Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, a Nazi and a communist, would likely go down in history as two of the greatest recognized and corrupt leaders of the twentieth century. There were many factors that could have possibly turned the two men into the menaces they became. Many people also wonder what sort of upbringing could make somebody turn out the way they did and how they eventually found their way to similar roles in their respective countries. Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler were primarily different in the way they rose to power and their different military strategy, but they shared a love for and desire to improve their country and shared a vision to create perfection in and for their countries, even if they both refused to stand with their countries in the end.
Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, later known as Joseph Stalin (the man of steel), was one of Russia’s most notorious and malignant rulers. Stalin was born in Gori, Georgia on December 18, 1879. His parents were a cobbler and a house cleaner. His father later descended into alcoholism and became abusive, as the success of his shop declined (History.com). Unlike Hitler, who had great charisma and the stage presence of a leader, Stalin was a savage, vindictive, paranoid street thug with a strategic brain. His speech was flat and monotonous and it was viewed by many as an outsiders voice and ridiculous (Barnes). As stated in the documentary, World War II: 1941 and the Man of Steel, Stalin “made a career out of being underestimated.” His sharp mind, formidable memory, and a capacity to get to the heart of any problem made him an unlikely threat. Stalin was not a great speaker, but was, however, an exceptional listener. As a general of the communist party, he would listen to the tone and flow of conversation while disguising what he really thought, just waiting for his moment and his opportunity to take advantage of the situation (Barnes). As a result of Stalin’s position, he started his rise in power after the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924. At that moment, Russia was in cultural, political, and economic turmoil and suffering from ailing foreign relations following the revolution of 1917, and development of the one-party communist state. The “uprising of labor” had began in the nation.
In his time before going into politics, Stalin was a revolutionary bandit. There he learned many unconventional but useful tactics, that would come in handy in his future endeavors. He implemented gangster logic to eliminate rivals. Allying with the right to eliminate the left such as Trotsky, and Zinoviev and tacking leftward to take on the right such as Rykov and Bukharin. Stalin “learned that a well-timed beating or bullet could get what he wanted” (Barnes).
Stalin was haunted by history. In particular, Napoleon’s jump from corporal to emperor through the exploitation of the French Revolution. He was determined to weed out upstart Bonapartists, and appointed a new class of officials of the Communist party to watch over his officers. In this, Stalin managed to purge hundreds of possible progressive rivals. Stalin “controlled the surviving members of his inner circle through raw fear.” Even the Foreign minister, Molotov, known as “Stone-Ass” to westerners, was completely under Stalin’s thumb. Those that were in Stalin’s inner circle were easily influenced and controlled. He surrounded himself by those thought to be thick headed and cowardly people, to not present a threat to his own power. Those such as Beria, who was the head of Stalin’s secret police, whose favorite past times were overseeing torture and raping women. While being a horrendous man, he was known to be a coward who would never challenge those above him. (Barnes)
On the 22nd of June, 1941, 180 miles East of Warsaw, Operation Barbarossa occurred. Operation Barbarossa was a paralyzing attack on Russia made by the Nazis, where 1200 of the Red Army’s grounded military planes were destroyed. Just 4 days later, 400,000 Soviet soldiers were then trapped by the Nazis. In order to placate Hitler, Stalin drew up a plan. While it was an enormous gamble, Stalin decided to carve up Europe, keeping the Eastern half for himself. This included half of Poland, the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which then left Hitler with the Western half. This consisted of Great Britain, Denmark, Norway, and France. In this deal, Stalin expected Hitler to have a long and taxing fight for western Europe. But, due to Hitler’s vast strength and support, the Nazis won their fight for France in just six short weeks. Although Britain was able to hold off Germany’s advances, the speed at which Hitler was able to move through Western Europe created major hurdles for Stalin in the upcoming months (Atkin).
