April 20th in German History: Adolf Hitler’s Birthday

Adolf Hitler as an infant. Image Credit: Wikipedia

Today is one of the darkest days in German History, and a day that is very sensitive to a lot of people who know what happened on it. On April 20th, 1889, Adolf Hitler was born in Braunau am Inn, an Austrian Town, to Alois Hitler and Klara Polzl.

Hitler had a troubled childhood. His family moved a great deal and he did poorly in school. Hitler’s father beat him for this, and Hitler developed a hatred of him and a great affection for his mother. It was also during his younger years that Hitler developed a strong sense of German nationalism, and he sang a German anthem rather than the Austrian one and used the Heil greeting with his friends. After his father died in 1903, Hitler was allowed to leave his school and Linz by his mother and enrolled in one at Steyr. He was able to pass his final exam at that school, but after leaving it had no career or educational aspirations. In 1907 Hitler tried to enter the Vienna art school but was rejected twice. It that same year his mother died. This left Hitler emotionally distraught and he soon also ran out of money. He was left homeless and made a living as a day laborer and selling his artwork. It was in this state of abject failure that Hitler was first introduced to racist and antisemitic rhetoric by the Populists like Vienna mayor Karl Lueger and local newspapers. Further, Hitler became influenced by philosophers like Georg Ritter von Schonerer, whose German Nationalist and anti Catholic philosophy further influenced Hitler’s mindset. Hitler was conscripted into the Austrian Army in 1913 but was deemed unfit for service due to medical reasons. Hitler joined the Bavarian Army during WWI and served with distinction, being awarded the Iron Cross, ironically at the recommendation of his Jewish commanding officer. While recuperating from his wound in a hospital Hitler received word of the German capitulation, which surprised and angered him. He almost immediately began to believe in the stab-in-the-back myth, which said that the army had been betrayed by Communists, Jews, and civilians who signed the armistice. Hitler remained in the army after WWI and was sent to spy on the German Worker’s Party. He found the Party’s message appealing and soon joined it, resigning from the army in 1920. He became the Party’s main spokesperson and soon supplanted Anton Drexler as its leader. The Party had by this time changed its name to the National Socialist German Worker’s Party, or Nazi Party. The Party attempted to take over the government of Bavaria in the Beer Hall Pusch but was stopped and Hitler was arrested. The judges were sympathetic to him and gave him a lenient sentence and during his time in prison he wrote Mein Kampf. After leaving prison, Hitler set about rehabilitating the Nazi Party’s image, but was unable to gain traction in an era of relative prosperity and stability. Once the Great Depression plunged Germany into a new era of poverty, instability, and paranoia, though, the popularity of the Nazi Party soared and Hitler was invited into the government. Hitler quickly set about securing himself more power and after President Hindenburg died he established the office of Fuhrer, supreme leader, and appointed himself to it. The next several years were spent securing his control over Germany, rearming, and implementing his racial policies. Several years of expansion came to a head when in 1939 Hitler invaded Poland and in response France and Britain declared war on Germany. The war initially went well for the Germans, with Poland, France, and several minor nations capitulating and leaving Britain isolated. However, in accordance with Hitler’s desire for Lebensraum and hatred of communism, Germany invaded Russia in 1941 and quickly became bogged down. The war gradually turned against Germany as the US entered the war and reverses in North Africa and the Atlantic put Germany on the defensive. Disasters at Stalingrad and the capitulation of Italy to the Allies in 1943 would decisively turn the war against Germany, and Hitler would become more and more unstable and deranged as Germany collapsed around him. It was at this point that the Nazis intensified their racial plans, and implemented the final solution, killing millions. After three years of setbacks and defeats, Germany would be pushed back to Berlin and Hitler would commit suicide in his bunker on April 30th, just ten days after his 56th birthday.

I often say that it is important to remember history so that we may learn from it and not repeat its mistakes. At the risk of sounding redundant, the life and crimes of Adolf Hitler must be remembered not only in the countries he lead or invaded but around the world. In the West younger generations are taught a lot about Hitler both in school and by most aspects of our media and culture, but that is not so everywhere. In many East Asian nations, Hitler and Nazism is seen as a joke by those who never experienced it first hand. People wear Nazi armbands and SS uniforms are popularized in entertainment and popular culture. This worries me, as it suggests that the world, in its complacency, may yet come to forget how Hitler rose to power and let a similar leader do the same.

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