Historical Figures

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) - Biography

Austrian-born German politician, Adolf Hitler was chancellor and dictator of the Third German Reich from 1933 to 1945. At the head of a state that had become totalitarian, he organized, with the Nazi party he founded, the recruitment of the population and the repression of opposition, then realizes his project of hegemony over Europe which he plunges into chaos and desolation. Imposing the "final solution" of the Jewish question which will cost the lives of several million people, Hitler will drag Germany into a desperate headlong rush. Refusing the prospect of defeat, he committed suicide at the end of April 1945 in his bunker besieged by the Red Army. The failed and complexed artist who has become one of the greatest criminals in the history of humanity thus escapes the justice of the victors and leaves behind him a Europe in ruins.

From the trenches to political engagement

Born on April 20, 1889 in the small town of Braunau am Inn in Austria, Adolf Hitler was the son of an austere customs official. Little Adolf, a mediocre student, dreams of a destiny as an artist. Orphaned at a young age (his father died in 1903, his mother in 1907), he lived in Vienna trying unsuccessfully to join the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts. A small marginal bourgeois, a great lover of Wagner, he immersed himself in political theories and soon fell into an anti-Semitic Pan-Germanism nourished by a growing aversion for a multi-ethnic society where the "Germanic race" which he thought was superior would be crushed by the Slavs and corrupted by the Jews. The 1914 war finds him exiled to Munich and finally gives meaning to the existence of this talentless painter. Engaged in a Bavarian regiment, Hitler will bravely serve Germany as a courier.

Like many German fighters, he took news of the armistice as a national betrayal. Returning to Munich, he took a close interest in the local political scene (notably because of his military activities), which led him to discover a small ultranationalist, anti-Communist and anti-Semitic party, the DAP (German Workers' Party, future NSDAP). Hitler enrolled there and soon became its leader. A talented orator, with ever more extremist speeches, he ended up convincing himself that he was the providential man who would work for the recovery of Germany:the Führer (guide). Thinking the Weimar Republic was ready to collapse, he attempted a putsch in 1923 which failed miserably. The prosperous Germany of the early twenties was still little receptive to his theses.

Adolf Hitler's march to power

He then moved from action to ideas, writing, during his imprisonment for "high treason", Mein Kampf (My Fight), his fundamental work which turns out to be a real political agenda. Its geopolitical ambitions and its racial ideology therefore constitute the basis of its National Socialist program. Once free, Hitler reorganized the NSDAP with the aim of being brought to power by the ballot box. The Nazis then combined very effective political propaganda with the use of force and intimidation, through their militia, the SA.

The crisis that hit Germany in 1929 allowed the NSDAP to emerge from marginality and place itself on the front of the stage. The party, which had made only slow progress until 1930, made a meteoric breakthrough, becoming the main political force in Germany. After being defeated in the election for the presidency of the republic in 1932, Hitler was appointed chancellor by President Hindenburg on January 30, 1933, after coaxing the traditional conservative and nationalist parties. After the legislative elections of March 1933, he obtained full powers and became Reichsführer on the death of Hindeburg in August 1934. He had a free hand to put his disastrous projects into execution, with the complicity of his faithful and zealous supporters Joseph Goebbels , Hermann Göring or Heinrich Himmler.

The Nazi regime and the war

In less than a year, the new Führer imposed the dictatorship and built a totalitarian and racist state, eliminating without pity all his political opponents, whether communists (the Reichstag fire affair) or the left wing of his own party (night of the long knives and elimination of Ernst Röhm). The resulting Third Reich wants to be a leading power and Hitler puts forward an aggressive diplomatic agenda. As Germany rearmed at high speed, he destroyed the order imposed by the Treaty of Versailles by reoccupying the Rhineland, annexing Austria and then the Sudetenland. When Poland refuses to submit to its claims on Danzig, the Second World War breaks out. The first campaigns were real triumphs:Poland, Scandinavia, Benelux and France, Yugoslavia and Greece. The swastika floats over almost the entire continent. On June 22, 1941, when he launched his armies against the Soviet Union, Hitler thought he was accomplishing a historic task that would ensure the sustainability of his new empire.

Soviet armies retreat first, but do not break. On December 11, 1941, Hitler declared war on the United States, already in conflict with Japan since December 7. Confronted on the one hand with the immensity of the Russian territory and on the other hand with the American power, the difficulty is too great for Germany. Despite gloomy prospects, Hitler continued to carry out his genocidal program against the Jews and other populations deemed "inferior" by Nazi ideology. The establishment of the "final solution" after the Wannsee conference resulted in several million deaths, in concentration or forced labor camps. Europe sinks into terror when Hitler, once a skilled manipulator, loses his sense of reality for good.

Hitler's fall

The German army retreats, suffering defeat after defeat. Refusing the prospect of defeat, Hitler did not want to let go, leaving millions of civilians and combatants to suffer. In 1944, a group of German officers from Operation Valkyrie, led by Colonel von Stauffenberg, tried to assassinate him, without success. In the spring of 1945, despite the last attempts at resistance, Germany collapsed definitively.

Berlin, the capital of the Nazi Reich, is stormed by the Soviet armies. In his bunker at the chancellery, Adolf Hitler, having definitely returned from his illusions as a megalomaniac, committed suicide with a bullet to the head on the night of April 29 to 30, 1945. At the end of the war, the country was occupied both by the Soviets and Western powers. The Führer had wanted to make Germany a world power. However, he only left a divided country, and that for nearly half a century.


- Hitler by Ian Kershaw. Great biographies, Flammarion, 2008.

- Hitler by François Delpla, biography, Grasset, 1999.

To go further

- Hitler - Mussolini - Stalin, documentary by H. Kasten Ullrich. Arte Video, 2010.

- La Chute - Collector's Edition 3 DVD by Olivier Hirschbiegel. TF1 Video, 2005.