Did you ever experience one of those times when somebody let a humongous fart then immediately left the room? This is about one of those people, and this is one of those stories.
I’m posting this on the 70th anniversary of the day when German Chancellor Adolf Hitler shot himself in the head and shed himself of all responsibility for his life of 56 years. The photo above is not the best one of Hitler, but it is about the last one. It was taken at Hitler’s last known public appearance, 20 April 1945. It was Hitler’s 56th birthday.
Here we see him giving courage to young boys, volunteered or pressed into military service in the final month’s of the war after the Third Reich had exhausted all other sources of able-bodied fighting men. This situation, for which Hitler declined all responsibility, was due almost completely to his own schemes and his own actions. And also due to the gullibility of millions of German people.
It was not always like this. The story goes back to the 19th century. Maria Anna Schicklgruber was a peasant woman, independent and self-reliant. She was still not married at the age of 42 when she gave birth to a son, Alois Schicklgruber. When Alois was five years old Maria married Johann Georg Hiedler and died five years later. Alois took his stepfather’s name and converted it to “Hitler.” Adolf Hitler was born 20 April 1889, and ten years later his father died.
Early life for Adolf Hitler did not match his expectations. As a young boy he was rebellious at school and in conflict with his father. The death of his younger brother Edmund of measles cast a dark shadow over his demeanor. His mother was a practicing Catholic while his father was anti-cleric. Martin Luther appealed to the young Hitler, as he viewed the Catholic church to be anti-German.
The eight-year-old Hitler took singing lessons, sang in the church choir, and even considered becoming a priest.
He never attended mass after leaving home.
Hitler’s aspirations as an artist were dashed when the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts rejected his application, twice. It was this period in his life, on his own, without marketable work skills, which many consider Hitler’s formative years. He worked at odd jobs in Vienna, giving rise to his reputation as a paper hanger. It is unlikely he ever did this for a living, but that did not stop a famous quote made shortly before Hitler’s death by a famous American General:
The shortest way home is through Berlin and Tokyo. And when we get to Berlin, I am personally going to shoot that paper hanging son-of-a-bitch Hitler.
Redemption came to Hitler at the age of 26 when his native Austria-Hungary dragged Germany into World War One. Hitler distinguished himself in the war and was wounded in the Battle of the Somme. In 1914 he received the Iron Cross, Second Class.
As with many of Germany’s war veterans, German capitulation on 11 November 1918 was a bitter blow for Hitler. Germany had been wronged by the victors, and German troops had been betrayed by civilian politicians far behind the front lines. He was set to redeem his youthful grudges.
Remaining in the army, he was recruited as an intelligence agent to keep tabs on the activities of political groups gaining virulence in the post war turbulence. William Shirer’s book on the Third Reich provides an account of this time:
Apparently Hitler’s service on this occasion was considered valuable enough to lead the Army to give him further employment. He was assigned to a job in the Press and News Bureau of the Political Department of the Army’s district command. The German Army, contrary to its traditions, was now deep in politics, especially in Bavaria, where at last it had established a government to its liking. To further its conservative views it gave the soldiers courses of “political instruction,” in one of which Adolf Hitler was an attentive pupil. One day, according to his own story, he intervened during a lecture in which someone had said a good word for the Jews. His anti-Semitic harangue apparently so pleased his superior officers that he was soon posted to a Munich regiment as an educational officer, a Bildungsoffizier, whose main task was to combat dangerous ideas—pacifism, socialism, democracy; such was the Army’s conception of its role in the democratic Republic it had sworn to serve.
Shirer, William (2011-10-23). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (pp. 34-35). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.
Shirer describe the root foundation of National Socialism, the ultimate Nazi party. Anton Drexler was “a locksmith by trade, who may be said to have been the actual founder of National Socialism. A sickly, bespectacled man, lacking a formal education, with an independent but narrow and confused mind, a poor writer and a worse speaker…” Drexler handed Hitler a pamphlet, which Hitler consumed and became inspired.
Lacking no formal education, Hitler’s assets were:
- Passion for his causes and a blindness to opposing viewpoints
- An ideology that appealed to German masses and identified a common enemy
- Almost unparalleled speaking ability—one of the foremost orators of the 20th century
- A ruthless disregard for human life and great willingness to expend other people’s blood
Hitler’s weaknesses would be manifest years later, at tremendous cost to the German people.
The National Socialist Party was one of many struggling for power in the disintegrated German society following the war. Hitler attached to people of low scruples such has himself and put those people to work wresting control of the German state from powerful industrial and military leaders. An early mistake was an abortive attempt to gain power through revolution. While in jail for these actions he wrote Mein Kampf, a personal story and one that outlined his philosophies and his plans for exercising power. Unfortunate were the many who did not read this book and take heart.
Power came to Hitler and the Nazis when election followed election during the early years of the Great Depression, and each election failed to produce a workable government. The Nazis employed disruptive tactics to ensure none of the governments formed during this time were effective. When Franz von Papen attempted to placate the Nazis by having Hitler named Chancellor in January 1933, the Nazis struck with the swiftness and lethality of a cobra.
