HITLER, Adolf (1889-1945). The rise of Adolf Hitler to the position of dictator of Germany is the story of a frenzied ambition that plunged the world into the worst war in history. Only an army corporal in World War I, Hitler became Germany's chancellor 15 years later.
He was born on April 20, 1889, in Braunau-am-Inn, Austria, of German descent. His father Alois was the illegitimate son of Maria Anna Schicklgruber. In middle age Alois took the name Hitler from his paternal grandfather. After two wives had died Alois married his foster daughter, Klara Poelzl, a Bavarian, 23 years younger than he. She became Adolf's mother.
Hitler's rambling, emotional autobiography 'Mein Kampf' (My Struggle) reveals his unstable early life. His father, a petty customs official, wanted the boy to study for a government position. But as young Hitler wrote later, "the thought of slaving in an office made me ill . . . not to be master of my own time." Passively defying his father, the self-willed boy filled most of his school hours with daydreams of becoming a painter. His one school interest was history, especially that of the Germans. When his teacher glorified Germany's role, "we would sit there enraptured and often on the verge of tears." From boyhood he was devoted to Wagner's operas that glorified the Teutons' dark and furious mythology.
Failure dogged him. After his father's death, when Adolf was 13, he studied watercolor painting, but accomplished little. After his mother's death, when he was 19, he went to Vienna. There the Academy of Arts rejected him as untalented. Lacking business training, Hitler eked out a living as a laborer in the building trades and by painting cheap postcards. He often slept in parks and ate in free soup kitchens.
These humbling experiences inflamed his discontent. He hated Austria as "a patchwork nation" and looked longingly across the border at energetic, powerful Germany. He wrote, "I was convinced that the State...