German chancellor and Nazi leader (1933–45). One of the most powerful and evil leaders in the history of the world, he achieved a following in Germany and his native Austria that enabled him to make a serious bid for world domination.
Born in Braunau, the son of a customs official, Hitler left school in 1905. He had an ambition to become an artist but, after failing to be admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna in 1907, he became an architect's draughtsman. During World War I he served as a lance corporal in the Bavarian army, winning the Iron Cross.
In 1919 Hitler co-founded the National Socialist Workers' Party, which later became known as the Nazi Party. As one of the organizers of the unsuccessful ‘Beer Hall’ putsch in Munich in 1923, which attempted to overthrow the government, he served thirteen months in Landsberg Prison, where he dictated his political testament Mein Kampf to his secretary, Rudolf Hess. Following his release in 1924 he worked to build up the Nazi Party, which increased its numbers in the Reichstag from 12 in 1928 to 232 in 1932. In 1933 he was elected chancellor and by means of devious political intrigue acquired dictatorial powers for an initial period of four years. On the death of Hindenburg in 1934 he combined the offices of president and chancellor to become ‘Der Führer’ (leader). By then he had acquired considerable support from right-wing industrialists and bankers throughout Germany.
Over the next few years Hitler embarked on a massive programme of rearmament. At home, he destroyed German democracy by murdering his political rivals (in 1934 one hundred people were executed in what was known as the ‘night of the long knives’), introduced a fanatical antisemitic policy, and whipped up emotional support for his regime through elaborate propaganda and mass meetings at which he and his audiences attained a degree of hysteria that now make old film clips of these events appear comic. In a series of military moves on the way to world domination, he reoccupied the Rhineland (1936), established the Rome–Berlin Axis (1936), and annexed Austria (1938), Sudetenland (1938), and Czechoslovakia (1939). A nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union (1939), negotiated by his foreign minister Ribbentrop, enabled him to invade Poland in 1939. This brought Germany into a state of war with Britain and France. France soon fell (1940) and the rest of continental Europe succumbed to his jackbooted troops. However, when he attempted to invade the Soviet Union (1941) he was forced to retreat after disastrous losses at Stalingrad in 1943. As the tide of the war turned against him, so did factions in Germany. He survived an assassination attempt in 1944 but in the final days of the war, with British, US, and Soviet armies advancing on Berlin, he committed suicide (1945) in his bunker, shortly after marrying his mistress, Eva Braun.
Ironically, Hitler's failure to achieve world domination can be attributed in part to his fanatical antisemitism, which caused his Jewish physicists to flee to Britain and the USA, where they created the atomic weapons that would have enabled him to succeed. In the end, he and his followers brought about the most devastating war in the history of man, the genocide of six million people, and the disgrace and humiliation of Germany.