Opposition politicians were arrested or barred from public speaking, putting the Nazis in complete control A fortunate and mysterious burning of the Reichstag building gave the party an excuse to suspend all civil liberties and to establish Hitler as a dictator. The following year Hitler had murdered all potential opposition within his party and elsewhere in a single night, dubbed the Night of the Long Knives. One of the first killed was Ernst Röhm, an early leader of the National Socialists and head of the SA, the now legal gang of street thugs who had served the Nazis during the early turbulent times.
When German President Paul von Hindenburg died a few weeks later, Hitler absorbed his title and had all armed forces swear a blood loyalty oath to him personally. His power was now complete, and he began to exercise his territorial ambitions.
The Treaty of Versailles, which had ended World War One, was seen as unjust and an insult to German pride. Hitler shortly abrogated the treaty and re-occupied the Rhineland, a region of Germany militarily controlled by the victors. Hitler’s generals were opposed to this action, but when this and other of Hitler’s audacious moves proved successful, the Wehrmact command lost the ability to oppose him.
Hitler’s ambitions soon became evident as he successfully annexed his home country of Austria and cowed the English and the French into allowing military occupation of “Sudeten” Czechoslovakia. Then the Germans occupied all of Czechoslovakia. Poland was next, and it proved to be a bite too much.
After first obtaining a secret partnership with his bitter enemy Joseph Stalin, Hitler initiated the invasion of neighboring Poland on the slimmest of pretexts. England and France by now saw that placating Hitler was a useless enterprise, and they followed up on their promise to declare war on Germany. In the meanwhile Stalin’s Soviet Army, as part of a pre-arranged plan, invaded and occupied the eastern part of Poland. Neither England, France nor any other party was ever to come to Poland’s aid, and Poland suffered mass murder, destruction and political oppression, first by the Nazis and ultimately by the Soviet Union, for the next 50 years.
With the war came Hitler’s downfall. Master a politician that he was, he was an abysmal military strategist. By now the Wehrmact command was so powerless that they had to go along with his schemes. Commanders who opposed Hitler were dismissed and ultimately even executed. No battle plan of his was too hair brained to incite significant opposition from the commanders.
The first months of the war went well for Hitler, as England and France fretted about what to do and did little. The most that came from the Allied Powers was an abortive move to forestall German occupation of Norway. German forces attacked and occupied the neutral countries of Denmark and Norway in the spring of 1940. Then a few weeks later they vented their fury on neutral Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. By now Fascist Italy was in cahoots with Germany, and when German forces moved into France in May 1940, Mussolini’s army attacked France from the east.
France quickly capitulated, and British forces barely escaped by means of a daring evacuation across the English Channel at Dunkirk in late May and early June. France soon caved. Then Hitler turned his attention upon England and upon Winston Churchill, by now the Prime Minister. For the first time Hitler encountered somebody who did not blink.
Hitler had no initial plan to continue the war with England. He was sure that by now England and Churchill would see the way the wind was blowing and would agree to make a deal. He completely misjudged Churchill:
“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight in the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air; we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender; and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might. steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the Old.”
Churchill, Winston (2010-07-01). Their Finest Hour (Winston Churchill World War II Collection) (Kindle Locations 1726-1732). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.
Initially an invasion of England was considered. But there was the Channel. And the Royal Air Force. The RAF had to be defeated before an invasion could be considered. In July 1940 German air attacks on the RAF began, and for the first time Hitler began to see the future, although he refused to recognize it. The RAF soundly defeated the Luftwaffe, showing Reichsmarschall Herman Göring for the first time to be completely incompetent at commanding a military operation.
It was Hitler’s inability to act on failings such as this that eventually collapsed the Third Reich’s war effort. Hitler maintained power at the top by playing his subordinates off against each other, even if it meant keeping incompetent cronies in powerful positions.
It has been considered that the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941 was Hitler’s fatal mistake. In fact the invasion was a move that was made necessary by the military and political situation in Europe at the time. Hitler had to attack, and he had to attack before the Soviet Union could recover from Stalin’s massive purge of the Soviet Army a fews years previous. Again, in executing this necessary operation, Hitler fell prey to failings of character.
Germany’s preparations for invasion included rolling up the Balkan countries as they allied either with the Soviet Union or (sometimes under force) with Germany. With Serbia there was a fatal issue, but fatal only due to the German leader’s quirky nature. When Serbia rebuffed a treaty of alliance Hitler ordered a punitive attack on the small nation. It was brutal and carried out with vengeance and thoroughness. It was also costly. The brutalization of Serbia set the attack on the Soviet Union back several weeks, and those weeks proved fatal.
Starting on 22 June 1941 German forces drove deep into Soviet territory, one goal being Moscow. They started too late. The bitter Russian winter brought the Germans to a halt within sight of the city, and that was as far as they ever got. The winter blast that froze and killed thousands of German troops west of Moscow must also have brought a chill to Hitler’s heart. I have been unable to discover whether he ever gave voice to those feelings, but he must have felt somewhere in his inner self that fate was preparing to deal with him.
