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Biography of Adolf Hitler 1889 – 1945 pg 2
In his foreign policy, Hitler combined opportunism and clever timing. He showed astonishing skill in judging the mood of the democratic leaders and exploiting their weaknesses—in spite of the fact that he had scarcely set foot outside Austria and Germany and spoke no foreign language. Up to this point every move had been successful. Even his anxiety over British and French entry into the war was dispelled by the rapid success of the campaign in Poland. He could, he thought, rely on his talents during the war as he relied on them before.
World War II
Germany's war strategy was assumed by Hitler from the first. When the successful campaign against Poland failed to produce the desired peace accord with Britain, he ordered the army to prepare for an immediate offensive in the west. Bad weather made some of his reluctant generals postpone the western offensive. This in turn led to two major changes in planning. The first was Hitler's order to forestall an eventual British presence in Norway by occupying that country and Denmark in April 1940. Hitler took a close personal interest in this daring operation. From this time onward his intervention in the detail of military operations grew steadily greater. The second was Hitler's important adoption of General Erich von Manstein's plan for an attack through the Ardennes (which began May 10) instead of farther north. This was a brilliant and startling success. The German armies reached the Channel ports (which they had been unable to reach during World War I) in 10 days. Holland surrendered after 4 days and Belgium after 16 days. Hitler held back General Karl von Rundstedt's tanks south of Dunkirk, thus enabling the British to evacuate most of their army. But the Western campaign as a whole was amazingly successful. On June 10 Italy entered the war on the side of Germany. On June 22 Hitler signed a triumphant armistice with the French on the site of the Armistice of 1918.
Hitler hoped that the British would negotiate an armistice. When this did not happen, he proceeded to plan the invasion of Britain, together with the elimination of British air power. At the same time preparations were begun for the invasion of the Soviet Union, which in Hitler's view was Britain's last hope for a bulwark against German control of the continent. Then Mussolini invaded Greece, where the failures of the Italian armies made it necessary for German forces to come to their aid in the Balkans and North Africa. Hitler's plans were further disrupted by a coup d'état in Yugoslavia in March 1941, overthrowing the government that had made an agreement with Germany. Hitler immediately ordered his armies to subdue Yugoslavia. The campaigns in the Mediterranean theatre, although successful, were limited, compared to the invasion of Russia. Hitler would spare few forces from “Operation Barbarossa,” the planned invasion of the Soviet Union.
The attack against the U.S.S.R. was launched on June 22, 1941. The German army advanced swiftly into the Soviet Union, corralling almost three million Russian prisoners, but it failed to destroy its Russian opponent. Hitler became overbearing in his relations with his generals. He disagreed with them about the object of the main attack, and he wasted time and strength by failing to concentrate on a single objective. In December 1941, a few miles before Moscow, a Russian counteroffensive finally made it clear that Hitler's hopes of a single campaign could not be realized.
On December 7, the next day, the Japanese attacked U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor. Hitler's alliance with Japan forced him to declare war on the United States. From this moment on his entire strategy changed. He hoped and tried (like his idol Frederick II the Great) to break what he deemed was the unnatural coalition of his opponents by forcing one or the other of them to make peace. (In the end, the “unnatural” coalition between Stalin and Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt did break up, but too late for Hitler.) He also ordered the reorganization of the German economy on a full wartime basis.
Meanwhile, Himmler prepared the ground for a “new order” in Europe. From 1933 to 1939 and in some instances even during the first years of the war, Hitler's purpose was to expel the Jews from the Greater German Reich. In 1941 this policy changed from expulsion to extermination. The concentration camps created under the Nazi regime were thereby expanded to include extermination camps, such as Auschwitz, and mobile extermination squads, the Einsatzgruppen. Although Catholics, Poles, homosexuals, Roma (Gypsies), and the handicapped were targeted for persecution, if not outright extermination, the Jews of Germany, Poland, and the Soviet Union were by far the most numerous among the victims; in German-occupied Europe some 6,000,000 Jews were killed during the war. The sufferings of other peoples were only less when measured in their numbers killed.
