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This is a copy of the Adolf Hitler article in mainspace on 24 December 2010, prior to a Constabulary reversion to a 1 December version, reverted while the entire question of reversion was under discussion in the Editorial Council. Assuming the Constabulary was unaware that the EC was addressing this very issue, the reversion was an error.


This article focuses on the personal actions and thoughts of Hitler himself. See National Socialism (or Nazi Party) for the development of the movement and eventually the government.

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), the Nazi dictator of Germany (1933-45), was a dominant world figure before and during World War II. His authority was based on personality charisma rather than a strict ideology. [1] In other words, Nazi ideology was what Hitler believed. He gave overlapping responsibilities to subordinates, keeping them from growing too powerful and making him the ultimate authority. In particular, the same function could be assigned both to the government of the State and the Party. In Germany, this was complicated by the rise of the Schutzstaffel (SS), fanatically loyal to Hitler, as a state-within-a-state. The distinction between charismatic and ideological leadership of totalitarian regimes began roughly the in the mid-1970s, and later writers, such as Alan Bullock, continue to explore it; there has been a resurgence of interest in historical writing about Hitler, sometimes in comparison with other dictators.[2]

Hitler is explicable in principle, but that does not mean he has been explained. Yehuda Bauer

Formal portrait, circa 1939

As a youth, he felt he had a destiny, although originally as an artist. After failing to be admitted to art school, he went through a rootless period in Vienna, which probably first contributed to his obsessions about racial enemies; loosely, his ideas of a special Germanic race had developed along with his early love of Wagnerian and other heroic music. By the time he served in the First World War, bravely by many accounts, he had focused his hatred against the Jews. After World War I, his anger was increased by what was considered the "stab in the back" and the Treaty of Versailles. He began formal political activity in 1919, quickly discovered his ability as an orator, but did not really focus his political goals until the mid-1920s.

Writing neutrally and objectively about an individual, who caused some tens of millions of deaths, is challenging. This article does not attempt to suggest that Adolf Hitler was seen, by virtually anyone, as a nice man. Nevertheless, it is, in some important cases, possible to suggest why he made certain decisions. Other areas, such as his sexuality and its possible role in his actions, are necessarily far more speculative.

From a base in the Nazi Party, he maneuvered in various German coalitions, until the Nazis, through essentially democratic means, took control in 1933. They quickly moved to cut off democratic challenges, bloodily purge their internal opposition in the Night of the Long Knives, and increasingly emphasize their Nazi race and biological ideology as well as seeking Lebensraum, or room into which the racially pure could expand. Hitler was quite explicit, as well, in the essential role of individuals. As early as 1923, he had told an audience, "How are states founded? Through the personality of brilliant leaders and through a people that deserves to have the crown of laurel bound around its brow. Calling for boldness rather than democracy, he soon invoked volkisch symbols such as Siegfried and Frederick the Great, and often tying his argument back to the Jews and Communists. [3] It might be contrasted that Stalin gave relatively few public appearances, but worked extensively in Party politics, sometimes brutally, sometimes reported to have facilitated discussion among the leadership.

He became the dominant force in Europe and, after generally nonviolent occupations in Austria and Czechoslovakia, invaded Poland in 1939, as a violent example of the Drang nach Osten, the historical German demand for land in the East.[4] Poland started open war on the continent and spilling to Africa and the high seas. As well as foreign wars, he conducted The Holocaust within the areas under his powers, killing millions of Jews, Slavs, and others he considered undesirable. Eventually, an Allied coalition would force him back until he controlled but his bunker, where he committed suicide in 1945.


Beginning with Konrad Heiden, biographers , began studying Hitler during his life. His book, published in 1936, ended in the summer of 1934.[5] After his death, an early and specialized work was Hugh Trevor-Roper's The Last Days of Hitler (1947).[6]

A great many works have tried to explain Hitler, with varying perspectives and conclusions. Indeed, Ron Rosenbaum analyzed twenty views, by recognized scholars, in his book Explaining Hitler; no two reach the same conclusion.[7] Lothar Machtan, in the Hidden Hitler, which focuses on Hitler's sexuality and relationships, presents a model of Hitler historiography. [8] Perhaps the first major biography was Alan Bullock's 1952 Hitler: A Study in Tyranny. That was among the first to deal with Hitler's sexuality, although there had been a classified wartime study of his psyche, with substantial attention to sexuality, done by psychiatrist William Langer for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services. Bullock, to some extent, revised some observations, but not their core, in a 1991 biography Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives. While a general history of Nazi Germany, William Shirer's 1959 Rise and Fall of the Third Reich provides much information. It discusses both Hitler and his close associates.

Another major work, among the first published in German, was Joachim Fest's 1972 book, Hitler. By the 1970s, there were two main schools of Hitler biography: the functionalists and the intentionalists. Functionalists saw Hitler as motivated by the exercise of power regardless of purpose, while the intentionalists focused on his specific vision.

According to Machtan, Hans Mommsen was the leader of the functionalists. He considered Hitler a "political counterfeiter" who succeeded because he was constantly overrated, extremely effective with propaganda but not in performance. [9] Machtan considers Ian Kershaw to be the leading current historian, attempting to unify the two schools.

A more recent aspect of the functionalist versus intentionalist debate is described by Ian Kershaw in a 2008 book: did Hitler actually issue an explicit, if oral, order for the Final Solution? For many years, this had been assumed: that he gave verbal instructions to Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler, who conveyed it to Reinhard Heydrich. While Kershaw has said, in interviews, that had there been no Hitler, there would have been no Holocaust], he increasingly doubts there was a direct order. By no means is this universally held, and none of the significant historians doubt Hitler intended the effects of the Holocaust. Rather, the argument is that the extremely non-bureaucratic Hitler might have set conditions, but never directed. [10] Yehuda Bauer calls the Final Solution the result of a "stage by stage development in 1941," and, with respect to the two schools, explains the functionalist view as assuming that central ideology and decisions were less important than had previously been thought, but they agree that "without approval by Hitler and his inner circle, the murder would have been impossible." [11]

Early Life to 1919

Hitler was born in Braunau, Austria-Hungary to a devout Catholic family of middle class status. Little is known of his ancestry. His father, Alois, was the illegitimate son of a servant girl, Marianne Schickelgruber in Graz. In 1876 Alois legally changed his name to Alois Hitler. Since this was before Adolf's birth, the claim that his name really was Adolf Schickelgruber cannot be true.

Hitler as a baby


Akois was a minor official of the Imperial Austrian customs service, a prestigious white collar position. Alois was widowed twice, and died in 1903.

His third wife, Klara Poelzl Hitler — who was 23 years his junior — bore him six children, only two of whom reached maturity: Adolf, and his younger sister Paula, who died in 1960. After the dealt of Alois, she moved to a more modest apartment, living on savings and pension. She tried to educate him in accordance with his father's intention, explained by Adolf as "to have me study for a civil servant's career."[12]

A mediocre student, he dropped out at age 16, as was normal for someone not headed to university.[13] This was facilitated by a long illness, which required him to drop out of school for a year. [12] While he called the years between 16 and 19 the happiest of his life, he both rejected a trade and wanted to become an artist, and was concerned with politics. His boyhood friend, August Kubizek, said "he saw everywhere only obstacles and hostility....He was always up against something and at odds with the world...I never saw him take anything lightly." While he rejected formal education, Kubizek said he was always surrounded by books, especially on German history and mythology. [14]

Georg Ritter von Schoenerer had been instrumental, in the 1870s, of introducing "raucous nationalism" to parliament. von Schoenerer's ideology was centered on antisemitism, and extended to anti-liberalism, anti-socialism, anti-Catholicism, and opposition to the Hapsburgs. Hitler had already absorbed ideas from him while at home in Linz, including the "Heil" greeting and the term "Fuehrer", applied to von Schoenerer. [15] von Schoenerer was also sexually puritanical, preaching celibacy until the age of 25, keeping the race pure by avoiding infection from prostitutes. [16]

The music of Richard Wagner influenced him at age 17, both in terms of heroic agendas and antisemitism. He later wrote that "whoever who wants to understand National Socialism must know Wagner."[17]

First stay in Vienna

Intending to study fine arts, he moved to Vienna in 1907, but failed the entrance examinations both for the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. While the art school suggested his talent might be more in architecture, his failure to graduate from high school barred the School of Architecture from him. It was possible to apply for a waiver, but, as far as is known, he never did so.

The academic counselor for architecture said he needed more experience, but some of his work was interesting. Hitler would continue a lifelong interest in architecture, [18] generally believed to be the core of his friendship with Albert Speer.

By the time Hitler arrived, the influence of von Schoenerer, who had never tried to build a mass party, was in decline. Hitler questioned his willingness to participate in parliament, and thus began to be influenced by Karl Lueger, the "tribune of he people". Lueger was also strongly antisemitic, but less ideologically than von Schoenerer: he would say "I say who a Jew is". Still, Lueger was appointed Lord Mayor of Vienna in 1897, who built the Catholic Christian Social Party. While antisemitic, he was pro-Habsburg, populist, and scial reformer. Hitler did not learn ideology from him, but manipulating the mob.[19]

Mother's illness

Kubizek and Klara did not hear from Adolf after she first moved to Vienna. She disapproved of his withdrawing his inheritance to study, and she said she had become an "old, sick woman."[20]

She developed breast cancer in 1907, and was treated by Dr. Edward Bloch, a Jewish physician to whom Hitler paid much respect and to whom he would send greetings later in life. After heroic but unsuccessful treatment, she died in 1908. The surgical wound had been treated locally with strong-smelling iodoform, which left a lifelong impression. He returned from Vienna to care for her in her last days, during which she was to whisper to Kubizek, "Gustl, go on being a good friend to my son when I'm no longer here. He has no one else."

Return to Vienna

He spent the next four unhappy years in Vienna, largely in poverty and hunger. Kubizek mentions him as surrounded by books, but only slecifically remembers Legends of Gods and Heroes: the Treasures of Germanic Mythology. [21] Perhaps the authoritative reference is J. Sydney Jones' Hitler in Vienna, 1907-1913[22] By August 1909, he was homeless, living on the streets and in the most impersonal of shelters. [23] In February 1910, he was able to move to a dormitory that offered some individuality. Guided by a friend he met there, Reinhold Hanisch, he was guided into a beginning of self-respect, after receiving funds from his sister.[24] While taking part in political arguments at the dormitory, Hanisch said "When he got excited, Hitler couldn't restrain himself. He screamed and fidgeted with his hands. But when he was quiet, he seemed to have a fair amount of self-control and acted in quite a dignified manner." Hanisch remembered only one anti-Semitic comment, and that Hitler spoke of gratitude to Jewish charities, admiration for Jewish resistance to persecution; his friend believes his strong for Jews, which he claims, in Mein Kampf, formed in Vienna, developed later. [25]

He took to observing the Parliament, and, according to Heinz, was shocked by the disorder; this led to his antiparliamentary beliefs. [26] Kershaw speculates that his reading included the racist and somewhat occult magazine, Ostara, which focused on "homoerotic notions of a manichaean strggle between the heroic and creative 'blond' race and a race of predator dark 'beast-men' who preyed on the 'blond' women with nimal lust and bestial instincts that were corrupting and destroying mankind and it culture.' The author was a former monk, Joerg Lanz von Liebefels, who formed the "New Templar Order" in a ruined castle. [27]

Continuing his art and selling some of his work, by 1912, according to Shirer, he was a competent draftsman, producing acceptable architectural work in pencil, oils, and watercolor, but having great difficulty in drawing realistic human figures. Hanisch sold his work, and the other partner was a Jew, Joseph Neumann, with whom he was friendly enough to visit museums. [28]e


Hitler moved to Munich in 1912, renting a room with a Frau Popp, and signing the register as an architectural painter. He had a warm relationship with the Popp family, welcoming Frau Popp as a visitor after he became Chancellor. [29]

