Adolf Hitler (20 April 1889 – 30 April 1945) was a German politician، who was the leader of the Nazi Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei; NSDAP)، Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945 and Führer ("Leader") of Nazi Germany from 1934 to 1945.[a] As dictator، Hitler initiated World War II in Europe with the invasion of Poland in September 1939، and was central to the Holocaust.
Hitler was born in Austria—then part of Austria-Hungary—and was raised near Linz. He moved to Germany in 1913 and was decorated during his service in the German Army in World War I. In 1919، he joined the German Workers' Party (DAP)، the precursor of the NSDAP، and was appointed leader of the NSDAP in 1921. In 1923، he attempted to seize power in a failed coup in Munich and was imprisoned. While in jail he dictated the first volume of his autobiography and political manifesto Mein Kampf ("My Struggle"). After his release from prison in 1924، Hitler gained popular support by attacking the Treaty of Versailles and promoting Pan-Germanism، anti-semitism and anti-communism with charismatic oratory and Nazi propaganda. He frequently denounced international capitalism and communism as being part of a Jewish conspiracy.
By 1933، the Nazi Party was the largest elected party in the German Reichstag، but did not have a majority، and no party was able to form a majority parliamentary coalition in support of a candidate for chancellor. This led to former chancellor Franz von Papen and other conservative leaders persuading President Paul von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Chancellor on 30 January 1933. Shortly after، the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act of 1933، which began the process of transforming the Weimar Republic into Nazi Germany، a one-party dictatorship based on the totalitarian and autocratic ideology of National Socialism. Hitler aimed to eliminate Jews from Germany and establish a New Order to counter what he saw as the injustice of the post-World War I international order dominated by Britain and France. His first six years in power resulted in rapid economic recovery from the Great Depression، the abrogation of restrictions imposed on Germany after World War I and the annexation of territories that were home to millions of ethnic Germans which gave him significant popular support.
Hitler sought Lebensraum ("living space") for the German people in Eastern Europe and his aggressive foreign policy is considered to be the primary cause of the outbreak of World War II in Europe. He directed large-scale rearmament and on 1 September 1939 invaded Poland، resulting in Britain and France declaring war on Germany. In June 1941، Hitler ordered an invasion of the Soviet Union. By the end of 1941، German forces and the European Axis powers occupied most of Europe and North Africa. In December 1941، he formally declared war on the United States، bringing them directly into the conflict. Failure to defeat the Soviets and the entry of the United States into the war forced Germany onto the defensive and it suffered a series of escalating defeats. In the final days of the war during the Battle of Berlin in 1945، he married his long-time lover Eva Braun. Less than two days later on 30 April 1945، the two committed suicide to avoid capture by the Soviet Red Army and their corpses were burned.
Under Hitler's leadership and racially motivated ideology، the Nazi regime was responsible for the genocide of at least 5.5 million Jews and millions of other victims whom he and his followers deemed Untermenschen (sub-humans) or socially undesirable. Hitler and the Nazi regime were also responsible for the killing of an estimated 19.3 million civilians and prisoners of war. In addition، 28.7 million soldiers and civilians died as a result of military action in the European theatre. The number of civilians killed during the Second World War was unprecedented in warfare and the casualties constituted the deadliest conflict in human history.
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 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 banned and its assets seized. While many trade union delegates were in Berlin for May Day activities، SA stormtroopers demolished 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 organisation to represent all workers، administrators، and company owners، thus reflecting the concept of national socialism 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 NSDAP 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 a number 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 murders، many in Germany believed Hitler was restoring order.
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. 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 Hindenberg'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 per cent of the electorate voting in a plebiscite. 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 for 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 disfavour 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 a four-year period. 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 carried with well over 90 percent of the vote. These elections were held in far-from-secret conditions; the Nazis threatened severe reprisals against anyone who didn't vote or dared to vote no.
Path to defeat On 22 June 1941، contravening the Hitler–Stalin Non-Aggression Pact of 1939، 4–5 million Axis troops attacked the Soviet Union. This offensive (codenamed Operation Barbarossa) was intended to destroy the Soviet Union and seize its natural resources for subsequent aggression against the Western powers. The invasion conquered a huge area، including the Baltic republics، Belarus، and West Ukraine. By early August، Axis troops had advanced 500 km (310 mi) and won the Battle of Smolensk. Hitler ordered Army Group Centre to temporarily halt its advance to Moscow and divert its Panzer groups to aid in the encirclement of Leningrad and Kiev. His generals disagreed with this change، having advanced within 400 km (250 mi) of Moscow، and his decision caused a crisis among the military leadership. The pause provided the Red Army with an opportunity to mobilise fresh reserves; historian Russel Stolfi considers it to be one of the major factors that caused the failure of the Moscow offensive، which was resumed in October 1941 and ended disastrously in December. During this crisis، Hitler appointed himself as head of the Oberkommando des Heeres، at the same time limiting its authority to the eastern front.On 7 December 1941، Japan attacked the American fleet based at Pearl Harbor، Hawaii. Four days later، Hitler declared war against the United States.
