The persona of Adolf Hitler is, without question, an infamous one. He was a historically significant figure who, as national leader of Germany, staged the perpetration of arguably the most despicable acts of genocide in recorded history. Hitler’s role as the architect of the Holocaust places him at the top of the list of history’s villains. By committing atrocities that most of us find beyond comprehension, Hitler has for many people become the definition of evil, an example of absolute malevolence even to those who normally argue they do not believe in an absolute moral code. This twisted perpetrator of unspeakable wickedness has caused many to search for explanation of his evil. No other historical leader has had his motives, personality, and persuasive abilities questioned and debated by historians, psychologists, theologians, and philosophers to the extent Hitler has.
Despite the decades of research, discussion, and debate on Hitler, many questions about him remain unanswered. Personally, as I encountered Hitler in my previous studies of history, I found it virtually impossible to reconcile the fact that a human being could conceive of such evil and that he could convince others to help him perpetrate it. This paper is an attempt to reconcile and answer at least some of my questions. Is it possible to find an explanation that reveals what motivated Hitler to commit such crimes? Did Hitler actually believe he was doing the right thing, or did he understand good and evil and simply chose to commit evil to further his own personal quest for power? Did Hitler, by himself, cause the Holocaust, or was Hitler simply a product of his environment, a manifestation of a festering anti-Semitic feeling that had existed in Germany for generations? Finally, is it even worthwhile to try to understand someone who tormented millions?
To me, the answer to that last question is, at the outset, the only clear-cut one. It is indeed worthwhile to study Hitler. If we do not, if we do not understand how he became who he was or how he came to power, we cannot prevent another Hitler from demeaning and destroying the lives of millions in our own time.
“These people must not be allowed to find out who I am. They must not know where I came from and who my family is.”—Adolf Hitler, 1931
Adolf Hitler was born April 20, 1889, in the small Austrian town of Braunnau am Inn. He was the fourth child of Alois and Klara Hitler, although his three older siblings died before his birth. Adolf was therefore his mother’s oldest and favorite son, and so she favored him over his older half-siblings, and later over his younger siblings, Edmund and Paula.
While the ancestry of Adolf’s mother is rather certain, his father, Alois, had a complicated life story which, to some extent, contributed to Adolf’s paranoia and anti-Semitism. Adolf’s father was born as the illegitimate child of Maria...