Born in Austria in 1889, Adolf Hitler, moved to Germany when he was three years old. Following the early death of his father, with whom he had frequent conflict, he dropped out of school at age 16 and moved to Vienna where he worked as a laborer and a watercolor painter. After rejection by the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts, and homeless for several years, he enlisted in the German Army at the outbreak of WWI in 1914. He was wounded in the Battle of the Somme and was awarded the Iron Cross and the Black Wound Badge.
Embittered by Germany’s collapse in 1918 and the inequitable Treaty of Versailles, Hitler became a passionate German nationalist and joined the anti-Semitic, anti-communist German Workers Party (DAP) in 1919. Soon after, the DAP changed its name to Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP) and Hitler became party chairman in 1921.
In 1923 Hitler and his Sturmabteilung (SA) tried to initiate a revolution with the infamous failed Munich beer hall putsch that landed him in jail for a year. During that time, he wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle), a diatribe that outlined his plan for an ethnically pure German society. With an ineffectual government during the Weimar Republic and the Great Depression, Hitler’s extremist views made large political gains. Although he came in second, behind WWI hero Paul von Hindenburg in the 1932 presidential elections, he was appointed chancellor, a position from which he subsequently launched his dictatorship.
By the end of 1933, Hitler had achieved complete control over both legislative and executive branches of government, and was systematically eliminating all opposition. In July of 1933, the Nazi Party was declared the only legal political party in Germany. In 1934 the rising power of Ernst Röhm‘s SA was purged on the bloody night of the long knives.
After President von Hindenburg died in 1934, Hitler enacted a law abolishing the office of president, leaving absolute power in the hands of the chancellor. Hitler then became supreme commander of the armed forces, Germany withdrew from the League of Nations, and Hitler announced a massive expansion of Germany’s armed forces.