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Daily life / Birthing for Hitler

THE WOMEN WHO GAVE The Third Reich’s mission to create a pure master race reached its nadir in Lebensborn – the programme to breed or kidnap ‘pure’ babies for the Nazis. Giles Milton explains

German women in 1939 hold babies of supposedly pure Aryan heritage, born under Lebensborn, the Nazi breeding programme founded by Heinrich Himmler

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BIRTH FOR HITLER

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Following the Führer / German defeat

WHY DID THE NAZIS FIGHT TO THE DEATH? Hundreds of thousands of Germans were killed fighting for the Nazi regime long after defeat had become inevitable. Sir Ian Kershaw explains why so many were willing to follow Hitler to the end 4


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Defiant gesture German troops salute Hitler in March 1945. This was to be the German leader’s final visit to the front line – he would commit suicide at the end of April

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Following the Führer / Hitler’s charisma

I had an almost apocalyptic vision that I was never able to forget. It seemed as if the Earth’s surface were spreading out in front of me, like a hemisphere that suddenly splits apart in the middle, spewing out an enormous jet of water, so powerful that it touched the sky and shook the Earth. Leni Riefenstahl, director of the propaganda film Triumph of the Will, describes hearing Hitler speak

The focus of attention

Hitler speaks and the people listen at the Brown House, Munich, c1930. “His calculations about… how to best manipulate the emotions of ordinary Germans were extremely sophisticated,” says Laurence Rees

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THE DARK

CHARISMA OF ADOLF HITLER Hitler was far more than the frenzied madman of popular perception, argues Laurence Rees. Here was a charismatic politician, brilliant at articulating the fears and desires of the people

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top for a moment and imagine Adolf Hitler. Picture him in your mind. Who do you see? I imagine you see a figure not unlike the portrayal of Hitler in the 2004 film Downfall. A shouting, aggressive, unhinged character. Bruno Ganz, who played the führer in that film, shook and screamed so much that one key scene from the movie has become an internet phenomenon, with comical subtitles on a host of subjects being set to Ganz’s incredible ranting. But while it’s true that in his last days Hitler was at times scarcely rational, it’s not representative of the whole history. Moreover, the trouble is that this image plays into a deep desire I think most of us secretly possess. We want Hitler to have been a lunatic from start to finish. We want Hitler to be mad because it makes the monstrous crimes he committed – particularly during the Second World War – easy to explain. 7


Nazi ideology / Empire-building

HITLER’S PLAN FOR WORLD DOMINATION As soon as he gained power, Hitler set Germany upon a course of aggressive expansionism. But what lay behind his drive to conquer vast swathes of Europe? Gavin Mortimer investigates

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A Krupp factory in 1936, one of several manufacturers to make tanks, artillery, U-boats and other armaments to meet Hitler’s demand to rearm Germany – the cornerstone of his expansionist plans

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Nazi ideology / Hitler’s assassin

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ADOLF’S ASSASSIN

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Background photograph shows Hitler in 1944 at the Berlin Armoury where, unbeknown to him, he had narrowly escaped assassination just a few months before


Appalled by the Nazi regime and Hitler’s rampant megalomania, German general Henning von Tresckow conspired no less than five times to dispatch the Führer. Roger Moorhouse tells his story

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n 13 March 1943, Colonel Henning von Tresckow, a staff officer of Army Group Centre, was keenly awaiting a VIP visitor to his headquarters at Smolensk, western Russia. His visitor was Hitler, seeking to reinvigorate his battered armies following the crushing defeat at Stalingrad. Tresckow was planning to kill him. That spring morning, Tresckow drove to the airfield to meet Hitler. He participated in the conference where, according to a fellow officer, he appeared pale and distracted. At its close, he sought out his adjutant for moral support, asking, “Should we really do it?”. The reply was unequivocal. Though he had toyed with the idea of using reliable troops to tackle Hitler’s security apparatus head-on, Tresckow had opted instead for a time bomb, which he hoped to smuggle onto Hitler’s plane after the visit. Just before Hitler’s departure, he sought out a member of the entourage travelling back with the Führer and asked if he could take a bottle of brandy for a mutual friend at headquarters. The package that he handed over was wrapped to resemble a square bottle. In fact, it contained two clam charges and a British-made ‘time pencil’ fuse – sufficient to destroy Hitler’s plane. As Hitler’s aircraft climbed into the clear skies above Smolensk that afternoon, Tresckow had good reason to congratulate himself on a near-perfect assassination. He knew the plane was adapted with a number of safety measures, including a parachute attached to Hitler’s seat. He knew that the carrying of unaccompanied luggage and parcels was strictly forbidden, and that test flights were supposed to be made in advance of any departure. Yet, in spite of all that, he had managed to engineer an explosive device, primed and ready, onto Hitler’s plane and was confident that it would detonate with sufficient force to kill its passenger. He waited with baited breath for news of the inevitable ‘accident’. That news, however, never came. A defective fuse appears to have prevented detonation. Tresckow was initially horrified at the prospect not only of his own exposure, but

also of the unravelling of the wider conspiracy. Yet, after successfully retrieving his bomb, and exchanging it for a genuine bottle of brandy – he resumed his plotting.

“He must be shot down” Tresckow’s motives in seeking to assassinate his commander-in-chief were straight-forward. Though an ardent nationalist and an early enthusiast for the Nazi programme, he had swiftly recognised Hitler’s fundamental nihilism and his contempt for the established norms. So already by 1939, when he saw Germany’s proud military tradition being corrupted, he viewed high treason as the only way to avert a national catastrophe. As he confided to a colleague, “Hitler is a whirling dervish, he must be shot down”. By 1941, when very few Germans were even beginning to open their eyes to the true horror of the Nazi regime, Tresckow was already planning his first assassination attempt. He was disgusted by the Barbarossa campaign, where he saw the German army being dragged into the illegal, genocidal measures of the SS and Nazi Party. Germany’s honour, he believed, was being sacrificed on the altar of Hitler’s megalomania. In truth, such opinions were not widespread in the German military. Though the Wehrmacht (the Second World War German army) was far from uniformly pro-Nazi, it valued authority and obedience as much as any force – and was highly successful. While Hitler was seen to be winning, the prospects for the nascent resistance were bleak. For the majority, opposition to Hitler never went beyond a raised eyebrow or muttered curse. The idea of assassinating him was, for most, simply unthinkable.

He had managed to engineer an explosive device, primed and ready, onto Hitler’s plane 11


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BBC History August 2004

Nazi Germany sampler  
Nazi Germany sampler