[This short, easy to read, outline biography of Adolf Hitler and the creation and rise of National Socialism is a must read for all concerned with not only understanding that era but also for understanding what’s happening today.
A Short Sketch of His Life
Edited by Richard Monnig
A Short Sketch of His Life
By Philipp Bouhler
Published by Terramare Office, Berlin
[Image] Adolf Hitler and his signature.
A Short Sketch of His Life
By Philipp Bouhler
Head of the Fuehrer’s Personal Chancellery
TERRAMARE OFFICE, BERLIN W8
GENESIS OF THE MOVEMENT
THE COUP D’ETAT
THE MOVEMENT ADVANCES
FROM VICTORY TO VICTORY
HITLER IN POWER
THE THIRD REICH
ADOLF HITLER was born on April 20, 1889, at Braunau in Upper Austria, close to the Bavarian frontier. Because it is situated on the frontier that divided two branches of the German people, Hitler has spoken of Braunau as representing for him “The Symbol of a Great Task”, namely that of uniting all Germans in one State. His father, who was the son of poor peasants from the forest district, had worked himself upwards through his own study and perseverance until he became a civil servant. At the time that Adolf was born his father was Customs Officer at Braunau. Being proud of his own achievement and the status he had reached, his dearest desire was that his son should also enter the civil service; but the son was entirely opposed to this idea.
He would be an artist.
When he was thirteen years old Hitler lost his father and four years later his mother died. So that he found himself alone in the world at the age of seventeen. He had attended the primary school and subsequently the grammar school at Linz; but poverty forced him to give up his studies and earn his bread. He went to Vienna, with the intention of studying to be an architect but he had to work for his livelihood as manual labourer at the building trade, where he mixed the mortar and served the carpenters and bricklayers. Later on he earned a daily pittance as an architectural draughtsman. Having to depend entirely on himself, he experienced in his own person from his earliest years what poverty and hunger and privation meant, And so he shared the daily fate of the workers, the “proletariat” in the building trade, and felt where the shoe pinched. Thus it came about that he began to think in terms of social reform during his early years.
He busied himself with the political questions of the day. In this study he was influenced by the personality of Schoenerer, the leader of the Pan-German Austrians, and Lueger, who was the Vienna Burgermeister and founder of the Christian-Social Party. Hitler conceived a great admiration for these two men. He made an exhaustive study of the teachings of Karl Marx and here came to the important conclusion that one had to know Judaism in order to have the key to an inner and real knowledge of what Social Democracy meant.
At the building site where he worked he came into contact with Social Democracy for the first time. He at once began to make a careful study of the literature dealing with it and thus acquired a detailed knowledge of the Marxist programme and the ways and means which were proposed to put it into practice. This led to controversies with his fellow workers. And he refused to join their organization. At that time he did not believe in the idea that the trade-unions were an appropriate means of protecting the interests of the working classes against the arbitrary importunities of the employers. He only saw that the political attitude of the trade-unions was Marxist and he considered the trade-unionist idea as definitely identical with that of Marxism, while he looked on Marxism as something that would destroy all civilization.
His fellow workers threatened to fling him down from the scaffolding. They succeeded in forcing him to give up his job. In his next job he had to go through much the same experience. But as he acquired a more thorough understanding of the character and tendencies of his opponents his influence on the other workmen increased and he soon realized how they reacted to his different view of things. He then saw clearly that the German worker was by no means a bad fellow in himself, that he was not anti-national and that he was only the victim of unscrupulous agitators.
Though the years spent in Vienna meant a hard and bitter struggle with life, the experience gained in this school was of inestimable value afterwards. Hitler was now yearning to live as a German in Germany itself, free from the oppression under which the German element had to suffer in that potpourri of nations which made up the Habsburg Empire. So he left Vienna and came to live in Munich. That was on April 24, 1912.
[Image] The Nameless Soldier.
In those days Munich was the chief centre of artistic and cultural life in Germany. Still hoping to make a name for himself as an architect, Adolf Hitler now devoted as much time and energy as possible to the study of architecture, while at the same time he had to earn his daily bread by designing and colouring placards. Recently he had been doing a good deal of reading for purposes of self-education. He continued this during his artistic studies and work in Munich, making history his speciality, which had been his favourite subject at school. But he went further than this, for he literally denied himself food in order to save the money for visits to the theatre and hearing Grand Opera, especially the music dramas of Richard Wagner, whom he revered as a German artist and reformer in the grand style. It was especially during those years that Hitler laid the foundations of that all round knowledge which surprises everybody with whom he discusses general questions today.
