When it comes to the total number of deaths one person is responsible for Hitler is hard to top (beaten only by Stalin and Mao). The number of non-combatants killed under the Nazi regime is in the region of 11,000,000 according to Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale. The true devastation and trauma of murder is easily forgotten when simply tallying death tolls as statistics – even more so when we are discussing an amount as colossal as 11,000,000. As Snyder puts it himself:
“Discussion of numbers can blunt our sense of the horrific personal character of each killing and the irreducible tragedy of each death. As anyone who has lost a loved one knows, the difference between zero and one is an infinity. (1)
But how many deaths was Hitler personally responsible for?
Arguably one of the most likely periods would have been during his service in the First World War. Hitler fought in the war as part of the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment. This regiment took part in some very serious and bloody fighting and were almost entirely wiped out on one occasion whilst fighting the French in the Battle of Ypres, 1914. Statistically, Hitler was lucky to have survived at all. His role within the Bavarian Reserve Regiment was as a regimental runner and was relatively safe compared to most combat positions. This is due to him mainly being kept to the rear of the fighting delivering and communicating messages to personnel. Officially Hitler had no documented kills – he won his 2nd class Iron Cross for rescuing a wounded officer, and his 1st class Iron Cross for his service to regimental HQ. Furthermore, if he had killed someone in the First World War it is likely that he would have mentioned it in Mein Kampf which he did not. Nor did he mention it at any other point later in life.
The Weimar Years was a period when the Nazi party was routinely involved in street violence. Arguably one of the most infamous events during this period was the Beer Hall coup in 1923. Unfortunately, it’s not that clear what Hitler’s activity or role in the violence was on this day, only that he was in attendance. Four police officers and sixteen Nazis died during the Beer Hall Coup, but again, there is no evidence that Hitler pulled the trigger on any of the fatal shots.
(Above: Photo of Geli Raubal with Adolf Hitler)
Next comes the tragic story of Geli Raubal – Hitler’s half-niece. She stayed with him in Munich from 1929 until her death in 1931. Hitler considered her “the only women he’d ever loved” and was incredibly possessive and abusive towards her. He kept her as something not too dissimilar to a prisoner in his own house. In 1931 Rabaul wanted to travel to Vienna for singing lessons, to which Hitler refused to let her go. A terrible fight ensued as a result which led Rabaul to shoot herself with Hitler’s pistol. To no great surprise it was immediately speculated that it was Hitler who had murdered her, but Ian Kershaw, Hitler’s definitive biographer, dismisses such stories as contemporary anti-Hitler propaganda.
There is another instance that it is often a subject of speculation during the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ when Ernst Rohm was arrested and killed. It is true that Hitler arrested Rohm personally, and upon arrest Rohm was given the option of suicide to which he responded with; “If I am to be killed, let Adolf [Hitler] do it himself.” It was however Lippert who killed Rohm in the end.
Out of all of the 11,000,000 people killed under Hitler and the Nazi regime, a total of zero can be personally attributed to Adolf Hitler with almost 100% certainty.
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(1) Snyder, Timothy: Hitler vs Stalin: Who Killed More? The New York Review of Books, 2011.