Following the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles penalises the defeated Germany, annexing land, imposing large war reparations, limiting the size of the German Army and blaming Germany and Austria-Hungary for starting the conflict. The new German Government, a coalition of left-leaning and centrist parties, attempts to rebuild the country but faces opposition from the right and extreme left. The instability is exacerbated by the failure of the domestic and global economies. More background.
Born on 20 April 1889 in Braunau am Inn, Austria, into a lower middle-class family of peasant origins. His father, a customs official, is 23 years older than his mother, a domestic servant.
Hitler is dominated by his father and spoilt by his mother. His father dies in 1903, his mother in 1907. He has one half-brother, one half-sister, and one full-sister. In his youth, Hitler dreams of becoming an artist.
1903 - Following his father's death, Hitler leaves school.
1907 - Hitler goes to Vienna, the capital of Austria, where he attempts to pursue his dream of becoming an artist. However, he has only limited talent and is unable to gain admission to the Academy of Fine Arts, failing the entrance examination twice. In 1908, following the death of his mother, he moves to Vienna to live.
"I owe much to the time in which I had learned to become hard (in Vienna)," Hitler later writes, "I praise it even more for having rescued me from the emptiness of an easy life, that it took the milksop out of his downy nest and gave him Dame Sorrow for a foster mother."
1913 - Hitler moves to Munich, the capital of Bavaria, where he ekes out a living as a painter and technical draftsman.
1914 - When the First World War breaks out Hitler volunteers for service with the German Army, joining the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment. He serves as a runner at regimental headquarters several kilometres from the front line.
Despite an undistinguished record he is awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class, in December 1914, and the Iron Cross, First Class, in August 1918. He never rises beyond the rank of corporal.
By the end of the war he has developed shell-shock and is admitted to military hospital.
After the war, Hitler returns to Munich and begins to become involved in politics. He believes that Jews and Marxists are responsible for Germany's defeat.
1919 - Hitler joins the German Workers' Party in September. A gifted and inspiring public speaker, he is soon placed in charge of party propaganda.
Meanwhile, he is attached to a military propaganda unit of the Bavarian army tasked with countering Bolshevism among soldiers returning from the Russian front. While in the post he is sets out an early version of his antisemitic philosophy.
"The antisemitism of reason must lead to a struggle for the legal battle to abrogate laws giving (Jews) favoured positions, differentiating the Jew from other foreigners," he writes on 16 September.
"The final goal must be the uncompromising removal of Jews altogether. To accomplish these goals, only a government of national power is capable, and never a government of national weakness."
1920 - Under Hitler's direction, the German Workers' Party adopts the swastika as its emblem and changes its name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazi Party). Its platform calls for the removal of civil rights for Jews and for their expulsion from Germany.
As the German economy begins to buckle under the weight of the enormous war reparations demanded by the Treaty of Versailles and debts incurred during the war, popular support for the Nazis begins to increase. Inflation and unemployment climb. The German Government loses its majority in the elections of 1920, introducing a decade long period of political instability. Nazi Party membership increases to about 3,000.
1921 - The Nazi Party's "storm troopers" are formally organised into a private army. Called the Sturmabteilung (SA) - the Brownshirts - the army is used to protect party meetings and to attack opponents. Hitler becomes leader of the Nazi Party in July. Party faithful begin to refer to him as the Führer (Leader). Meanwhile, in April, the Allies present Germany with a bill of US$33 billion for war reparations.
1923 - When the German Government defaults on its reparation payments, the French Army occupies the Ruhr Valley. Inflation skyrockets. Fuel is added to the fire when the government begins printing more and more money in a desperate attempt to solve the crisis. The value of the Deutschmark plummets.
In mid-1920 US$1 is worth 40 marks. By July 1923 the exchange rate has blown out to 160,000 marks to US$1. By August 1923 the rate is 10 million marks to the dollar. By November 1923 the figure is 4.2 trillion marks to the dollar. Almost overnight, Germans have lost their life savings. Social unrest begins to escalate.
