Portrait of Corporal Adolf Hitler during his stay in a military hospital

Portrait of Corporal Adolf Hitler during his stay in a military hospital, 1918

In October 1918, he was temporarily blinded by a British chlorine gas attack near Ypres. He was sent to the military hospital, Pasewalk, Pomerania, where the news of the November 11, 1918, armistice reached him as he was convalescing. To his right you can see his his beloved “Doggie”, Fuchsl.

He only wore two medals, both earned. Most dictators of his time, as well as high ranking officers wore medals like it was fashion. Also notice in every war photo he’s always off to the side as if he was an outcast. Hitler never made it past corporal, which is unusual due to his service length, and noted in German archives as not “officers material”. (This concept is mentioned in Ernst Junger’s book Storm of Steel that really to be officer material in WW1 you’ve got to have been born into the right family).

Now contrast that to the uber charismatic dictator of Germany. Keep in mind he was around 24 when WWI broke out. Also keep in mind that the German military during the First World War still had a very aristocratic notion of what a proper leader should be. Hitler in later life railed against that, and supported more of a meritocratic model. His minimalism when it comes to the decorations that he wore was a conscious decision to emphasize that he was a “common soldier”. Even without any additional padding, there were a number of other decorations that he would have been entitled to during WWII that he never apparently even acknowledged (Nazi party long service medals, the commemorative’s for the annexations of Austria, Czechoslovakia, the commemorative awarded to all WWI vets after 1934, the civil decoration for those involved with the 1936 Olympics, and the West Wall medal).

Interesting fact: the officer who recommended Hitler for the Iron Cross was Jewish. The Iron Cross came in two grades (both of which Hitler had), the pin-back one that he wore during WWII was that specific Iron Cross. (Source: The Coming of the Third Reich, by Richard J Evans)

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