To makefor smoother intra-governmental cooperation in the implementation of this "Final Solution" to the "Jewish question", the Wannsee conference was held near Berlin on January 20, 1942, with fifteen senior officials participating, led by Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann. The records of this meeting provide the clearest evidence of central planning for the Holocaust. Days later, on February 22, Hitler was recorded saying to his closest associates, "we shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jew".
World War II
Hitler with Romanian leader Ion Antonescu (far left).
Hitler inspecting units of the Kriegsmarine.
On March 12, 1938, Hitler pressured his native Austria into unification with Germany (the Anschluss) and made a triumphal entry into Vienna. Next, he intensified a crisis over the German-speaking Sudetenland districts of Czechoslovakia. This led to the Munich Agreement of September 1938, which authorized the annexation and immediate military occupation of these districts by Germany. As a result of the summit, Hitler was TIME magazine's Man of the Year in 1938. British prime minister Neville Chamberlain hailed this agreement as "Peace in our time", but by giving way to Hitler's military demands Britain and France also left Czechoslovakia to Hitler's mercy.
Hitler ordered Germany's army to enter Prague on March 10, 1939 and from Prague Castle proclaimed Bohemia and Moravia a German protectorate. After that, Hitler was claiming territories ceded to Poland under the Versailles Treaty. Britain had not been able to reach an agreement with the Soviet Union for an alliance against Germany, and, on August 23, 1939, Hitler concluded a secret non-aggression pact (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) with Stalin on which it was likely agreed that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany would partition Poland. On September 1, Germany invaded the western portion of Poland. Britain and France, who had guaranteed assistance to Poland, declared war on Germany. Not long after this, on September 17, Soviet forces invaded eastern Poland.
After capturing western Poland by the end of September, Hitler built up his forces much further during the so-called Phony War. In April 1940, he ordered German forces to march into Denmark and Norway. In May 1940, Hitler ordered his forces to attack France, conquering the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium in the process. France surrendered on June 22, 1940. This series of victories convinced his main ally, Benito Mussolini of Italy, to join the war on Hitler's side in May 1940.
Britain, whose defeated forces had evacuated France from the coastal town of Dunkirk, continued to fight alongside Canadian forces in the Battle of the Atlantic. After having his overtures for peace systematically rejected by the defiant British Government, now led by Winston Churchill, Hitler ordered bombing raids on the British Isles, leading to the Battle of Britain, a prelude of the planned German invasion. The attacks began by pounding the RAF airbases and the radar stations protecting South-East England. However, the Luftwaffe failed to defeat the RAF by the end of October 1940. Air superiority for the invasion, code-named Operation Sealion, could not be assured and Hitler ordered bombing raids to be carried out on British cities, including London and Coventry, mostly at night.
Adolf Hitler inspecting German submarines together with Hungarian admiral Horthy.
Path to defeat
On June 22, 1941, Hitler gave the signal for three million German troops to attack the Soviet Union, breaking the non-aggression pact he had concluded with Stalin less than two years earlier. This invasion, code-named Operation Barbarossa, seized huge amounts of territory, including the Baltic states, Belarus, and Ukraine, along with the encirclement and destruction of many Soviet forces. German forces, however, were stopped short of Moscow in December 1941 by the Russian winter and fierce Soviet resistance (see Battle of Moscow), and the invasion failed to achieve the quick triumph over the Soviet Union which Hitler had anticipated.
Hitler's declaration of war against the United States on December 11, 1941, (which arguably was called for by Germany's treaty with Japan) set him against a coalition that included the world's largest empire (the British Empire), the world's greatest industrial and financial power (the USA), and the world's largest army (the Soviet Union).
In May 1942 Reinhard Heydrich, one of the highest SS officers and one of Hitler's favorite subordinates, was assassinated by British-trained Czech operatives in Prague. Hitler reacted by ordering brutal reprisals, including the massacre of Lidice.
Adolf Hitler discussing the war strategy with Erwin Rommel (left, facing Hitler) amidst other German Field Marshals.
In late 1942, German forces under Feldmarschall Erwin Rommel were defeated in the second battle of El Alamein, thwarting Hitler's plans to seize the Suez Canal and the Middle East. In February of 1943, the lengthy Battle of Stalingrad ended with the complete encirclement and destruction of the German 6th Army. Both defeats were turning points in the war, although the latter is more commonly considered primary. From this point on, the quality of Hitler's military judgment became increasingly erratic and Germany's military and economic position deteriorated. Hitler's health was deteriorating too. His left hand started shaking uncontrollably. The biographer Ian Kershaw believes he suffered from Parkinson's disease. Other conditions that are suspected by some to have caused some (at least) of his symptoms are methamphetamine addiction and syphilis.
Hitler's ally Benito Mussolini was overthrown in 1943 after Operation Husky, an American and British invasion of Sicily. Throughout 1943 and 1944, the Soviet Union steadily forced Hitler's armies into retreat along the eastern front. On June 6, 1944 the Western allied armies landed in northern France in what was the largest amphibious operation ever conducted, Operation Overlord. Realists in the German army knew defeat was inevitable and some officers plotted to remove Hitler from power. In July 1944 one of them, Claus von Stauffenberg, planted a bomb at Hitler's military headquarters in Rastenburg (the so-called July 20 Plot), but Hitler narrowly escaped death. He ordered savage reprisals, resulting in the executions of more than 4,900 people (sometimes by starvation in solitary confinement