Hitler exploits the situation, advocating national pride, blaming the left and Jews for the political turmoil and claiming to have a solution to the economic crisis. Many Germans come to see the party as a credible alternative.
On 8 November Hitler and 600 armed members of the SA stage an abortive attempt to seize power in Munich. Hitler is arrested and tried for treason. The Nazi Party is outlawed.
Hitler's trial receives media coverage in and outside of Germany and his courtroom attacks against the government are widely quoted. He is found guilty and sentenced to five years jail, beginning on 1 April 1924, but only serves nine months of his term and is allowed to receive visitors when he likes and to employ Rudolph Hess as his private secretary.
While in prison he begins to write 'Mein Kampf' (My Struggle), his political autobiography and treatise on the superiority of the "Aryan race" and the "menace" of the Jew. The book is published in 1927. When the Nazis come to power it is set as school textbook and presented to all German newlyweds.
1924 - Hitler is released from prison a few days before Christmas. He finds there is now a different economic and political climate in Germany. A new government has succeeded in containing the economic crisis and achieving stability. Hitler is forbidden from making public speeches across much of the country but works to further entrench his hold over the Nazi Party.
1927 - The Nazi Party holds its first Nuremberg congress, a mass political rally that becomes the party's signature propaganda event.
1928 - Nazi Party membership now exceeds 100,000, though the grassroots support is not reflected in the polls, with the Nazis winning only 2.6% of the vote in a general election held in May. The party becomes better known the following year when an alliance with the conservative German National People's Party lends it some respectability within the antirepublican right.
Hitler, meanwhile, writes a sequel to 'Mein Kampf'. However, the book is never published during his lifetime.
1929 - The German Government is crippled when the Wall Street stock market crash of October ushers in the Great Depression. Unemployment rises from 8.5% in 1929 to 29.9% in 1932.
Hitler again exploits the situation, spreading his propaganda nationally through newspapers, securing support from magnates of business and industry, and establishing a national party structure. He promises something for all - work for the unemployed, profits to industry and small businesses, expansion of the army, and restoration of German pride. Public support swells.
In 1928 the Nazis hold 12 seats in the Reichstag (parliament). By 1932 they have 230 seats and are the largest party in parliament. Joseph Goebbels begins to create the Führer myth around Hitler and to organise the ritualistic and highly choreographed party rallies that help convert the masses to Nazism and provide a platform for Hitler's ascension to power.
Meanwhile, Hitler meets Eva Braun during 1929. Braun becomes Hitler's love interest in 1931 after his previous love interest, Geli Raubal, who is also his niece, commits suicide.
1933 - The Nazis reach a position from which they can seize power on 30 January when Hitler is appointed chancellor. Following the Reichstag fire on 27 February, basic civil rights are suspended and the Nazis are given the right to quash political opposition.
Germany's last election until after the Second World War is held on 5 March. Though the Nazis win only 44% of the vote, Hitler persuades the Reichstag to pass the Enabling Law, allowing him to govern independently for four years.
All Nazis in prison are issued with full pardons. Critics of the government and the Nazi Party are subject to arrest. Special courts are established for the trial of political detainees. Regional governments are dissolved and then reconstituted with governors handpicked by Hitler. Leftist political parties are banned. Germany is declared a one-party state. Jews and leftists are purged from the bureaucracy. Trade unions are dissolved and replaced with Nazi organisations.
The Gestapo, or secret state police, is established in April. Concentration camps are set up for the interment of opponents. A program of public works, rearmament and forced labour helps bring the economy under control. Inflation comes down, the currency is stabilised and full employment achieved. Support for Hitler increases.
On 10 May Hitler stages the "burning of the books" in Berlin. Works by Jewish, Marxist and other "subversive" authors are publicly burned in huge bonfires. On 14 October Germany withdraws from the League of Nations.
Though rigorously oppressive, Hitler's regime is popular with average Germans, who benefit from tax relief and strategic social investments. Taxes on working people are never raised during the Nazi reign. Soldiers and their families receive more than double the income offered to their Western counterparts. The Nazis commission large infrastructure projects, including the building of the autobahn road system running across Germany.
