Adolf Hitler
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Biography for
Adolf Hitler (Character)
from Downfall (2004)

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Adolf Hitler was born on April 20 1889, in Braunau am Inn, an Austrian village. His father, Alois Hitler was much older than his mother, Klara, who was his second wife. Alois was a customs official with something of a reputation for being a ladies man, who had been adopted by a guardian named Hiedler or Htler after becoming an adult, although his actual father is unknown, and he lived his early life under the name Schickelgruber (his mothers name). Klara had been a servant in the Hitler household before the death of Alois first wife and her own pregnancy. It is known that Alois was abusive towards Klara and the children, and Adolf was later proud of learning self-discipline by training himself not to cry during his fathers beatings. Alois and Adolfs largest dispute was over his education Alois wanted Adolf to go to a good techincal Gymnasium where he could learn a trade, but Adolf wanted to be an artist and go to art school. In the end Adolf won, simply by waiting until Alois died to begin school and then forcing his doting mother to agree with him.

All was not to go well, however. When young Hitler showed his sketches to the Vienna art institute, they did see his talent but not as an artist. They advised him to go to the architecture school, as his technical ability suggested that he was truly gifted in this area. Alois Hitler must have had a good laugh from the grave when the architecture school told him he could not be admitted without a certificate from Gymnasium. Hitler spiraled downward, at first telling his landlady and roommate that he was a student at the technical school and living off money sent from his mother, then winding up on the streets after her death and his paltry inheritance ran out. He moved into a mens shelter for the homeless, and learned to eke out a living by selling his drawings for pennies as postcards and to shopkeepers selling picture frames (they found that frames with pictures in them sold better).

During this period of his life, Hitler engaged in a curious autodidactic program of study, including history, psychology, folk tales, music, art, and occult subjects including astrology and racial science. He became something of a know-it-all, and friends from this period recall that he could expound for hours on any subject, that he seemed to have an opinion on everything, and that he was unshakable in these opinions no matter what counter-arguments were presented. A few incidents of anti-Semitism have been reported, but this does not seem to have been the driving force of his belief-system at the time.

The outbreak of World War One found Hitler homeless in Munich, rather than Vienna. It has been speculated that he had foreseen the outbreak of war, and went to Germany in order to dodge the Austrian draft. Not that he was a coward or pacifist, but rather because he despised the Hapsburg monarchy, and believed in a future pan-German unification in which the multi-racial Austro-Hungarian empire would be broken up and Austria placed under German rule. Whatever the case, he was among the first to volunteer to join the German army, and saw combat very early in the war.

His first battle would show him the realities of war in its extreme. His unit was in front, and as the smoke thickened on the battlefield, German units behind them began firing on them, believing they were the enemy. His regiment, the List Regiment, suffered heavy casualties, including its commanding officer, in this first day of combat. Hitler distinguished himself by running through the heavy fire from both sides in order to inform the German units of the position of his unit. In doing so, he probably saved the lives of those who remained, and he was soon commended for the action, and given a field promotion to Gefreiter (corporal). In view of his talent in this area, he was attached to headquarters as a runner or messenger.

This was a mixed blessing for Hitler. While it gave him a sense of purpose, perhaps for the first time in his life, a job to do and opportunities for action, it kept him away from the day-to-day existence of most of his compatriots, and also guaranteed that he would receive no further promotions (all runners were Gefreiters). He served with distinction, earning the Iron Cross, First Class, and often volunteering for the most dangerous assignments. Having finally found a home, Hitler was bound to feel out of sorts at the end of the war, but all the more so after Germanys sudden announcement of its surrender at a time when it remained unoccupied by enemy troops. Hitler heard the news while convalescing after being wounded in a gas attack. He later recalled it as the most terrible moment of his life, lying helpless in a hospital bed, hearing that the Fatherland had been defeated or betrayed, as he soon came to see it.

Hitler was demobilized to Bavaria, where he and a companion were assigned to test gas masks while a revolution raged outside. Hitler took no part in the Soldiers Councils of the short-lived Council Republic established in Munich. However, he did eagerly inform on those of his compatriots he had witnessed supporting the Revolution or tearing the epaulettes from officers uniforms. This willingness to collaborate probably brought him to the attention of the more politically-minded of his superiors.