World War I

Hitler and his dog Fuchsl, Ernest Schmidt, Max Ammann

While he had formed antisemitic views in Vienna, his beliefs, which would lead to The Holocaust, intensified during the war. Fellow soldiers, in the trenches, would recount how he would constantly complained of the "invisible foes", the Jews and Marxists. They generally regarded him as strange and distant, which would not help him in potential troop command. [30] Some of his comrades, however, would stay lifelong associates, such as Max Ammann, his sergeant and company clerk, who would become the early Nazi Party treasurer, and then take the lucrative position of publisher for the Party. At the front, his personal reading material consisted of an architectural guides to Berlin, by a Jewish architectural critic, Max Osborn.[31]

He was a brave if unconventional soldier, being decorated with the Iron Cross Second and First Class, the latter unusual for a junior enlisted man. It was recommended by his immediate superior, Lieutenant Hugo Gutmann, a Jew. His officers considered him thoroughly reliable in carrying out tasks as a combat messenger, but did not promote him because they did not feel he was capable of command. Hitler only began to wear the Iron Cross in 1927, as he became active in politics. He did help Guttman emigrate in 1939 and issued him a pension that would last to the end of the war, but, in 1941, said of him
I did not wear the Iron Cross 1st class during the World War [1914-18] because I saw how it was awarded. We had a Jew in the regiment, Gutmann, an unparallelled cowardly person. He wore the Iron Cross 1st Class. It was revolting and a disgrace. [32]

In 1916 and 1917, recovering from combat wounds in Munich, he observed "I thought I could no longer recognize the city", and became furious about the "Hebrew corruptors of the people". [33]

Political beginnings

In September 1919 Adolf Hitler joined the DAP. Hitler, who had finished the war in a military hospital after suffering a poison gas attack at the front, had returned to Munich in November 1918. After the war he remained in the army and had joined the intelligence section. In this capacity he was sent to monitor the DAP’s activities. He found the DAP reflected his own views – German nationalism, anti-liberalism, anti-Semitism. He became the party’s 55th member.

Dietrich Eckhart first attracted him intellectually in the party, and mentored him. He was to meet Houston Stewart Chamberlain in 1923, who influenced much of his thinking.

By 1924, certain elements of Hitler's worldview (Weltanschauung) had fully crystallized, namely his concept of history as a racial struggle and the threat of Marxism. He considered Communism to be a Jewish conspiracy, and often referred to "Jewish-Bolshevik Commissars"; the Commissar Order for the Russian Front was an even more certain death sentence for Communist leaders than for Jews.

The key element in Hitler's success in 1932-33 was the decision of powerful non-Nazi conservative nationalists to support his selection as chancellor, since the Nazis did not have a majority in the Reichstag.

A rally too far

Julius Streicher speaking to crowd at Beer Hall Putsch, 1923
For more information, see: Beer Hall Putsch.

Political tensions had been rising, both in the Weimar Republic generally and in Bavaria specifically, in 1922 and 1923. Hitler was sentenced to three months' imprisonment in 1922, of which he served four weeks for an incident in which he led Nazis to disrupt a meeting or the Bavarian League and beating its leader. He was carried to the podium on hs first public appearance after release. The local police, previously headed by a Nazi sympathizer, but now by Eduard Nortz, banned a rally in early 1923.

Roehm and von Epp met with General Gustav von Lossow, the Reichwehr commander in Bavaria. The military commander, although dubious about Hitler's personality, said he would consider "the suppression of teh nationalist organizations unfortunate for security reasons", Nortz requested the NDSAP to reduce the number of rallies, but Hitler, seeming to agree, ignored it. [34]

The Army, generally, had been marginal in its compliance with the Weimar Republic. It was not clearly subordinate to the Reichstag and the Cabinet. The French occupied the Ruhr in January 1923, and hyperinflation had begun. Hitler saw this as a time of opportunity. [35]

On November 8, Hitler and the Nazis, significantly without giving General Eric Ludendorff an opportunity to coordinate with them, sent a large force into a meeting, at a beer hall used for assemblies, being addressed by Gustav von Kahr, Prime Minister of Bavaria, who, with Army commander von Lossow and state police chief Hans von Seisser, ruled Bavaria. The three made promises, under duress, to Hitler, but quickly left.

The next day, Hitler and Ludendorff led a march on the War Ministry, here Ernst Rohm had been held. It is unclear which side fired first, but sixteen Nazis and three police died. Ludendorff was arrested on the scene, while the wounded Hitler and other Nazis escaped.

The Nazis involved were put on treason on 25 February 1924. Hitler was sentenced to five years imprisonment, which he spent, in comfort, in Landsberg Prison, along with associates. He wrote Mein Kampf during that time, and was released after serving nine months.

Mein Kampf

Hitler wrote his autobiographical Mein Kampf ("My Struggle") while imprisoned after the Beer Hall Putsch; its two volumes were published in 1925 and 1926. He dictated it to Rudolf Hess. Although most critics believe it desperately required editing, Father Bernhard Stempfle did help in this area.

Hitler recounts his personal and intellectual development from childhood to adulthood, including his home life, his student aspirations as an artist, his experience as a soldier on the battlefield, and his evolving political philosophy. Then he lays out the political program of the Nazi movement both theoretically and in terms of German history and the German sociopolitical situation of 1925. Hitler states his goal to realize the German nation's destiny by uniting all Germans geographically and politically into one Reich that is rid of all non-German elements. Geographically he envisions a German homeland stretching out into eastern Europe. For Hitler, the German nation -- the volkisch nation -- comprises only those of pure German blood. The race of Slavs naturally competes with and impinges on the German nation, threatening and constraining its development; Hitler, however, designates the Jews as a singularly vile and cultureless race bent on world destruction through Communism. They will eventually self-destruct, he says.

Hitler practicing speaking, circa 1933

While Mein Kampf, in retrospect, should have served as a warning of the ambitions of Hitler, it may have been underestimated, in the English-speaking countries, by poor translations. German studies were the first academic field of Emily Overend Lorimer, possibly best known as a WWI analyst of the Middle East, assisting her British diplomat husband, David Lorimer. Unusually for a woman of her time, she studied German culture before she was married.[36] In her opinion, the first English translations of Mein Kampf, which left out many of the sections on Hitler's ideas of foreign relations. [37] When it was the British conventional wisdom that Hitler and his followers were not a serious threat, she concentrated on Nazi writings and came to a very different conclusion. In 1939, she published the book, What Hitler Wants. [38]

Party organization

While Hitler worked on the second volume of Mein Kampf in early 1925, after a public speaking ban was put into effect, he sent Gregor Strasser to organize the party in Northern Germany. Strasser disliked three of the Bavarian leaders that Kershaw called "detested" in the North: Max Ammann, Hermann Esser, and Julius Streicher. The north also objected to Philip Bouhler's desire for centralized control.

Some of the northerners, such as Joseph Goebbels, were more socialistic and thus Strasser was sympathetic. While Strasser was antisemitic, he was not seen as a reactionary. [39] Others, while they recognized Hitler as the party leader, were concerned he was developing a cult of personality. The Working Association of the North and West was not intended as a challenge to him, but it became so — Strasser and Goebbels saw it as a way to replace the Party's 1920 Programme. [40]

Development of views and propaganda

For Hitler, the notion of Lebensraum (living space) and the idea of a heroic Führer, underdeveloped in 1924, became fully crystallized by 1928. Hitler offered only "distant goals" not a "blueprint for rule." There is scant evidence to support the notion that he was a conscious modernizer; his goal was to destroy Marxism and re-create the Volksgemeinschaft (folk community) that supposedly existed in the past. This community concept was the basis for much propaganda, but "But propaganda alone could not have sustained the Nazi Party and its ideology over a period of 12 years. There is now considerable evidence to suggest that nazi policies and propaganda reflected many of the aspirations of large sections of the population." [41]

He spent his time working on the second volume of Mein Kampf, leaving Strasser organize, because he was not interested in day-to-day issues. but in expressing a long-term goal. [42] The book reflected a considerable understanding of crowd psychology, for which Toland believes he drew upon Sigmund Freud's Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. Hitler had also changed his foreign policy; he had regarded France as the principal enemy of Germany after the First World War, but wrote "we stop the endless German movement to the south and west, and turn our gaze upward to the land in the east." He meant Russia, under the "yoke of the Jew".

In a Christmas celebration, he said "Christ was the greatest early fighter in the battle against the world enemy, the Jews." Hitler did not consider Jesus a Jew, but, due to immaculate conception, only a nonpracticing half Jew. Modestly, he observed "The work that Christ started but could not finish, I — Adolf Hitler — will conclude."[43]

At the end of February 1926, he was allowed to speak to a private gathering in Hamburg, principally to seek financial suppport. His delivery was aimed at the solid citizen, and only after he connected with them on logic, did he become emotional about the need to destroy Marxism. [44]

Hitler had been a natural orator with small groups, but Hanfstaengl and others coached him in improving his delivery; the rare photograph shows him practicing. In March 1927, Saxony was the first large state to allow him to speak in public, with the understanding it not be in Munich. His first speech indeed was well away, but he spoke there three days later. A police reporter covering him in Munich thought the he applause was directed to the speaker, not the speech. [45]

By June 1926, Hitler had captivated Goebbels. Goebbels was to join the headquarters in November, headed by Hess as secretary, Franz Xaver Schwarz as treasurer, and Bouhler as secretary general. Hitler recruited Franz Pfeffer von Salomon to head the SA, replacing Roehm, and presenting a new image:
In order to prevent the SA to taking on any secret character from the start, it should not be hidden and should march under a bright sky to destroy all mythis that it is a 'secret organization'...we must show the Marxists that the future boss of the streets is National Socialism, just as National Socialism will be the boss of the state.[46]

After the 1927 election, in which the Nazis did poorly although did send 11 delegates to the Reichstag, he began his relationship with Geli Raubal. Whatever the circumstances, there is no question that her 1931 death had an enormous effect on him. During this time, he also wrote what became known as Hitler's Secret Book, which would not appear for 32 years. It was more intensely antisemitic than Mein Kampf, and may have been an even stronger warning of The Holocaust.

Apparently recalling the heroic cancer treatment of his mother, he used it as a metaphor for foreign policy.
If a man appears to have cancer and is unconditionally doomed to die, it would be senseless to refuse an

operation, because the percentage of the possibility of success is slight, and because the patient, even should it be successful, will not be a hundred percent healthy. It would be still more senseless were the surgeon to perform the operation itself only with limited or partial energy in consequence of these limited possibilities. But

it is this senselessness that these men expect uninterruptedly in domestic and foreign policy matters.[47]

In this period, he consulted with a Party member psychiatrist, to allay "a fear of cancer.[48]

Klara, Hitler's mother

Personal life

In attempting to explain Hitler's motivation, many historians and social scientists have looked at his personal relationships. They agreed the relationships often were abnormal, but there is no consensus either on how they affected him or what his true sexuality may have been. Kershaw, drawing in part from Kubizek, suggests he was prudish and offended by sexuality of all types, which could well have been based on von Schenerer's principles. He met with "cold indifference" flirtation from young women, was repelled by homosexuality, refrained from masturbation, and was horrified but fascinated by prostitution. [49] He was terrified by venereal disease, a theme that recurred in Mein Kampf.

Machtan calls him a homosexual, although agreeing there is little positive evidence he had sex with men, but more that he did not have sex with women. [50] Langer, in the U.S. intelligence psychological profile, believed he was heterosexual, although obsessed with paraphilias. It is, however, reasonably well established that he never had a close adult romantic relationship.