On 18 December 1941، Himmler asked Hitler، "What to do with the Jews of Russia?"، to which Hitler replied، "als Partisanen auszurotten" ("exterminate them as partisans"). Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer has commented that the remark is probably as close as historians will ever get to a definitive order from Hitler for the genocide carried out during the Holocaust.
In late 1942، German forces were defeated in the second battle of El Alamein، thwarting Hitler's plans to seize the Suez Canal and the Middle East. Overconfident in his own military expertise following the earlier victories in 1940، Hitler became distrustful of his Army High Command and began to interfere in military and tactical planning، with damaging consequences. In December 1942 and January 1943، 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. Thereafter came a decisive strategic defeat at the Battle of Kursk. Hitler's military judgement became increasingly erratic، and Germany's military and economic position deteriorated، as did Hitler's health. Following the allied invasion of Sicily in 1943، Mussolini was removed from power by Victor Emmanuel III after a vote of no confidence of the Grand Council. Marshal Pietro Badoglio، placed in charge of the government، soon surrendered to the Allies. Throughout 1943 and 1944، the Soviet Union steadily forced Hitler's armies into retreat along the Eastern Front. On 6 June 1944، the Western Allied armies landed in northern France in one of the largest amphibious operations in history، Operation Overlord. Many German officers concluded that defeat was inevitable and that continuing under Hitler's leadership would result in the complete destruction of the country.
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، came from within Germany and was at least partly driven by the increasing prospect of a German defeat in the war. In July 1944، in the 20 July plot، part of Operation Valkyrie، Claus von Stauffenberg planted a bomb in one of Hitler's headquarters، the Wolf's Lair at Rastenburg. Hitler narrowly survived because staff officer Heinz Brandt moved the briefcase containing the bomb behind a leg of the heavy conference table، which deflected much of the blast. Later، Hitler ordered savage reprisals resulting in the execution of more than 4،900 people.
The Holocaust: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war، then the result will not be the Bolshevisation of the earth، and thus the victory of Jewry، but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!
— Adolf Hitler addressing the German Reichstag، 30 January 1939 The Holocaust and Germany's war in the East were based on Hitler's long-standing view that the Jews were the enemy of the German people and that Lebensraum was needed for Germany's expansion. He focused on Eastern Europe for this expansion، aiming to defeat Poland and the Soviet Union and then removing or killing the Jews and Slavs. The Generalplan Ost (General Plan East) called for deporting the population of occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to West Siberia، for use as slave labour or to be murdered; the conquered territories were to be colonised by German or "Germanised" settlers. The goal was to implement this plan after the conquest of the Soviet Union، but when this failed، Hitler moved the plans forward. 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. On 22 February، Hitler was recorded saying، "we shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jews". Similarly، at a meeting in July 1941 with leading functionaries of the Eastern territories، Hitler said that the easiest way to quickly pacify the areas would be best achieved by "shooting everyone who even looks odd". Although no direct order from Hitler authorising the mass killings has surfaced، his public speeches، orders to his generals، and the diaries of Nazi officials demonstrate that he conceived and authorised the extermination of European Jewry. During the war، Hitler repeatedly stated his prophecy of 1939 was being fulfilled، namely، that a world war would bring about the annihilation of the Jewish race. Hitler approved the Einsatzgruppen—killing squads that followed the German army through Poland، the Baltic، and the Soviet Union —and was well informed about their activities. By summer 1942، Auschwitz concentration camp was expanded to accommodate large numbers of deportees for killing or enslavement. Scores of other concentration camps and satellite camps were set up throughout Europe، with several camps devoted exclusively to extermination.
Between 1939 and 1945، the Schutzstaffel (SS)، assisted by collaborationist governments and recruits from occupied countries، was responsible for the deaths of at least eleven million non-combatants، including 5.5 to 6 million Jews (representing two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe)، and between 200،000 and 1،500،000 Romani people. Deaths took place in concentration and extermination camps، ghettos، and through mass executions. Many victims of the Holocaust were gassed to death، while others died of starvation or disease or while working as slave labourers. In addition to eliminating Jews، the Nazis planned to reduce the population of the conquered territories by 30 million people through starvation in an action called the Hunger Plan. Food supplies would be diverted to the German army and German civilians. Cities would be razed and the land allowed to return to forest or resettled by German colonists. Together، the Hunger Plan and Generalplan Ost would have led to the starvation of 80 million people in the Soviet Union. These partially fulfilled plans resulted in additional deaths، bringing the total number of civilians and prisoners of war who died in the democide to an estimated 19.3 million people.
