Long Term Roots of Hitler’s Anti-Semitism


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Adolf Hitler’s early life from 1889 to 1918:
Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany, was born on April 20th 1889 in a small Austrian town called Braunau, near to the German border. The house on the left was the home to the Hitler family.

His father, Alois, was 51 when Hitler was born. He was short-tempered, strict and brutal. It is known that he frequently hit the young Hitler. Alois had an elder son from a previous marriage but he had ended up in jail for theft. Alois was determined that Hitler was not going to go down the same road – hence his brutal approach to bringing up Hitler. Some believe that the background of Alois was a potential source of embarrassment for the future leader of Nazi Germany, there was a rumour that he was half Jewish, though experts on Hitler’s background disagree with what Hans Frank wrote.

Alois was a civil servant which was a respectable job in Brannau. He was shocked and totally disapproving when the young Hitler told him of his desire to be an artist. Alois wanted Hitler to join the civil service as well. Hitler’s mother – Clara – was the opposite of Alois – very caring and loving and she frequently took Hitler’s side when his father’s poor temper got the better of him.

She doted on her son and for the rest of his life, Hitler carried a photo of his mother with him where ever he went. Hitler was not popular at school and he made few friends. He was lazy and he rarely excelled at school work. In later years as leader of Germany, he claimed that History had been a strong subject for him – his teacher would have disagreed! His final school report only classed his History work as “satisfactory”. Hitler’s History teacher was a staunch Anti-Semitic and it is thought that many of the historical arguments he used for his racial plans stemmed from this early teaching.

Hitler was able but he simply did not get down to hard work and at the age of eleven, he lost his position in the top class of his school – much to the horror of his father. Alois died when Hitler was thirteen and so there was no strong influence to keep him at school when he was older.

After doing very badly in his exams, Hitler left school at the age of fifteen. His mother, as always, supported her son’s actions even though Hitler left school without any qualifications. When he started his political career, he certainly did not want people to know that he was lazy and a poor achiever at school. He fell out with one of his earliest supporters – Eduard Humer – in 1923 over the fact that Humer told people what Hitler had been like at school.

Humer had been Hitler’s French teacher and was in an excellent position to “spill the beans” – but this met with Hitler’s disapproval. Such behaviour would have been seriously punished after 1933 – the year when Hitler came to power. After 1933, those who had known Hitler in his early years either kept quiet about what they knew or told those who chose to listen that he was an ideal student etc.

Hitler had never given up his dream of being an artist and after leaving school he left for Vienna to pursue his dream. However, his life was shattered when, aged 18, his mother died of cancer. Witnesses say that he spent hours just staring at her dead body and drawing sketches of it as she lay on her death bed. The Vienna Academy of Art, rejected his application as “he had no School Leaving Certificate”. His drawings which he presented as evidence of his ability, were rejected as they had too few people in them. The examining board did not just want a landscape artist.

Without work and without any means to support himself, Hitler, short of money lived in a doss house with tramps. He spent his time painting post cards which he hoped to sell and clearing pathways of snow. It was at this stage in his life – about 1908 – that it is thought that he developed a hatred of the Jews. He was convinced that it was a Jewish professor that had rejected his art work; he became convinced that a Jewish doctor had been responsible for his mother’s death; he cleared the snow-bound paths of beautiful town houses in Vienna where rich people lived and he became convinced that only Jews lived in these homes. By 1910, his mind had become warped and his hatred of the Jews – known as anti-Semitism – had become set. Hitler called his five years in Vienna “five years of hardship and misery”. In his book called “Mein Kampf”, Hitler made it clear that his time in Vienna was entirely the fault of the Jews – “I began to hate them”.

In February 1914, Hitler tried to join the Austrian Army. He failed his medical. Years of poor food and sleeping rough had taken their toll on someone who as a PE student at school had been “excellent ” at gymnastics. His medical report stated that he was too weak to actually carry weapons. In August 1914, World War One was declared. Hitler crossed over the border to Germany where he had a very brief medical which declared that he was fit to be in the German Army. There is no doubt that Hitler was a brave soldier. He was a regimental runner. This was a dangerous job as it exposed Hitler to a lot of enemy fire. His task was to carry messages to officers behind the front line, and then return to the front line with orders.

His fellow soldiers did not like Hitler as he frequently spoke out about the glories of trench warfare. He was never condemned war like the rest of his colleagues. He was not a good mixer and rarely went out with his comrades when they had leave from the front. Hitler rose to the rank of corporal – not particularly good over a four year span and many believe that it was his lack of social skills and his inability to get people to follow his ideas, that cost him promotion. Why promote someone who was clearly unpopular?

Though he may have been unpopular with his comrades, his bravery was recognised by his officers. Hitler was awarded Germany’s highest award for bravery – the Iron Cross. He called the day he was given the medal, “the greatest day of my life.” Hitler won six medals for bravery.

The war ended disastrously for Hitler. In 1918, he was still convinced that Germany was winning the war – along with many other Germans. In October 1918, just one month before the end of the war, Hitler was blinded by a gas attack at Ypres. While he was recovering in hospital, Germany surrendered. Hitler was devastated. By his own admission, he cried for hours on end and felt nothing but anger and humiliation.  By the time he left hospital with his eyesight restored he had convinced himself that the Jews had been responsible for Germany’s defeat. He believed that Germany would never have surrendered normally and that the nation had been “stabbed in the back” by the Jews. “In these nights (after Germany’s surrender had been announced) hatred grew in me, hatred for those responsible for this deed. What was all the pain in my eyes compared to this misery?”

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