Relationships with women

While he did not follow her desires for him to learn a trade or further his education, Hitler was extremely close to his mother, Klara. Her physician told Hitler her "death had been a savior" from her pain, but said "In all my career, I never saw anyone so prostrate with grief as Adolf Hitler." [51]

Unity Mitford

He appeared to enjoy the company of attractive women, but was awkward in starting relationships. Of the women to whom he was close, Eva Braun and Geli Rabaul committed suicide, while Unity Mitford and Mimi Reiter attempted it. There was "gossip" he had relationships with Leni Riefenstahl and actresses Olga Tscechowa, Lil Dagover and Pola Negri. Shirer observed that he sought the "stimulation his suppressed bohemian nature craved," rather than sex. [52]

Unity Mitford

Unity Mitford, the British daughter of Lord Redesdale, was an art student in Germany, who became a Nazi as soon as she met Hitler. Different than other women he knew, she was extremely free in his speech, quite blunt to him at times. [52]

Geli Rabaul; picture inscribed 1929 to Emil Maurice

Geli Rabaul

For more information, see: Geli Rabaul.

His niece, Geli was his great love, although it is not at all clear that the intensity was reciprocal. They probably first met in the summer of 1924, when Angela Raubal visited her half-brother Adolf, bringing 16-year-old Geli. She graduated from high school in 1927, and visited him on a school trip; he later took her, along with her mother and a girlfriend, on a road trip. Rudolf Hess called her a "tall, pretty girl of nineteen...always cheerful and as little at a loss as her uncle...the latter is hardly a match for her ready tongue." [53]

Alan Bullock wrote "This period in Munich Hitler later described as the happiest in his life; he idolised this girl, who was twenty years younger than himself, took her with him whenever he could - in short, he fell in love with her...She was flattered and impressed by her now famous uncle, she enjoyed going about with him, but she suffered from his hypersensitive jealousy."

She was to die, under questionable circumstances, in September 1931. It is most often considered a suicide by gunshot. Hitler himself was far away and could not have killed her, but it has been suggested by some that he ordered her death.

Contrasting her to Eva Braun, he told his secretary, Christa Schroeder, "Eva is very nice, but in my life, ony Geli could have inspired in me genuine passion. I can never think of marrying Eva.The only woman I could have tied myself to for life was Geli."[54]

Leni Riefenstahl

For more information, see: Leni Riefenstahl.
Leni Riefenstahl
With other, stronger women, such as Leni Riefenstahl, he kept a distance. Riefenstahl, a distinguished cinematographer, actress and photographer, had a far stronger personality than Braun or Raubal. The two were taking a leisurely seaside walk in May 1932, which she describes as
Quite relaxed, Hitler spoke of his private life and of things that particularly interested him. Foremost among them were architecture and music — he spoke of Wagner, King Ludwig, and Bayreuth. After he had talked of them for a while, his expression and voice suddenly changed. Fervently, he said "But what fulfills me more than anything else is my political mission. I feel it is my vocation to save Germany — I cannot and may not evade it"...It was dark, and I could no longer see the men behind us. After a long pause he came to a halt, gave me a lingering look, slowly put his arms around me, and drew me to him....He looked at me excitedly When he saw how averse I was he at once let go of me. He turned away a little. Then I saw him raise his hands and say imploringly, "I cannot love any women until I have completed my task."[55]
Hitler with Goebbels family members

Magda Goebbels

Women, such as Magda Quandt Goebbels, would also fixate on him, and she chose to die with him, killing her children. While working as Goebbels' secretary (and lover) in the fall of 1931, she called on Hitler, and both experienced strong emotions. She would tell Riefenstahl that she was in love with him, but, "It was not until I realized that, discounting his niece Geli,Hitler cannot love any woman, but only, as he always says, 'his Germany', that I consented to marry Dr. Goebbels, because now I can be near the Fuehrer." After the marriage, she said "We like to think of this [i.e., our] apartmen t as his second home. Hitler now had the "devotion, admration and solicitude of a charming woman without having to commit himself in any way." He could use Geli's death to say he had "overcome the urge to overcome a woman physically."[56]

Eva Braun

Eva Braun

Eva Braun was his longest adult relationship. An assistant to his photograper, Hans Hoffman, he saw both Eva and Geli in the same time period, contributing to Geli's tensions.

They finally married just before their joint suicide in Hitler's bunker. Prior to that, she had long been his companion, but known only to his personal staff. After Hitler once made a public statement that he had no private life, she quipped "just call me Miss No Private Life."

Relationships with men

He also lacked close relationships with men; perhaps the closest were with two very different personalities, Ernst Roehm and Albert Speer.

Ernst Roehm

When he joined the early party, he became very close to Roehm, who was the only person with whom he was on a first-name basis, and was a "Duzfreund" -- a friend with whom he used the intimate second-person pronoun, "du". Joachim Fest, a German journalist and biographer of Hitler, called the bloody ending, in the 1934 Night of the Long Knives, perhaps the "only instance of [classic] tragedy in Hitler's life." Roehm and Hitler were once close friends, but had become rivals. Hitler saw the need to grow the Nazis beyond the original core of the "Brown Revolution", making alliances with the capitalists and industrialists of the German right, as well as the Army. Roehm "had obligations to the dynamism and the unsatisfied cravings of his millions of followers." [57]

Before they were imprisoned together and Hitler dictated Mein Kampf to him, Rudolf Hess, who had been his disciple and private secretary since 1925, was among his closest associates. Hitler enjoyed fast cars, and was close to his chauffeurs, Emil Maurice, Julius Schreck, and Eric Kempka; they enjoyed a far higher status than servants.

In 1923, he met Ernst "Putzi" Hanfstaengel, half-American, who had attended Harvard. He was one of Hitler's entries to the "good families" of Munich. More importantly on a personal level, his piano playing and his humor relaxed Hitler. [58] He would become an early Nazi press chief, but later break with Hitler and flee to the West, where he was a source on Hitler's personality for U.S. intelligence.

Albert Speer had briefly met Hitler in July 1933, to get approvals for drawings for the first Nuremberg Party Rally. That fall, as an aide to Hitler's regular architect, Paul Troost, he worked on the renovation of Hitler's Chancellery. Hitler would chat about the construction, when Hitler suddenly invited him to dinner in his apartment, during which he first asked personal questions. Later, Hitler would tell him,
You attracted my notice during our rounds. I was looking for an architect to whom I could entrust my building plans. I wanted someone young, for as you know, these plans extend far into the future. I need someone who will be able to continue after my death with the authority I have conferred on him. I saw you as that man.

Speer wrote he had found his Mephistopheles, but would have sold his soul for the commission to do a great building.[59] Many believe Hitler saw, in Speer, the architect and artist he wanted to become. Airey Neave, a Nuremberg prosecutor, said "He was the only man in Hitler's entourage who sacrificed neither his will nor his reason. He also was a man of great talent who did most to enable the Nazi dream to become a reality."[60] Speer would later consider assassinating Hitler, and refused to obey his scorched-earth orders at the end of the war, informing Hitler, at great risk, to his face.


Hitler remained a nominal Catholic, paying his tithes through the tax system to the end of his life.

Prewar consolidation

Between 1933 and 1939, Hitler gained control of Germany, purging internal opposition and forming alliances, developing a strong propaganda machine, indoctrinating German youth, and increasing the pressure on Jews as a cause of Germany's ills.

Dealing with internal opposition

The Nazi Party long had had conflict between two kinds of "left-wing Nazis", the economic socialists such as the Strassers, and the military socialists led by Ernst Roehm. In 1934, Hitler launched the Night of the Long Knives purge, primarily against Roehm and the SA, but also killing other opponents such as Gregor Strasser. Also killed were people considered to know too much or be untrustworthy, such as Bernhard Stempfle, who may have been revealing details about Geli Raubal.

Hitler, intending to broaden the Nazi appeal, needed both the traditional military of the Reichswehr, and the financial support of industrialists and bankers. Socialism in National Socialism was anathema to both. Other significant national leaders, such as Kurt von Schleicher, were killed to prevent their interference in Hitler's consolidation.

Propaganda and antisemitism

Hitler had made much of the Reichstag Fire of 27 February 1933, for whom a half-crazed Marius van der Lubbe had been arrested. It is generally accepted that Goering arranged the fire. Hitler, however, obtained an emergency decree the next day from President Hindenburg, extending his powers as Chancellor. The Nazis said van der Lubbe was controlled by Jews and Communists; they were blamed for most bad things that happened to Germany and were used to justify more repression.

Reichstag Fire

On 17 May 1933, Hitler delivered a "Peace Speech" in response to Franklin D. Roosevelt's address, the previous day, calling for world disarmament. While Hitler would later focus scorn on Roosevelt, he said "The proposal made by President Roosevelt...has earned the warmest thanks of the German government....The President's proposal is a ray of comfort for all who wish to co-operate in the maintenance of peace...Germany is prepared to agree to any solemn pact of nonaggression, because she does not think of attacking but only of acquiring security." He insisted, however, that Germany receive equality in armaments with all other nations, or she would withdraw from the League of Nations and the Disarmament Conference. Germany withdrew on 14 October, dissolved the Reichstag.[61]

1936 Olympic Stadium

During the Berlin Olympics year of 1936, overt antisemitism was reduced, to show the best possible image.[62] While Hitler was indeed angry when black U.S. track star Jesse Owens won gold, it is incorrect to say that he refused to shake his hand. Hitler had congratulated a few German winners, but was told by Olympics officials that he was a guest of the International Olympic Committee, admittedly a very important guest, and thus had no role for giving congratulations in Olympic ceremonies. [63] The Olympics, however, were an overall immense propaganda success for Germany.

1940 porter of Der Edwidge Jude; while pictured in bottom right, Peter Lorre did not appear in the film

Germany did not hide the September 1935 Nuremberg Laws, which stripped citizenship from German Jews. William Shirer said he was personally attacked, in the German media, for "having written a dispatch saying that some of these anti-Semitic signs were being removed for the duration of the Olympic games. [64]

Antisemitic propaganda continued to increase after the Games. The Nazis released three films that had the same English titles as earlier, pro-Jewish Western releases: Der Ewidge Jude (1940) ("The Eternal Jew"), Jud Suess (1940) ("Jew Suess"), and Die Rothschilds "The House of Rothschild". The first ends with Hitler's 1939 announcement that the Jewish race will meet its "annihilation".[65] "Eternal Jew" had first been released, in English, in 1933. The 1934 film, titled "Power" in English, Suess tries to better himself. [66]

The 7 November 1938 assassination of a German diplomat in Paris, Ernst von Rath, by a Jew, Herschel Grynszpan, became a major propaganda point that motivated the largest pogrom to date, Kristallnacht on 9-10 November.

Hitler steadily increased the pressure on Jews, from informal street actions before the Nazis came to power, to official harassment to push emigration. Large-scale killing, however, would not start until the war, although there was a systematic domestic program of euthanasia and sterilization.


