UC Santa Barbara > History Department > Prof. Marcuse > Courses > Hist 133d Homepage > Hist 133b+d Book Essays Index page > Student essay

Hitler as a child

"Hitler’s Early Influences"

Book Essay on:
Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris
(New York: W.W. Norton, 1998), 845 pages.
UCSB DD247.H5 K462 1999

by Kristen Dimperio
March 14, 2008

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
The Holocaust in German History
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2008

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
$15 & searchable
at amazon

About Kristen Dimperio

I am a junior Business Economics Major with an emphasis in accounting. I have found World War II and all of its dynamics fascinating since high school. This is my first class on the Holocaust and I was very interested in learning how someone could become such an evil and powerful dictator.

Abstract (back to top)

Ian Kershaw’s book Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris is the first volume of the two-part biography of Hitler. My paper argues why Hitler became such an evil dictator. Using Kershaw’s evidence that Hitler’s upbringing, the failures he experienced, and his passionate speaking were the main reasons that he became who he was. Hitler’s father was a dominating figure who exemplified violence and his mother smothered him because Hitler was her first child who survived through infancy. From his father he learned violence was acceptable and his mother’s adoration fed his ego. Hitler dreamed of attending the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, however he was rejected twice. This was a major blow to Hitler’s ego that fueled his anger and resentfulness. Hitler, years later, fought in World War I, and when Germany lost Hitler felt that everything he had fought for was lost and his anger grew even more. After the war Hitler discovered that he was a dynamic speaker who incited his listeners. This may not have influenced his personality, but it formed how the people of Germany perceived him. All of these aspects in Hitler’s life shaped who he was to later become.

Essay (back to top)


The first part of the first volume of this two part biography, Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris, written by Ian Kershaw, focuses on Hitler’s younger life before he becomes the famous dictator that we know him as. Kershaw draws information from Hitler’s autobiography, Mein Kampf, scholars in Berlin, memoirs of Hitler’s friends, army comrades, and political party members, along with a plethora of books. In my paper I will focus on Hitler’s life from the day he was born until 1923. Through this thirty-four year time period, Hitler went through many tough and traumatic experiences that shaped his personality and views on life. Adolf Hitler started out as a carefree imaginative boy but grew up to be an angry, resentful, yet still popular man. This change in his personality was brought about by his dominating father, his smothering mother, his two rejections from the Academy of Fine Arts, and Germany’s loss in World War I. This in addition to his success at speech making led him to be the dictator we know him as today.


Hitler’s father, Alois, was a dominating and short-tempered figure who was one of the first influences on Adolf’s character. Alois worked as a civil servant and had a temper identical to the one that was later shown by Adolf in his teen years. Alois was not home often and took little interest in his wife and kids. When at home, “Alois was an authoritarian, overbearing, domineering husband and a stern distant, masterful, and often irritable father” (Kershaw 12). Paula, Adolf’s younger sister, had said after the war that Alois was an abusive father to Adolf and quite possibly turned on his wife, Klara, as well. Hitler, who obviously did not look up to his father, was still aware of what his father accomplished and how he treated people. Hitler saw that his father’s short temper gained him respect within the community and helped him advance in his job, which was something that was later important to Hitler. Hitler may have made a point to be nothing like his father by not following in his footsteps of becoming a civil servant, but he ended up being exactly like his father, a dictator. Hitler’s father was a dictator of his family household; he was controlling and wanted everything to be done his way and everyone to be exactly like him. Hitler followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming one of the most famous dictators in history. Alois was the main male figure in Hitler’s life, and Hitler saw in his father that it was okay to have a short temper, be abusive and violent to others, and he saw that work, above all, is the most important thing in one’s life.

Adolf’s mother, Klara, was a soft-spoken, submissive woman, who pampered Adolf and treated him like everything revolved around him. Adolf was Klara’s first child who survived through infancy, so she therefore “bestowed a smothering, protective love and devotion” onto Adolf (Kershaw 12). Klara tried to make up for her husband’s anger by showing Adolf how important he was by giving in to anything he wished for. This let Hitler feel he was the center of attention and he learned that by throwing a tantrum he could get his way. Klara’s life revolved around Hitler, and Hitler realized this and took advantage of her attention. Klara’s adoration of Hitler was the start of his ego, which eventually grew to make him the egotistical dictator that we know.

