by Corin Nelson-Smith
In his book Hitler, A Study in Tyranny, Alan Bullock ( 1952 ) divided Hitler’s life into three sections, which I am going to use to structure my biography plus a paragraph about his childhood.
Hitler didn't somehow trick his followers into adoring him, he formed a bond between himself and his people, by telling them what they should be thinking, and then telling them what they wanted to hear. He planted some ideas in peoples heads, and grew the ones he knew people already had. This is called charisma, and was the basis of his leadership, and his struggle to power.
Early Years - 1889-1913
Adolf Hitler was born at half past six on the evening of 20th April 1889 in a small inn called Gasthof zum Pommer in a town called Braunau between Austria and Bavaria. His parents were Alois Hitler who was a senior customs official and his wife Klara Pölzl who was a peasant. He was born into a stable Europe, with the four empires all living in peaceful coexistence. These were the Hapsburg empire, whom everyone trusted because they were the oldest ruling house and the Emperor Franz Joseph was celebrating his 40th anniversary that year, the Hohenzollern empire, the Ottoman empire and the Romanov empire.
Hitler’s father was an authoritarian parent; he was unsympathetic, angry, harsh, strict and demanding. This parenting style often results in angry, resentful, low self-esteemed, socially-withdrawn and behaviourally-disturbed children. It has also been related to fascist beliefs (Adorno et al., 1950). His father was also very proud of his “title” and was obsessed with awards and helping his country. Many think Hitler's parents were the cause of his hatred and obsession with climbing the military ranks and earning awards for his country.
His family moved to Linz in 1898 when he was 9 years old, and his mother died a year later. Hitler had always wanted to be an artist, but his father was pressurising him into joining the Hapsburg civil service. When Alois Hitler died in 1903, Hitler could finally commit to his dream as an artist. He moved to Spital to live with an uncle, and dropped out of school in 1905. In 1907, he took the entrance exam to The Vienna Academy of The Arts but wasn't accepted. He then became a dejected layabout, until 1913 when he moved to Munich and rented a room from a tailor. He was a stranger in a strange place and not charismatic at all. He made money from selling his paintings of Munich to tourists. He was furious that his artistic dreams had been shattered because he wasn't good enough. This is another trait of authoritarian parenting: children who are scared of failure. Aubus Kubisek, a flatmate, described Hitler as, “unleashing a torrent of hatred, he poured his fury over everything”.
Party Leader - 1913-1933
The First World War started in 1914, and Hitler became a soldier. He fought at Ypres and the Somme and earned the Iron Cross, second class, for single-handedly arresting 15 Frenchmen. Lieutenant-Colonel Engelhart testified to his bravery as well, which was a big honour. When WW1 was lost in 1918, Hitler became depressed and was described as “ a stray dog looking for a master”.
The Jewish, Socialist revolution boosted Hitler's, and many people’s, anti-semitic views. The Freikor, former soldiers, who suppressed the revolution, used the swastika as their symbol. In 1919 Hitler started to work at the Press and News Bureau of the Political Department of the Army’s VII (Munich) District Command. He was trained as a propaganda expert and gave speeches to soldiers, teaching them how not to get drawn into democratic, socialist or pacifist views. This was his first political power. His next job was to go to the German Workers’ party and spy for the Political Department. Unfortunately, he agreed with their views and quickly became a member, rising to party leader by 1921. He appealed to the public because he expressed their views and anger, and gave them someone to blame for the decline of Germany: the Jews. This was the beginning of his charismatic appeal. He used clever propaganda to spread the word about his party. While building up his party, he took more and more control himself. The public were fascinated by his charismatic way of speaking and engaging them. He became the country’s most popular person. Thousands gathered to hear him speak; hear his hatred; hear his anger. They took his anger as a sign that he was strong-willed and made him their role model. In German folklore, there were lots of leaders who were charismatic and turned out to be heroes.
On November 9th 1923, Hitler led his storm troopers into Munich, to start a revolution, but were stopped by army and police, who killed 16 Nazis. This was called the Beer Hall Putsch and Hitler was arrested on the 12th November and was sent to Lanzbourg prison in 1924 for a year, where he wrote “Mein Kampf,” or “My Struggle”. Hitler cleverly turned the failure into a special occasion, and turned the dead into martyrs. He held a re-enactment annually to honour their deaths.
