Encyclopedia

Hitler, Adolf

(1889-1945), dictator of Germany, launched the most destructive war in history. WWII involved the deaths of perhaps 50,000,000 men, women and children, including the 6,000,000 killed in the Holocaust.

Hitler's political ideas are highly discredited today. He believed that the individual should submit to the authoritarian power of the state, that the inequality of the races was a law of nature, and that the superior races should rule over the inferior ones. He had a contempt for democracy, a fierce hatred of Jews and a belief in the heroic virtues of war.

HITLER'S RISE TO POWER

Hitler's career was marked by a spectacular rise to power. Hitler went from being a marginal member of society, an impoverished artist living in a men's hostel in Vienna, to being the dictator of one of the world's strongest nations. His fall from power was equally spectacular. It involved the deaths of perhaps 50,000,000 men, women and children, including the 6,000,000 killed in the Holocaust. It left his nation, Germany, in ruins. It ended in a bunker under the streets of Berlin with a self-inflicted pistol shot.

Hitler's rise to power was a function of his personal political talents and the tumultuous historical period in Germany following its defeat in the WWI. Hitler was a demagogue who had a hypnotic effect on others. He expounded his radical ideas in a shrill and screaming voice at mass rallies and by using the then new technology of radio broadcasts. Hitler would harangue and threaten his opponents. These were not empty threats. Hitler had a private army, the SA (Sturm Abteilungen = Storm Troopers), which would take to the streets to attack, intimidate and sometimes murder political opponents.

Germany in the 1920's and 1930's was a nation in turmoil. Forced to pay unpopular reparations as a consequence of the peace treaty with which WWI concluded (The Treaty of Versailles), Germany went through a period of hyperinflation when the German mark became almost worthless and a wheelbarrow of currency was required to buy basic necessities. In November 1923, one dollar was worth 130 billion German marks. Germany recovered from this crisis of hyperinflation only to be hit several years later by a worldwide depression which had begun in the United States. The depression hit Germany hard in 1931 and continued throughout 1932 and 1933. These were the years of Hitler's rise to prominence on the national scene and his ascension to the post of Chancellor of Germany.

The social consequences of this depression were enormous. Germans saw the social fabric of their society crumbling. In such uncertain times radical solutions like Hitler's National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei = Nazi Party) and the Communist party became attractive alternatives to centrist democratic government. The Weimar Republic, the democratic government which had been established after WWI, was fractionalized by competing political parties and impotent to face the growing crisis.

Hitler came to power by a combination of legal means and backroom politics. It culminated in his being made Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. Once in power he engineered the adoption of emergency powers in the form of the the so-called Enabling Law (Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich = Law for Removing the Distress of People and Reich) that allowed him to govern by decree, to suspend individual liberties and to abrogate the Constitution. Hitler's dictatorship rested on the constitutional foundation of this single law. Six months later Hitler conducted a bloody purge within his own party and executed the leaders of the SA and carried out various political vendettas. On August 2, 1934, Hitler assumed the office of President as well as Chancellor and became Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Reich. With the army swearing personal allegiance to the man Adolf Hitler, his dictatorship of Germany became complete.


Source: Bullock, Hitler A Study in Tyranny.


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