It was not long before the crash of the New York Stock Exchange, in October 1929, to affect Germany. Hitler, who was not yet in power, he was able to connect to the fears of the people, threatened by the Right and the Left. His program rejected the past, and was both antiproletarian and anticapitalistic, restorational and revolutionary, and and led to rejection of the existing government. [67]

While Hitler was not interesting in the details of economics, neither did he think economics were irrelevant. In 1936, Philip Bouhler, head of Hitler's personal chancellery, observed that "The Fuhrer gives the main priorities, he shows the direction, yet he grants the individual the utmost room to move." Speaking to the Reich governors on 6 July 1933, he argued vehemently against removing "good" economic experts, simply because they were not National Socialists, "in particular not if the National Socialist who replaces [the economic expert] does not have an economic understanding. The decisive factor in the economy should only be skills." [68]

Also in 1936, Economics Minister Hjalmar Schacht was concerned about the rate of rearmament, especially the demand on fuel supplies. Shortly after the remilitarization of the Rhineland, however, Army Chief of Staff Ludwig Beck advocated accelerated spending. There were demands from the Walther Darre, Minister of Food and Agriculture for consumer supplies, and Hitler had no good solution. He turned to Hermann Goering to manage the competing demands of the multiple ministries. Partially for propaganda, Hitler and Goering agreed to announce a Four Year Plan, for which Goering would be the Plenipotentiary. Yet other demands were coming for support of the Spanish Civil War.[69]

Nazi Volkswagens

Hitler was fascinated with high speed expensive automobiles, but he also admired Henry Ford for mass producing the cheap Model T for the masses. After a successful war in the East, he said, that every German had to have his "People's Car" (Volkswagen) to see the conquered territories, for which he might have to fight. Only by road, not rail, travel could people truly know a country. [70]

American mass consumption and mass motorization, particularly Ford's Model T, influenced Nazi planning for the Volkswagen, which was supposed to turn the German car from an investment into a consumer good. However, Nazi policy was unable to create a sound economic basis for the Volkswagen. In the mid 1930s incomes were still low; Hitler refused to raise wages, choosing instead to use productivity gains for rearmament and economic autarky or independence from the British and American economies. He sought to lower prices through efficiency and to have industries that did not seek profits manufacture the "people's products." The Nazis' demands were so high that companies envisioned that they would fail and declined to cooperate. Consequently, German car manufacturers, including American-owned Ford and GM, pulled out of the Volkswagen project. Its transfer to the Deutsche Arbeitsfront did not resolve the issue of production costs and affordability. [71]

Hitler was certain that Germany could emerge as a consumer society without employing Ford's formula of mass production, high wages, and low prices. He did build an autobahn system that was primarily designed as a construction project and as a new transportation system for trucks.

Foreign Policy

Hitler's diplomatic strategy was to make seemingly reasonable demands, threatening war if they were not met. When opponents tried to appease him, he accepted the gains that were offered, then went to the next target. That aggressive strategy worked until he invaded Poland in 1939. Several military coups were averted when he succeeded in winning territory without war. He also executed nonaggression treaties, such as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, until it was convenient for him to abrogate it and launch war on the Soviet Union.


After withdrawing from the League of Nations in 1933, Germany repudiated the Treaty of Versailles and officially began to rearm in 1935, although it had been doing so for some time. She was joined by later members of the Anti-Comintern Pact, originally between Japan and Germany, such as Bulgaria, China Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Romania and Slovakia. Several of these would later be partners in the Axis alliance.

The Black Reichswehr had been training in the Soviet Union. German advisers and technical specialists were heavily involved in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, gaining operational experience.

Hitler tells the Reichstag he has annexed Austria, 1938


At a key meeting in November, 1937, with his five top military advisors, Hitler revealed his plan to preserve and extend Aryan supremacy, which included the acquisition of new "Lebensraum" in the east. He spoke of seizing Austria and Czechoslovakia, and going to war with Britain, France or Russia. Hitler expected Germany would reach its peak, relative to the strength of its enemies, in about 1943-45, suggesting that was the target date for a major war. The "Hossbach Memorandum" summarized the plans.[72] When two leaders, War Minister Werner von Blomberg and Army Commander Werner von Fritsch urged caution, Hitler purged them, thereby reducing the threat of a military coup.

Austria, after World War I, was a remnant of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, defined by the Treaty of St. Germain of September 1919. The small remaining country was almost exclusively German-speaking. The Nazi platform of 1920 had called for merger of all Germans, and Hitler had written, on the first page of Mein Kampf,
German-Austria must return to he great German mother country, and not because of any economic considerations. No, and again no: even if such a union were unimportant from an economic point of view; yes, even if were harmful, it must nevertheless take place. One blood demands one Reich."

In 1937, Hitler's rhetoric about Austria grew stronger. He had sent his economic advisor, Wilhelm Keppler, to manage Party affairs there, as well as Franz von Papen as a special envoy. An Austro-German treaty had been signed in July. When Lord Halifax, Lord Privy Seal of Britain, visited Germany in November, he told Hitler that the questions of Austria, Danzig, and Czechoslovakia "fell into the category of possible alerations in the European order which might be destined to come about with the passage of time."

Goering supported unification with Austria, sharing anti-Bolshevism with Hitler, but emphasizing "traditional pan-German concepts of nationalist power-politics to attain hegemony in Europe than on the racial dogmatism center to Hitler's ideology." Rather than Lebensraum, he emphasized return of colonies, good relations with Britain, and, as Plenipotentiary for the Four-Year Plan, dominating southeast Europe to ensure Germany's supplies of raw materials. Mussolini, who had earlier resisted the union, had recognized it was a matter of time, and the iron mines of Austria would feed Germany. [73]

Czechoslovakia and Munich

His appointments of Army chiefs and war ministers emphasized obedience, although he eventually purged those who he felt he could not control. General Ludwig Beck, in August 1938, resigned when Hitler said he intended to solve the Sudetenland by force within a few weeks. Beck began to work quietly in the resistance. His successor, Franz Halder, also opposed Hitler's approach, and indeed planned a coup that would be triggered by the start of war. Hans Oster of the Abwehr advised on details. Erwin von Witzleben, then commanding the Berlin garrison, would arrest Hitler. In a conspiracy within the conspiracy, Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz, former leader of the Stahlhelm, thought a trial was unrealistic and put together a unit that would shoot Hitler under cover of the arrest. Oster was also aware of this plan. Nevertheless, when the conspirators learned that Britain had agreed to a conference in Munich, to seek a peaceful settlement, the conspiracies collapesed. [74]

The summit conference of Britain, France, Italy and Germany, on September 29, headed off a military takeover of the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia. His gamble had succeeded, perhaps more than he realized, because the coup(s) were called off.

Relations with the Soviet Union

The 1936 Anti-Comintern Pact, not specifically against the Soviet Union but guarding against "international communism", was a source of some tension with the Soviets. Nevertheless, in August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of nonaggression, causing much confusion with the earlier treaty. The Soviets, however, would add their own confusion with the 1941 Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact.

Gutting the Soviet General Staff

In 1937, the Soviet purges reached the chief of the Red Army, Mikhail Tukhachevsky. There are a dizzying range of explanations of the involvement of Stalin, and of Germans up to and including Hitler. The Marshal had gone to a military school in Germany before the Russian Revolution, which was enough to draw suspicion under Stalin. He was talented, but and, from a surprising source, we have testimony about his personality, a personality apt to provoke Stalin's jealousy and a desire to take revenge. Tukhachevsky made violins as a hobby, and had become close friends with the composer, Dmitri Shostakovitch. Shostakovitch described him as a "very ambitious and imperious person," who seemed to be the Red Army's favorite. [75]

Among the possibilities, not mutually exclusive, were:

  1. The Marshal may, in fact, have been conspiring against Hitler, and with or without the cooperation of the German General Staff.
  2. The Marshal may, in fact, have been conspiring against Hitler
  3. Stalin, on general personality ground may have decided that he was sufficiently a potential rival that it was in Stalin's interest to remove him preemptively.
  4. Soviet Organs of State Security (i.e., the NKVD) had manufactured a dossier, possibly based on some actual correspondence and possibly not, that indicated Tukhachevsky was conspiring; Stalin may have directly participated
  5. The German SD intelligence service, under Schellenberg and Heydrich, may have found the Russian dossier, believing it to be an authentic NKVD document, and gave it to Himmler and Hitler, who decided to feed it back, through deniable channels, to Stalin, in order to discredit the Soviet General Staff and perhaps have it purged before Germany had to fight its more competent officers. The information is believed to have been leaked to Rusisia and France via the Czech President, Evard Benes, using contacts between the SS and NKVD.

Walter Schellenberg suggests that Hitler eventually had to decide if he wanted to deal with Russia under Stalin or Tukhachevsky.[76] Pavel Sudoplatov says that Lavrenti Beria received a dossier and sent it to Stalin. [77] Stalin, however, did not use the documents, but, was his want, "rounded up the usual suspects" in the General Staff and forced them to confess what he wanted. A huge purge of the Soviet leadership resulted, which may well have crippled the Soviet response to the German 1941 invasion, including:

  • 3 of the 5 Marshals
  • 13 of the 15 army commanders (full generals) and 8 of the 9 equivalent admirals
  • 50 of the 57 corps commanders
  • 154 of the 186 division commanders


While Spain had withdrawn from the League of Nations and joined the Anti-Comintern Pact, Spain was in no way a satellite of Germany; Francisco Franco was a Spanish nationalist. In fact, Franco considered Italy more like Spain than was Germany, and Benito Mussolini more generous than Hitler. After the 1939 Spanish Civil War victory celebrations, Spain became less important to Hitler. His primary interest was using Spanish-German relations to unbalance Britain and France.[78]


Hitler's designs on Poland were purely for long-term Lebensraum, Nevertheless, there had been a lessening of tension, in the twenties and midthirties, through diplomatic means.

"In 1925 an Arbitration Treaty between Germany and Poland had been made at Locarno, providing for the settlement of all disputes between the two countries." On the 26th January, 1934, a German-Polish declaration of non aggression was made. On 30th January, 1934, and again on the 30th January, 1937 Hitler made speeches in the Reichstag in which he expressed his view that Poland and Germany could work together in harmony and peace. On the 20th February, 1938 Hitler made a third speech in the Reichstag in the course of which he said with regard to Poland:
"And so the way to a friendly understanding has been successfully paved, an understanding which, beginning with Danzig, has today, in spite of the attempts of certain mischief makers, succeeded in finally taking the poison out of the relations between Germany and Poland and transforming them into a sincere, friendly cooperation .. Relying on her friendships, Germany will not leave a stone unturned to save that ideal which provides the foundation for the task which is ahead of us -- peace."

Nevertheless, on 23rd May 1939, a meeting was held in Hitler's study in the new Reich Chancellery in Berlin. Hitler announced his decision to attack Poland and gave his reasons, and discussed the effect the decision might have on other countries. [79]

Transformation of the military

Germany has a long military tradition, in which German military forces had much prestige and autonomy. As the Nazis grew, they formed alliances with the military, eventually sacrificing Ernst Roehm and his plans for a "revolutionary army" in which the SA would replace the Reichswehr. Eventually, however, Hitler established his own controls over the orthodox military, with a very different way of thinking.

Since he had never been trained in a profession, he tended not to think in complex terms. He had a "surprise-oriented, offensive stamp" that would manifest by his becoming involved in tactical minutiae such as Eben Emael or the rescue of Mussolini. Things became more difficult at higher levels of command. The Manstein Plan for the Battle of France was a good deal more complex, and disliked by most higher commanders because they wanted to judge Allied reaction. Manstein, however, wanted to use surprise to outflank the Belgian forces from the south. His thinking often started with the emotional and went to the rational, while most generals and diplomats prided themselves on being rational actors. [80] As Speer put it, "Like many self-taught people, he had no idea what real specialized knowledge meant....the victories of the early years of the war can literally be attributed to Hitler's ignorance of the rules of the game and his layman's delight in decision making...But as soon as setback occurred, he suffered shipwreck, like most untrained people." Wild decisions were now his downfall. [81]

When it came to the large-scale Russian campaign, however, he badly underestimated logistics and Soviet resilience. He had an inordinate faith in "secret weapons" to overcome Western industrial dominance. In discussion, however, he often could overpower the actual experts. Hitler had an excellent memory, and, according to Speer, had a catalogue, kept up to date by staff, of the details of weapons and ammunition. When a general would make a strategic argument, Hitler would attack his credibility by showing a small point to be incorrect. Speer observed that true experts do not burden themselves with often-changing details that they can look up, or obtain from a specialist assistant.

