Hitler was the 55th person to join the German Worker’s Party – the same party that later re-named itself the National Socialist Party. In less than two years, he rose to a position of such popularity and influence that he was more or less able to blackmail his way into being appointed its leader.
On July 11, 1921, he resigned from the party. Fearing that this would cause a split in the party from which it could not recover, the leadership panicked. Hitler then announced he would only return to the party if made leader (or “Fuhrer”). After some umming and erring, the party gave in to his demand, and on July 29, he was introduced as the party’s Fuhrer for the first time. He would remain Fuhrer for the next 24 years, including his years spent in prison during the Twenties (although a deputy took over some responsibilities in this time).
It was the opening gambit of World War Two in Europe. After trying to press its geographical claims (especially to the Danzing corridor) through political means, Hitler decided to go ahead with an invasion of Poland.
Two weeks later, in accordance with the provision of a secret agreement between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, Stalin’s forces invaded Poland from the east, and within a month, the nation was conquered entirely, and partitioned between the two invaders.
But the war wasn’t over. Poland had allies – France, Britain and Britain’s Empire all declared war on Germany on September 3. World War Two had begun in Europe.
The German advance into Belgium in the spring of 1940 was swift and decisive. Belgium was militarily unprepared for war – as late as November 7, 1939, the Belgian government had called for an end to hostilities – and even if its military had been prepared, it was massively outgunned by the Nazi war machine. The invasion of Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg began on May 10, 1940.
By May 17, the Belgian capital of Brussels had fallen to the German advance, and deciding that the Allied cause was lost, King Leopold III surrendered to the Germans against the advice of his government on May 28, 1940. He would spend the rest of the war as a prisoner of the Nazis, while the majority of his government went into exile (primarily in Britain) and continued to lead Free Belgian Forces in the fight. Belgium was eventually liberated in 1944, although it was not until the end of the German Ardennes Offensive in 1945 that fighting on Belgian soil concluded.
Of all things, it was the entry of the United States into the war that prompted Hitler to move the Holocaust into high gear. Now that the Americans were in it, the usefulness of the remaining Jews as hostages was at an end, and Hitler saw no reason to delay the complete destruction of the Jewish race – all the ones he could get his hands on, at least – a moment longer.
This announcement was made to a group of fifty or so of the highest ranking Nazis, chiefly the politicians and bureaucrats who formed the Third Reich’s top echelon, whom Hitler had summoned to a meeting in the Reich Chancellory. Himmler, Goebbels and Bormann are all known to have attended the meeting. Moreover, documents related to this meeting – including Goebbels’ diaries – make it clear that the plan to exterminate the Jews was not carried out without Hitler’s knowledge or responsibility, but that he was an enthusiastic proponent and participant of it. The following year, 1942, would account for almost half the total Jewish deaths in the Holocaust all by itself.