Adolf Hitler was the leader of Germany’s Nazi Party, and one the most notorious dictators of the 20th century. His fascist agenda led to World War Two, along with the deaths of at least 11 million people, including 6 million Jews in the horror of the Holocaust.
Here are 10 facts about his early life.
1. He was born on 20 April 1889
Adolf was the fourth of six children born to Alois Hitler and his third wife, Klara Pölzl, and the first to survive childhood. He was baptized a Catholic. Also living in the household were Alois’s two children from his second marriage.
His father Alois had adopted the surname of his father Johann Georg Hitler (also spelled Heidler), and worked as a customs official. Hitler’s mother, Klara, (also Alois’ second cousin) had come from a poor family, yet her and Alois led a financially comfortable life.
2. He was born in Austria, and moved house multiple times in his childhood
Hitler was born in Braunau am Inn, a town in Upper Austria within the Austria-Hungarian Empire, close to the German border.
When Hitler was aged 3, his family briefly moved to the Bavarian town of Passau in Germany, near Linz. The lower Bavarian dialect he acquired here would be a distinctive feature of his speech in later life.
The family returned to Austria in 1894, to Leonding, and then later to Hafeld, near Lambach when Adolf was aged 6. After his father Alois’s retirement, young Adolf spent most of his childhood in Linz, the capital of Upper Austria. It remained his favourite city throughout his life.
3. The 8 year-old Hitler took singing lessons, sang in the church choir, and even considered becoming a priest
Hitler attended Volksschule (a state-funded primary school) in Fischlham. He was a clever, popular child, yet refused to conform to his school’s strict discipline, which led Adolf to have many intense conflicts with his father Alois, who was domineering and had a short temper. Although Hitler feared and disliked his father who would beat him, he was a devoted son to his mother. Klara tried to protect him, and Adolf was always her top concern.
4. He was deeply affected by the death of his younger brother Edmund
Edmund died in 1900 from measles, which affected Hitler greatly. At secondary school he withdrew psychologically, changing from a confident, outgoing, conscientious student to a morose, detached and introverted boy, preferring to re-enact battles from the Boer War than study.
Hitler’s father Alois wanted his son to follow in his footsteps in the customs office. He ignored Adolf’s desire to attend a classical high school and become an artist, and instead sent Hitler to the technical Realschule in Linz in September 1900.
Hitler rebelled against this decision, deliberately doing poorly in school. He constantly fought with his father and teachers, hoping his lack of progress would mean his father would let him pursue his passion for art.
5. His German nationalism developed from a young age
Whilst Hitler is associated with German nationalism, such Austrian affinity for Germany was not that unusual at the time.
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 it’s declining Habsburg Monarchy, and express loyalty only to Germany.
6. He left school with no qualifications at 16, but hoped to become an artist
After his father’s sudden death on 3 January 1903, Hitler’s performance at school deteriorated further, and his mother allowed him to leave. He was then enrolled at the Realschule in Steyr in September 1904. Although his behaviour and performance improved, in 1905, Hitler left the school without any further education or clear career plans.
As his mother Klara was dying of breast cancer in the autumn of 1907, he applied for admission to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna but was rejected (his second application in 1908 was also rejected). Though he had some talent for architectural draughtsmanship, it was noted that his human figures lacked detail and character. He was unable to apply to the School of Architecture which had been suggested to him as he lacked the necessary academic credentials.
7. He lived in a homeless shelter
On 21 December 1907, Hitler’s mother died of breast cancer aged 47, when Hitler was aged 18. Hitler left Passau and moved to Vienna, hoping to become an artist. After his second rejection from the Academy of Fine Arts, he frittered away the generous inheritance left by his parents and ignored calls from relatives to embark upon a career in the civil service.
In December 1909, he ran out of money and was forced to live in homeless shelters, drifting from one municipal hostel to another. He then lived in a men’s public dormitory until 1913, earning money as a casual labourer and by selling his paintings and postcards of Vienna’s sights, to little success.
8. Hitler began taking an interest in right-wing politics and anti-Semitic ideas during his time in Vienna
Hitler hated the cosmopolitanism and multinational character of Vienna. He became influenced by two political movements, the German racist nationalism by the Upper Austrian Pan-German politician Georg von Schönerer (which had a particularly widespread following where Hitler lived in the Mariahilf district), and by Karl Lueger, the then Mayor of Vienna. Lueger’s antisemitism reinforced anti-Jewish stereotypes and cast Jews as enemies of the German middle and lower classes.
9. He was deemed unfit for service in the Austro-Hungarian Army
After receiving the final part of his father’s estate in May 1913, Hitler moved to Munich.
He was conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian Army, but after travelling to Salzburg on 5 February 1914 for medical assessment, he was deemed unfit for service due to inadequate physical vigour, and returned to Munich. Hitler later claimed that he hadn’t wanted to serve the Habsburg Empire due to the mixture of races in its army and his belief that the collapse of Austria-Hungary was imminent.
Hitler was keen to prove his loyalty to Germany. In August 1914, at the outbreak of World War One, Hitler quickly and voluntarily enlisted in the Bavarian Army. (It’s likely this was an administrative error, since as an Austrian citizen, he should have been returned to Austria).
10. Hitler received two medals for bravery during World War One
Hitler was posted to the Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment 16, where he served as a dispatch runner on the Western Front. The army gave Hitler a great relief from the frustration and aimlessness of his civilian life, and a cause he could identify with. He found discipline and comradeship satisfying, describing the war as “the greatest of all experiences”, reinforcing his German patriotism.
Although he spent nearly half his time at the regimental headquarters in Fournes-en-Weppes, well behind the front lines, Hitler was present at the First Battle of Ypres, the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras, and the Battle of Passchendaele. He was wounded at the Somme in the left thigh when a shell exploded in the dispatch runners’ dugout.
He was decorated for bravery, receiving the Iron Cross, Second Class, in 1914. On a recommendation by Lieutenant Hugo Gutmann, Hitler’s Jewish superior, he also received the Iron Cross, First Class on 4 August 1918. He received the Black Wound Badge on 18 May 1918. On 15 October 1918, he was temporarily blinded in a mustard gas attack and hospitalised in Pasewalk. It was there where Hitler learned of Germany’s defeat.
He was shocked by Germany’s capitulation in November 1918 and this bitterness shaped his ideology. Like other German nationalists, he believed that Germany were ‘undefeated in the field’ and had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by the ‘November criminals’ – civilian leaders, Jews, Marxists, and those who signed the armistice.
He thus resolved to go into politics.