First steps for control

A near-irrevocable step took place when he changed the officer oath from the country to him personally. Beginning on 20 August 1934, military and government officials swore:
I swear I shall be faithful and obedient, to the Fuehrer of the German Reich and the People, Adolf Hitler; I swear to obey the laws and fulfill my duties conscientiously, so help me God.
An even stronger oath was sworn by the SS and his personal security force:
I swear to you, Adolf Hitler, as Fuehrer and Chancellor of the German Reich, loyalty and bravery. I vow to you and my superiors designated you obedience unto death. So help me God. [82]

While the SA had been broken as a threat to the Army, the relationship of the SS was much more complex. Hitler, until 1942, still saw it more for internal security than for combat. Battle pressures, however, called for an expansion of the Waffen SS, and continuing emphasis on loyalty to Hitler by all troops. Since it was considered more pure ideologically, the Waffen SS received all non-German but ethnically approved volunteers

Tactics, technology and micromanagement

He was extremely offensively oriented and long insisted that military systems not be purely defensive. Nevertheless, he was not always clear on the distinction between tactics and technology, or the limits of a technology. Dive bombers were quite successful in Poland and France, but against unsophisticated air defenses. While the assault teams at the fortress of Eben Emael, in 1940, did use then-new shaped charge demolitions, the attack succeeded more through surprise and speed.

According to Speer, his technical horizon was also limited by his First World War experience, with his interests focused on the traditional weapons of the Army and Navy, especially the former. Especially in the beginning of the war, he sometimes even had good insights in these areas, but they became worse with time. For example, both for warships and tanks, there is a constant series of design tradeoffs among firepower, speed, and protection. Hitler would always insist on increasing protection and firepower over speed. Even in his specialties, he would make mistakes — while lengthening a gun barrel does increase the projectile velocity, tank design also includes weight and balance. When the Russian T-34 appeared, with the long barrel he had advocated, he simply did not understand the objection that the Panzer IV tank could not its gun barrel lengthened, because the added weight of the barrel would affect the frontal stability of the tank. [83] Speer observed that Hitler never understood less traditional military systems, such as radar, jet fighter, and guided missiles. A particularly major deficiency is that he never appreciated the need to keep armies supplied with spare parts; he would insist on manufacturing new tanks rather than giving the forces in combat enough supplies to quickly repair what they already had.

Hermann Goering insisted, with Hitler's support, that all German bombers had to be capable of dive bombing, based on the success of the Ju-87 Stuka in Poland and France. Stukas were quickly withdrawn from the Battle of Britain; to fly the slow Stuka against the extremely competent British fighter force was nearly a suicide mission. The quite capable Ju-88 medium bomber, had its weight double to add dive bombing, yet it was never a good dive bomber. [84] If it was hard to make a medium bomber capable of dive bombing, part of the reason the Nazis never developed a heavy strategic bomber was that this technique was even more difficult with a four-engined aircraft. Hitler had very little concept of long-range bombing, as when he recommended capturing the Azores in order to bomb the United States, forgetting the minor detail that no German aircraft had the range to hit the United States from the Azorees.

Often, he believed the bigger the weapon, the more effective it would be, which resulted in immensely powerful Tiger tanks that took a great deal of manufacturing resources and time, and were too large and heavy even for Western Europe, and even more for Russia. In contrast, the U.S. M4 Sherman tank was technically inferior but could be built in large numbers, and the Soviet T-34 could both be mass-produced, and, while crude in many respects, was the best all-around medium tank of the war. The Tiger was not even enough; he worked with Ferdinand Porsche on prototypes of an ironically named "Mouse" (Maus) heavy tank, with 140 and 188 ton versions. In the design stage were superheavy tanks of 1500 tons, with no clear military purpose other than conceivably in frontal assaults against fortifications. Hitler finally cancelled giant tank work in April 1944. [85]

His subordinates, especially Party rather than military, would present information more in the form that they believed he wanted to hear, rather than what professional military opinion advised. For example, the Me-262 was introduced to him as a light bomber, even though, at the time, it had no bomb-carrying equipment and was purely a defensive interceptor, although a very good one. [86] It could have devastated Allied bomber streams. Nevertheless, he ordered it delayed until it could drop bombs, something it never did well.

As the war progressed, his focus on minutiae became even worse. A military maxim is that commanders direct units that report to them, and, on their maps, keep track of units one level below. Hitler, late in the war, took direct command of the Army, in principle issuing direct orders to army groups — yet he would become concerned with the number of artillery pieces assigned to battalions, five levels below army groups.

German resistance

For more information, see: German Resistance.

In this context, German Resistance refers not to factional resistance to Hitler's policies such as socialism in National Socialism, but resistance to his international and military grand strategy. While there certainly had been dissatisfaction with him in the military, a key milestone came when Gen. Ludwig Beck, while Chief of the Army in 1938, actively considered a coup over Czechoslovakia. He was dismissed, and then, with others, began to warn other governments.

Wartime command

Hitler exercised control over the German armed forces through the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, a relatively small staff group, under Feldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel, which issued orders to the larger service staffs and the field commands. Hitler considered himself a master at all aspects of war, but really understood only the political. He made serious mistakes in strategy, technology, and operational art.

While never used to his face, he was called "Grofaz": "Größter Feldherr aller Zeiten", or "Greatest General of All Time." It was not a compliment.

As mentioned, he had a poor grasp of supply and logistics. He believed the mere introduction of a new weapon would reverse the situation, regardless of how it was introduced. Heavy Tiger tanks could be devastating in the right circumstances, such as the terrain of France. He insisted, however, in first deploying them in marshy Russian areas, where they would quickly quickly become stuck in swamps and easy to destroy. The Tiger took more resources to build than the T-34 and M4, which were manufactured in great quantities. A lament on the Western front, when pitting the superior Tiger against the industrial production of M4s, was "we ran out of antitank shells before you ran out of tanks."

He did not let the competent OKW chief of operations, Jodl, coordinated the theater-level actions. As Hitler did in many circumstances, he created overlapping command, so that the OKH army staff and OKW overall staff would come into conflict, and only Hitler could arbitrate. Unfortunately, the OKH staff was also competent, but competent people, not coordinating their efforts, may come up with different conclusions. Even worse, Hitler would not infrequently bypass the professional staffs, and use OKW only as a communications center so he could send direct orders to fighting forces. The orders, unfortunately, were often at an inspirational or political level, rather than anything practical, such as directions not to give up one inch of ground — even if it was part of a short-term tactical maneuver.

On occasion, his fascination with large operations would lead him to forget which forces he commanded. Speer commented that he increasingly would talk about what the Allies should do with their major forces, but neither what they were likely to do or what the German forces should do. When he first learned of the sea movements for Operation Torch, he decided they should land in central Italy and force a coup, rather than, as they did, to pour ashore in North Africa. [87]

War in 1939-1940

Still, his forces did well in 1939 and 1940, until they fought the Battle of Britain, which failed to gain air superiority for the Operation Sea Lion invasion. o

Polish campaign

This is a sad day for all of us, and to none is it sadder than to me. Everything that I have worked for, everything that I have believed in during my public life, has crashed into ruins. There is only one thing left for me to do: That is, to devote what strength and powers I have to forwarding the victory of the cause for which we have to sacrifice so much... I trust I may live to see the day when Hitlerism has been destroyed and a liberated Europe has been re-established. — Neville Chamberlain, 3 September 1939

Hitler had the SS create a fake invasion, by Polish troops, of Germany, and used this to justify sending his waiting force into Poland. The operation, led by Alfred Naujocks, faked an attack on the Gleiwitz radio station, and left the bodies of concentration camp inmates killed for the purpose, and wearing Polish uniforms. In reality, the Polish campaign was a part of the broad Eastern strategy, and had been in planning since July.

The army forces were accompanied by Einsatzgruppen that primarily arrested and deported, but were not dedicated to killing.

With a secret supplemental protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, he split Poland into spheres of influence with Russia. It was signed a week before the invasion of Poland.[88]

War in the West, 1940-1941

Hitler disliked the original General Staff plan for an attack on the West, eventually adopting a radical proposal by Gen. Eric von Manstein.

The attacks on France and the Low Countries were a tactical, and possibly strategic, surprise, even though there was substantial data in the hands of Western intelligence. Oster committed to subvert the Nazis on 7 November 1939, when he gave the German plans for the invasion of the West to a Dutch military attache. "There is no going back after what I have done. It is much easier to take a pistol and kill somebody; it is easier to run into a burst of machine gun fire than it is to do what I have done." While the information he gave was correct, Dutch intelligence did not take the warning seriously; Hitler changed the invasion date twenty-nine times. [89]

Battle of France

The British Expeditionary Force was pushed into a pocket at Dunkirk. Hitler stopped the German armored forces that should have been able to crush it. The reasons for this halt remain unclear. One oft-mentioned reason is that Goering promised the Luftwaffe could stop the evacuation.

Another, however, is that Hitler regarded it as a gesture towards Britain, allowing them, although with greater success than expected, to evacuate their troops. While he would not deal with Winston Churchill, he may still have hoped to form a modus vivendi with Britain, leaving Germany as the continental power and Britain as the ruler of the seas.

Commerce raiding

Hitler had little sense of war at sea. The "pocket battleship" DKM Graf Spee had conducted, in late 1939, effective commerce raiding in the South Atlantic, but was eventually trapped by British ships and forced to scuttle herself after the Battle of the River Plate. Concealed raiders had been more effective for lower cost than the purpose-built warships, and the drive for major warships did not reassure Hitler.

Grand Admiral Erich Raeder ordered DKM Bismarck and DKM Prinz Eugen to sortie as commerce raiders in Operation RHINE of May 1941, following the successful Operation Berlin cruise by DKM Scharnhorst and DKM Gneisenau. [90]

After the loss of Bismarck, admittedly requiring much of the Royal Navy in Atlantic waters, Hitler became enraged at the uselessness of large warships, turning to the generally more effective submarines. The Battle of the Atlantic, which nearly strangled Britain, was already underway, and was principally a submarine campaign headed by Admiral Karl Doenitz. Doenitz replaced Erich Raeder as head of the Kriegsmarine in January 1943; Hitler told the Gauleiters, on 8 May, that the U-boat (i.e., submarine) was only beginning to show its full potential.

Although Hitler agreed to Doenitz's request for more submarine construction, Allied anti-submarine warfare had its greatest success in May, and the U-boat fleet would never again reach the may total. [91]

Operation Sea Lion

Operation Sea Lion was the German plan for an amphibious landing in the British Isles. For it to have any chance of success, the Germans needed both local air supremacy, and sufficient air and naval forces to stop Royal Navy ships from interfering. In general, the German Army and Navy were dubious about their capability to carry off the invasion.

Battle of Britain and Hitler's response

For more information, see: Battle of Britain.

In 1940, the Battle of Britain took place when Germany attempted, and failed, to gain air superiority in advance of their proposed invasion of Britain, Operation Sea Lion.[92] At the time, Germany did not fully grasp that Britain had built an integrated air defense system (IADS). Indeed, the Germans did not even fully recognize British radar, because it was technically inferior to theirs and not what they expected to find. Without this fundamental understanding, the Luftwaffe did not know the serious vulnerabilities of the IADS, and how to counter it.

Hitler had reserved to himself the authority to bomb cities, but n 24 August, a small group of night bombers, probably having navigational errors and possibly lightening the load after suffering damage, flew over the edge of London, and at least one aircraft released its bombs. Given that Londoners were under strict orders not to show lights after dark — the "blackout" — it is even possible the bomber did not know it was over London. It is unclear when Britain started jamming the German radio navigation system; the bombers might have made their error due to electronic countermeasures.[93]

Churchill responded with a "retaliatory raid" against Berlin, doing relatively light physical damage but having an immense psychological effect, as did the subsequentU.S. Doolittle raid against Japan . Hermann Goering, commanding the Luftwaffe, which included the anti-aircraft artillery, had made public boasts that "if one British bomb falls on Berlin, you can call me Meyer [a common and somewhat derogatory German name]."

Even after this, Hitler still did not immediately order attacks against British cities. German intelligence was also extremely poor; German human-source intelligence was nonexistent to actively misleading, as a result of the offensive counterintelligence of the Double-Cross system. As far as known, the Germans did not realize that by early September, the air defense system was largely exhausted. With hindsight, had the Germans continued to concentrate on airfields and radar, they were close to defeating the British IADS. Above all, had they recognized the importance of the command and control stations and destroyed them, British fighters would have been far less effective.