However, the expenditure is unsustainable. It is financed by growing debt and the spoils of conquest.
1934 - Hitler organises the Night of the Long Knives massacre of rebellious leaders of the SA on the night of 30 June. In August he becomes president and chancellor, giving him supreme command of the German armed forces. Hitler is now the Führer, the dictator of the fascist Third Reich, an empire where the individual belongs to the state.
1935 - On 16 March the Nazis introduce conscription. A new German Army (Wehrmacht) is being created. Hitler formally announced that Germany has begun to rearm and rebuild its army and air force, in contravention of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. The Nuremberg Laws, meanwhile, strip Jews of the right to citizenship and restrict their relations with Gentiles.
1936 - Hitler joins with Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in the Rome-Berlin Axis and signs the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan, an agreement to fight the spread of communism. Italy joins the pact in 1937.
At the same time, Hitler confirms his intention to take Germany into war, telling his cohorts that the country must be ready to fight by 1940.
The military soon get an opportunity for battle experience when Germany enters the Spanish Civil War in support of Spanish Nationalists led by Francisco Franco. The German contribution is vital at the very beginning of the war when German aircraft fly Franco's troops from Morocco to Spain. Germany's ongoing support is also a critical factor behind Franco's eventual victory.
1938 - Support for Hitler is further buoyed by his policy of foreign expansion. Austria is annexed on 13 March. The Sudetenland, the German-speaking area in the north of Czechoslovakia, is ceded to Germany on 29 September under the terms of the Munich Agreement between Britain, France, Germany and Italy.
The persecution of the Jews intensifies at the end of the year. Over the days of 9-10 November the Nazis orchestrate the Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) pogrom. Jewish shops, houses and synagogues across Germany are burnt by both the Schutz-Staffel (SS) - the Blackshirts, Hitler's personal guard - and the general population. Ninety-one Jews are killed. Thirty thousand are arrested and deported.
Hitler is named 'Time' magazine's person of the year. Commenting on the rise of the Nazi Party and Hitler, the magazine says, "The situation which gave rise to this demagogic, ignorant, desperate movement was inherent in the German republic's birth and in the craving of large sections of the politically immature German people for strong, masterful leadership ... Meanwhile, Germany has become a nation of uniforms, goose-stepping to Hitler's tune, where boys of ten are taught to throw hand grenades, where women are regarded as breeding machines."
1939 - On 30 January Hitler declares in the Reichstag that a new world war will lead to the "annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe". Initially the Nazis plan a mass deportation of Jews. Later the plan will change.
Germany occupies Bohemia and Moravia in March. Slovakia is made a puppet state. In May, as Germany prepares for war, Hitler agrees to a formal military alliance with Italy, the Pact of Steel.
On 22 August Hitler briefs his senior military commanders on his plans for the invasion of Poland.
According to one report of the meeting, Hitler says, "Our strength lies in our quickness and in our brutality.
"Genghis Khan has sent millions of women and children into death knowingly and with a light heart. History sees in him only the great founder of states. As to what the weak Western European civilisation asserts about me, that is of no account.
"I have given the command and I shall shoot everyone who utters one word of criticism, for the goal to be obtained in the war is not that of reaching certain lines but of physically demolishing the opponent.
"And so for the present only in the East I have put my death-head formations in place with the command relentlessly and without compassion to send into death many women and children of Polish origin and language.
"Only thus we can gain the living space that we need. Who after all is today speaking about the destruction of the Armenians?"
The next day, 23 August, he signs a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union, carving up Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence, with the Soviets claiming Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, part of the Balkans and half of Poland.
Poland is overrun within a month. Germany takes the west of the country. The Soviets occupy the east. Denmark and Norway fall to Germany in April 1940. The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France are invaded the following month. By the middle of June 1940 France has surrendered.
As the invasion progresses Jews and other "undesirables" in the occupied territories are dispossessed and interned in work camps.
In Germany the physically handicapped, mentally ill, and others with so-called "worthless lives" are rounded up and sent to designated hospitals, where they are killed. Referred to by the Nazis as mercy killing and planned by Hitler's office and the Reich Interior Ministry, the "euthanasia" program claims up to 275,000 lives.