After Victory for the Nazis in the west, they decided to head east in search of more living space and land growth for Germany. Unbeknownst to Stalin, in the Spring of 1941 Hitler began massing troops in Poland. He received extensive intelligence dossiers stating clear warnings from both German deserters and the British stating Hitler’s arrival. But, seeing as Stalin was always suspicious of the capitalist west, he assumed this information to be fabricated in an effort to drag him into their war with Hitler. And refusing to go on a war footing, ignored this information entirely, stating “Germany is busy up to her ears with the war in the west, and I’m certain that Hitler will not risk a second front by attacking the soviet union. Hitler is not such an idiot”. At this point, Stalin did not grasp that Hitler was intoxicated by a megalomaniac vision. He assumed that the Führer would act like he did, on hard-boiled calculations of national self-interest. This was Stalin’s fundamental mistake (Barnes).
Adolf Hitler was born in Braunau am Inn, a town in Austria-Hungary on 20 April 1889. He was the fourth of six children, two of which died in infancy (Costelle). In 1907, Hitler left Linz where he grew up, to study fine art in Vienna. Months later his mother passed away at the age of 47 of breast cancer. Hitler, who was very close to his mother, was devastated by her death and would carry it with him for the rest of his life. In his autobiography Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that he had “…honored my father, but loved my mother” and said that his mother’s death was a “dreadful blow.” He even loved her as much as to let Bloch, the Jewish doctor that treated his mother, to emigrate with his wife from Austria to the United States (Hitler).
It was during Hitler’s time in Vienna that he was first exposed to nationalist rhetoric. German nationalism had a notably extensive following in the Mariahilf district, where Hitler lived. There he read local newspapers such as Deutsches Volksblatt that exuded prejudice and played on the fears of being swamped by a flood of Eastern European Jews. The origin of Hitler’s anti-semitic beliefs stands to be a matter of debate, but whether he was racist before he moved to Vienna, or after does nothing to change the outcome of his appalling standpoint (Shirer).
At the outbreak of the First World War, Hitler spent many years in France. It was there where his German nationalist ideals grew. There he served as a dispatch runner on the Western Front in France and Belgium, spending most of his time at the regimental headquarters in Fournes-en-Weppes, well behind the front lines. On a recommendation by his Jewish superior, Lieutenant Hugo Gutmann, Hitler received the Iron Cross First Class for bravery, an achievement was rarely given to one of his rankings. On 15 October 1918, he was temporarily blinded in a mustard attack and was hospitalized. It was there that he learned of Germany’s defeat and is said to have suffered a second bout of blindness. It was then that he decided to, as Costelle states “stand up for his comrades of misery.”
September 1919 is when Hitler’s rise to power truly began. There he joined the political party known as the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei — DAP (German Workers Party). This name was then changed in 1920 to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei — NSDAP (Nationalist Socialist German Workers Party, commonly called the Nazi party). The political party was shaped and developed during the post-World War I era. It was anti-Marxist and the antithesis to the democratic post-war administration of the Weimar Republic and the Treaty of Versailles. It advocated extreme nationalism and Pan-Germanism as well as toxic anti-Semitism. Hitler’s “rise” can be believed to have ended in March 1933, after the Reichstag adopted the Enabling Act of 1933. President Paul von Hindenburg had already appointed Hitler as Chancellor on 30 January 1933 after a series of elections and related backroom intrigues (Burleigh).
The decision by Von Papen and Hindenburg to elect Hitler as Chancellor has a very strong argument as being the most significant and important influence on Hitler’s rise to power. Due to the fact that it was the one decision that made Hitler’s power certain. In the November 1932 elections Hitler’s popularity was believed to have dwindled, but due to his newly appointed position as Chancellor, his popularity from the electorate was not as important.
As opposed to Stalin who was not known for his charismatic ways, Hitler epitomizes “the force of personality in political life” as mentioned by Friedrich Meinecke. Hitler’s way with words was essential to the very framework of Nazism’s political appeal and its manifestation in Germany. His views were so important that they immediately affected the political policies of Nazi Germany. He asserted the Führerprinzip (“Leader principle”). The principle relied on absolute obedience of all subordinates to their superiors. Hitler viewed the party structure and later the government structure as a pyramid, with himself–the infallible leader–at the apex (Meinecke).
