Born in the Austrian town of Braunau on April 20, 1889, Adolf was the fourth child of Alois Schickelgruber and Klara Hitler. By 1900, young Adolf's talents as an artist surfaced. He did well enough in school to be eligible for either the university preparatory school or the technical/scientific Realschule. Because the technical/scientific Realschule had a course in drawing, Adolf enrolled in there. Adolf suffered from frequent lung infections, and he quit school at the age of 16, partially the result of ill health, but mainly the result of poor schoolwork. In 1906, Adolf traveled Vienna to seek his fortune, but he wasn't able to get admission to any prestigious art school. Hitler spent six years there, living on a small amount of money left for him from his father supplemented with an orphan's pension.
On the verge of becoming penniless by 1909, he wandered Vienna as a transient, sleeping in bars, flophouses, and shelters for the homeless, including, ironically, those financed by Jewish philanthropists. It was during this period that he developed his prejudices about Jews, his interest in politics, and the sharpening his debating skills. Vienna was a center of anti-Semitism, and the media's portrayal of Jews as scapegoats with stereotyped attributes did not escape Hitler's fascination.
In May 1913, Hitler, trying to avoid military service, left Vienna for Munich, the capital of Bavaria. In January, the police came to his door bearing a draft notice from the Austrian government. The document threatened him a year in prison and also a fine if he was found guilty of leaving his country and trying to avoid military service. Hitler was arrested on the spot and taken to the Austrian Consulate. He was caught up in the patriotism of the time, and submitted a petition to enlist in the Bavarian army. After less than two months of training, Hitler's regiment saw its first combat near Ypres, against the British and Belgians. Hitler escaped death in battle many times, and was awarded two Iron Crosses for bravery. He rose to the rank of corporal but no further. In October 1916, he was wounded by an enemy shell and taken to a Berlin area hospital. After recovering, and serving a total of four years in the trenches, he was temporarily blinded by a mustard gas attack in Belgium in October 1918.
Following the war he lived in war-torn Germany and attended many political gatherings. The turning point of Hitler's mesmerizing oratorical career occurred at a Nazi party meeting held on October 16, 1919. Hitler's emotional delivery of an impromptu speech captivated his audience. Through word of mouth, donations poured into the party's coffers, and subsequent mass meetings attracted hundreds of Germans eager to hear the young, forceful and hypnotic leader. With the assistance of party staff, Hitler drafted a party program consisting of twenty-five points. This platform was presented at a public meeting on February 24, 1920,...