1940 - Beginning from 10 July, the Battle of Britain rages in the skies over the United Kingdom. The British Royal Air Force (RAF) desperately combats wave after wave of aerial attacks and bombing raids by the Luftwaffe while launching counteroffensive bombing missions into Germany.
Though outnumbered by four to one the RAF is able to inflict enough damage to the German forces to cause Hitler to suspend Operation Sealion, the proposed invasion of Britain by sea. By the end of September the Battle of Britain is effectively over. Germany has suffered its first major setback of the war.
Meanwhile, Germany, Italy and Japan sign the Tripartite Pact, an agreement to carve up the world following victory in the war.
At the end of the year, Hitler meets with Romanian leader Ion Antonescu. Under Antonescu's direction Romania becomes one of Germany's staunchest allies. Hitler and Antonescu meet again in January and May 1941.
Hitler meets Spanish fascist dictator Francisco Franco on 23 October at French-Spanish border to try to persuade Spain to enter the war, but Franco is reluctant to become directly involved and only provides token support.
1941 - On 6 June Hitler meets Croatian fascist leader Ante Pavelic to discuss a plan to expel much of the Serbian population of the so-called Independent State of Croatia and replace them with Croats and Slovenes from lands annexed by the Germans. Pavelic's regime is responsible for the genocide of 600,000 to one million within its area of control, including 30,000 Jews, 29,000 Gipsies, and 600,000 Serbs. Hitler meets with Pavelic again in November 1942.
Germany invades the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. The Germans advance swiftly but are halted on 6 December by a Russian counterattack just short of Moscow.
The Battle for Moscow is the biggest of the Second World War, involving seven million participants and an area of operations the size of France. The failure to capture Moscow is another major setback for the Germans and their first military defeat of the war.
The United States enters the war when the Japanese air force bombs the US naval base at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii on 7 December. Hitler declares war on the US on 11 December. With the offensive in the Soviet Union stalled, he appoints himself commander-in-chief.
"St Petersburg (Leningrad) must disappear utterly from the Earth's surface. Moscow too. Then the Russians will retire into Siberia," Hitler declares.
"As for the ridiculous 100 million Slavs, we will mould the best of them to the shape that suits us, and we will isolate the rest of them in their own pigsties; and anyone who talks about cherishing the local inhabitant and civilising him goes straight off into a concentration camp," he says.
On 18 December Hitler orders his troops in Russia to stand fast at their present positions.
1942 - On 20 January the Nazis complete the planning for the Endlosung (Final Solution), the extermination of the Jews, Gipsies, Slavs, homosexuals, communists, and other "undesirables" and "decadents" in death camps run by the SS and controlled by the Gestapo. About six million European Jews die in the following Holocaust. Most (about 4.5 million) of those killed come from Poland and the Soviet Union. About 125,000 are German Jews.
The Holocaust also claims about 500,000 Gipsies, between 10,000 and 25,000 homosexuals, 2,000 Jehovah's Witnesses, up to 3.5 million non-Jewish Poles, between 3.5 million and six million other Slavic civilians, as many as four million Soviet prisoners of war, and up to 1.5 million political dissidents.
By the end of the year knowledge of the Final Solution becomes an open secret among the general German community.
1943 - The war turns against Germany in the winter of 1942-43 when the Sixth Army is defeated by Soviet forces at Stalingrad (now Volgograd). Though the German forces are encircled and trapped by a Soviet counteroffensive, Hitler refuses to allow them to attempt an escape. They surrender on 2 February 1943.
The German Sixth Army has been effectively destroyed in what is at the time the most catastrophic military defeat in German history. Over 250,000 of the German-led troops are dead. By the end of 1943, the Soviets have broken through the German siege of Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) and recaptured much of the Ukrainian Republic.
Hitler orders his retreating forces to adopt a scorched-earth policy and destroy everything that may be of use to the advancing Soviets.
