As one of history’s most reviled figures, Adolf Hitler remains the subject of grim fascination, with the details of his life revealing a troubled, complicated figure. Here are 10 facts about him.
1. He was Austrian
The fact that Hitler was Austrian, born in Braunau am Inn in April 1889, might seem odd given his association with German nationalism. This affinity was not, however, all that unusual among Austrians.
Influenced by the tutelage of his high school teacher, Leopold Poetsch, who had strong German nationalist sensibilities (and also taught Aldolf Eichmann), Hitler grew to despise the Austro-Hungarian Empire and express loyalty only to Germany.
In 1914, while living in Munich, Hitler managed to enlist in the Bavarian Army before renouncing his Austrian citizenship in 1925 and officially becoming a German citizen in the early 30s.
Despite the family moving from Braunau am Inn to Linz when Adolf was three years old, the border town and the house that he was born in (but only stayed in for a couple of weeks) have a lasting issue with their connection to Hitler.
2. He was a frustrated artist
It’s tempting to wonder how different the 20th century might have been had Hitler’s youthful aspirations to become an artist been realised.
He twice failed the entrance exam of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna (in 1907 and in 1908) when it was noted that, though he had some talent for architectural draughtsmanship, his human figures lacked detail and character.
Hitler’s interest in art did continue, however. So-called ‘degenerate’ modern, abstract and impressionist art was denounced as the product of Jewish and Bolshevik artists during the Third Reich.
The works, some by world famous artists like Klee and Picasso, were removed from German museums and placed in a condemnatory exhibition.
The Nazis also collected significant and invaluable pieces of art, often in the name of ‘kunstschutz’ – art protection.
This process was decreed by the Hague Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land (1899 and 1907), but excess looting took place in occupied zones and the collections of targeted minorities were confiscated.
A Führermuseum was to be constructed in Linz, Austria, after the war but some of the artworks were taken into the private collections of Hitler, Göring and Goebbels. 1.4 million train carriages worth of art was taken, and up to 100,000 pieces are still unaccounted for.
3. He once lived in a homeless shelter
Hitler’s failure to make it as an artist had grave financial consequences.
Having had little success selling his paintings, postcards and advertisements, his financial resources were so seriously diminished that he lived in a homeless shelter in Vienna in December 1909.
He then lived in a public dormitory for men until 1913, when he received his father’s inheritance and moved to Munich.
4. He was wounded in the First World War
Whilst still an Austrian citizen Hitler was accepted into the Bavarian army. He served in the infantry at the First Battle of Ypres, where the new infantry divisions suffered casualties as high as one third to a half.
After this battle he was made regimental message runner; it has been suggested that this was a relatively safe role, largely taking place away from the front. Despite this Hitler took a wound on his leg at the Battle of the Somme in 1916, and was temporarily blinded by mustard gas in 1918. Whilst recovering from the latter injury Hitler heard the news of the German surrender and armistice.
Hitler received two medals for bravery during the Great war: the Iron Cross Second Class in 1914 and the Iron Cross First Class in 1918. It is alleged that this second award resulted from his prolonged time amongst higher ranks at the headquarters as a runner.
5. He served time for high treason
Two days after a failed coup by the Nazi party in 1923, remembered as the Beer Hall or Munich Putsch, Hitler was arrested for treason for his leading role.
Hitler was tried by judges sympathetic to his beliefs and given a five year sentence with no forced labour and the right to regular visitors.
He served less than a year of his sentence and used the time to begin writing Mein Kampf, his chronicle and doctrine, more than five million copies of which would sell by 1939.
Hitler’s trial was highly publicised, and he used it to propagate his ideas of right-wing nationalism, and to blame Germany’s post-war problems on Jews, Socialists and the French.
6. He never personally won an election
When Hitler ran for president in April 1932 he lost to Paul von Hindenburg.
However, in the federal election of June that year, the Nazi Party won 37 per cent of the vote, becoming the largest party in the Reichstag.
In the absence of a majority government, Hindenburg appointed Hitler as chancellor in January 1933. As Chancellor, Hitler suspended civil liberties in February after a fire in the Reichstag, of which a communist was accused.