August 2, 1914 arrived. A spirit of fervid but solemn enthusiasm ran through the whole nation. Wave after wave of German youth rushed enthusiastically to join the volunteer regiments and reserve battalions. Hitler, who had always felt that he was a German first and foremost, presented himself at the headquarters of one of the Bavarian regiments and volunteered for the front. He regarded this act as a matter of course. Nor were there any technical difficulties in the way; for in the February of that year he had been definitely exempted from the obligation of military service in Austria. On October 10, 1914, he left for the front as a soldier in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment.
Destiny seemed to have preordained that Hitler should serve in the old German Army, that organization which was a magnificent example of the folk community and which he had for a long time envisaged as the kind of social formation through which the German people would finally reach its destined goal.
Adolf Hitler threw himself body and soul into the work of his new calling as a soldier. He received his baptism of fire in Flanders, where he faced death in the ranks of that regiment which was made up of German youth who stormed the trenches and fought and fell while they sang Deutschland ueber alles. During the attack on the Bayernwald and in the subsequent engagements around Wytschaete Hitler showed remarkable bravery; so much so that already on December 2, 1914, less than two months after he had first entered the trenches, he was awarded the Iron Cross of the Second Class. Having shown himself resourceful and courageous, without being foolhardy, he was now given one of the most hazardous jobs in the regiment, namely that of dispatch-runner, for which only picked soldiers are used. In carrying out this task he won a good deal of admiration, especially because on more than one occasion he voluntarily stepped in and took on himself a piece of dangerous work which otherwise would have fallen to the lot of older men who had wives and families at home. On the whole it can be said without any fear of contradiction that Hitler’s conduct as a soldier won the unstinted admiration of his superiors; while his companions in the trenches, no matter how opposed their political views were to his, admired his courage and his genuine spirit of comradeship.
On October 6, 1916, he was wounded in the thigh by a shrapnel splinter and had to be sent to one of the home hospitals for treatment. Within a few months he was on his feet again. He left hospital in March 1917 and immediately volunteered once more for the front. During the great offensive of 1918, while carrying dispatches, he succeeded in ambushing a French officer and about fifteen men and brought them back prisoners. For this he was awarded the Iron Cross of the First Class.
On the night of October 13/14, 1918, the British launched an attack with phosgene gas in the sector south of Ypres. Hitler’s regiment suffered severely and the casualties were extremely heavy. Hitler himself suddenly felt an excruciating pain in the eyes as he was returning with a dispatch to his own lines. He managed to struggle back however and deliver his dispatch. After that he was sent to hospital, totally blind.
While the German armies were still fighting desperately on all fronts for the very existence of their native land, defeatism was at work behind the lines and at home. Under the corroding influence of the propagandist poison spread by anti-national agencies at home, civilian morale was steadily crumbling. This process of disintegration gradually reached the soldiers at the front, where it took on a graver character day after day. The coming downfall cast its darkening shadow even across the fighting lines.
The revolt of the sailors at the naval base in Kiel was the signal for the revolution. On November 9, 1918, the day of the general collapse had come. It was not merely the monarchical constitution in Germany that was overthrown. No, but everything else with it — the Fatherland itself, faith in the Fatherland and in, one’s fellow man, order and discipline.
Hitler was in hospital at Pasewalk in Pomerania when he first heard the news. The pain in the eyes had gradually become less severe. His sight began to return and he now had hopes of regaining his normal powers of vision. The impression which the news then made was described by him some years later in the following words: —
“So all had been in vain. In vain all the sacrifices and privations, in vain the hunger and thirst for endless months, in vain those hours that we stuck to our posts when the fear of death gripped our souls, and in vain the deaths of two millions who fell in the fulfilment of their duty. Think of those hundreds of thousands who set out with hearts full of faith in their Fatherland, and never returned; ought not their graves to open so that the spirits of those heroes bespattered with mud and blood should come home and wreak their vengeance on those who had despicably betrayed the greatest sacrifice which a human being can make for his country.
