Adolf Hitler was born in 1889 to a middle-class Austrian family. Though he initially excelled in school and was outgoing, the death of his younger brother in 1900 severely affected the young Hitler, making him morose and combative. He was close to his mother, Klara Polzl, but had a difficult relationship with his father, Alois Hitler, who beat Adolf regularly. He attended a Catholic school and, when he was old enough, was sent by his father to a technical school. Hitler, who harboured a dream of becoming an artist, intentionally failed his first year there in the hopes of causing his father to relent. When he did not, Hitler became even more sullen. When his father died in 1903, Hitler became more disruptive at the school and was asked to leave. He enrolled in the Realschule in 1904, but was asked to leave following his first year due again to disruptive behaviour. Around this time, Hitler became interested in German Nationalism.
He never returned to formal schooling. By 1905 he was living on little money in Vienna. In 1907 he applied to and was rejected by the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts who deemed him to be an unfit painter and encouraged him to pursue architecture. However, he lacked academic qualifications to enter architectural school. His mother passed away in 1907, and Hitler gave his orphan's pension money to his sister, Paula. In 1908 he was again rejected by the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, and began to run out of money. In 1909 he lived in a homeless shelter, before obtaining residence in a house for poor working men in 1910. While there he continued to sell paintings that he had copied from postcards. In 1913 he moved to Munich after receiving the last of his father's estate.
By this time he claimed he had become an anti-Semite, influenced by the heavy racial prejudice in Vienna, contemporary ideologist Lanz von Liebenfels, and the writings of various thinkers such as Martin Luther and Karl Lueger. Though he claimed to be firmly anti-Semitic, in the earlier years of his life he interacted with Jews with no problem. Nonetheless, he claimed to view Jews as enemies to the Aryans, and quickly combined his anti-Semitism with anti-Marxism, two ideologies that would feature heavily in his later regime.
Though he had initially avoided military service in Austria, Hitler willingly enlisted in the Bavarian army when Germany entered World War I. He fought in France and Belgium and was present for a number of important battles throughout the war. He received a number of awards, the Iron Cross Second Class in 1914, Iron Cross First Class in 1918 and finally the Wound Badge in 1917, which he received following an injury in the Battle of the Somme. In 1918 he was again injured, this time blinded by a mustard gas attack. When Germany surrendered in 1918 Hitler was shocked and angered, believing in the stab-in-the-back legend, that the soldiers in the field had been sold out by the Marxists in the high command in Germany. He would later use the actions of the "November Criminals" to bolster his ascent to power.
In 1919 he became a spy for the Reichswehr and was sent to infiltrate the German Worker's Party. Instead, he was impressed by the anti-Semitic, nationalistic ideals of the party and, upon invitation from the leader who had been impressed by Hitler's skill for oratory, became a member in September 1919. At the same time he became involved with the Thule Society, an occultist group which would later influence some of his racial ideology. In 1921 he was growing in oratory ability but was dislike by other members of the party, who felt he was too overbearing. He threatened to leave the party, now called the National Socialist German Worker's Party (NSDAP), which would effectively destroy it, unless he was made chairman. Eventually the leadership relented.
In 1923, due to all of the support he was accumulating, he attempted to overthrow the government of Bavaria, with the final goal being control of Berlin, in an action that was later called the Beer Hall Putsch. His attempted coup failed, however, and Hitler was charged with high treason and, in 1924, was sentenced to five years in jail. During his time in prison he wrote his autobiography/ manifesto, Mein Kampf. He was pardoned and released from jail in December of 1924. While he was imprisoned, the NSDAP was made illegal. By 1925 he had managed to talk the Prime Minister of Bavaria to lift the ban, but he himself was banned from speaking publicly due to his inflammatory speech. He appointed George Strasser to replace him as voice of the party, but Strasser emphasized the socialist elements of the party too heavily and Hitler removed him from this position, instead placing Joseph Goebbels in charge.
In his rise to power he played on the injustice that the German people felt had been perpetrated against them by the Treaty of Versailles, which had demanded exorbitant reparations. This was soon coupled with the stresses felt by the German people when the Great Depression hit Germany in 1930. In 1932 he intended to run for president against then-president Paul von Hindenburg, but he was not technically a German citizen and so was unable. In February a minister in Brunswick, a Nazi, gave Hitler a position that conferred upon Hitler citizenship, allowing him to run. He lost the election to Hindenburg, but gained a fairly large percentage of the vote; about 35% of Germans voted for him. All was not lost in Hitler's ambition for power, as he was appointed Chancellor of Germany in 1933.
As chancellor he was able to prevent his opponents from gaining a majority, which forced Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag. Elections were scheduled for March, but a fire at the Reichstag in February provided the perfect way for Hitler to seize power. He blamed the fire on a communist plot and used it to suspend basic rights in Germany. In the lead up to the elections he used violence and anti-communist hysteria to whip up support for his party. When the elections came around he had achieved a better percentage, 43.9%, but was still unable to create a majority government. This was quickly remedied with the introduction of the Enabling Act, which allowed legislative powers for the cabinet as well as contraventions of the constitution. It passed with a two-thirds majority in late March. What followed was a swift suppression and elimination of other parties that finally ended in July when the Nazi party was declared the one legal party in Germany. He purged the Sturmabteilung (SA) in the Night of the Long Knives, as well as removing opponents in the party like George Strasser. He forced Hindenburg out of power, and, when the president died in August of 1934 he dissolved the post of president and styled himself Fuhrer und Reichskanzler, as well as becoming commander of the armed forces. There was now no legal recourse to remove Hitler's power and no checks or balances on his actions.
