Adolf Hitler

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Hitler, Adolf

Hitler, Adolf (äˈdôlf hĭtˈlər), 1889–1945, founder and leader of National Socialism (Nazism), and German dictator, b. Braunau in Upper Austria.

Early Life

The son of Alois Hitler (1837–1903), an Austrian customs official, Adolf Hitler dropped out of high school, and after his mother's death in 1907 moved to Vienna. He twice failed the admission examination for the academy of arts. His vicious anti-Semitism (perhaps influenced by that of Karl Lueger) and political harangues drove many acquaintances away. In 1913 he settled in Munich, and on the outbreak of World War I he joined the Bavarian army. During the war he was gassed and wounded; a mediocre soldier who lacked leadership skills and never progressed beyond the rank of corporal, he nonetheless received the Iron Cross for bravery. The war hardened his extreme nationalism, and he blamed the German defeat on betrayal by Jews and Marxists. Upon his return to Munich he joined a handful of other nationalistic veterans in the German Workers' party.

The Nazi Party

In 1920 the German Workers' party was renamed the National Socialist German Workers, or Nazi, party; in 1921 it was reorganized with Hitler as chairman. He achieved leadership in the party (and later in Germany) largely due to his extraordinary skill as a speaker, holding large crowds spellbound by his oratory. Hitler made the party a paramilitary organization and won the support of such prominent nationalists as Field Marshal Ludendorff. On Nov. 8, 1923, Hitler attempted the “beer-hall putsch,” intended to overthrow the republican government. Leading Bavarian officials (themselves discontented nationalists) were surrounded at a meeting in a Munich beer hall by the Nazi militia, or storm troopers, and made to swear loyalty to this “revolution.” On regaining their freedom they used the Reichswehr [army] to defeat the coup. Hitler fled, but was soon arrested and sentenced to five years in the Landsberg fortress. He served nine months.

The putsch made Hitler known throughout Germany. In prison he dictated to Rudolf Hess the turgid Mein Kampf [my struggle], filled with anti-Semitic outpourings, worship of power, disdain for civil morality, and strategy for world domination. It became the bible of National Socialism. Under the tutelage of Hitler and Gregor Strasser, aided by Josef Goebbels and from 1928 by Hermann Goering, the party grew slowly until the economic depression, beginning in 1929, brought it mass support.

Hitler's Rise to Power

To Germans burdened by reparations payments to the victors of World War I, and threatened by hyperinflation, political chaos, and a possible Communist takeover, Hitler, frenzied yet magnetic, offered scapegoats and solutions. To the economically depressed he promised to despoil “Jew financiers,” to workers he promised security. He gained the financial support of bankers and industrialists with his virulent anti-Communism and promises to control trade unionism.

Hitler had a keen and sinister insight into mass psychology, and he was a master of intrigue and maneuver. After acquiring German citizenship through the state of Brunswick, he ran in the presidential elections of 1932, losing to the popular war hero Paul von Hindenburg but strengthening his position by falsely promising to support Chancellor Franz von Papen, who lifted the ban on the storm troops (June, 1932).

When the Nazis were elected the largest party in the Reichstag (July, 1932), Hindenburg offered Hitler a subordinate position in the cabinet. Hitler held out for the chief post and for sweeping powers. The chancellorship went instead to Kurt von Schleicher, who resigned on Jan. 28, 1933. Amid collapsing parliamentary government and pitched battles between Nazis and Communists, Hindenburg, on the urging of von Papen, called Hitler to be chancellor of a coalition cabinet, refusing him extraordinary powers. Supported by Alfred Hugenberg, Hitler took office on Jan. 30.

Hitler in Power

Germany's new ruler was a master of Machiavellian politics. Hitler feared plots, and firmly believed in his mission to achieve the supremacy of the so-called Aryan race, which he termed the “master race.” Having legally come to power, he used brutality and subversion to carry out a “creeping coup” to transform the state into his dictatorship. He blamed the Communists for a fire in the Reichstag on Feb. 27, and by fanning anti-Communist hysteria the Nazis and Nationalists won a bare majority of Reichstag seats in the elections of Mar. 5. After the Communists had been barred, and amid a display of storm trooper strength, the Reichstag voted to give Hitler dictatorial powers.

