ADOLF HITLER AND WORLD WAR I: 1913–1919

MILITARY SERVICE 

Hitler moved to Munich, Germany in May 1913. He did so seeking to avoid arrest for evasion of his military service obligation to Habsburg Austria and financed by the last installment of his inheritance from his father. In Munich, he continued to drift, supporting himself on his watercolors and sketches until World War I gave his life direction and a cause to which he could commit himself totally. By all surviving accounts, Hitler was a brave soldier: he was promoted to the rank of Corporal, was wounded twice (in 1916 and 1918) and was awarded several medals.

Though reportedly not given to lengthy political discourses at this time, Hitler appeared to have been carried along by an increasingly vicious political antisemitism promulgated by the radical right and seeping into the military hierarchy during the last two years of the war.

In October 1918, Hitler was partially blinded in a mustard gas attack near Ypres in Belgium. He was sent to the military hospital, where the news of the November 11, 1918, armistice reached him as he was convalescing.

END OF THE WAR

The end of the war was a personally emotional disaster for Hitler as well. It brought the threat of demobilization, tearing him from the only community in which he had ever felt at home and returning him to a civilian life in which he had neither direction nor career prospects.

The German Army (Reichswehr) employed Adolf Hitler as an educator and confidential informant. It was in his capacity as a confidential informant that Hitler attended a beer hall meeting of the German Workers’ Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei-DAP) on September 12, 1919.

ANTISEMITISM

The years in Vienna and on the battlefield were important stages for Hitler’s development of a comprehensive ideology. His service in the army in 1919 appears to have shaped his commitment to anantisemitism based on social Darwinist race-theory and the establishment of a unifying nationalism founded on the need to combat the external and internal power of the Jews.

On September 16, 1919, Hitler issued his first written comment on the so-called Jewish Question. He defined the Jews as a race and not a religious community, characterized the effect of a Jewish presence as a “race-tuberculosis of the peoples,” and identified the initial goal of a German government to be discriminatory legislation against Jews. The “ultimate goal must definitely be the removal of the Jews altogether.”

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