The Third Reich now established, Hitler set about modeling Germany into his version of utopia. He succeeded in substantially reducing the amount of unemployment in Germany by revitalizing industry in the country and commissioning the creation of railways, dams and other social works projects. Culturally, he focused on traditional German values and encouraged women to remain in the home and bear children, even going so far as to create a medal, the Cross of Honor of the German Mother, that was awarded to any woman who bore four or more children. He was heavily focused on rearmament, which he began almost as soon as he seized power. he focused heavily on the ideals of lebensraum ("living space"), which involved the invasion and absorption of traditional German lands as well as the execution or subordination of the non-Germanic peoples who lived in these regions, and Anschluss ("link-up"), the annexation of Austria. He hoped to forge an alliance with Britain but ultimately failed. Instead he was able to create alliances with Benito Mussolini's Italy, Emperor Hirohito's Japan, and Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union, the last of which he would later betray, to his loss.
Perhaps Hitler is best known, and most reviled, for the Holocaust, the systematic oppression, persecution and, eventually, mass execution of various "undesirables". These actions were first taken against disabled children, but quickly expanded to Jews, Communists, homosexuals, Roma, Poles, political opponents, resistance members, trade unionists, the physically and mentally handicapped, psychiatric patients, Soviet POWs, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Adventists. The total deaths he presided over are between 11 and 14 million. The peak of these activities took place between 1939 and 1945, and occurred mainly in concentration and extermination camps that were scattered throughout Germany and conquered lands. The Holocaust was supported by Hitler's belief of the principles of eugenics, a pseudo-science that was based around the idea of racial purity. By about 1941 he had determined the "Final Solution" along with Heinrich Himmler; they decided the best way to remove the "undesirables" was by mass gassing. Though he was never personally involved in the death camps, he did have an important role in their creation and implementation.
In 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, causing Britain and France to declare war on Germany. Though they had some early successes on the Western Front, Hitler began to seize more and more control of the German army, much to its detriment. In 1941 he broke the non-aggression pact he had established with Soviet Russia, opening up war on the Eastern Front while still fighting on the Western Front. This stretched the German army incredibly thin, and they suffered their most devastating defeat at Stalingrad in 1943, when they were overwhelmed by the Russian army. Hitler became less and less capable of stable leadership at a time when the German war effort was floundering. His health began deteriorating as well, along with Germany's economy. It has been suggested that he may have suffered from Parkinson's or, less likely, syphilitic infection. Neither has been conclusively proven. In 1943, one of Hitler's major allies, Mussolini, was deposed, and in 1944 the Allied invasion of D-Day meant that many in Germany knew that German defeat was an inevitability.
In July of 1944 an attempt was made on Hitler's life in what would come to be known as the 20 July Plot. Orchestrated by a high-ranking member of the army, Claus von Stauffenberg, the attempt almost took Hitler's life and resulted in a series of vicious reprisals on his part that brought about almost 5,000 deaths. This removed much of the resistance in Germany but did not alter the fact that defeat was inexorably bearing down on Germany.
As 1944 progressed the Soviet Army had succeeded in driving back the Germans while the Western Allies had begun to invade Germany itself. By this point Hitler was well aware that he had lost but was not willing to give up without a fight. Even as he contemplated negotiating peace with Britain and America he allowed the Holocaust to continue unabated. Hitler hoped to undertake a scorched earth policy, but the man he entrusted with the plan refused to undertake his orders. The Soviets entered Berlin in April of 1945. Hitler refused to leave the city, taking shelter in the Fuhrerbunker along with several important members of the Nazi high command, including Goebbels and Martin Bormann. On April 30th, 1945 he committed suicide by shooting himself while taking a potassium cyanide capsule. He and his new wife Eva Braun, who he had married the day previous and who had also committed suicide, were placed in a bomb crater, doused in gasoline and set on fire.
Hitler was the original arch-foe, as every hero in the Golden Age did their part to kill the Fuhrer. In the DC Universe, Hitler protected Nazi Germany from being invaded by super powered beings like Superman, Dr Fate, Wonder Woman and the Spectre through his acquisition of two powerful artifacts, the Spear of Destiny and the Holy Grail to create a barrier around axis territory to prevent super powered heroes such as the Justice Society Of America and the All-Star Squadron from invading Germany.
In the Marvel Universe, the original Hitler was confronted in his bunker by Jim Hammond, the original Human Torch and his sidekick, Toro after his wife, Eva Braun committed suicide. The duo set Hitler ablaze as he prepares to set off a bomb. As Hitler dies, he commands one of his loyal followers to tell the world Hitler had committed suicide. In reality, Hitler was cloned and later appeared in Fantastic Four #21 to face the Fantastic Four as the first Hate Monger.
In Other Media
In the Justice League episode "A Savage Time", the villain Vandal Savage replaced Hitler (though he's not mentioned by name) as leader of the Axis Powers. The Martian Manhunter (who traveled back in time with the rest of the League to defeat Vandal), while searching Vandal's headquarters, discovers a cryogenic-preservation pod with Hitler's frozen body in it. When Vandal is seemingly killed by Green Lantern while leading a massive air invasion force against America, his subordinates decide to unfreeze Hitler so he could continue leading the Axis. In the Justice League Unlimited episode "I Am Legion", Lex Luthor, The Key, and Dr. Polaris are sent to Blackhawk Island by Gorilla Grodd to steal the Spear of Longinus, a magic weapon Hitler used in World War II (presumably after he was unfrozen).
As well, Hitler has appeared in numerous movies, television shows and documentaries.