World War II began in 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded Poland and both France and Britain declared war on German in the days that followed. The conflict led to two large alliance systems being created between the Allied Powers and the Axis Powers. Both sets of alliances produced some of the most memorable and significant leaders of the 20th century. Adolf Hitler was the leader of Germany during the course of World War II.
Adolf Hitler was born on April 20th 1889 in Braunau am Inn, Austria-Hungary. In 1892, when Hitler was just three years old his family moved to Germany, but would soon return to Austria in 1894. Hitler’s father, Alois, farmed and developed a career in the customs bureau. The return to Austria is also around the time that Adolf Hitler began to develop intense conflicts with his father and his school. As a child, Adolf was known for being very moody and grew hostile and resentful towards his father for his decision to move his family. As well, Adolf’s first intention in life was to become a painter and he wanted to attend classical art school, but was forced to pursue other efforts due to the wishes of his father. After the death of his father in 1903, Hitler soon left school and moved to Vienna in 1905.
In Vienna, Hitler lived an impoverished lifestyle. He made very little money as a general labourer and by selling watercolor works of art on the streets of the city. Also, his mother Klara, helped support him with what money she could. He applied to enter the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna in 1907 and again in 1908 but was rejected both times. When his mother died in late 1907, Hitler was forced to live in hostels and homeless shelters.
Many events in his early life led to his hatred towards the Jewish people. It is believed that the beginnings of Hitler’s anti-Semitism began during his time in Vienna. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was made up of many different races and in his book, Mein Kampf, Hitler stated that it was in the Austrian city of Vienna that he developed his anger and resentment towards the Jewish people. Regardless, Hitler’s anti-Semite views grew in intensity during his time in World War I.
Hitler left Vienna in 1913 and moved to Munich, Germany. It is widely believed that he fled Austria-Hungary to avoid being conscripted into the Austrian army, due to his hatred of the mix of ethnicities that existed in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time. While in Munich, Hitler volunteered to serve in the German Army for World War I, which had just begun. Hitler was appointed to the Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment and served as a dispatch runner on the Western Front. While he was often far from the frontlines of battle, he did participate at several key World War I battles, including: First Battle of Ypres, Battle of the Somme, Battle of Arras and the Battle of Passchendaele (Third Battle of Ypres). He was wounded at the Battle of the Somme by an exploding shell and spent the next two months recovering in hospital. He was again wounded near the end of the war, when he was temporarily blinded by a mustard gas attack. It was during his time in the hospital after the mustard gas attack that he learned of Germany’s surrender to the Allied Powers. For his bravery and service in the war Hitler was awarded several honors, including: two Iron Crosses, Cross of Military Merit, and the Wound Badge.
After the end of World War I, Hitler remained with the army and worked as an intelligence agent. He was tasked with monitoring the activities of the German Worker’s Party (DAP), but was soon inspired by the party and its nationalistic and anti-Semitic message. In 1919, Hitler joined the party, which soon changed its name to the National Socialist German Worker’s Party (NSDAP) and began using the swastika as it official image.
In the summer of 1921, he assumed control of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party and began to work to increase its prominence in German politics. He did this by delivering his characteristic public speeches concerning his views on the state of Germany. Hitler was masterful at public speaking in that he was charismatic and impassioned when he spoke. He would rise to power of the Nazi Party in Germany in the 1930s and eventually rise to become Fuhrer of the country. Click the link above to read more about Hitler’s detailed rise to power within the Nazi Party.
His involvement in World War II was huge and he was one of the main causes of the war when he decided to invade Poland on September 1st, 1939 and both France and Britain declared war on Germany on September 3rd, 1939. He attempted to invade Britain soon after as part of the Battle of Britain but failed to gain a foothold on the island-nation. In 1941, Hitler declared war on the United States following Japan’s decision to surprise attack the United States at Pearl Harbor. Likely, Hitler’s greatest downfall was his decision to invade the Soviet Union and the resulting Battle of Stalingrad in 1942. The battle saw Germany lose an entire German army division and began the Allied push towards Berlin. In 1944, the Allied invasion of Normandy caused the surrender of the German armies in less than a year after the invasion.
World War II also allowed Hitler the opportunity to follow through on his nationalistic and anti-Semitic beliefs. During his time as the leader of Germany he oversaw the extermination of 11 million people in concentration camps, including 6 million Jewish as part of the Holocaust.
Adolf Hitler committed suicide with his wife, Eva Braun, on April 30th of 1945. He knew that he awaited a terrible fate in the hands of justice after the war crimes he planned and executed against humanity. There is no question that he will always be remembered as a tyrant and his legacy is one of caution for those who ever become powerful with any kind of desire to harm people because of their race or religion.