Was it for this that the soldiers gave their lives in August and September 1914, for this that the volunteer regiments followed the old comrades m the autumn of the same year? Was it for this that those boys of seventeen years of age were mingled with the soil of Flanders? Was this meant to be the fruits of the sacrifice which German mothers made for their Fatherland when, with heavy hearts, they said goodbye to their sons, who never returned? Was all this done in order to enable a gang of despicable criminals to lay hands on the Fatherland?”
Hitler now developed a burning hatred against the perpetrators of what he considered to be a most dastardly crime and at the same time it became apparent to him that Fate had destined him for a certain task. On that day he decided to take up political work.
GENESIS OF THE MOVEMENT
In the summer of 1919, at Munich, six men set about forming a new political party, which they called the German Workers Party. They had before their minds a vague idea of organizing a national party which would oppose the Marxist Workers’ Party. These six men certainly meant well but they had no resources whatsoever and above all there was nobody among them who could claim to have the necessary qualities for leadership. And so they were helpless in face of the task to which they had set themselves. History would have known nothing of this little circle of six men had not destiny presented it with its seventh member. This was Adolf Hitler.
[Image — click to enlarge] In the Beginning was the Word.
Painting by Hermann Otto Hoyer.
At the end of November 1918 he was back again in Munich and had rejoined the reserve battalion of his regiment; but this fell under the control of the Soldiers’ Council, which was hateful to Hitler. So he went to Traunstein and remained there until the camp was demobilized. Then he returned to Munich, in March 1919. Shortly afterwards a Communist regime on Soviet lines was established there. On April 27, he was to have been arrested by order of the Central Council of the Reds, on the charge of having participated in anti- revolutionary activities. But the three bravos who came to carry out the order for arrest turned tail and departed when Hitler presented a bold face and showed them his rifle.
Early in May the 2nd Infantry Regiment set up a Committee of Enquiry to investigate the events that led to the revolution.
Lance-Corporal Hitler received instructions to participate in the work of that Committee. This was the practical start of Hitler’s political career. Courses of instruction were established for the purpose of teaching the duties of citizenship to the soldiers in the army. It was during one of the debates which followed a lecture on this topic that Hitler was given the first opportunity to speaking in public. As a result of the impression which his speech made on that occasion he was appointed, a few days later, as a so-called instruction officer to one of the regiments stationed in Munich at that time. One day he received orders to make enquiries about the “German Workers’ Party”, an organization hitherto unknown. He attended a meeting of this party in the former Sternecker Brau, at which about twenty persons were assembled. Towards the end of the meeting a representative of the Separatist Movement spoke and that brought Hitler to his feet. His speech in reply made a marked impression on the audience. It was thus that he became acquainted with the aims of this new workers’ party. Subsequently he was requested to become a member.
After turning the problem over in his mind for several days, Hitler agreed to join, one of the reasons for doing so being that he had already thought of founding a party of his own. Moreover, this little society, although it had no programme or fixed aims, had a sort of framework on which he could build a working plan for the realization of his own ideas. The chief difficulty which now presented itself was to gel this little movement known. It was necessary to lift it out of obscurity and place it on a footing where it would attract and hold the attention of the general public.
The process of doing so went forward very slowly. The first meeting was composed only of the original seven members with one or two onlookers. So meagre were the propaganda resources that the number of people who attended subsequent meetings increased only to 11, 13, 17, 23 and 34 respectively At the meeting after that 111 persons were present, Hitler now spoke regularly at meetings and in that way became conscious of his oratorical gifts. He induced the committee to entrust the control of the propaganda department to him.
[Image] “On January 28, 1923, the first National Socialist Party Congress was held on the Marsfeld in Munich …”
On February 24, 1920, he was at last able to hold the first mass meeting, in the Hofbrau Haus. It was on that occasion that he promulgated and expounded the Programme of the German National Socialist Workers’ Party. An attempt on the part of the communists to wreck the meeting was frustrated by a handful of Hitler’s former war comrades, who had taken on themselves the responsibility for maintaining order. Hitler’s contention that the Marxist terror should not only be smashed by mental weapons, but also by physical force, was proved for the first time at this meeting.