The German offensive in North Africa is stopped at the beginning of November 1942 when Allied troops led by General Bernard Law Montgomery force the German Afrika Korps led by General Erwin Rommel into a retreat. By 13 May 1943 275,000 Germans and Italians have surrendered. The war in North Africa is over, leaving the Allies free to land in Sicily and Italy.
To the west, the US and British navies gain control of the Atlantic shipping lanes, clearing the way for the D-Day landings on the Normandy beaches in France on 6 June 1944 and the invasion of Germany six months later. Soviet troops, meanwhile, advance from the east.
In the skies over Germany the Allied air forces intensify their bombing raids. The strategy of indiscriminate area bombing kills an estimated 600,000 civilians, including about 75,000 children.
The Nazis call for "total war" against the Allies.
At the end of 1943 Hitler's personality comes under scrutiny in a profile written by Dr Henry Murray of the Harvard Psychological Clinic and commissioned by the US Office of Strategic Services, a precursor of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Titled 'Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler - With Predictions of His Future Behaviour and Suggestions for Dealing with Him Now and After Germany's Surrender', the profile states:
"There is little disagreement among professional, or even among amateur, psychologists that Hitler's personality is an example of the counteractive type, a type that is marked by intense and stubborn efforts (i) to overcome early disabilities, weaknesses and humiliations (wounds to self-esteem), and sometimes also by efforts (ii) to revenge injuries and insults to pride."
Hitler is "possessed by what amounts to a homicidal compulsion which has no vent in a 'weak piping time of peace' (unless he becomes an outright criminal), and therefore he has constantly pushed events toward war, or scapegoating," the analysis says.
"As a result of the fact that resentment is the mainspring of Hitler's career, it is forever impossible to hope for any mercy or humane treatment from him. His revengefulness can be satisfied only by the extermination of his countless enemies. ...
"He is a hive of secret neurotic compunctions and feminine sentimentalities which have had to be stubbornly repressed ever since he embarked on his career of ruthless dominance and revenge (instigated by real or supposed insults). ...
"Hitler wants nothing so much as to arrive at the state where he can commit crimes without guilt feelings; but despite his boasts of having transcended Good and Evil this had not been possible. The suicidal trend in his personality is eloquent testimony of a repressed self-condemning tendency. ...
"As soon as the time comes when repeated offensive actions end in failure, Hitler will lose faith in himself and in his destiny, and become the helpless victim of his repressed conscience, with suicide or mental breakdown as the most likely outcome."
The analysis predicts that if Hitler does choose suicide "he will do it at the last moment and in the most dramatic possible manner".
A dossier compiled by American Military Intelligence finds that Hitler, who was a lifelong hypochondriac, took over 74 different medications, including methamphetamine.
According to the dossier, Hitler became addicted to drugs after consulting with a Berlin-based doctor in 1936. The doctor, Theodor Morell, subsequently became Hitler's personal physician. Along with Pervitin, a methamphetamine "alertness pill", Hitler is prescribed Brom-Nervacit, a barbiturate tranquilliser, Eukodal, a morphine-based sedative, bulls' semen to boost his testosterone, and the stimulant Coramine.
1944 - Following an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Hitler on 20 July by a group of conspirators led by Wehrmacht Colonel Count Claus Von Stauffenberg and including one field marshal and 22 generals, Nazi political officers are appointed to all military headquarters. Several thousand people are killed in reprisal for the attempt on Hitler's life.
Though Hitler is not mortally injured by the bomb used in the assassination bid he is lightly paralysed on his left side and develops a serious tremor in his left arm. He is also psychologically affected, becoming more paranoid and suspicious.
1945 - On 30 January advanced Soviet troops reach the Oder River, less than 70 km away from the centre of Berlin. The same day, Hitler makes his last radio broadcast to the German people. Six weeks later, on 13 March, he makes his last journey outside Berlin, travelling to the east to inspect the Oder front.
By March, as the Western forces reach the Rhine River, Soviet armies have overrun most of Eastern Europe and are converging on Berlin, where Hitler waits in his underground bunker. The Soviets march under the slogan, "There will be no pity. They have sown the wind and now they are harvesting the whirlwind."