Churchill knew this risk, and there are a number of reports that he sent two more missions over Berlin, on 28 August and 3 September, with a psychological goal: provoke the Germans into retaliating against cities, and give the IADS time to recover,

The raids on Germany greatly diminished Goering's stature, and indirectly Hitler's. Shirer. in Berlin, wrote,
The Berliners are stunned. They did not think it could ever happen. When this war began, Goering assured them it couldn't...they believed him. Their disillusionment today therefore is all the greater...You have to see their faces to measure it...[the British dropped leaflets saying] "the war which Hitler started will go on, and it will last as long as Hitler does. This was good propaganda, but the thud of exploding bombs was better."[94]

British raids continued, and, for the first time, killed Germans in Berlin. Goebbels claimed a "cowardly British attack", ignoring that it was retaliatory. A week of bombing did little physical, but much psychological damage.

Hitler, on 4 September, took what he considered a propaganda offensive. Shirer said he rarely heard Hitler, usually a humorless man, be so sarcastic or use so much German-style humor. Hitler turned away from Goebbels' claims of unjustified attacks, and said "Just now...Mr. Churchill is demonstrating his new brain child, the night air raid. Mr Churchill is carrying out these raids not because they promise to be highly effective, but because his Air Force cannot fly over Germany in daylight." Hitler's claims that German aircraft flew in daylight over Britain was false in a fair comparison; German bombers struck at urban and industrial targets at night, while the day combat was between fighters or against the IADS. He continued, "When the British Air Force drops two or three or four thousand kilograms of bombs, then we will in one night drop 150-, 230-, 300- or 400,000 kilograms." It was highly questionable, however, if the Luftwaffe of the time could even lift that payload.

Hitler rarely visited bombed Germans, while Churchill regularly was seen supporting survivors. Goebbels, as Gauleiter of Berlin, was highly visible.

The first major German daylight raid took place on 15 September. A first wave of 200 bombers, escorted by 600 fighters, was intercepted before reaching London, and dispersed. 56 German aircraft, 34 being bombers, were shot down, contrasted to 26 British fighters. Many of the British pilots survived to fight again.

Major daylight air operations, as well as the Sea Lion invasion, were cancelled on 17 September. Night bombing continued until 7 November. During the attacks, although the British aircraft industry was a major target, they still outproduced their German counterparts, for 9924 aircraft in 1940 compared with 8070 built by the Germans. Hitler had been unable to conceive that a major campaign could be settled in theair.[95] He and Goering lost considerable credibility, and the major Allied air offensive against Germany was yet to begin.

The War Changes in 1941

After losing the Battle of Britain and cancelling Operation Sea Lion, he took on new enemies: the Soviets deliberately, and the U.S., to some extent due to Japanese action, but also as an intensification of the existing Battle of the Atlantic. In 1941, the Battle of the Atlantic was still very real and having the potential to strangle Britain.

The flight of Rudolf Hess

Rudolf Hess, while still Deputy Fuehrer, had become increasingly marginalized. While the motivations for his next act was still argued, it appears he genuinely respected the British, wanted to avert war with the Soviets, and restore his influence. He had been having foreign policy discussions with Professor Karl Haushofer and his son, Albrecht Haushofer.

He obtained an Me-110 with long-range auxiliary fuel tanks and, on 10 May, flew, alone, to Britain, parachuting to the residence of the Duke of Hamilton, a friend of Albrecht Haushofer, and asking for an audience with Churchill. When Hitler received a letter telling him "when you receive this, I shall be in England", he became enraged, ordering the arrest of Hess' staff and Albrecht Haushofer. Hitler's first public announcement suggested Hess had had a mental breakdown.

War with Soviet Union, 1941

For more information, see: Operation Barbarossa.

Hitler decided to invade Russia in early 1941, but was delayed by the need to take control of the Balkans. Hitler was also unaware of the details of the Japanese decision for war in 1941.

Europe was not big enough for both Hitler and Stalin, and Hitler realized the sooner he moved the less risk of American involvement. While planning between Germany and Japan was vague, the Japanese were also under time pressure to invade.

Stalin thought he had a long-term partnership and rejected information coming from all directions that Germany was about to invade in June 1941. As a result, the Russians were poorly prepared and suffered huge losses, being pushed back to Moscow by December before holding the line. Hitler imagined that the Soviet Union was a hollow shell that would easily collapse, like France. He therefore had not prepared for a long war, and did not have sufficient winter clothing and gear for his soldiers.

Hitler and Musolini met on 2 June. The two talked for two hours before being joined by their Foreign Ministers, Ribbentrop and Ciano. Mussolini noted that Hitler had wept over Hess' actions. After the ministers joined them, Hitler reviewed international issues, describing Britain as closer to political collapse, ruling out the invasion of Cyprus that Mussolini wanted, and again mentioned the Madagascar Plan with respect to ridding Europe of Jews. He did not, however, give any indication he was planning action, in the near term, against Russia.

More specific information was given to the Japanese Ambassador, a hint that Germany would act soon against the Soviets. On 12 June, however, he gave the broad plan to Romanian dictator Ion Antonescu, from whom he needed troops for the Russian front. Ionescu gave full support, and would call it a "Holy War" on the 22nd. [96]

The invasion was delayed, but analysts believe it could have been won without Hitler's overriding his general staff. In August, the approaches to Moscow and Kiev were both in reach. From the military standpoint, Moscow, the capital, was the center of gravity of the Soviet Union; the staff urged an all-out effort to take it. [97] Hitler, however, believed the center of gravity was the Ukraine and the oil fields in the Caucasus. He decided that by moving the Moscow attack force south, he could deny oil to the Soviets, and then strike north after the oilfields were taken.

He did not, however, plan for the Soviet defense, and, above all, for having to fight in the Russian winter.

Ukrainian territory was vital to the resolution of the problem of German Lebensraum. In accord with Hitler's conception, the Ukraine was to be fully controlled and exploited for the benefit of Germany. Under the Generalplan Ost, Hitler's projections for the Ukraine were well underway by 1942.[98]

Tensions grow with the U.S.

Lukacs argues that Hitler felt that Roosevelt was behind Churchill and that the Jews were behind Roosevelt. By the end of July 1940, Hitler's moves were often in response to those of Roosevelt. Hitler ordered the navy not to provoke the U.S. in an effort to prevent Roosevelt from getting popular support for entrance into the war. At the same time, Hitler was certainly thinking of eventual war with the U.S. On 22 May 1941, Admiral Raeder told Hitler the Kriegsmarine simply did not have the strength to occupy the Azores, which "the Fuehrer is still in favor of occupying the Azores in order to operate long-range bombers from there against the U.S.A. The occasion for this may arise by autumn." Not mentioned, and apparently not even occurring to Hitler, is that Germany had no bombers with the range to hit the U.S. from the Azores.[99]

USS Reuben James (DD-245), still afloat after fatal torpedoing

Incidents did happen, and indeed Roosevelt exaggerated them in building up support for his interventionist policies against the opposition of isolationists. [ Roosevelt's determination to support the British in 1940 led to Hitler's ultimate defeat. An isolationist president, Lukacs concludes, would have made decisions leading to different outcomes for the war.[100]Roosevelt gained more and more public support inside the U.S. and American involvement intensified in 1941 as the "Arsenal of Democracy" sent munitions to Britain and Russia. The declaration of war against the U.S. that followed Pearl Harbor helped mobilize German opinion.[101]

USS Reuben James (DD-245) was an 1920-vintage Clemson-class destroyer, which was the first U.S. destroyer sunk as a result of German action. She was on a "neutrality patrol", escorting Lend-Lease convoy HX-156 to Britain, when she was sunk, on 31 October 1941 by the German submarine U-552. In November, Senator Tom Connally (D-Texas) claimed that Hitler's accusation that the U.S. ship was the aggressor was merely a pretext for Germany to encourage a Japanese attack. [102] Subsequent researchers, however, have found no evidence of detailed German-Japanese planning for the Battle of Pearl Harbor.

War in 1942

1942 can be a confusing year, partially due to Soviet propaganda demands that the Western open a "Second Front" to relieve the Russian Front. This was usually posed as a direct strike into Western Europe. While the U.S. actually did prepare plans, resisted by the British, for a 1942 invasion if there was a German reverse, and otherwise in 1943,a series of contingency and serious proposals preceded it: a preparation phase, Operation BOLERO, a 1942 contingency invasion, Operation SLEDGEHAMMER, and a proposed 1943 invasion, Operation ROUNDUP.[103] a Second Front did open in 1942: North Africa.

Not much happened in Western Europe. A small U.S. detachment, essentially observers, accompanied the disastrous Dieppe Raid (Operation JUBILEE) in July 1942. While Dieppe was a tactical defeat, it taught incredibly important lessons for the eventual cross-Channel invasion. Allied planners concluded that the invasion could not be a frontal assault on a port; the Germans still assumed that it was likely to do so. Instead, the Normandy invasion would use innovative technology to create a temporary port where there had only been beaches.

U.S. bombers, principally to develop techniques, attacked targets in France beginning in August, but had no major direct effect until mid-1943. [104] Hitler, however, failed to recognize that many Allied operations were part of a slow, steady process, often of deliberate experimentation to decide on the decisive force structure and techniques. Operation Torch, in November 1942, did open large-scale combat on a Second Front, with major American participation, but in North Africa rather than Western Europe.

The Final Solution

Germany moved from deportation to killing. Historians increasingly argue that it was a far less planned and directed process than had been thought closer to he war. Hitler certainly set the framework, and had there been no Hitler, there would have been no Holocaust. Nevertheless, the previous conventional wisdom that Hitler gave an oral order to Himmler and Goering is increasingly in doubt, centered on the work of Christian Streit and Alfred Streim. [105]

Himmler did direct Heydrich to begin detailed planning. Even with the Himmler-Heydrich communications, it is insufficient to focus only on the SS role. The ministerial bureaucracy and military, for whom labor was often more important than killing, must be considered. In late 1941, General Georg Thomas, head of the War Economy and Armaments office, sent plans for economic exploitation of the conquiered territories to Goering, who sent it to Hitler on 26 February 1942. Thomas, with Hitler's consent, was made Goering's coordinator for economic policy on Soviet territory. [106]

The killing, over time, improved, with mobile Einsatzgruppen in 1941 and with extermination camps in 1942. These had a high logistical priority and competed with the combat troops.

There was a conflict between the killing-oriented SS RSHA and its economic WVHA, which wanted slave labor. Still, by early 1944, Hitler had authorized the use of Jewish camp inmates for critical war production in the Reich. [107]

North African campaign

Hitler had sent a relatively small force, the Afrika Corps, to reinforce the Italians in North Africa. Mussolini also promised him troops for the Russian Front. Rommel had, with his three-division corps,and eight Italian divisions, moved out and captured Tobruk on 21 June 1942. Shirer, observing that Hitler never understood global warfare, did not realize that by reinforcing Rommel, the forces there could move through Egypt, capture the oil fields of the Middle East, and eventually link up with German armies in the Caucausus. Instead of giving him reinforcements, he promoted him to field marshal.

Due to the tenacious defense of Malta, Rommel's supply line by sea was threatened. Admiral Raeder initially convinced Hitler to support Rommel's western push, as well as a paratroop attack on Malta, Operation Hercules. General Kurt Student, commanding the German airborne forces, told Hitler he could take Malta, but not hold it. [108] Hitler changed his mind, saying nothing could be spared from the Russian Front. [109]

Fighting in the North African desert had gone back and forth, with Erwin Rommel unable to overcome the defenses at El Alamein in August 1942. The British had received two new commanders, Bernard Montgomery for the operational Eighth Army and Harold Alexander commanding the theater.

