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Hitler And Stalin 2 Essay, Research Paper

Hitler and Stalin:

Ideas or Personality

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), who ruled Germany from 1923 to his death, began the war in 1939 that resulted in the deaths of 40 million people. More than six million of these were European Jews and other systematically exterminated in what we call the Holocaust.

Joseph Stalin (1879-1953), sole ruler of the Soviet Union from 1929 to his death, forced millions of peasants off their private land and into large, inefficient, state-run farms in order to rapidly industrialize the giant Russian state. This “Great Leap Forward” in the early 1930s resulted in famine that took five million lives in the Ukraine alone. All told, a minimum of 50 million people died between 1930 and 1950 as a result of the beliefs and actions of these two men.

Adolf Hitler’s strong will was evident in his youth. He was a bright but moody and an erratic student who barely finished secondary school. Both his parents died by 1907. When World War I broke out in 1914, Hitler eagerly volunteered for service in the German army and spent four years in the Western Front, earning an Iron Cross First Class in 1918 as a result of his heroism in battle, an unusually high honor for a corporal. He was asked to speak to returning troops about the evils of socialism in a country which had suddenly become a democratic republic. Munich and the rest of Bavaria soon became a center of right-wing opposition to the new national government; it was here that Hitler formulated his new ideology and discovered his power as a speechmaker. His beliefs included opposition to democracy and socialism.

In later years, Hitler claimed that he formed his antisemitic [anti-Jewish] views. He describes how he sees the Jews in his famous political autobiography, Mein Kampf [ My Struggle]. He was also a great actor who could convince himself that he really believed what he was saying; this skill also helped him captivate and persuade an audience of thousands as easily as a single person. This made Hitler a leader to be reckoned with when the depression hit Germany in 1930.

World War II began in 1939. While the war was going on, Hitler did not forget his plan to eliminate the Jews. Millions of Jews were shot, gassed or worked to death. The fact that millions of ordinary (non-Nazi) Germans were willing, even eager, to help him, says something about Hitler’s power over his nation and about the deeply rooted nature of antisemitism in Germany at that time. Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945.

Joseph Stalin did not create the idea of socialism the way Hitler created Nazism. Stalin learned his ideas and practices from his great teacher, Lenin. Stalin was not Russian. He was born in Georgia, one of the smallest states in the Caucasus Mountains which became a part of the Imperial Russian Empire in the nineteenth century. While Stalin was in school, he decided to become a professional revolutionary. By 1899 Stalin did become a full-time revolutionary in the ranks of the Social Democrats, as the Marxists were known, a split was beginning to develop.

Between 1900 and 1917, Stalin organized frequently bloody demonstrations of workers in his native Caucasus, hid from the Tsarist police, and was connected with a dramatic bank robbery to secure funds for the party. Like Hitler, Stalin was able to use his political skills to manipulate and play on the fears of other party leaders.

Between 1929 and 1935, Stalin undertook a massive program to collectivize agriculture and an equally massive program of industrialization through series of Five Year Plans. His goal was to catch up with the “enemies” of socialism in the West. The costs were great. The kulaks (wealthier peasants) were eliminated as a class; those who resisted having their property collectivized were sent to labor camps or shot. Two hundred and forty thousand kulak families were exiled by 1933; many of those died. Famines resulted, but the resulting deaths were denied by the government.

Beginning in 1934 and continuing until 1938, Stalin accused former political enemies as well as military leaders of treasons, made them confess to things that had not done in carefully scripted trials, then had them jailed and/or shot. In 1953, he was -many believe- on the verge of launching a new set of purges. Shortly after on March 5, 1953 Stalin died of a stroke.

Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin seem to qualify for a high position on any list of the ten individuals who really made the greatest difference in history. Historians and political scientists often label both these men and their governments as “totalitarian.” By this they mean that both states were ruled by a single political party, tried to control the social and intellectual as well as the political lives of their citizens, and used terror systematically to do this. When we look at what they did and try to understand what motivated them-consciously or unconsciously-to do it, it is, hard to imagine. Even harder to explain than what they did is to why so many sane, sensible people let them do it.


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