From the first days of Hitler's “Third Reich” (for its history, see Germany; National Socialism; World War II) political opponents such as von Schleicher and Gregor Strasser (who had resigned from the Nazis) were murdered or incarcerated, and some Nazis, among them Ernst Roehm, were themselves purged. Jews, Socialists, Communists, and others were hounded, arrested, or assassinated. Government, law, and education became appendages of National Socialism. After Hindenburg's death in 1934 the chancellorship and presidency were united in the person of the Führer [leader]. Heil Hitler! became the obligatory form of greeting, and a cult of Führer worship was propagated.

In 1938, amid carefully nurtured scandal, Hitler dismissed top army commanders and divided their power between himself and faithful subordinates such as Wilhelm Keitel. As Hitler prepared for war he replaced professional diplomats with Nazis such as Joachim von Ribbentrop. Many former doubters had been converted by Hitler's bold diplomatic coups, beginning with German rearmament. Hitler bullied smaller nations into making territorial concessions and played on the desire for peace and the fear of Communism among the larger European states to achieve his expansionist goals. To forestall retaliation he claimed to be merely rectifying the onerous Treaty of Versailles.

Benito Mussolini became his ally and Italy gradually became Germany's satellite. Hitler helped Franco to establish a dictatorship in Spain. On Hitler's order the Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was assassinated, and the Anschluss amalgamated Austria with the Reich. Hitler used the issue of “persecuted” Germans in Czechoslovakia to push through the Munich Pact, in which England, France, and Italy agreed to German annexation of the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia (1938).

World War II

Hitler's nonaggression pact (Aug., 1939) with Stalin allowed him to invade Poland (Sept. 1), beginning World War II, while Stalin annexed Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia to the USSR and attacked eastern Poland; but Hitler honored the pact only until he found it convenient to attack the USSR (June, 1941). In Dec., 1941, he assumed personal command of war strategy, leading to disaster. In early 1943 he refused to admit defeat at the battle of Stalingrad (now Volgograd), bringing death to vast numbers of German troops. As the tide of war turned against Hitler, his mass extermination of the Jews, overseen by Adolf Eichmann, was accelerated, and he gave increasing power to Heinrich Himmler and the dread secret police, the Gestapo and SS (Schutzstaffel).

Fall of Hitler and the Third Reich

By July, 1944, the German military situation was desperate, and a group of high military and civil officials (including Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben and Karl Goerdeler) attempted an assassination. Hitler escaped a bomb explosion with slight injuries; most of the plotters were executed. Although the war was hopelessly lost by early 1945, Hitler insisted that Germans fight on to the death. During the final German collapse in Apr., 1945, Hitler denounced Nazi leaders who wished to negotiate, and remained in Berlin when it was stormed by the Russians.

On Apr. 29 Hitler married his long-time mistress, Eva Braun, and on Apr. 30 they committed suicide together in an underground bunker of the chancellery building, having ordered that their bodies be burned. Hitler left Germany devastated; his legacy is the memory of one of the most dreadful tyrannies of modern times.


See his Mein Kampf (complete tr. 1940), Hitler's Secret Conversations, 1941–1944 (tr. 1953), and Hitler's Secret Book (tr. 1962). See also biographies by A. Bullock (rev. ed. 1964), B. F. Smith (1968), J. C. Fest (tr. 1974), I. Kershaw (2 vol., 1999–2000), A. N. Wilson (2012), V. Ullrich (2 vol., 2013–18, tr. 2016–20), P. Lonegrich (2019), and B. Simms (2019); H. R. Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler (1947); W. A. Jenks, Vienna and the Young Hitler (1960); W. Maser, Hitler (tr. 1973); R. E. Hertzstein, Adolf Hitler and the German Trauma, 1913–1945 (1974); R. and C. Winston, Hitler (1974); R. Hamilton, Who Voted for Hitler? (1982); J. Lukacs, The Hitler of History (1997); R. Rosenbaum, Explaining Hitler (1998); F. Redlich, Hitler: Diagnosis of a Destructive Prophet (1998); R. J. Overy, The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia (2004).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hitler, Adolf


(real surname, Schickelgruber). Born Apr. 20, 1889, in Braunau, Austria; died Apr. 30, 1945, in Berlin. Leader of the German fascist (National Socialist) party and head of the German fascist state (1933-45); major war criminal.