Rommel, who had been on sick leave, returned to disaster at El Alamein. Hitler, however, refused, on 2 November, to let him make a tactical retreat.
I and the German people are watching the heroic defensive battle waged in Egypt with faithful trust in your powers of leadership and in the bravery of the German-Italian troops under your commandd. In the situation in which you now find yourself, there can be no other consideration save that of holding fast, of not retreating one step, of throwing every gun and every man into the battle...You can show your troops no other way than that which leads to vidtory or death.[110]

Hitler finally authorized Rommel to retreat on 5 November, which he was already doing. Germany had received warning of large British naval movement, but, on 7 November, twelve hours before U.S. and British troops were to land in Operation Torch, he asked the Luftwaffe to reinforce, and told they could not. He then gave von Rundstedt the code word to occupy Vichy France.

Strategic Air Operations

Not only had Germany lost the operational Battle of Britain, even if it continued in the Battle of the Beams, its air operations against the West were principally an annoyance. Hitler had contributed by the problem by preventing the development of appropriate long-range aircraft; the few modified airliners did do reconnaissance for submarines, land-based anti-shipping aircraft, and surface warships.

Germany began developing its IADS, the Kammhuber Line, in the summer of 1940.

Allied air operations against Germany, however, steadily grew in intensity. Goering had boasted that "If a British bomb falls on Berlin, you can call me Meyer", and regretted it. Nevertheless, the Allies had to develop their technology and tactics.

Nevertheless, they were serious enough for Goebbels to point out that large numbers of letters to the Propaganda Ministry raised the questions, "why the Fuehrer never visits the areas which have suffered from air raids, why Goering never shows himself, but especially why the Fuehrer does not even speak to the German people to explain the current situation." [111] It should be noted, however, that while bombing caused much misery in Britain and Germany, it never broke civilian morale.

Russian Front

Hitler, in the late fall of 1942, said the Russians were near the ends because they were sending their officer cadets into battle. He learned, however, on 19 November, of the great Russian winer objective, which he initially dismissed, saying the German generals overestimated Russian strength and competence. Stalingrad was soon surrounded. While Hitler reinforced from other areas, he provided for no operational reserves, over Zeitzler's protests.

Zeitler counterproposed that the Sixth Army, encircled in Stalingrad, must break out, returning operational flexibility while saving them. Hitler dismissed the argument, saying the counterattack he had ordered from the south would relieve Stalingrad, and finally, said "Stalingrad must be held It mst be; it is a key position. By breaking traffic on the Volga at that spot, we cause the Russians the greatest difficulties. How are they going to transport their grain from southern Russia to the north?"

As the encirclement grew tighter the next day, Hitler asked about supplying by air, which Goering, over Zeitzler's protests, promptly promised. Goering's promise, however, caused Hitler to insist that Stalingrad could be held and no breakout was necessary.[112]

Attempt to change the command structure

Hitler, of course, was never noted for his disciplined management. Nevertheless, there was an attempt, by the heads of the three essentially administrative bodies surrounding him, to control the documents that would reach him for signature. Those three officials were:

Bormann also had established an additional control, on people rather than papers. He was in charge of Hitler's civilian appointments calendar, and thus which members of the government could see him. In many cases, Bormann would present the civilian decision issue fairly efficiently, and get a gruff "Agreed" from Hitler.

Hitler's military adjutants still controlled war-related appointments, into which Speer's industrial responsibilities fell. [113]

In the shifting internal alliances of the Third Reich, Goebbels and Speer began to cooperate in using propaganda to mobilize war production. When the two approached Hitler about implementing civilian austerity measures, Bormann and Lammers tried to block them. When Eva Braun heard of a ban on hair-waving solutions, as one minor but unnecessary item produced by the chemical industry, she immediately made an effective complaint to Hitler, who told Speer simply to stop production of beauty care materials, rather than a provocative ban.

War in 1943

The Soviet victory at Stalingrad marked the beginning of the end, as Germany was unable to cope with the superior manpower and industrial resources of the Allies. North Africa, Sicily, and southern Italy fell in 1943. Hitler rescued Mussolini, who became a mere puppet.

Field Marshal Paulus surrenders at Stalingrad

As a result of the fall of Stalingrad, Goebbels, on 18 February 1943, gave a speech declaring "total war", and had expected that Hitler would vest him with control of directing the home front. If mobilizing for total war was indeed principally a matter of motivation, Goebbels was indeed well qualified. In the internal power struggles of the Reich, Speer and the military saw the most important need as getting more manpower for the front and the armaments industry. That speech, according to Speer, also was an attempt to put public pressure on Lammers, Bormann, and other administrators surrounding Hitler.

During the battle, Zeitzler would reduce himself to the rations available to the troops; Hitler ordered him to go back to a normal diet because it exhausted him. It was his symbolic commitment to total war.

Goering and Hitler, however, were reluctant to impose more sacrifices on the home front, remembering the collapse of morale in the First World War. [114] Even Goebbels hesitated on the beauty products, which he thought might be relatively cheap adjuncts to morale. He did, however, close many of Berlin's better restaurants and places of amusement. Any threat to Goering's favorite retaurant, Horcher's, created even greater enmity between Goebbels and Goering. Hitler finally told Goebbels to stop making foreign policy comments in his speeches, as part of his campaign to displace von Ribbentrop in Hitler's favor, and possibly become Foreign Minister.[115]

It must never be forgotten that Hitler allowed the style of a medieval court rather than an an efficient government.

Russian front

In mid-March, Manstein managed a much-needed success in retaking Kharkov and driving to the Donets, inflicting an estimated 50,000 Soviet soldiers killed in action. Hitler interpreted this as meaning Stalin's resources must be coming to an end, and it was time for a new offensive. Manstein, however, had little success in getting Hitler to give up direct command of the Army, or, at least, name a theater commander for the Russian Front. Manstein was the obvious candidate, but Hitler did not want a commander that would argue with his desires. He preferred the complacency of Keitel.

Even Keitel's OKW planners, however, wanted to go on the temporary defensive in order to build superiority for a major blow. OKH staff, however, wanted to go onto a limited offensive, to stabilize the line. Kurt Zeitzler, head of the Army, had planned an offensive to trap five Soviet armies, in an area known as Kursk.

It was no surprise that Hitler picked the offensive choices and ordered Operation Citadel (Zitadelle), which would use Manstein's army group from the south and von Kluge's from the north. Hitler's approval came on 15 April, but, as had been typical of German operations, the planned beginning (mid-May) was delayed. One problem was competing demands from North Afria, but another was having more tanks available. Guderian and Speer questioned the offensive both to build reserves for the western front, and correct known deficiencies of the Panther tank.[116]

The Battle of Kursk would be, in number of troops and vehicles, the largest tank battle in history. Soviet defensive techniques had developed considerably since the last major campaign. While today's conventional wisdom was that it was a German disaster in the making, that was not obvious at the time. The Soviets had good warning of the attack, and, for the first time, expected to stop a German blitzkrieg before before it could achieve significant results. When the Germans launched on 5 July, they found that the Soviet defenses they once had brushed aside could be penetrated only with great effort. Hitler, unusually, finally cancelled the operation on 12 July, as the exhausted German forces were about to be struck by the Soviet Operational Maneuver Group.[117] Kursk would be the last major German initiative of the Eastern Front. Zeitzler was dismissed, forbidden to wear the uniform, and replaced by Guderian.

Italian developments

In 1943, with the defeat of Axis forces in North Africa, Italy itself was the next logical target for the Allied forces in the Mediterranean. Mussolini had been urging Hitler to make peace with Stalin, so Germany could join in defending fascist Italy. Mussolini's government was increasingly unstable, and Germany suspected that Italy, through Count Ciano as Ambassador to the Vatican, was trying to negotiate a separate peace. Hitler met with Mussolini on 7 April, at Salzburg, to encourage him. Goebbels recorded that Hitler told him that when Mussolini "got out of the train on his arrival, he...looked like a broken old man,; when he left, he was in fine fettle, ready for any deed."

They met again on 19 July, but Mussolini was under greater stress. Italian plots against him were growing, and, on 25 July, he was summoned by the King and dismissed from office. Hitler ordered the passes between Italy and Germany, and Italy and France, secured, while starting to plan a rescue of Mussolini. The eight-division border force was established as a new army group under Rommel.[118]

War in 1944

Hitler still hesitated in doing what total mobilization demanded. While he named Goebbels the Plenipotentiary for Total War Deployment on 20 July 1944, Goebbels had limited authority. Hitler still allowed his senior leaders to fight for authority, including Goering, Speer, Robert Ley and Fritz Sauckel in the labor supply (as well as concentration camp labor through Himmler and Oswald Pohl of the WVHA), and Bormann. [119]

Since 1942, Hitler had showed increasing trembling, strongly suggestive of Parkinson disease. His health declined significantly in September 1944. His regular doctor, Theodor Morell, was of questionable competence, but still ordered an electrocardiogram on 24 September, which suggested coronary artery disease. He also became jaundiced in late September. [120]

The Russians pushed forward relentlessly in the East, while the Allies in the west launched a major bombing campaign in 1944-45 that burned out the major German cities, ruined transportation, and signaled to Germans how hopeless was their cause. France was invaded in June 1944 as the Russians launched another attack on the east. Both attacks were successful and by the end of 1944, the end was in sight.

Normandy Invasion

Kershaw writes that Hitler had "astonishing optimism" during the first half of 1944, but "the self-deception involved was colossal." Hitler was consumed with the detailed prosecution of the war, but often at a level of micromanagement. [121]

While he micromanaged, he also failed in serious decisionmaking. When the Normandy invasion came in June 1944, its way had been prepared by a large strategic deception operation by the London Controlling Section. Hitler was convinced that the main attack was not Normandy, but the Pas de Calais. Even worse, the armored divisions needed for counterattacking the beachhead required Hitler's personal approval to be released by OKW. [122] His immediate staff refused to awaken him, fearing his anger, so the only units that might have waged an effective counterattack were not released until 16:00 — when Allied amphibious forces had been landing since dawn, and airborne troops had been dropping through the previous night. When he finally released them, it was with unwise bravado: "The news couldn't be better...Now we have them where we can destroy them." Due to Allied air supremacy over the beachhead, however, the Panzer divisions could not survive daylight movement. Had they been released with the first airborne drops, they might have gotten somewhat closer, but the likelihood is that release after the landings began might have made no difference. Nevertheless, the event was indicative of his decisionmaking.

He also insisted, as in Russia, of never retreating, even for tactical reasons, and allowed large units to be trapped and captured. Rommel, in operational command of Army Group B, met with Hitler, and theater commander von Rundstedt, on 17 June, but Hitler was immune to their proposals of conducting a deliberate, fighting retreat. [123] While the Allies had used a novel approach, MULBERRY, to create a temporary port at the beachhead, serious supply efforts would need a real harbor and logistical facilities. Cherbourg was the closest such port, and the Germans thoroughly destroyed its facilities. Hitler, however, told the field marshals that "Fortreess Cherbourg" must not be evacuated and any such proposals were defeatism.

Instead, Hitler said that the fortresses would pin down Allied troops, and promised that the "secret weapons" of guided missiles and jet fighters would soon turn the tide. It was eventually estimated that the Germans lost 200,000 soldiers who were cut off in Cherbourg and the other Western fortresses. Both von Rundstedt and Rommel recommended Hitler make political moves to end the war, and, when Rommel went even further and said the war should be ended, Hitler told him to worry about his front and leave the politics to the Fuehrer. [124]

Adding to the precarious situation, Rommel was seriously wounded, by Allied fighter-bombers, on 16 July, and was hospitalized at the time of the 20th of July Plot, never to return to duty. Gunther von Kluge replaced him in command.

The assassination attempt led to wide internal purges, badly damaging the military leadership. Rommel was forced to commit suicide. Von Kluge came under suspicion, was recalled in August, and committed suicide.