The result is that he was given a brief political training course which reaffirmed his already right-wing nationalist perspective and gave him an opportunity of speaking in front of others. He learned, for the first time, that he had a gift for oratory (previously, his friends merely considered him long-winded), and he began to see a destiny for himself as a political activist. The army furthered this ambition by assigning him to spy for them on an insignificant Bavarian political party, the German Workers Party (DAP).

Hitlers first contribution to the Party was the innovation of charging audiences to hear speeches, which quickly increased their income. Soon, he was seen as one of the Partys main orators and a force to be reckoned with. Together with Anton Drexler, he wrote up the Partys platform and added the words National Socialist to its name from which the word Nazi was derived by its detractors. Hitler also arranged the slow takeover of a local right-wing newspaper, the Vlkischer Beobachter, which became the official party organ. The NSDAP became the fastest growing political force in Munich, although in its early years it had little influence in the rest of Bavaria, much less Germany.

Hitlers program at this time had a strongly racist element, especially in terms of blaming Jews for Germanys defeat and subsequent economic troubles. The excesses of capitalism and communism were ascribed to a Jewish conspiracy for world domination. Other enemies existed, including the French (Germanys enemies in World War One, who were responsible for the most egregious terms of the Treaty of Versailles), the Socialists (who supposedly had stabbed Germany in the back while her troops were at war), and war-profiteers, but all of these worked at the behest of the Jews. This is in line with Hitlers ideas about propaganda, as expressed in Mein Kampf that people respond better to having a single enemy to hate, rather than examining the many causes of their problems.

By Novmeber of 1923, Hitler felt the time had come to act. Munich was awash in anti-republican right wing parties who desired to overthrow the Socialist government in Berlin, and economic crisis was radicalizing the population. Hitler was no longer officially attached to the army, but his Sturmabteilung (Storm Detachments) were among the many private militias that had access to army munitions and hoped to lead a March on Berlin modeled after Benito Mussolinis successful March on Rome a few years before. Hitlers proposed Putsch was to begin in the Hofbrau beer hall, where the elected Bavarian representatives of the political right would be giving a speech. The intention was to secure their backing, take Munich in a matter of hours, and then begin the march northward, with militia and army support, watching support for the unpopular government crumble along the way.

These rather nave plans were to come to nothing, as the politicians upon who Hitler had placed his hope turned out to be more suspicious of him than of the socialists in Berlin. At their first opportunity, all three fled the Hofbrauhaus and began working to suppress the National Revolution. Hitler attempted to salvage the situation by raising popular support with a mass march on the government center, which was greeted with bullets from the local police, killing seven Nazi supporters and effectively dispersing the rest. Hitler, along with other leaders in the movement, was arrested and tried for treason.

Sympathy for the extreme nationalist cause ran high in the Bavarian judicial system, however, and the trial quickly turned into an opportunity for Hitler to publicly air his views. He was sentenced to only five years in Landsberg prison, where he was given a comfortable suite, away from the other prisoners, and allowed to keep his personal secretary, Rudolf Hess, on hand for dictation. It was during this period that he wrote Mein Kampf, a clear statement of his political beliefs and aims, and a warning which the world ignored to its own disadvantage.

Hitler deliberately crippled the Party while he was in prison, to keep any new leader from coming to the fore, and its spread through the rest of the 1920s was slow and cautious. Hitler had decided to avoid further attempts to gain control of the State through violence, and dedicated himself to parliamentary politics. Although the NSDAP did spread throughout Germany from its base in Munich, it remained a marginal force outside of right-wing extremist circles. The economy recovered, and times were good for many people during the Weimar Republic only a few were interested in Hitlers message of hate and revenge. Hitler moved wisely into a more moderate position and began cultivating friends among conservative monarchist and industrialist circles.

When the 1929 stock exchange crash in New York precipitated a global economic crisis, Hitler and his Party were ready to move. They exploited the situation, agitated the unemployed, and generally offered World Jewry as a scapegoat upon which to blame the woes of the working man. Meanwhile, Hitler posited himself to his elite contacts as the only man who could sway the masses away from Communism, which was also on the rise with the new hard times. For the first time, the NSDAP voting bloc in parliament began to become a force to be reckoned with.