Henceforth, almost week after week, the Munich hoardings displayed large red placards calling on the public to attend the mass meetings of the German National Socialist Workers’ Party at which Party Comrade Adolf Hitler would speak. These posters, which had a footnote stating: “Jews will not be admitted”, were designed by Hitler himself. They also displayed statements dealing with the political questions of the day.
In December, 1920, the Party took over the Voelkischer Beohachter and thus had a press organ of its own. At first this paper appeared twice weekly. But early in 1928 it was brought out as a daily newspaper. Towards the end of August in that year it first appeared in its present large size.
Hitler was not yet chairman of the party, though in reality he was its leader. Some members took part in an intrigue to get rid of him; but the consequence was that at a general meeting of all the members of the Party, held towards the end of July 1921, the whole direction was entrusted to Adolf Hitler and a new statute was enacted which invested him with special plenipotentiary powers.
He was now able to go ahead with the work of reorganizing, the party, whose meetings and decisions had hitherto been conducted on parliamentary principles. In reorganizing the movement he proved that he was not only a convincing speaker and controversialist, but that he was also an excellent organizer. The governing principle now adopted for the development of the movement was that it should first acquire for itself a position of power and influence in one centre before it started to spread out and form district branches. The party had to expand organically. For a long time, therefore, Hitler confined his activities exclusively to Munich, before taking in hand the task of forming local groups outside.
At the same time the foundations were laid on which the Storm Detachment was subsequently established. In the beginning this detachment was simply a body of men acting as hall guards for the maintenance of order at meetings; but it has been known as the Storm Detachment (Sturm Abteilung, hence S.A.) ever since November 4, 1921. On that day the Party held a meeting in the banquet hall of the Munich Hofbrau Haus. The Reds turned up in force for the purpose of crushing out the new movement once and for all. But they met with a bitter disappointment. As the meeting progressed the opposition raised an outcry and a furious fight ensued.
[Image] The fifteen years through which we struggled for power, amidst continual persecution and oppression on the part of our adversaries, served to increase not only the inner moral strength of the Party but, above all, its capacity for external resistance.
Hitler, February 20, 1938
Though the Marxist disturbers were much superior in numbers, the National Socialist guards stormed the Red front again and again, beer mugs were flung from one side to the other and free hand-to-hand fights raged, until finally the Marxists were cleared from the hall and many of them sent home with bleeding skulls. The National Socialists remained masters of the hall. They had shown that they could fight and hold their ground.
Towards the end of the summer of 1922 a mass demonstration was held on the Koenigsplatz in Munich by all the patriotic societies, The National Socialists officially took part in the meeting. In the autumn of that year, October 14, a Congress was held at Coburg which was entitled “German Day”. The National Socialists took part in it. Coburg had hitherto been a Red stronghold. At the head of 800 Storm Troopers from Munich Hitler entered Coburg and marched through its streets with flags flying and bands playing. Several fights took place but the National Socialists succeeded in suppressing the Red terror once and for all in that city. This was a practical demonstration of Hitler’s statement:
“We have dealt with Marxism in a way which shows that henceforth the masters of the street are the National Socialists, as they will one day be the masters of the State.”
On January 28, 1923, the first National Socialist Party Congress was held on the Marsfeld in Munich and it was on this occasion that the first S.A. standards were dedicated, which had been designed by Hitler himself. Soon afterwards, Flight Captain Hermann Goering became Chief of the S.A. It was he who expanded and perfected their organization.
An attempt was made to force the National Socialist Party into a “United Front from Right to Left”, but Hitler’s determined opposition shattered the attempt. He saw clearly that an understanding with the “November Criminals” of 1918 would not only be meaningless but also impossible.
There were temporary working coalitions with other associations but they lasted only for a short time. In these cases Hitler’s idea was clearly proved to be right, namely that the strong is strongest when alone.
[Image] Procession in Munich, in Commemoration of November 9, 1923.
THE COUP D’ETAT
On September 2, 1923, the first great Congress of the German patriotic leagues was held in Nurnberg. On that day the National Socialist Party formed a coalition with the Oberland League and the Reichsflagge League, with the general title “The German Fighting League” and under the political leadership of Adolf Hitler, The first manifesto issued by this coalition stated:
“Revolution and Versailles are inseparably bound together in the relation of cause and effect. We want to free our Fatherland from slavery and disgrace. But liberty can be achieved only by the people themselves, working together in a national union.