Hitler believed that all humans are animals, and the “racially pure” Germans were superior animals who were higher in the food chain and pecking order. He ordered the death of tens of thousands of disabled people in Germany between 1925 and 1928. By now he knew that charisma was the way forward and had a series of studio photos taken of himself in imposing and impressive poses. Another way he made people believe in him was by holding eye contact with them for longer than normal. However, the way in which charisma works is that the speaker and the audience share the same views and in 1928, Hitler was losing popularity. He only got 2.6% of votes in the election.
After the Wall Street Crash in 1929 things started to go uphill for the Nazis. When the economy fell, and jobs were lost, Hitler was thought of as “the bringer of salvation” and, in 1932, the Nazis were the biggest party in Germany. However, President Hindenburg didn't trust Hitler, calling him “the Bohemian Corporal” and offering him the place of Vice Chancellor, as opposed to Chancellor. Hitler didn't want to be second in command and refused. Others didn't agree with this, and although he didn't agree with his views, Chancellor Franz Von Pappen thought Hitler would be good for the image of the council.
Chancellor - 1933-1939
In 1933 President Hindenburg finally cracked and Hitler was made Chancellor on the 30th January. Eleven days later, he made his first public speech as Chancellor. Almost at once, Hitler began using his new found powers, and imprisoned Jews and political opponents in concentration camps where they were psychologically tortured and only fed every fourth day. On April the 1st 1933, there was a boycott of Jewish shops, and the storm troopers attacked the Jews without mercy. Hitler, fearing they were getting out of control, went to the stormtrooper leaders in 1934 and killed them in Bavaria, where they were on holiday. He killed 100 others he thought were a threat.This was later known as the night of the long knives. On the 10th August 1934, Hitler made the whole of the German army swear a personal oath of loyalty to him when he became head of state.
Hitler made a documentary called “Triumph of the Will” that was shown in cinemas all over the country to show the German people the version of him they wanted to see, and that he wanted them to see - another charismatic message to his people. Many Germans thought Hitler was a Messiah, and he certainly acted like one to engage his listeners even more. He liked to make all difficult decisions on his own and said they came from inner convictions. A key part of Hitler's campaign was to never be seen authorising cruelty, and even when terrible things were being done, the general belief was that “if only Hitler knew then things would be different, but he can’t control everybody”
Hitler's long-time and secret girlfriend, Eva Braun, attempted suicide twice, presumably to get Hitler's attention, because he ignored her most of the time. After the first try, Hitler bought her and her sisters a flat in Munich, and after the second, he bought them a villa and Eva became his personal photographer.
In 1937, Hitler spent a long time in his bedroom at the Old Reich Chancellory, contemplating what to do next. On the 5th November, he decided to occupy Austria. When his Generals were against the idea because they did not want to risk war, most of them were relieved of duty and Hitler said “my Generals should be like bulldogs on chains, they should want war, war, war”. Hitler's army moved into Austria on the 12th March 1938 and were greeted with tumultuous happiness and flowers hence the nickname, “the War of Flowers”. Hitler was so pleased with his success that he wanted Austria to become part of Germany and because the Austrians had seen how much “better” Germany was with Hitler, they agreed without question.
10% of the population of Austria was Jewish, and they were bullied and treated like animals by everyone. Hitler's pet hate was the Jews and blamed them for everything, and therefore they were the population’s hate figures and scapegoats. Jews were made to clean the streets while people looked on and they no longer had any rights, and many were sent to concentration camps. The rule that people lived by, and that was drilled into them as soon as they could understand, was “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer”, or “One people, One Reich, One leader”. Hitler made a big show of training children to be Nazis, because they were the future of his would-be empire that he had meticulously planned out.
In the September of 1938 Neville Chamberlain made a trip to Hitler's office to revise an agreement made at the end of the First World War whereby giving Hitler the German speaking part of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain later described Hitler as “ the commonest little dog you've ever seen, you wouldn't notice him in a crowd”. The first major massacre of Jews was after a Nazi official was killed by one and Hitler told the storm troopers to attack them. A hundred Jews were murdered, and 20,000 were put in concentration camps. There was a note in the newspaper the next day saying if another Nazi Party member was killed, the German Jews would be exiled and killed. Hitler didn't put his name to this note, in case the public didn't like it, so he wasn't associated with the cruelty. Hitler's plan to expand his empire would risk war, so Hitler only said to the public that he was going to reclaim the land that was lost in the First World War, but told the army to be ready for war. Both England and France warned Hitler not to invade Poland, otherwise there would be war.