Two major Allied operations, Operation COBRA under Bradley, and Operation GOODWOOD and TOTALIZE, broke out of the beachhead. Two new field armies optimized for exploitation were activated, Third United States Army under George Patton and First Canadian Army under H.D.G. Crerar. Hitler regarded Patton as the Allies' ablest general, and the Allies used it; he had been the show commander of the fictious First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG) used to threaten the Pas de Calais. Hitler consistently focused on wherever he thought Patton would be.

Liberation of Paris

After the breakout from the Normandy beachhead, Hitler ordered the destruction of Paris, but its commander, Dietrich von Choltitz, refused. The general had already concluded that Hitler was mad, although he was not part of the German Resistance. [125] In his memoirs, von Choltitz wrote, "Did I have the right to plunge a metropolis into misfortune by setting up a defense in its center that would not have been able to change a whit in the overall campaign? I thought about the future relationship of two great neighboring peoples."[126] Paris surrendered on 25 August; this ended Operation OVERLORD and the Battle of Normandy.

Allied land consolidation

In May, forces in Italy broke through German defense lines, and, on 6 June, captured Rome. On 15 August, the Allies made the Operation DRAGOON landings, by the Sixth Army Group, in southern France. Simultaneously, the Allies in Normandy attacked against the Falaise Gap, potentially trapping 200,000 troops. Hitler did order withdrawals, but called it "The worst day of my life."

Three major ground forces, therefore, were moving toward Germany: the two army groups from Normandy, the DRAGOON forces, and the troops of the Italian theater.

Allied strategic air operations

The Allied bombing campaign had reached significant effectiveness. Hitler would still micromanage. When the head of the German fighter force, Gen. Adolf Galland, planned a massive fighter attack against bombers, planned for 12 November 1944, [127] Hitler reserved the final authority to launch. When it was less than successful, he then reallocated the last effort of the Luftwaffe, not against the strategic bomber attack but to the Battle of the Bulge counteroffensive.

German guided missiles

While German guided missile development was crude by modern standards, they were still impressive by the time. Impressive, however, did not always mean useful. Hitler, always emphasizing offense, committed a major production effort to the V-2, a medium range ballistic missile. Each V-2 weighed thirteen tons; he wanted 900 produced each month. Each missile delivered about one ton of explosive. With 30 per day, they would have delivered approximately the same payload of twelve Allied heavy bombers attacking Germany — sometimes in thousand-plane raids. While most of the bombers were not terribly accurate — U.S. bombers could hit a large factory and British night bombers a city — V-2's had even worse accuracy. A one-ton warhead with an accuracy of a mile is a serious concern if it has a nuclear warhead, but, while terrifying and lethal if you were in the target area, they were simply not militarily effective, and an immense diversion of resources. In a perverse way, they were lifesaving for some slave laborers, who were saved from gassing at Auschwitz to be used in the terrible underground working conditions at the Dora-Mittelbau Concentration Camp factory. Since the workers needed significant training, Speer writes that he complained to the SS to get better treatment of, and thus better productivity from, the worker.

Speer agreed with Hitler, and considered it one of his worst mistakes. He would have built guided missiles, but very different ones: the Waterfall or Typhoon surface-to-air missiles. Thousands of these smaller weapons, which were ready for initial production, could have been produced by January 1945, and might have had a devastating effect on Allied bomber forces. The effect would have been even greater had the Me-262 fighter been available in quantity;[128] bombers defend differently against missiles and fighters.

Holocaust collapse

By the summer of 1944, Soviet troops began to threaten the easternmost camps, and the Germans began forced marches to evacuate them. Much more significant were Soviet advances in the first three months of 1945, when the major Polish camps were evacuated and partially demolished. [129]

In an unprecedented Hitler agreement, of April 1944, to defer killing, Jews in the Auschwitz and Stutthof Concentration Camps were sent first to the Dachau aircraft production subcamps, and then to the underground facilities at Dora-Mittelbau Concentration Camp, where missiles were built. When the Dachau commander planned to send exhausted workers back to Auschwitz for gassing, Himmler, in early 1945, began to search for opportunities to offer small groups of Jews to the Allies, for future considerations of goodwill.[130]

Beginning of the End

Hitler did launch a surprise attack at the Bulge in December, 1944; it was his last major initiative and it failed, as Allied armor rolled into Germany. Disregarding his generals, Hitler rejected withdrawals and retreats, counting more and more on nonexistent armies. He committed suicide in his underground bunker in Berlin as his last soldiers were overwhelmed by Soviet armies in intensely bloody battles overhead.

As the Allies took Germany from the east and west, Hitler withdrew to his final command post. There was a strong rumor, taken seriously by the Allies, that the Germans would make their last stand in the rugged mountains around Berchtesdaden, called the Southern Redoubt. Hitler, however, never wavered from his concept of historic destiny, in which he would live or die in Berlin. He took up residence in the bunker complex in January, although he was to journey outside it until April.

It had been agreed, among the Allies, that the Soviets would take Berlin, although Western forces were moving east. German refugees were desperately trying to reach the Western Allies; Walther Wenck's Twelfth Army was trying to fight to them so it could avoid surrendering to the Russians.

Defense in the West

The Allies began to cross the Rhine into Germany, first when the Ludendorff Railroad Bridge at Remagen, between Koblenz and Bonn, was captured intact by troops of the U.S. 9th Armored Division on 7 March 1945. [131] This was not part of the plan for deliberate Rhine crossings in March, but the Allies would hardly give it back. Hitler was enraged, calling for the executions of the German officers who had failed to demolish it before capture,[132] and ordering secret weapons to attack the bridgehead.

Guderian visited Hitler on 28 March to gain flexibility or even local surrenders, especially concerned with the 200,000 German soldiers of the Courland Army, trapped behind Russian lines. Hitler said "never" to a request to evacuate them, and then said "General Guderian, the state of your health requires you immediately take six weeks' sick leaves." [133]

On April 2, all resistance in the Ruhr collapsed, but Hitler was to say to Bormann,
The laws of both history and geography will compel these two powers to a trial of strength, either military or in the field of economics and ideology. These same laws make it inevitable that both poers should become enemies of Europe. And it is equally certain that both powers will sooner or later find it desirable to seek the support of the sole surviving nation in Europe, the German people. I say with all the emphasis at my command that the Germans must at all costs avoid playing the role of pawn in either camp.[134]

Defense in the East

He visited a castle near the Oder in mid-March, driven there by Kempka in a less conspicuous Volkswagen, to encourage the Ninth Army to slow the Russians advancing on Berlin. Hitler assured them new "secret weapons" were coming soon, although he had told the Gauleiters the truth not long before: no technical solutions were coming in the near term, although he still had dreams of convincing the Western Allies to join him against the Bolsheviks. [135]

Last events of the Holocaust

Soviet forces liberated Auschwitz on 29 January; the SS had largely evacuated, and indeed destroyed some facilities. It is unclear, however, how much of the details of the camp system coverup reached Hitler, although Himmler had issued a January 1945 order that "The Fuehrer holds you personally responsible for...making sure not a single prisoner from the concentration camps falls alive into the hands of the enemy."[136]

The End

While Hitler still would hope for miracle weapons, or sudden changes such as the alliance between the Soviets and the West breaking up with the death of Roosevelt, by April, even he was recognizing many of the realities. He had been calling for scorched-earth tactics as the Allies drove the Germans back, and, in mid-March, Speer sent him a memorandum opposing it. Hitler, telling him he would also receive a written response, told him
If the war is lost, the people will be lost also. It is not necessary to worry about what the German people will need for elemental survival. On the contrary, it is best for us to destroy even these things. For the nation has proven to be the weaker, and the future belongs solely to the stronger easter nation. In an case, only those who are inferior will remain after this struggle, for the good have already been killed.[137]

Last days of the leadership

On 21 April 1945, Red Army units, had come into range to begin shelling the government area. Hitler had depended on the maneuver force of General Felix Steiner, but was finally told, on teh 22nd they were not yet organized. At that point, he turned white, shook, and said "the war is lost!" He still gained brief hope when Keitel told him Wenck's army could still break through, but, as soon as Keitel left, returned to his depressed mood.[138]

At considerable risk, Speer visited him on the 23rd, to tell him, face to face, that he refused to follow the scorched-earth order. Hitler, angry about Speer telling the Ruhr Gauleiters not to destroy infrastructure, seemed to go back to their early relationship, and said "If you were not my architect, I would take the measures that are called for in such a case." Hitler, in a friendlier manner, told him to go on sick leave. When Speer refused to take leave, Hitler said, "Speer, if you can convince yourself the war is not lost, you can continue to run your office." Hitler gave him 24 hours to decide and dismissed him. On Speer's return, he told Hitler that he stood behind him, but Speer, not the Gauleiters, must be trusted with the destruction orders. Essentially, it was a compromise. [139] Later, the near-final commander of Berlin, General Gotthard Heinrici, told Speer there would be no destruction.

They last met on the 23rd. Hitler asked him if he should stay in Berlin or fly south, and Speer told him that if he must die, it would be better to do so in the capital than in his weekend house. Hitler, wearily and apathetically, began speaking of his imminent death. "Speer, it is easy for me to end my life. A brief moment and I'm freed of everything, liberated of this painful existence." Speer remembered that Eva Braun was the only person, left in the bunker, capable of relating to him in a human way.

Far more dramatic, however, was Goering's message from Berchtesgaden. Still officially his deputy, he sent the message,
In view of your decision to remain in the fortress of Berlin, do you agree that I take over at once the total leadership of the Reich, with full freedom of action at home and abroad as your deputy, in accordance with your decree of June 29, 1941? If no reply is received by 10 o'clock tonight, I shall take it for granted that you have lost your freedom of action, and shall consider the conditions of your decree as fulfilled, and shall act for the best interests of our country and our people. You know what I feel for you in this gravest hour of my life. Words fail me to express myself. May God protect you, and speed you quickly here in spite of all. [140]
Hitler immediately ordered his arrest. In his Political Testament, he wrote
Before my death, I expel former Reichs Marshal Hermann Goering from the party and withdraw from him all right that were conferred on him by the decree of June 20, his place I appoint Admiral Doenitz as President of the Reich and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.[141]

Himmler also told Hitler that he planned to form a government, and also was dismissed by Hitler.

Farewells and death

Shortly before midnight on the 29th, he had dictated Personal and Private Testaments. Antisemitism remained a major theme in the Personal document, and in the plans he made for his body: "I do not wish to fall into the hands of enemies, who, for the amusement of whipped-up masses, will need a spectacle arranged for Jews." He named a new set of officials:

The documents were signed around 4 AM. Hitler took his last rest. Goebbels refused to take his new assignment and wrote his own testament, explaining he, his wife, and children end their lives at the Fuehrer's side.

Groups of bunker residents, who would try to live, began to attempt to break through Soviet lines.

With Soviet troops a few hundred years from the bunker, Hitler, after midnight on the 29th, married Eva Braun. After one last inquiry if General Wenck's troops might break through, he told Bormann, around noon, that he would kill himself in the afternoon. He took a last lunch.

Approximately 3:30 PM, the newlyweds went to their suite. A short time later, there was a shot. Hitler was found dead from a bullet wound and possibly simultaneous cyanide poisoning; Eva was dead of poison alone. Their bodies were burned, incompletely, shortly afterwards; the Soviets identified the remains on 2 May. The Goebbelses had died in the evening of the 1st.


In 2000, the Russians put the last remnants of Hitler, a jaw and skull showing a bullet wound, on display. They said the bodies of his entourage had been buried and exhumed four times before being burned and their ashes thrown into a river near Magdeburg, in East Germany, in 1970.[142] In 2009, the current head of Russian security, Vasily Khristoforov, elaborated that KGB Chief and later General Secretary Yuri Andropov had ordered the remains of the Hitlers and Goebbelses burned in 1970, with the consent of the Party leadership [143] Khristoforov said they had been buried on a Soviet facility near Magdeburg since 1946. They decided to destroy the remains when the facility was to be turned over to East Germany.


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