The new German State which was founded in Weimar cannot be the standard-bearer of the movement for German Liberty.”
On September 26, 1923, the Government of Bavaria registered its reaction to the establishment of the German Fighting League. On that date Herr von Kahr was appointed General State Commissar. The conflict between Bavaria and the Reich became acute. The central figure in this conflict was General von Lossow Commander of the Bavarian Army. The signs of a separatist movement in Bavaria became more and more pronounced. Currency inflation reached fantastic figures. Events of the day were heading for a catastrophic situation. Something had to be done.
As the result of discussions that lasted for several weeks Hitler gained the impression that those who then held power in Bavaria — Kahr, Lossow and von Seisser, who was Commander of the Bavarian Police — were ready to collaborate in the coup d’etat.
On the fifth anniversary of the outbreak of the 1918 revolution — November 8, 1923 — a meeting was held in the Munich Buergerbrau Haus at which Kahr was to have announced before the assembled patriotic associations what his future policy was to be.
At 8.45 p. m. Hitler appeared, at the head of his Storm Troops, and declared that the Government of the Reich was therewith deposed and substituted by a National Government. At first the meeting accepted this proclamation with reserve, regarding it as something directed against Kahr; but under the influence of Hitler’s magnetic speech, the audience gave its enthusiastic consent. Kahr, Lossow and Seisser accepted the new Government and the portfolios allotted to them.
Towards morning it was repeatedly rumoured that Kahr, Lossow and Seisser had withdrawn from the new Government. As a matter of fact they were prisoners in the hands of the army generals who were deputizing for Lossow. Entirely on their own responsibility these generals had sounded the alarm among the army and police forces.
[Image] The late President Von Hindenburg and Adolf Hitler in 1934.
Hitler now decided to take an extreme step. There was no intention to oppose the machinery of power in the hands of the Government and the idea would have been nonsensical. But a final move had to be made which would impress the public and change their whole attitude. On the morning of the ninth of November Hitler and his comrades formed a procession which started from the Buergerbrau Keller and marched into the centre of the town. Hitler himself marched at the head of it, with Ludendorff and other popular leaders. With flags flying, the procession wound its way through the Marienplatz and from there to the Odeonsplatz. The majority of the Munich inhabitants who were of the nationalist way of thinking came out to greet and applaud the procession.
Swastika flags were flying from the City Hall. In the Residenzstrasse the crowds were so great that the procession literally had to push its way through. At the Feldherrnhalle the police kept the street clear. The procession marched on.
And then the incredible happened. The soldiers opened fire on this column of men that was marching in the cause of German liberty, led by Hitler and the famous Quartermaster-General of the World War. Sixteen of the marchers were killed and two who were wounded died subsequently in the barracks of the local Reichswehr. A great number were wounded. Hitler himself suffered damage to his arm after being thrown on the road. The coup d’etat had failed.
Some friends of Hitler took him to their home outside Munich where he was arrested a few days later and imprisoned in the fortress of Landsberg. Several of his comrades and fellow members were arrested afterwards and imprisoned in the same fortress. All those who belonged to the Fighting League were ordered to surrender their arms.
[Image] Berlin, January 30, 1937
On the same date, November 9, 1923 the General State Commissar issued an order dissolving the German National Socialist Workers’ Party and stipulating heavy penalties for anyone attempting to carry on the work of the party any further. On the following day police cars appeared in front of the business headquarters of the Party in the Corneliusstrasse and confiscated everything they could lay hands on. But they did not find the most valuable of all documents, which was the roll containing the names of members.
Munich was like an armed camp. The people were furious. They joined in mass demonstrations which were scattered by mounted police using their truncheons freely. Kahr sat safely behind his barbed wire entrenchment in the Government buildings and “liquidated” the movement which had caused so much annoyance. The authorities confiscated all the property belonging to the party, which was now outlawed.
The attempt to change the disastrous fate under which Germany had been suffering for the past five years ended in failure, at least for the time being. The system which had been initiated in November 1918 still held the mastery, to the detriment of the whole nation. And yet the efforts of Hitler and his friends were not in vain.
“A manifest sign that the 8th of November was successful”, said Hitler in Court afterwards, “can be seen in the fact that in response to it the youth rose like a flood-tide in storm and massed its forces together. The most important result of November 18 was that it did not cause any depression in the public spirit but helped to raise it considerably.”
