From failed artist and aimless drifter to the most devastating politician of the 20th century – how did that happen?
Adolf Hitler had no formal qualifications, was a failed artist and was drifting aimlessly before enlisting in the army at the upsurge of war in August of 1914. Although he was awarded with Iron Cross First Class, which showed that he did not lack courage, he was not promoted and was considered to lack leadership qualities.
However, in the course of the following 26 years he was successful in gaining and exercising utmost power in Germany and, debatably had the most influence on the history of the world than any other political leader, in the 20th century. The reason for this amazing transformation partly lies in the man himself – his personal traits and qualities – and partly in the situation he found himself in, with a country in crisis.
His political career started in Munich when he became a member of the German Workers’ Party (DAP), a small group of anti-Semites and extreme nationalists who saw their purpose as attempting to win over workers in Germany from the Internationalist Social Democratic Party, and convince people that Jews were essentially responsible for Germany’s crisis.
Hitler became leader of the party in July 1921, which had been renamed the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) and which was now the largest party in Germany. Hitler was also Reich Chancellor.
Hitler’s Early Years
He was born on April 20th April 1889 in Braunau am Inn on the Austro-German border. His cold and strict father died when Hitler was 13, and his mother was loving and gentle and spoiled her son who cherished her. Hitler was very intelligent but found formal education boring, with the exception of history.
Although a feature of early 20th century Europe was extreme ethnic nationalism, it was especially prevalent in Austria because of the increasing threat to German superiority posed by the increase of other nationalities, specifically the Czechs.
Hitler did not succeed in school, and the pressure for him to get a job had been removed by the death of his father. He now had the image of an artist, a better being above menial employment. His home town Linz was where he spent most of his time drawing, reading or attending the opera or theatre.
Although he was always polite, his demeanor was marked by a mixture of insecurity and arrogance.
Hitler moved to Vienna in 1907 but failed to get into art school. This was devastating for him. His money had run out and he had no choice but to stay in men’s hostels from 1909 – 1913.
Despite being poor, Hitler was actively engaged in his intellectual and political environment, pouring over newspapers and pamphlets and going to the Imperial parliament.
Hitler developed a strong dislike for the Socialist movement, fuelled by his disinclination to identify with the working class and his motivation to hold on to his self-image as a superior human, even though in reality he had an inferior social position.
Prompted by his wish to elude service in the military, Hitler moved to the German city of his dreams – Munich. He led a life similar to the one he led in Vienna, until at the upsurge of war in 1914; he willingly volunteered his service to a Bavarian regiment. This service in the army provided Hitler with a purpose in life.
Despite Germany’s defeat in the war, Hitler was eager to remain in the army. His only alternative was to return to his pre-war life.
He proved a great success when he was employed to preach anti-socialism and German nationalism to the troops. He was also directed to report on the DAP, where he was eventually invited to join.
At first, Hitler envisioned himself as a political missionary looking to convert the German people to his view of the world instead of as a political leader. He was aware of his demagogic talents but also of his limitations due to the absence of formal education.
His arrival as unrivalled ‘Fuhrer’ of the NSDAP and his resolution to become a dictator of Germany happened only between the years of 1921 and 1923 due to his increasing self-confidence.