Through Adolf Hitler’s youth he had two contrasting parental influences. Both parents, though, had a big impact on the development of the personality that was later shown when he became a dictator. Though his parents’ influence may have been a very small part of what formed his personality, it undeniably formed it in some way. However, some people may argue that having an abusive father and a smothering mother has happened to others and that they may have grown up to be loving, caring people, who in no way came close to resembling anyone like Hitler. This may be true, but Hitler’s upbringing did have a large impact on his personality and was just one of the many puzzle pieces that formed the personality and ego of an evil dictator. As Kershaw explains,

Speculation though it must remain, it takes little to imagine that his later patronizing contempt for the submissiveness of women, the thirst for dominance (and imagery of the leader as stern, authoritarian father-figure), the inability to form deep personal relationships, the corresponding cold brutality towards humankind, and – not least – the capacity for hatred so profound that it must have reflected an immeasurable undercurrent of self-hatred concealed in the extreme narcissism that was its counterpoint, must surely have had roots in the subliminal influences of the young Adolf’s family circumstances. (Kershaw 13)

Failure as an Artisit

From an early age Hitler wanted to become an artist. At the age of sixteen Hitler dropped out of school and “spent his time during the days drawing, painting, reading, or writing ‘poetry’; the evenings were for going to the theatre or opera; and the whole time he daydreamed and fantasized about his future as a great artist” (Kershaw 20). Hitler dedicated his life to becoming an artist and dreamed of attending the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. In September 1907, Hitler left for Vienna to apply to the academy and at this point Adolf was very confident in himself and it never occurred to him that he might not get accepted into the art program. Hitler passed his first examination for admission but eventually failed the following two examinations and was not admitted into the academy. In Mein Kampf he recalls that he was “so convinced that [he] would be successful that when [he] received [his] rejection, it struck [him] as a bolt from the blue” (Kershaw 24). Hitler started off with such a large ego that he never considered the possibility of rejection, which made it even harder for him to accept, which in turn led him to keep his rejection a secret from his mother and good friend, Gustl. In October 1908, Hitler was again rejected by the academy and did not even pass the first examination. At this point, all of Hitler’s hopes were ruined and he felt he had no meaning in his life anymore. “Failure in Vienna had turned Hitler into an angry and frustrated young man increasingly at odds with the world around him” (Kershaw 48). After being rejected twice, Hitler had no other dreams or aspirations, and he felt his whole entire life up until then was meaningless. “The tirades of hate directed at everything and everybody were those of an outsized ego desperately wanting acceptance and unable to come to terms with his personal insignificance, with failure and mediocrity” (Kershaw 39). Hitler had failed himself and was angry with himself, which made him angry at the world around him and fueled his anger that he held within him for the rest of his life.

The Loss of the War

Another failure that affected Hitler was not actually something that Hitler had control over, but still sharply affected him. This was Germany’s failure in World War I. In August 1914, after being rejected by the Austrian army, Hitler volunteered to fight for the Germans. Hitler started off fighting on the front line but soon became an orderly, which were dispatch runners who carried orders from the command post to the leaders on the front. Hitler has referred to “the war years as ‘the greatest and most unforgettable time of [his] earthly existence’” (Kershaw 87). Hitler took so much pride in his work in the military; it was the first time since his failure in Vienna that he had had something to live for. Hitler was so passionate about the war that even if his comrades joked that they would possibly lose the war “Hitler would go off at the deep end” (Kershaw 93). Through the war Hitler received two medals and was injured twice. In October 1918, Hitler was blinded by mustard gas and was sent to a military hospital in Pasewalk. “It was in Pasewalk, recovering from his temporary blindness, that Hitler was to learn the shattering news of defeat and revolution – what he called ‘the greatest villainy of the century’” (Kershaw 97). Hitler lived for the war, which gave him a purpose and a meaning to his life, and when Germany was defeated the anger and hatred grew in him even more. The defeat of Germany became an important focal point in Hitler’s life because it was at this time that he decided that he wanted to go into politics. Without the war and without the defeat, Germany would not have had the dictator that they were soon to see. “The First World War made Hitler possible” (Kershaw 74). Germany’s economy and pride was at an all-time low and the people of Germany were looking for someone to lead them out of their depression. Hitler, filled with anger and hatred, was ready to fight to make Germany the world power it once was. This was a major turning point in Hitler’s life because Germany’s loss did not just let Hitler become a dictator, it let him become the angry, relentless, hateful dictator that he is so famous for.

Hitler’s failure with the Art Academy and Germany’s failure in World War I shaped Hitler’s personality because they made him an angry and resentful person. These were two very traumatic failures in his life and crushed every dream and meaning in his life. Failures such as these, could have happened to anyone and not affected them or shaped them like they did Hitler, but because Hitler had no meaning in his life and was in such a confused state, these two failures were very detrimental and had a large impact on the shaping of who Hitler was to become.

