Two images that brought fear into men’s hearts and minds for nearly 25 years, first only a small number but gradually expanding until the whole of Europe and Russia were caught up in the dictates of the one, that of Hitler, with his toothbrush mustache and slightly fixated stare, and under the banner of the other, the flag designed by Hitler, with its blood red border and the black Hakenkreuz in a white circle in the centre. The hooked cross, once a revered symbol of life, now only represented the twisted and evil mind of the man, and those of like mind and worse that he gathered round him.
Hitler and the Third Reich, the 1000-year Reich as he confidently named it, are inextricably linked. It was his brainchild and he carried it through birth and its terrible life, only to desert it at the end. He had the vision of a properly unified Germany, submissive to a Fuehrer, filled with true Aryans, ruling the world. And he set to the task of bringing this about with all the energy and fanaticism of a man who knew he was destined to be that ruler.
After a particularly aimless childhood and early youth, in which he failed at school, and at his attempt to become an artist, from both of which failures he developed a lifelong hatred of teachers, he arrived in Vienna in 1909 shortly before his 20th birthday. He had no money and no prospect of receiving any from home, where his mother had just died. Unlike his only friend from youth, August Kubizek, who was as destitute as he, but who was already becoming known in the Academy of Music, Hitler made no effort to get any further education. Instead, and it can only have been wilfully, for the next 4 years he existed hand to mouth from odd jobs, and selling small chocolate-box paintings and drawings of architecture copied from books, because he could not draw from life.
The poor artist, starving in a garret, is a cliché, well-known because we know that eventually the artist will become rich and famous. But this one did not try to put his very limited talent to any test. What he did do, however, was to read all and everything that came to hand. Good libraries were available, as well as a remarkably free press covering every shade of political opinion, including a significant proportion that was actively anti-semite. The whole political atmosphere in Vienna in those days, in fact, was revolutionary and all shades of the left and right were represented. The working classes, as opposed to the aristocracy and middle classes, had not long gained the vote and their main party, the Social Democrats, now had a voice in government. Since the revolutionary period of 1848, the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been slowly imploding, gradually losing absolute control of the many satellite countries, and now the Slavic nations were agitating. Democracy was coming, the only question was, when?
From whatever alchemy of the brain, Hitler very soon became a fanatic German nationalist and one, moreover, who had no time for any democratic nonsense. What was needed was a strong Germany to take over the remnants of the Empire, under a dominant leader, with the masses acquiescent in return for the safety and security such a nation would bring. Although obsessed with his ideas, he had as yet no way even to take the first steps towards realising them. He was, also, not stupid and he knew that he would have to find the ideal instrument to help his dreams along.
He left Vienna for good in 1913, carrying with him a mass of ideas and a determination to put them into effect. He arrived in Munich in much the same way he had arrived in Vienna 4 years earlier, penniless, friendless and with no apparent qualifications other than as a vagrant. Much of whatever is known about these early years comes from Hitler’s own writing, particularly “Mein Kampf”, and as such needs to be treated with caution but the way he describes his life in these pre-First World War years has a believability because he does not gloss over the fact that he was living right at the bottom, whatever reasons he may give for this.But, before he could do little more than feel out the political situation in Germany, the War came. He volunteered and joined a Bavarian regiment on 3rd August 1918. In his own words, “there now began the most memorable period of my life. Compared to the events of this gigantic struggle all the past fell away into oblivion.” Unfortunately for the world, the things he had learnt were, however, never forgotten and remained the foundation of his thinking for the rest of his life.
A picture taken of him at this time shows not even so much character as those take taken after he became Fuehrer, and they show little enough. He had already adopted, at an early age, the small central mustache but the whole is the image of an office clerk or a shop assistant, with the hint of some timidity as though he knew that he had nothing exept his fanaticism to take him forward. For the details of his early life we have very little independent evidence. A school report, a friend’s reminiscences, are about all, and from them plus whatever of the truth can be gleaned from “Mein Kampf”, two apparent facts emerge.
One is that sex seems to have played little part in his life up to that time, and that he was already, before going to Vienna, aged 20, a virulent anti-semite ( “The Young Hitler I Knew” by August Kubizek), although Hitler wrote that he only became so after seeing how the Viennese Jews lived. Hatred of another ethnic group is common enough because they are “different” and our reaction is a throw-back to tribal instincts. But, in all the countries in Europe, (in the Slavic countries and Russia the Jews had been singled out by being made to live in ghettoes) the Jewish people were not so much a different race as citizens of those countries who had different customs. There were very poor as well as very rich Jews but, in normal times, they lived and worked just like any other citizens and subject to the same laws and rights.
To be an anti-semite meant that there were not only flaws in your own make-up but that you were also probably so poor and uneducated that you needed someone to blame for your own inadequacies. As for Hitler’s sex life, this will always be a matter of controversy, despite his long “association” with Eva Braun. If it were normal, why were there no children and why were there not even rumours of other philandering? The best explanation would seem to be that his libido and all the complex psychological strands making up his nature, were solely directed at being world dictator and ridding that world of every single Jew. That world certainly paid for the time that he spent in it.