The son of Alois Hitler (1837-1903), an Austrian customs official, Adolf Hitler dropped out of high school, and after his mother's death in 1907 moved to Vienna. He twice failed the admission examination for the academy of arts. His vicious anti-Semitism (perhaps influenced by that of Karl Lueger ) and political harangues drove many acquaintances away. In 1913 he settled in Munich, and on the outbreak of World War I he joined the Bavarian army. During the war he was gassed and wounded; a corporal, he received the Iron Cross for bravery. The war hardened his extreme nationalism, and he blamed the German defeat on betrayal by Jews and Marxists. Upon his return to Munich he joined a handful of other nationalistic veterans in the German Workers' party.
In 1920 the German Workers' party was renamed the National Socialist German Workers, or Nazi, party; in 1921 it was reorganized with Hitler as chairman.
He made it a paramilitary organization and won the support of such prominent nationalists as Field Marshal Ludendorff . On Nov. 8, 1923, Hitler attempted the "beer-hall putsch," intended to overthrow the republican government. Leading Bavarian officials (themselves discontented nationalists) were surrounded at a meeting in a Munich beer hall by the Nazi militia, or storm troopers, and made to swear loyalty to this "revolution." On regaining their freedom they used the Reichswehr [army] to defeat the coup. Hitler fled, but was soon arrested and sentenced to five years in the Landsberg fortress. He served nine months.
The putsch made Hitler known throughout Germany. In prison he dictated to Rudolf Hess the turgid Mein Kampf [my struggle], filled with anti-Semitic outpourings, worship of power, disdain for civil morality, and strategy for world domination. It became the bible of National Socialism. Under the tutelage of Hitler and...