An Aptitude For Speaking

After the war, Hitler discovered a talent that he did not know he had. He realized that when he spoke the audience was drawn in and mesmerized by what he said. Once released from Pasewalk, Hitler moved back to Munich and started giving lectures on political aspects and immediately saw that he could speak well and that people listened to him. Some time in September 1919, Hitler joined the German Workers’ Party, known as the DAP, where he quickly became the most famous speaker of the party. When Hitler first joined the DAP he was nameless, however, he shortly gained popularity and later became a kind of celebrity. In the middle of 1921, Hitler took over the party’s chairmanship, which at this time became the NSDAP, also known as the Nazi party. This power that Hitler increasingly gained was an important power that would help him gain the popularity he needed to become dictator. When Hitler spoke, he hit a chord with people. Most Germans at this time were angry and upset with the state of their country, and Hitler spoke passionately about the problems Germany faced and gave hope and pride to the people of Germany. Germany was in an economic depression and Hitler somehow gave the German people hope. His speaking ability may not have formed Hitler’s personality, but it formed how people looked at him. People saw him, through his speeches, as the solution to their problems. He spoke about things that people could relate to and he proved to have only one aim in mind, which was “the welfare of the country” (Kershaw 159). Through his acceptance as a speaker, Hitler regained his confidence and also his purpose in life. He was looked upon by the people of Germany as a leader and also as someone who could rebuild their country.


The formation of the famous, yet brutal dictator that we all know was brought about by the many experiences that Hitler faced in his life. These life changing experiences and the talents that he discovered he had could have also happened to other people and they may not have become a ruthless dictator. Yet, Hitler needed all of these aspects in his life to become who he was. His abusive father, his submissive mother, his many failures and his charismatic speaking ability were all building blocks that formed his brutal personality.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 3/23/08)

Book Reviews

  • Lowry, Richard. “Rise of a Monster” National Reviews 51.4 (1999), 47f. (pdf)
    This book review explains that Kershaw argues that politics is the only reason that Hitler could rise to power. Lowry points out that from the start he was an angry man who held multiple grudges, but he says that with all of Hitler’s passion, he mesmerized people. Lowry gives an overview of everything Hitler went through politically.
  • Tanenhaus, Sam. “Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris.” The New Leader 81.14 (1998): Pg. 5. (available on Lexis-Nexis)
    This book review gives an overview of the book. The author points out how Hitler’s abusive father and his submissive mother had a small affect on him. Tanenhaus says that the initial signs of the dictator as we know him were in Vienna, where he formed his political ideologies. Later, in Munich, Hitler realized that he wanted to implement these political ideologies in Germany’s politics.

Books and Articles

  • Ian Kershaw, The “Hitler Myth”: Image and Reality in the Third Reich (New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 1987), 320 pages. amazon.com page
    This book looks at how and why Hitler was so appealing to the people of Germany. It focuses on the period from the late twenties through the end of World War II. This book would be a good resource because it focuses on what made Hitler such a popular dictator. The book argues that it may not have been Hitler’s charisma that made him popular but actually that the people of Germany were in need of someone to give them hope and leadership. Although this book does not give an overview of Hitler’s early life, it still shows how people perceived him and how he gained his popularity.
  • John Toland, Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography (New York: Anchor Books, 1976), 1120 Pages. amazon.com page
    This book is another example of a biography on Hitler. Toland gives a general overview of Hitler’s life and unlike Kershaw’s book it goes over Hitler’s entire life in one book, where Kershaw splits his book into two separate volumes. This biography touches on all of the points that I focused on in my essay as well.


  • http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/adolf-hitler.htm
    This section of the website gives a brief overview of Hitler’s youth. It touches on his father, mother, his rejection from the Academy of Fine Arts, his hatred for Jews and his time spent in World War I. This website may be brief, but it still points out the main aspects of his childhood. This History Learning Site gives a general overview World History. Chris Trueman, who is a history teacher in England and graduated with a BA in history, wrote every article on this website.
  • http://www.naturalchild.org/alice_miller/adolf_hitler.html
    This website focuses on Hitler’s abuse from his father during his childhood. It continues on to describe how a violent upbringing can affect a child. It also discusses how the people of Germany, during the time of Hitler’s childhood, believed strongly that children should be raised in an obedient and orderly household. Alice Miller, who is a psychologist specializing in child abuse, is the author of this article in this website. She believes that Hitler’s horrible upbringing, at the fault of his parents and the belief of many German people of an authoritarian upbringing, caused Hitler to become so violent.

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 3/20/08; last updated:
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