At the end of 1942, defeat at El-Alamein and at Stalingrad and the American landing in French North Africa brought the turning point in the war, and Hitler's character and way of life began to change. Directing operations from his headquarters in the east, he refused to visit bombed cities or to allow some withdrawals, and he became increasingly dependent on his physician, Theodor Morell, and on the large amounts and varieties of medicines he ingested. Yet Hitler had not lost the power to react vigorously in the face of misfortune. After the arrest of Mussolini in July 1943 and the Italian armistice, he not only directed the occupation of all important positions held by the Italian army but also ordered the rescue of Mussolini, with the intention that he should head a new fascist government. On the eastern front, however, there was less and less possibility of holding up the advance. Relations with his army commanders grew strained, the more so with the growing importance given to the SS ( Schutzstaffel) divisions. Meanwhile, the general failure of the U-boat campaign and the bombing of Germany made chances of German victory very unlikely.
Desperate officers and anti-Nazi civilians became ready to remove Hitler and negotiate a peace. Several attempts on Hitler's life were planned in 1943–44; the most nearly successful was made on July 20, 1944, when Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg exploded a bomb at a conference at Hitler's headquarters in East Prussia. But Hitler escaped with superficial injuries, and, with few exceptions, those implicated in the plot were executed. The reduction of the army's independence was now made complete; National Socialist political officers were appointed to all military headquarters.
Thereafter, Hitler was increasingly ill; but he did not relax or lose control, and he continued to exercise an almost hypnotic power over his close subordinates, none of whom wielded any independent authority. The Allied invasion of Normandy (June 6, 1944) marked the beginning of the end. Within a few months, eight European capitals (Rome, Paris, Brussels, Bucharest, Sofia, Athens, Belgrade, Helsinki) were liberated by the Allies or surrendered to them. In December 1944 Hitler moved his headquarters to the west to direct an offensive in the Ardennes aimed at splitting the American and the British armies. When this failed, his hopes for victory became ever more visionary, based on the use of new weapons (German rockets had been fired on London since June 1944) or on the breakup of the Allied Powers.
After January 1945 Hitler never left the Chancellery in Berlin or its bunker, abandoning a plan to lead a final resistance in the south as the Soviet forces closed in on Berlin. In a state of extreme nervous exhaustion, he at last accepted the inevitability of defeat and thereupon prepared to take his own life, leaving to its fate the country over which he had taken absolute command. Before this, two further acts remained. At midnight on April 28–29 he married Eva Braun. Immediately afterward he dictated his political testament, justifying his career and appointing Admiral Karl Dönitz as head of the state and Josef Goebbels as chancellor.
On April 30 he said farewell to Goebbels and the few others remaining, then retired to his suite and shot himself. His wife took poison. In accordance with his instructions, their bodies were burned.
Hitler's success was due to the susceptibility of postwar Germany to his unique talents as a national leader. His rise to power was not inevitable; yet there was no one who equalled his ability to exploit and shape events to his own ends. The power that he wielded was unprecedented, both in its scope and in the technical resources at its command. His ideas and purposes were accepted in whole or in part by millions of people, especially in Germany but also elsewhere. By the time he was defeated, he had destroyed most of what was left of old Europe, while the German people had to face what they would later call “Year Zero,” 1945.
Hitler's place in history
At the turn of the 21st century more books had been written about Hitler since his death than about Napoleon during the half-century after the latter's demise. Time and distance from the events of World War II have also affected the historical interpretation of Hitler.
There is a general consensus about his historical importance (a term that does not imply a positive judgment). Hitler was principally, and alone, responsible for starting World War II. (This was different from the various responsibilities of rulers and of statesmen who had unleashed World War I). His guilt for the implementation of the Holocaust—that is, the shift of German policy from the expulsion to the extermination of Jews, including eventually Jews of all of Europe and of European Russia, is also obvious. Although there exists no single document of his order to that effect, Hitler's speeches, writings, reports of discussions with associates and foreign statesmen, and testimony by those who carried out the actions have often been cited as evidence of his role. Many of his most violent statements were recorded by his minions during his “Table Talks” (including the not entirely authentic “Bormann remarks” of February–April 1945). For example, on January 30, 1939, to celebrate the sixth anniversary of his rule, Hitler told the Reichstag: “Today I will once more be a prophet: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more in a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the Earth and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.”