Hitler's policies resulted in the killing of nearly two million non-Jewish Poles، over three million Soviet prisoners of war، communists and other political opponents، homosexuals، the physically and mentally disabled، Jehovah's Witnesses، Adventists، and trade unionists. Hitler did not speak publicly about the killings، and seems never to have visited the concentration camps.
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". The laws stripped all non-Aryans of their German citizenship and forbade the employment of non-Jewish women under the age of 45 in Jewish households. Hitler's early eugenic policies targeted children with physical and developmental disabilities in a programme dubbed Action Brandt، and he later authorised a euthanasia programme for adults with serious mental and physical disabilities، now referred to as Aktion T4.
Defeat and death By late 1944، both the Red Army and the Western Allies were advancing into Germany. Recognising the strength and determination of the Red Army، Hitler decided to use his remaining mobile reserves against the American and British troops، which he perceived as far weaker. On 16 December، he launched the Ardennes Offensive to incite disunity among the Western Allies and perhaps convince them to join his fight against the Soviets. The offensive failed after some temporary successes. With much of Germany in ruins in January 1945، Hitler spoke on the radio: "However grave as the crisis may be at this moment، it will، despite everything، be mastered by our unalterable will." Acting on his view that Germany's military failures meant it had forfeited its right to survive as a nation، Hitler ordered the destruction of all German industrial infrastructure before it could fall into Allied hands Minister for Armaments Albert Speer was entrusted with executing this scorched earth policy، but he secretly disobeyed the order. Hitler's hope to negotiate peace with the United States and Britain was encouraged by the death of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 12 April 1945، but contrary to his expectations، this caused no rift among the Allies. On 20 April، his 56th birthday، Hitler made his last trip from the Führerbunker (Führer's shelter) to the surface. In the ruined garden of the Reich Chancellery، he awarded Iron Crosses to boy soldiers of the Hitler Youth، who were now fighting the Red Army at the front near Berlin. By 21 April، Georgy Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front had broken through the defences of General Gotthard Heinrici's Army Group Vistula during the Battle of the Seelow Heights and advanced to the outskirts of Berlin. In denial about the dire situation، Hitler placed his hopes on the undermanned and under-equipped Armeeabteilung Steiner (Army Detachment Steiner)، commanded by Waffen SS General Felix Steiner. Hitler ordered Steiner to attack the northern flank of the salient، while the German Ninth Army was ordered to attack northward in a pincer attack. During a military conference on 22 April، Hitler asked about Steiner's offensive. He was told that the attack had not been launched and that the Soviets had entered Berlin. Hitler asked everyone except Wilhelm Keitel، Alfred Jodl، Hans Krebs، and Wilhelm Burgdorf to leave the room، then launched into a tirade against the treachery and incompetence of his commanders، culminating in his declaration—for the first time—that "everything was lost".He announced that he would stay in Berlin until the end and then shoot himself.
By 23 April the Red Army had surrounded Berlin، and Goebbels made a proclamation urging its citizens to defend the city. That same day، 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، written on 29 April، he removed Göring from all government positions. On 28 April Hitler discovered that Himmler، who had left Berlin on 20 April، was trying to negotiate a surrender to the Western Allies. He ordered Himmler's arrest and had Hermann Fegelein (Himmler's SS representative at Hitler's HQ in Berlin) shot.
After midnight on 29 April، Hitler married Eva Braun in a small civil ceremony in the Führerbunker. After a wedding breakfast with his new wife، Hitler dictated his will to his secretary Traudl Junge. The event was witnessed and documents signed by Krebs، Burgdorf، Goebbels، and Bormann. Later that afternoon، Hitler was informed of the execution of Mussolini، which presumably increased his determination to avoid capture.
On 30 April 1945، when Soviet troops were within a block or two of the Reich Chancellery، Hitler shot himself in the head and Braun bit into a cyanide capsule. Their bodies were carried outside to the bombed-out garden behind the Reich Chancellery، where they were placed in a bomb crater and doused with petrol. The corpses were set on fire as the Red Army shelling continued. Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz and Joseph Goebbels assumed Hitler's roles as head of state and chancellor respectively.
Berlin surrendered on 2 May. Records in the Soviet archives obtained after the fall of the Soviet Union state that the remains of Hitler، Braun، Joseph and Magda Goebbels، the six Goebbels children، General Hans Krebs، and Hitler's dogs were repeatedly buried and exhumed. On 4 April 1970، a Soviet KGB team used detailed burial charts to exhume five wooden boxes at the SMERSH facility in Magdeburg. The remains from the boxes were burned، crushed، and scattered into the Biederitz river، a tributary of the Elbe. According to Kershaw، the corpses of Braun and Hitler were fully burned when the Red Army found them، and only a lower jaw with dental work could be identified as Hitler's remains.