Hitler was born into the family of a customs official. Even prior to World War I, he was already an ardent proponent of antisocialist, nationalistic, and anti-Semitic “theories.” In 1913 he moved to Munich; during World War I, he was a corporal in the German Army. From 1919 he was one of the leading members of the so-called National Socialist German Workers’ Party, becoming its head in 1921. On Nov. 8 and 9, 1923, together with General E. von Ludendorff, Hitler attempted a fascist coup d’état in Munich; it failed. In the struggle for power, Hitler made use of unrestrained demagogy, provocation, blackmail, and murder. Hitler and his henchmen, financed by the German monopolies, conducted revanchist propaganda under the banner of a struggle against the Versailles Treaty of 1919 and succeeded in kindling chauvinism in the country and engendering massive support for themselves among the population. On Jan. 30, 1933, President P. von Hindenburg appointed Hitler chancellor. After Hindenburg’s death, Hitler concentrated all legislative and executive power in his own hands, merging the posts of president and chancellor (August 1934).

Hitler and his henchmen established a bloody terrorist regime in the country and turned Germany into an armed camp. Fascist Germany, with Hitler at its head, carried out an armed intervention into the Spanish Republic (1936-39), seized Austria (1938), occupied Czechoslovakia (1938-39), and, having put together a bloc of aggressor countries, unleashed World War II. On June 22, 1941, fascist Germany attacked the USSR. In December 1941, Hitler became commander in chief of the German armed forces.

Hitler was the inspirer and one of the principal organizers of the massive extermination of innocent civilians and prisoners of war and of the monstrous atrocities committed by the fascists in German-occupied countries and especially in the temporarily seized territories of the USSR. In 1945, amid the defeat of fascist Germany, the disintegration of the fascist state, and the entry of Soviet troops into Berlin, Hitler committed suicide in the bunker of the Berlin imperial chancellery.


Rozanov, G. L. “Krushenie fashistskoi Germanii.” Addendum to the book Poslednie dni Gitlera. Moscow, 1963.
Koval’, V. S. Pravda o zagovore protiv Gitlera 20 iiulia 1944. Kiev, 1960.
Mel’nikov, D. Zagovor 20 iiulia 1944 g. v Germanii. Moscow, 1962.
Heiden, K. Adolf Hitler, vols. 1-2. Zurich, 1936-37.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Hitler, Adolf


While sleeping in a bunker during World War I, Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) had a nightmare in which an avalanche of earth and molten lava buried him alive. Awakened from his sleep by this bad dream, Hitler left the dugout seeking fresh air to clear his head. He proceeded to wander into the open area that was the battlefield; this was extremely dangerous, but Hitler later insisted that he was being led by a will that was not his own. He remained in a semiconscious state until a sudden burst of enemy fire brought him to his senses. Immediately recognizing the danger, he turned around and sought the relative safety of his bunker only to find that there had been a direct hit on the dugout and all of his comrades were dead. Hitler interpreted this event to be an affirmation of his destiny to be a great leader to his people; he attributed his survival to a force that would protect him so he could carry out that role. He felt himself to be invincible.

Modern day analysts who review this dream do not conclude that it was an unequivocal sign of divine election. Some maintain, though, that it could have been prophetic in nature, predicting his destiny when he died in an underground bunker at the end of World War II. The psychoanalyst Carl Jung cited it as an example of “synchronicity.”

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.

Hitler, Adolf

(1889–1945) Nazi dictator of Germany; eclipsed all predecessors’ hatred for Jews. [World Hist.: Hitler]

Hitler, Adolf

(1889–1945) German dictator; his New Order excluded non-Aryans, e.g., Jews, Slavs. [Ger. Hist.: Hitler]
See: Bigotry

Hitler, Adolf

(1889–1945) Nazi dictator; architect of “Final Solution” to exterminate Jews. [Ger. Hist.: Hitler]

Hitler, Adolf

(1889–1945) led Germany to conquer or destroy most of Europe. [Ger. Hist.: Hitler]

Hitler, Adolf (1889–1945) German

dictator tried to conquer the world. [Ger. Hist.: Hitler]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.