It has been estimated that fifty-five million lives were lost in World War II. The man primarily responsible for this global catastrophe was Adolf Hitler, the Chancellor of Germany and leader (Fuehrer) of the Nazi political party.

Harsh peace conditions imposed at the end of World War I facilitate the rise to power of the Nazi Party

The Nazi leader had been a corporal in the German army in World War I, and was decorated with the Iron Cross, First Class, for bravery. When the German generals told Kaiser Wilhelm the Second in early October 1918 that an armistice should be requested immediately because of the grave military situation facing Germany, the Kaiser felt obliged to abdicate and leave Germany. Hitler, in common with many German soldiers fighting on the Western Front in France, felt that the army and the Kaiser had been "stabbed in the back" by socialist politicians safely at home in Germany.

The German Fuehrer Adolf Hitler speaks to his adoring followers.

The armistice came into effect on 11 November 1918, and in June 1919, the new socialist republican German government signed the Treaty of Versailles which established terms for peace with Germany. At the insistence of France, the treaty imposed a severe peace settlement on Germany. The terms included loss of German territory, a heavy burden of reparations, strict limitations on the size and components of Germany's defence forces, and removal of all German troops and military fortifications from the Rhineland, which is the area of Germany between the French border and the Rhine river.

Hitler shared with many Germans a feeling that the terms of the peace treaty had been too harsh. When he returned to Munich in the German state of Bavaria, he found employment in a political section of the regular army which was secretly planning to overthrow the socialist government in Berlin. He began to develop plans to restore Germany's status as a great power and to extend its borders. Hitler envisaged a new Germany that would not be a democracy, but a dictatorship led by him as "Fuehrer" of the German people. He found ready listeners in thousands of disgruntled former soldiers who found themselves out of work when they were demobilised from the army, and who blamed the socialist republican government in Berlin for their humiliation and misery. From a small ultra-nationalist workers' party in Munich, Hitler created the Nazi Party to carry out his plans for restoring Germany to greatness. He chose the swastika as the symbol of his new political party and incorporated it in the Party banners.

Hitler poses in 1929 with Brownshirt thugs of the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the Nazi Swastika flag