As bad as the defeat in front of Moscow was the death blow that came in December 1941 when Japanese forces attacked the United States. The United States declared war on Japan, and Hitler impetuously declared war on the United States, although he was under no obligation to do so. Churchill was having dinner with American envoy Averell Harriman when the radio was switched on, and the news came through. Things happened quickly.
In two or three minutes Mr. Roosevelt came through. “Mr. President, what’s this about Japan?” “It’s quite true,” he replied. “They have attacked us at Pearl Harbour. We are all in the same boat now.” I put Winant on to the line and some interchanges took place, the Ambassador at first saying, “Good,” “Good”— and then, apparently graver, “Ah!” I got on again and said, “This certainly simplifies things. God be with you,” or words to that effect. We then went back into the hall and tried to adjust our thoughts to the supreme world event which had occurred, which was of so startling a nature as to make even those who were near the centre gasp. My two American friends took the shock with admirable fortitude. We had no idea that any serious losses had been inflicted on the United States Navy. They did not wail or lament that their country was at war. They wasted no words in reproach or sorrow. In fact, one might almost have thought they had been delivered from a long pain.
Churchill, Winston (2010-06-30). The Grand Alliance: The Second World War, Volume 3 (Winston Churchill World War II Collection) (Kindle Locations 9385-9392). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.
With the United States at war with Germany there would be no chance of winning. Hitler had no choice (in that special world of his) but to plow on and to feign optimism. He ordered the German Sixth Army to take Stalingrad, a pet project of Hitler’s, since it was named after Stalin. It had no military value, and the army of General Friedrich Paulus was completely annihilated, with 850,000 killed, wounded or captured. The autumn of 1942 also saw the defeat of German General Erwin Rommel‘s forces at the hands of British General Bernard Montgomery‘s army at the Egyptian town of El Alamein. Both at Stalingrad and in North Africa German forces Hitler’s orders forbade any retreat, and the results were ruinous. When Germany pulled out of North Africa in May 1943, 270,000 Axis prisoners were taken.
As Allied armies invaded the European Continent, first through Italy and then through France, the situation for the Third Reich became critical. Germany was choked off from supplies to wage war and began to feed upon itself. Hitler’s scheme to force a stalemate and perhaps an armistice involved a massive attack west through the Ardennes Forest in December of 1944. The attack squandered the remaining German reserves of men and war materials. Beginning in March 1945 the crush by the Allies from the west and the Soviets from the East was relentless.
An attempt on his life with a bomb in July 1944 by German officers left Hitler injured and psychically scarred. He ordered hundreds executed in reprisal, and his distrust in his military commanders became complete. He took complete charge of all military decisions and began to issue erratic orders regarding impossible actions involving non-existent units. Along Hitler’s orders, military commanders stepped up summary executions for battlefield failure and even lack of enthusiasm.
In order to save his family from destruction, Erwin Rommel took poison in October 1944. Ordered to report to Hitler and replaced by Walter Model, Günther von Kluge stopped along his journey and took cyanide. Ordered to commit his men to a fight to the death in defense of the Ruhr, Walter Model instead allowed them to surrender and then shot himself. It was Hitler’s birthday.
By now completely delusional, Hitler spent the last months of his life in Berlin and made his final trip outside his bunker on his birthday. He never accepted responsibility for the catastrophe he had engineered, blaming the German people, instead. A final wish was to bring the people—the people who had carried him into office and had sacrificed their lives to his fantasies—down with him
He married his mistress, Eva Braun on 29 April, and on 30 April both retired to their chamber and killed themselves. Eva took cyanide, and Hitler shot himself. Their bodies were taken outside the bunker and set alight with gasoline. Soviet troops were closing in and discovered the bodies, but the Soviets kept the details to themselves for many years. Children like myself growing up at the time were frightened by threats that Hitler was still alive and would come to get us if we were bad.
Adolf Hitler had no children, but he was survived by sisters Paula and Angela and a brother, Alois. A nephew, William Patrick Hitler moved to the United States and served in the United States Navy as a pharmacist mate (medic) during the war:
Hint: Rudolph Hess was Adolf Hitler’s secretary, who defected to England in 1941.
To this date the name Hitler is not popular and tends to be avoided. It’s often used as an epithet hurled at somebody behaving despicably. It’s not the kind of legacy a person would not want to leave behind.
Adolf Hitler had ample help in his trip to the gates of Hell. German people saw him as a hero of nationalism and a savior in a time of economic and political distress. Those who did not underwrite his campaigns of atrocity largely looked the other way while millions of innocents, including Germans, were slaughtered.
World War Two remains the signature event of the 20th century, held up as a counter example of how to run a nation’s business. Absent Hitler’s connivance, 20th century Germany could have rolled out of the depression, albeit sluggishly, and joined the world as an equal power by the 1940s. As it was it became the pariah of nations for a decade and a half, only completely recovering from Hitler’s mess around 1985.