In 1932 Hitler decided to make a bold move for power running for President of the Republic. The Communists and the DNVP (another right-of-center party) each had a candidate as well, but his real foe was Hindenburg, the old World War One general and incumbent to the position. Hindenburg was a conservative and more or less sympathetic to Monarchism but had no time for this upstart corporal and his party of thugs. Hitler poured derision on the dignified elderly figure, and forced a great many moderates who had viewed Hindenburg as too rightist when he was first elected in 1925 to vote for Hindenburg in order to preserve democracy. Hitler lost the election by a sizable margin, but his returns (30% in the first election, 38% in a second round, held because Hindenburg failed to garner an absolute majority) indicated that he was still a political force to be reckoned with.

With no absolute majority in Parliament, the key to power for the Nazis was through coalition politics. They now set about disruptive tactics, preventing any coalition that attempted to rule without their participation from effective government (they were assisted in this task, ironically, by their foes the Communists). With each successive election giving more power to the extremist parties, the moderates began to consider a compromise. Ultimately, Hitler demanded the position of Chancellor as a fee for any cooperation of the Nazis with a coalition government. Frightened by the prospect of a Socialist/Communist victory, the moderate right-wing parties finally caved in and gave it to him on January 3-, 1933.

The Nazis immediately celebrated this as the victory of their ideology, and began a boycott of Jewish shops and public marches proclaiming the National Revolution. Hitler moved cautiously at first, but after the convenient (perhaps staged) burning of the Reichstag, used the Emergency Powers granted the Chancellor by the Weimar constitution to rule. Democracy in Germany came to an end, Socialists, Communists and Jews lost their rights and ultimately their freedom, and the so-called Third Reich began.

Hitlers personal contribution to the nature of the Nazi Party and Nazi rule in Germany cannot be overstated. He set himself up as the absolute ruler, or Fhrer, and undermined any effort by underlings to create pockets of power for themselves, claiming the final word on any project or decision. Any who questioned this were dispensed with sometimes violently. The last person to effectively challenge Hitler was Ernst Rhm, leader of the Storm Troops (Sturmabteilung, or SA), and one of the army officers who had originally supported Hitlers work with the German Workers Party. Rhm hoped to make the SA into the official new army of National Socialist Germany, under his personal command. Neither Hitler nor the old army officers would accept such a move. With the help of the SS, and the tacit approval of the German Army, then, Hitler concocted a Putsch-attempt, ostensibly led by Rhm, and acted against it in June 1934. Rhm and other SA leaders were executed and the Nazis also took revenge against some old enemies, including those who had suppressed the original 1923 Beer Hall Putsch.

The level of terror increased as the regime went on. Concentration Camps held racial and ideological enemies, including Jews, Gyspies, Socialists, liberal democrats, and ordinary criminals. The SS, original an elite bodyguard force for Nazi Party officials, became integrated with the police, which was placed under the command of Heinrich Himmler, a fanatical Party member and close associate of Hitler. The Prussian Geheimstaatspolizei, or Gestapo, became the secret police of the nation, now also part of the SS, and everyone lived in fear that their neighbors might turn them in for imagined crimes.

With his domestic regime secure, Hitler now moved onto the foreign policy stage. In 1936, the Olympic Games were held in Berlin, and the Nazi regime did their best to curry favor with foreign diplomats and visitors. Anti-Semitic signs were removed from shop windows and a few Jewish athletes were given permission to compete. But Hitlers primary moves were more aggressive. Germany withdrew from the League of Nations, began openly rearming and re-claiming areas severed from Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. Ultimately, by aggressive foreign policy moves (but without resorting to open warfare), Hitler was able to claim his homeland of Austria and the bulk of Czechoslovakia as well.

