Adolph Hitler, born near Linz, Austria 119 years ago today, was one of those men.
Over the past 80 years, the name "Hitler" has become almost synonymous with "Devil" or "Satan".
He is considered by the Western World, except for a few, as the man responsible for the deaths of the 65 million people killed worldwide because of World War II, including almost 70 % of the Jews of Europe and close to 2 million children...
Adolf Hitler was born on April 20, 1889 near Linz, Austria in Braunau Am Inn just outside of Bavaria, where one day the Nazi movement would take root and grow.
When Hitler was born Franz Josef was Emperor of Austria and Hungary, the portrait above is from 1908, and had been for 40 years. The Crown Prince had just died and the empire was more-or-less at peace.
In Bavaria, across the border in the German Empire, was another king. There were many kings in Germany in those days and Wilhelm of Prussia was the new Emperor, having succeeded his father and grandfather both of whom died in 1888.
While many contend that Adolph Hitler was a spoiled child, he was also raised strictly: his austere father retired when Hitler was young and was involved daily in his children's upbringing.
The elder Hitler died when Adolph was 14 years old and the young Hitler lost his beloved mother when he was 18.
Determined to pursue a career as an artist in Vienna, Hitler withdrew his personal funds and moved to the capital in order to pursue his dream. Unfortunately, for the world, young Hitler failed his entrance examination at the Academy of Art in Vienna, which excluded him from Art School.
Finding himself stymied by the official Art establishment Adolph Hitler lived, for several years, an almost vagabond existence in Vienna painting and selling postcards and painting scenery for picture-frame makers in order to survive.
In 1913 he remained an unacclaimed artist and, dissatisfied with Vienna (and Austria), moved across the border into the Bavarian capital city, Munich, which was in the German Empire, to try and gain acceptance to study painting and architecture.
It was here that world events caught up with him and in August 1914 the European continent erupted in war.
The causes of World War I and even its devastating effect on European society are, for the most part, beyond the scope of this essay.
The 25 year old Adolph Hitler enthusiastically enlisted in the German army and spent the next 4 years as a soldier on the Western Front. WWI was a brutal war fought with 19th century attitudes using 20th century technology (in embryo).
The war was prosecuted by both sides firing massed heavy artillery barrages against their enemy's positions until the ground, and the enemy army, was pulverized and pounded into mud.
This was alternated by sending infantry soldiers in massive waves to run across "no man's land" toward the enemy entrenchments through a veritable hailstorm of machine-gun bullets and artillery, usually resulting in huge numbers of killed and wounded soldiers but little gain of ground against the enemy.
During the 4 years 3 months and 10 days of the war 9,998,000 men lost their lives in combat, about 6,000,000 were reported as missing and slightly more than 20,000,000 were wounded in battle.
By all accounts Hitler was a good soldier, he was twice wounded, advanced in rank to corporal and was awarded the Iron Cross second class along with other, lesser awards.
Finally, the war ended with Germany's surrender to the hated French, English and Johnny-come-lately Americans. The German Army in the field was not defeated but the government lost its will to carry on and capitulated in order, perhaps, to make a better deal for the people.
The surviving soldiers returned home to a bitter defeat, the emperors and kings of the defeated combatants were forced to abdicate and Germany and Austria along with Hungary became republics. In Germany there were communist revolutions in Berlin, Munich and several other cities which were suppressed during late 1918 and 1919.
Within five years the economic structure of Germany crumbled and the currency became almost worthless, the once mighty German Mark was by December 1924 valued at 4,210,500,000,000 to 1 dollar U.S.
The money was so without value that this postage stamp became needed to send a letter. A couple of years earlier 5 pfennigs was enough and by the end of 1924
ten billion marks was needed!
While the political and economic situation in post-war Europe were deteriorating Adolph Hitler was recovering from temporary blindness caused by exposure to poison gas and working for the army as an anti-communist spy in Munich.
Hitler had abandoned art and had a new direction after the war years. He was working to save the world from communism and "The Jew". Somehow the never-do-well would-be artist turned soldier had become possessed of an implacable will... He was self-obsessed and self-directed, he was stiff and formal in manner and except when expressing his ferverent beliefs he had difficulty relating to people in normal ways.
In late 1919 Hitler began attending meetings of the German Worker's Party and late that year he joined the party. In a short time he was the leader of the party and had had its name changed to the National Socialist German Worker's Party,
NSDAP, the NAZI party.
Hitler had found his vehicle and started his rise to the highest office of Germany.
In 1923, the well known Beer-Hall Putsch catapulted the young Hitler into fame as a revolutionary...
Leading what he thought would be a violent overthrow of the the weak Weimar Government, he jumped onto a table in a Beerhall in Bavaria, where the Nazis had their power base, and in a fiery rant called the gathered Nazi officials to support him in the march on Munich.
The situation in Munich, and all of Germany, was chaotic. Unemployment was rife and even those with jobs watched their money drop in value hourly. There was armed conflict in the streets as the government sought to control various revolutionary factions which were contending for popular support or at least acquiesence.
Hitler's uprising also failed, he was arrested, tried and imprisoned.
Sitting in a jail cell after his arrest for the Beerhall Putsch, Hitler in 1923 began to to collate his ideas and ideologies. He wrote to pass the time while in prison, eventually publishing what would become the manifesto for the National Socialists. The Name of the premiere book of Nazi Philosophy which would set the stage both for the Nazis rise to power and subsequent reign, was called, "Mein Kampf", or "My Struggle".
While he had expressed it in other writings, the new manifesto viciously indicted the Jewish people for crimes against the "German People" and called for an end to their citizenship. He also expressed his extreme personal bigotry against Jews.