War lord - 1939-1945
On the 1st September, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and the Second World War began. The war on Poland only lasted 6 weeks, because the German tanks rolled easily over Poland’s flat landscape and the Soviet Union attacked from the rear in agreement with Hitler that they would split Poland half and half. In 1940 Hitler took a gamble on invading France by driving through the Ardennes forest towards Belgium. If this worked, he would stand a good chance of winning the war; if it didn’t, he would have lost many German soldiers and ordnance. They took 1.5 million prisoners, suffered 30,000 losses and killed 90,000 Allied troops. France was conquered quickly. Each of his successes boosted his confidence and everyone else’s trust in him. He had promised them greatness and a victory to clear the memory of their defeat in the First World War; he was delivering it to them quickly and surely. He did a victory parade in Berlin on the 4th of July to celebrate.
On the 22nd June 1941, Hitler reneged on his pact of non-violence with the Soviet Union, and invaded them. Despite this being a huge risk and the biggest invasion ever before, initially, it was the easiest and fastest campaign. The soldiers advanced singing and on the 3rd of October, Hitler boasted about winning the war with the Red Army. There were 30,000,000 “excess” people in the Soviet Union for Hitler's new regime, and he began starving each town they went through, cutting off supplies and requisitioning all the food for his army. Due to lack of equipment, the Russian winter stopped the army advancing and the soldiers began to freeze to death. It would seem that Hitler did not learn from Napoleon’s identical mistake in 1812 ( extending the supply lines too far and scorched earth tactics starving the troops ). Despite promising that the Red Army was defeated, Hitler was proven wrong for the first time because in December, the Soviet Union begin to retaliate. In 1942, the Holocaust began, possibly the most inhuman and cruel thing anyone has ever done. Nazis began to round up Jews, and murder them systematically in huge numbers. Nazis continued their cruelty when they arrived at Stalingrad and they starved the whole town to death. However the Red Army defeated Hitler's 6th army at Stalingrad because Goerring didn't supply the army with provisions and artillery.
June the 6th 1944 was D-Day. This dealt a massive blow to Germany and two weeks later, the Red Army attacked from the east. By then, many Germans realised that the war was lost and some leading Nazis killed themselves to avoid being hanged for war crimes. Hitler was having none of that, and despite everyone telling him there was no point wasting any more life, he told troops to cary on. Goebbels, Hitler's chief of propaganda, made a film featuring German troops making one last stand and promised them that they would be famous and in films in 100 years time. A bomb was planted under Hitler's table on the 20th July but the blast didn't kill him. This was the start of a rebellion that Hitler quickly squashed by killing the leaders. Charisma in the relationship between the speaker and the listener, and Hitler's relationship with the German citizens was lost as the Red Army advanced into Germany.
Hitler went to live in a bunker 50ft underground with his girlfriend Eva in 1945, and made a highly detailed scale model of the Linz he dreamed of creating. In April, there were three consecutive events. 29th April : Hitler married Eva. 30th April : Hitler committed suicide by shooting himself alongside Eva, who chewed a cyanide pill. 31st April : Goebbels and his wife murdered their six children and then committed suicide. A week later Germany surrendered. Hitler's body was buried in the Reich Chancellory.
The belief and support the Germans gave Hitler ended with 7 million dead Germans, and 34 million other deaths, all because he made a connection with his audience, all because he had charisma. By the end, he had become over-confident and made some huge miscalculations that led to an unimaginable death toll, being driven to suicide and the ruin of many countries.
Adorno et al., (1950), The Authoritarian Personality, cited in Brace, N. and Byford, J., Investigating Psychology (2012), The Open University Press, Milton Keynes
Bullock, A. “ Hitler, a study in tyranny”, Odham’s Press, London
Battle of the Bulge - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
BBC - GCSE Bitesize - The Munich Putsch 1923
Adolf Hitler: Early Years, 1889–1913
Authoritarian Parenting Style And Its Effects
Eva Braun - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler, episode 1,2 and 3