Few are spared. As the Soviets move through Germany they rape at least two million German women in an undisciplined advance that is now acknowledged as the largest case of mass rape in history.
By 25 April the Soviet forces have encircled Berlin. The city now becomes the "Reichssheiterhaufen" - the Reich's funeral pyre.
A street by street battle to capture Berlin begins. The Soviet infantry attack is accompanied by an unrelenting artillery barrage, with 1.8 million shells being fired on the city between 21 April and 2 May. Tanks are also sent in, although at first the losses are extremely high, with over 800 tanks being destroyed.
The three and a half million civilians that remain in the city are caught in crossfire. Nearly 110,000 German soldiers and civilians die during the battle. A further 134,000 are taken prisoner. About 130,000 women are raped.
On 28 April Hitler marries his long-time mistress, Eva Braun. On the afternoon of 30 April the pair retire to Hitler's private chambers to consummate a death pact. Braun bites a cyanide capsule and dies instantly. Hitler bites into a cyanide capsule while simultaneously shooting himself in the head. In accordance with his instructions, Hitler's and Braun's bodies are taken to a garden above the bunker, doused with petrol and burnt.
"You must never allow my corpse to fall into the hands of the Russians," Hitler tells his valet prior to his suicide. "They would make a spectacle in Moscow out of my body and put it in waxworks."
In his final will and testament, written just before his suicide, he calls on the German Government and people "to uphold the race laws to the limit and to resist mercilessly the poisoner of all nations, international Jewry".
Berlin falls to the Soviet forces on 2 May. The assault on the city has cost the Red Army 78,291 killed and 274,184 wounded.
On 7 May Germany surrenders unconditionally. The Second World War officially ends on 2 September when Japan formally signs documents of unconditional surrender.
Over 46 million Europeans have died as a result of the war. The war has also claimed over 13 million people from other lands.
Beginning in November 1945, 22 surviving Nazi leaders considered responsible for the crimes committed by Germany during the war are tried before an international military tribunal sitting in Nuremberg. Among those brought before the tribunal are Hermann Göring, Wilhelm Keitel, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Rudolf Hess, and Albert Speer. Twelve of the accused are sentenced to death, seven receive prison sentences, and three are acquitted.
Following the high-profile Nuremberg trials, lower-ranking Nazi war criminals are also brought to justice.
Hitler's charred body is discovered by the Soviet forces occupying Berlin shortly after the city falls. It is smuggled back to the Soviet Union, where its upper and lower jaws and a fragment of the skull are preserved in official archives. The rest of the body is hidden under a parade ground at Magdeburg, in what is to become Eastern Germany. In 1970 these remains are secretly dug up, cremated, ground into dust and thrown into a nearby river.
In 2009 the provenance of the skull fragment is throw into doubt when DNA analysis identifies it as female.
Adolf Hitler, the undisputed, all-time, world champion of killers. Directly responsible for the deaths of over 46 million Europeans and the destruction of much of Europe. But he never would have got there without the support of the people. After the abortive attempt to take power by force in 1923 and his subsequent arrest, trial and imprisonment, Hitler realised that the way to top was through the democratic process. But soon after he was elected democracy was violated so he could secure his grip. I guess you had to be there to understand his appeal. The gloss is all gone today, although there are still plenty out there who think he was just "misunderstood". Personally I think if it looks like evil, sounds like evil and behaves like evil, it's evil.
- Germany - A Country Study - Library of Congress Country Studies Series
- Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler by Henry A. Murray - Cornell University Law Library
- Adolf Hitler - The Nizkor Project
- Time Person of the Year 1938: Adolf Hitler
- Genocide Under the Nazis BBC History
- Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State - PBS
- Eurodocs: Germany: National Socialism and World War II
- Holocaust Educational Resource - The Nizkor Project
- Nazi and East German Propaganda Guide
- Stalin & Hitler: Mass Murder by Starvation - The New York Review of Books
- Why are we obsessed with the Nazis? - The Guardian
- Hopping in His Matchbox - Review of 'Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939' by Volker Ullrich - London Review of Books
- The Ways to Destroy Democracy - Review of 'Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939' by Volker Ullrich - The Nation