February 1914 for a medical assessment. After being deemed unfit for service, he returned to Munich. Hitler later claimed that he did not wish to serve the Habsburg Empire due to the mixture of races in its army and his belief that the collapse of Austria-Hungary was imminent.

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