This was not enough for Hitlers designs. As far back as Mein Kampf he had stated that the German people needed space in the East to colonize, or they would die out as a race. The fact that inferior Slavic peoples already happened to live in these regions meant that war was inevitable, but Hitler apparently thought he could bully his way to control of Poland as he had with Czechoslovakia. This time the Western powers opposed him, but, in a surprise move, he negotiated a truce with the Soviet Union that allowed him to divide Poland with Stalin up to this time his most hated opponent. War had begun, but no one was in a position to stop the invasion and rapid fall of Poland in September, 1939.

Once Poland fell, Hitler expected the Western Allies (France and Great Britain) to make peace overtures, but he waited in vain, while the armies glared at each other across the Maginot Line in what came to be known as Sitzkrieg (a sitting war). Hitler ultimately decided to act by seizing strategic neutral countries Denmark, Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands before beginning his assault on France. Once the fortifications on the border with Germany had been bypassed, France fell easily, and the British fled across the channel from Dunkirk. To all appearances, Hitler had vanquished all of his enemies with quick maneuvers, and now controlled much of Western Europe.

The seeds of Hitlers downfall were already sown, however. The British were not truly defeated, merely pushed back. Most of their forces remained intact, and the German navy was far too weak to attempt a naval invasion of England. They were also supported fairly openly by the United States and, although the Americans had not entered the war at this time, their vast industrial strength made the British a far more powerful foe than Hitler realized. But the truly decisive mistake Hitler made at this point was once again to turn his eyes to the East for Lebensraum. Following the lead of Mussolini, who was eager to garner some booty from this war as well, Germany supported attacks on Greece and Yugoslavia, before beginning an all-out attack against Soviet Russia.

The attack on the Soviet Union was undoubtedly the undoing of the Third Reich. The army was so ill-prepared that there was no winter clothing for the troops, who apparently had been told to expect a short, easy victory, as in France and Poland. To be sure, enormous territories were seized in a short period, aided by overwhelming air superiority and fast-moving armored units, but in the end, the vast territory and unending supply of Soviet troops proved too much for them. Matters were made only worse when Hitler declared war on the distant USA, in order to support their ally Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

While the number enemies of the Reich mounted, Hitler turned his attention to internal enemies primarily those declared racially inferior such as Jews and Slavs. Certain concentration camps in the East now became killing centers, and Hitlers vision of ethnic cleansing was taken to its logical, if insane, conclusion. Millions were killed by shooting, being worked to death or starved, and, most insidiously, by the use of poison gas. Mass graves proved to be ineffective ways of disposing of the bodies, so giant crematoria were set up, filling the skies in certain areas with ominous smoke.

At first, the War seemed to go in Hitlers favor, as he pushed enemies back on all fronts, but slowly Germany began to run out of men and materiel. The turning point came at Stalingrad, where tens of thousand s of Soviet and German soldiers were sacrificed in an effort to win a city that represented the Stalinist regime. Ultimately, the Germans were encircled and annihilated. Hitler had lost his most important gamble. Italy, the soft underbelly of Europe was attacked while the Russians marched inexorably westward, finally followed by a massive attack at Normandy by French, English, and American troops, who regained France only slightly more slowly than it had been lost.

Hitler became increasingly desperate as the war continued, hoping for secret weapons that would make up for Germanys lost strength. The V-1 and V-2 rockets did prove to be important advances in military science, but were too little and too late to serious affect the outcome of the war. Ultimately, Hitler and his loyal followers retreated to a bunker in Berlin, staging a kind of pantomime war with phantom units that didnt exist while the Soviets drew ever closer.

The idea of capture and trial by the Allies was unthinkable to Hitler, and he chose the dishonorable path of suicide as an alternative. Shortly beforehand, he married Eva Braun, his mistress of many years, and after a brief celebration, poisoned his dog Blondi, shot Eva and himself. The Reich died with a whimper, and Adolf Hitler, once praised as a savior by millions of Germans, became the ultimate representation of Evil on Earth.

As a character, Adolf Hitler has been portrayed in many ways in movies, as a madman, a clown, a fiend, and sometimes as a historical human figure, flawed, bizarre and fascinating. Particularly interesting portrayals include Bruno Ganz in Der Untergang (The Downfall in English), Noah Taylor in Max, and Alec Guinness in Hitler: The Last Ten Days.

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