Hitler was a very strong leader, and he had a great influence over the people of Germany. When Hitler came to power in the early 1930s, the overall mood in Germany was grim. By those close to him, Hitler was believed to be “lacking all compassion, [and] filled with hatred and prejudice” (Rees). This belief would quickly become a widely known fact.
Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler were two men who lived nowhere near one another, yet they experienced very similar lives. Not only did both Hitler and Stalin have strong communist regimes and suffered from extreme paranoia. Even though they were understood to be nemesis’, Hitler and Stalin had similar views on how to properly serve and fix their nation.
Stalin and Hitler are two of the most sadistic leaders of the past century. Fuelled by fury and rage, they both held a strong reign of terror in Europe during World War II. Stalin and Hitler rose to power and exploited their beliefs throughout Russia and Germany, creating a disastrous Communist state and turning Germany against the Jews. The leadership of these dictators brought fear and death to all who even thought about opposing them.
Stalin and Hitler both believed strongly in the country they were creating. Although, their ways of achieving their ideal states were different. The sheer disregard for human life outside of their own idea of perfection was appalling. Then it came to fighting in their own war, they both avoided the front lines as much as possible. “When traveling by train during the war, both Stalin and Hitler insisted that curtains remained drawn so they would not have to see the damage rendered on the surrounding countryside” (Flagel).
After taking power in 1928, Stalin rarely ventured out in public. Decreasing the number of party speeches, and altogether avoided appearing in villages and factories. Only once, in 1943, did Stalin risk an excursion toward the fighting, an event he painted in the most heroic of terms to Roosevelt and Churchill. His line commanders, such as General Nikolai Voronov viewed the occasion differently, recalling being summoned, driven miles into secluded backwoods to a cottage nowhere near the front lines. In which a waiting Stalin requested a summary of how the war was progressing. “He could see nothing from there,” noted Voronov. “It was a strange unnecessary trip” (Flagel).
Hitler also became increasingly detached from that which he created. Biographer Ian Kershaw notes how the Führer conducted nine public speeches in 1940, two in 1943, and none in 1944. Diminishing tides in North Africa and the Soviet Union convinced Hitler to avoid the German public almost entirely. He instead shuttled between his reclusive Eagle’s Nest mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden and his dreary concrete Wolf’s Lair headquarters in East Prussia. When field commanders spoke of exhausted supplies and faltering troops, Hitler dismissed their reports as defeatist, often adding, “Believe me, things appear clearer when examined at longer range” (Kershaw).
A secretary of Hitler’s lamented, “We are permanently cut off from the world wherever we are…It’s always the same limited group of people, always the same routine inside the fence.” By autumn 1944 the Führer had been absent for so long that many of his countrymen began to believe their leader was either seriously ill or dead. In addition to military arenas, Stalin and Hitler avoided nearly everything else to do with the war. Neither ever visited a field hospital, bombed neighborhood, or concentration camp (Kershaw).
Hitler’s murderous policies, like Stalin’s, cannot be labeled “heartless” or “primitive” like so many others. The Ideology that underpinned Stalin’s policies of mass extermination died in 1989 with the fall of communism, but the racism that drove Hitler lives on in myriad forms that continue to trouble the world today. The Third Reich represents racism’s most extreme form: in Nazi Germany, everything came down to race” (Evans).
Both Stalin and Hitler are examples of great power gone horribly wrong. Although they abhorred one another, the similarities in their lives can not be ignored. From their upbringing with father’s that beat them, to rising the ranks through the military, the similarities and differences between Stalin and Hitler are both great and few. While they carried themselves in vastly different ways, the truth of the matter is that both Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler committed crimes against humanity in their attempt to make their countries great again in their eyes.