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Hitler and the Nazis


Hitler's Early Life

Adolf Hitler was born in 1889 in Austria. On leaving school Hitler tried and failed to get a place in an art college. Unemployed and very unhappy, he lived in poverty in Vienna and Munich in the years before the First World War. His life was transformed by the outbreak of war. Hitler joined the German army and, for the first time, there was a sense of purpose to his life.


For most of the war Hitler had a dangerous job as a messenger at the Front and he was awarded medals for bravery. He was horrified in 1918 when Germany lost the war. Like many Germans he felt that the Versailles Treaty of 1919 was very hard on Germany.


Although he hated communism, Hitler was impressed by the way communists were ready to use violence to get what they wanted. In November 1922 he said:


'The communists teach "If you will not be my brother, I will bash your skull in." Our motto shall be "If you will not be a German, I will bash your skull in." We cannot succeed without a struggle. We have to fight with ideas but, if necessary, also with our fists.'


After the war Hitler began his political life in the Bavarian city of Munich. In 1919 he joined and took over a tiny group called the German Workers' Party. Hitler was lazy but he was a brilliant speaker. He appealed to the many ex-servicemen who were unhappy about Germany after the war.


Slowly membership grew and in 1920 Hitler changed the name of the organization to the National Socialist German Workers' Party (the term 'Nazi' is a shortened version of the: German words 'National Sozialistisch' meaning national socialist). His followers deliberately got into fights with socialists and communists.


In 1921 these Nazi street-fighters were organized into a private army called the 'Sturmabteilung' (the Storm Section or the Storm Troop) - the SA. They were also known as the brownshirts because of their distinctive uniforms.


November 1923: Hitler tries to seize power

Germany went through a great crisis in 1923. A French army occupied the industrial Ruhr area because Germany had not paid the reparations required as part of the Versailles Treaty. Germans went on strike as a protest against the French occupation and this led to many economic problems. The value of the German currency collapsed. People lost their life savings. Hitler decided that the time was right for a revolution.


On 8 November 1923 Hitler tried to use the SA to seize control of Bavaria. He planned to march to Berlin and force a Nazi government on the whole of Germany. This was a dismal failure. The event became known as the 'Beer Hall Putsch', because it began when Hitler used force to take over a meeting in a Munich beer hall.


The next day, 9 November, the Nazi forces marched from he beer cellar and were stopped by armed police. The police opened fire, 16 Nazis were killed and the rest, including Hitler, then ran away. The revolution was over. Two days later Hitler was arrested.


After the Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler was put on trial for treason. He made skilful use of the trial to win publicity and sympathy from German nationalists. He was treated leniently by the court; he was sentenced to five years in prison but he only served nine months. 'Hitler learnt a lot from his failed revolution. Afterwards he decided to concentrate on using legal means to get power.


Mein Kampf: 1925

While in prison Hitler wrote a book explaining his beliefs, it was called Mein Kamp or 'My Struggle' and was published 1925. This book stated Hitler's basic ideas:


The Treaty of Versailles was an unjust attack on the German nation and must be overturned.


The leaders of the Weimar Republic were traitors because they had accepted the Treaty of Versailles.


The Jewish people were the cause of many of Germany 's problems. Jews were sub-human and were always trying to wreck Germany.


Russian communism was wicked. Its leaders were Jews who wanted to destroy Germany.


The German people needed more space or 'Lebensraum ' (living space). This space should be taken from Russians and other non-German people of Eastern Europe.


The lean years

The Nazi Party was not very successful between 1925 and 1930. When Hitler came out of prison the German economy was beginning to recover. With jobs and more money people were less attracted to extremist nationalists like Hitler. The economic recovery, however, came to a very sudden end in 1930 as a result of the worldwide Depression.


A return of unemployment and hard times caused a great upsurge in support for Hitler. Hitler finally took power in 1933. He was to remain Chancellor of Germany until his suicide in 1945 at the end of the Second World War.