On February 26, 1924, the trial of “Hitler and Companions” opened at Munich in the same building that was once the War Academy. The case was brought before what was called the Volksgericht or People’s Court. The result was that Hitler was sentenced to be imprisoned in a fortress for five years and he was given to understand that a term of probation would follow. Several of his companions were sentenced to longer or shorter terms of fortress imprisonment, But the leading counsel for the prosecution felt himself obliged to declare in his summing up before the Court that:
“Hitler’s honest effort to reawaken faith in Germany among a downtrodden and disarmed people”,
must certainly be regarded as an act of service. He called Hitler;
“a highly gifted man who through his own efforts had risen from a modest status in life to a foremost position in public estimation, a man who had sacrificed himself for his ideas and who had fulfilled his duties as a soldier in the most admirable manner.”
He also paid tribute to the sincerity of Hitler’s meaning and intention.
Hitler took upon himself the full and sole responsibility for everything that had happened. Speaking in his own defence he stated in the course of a brilliant speech that the overthrow of Marxism was his aim but that this was considered essentially as a necessary pre-condition for the establishment of liberty.
[Image] The Fuhrer at the window of the Reich Chancellery, 1934.
“It is not you, Gentlemen”, concluded Hitler, “who pass judgment on us. We shall be judged before the eternal bar of history”
Through this trial Hitler’s name became known far beyond the Bavarian frontier. He was rightly looked upon as the inspiring cause of the movement to abolish the system which had created so much damage through the mismanagement of public affairs in Germany during the past five years. His attitude in Court enhanced his reputation and won sympathy for him in circles where he was hitherto more or less unknown. They began to realize that this man was not a mere demagogue and that his associates were something better than a pack of rowdies.
On December 20, 1924, his sentence was suspended and he left the fortress in high spirits and full of energy. One of his first visits was paid to the Bavarian Prime Minister, where his sole request was that his comrades might be released for the Christmas festivities.
Hitler was convinced that there could be no question of ever using the existing patriotic organizations as a pillar of support for his future policy, and so he decided to re-establish his old German National Socialist Workers’ Party. He assembled his faithful comrades and on February 21, 1925, in the Buergerbrau Keller at Munich, that movement came to life again.
In the meeting at which the movement was re-established Hitler announced that it would be conducted on constitutional lines but that the fight against the existing order of government would be a severe one. The Bavarian Government answered by forbidding the Movement the right of public speech, a step which was followed soon afterwards by most of the other federal governments. This prohibition lasted for several years.
[Image] Reich Party Congress Nurnberg, 1936.
And now a difficult and trying period set in for the young movement. In the first place it had no business headquarters, of its own and not even a typewriter, to say nothing of being penniless. Many became wavering in their faith in the Movement and in Hitler. Moreover it had to face government oppression and dishonest treatment on the part of the officials. Then came unbridled terror from the Left, on the streets and in the factories, together with boycotting in business life. Work on behalf of the National Socialist idea demanded courage and strong conviction and unusual powers of exposition on the part of the individual members. But this was also a benefit; for in this way the party was winnowed and sieved. The chaff was separated from the wheat.
Hitler’s political line of conduct was clear from the beginning, just as it had always been. In the sphere of foreign politics he fought uncompromisingly against the Francophile attempt at an understanding and against the insane fulfilment policy of the regime, which met with one defeat after another at the various international conferences that were held in rapid succession. Against this Hitler championed a policy of alliances that would be beneficial to Germany. He considered that England and Italy would be the most likely and useful allies.
In domestic politics the first important matter was the struggle for the destruction of Marxism and then the taking over of political power, as a condition necessary to carry through the fight for German freedom.
More and more the National Socialist Party became the “Prussia of the national movement in Germany”.
The enforced silence consequent on prohibition of the right of public speech gave Hitler the opportunity of completing his book, Mein Kampf, for which his fortress imprisonment had afforded him the necessary time to prepare it and assemble the material. The first volume, which dealt principally with Hitler’s own development, was published at Christmas 1925; while the second volume was completed the next year and dealt with the foundation of the organization.
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Version 1: Published Jun 24, 2015
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Adolf Hitler – A Short Sketch of His Life – Part 1
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Version 1: Published Jun 24, 2015.
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