<p><a href="/narrative/10864/en">Adolf Hitler</a> (front row, far left) served on the western front in World War I and during the course of the war was twice decorated for service, wounded, and temporarily blinded in a mustard gas attack. He used his veteran status in later election campaigns.</p>

Adolf Hitler and World War I: 1913–1919

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Military Service

Hitler moved to Munich, Germany, in May 1913. He did so to avoid arrest for evading his military service obligation to Habsburg Austria. He financed this move with the last installment of an inheritance from his father. In Munich, he  supported himself with 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 the increasingly vicious political antisemitism of the radical right. This political antisemitism seeped 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 a military hospital. News of the November 11, 1918, armistice reached him as he was convalescing. The end of the war brought the threat of demobilization from the only community in which he had ever felt at home, and possible return to a civilian life where he had no direction or career prospects.

World War I propaganda influenced the young Hitler, who was a frontline soldier from 1914 to 1918. Like many, Hitler believed Germany lost the war because of enemy propaganda, not defeat on the battlefield. 

Ideological Development after the War

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.

Hitler's  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 an antisemitism 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.”

Critical Thinking Questions

  • What myths and misconceptions about the early life of Hitler are disproved in this entry?
  • How do myths and misconceptions such as these arise, and how can they be countered?