Having gained a majority in the Reichstag in March, the Nazi party were able to pass the Enabling Act, handing dictatorial power to Hitler, who could now enact laws without the Reichstag or presidency.
The offices of President and Chancellor were eventually merged on Hindenburg’s death in 1934, and Hitler became Führer.
7. He was Time’s “Man of the Year” in 1938
A mere year before he led Germany to war, Time magazine bestowed the title of “Man of the Year” on Hitler.
It’s important to note however, that the award isn’t always meant as an endorsement.
Indeed, Time claims that the title is more a measure of newsworthiness and impact, which explains why fellow recipients of the dubious accolade include Stalin, Khruschchev and Ayatollah Khomeini.
Hitler was then nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by an anti-fascist Swedish legislator, who never meant for it to be taken seriously. The nomination was withdrawn and Hitler banned Germans from accepting Nobel Prizes.
8. He never visited an extermination camp
The Holocaust is surely the most appalling legacy of his rule but it is extremely unlikely that Hitler ever actually visited any of his death camps.
Although his culpability as the architect of the “Final Solution” is beyond doubt, it seems he was happy to conduct the genocidal project at arm’s length.
9. He championed animal welfare causes
It is perhaps surprising given the horrific cruelty he inflicted on the people of the world that Hitler was a keen advocate of animal welfare.
There are ongoing debates surrounding whether or not Hitler, who was said to be oppose horse racing and hunting, was a vegetarian.
Animal Welfare appeared in various Nazi legislatures. One piece which appeared to limit vivisection – the practice of operating on live animals for the purpose of experimentation and scientific research – is argued to have been less far-reaching than it was suggested to be.
Either way, it is difficult to reconcile any apparent concern for animals from Hitler with the complete lack of compassion and humanity that he showed as a leader.
10. He suffered with a number of health issues
Hitler’s health is the subject of considerable speculation and the list of complaints he’s said to have lived with is extensive.
Some historians suggest that he had syphilis (he was diagnosed by his personal physicist Theodor Morell in a 1945 report to Himmler), Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. The first two of these conditions were denounced by the Third Reich.
Syphilis was mentioned alongside prostitution as a ‘Cause of Collapse’ in Mein Kampf, and Huntington’s is a hereditary disease included on state lists for sterilisation.
It’s also commonly alleged that he had Monorchism – the medical condition of having only one testicle, though the sources for this are questionable. The first was a second hand account of an injury at the Battle of the Somme, and the second, by a Soviet doctor involved in Hitler’s autopsy, was retracted.
11. He survived numerous assassination attempts
It is not clear how many times an attempt was made on Hitler’s life but it’s safe to say that he survived well over 20 assassination attempts.
Even before he became chancellor, Hitler was shot at on several occasions. He was shot at as early as 1921, in a Munich beer hall brawl with political rivals.
Later attempts included bomb plots by carpenter Georg Elser in 1939, who missed Hitler by only 13 minutes, and German army Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg in 1944.
12. His nephew, William Patrick Hitler, fought with the US Navy
In 1911, William Patrick Hitler was born to Alois Hitler Jr, Adolf’s brother, and his Irish wife, Bridget Dowling, in Liverpool.
Alois returned to the continent in 1914 to fight in the First World War. Benefiting from his uncle’s power having arrived in Germany by 1933, William held various jobs in the Third Reich, but supposedly engaged in blackmail to secure better posts.
Nazi Hans Frank alleged whilst awaiting execution that William had insinuated in a blackmail letter that Adolf’s paternal grandmother had been impregnated by a member of the Jewish household in which she had worked. Frank was tasked with investigating the Hitler family genealogy.
After fleeing Germany for fear of reprisals, William returned to Britain where he wrote several articles but was denied work and entry to the armed forces because of his name.
William visited the United States in 1939 at the invitation of publisher William Randolph Hearst. Stranded by the outbreak of war, William Hitler appealed to President Roosevelt and was cleared to join the US Navy in 1944.
He was awarded the Purple Heart after being injured in action against his uncle’s forces.