In his final will and testament, written just before his suicide in April 1945, he charged the Germans to continue the struggle against the Jews: “Above all, I enjoin the government and the people to uphold the race laws to the limit and to resist mercilessly the poisoner of all nations, international Jewry.”
Despite the immense mass of surviving German documents (and the large volume of his recorded speeches and other statements) Hitler was, as he himself said on a few occasions, a secretive man; and some of his views and decisions differed at times from his public expressions.
For a long time historians and other commentators took it for granted that Hitler's wishes and ambitions and ideology were clearly (and frighteningly) set forth in Mein Kampf. In the first, autobiographical, portion of Mein Kampf, however, he twisted the truth in at least three matters: his relationship to his father (which was very different from the filial affection he had set forth in Mein Kampf); the conditions of his life in Vienna (which were less marked by abject poverty than he had stated); and the crystallization of his worldview, including his anti-Semitism, during his Vienna years (the evidence now suggests that this crystallization occurred much later, in Munich).
The popular view of Hitler often involves assumptions about his mental health. There has been a tendency to attribute madness to Hitler. Despite the occasional evidences of his furious outbursts, Hitler's cruelties and his most extreme expressions and orders suggest a cold brutality that was fully conscious. The attribution of madness to Hitler would of course absolve him from his responsibility for his deeds and words (as it also absolves the responsibility of those who are unwilling to think further about him). Extensive researches of his medical records also indicate that, at least until the last 10 months of his life, he was not profoundly handicapped by illness (except for advancing symptoms of Parkinson disease). What is indisputable is that Hitler had a certain tendency to hypochondria; that he ingested vast amounts of medications during the war; and that as early as 1938 he convinced himself that he would not live long—which may have been a reason for speeding up his timetable for conquest at that time. It should also be noted that Hitler possessed mental abilities that were denied by some of his earlier critics: these included an astonishing memory for certain details and an instinctive insight into his opponents' weaknesses. Again, these talents increase, rather than diminish, his responsibility for the many brutal and evil actions he ordered and committed.
His most amazing achievement was his uniting the great mass of the German (and Austrian) people behind him. Throughout his career his popularity was larger and deeper than the popularity of the National Socialist Party. A great majority of Germans believed in him until the very end. In this respect he stands out among almost all of the dictators of the 19th and 20th centuries, which is especially impressive when we consider that the Germans were among the best-educated peoples in the 20th century. There is no question that the overwhelming majority of the German people supported Hitler, though often only passively. Their trust in him was greater than their trust in the Nazi hierarchy. Of course, what contributed to this support were the economic and social successes, for which he fully took credit, during his early leadership: the virtual disappearance of unemployment, the rising prosperity of the masses, the new social institutions, and the increase of German prestige in the 1930s—achievements unparalleled in the histories of other modern totalitarian dictatorships. In spite of the spiritual and intellectual progenitors of some of his ideas there is no German national leader to whom he may be compared. In sum, he had no forerunners—another difference between him and other dictators.
By 1938 Hitler had made Germany the most powerful and feared country in Europe (and perhaps in the world). He achieved all of this without war (and there are now some historians who state that had he died in 1938 before the mass executions began, he would have gone down in history as the greatest statesman in the history of the German people). In fact, he came very close to winning the war in 1940; but the resistance of Britain (personified by Winston Churchill) thwarted him. Nevertheless, it took the overwhelming, and in many ways unusual, Anglo-American coalition with the Soviet Union to defeat the Third Reich; and there are reasons to believe that neither side would have been able to conquer him alone. At the same time it was his brutality and some of his decisions that led to his destruction, binding the unusual alliance of capitalists and communists, of Churchill and Roosevelt and Stalin together. Hitler thought he was a great statesman, but he did not realize the unconditional contemptibility of what he had unleashed; he thought that the coalition of his enemies would eventually break up, and then he would be able to settle with one side or the other. In thinking thus he deceived himself, though such wishes and hopes were also current among many Germans until the end.
Open and hidden admirers of Hitler continue to exist (and not only in Germany): some of them because of a malign attraction to the efficacy of evil; others because of their admiration of Hitler's achievements, no matter how transitory or brutal. However, because of the brutalities and the very crimes associated with his name, it is not likely that Hitler's reputation as the incarnation of evil will ever change.