The Nazi movement gained strength, after 1923, initially in the more conservative Southern regions of Germany, especially in Bavaria. Though their tactics were often decried and their violence and censorship criticized, the movement gained momentum under the thirty-four year old Hitler.
Over time, with unemployment continuing, discontent grew and the largely Protestant populace became increasingly critical of the Catholic -controlled and ineffective government.
As the Bolshevik communist revolutionaries continued to incite disorder in Germany, Hitler gained popularity with his call for a return to traditional German values and religion, and a return to the land.
After regaining the head of the Nazi Party in 1924 from Rosenberg who took over while Hitler was in prison, Hitler began a reorganization of the party structure.
By 1925, Hitler had reformed the Party and re-organized the SA, the "Brownshirts" who were the party's uniformed militia of street-fighting thugs.
Among the policies developed during this time were: The nationalization of vital industry, the outlawing of profiteering from the war effort, the outlawing of unearned income, and the declaration of a need for a land policy reform (blut und boden or blood and soil).
In 1927, the ban on Nazi public speech by the Weimar government was lifted and Hitler resumed spreading his message of racial superiority and destiny around Germany. On May-Day the Nazis held their first open major meeting in Berlin following the lifting of the ban. This was a provocation of the Communists who felt that May first belonged to them.
There were bloody confrontations between the Nazis and Communists in Berlin, the Nazis were propagandising about the miserable conditions and bitter poverty which they claimed Bolshevism had brought to Russia.
Later they would stage an exhibition in which the drab, desolate desperate soviet life was portrayed in the style of an exposition.
The German president at the time was the aged war hero, Field Marshall Paul Von Hindenburg. Hindenburg's presidency was seen as a victory for the monarchists and the old aristocracy along with the industrial establishment and the military.
The government had, in 1926, rejected a move by Communists and Social Democrat Party populists to confiscate the property of the many German Princes without compensation. The landed class and militarists apparently saw Hitler's fledgling Nazis as a means of preserving their prerogatives and power. They thought that they could control the poor and uneducated Hitler, whose aims seemed consistent with their own, and use his growing party to control the masses.
In August 1927, twenty thousand national socialists met in Nurnberg with Adolph Hitler as their undisputed leader.
In the national elections of 1928 the Social Democrats and the German People's Party began to regain representation in the Reichstag. Again, fate played into the hands of Hitler. The international economic slow-down had begun and unemployment again rose to serious levels in the winter of 1928-1929.
The right-wing Nationalists, who were the landed and military classes, invited Hitler into the fold and provided financing for the party in order to combat the rise of the populist and socialist parties.
The slide into economic depression continued and hard hit working class Germans became receptive to Hitler's message of a return to pre-war stability.
By 1931 unemployment was again at five million and rising, there was continuing violence in the streets and the people yearned for stability. The Nazis were campaigning against "misery and hunger" as well as against Communists and Jews and they were gaining audience.
In 1932 there was a national election for president, Von Hindenburg - then 84 years old- was reelected with 53% of the votes, Hitler was second with 36 percent voting for him! This near victory was a tremendous triumph for Hitler and the Nazis. They went into a whirlwind round of speech-making and behind-the-scene manipulating and on January 30, 1933 Adolph Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany.
Hindenburg's Nationalist backers still thought that they could control "the Bavarian Corporal" as they called Hitler, in that they were mistaken.
Events now began to move rapidly. On February 1st Hindenburg, as was pre-arranged, dissolved the Reichstag which cleared the way for new elections.
As the campaigning progressed, on February 27th soon after 9:00 PM flames engulfed the Reichstag building. This arson was declared to be the work of a Dutch Communist, Marinus van der Lubbe. President Von Hindenburg signed an emergency decree against "communist acts of violence endangering the state" which gave Chancellor Hitler the legal means to suspend civil liberties along with freedom of the press.
Hitler's government now had "legal" power to conduct searches without warrants, to open people's mail, to listen to telephone conversations and to confiscate private property. There were no longer any operating guarantees of privacy of individuals.
Opponents of the regime were arrested, the jails were filled and when there was no space left people were confined in barbed-wire enclosures.
Six days after the fire the election was held. The Nazis were just seventy-six delegates short of a majority. The problem was solved by arresting all eighty-one Communist delegates thereby giving the Nazi party a majority. Adolph Hitler now was in total control of the German Nation.
The heads of the police forces were Nazis. Dr Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister, was in total control of the Nation's Press and was assuring the German People that everything was OK: the government was simply acting to safeguard the state.
Hitler emerged triumphant, his political enemies were imprisoned, all opposing political parties were effectively silenced and he was now the absolute ruler of Germany.
On March 23, 1933 an act of the Reichstag entitled " Law for removing the distress from the people and the Reich" consisting of five paragraphs was passed. It gave the government the power to make laws, enter into treaties with foreign states, and to initiate constitutional amendments all without the approval of the Reichstag.
In summary, the elected delegates of the people of Germany voted to give "the government" legal authority to act without restraint by the Reichstag.
Thereby a defacto end to representative government was voted by the representatives of the German electorate.
Above: Adolph Hitler in his guise as leader of the German People appears on the German Postage stamp and with Il Duce on an Italian stamp of 1942.
Below: Adolph Hitler on two stamps issued by his occupation government of Poland marking his birthday April 20, 1944.
Above: A Polish stamp over-printed with the Nazi eagle and a new value for use in German-occupied Poland.
Right: A German stamp for use in Poland and a German stamp for use in the Czech Republic...
For more information about this turbulent period in world history, I recommend William L. Shirer's magnificent "The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich"