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Adolf Hitler - Early Years (1889-1919)

Adolf Hitler was born in the Austrian border town of Braunau am Inn in 1889. At the age of seventeen, Hitler was refused admission to the Vienna Art Academy because of his lack of talent. He remained in Vienna, where he led a Bohemian existence, acquiring an ideology based on belief in the Germanic master race and a form of anti-Semitism that blamed social and political crises on Jewish subversive activities. Hitler remained in Vienna until 1913, when he moved to Munich to avoid the draft. After serving in the German army during World War I, he joined the right-wing Bavarian German Workers' Party in 1919.

Alois Schicklgruber, Hitler's father, was born to an unmarried peasant woman in 1837. He became a successful and respectful Austrian civil servant, collecting customs duties at border posts. He changed his name to Hitler in 1876, for reasons which are unclear. Alois Hitler married his third wife, Klara Polzl, in 1885, and died of celebral hemorrhage in 1903. Klara Polzl, Hitler's mother, led a life of obscurity until she married her second cousin, Alois Hitler, after receiving papal dispensation. She was a devout Catholic who lived for God and her family, raising her children in the tenets of the Church. She gave birth to Adolf, her fourth child, after having seen first three children die in infancy or childhood.

Adolf Hitler was born at half past six in the evening of April 20, 1887, in Brannon am Inn, an Austrian border town where Alois collected customs duties. He was sickly at birth and into childhood, resulting in Klara's becoming overprotective, prone to spoil her son. Adolf Hitler led a routine childhood from all accounts by friends and family, although rumors persist that Alois subjected his family to mental and physical abuse.

In his youth he preferred the musical and literary works of Wagner, German mythology and adventure novels of Karl May; the adult Hitler's favorite composer was Wagner. The boy Hitler loved cakes and picnics, long conversations into the night, he loved to look at the pretty girls; in later years, these preferences increased.

Adolf Hitler performed well in school until 1900, when his grades plummeted and he developed an anti-intellectualism which would last the rest of his life. The mediocrity of his school record barred his way to higher education and filled him with confusion and resentment about his family, himself and his future. Hitler claimed later that his poor performance at school stemmed from the fact that he wanted to be an artist, a career his father opposed. While there is no doubt that father and son did not get on well, it is highly probable that the elder Hitler was in fact dissatisfied with Adolph's school performance in general and he let his son know this in unmistakeable terms.

Adolf Hitler left school in 1905 at the age of 16 and applied for admission to Vienna Art Academy, only to fail the exam in 1907 and be refused the right to take it over in 1908. His mother spoiled him, and Adolf behaved like a dandy, wearing black leather gloves, bowler hat, walking with a cane made of mahogany with a knob of ivory. All proposals to find a job, he spurned.

Hitler was heartbroken by the death of his mother in 1907 from cancer. Hitler blamed Jewish professors for his failure on the art exam and a Jewish doctor for Klara's painful death. Hitler moved to Vienna in 1908 and began a five year period of living in "flop houses," subsisting on meager income from odd jobs and painting post cards. He developed a "gift" for oratory, frequently haranguing residents of flop houses where he lived.

He neither smoked nor drank and was too shy and awkward to have much success with women. Whenever he made a little money from painting picture postcards, he quit work and went to a cafe to read newspapers and talk politics, a consuming passion with him. He also went to the public library where he read extensively but indiscriminately and unsystematically. Hitler collected and read anti-Semitic literature, formulating his own ideas on the "Jew" which will later find expression in the national life of Germany.

Shortly before the outbreak of World War I, Hitler went to Munich and it was suspected that he may have left Austria among other reasons, to evade military service. After some finagling he was examined by Austrian army physicians and declared unfit for service.

Adolf Hitler enlisted in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment (the "List" Regiment) in early August 1914; two months later he and 35,000 ill-trained recruits were thrown against the veteran soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force. In one day of fighting the List Regiment lost one third of its men. When the Battle of Langemark was over, the Germans had suffered approximately 80% casualties. Hitler was unscratched. Hitler became a dispatch runner (a lance corporal in rank) during the Great War. Hitler serves with some distinction and received the Iron Cross, first and second class.

According to Hitler's own account, it was while he was lying in a German army hospital recovering from a British gas attack at Ypres that he made some hard decisions concerning his future and that of the fatherland. He decided to become a politician, and his rise to power would lie predominantly through the psychological route.

The defeat of Germany came as a profound shock to the German people and its Army. Despite the fact that the war on the Eastern front had come to a successful conclusion for Germany, the catastrophic events on the Western front were kept from the German nation. Thus the fact that the Army, still intact had been brought to its knees was a stunning blow.

Some historians argued that because Adolph Hitler had been a gas casualty in World War I, he was personally opposed to the use of gas weapons in World War II. It was also well known that Hitler had an aversion to using gas probably because he had been temporarily blinded by gas at Ypres during his World War I service. The best account of this came from Hitler's surgeon, Karl Brandt. During interrogation after the war, Brandt emphasized that Hitler never even visited the chemical warfare range at Raubkammer and consistently opposed the use of gas unless in retaliation against the Allies.

At the commencement of hostilities, both Britain and France communicated through the Swiss government that they would be bound by the Geneva Protocol prohibiting the use of gas and bacteriological weapons. Hitler then announced a "no first use" policy in a speech to the Reichstag in which he said: "whoever fights with poison gas will be fought with poison gas. Whoever departs from the rules of humane warfare can only expect that we will do the same." The early successes of both Germany and Japan with conventional arms made the use of gas both unnecessary and disadvantageous.

Allegedly Hitler issued orders prohibiting the development of biological weapons, referring to his own devastating experience with the effects of chemical agents used during World War I. However, with the support of other high-ranking Nazi officials, German scientists began biological weapons research. These efforts clearly lagged behind those of other countries, and a German offensive biological weapons program never materialized.

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Page last modified: 13-05-2018 17:48:59 ZULU