Hitler, Adolf

(1889–1945)
   German dictator. By the time Hitler lay dead in a Berlin bunker, beneath the rubble of his Third Reich, his ‘final solution’ had accounted for the slaughter of one out of every three Jews on earth. The Holocaust was the greatest disaster in Jewish history. Hitler was born in the small Austrian town of Braunau near the German border. His father was a minor customs official, his mother a servant girl. He had an unhappy youth, and was frustrated in his urge to be an artist. His emotional problems found an outlet in fantasies of Germanic grandeur, and in a pathological hatred for Communists, freemasons and Jews. He absorbed the racial doctrines and poisonous anti-Semitism that were rife in Germany and Austria at the time, especially those spread by the notorious Karl Lueger. Hitler was later to write proudly in Mein Kampf, ‘Gradually I began to hate them [the Jews]. I was transformed from a weakly world-citizen into a fanatic anti-Semite.’ In World War I, Hitler showed no military aptitude at all. He rose to the rank of corporal and was wounded at the Somme. After the war he lived in Munich, Bavaria, and found work as a building labourer. He became a street-corner political agitator and he and a few other disgruntled ex-servicemen formed a little group, which was to grow into the National Socialist (NAZI) Party. In normal times, scant attention would have been paid to this rabid demagogue with his pasty face, hoarse voice, guttural Austrian accent, staring eyes and absurd little black moustache. He would have been regarded as a crank or locked up in a psychiatric ward. But the times were not normal. Somehow, for his growing audiences, Hitler gave expression to the bitterness of defeat, inflation and unemployment, and the pentup rancours of the little man. The party grew, and enrolled hundreds of young hooligans in its brown-shirted ‘Storm Troopers’. Hitler provided it with symbols: the swastika of pagan teutonic myths, and the Roman salute of Mussolini’s fascists.
   But in 1923 he over-reached himself, with the abortive ‘beer cellar putsch’. He was arrested and jailed, and started in his cell to write Mein Kampf. When he was released the following year, conditions in Germany had taken a turn for the better, with an economic recovery stimulated by British and American help. The Nazi movement declined until it was given a fresh impetus by the great depression that began in 1929. Nazism spread rapidly and was subsidized by German industrialists, who saw in it an instrument for smashing the trade unions and social democracy. In 1933, the aged president, von Hindenburg, was persuaded to appoint Hitler as chancellor (head of government). The corporal of Braunau had become the Fuehrer.
   In the next six years Hitler exploited the weakness and credulousness of the democratic powers and their appeasement of the strutting dictators. He built up a powerful war machine, occupied the Rhineland and Austria, and made military alliances with Italy and Japan. On 1 September 1939, he launched a blitzkrieg against Poland and World War II had begun.
   In Hitler’s rise to power anti-Semitism developed from a personal obsession to a basic state doctrine. Aryan Germany was destined to be a herrenvolk (master race); but first it had to cleanse its system of the Jewish ‘evil’. These beliefs were used to manipulate the mass psyche of the German people, provide them with a racial scapegoat and make them submissive to totalitarian rule. One of the anti- Jewish Nuremburg Laws of 1935 had the significant title Law for the Protection of the German Blood and Honour. In the planned Kristallnacht operation of 1938, Jewish homes, shops and synagogues were destroyed and looted throughout Germany.
   After the outbreak of war, the Jews were rounded up in Germany and the occupied territories and transported off to concentration camps or as slave labour for German war industries. On 20 January 1942, Hitler called a meeting at Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin, and approved plans for the ‘final solution of the Jewish question’. The implementation was entrusted to the SS, the vast security apparatus headed by Heinrich Himmler. It had control of the concentration camps, some of which were fitted with specially designed gas chambers. It also used the Einsatzgruppen, mobile killer units. In the midst of all the war pressures, Hitler gave his personal attention to the extermination of Europe’s Jews. In country after country, the horror of systematic genocide unfolded itself. After the sweeping German victories in the earlier part of the war, the tide began to turn - in the Battle of Britain; at Stalingrad and Alamein; with the entry of the United States in the wake of Pearl Harbor; and then with the Normandy landings in 1944. Hitler raved that international Jewry was directing both the democracies in the West and the Soviet Union in the East. Some of his generals, constantly overruled by him in the conduct of the war, began to realise that the Fuehrer was no longer rational, and there was an unsuccessful plot to kill him. In May 1945, with the Russian army marching into Berlin, Hitler committed suicide in the underground bunker of the Reich chancellery. As the advancing Allied armies liberated one death camp after another, they found in them the pitiful living skeletons of those inmates who still survived. For six million Jews, including a million children, liberation had come too late.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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