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On Oct. 16, 1919, Adolf Hitler became a propagandist. It would be his chief occupation for the rest of his life. Without propaganda, he could never have become a public figure, let alone risen to power. It was as a propagandist that he made a second world war possible, and defined Jews as Germany’s foe. The form of his propaganda was inextricable from its content: the fictionalization of a globalized world into simple slogans, to be repeated until an enemy thus defined was exterminated.

Before 1919, Hitler was a slacker and a soldier. He was a subject of the Hapsburg Empire, born in 1889 just on the Austrian side of the border with imperial Germany. An indifferent student adored by his mother, he spent his youth dreaming of fame and keeping his distance from other women. Without having finished school he moved to Vienna in 1907, hoping to enter the art academy. He failed its entrance exam, and then his mother died. He spent the next six years in Vienna collecting his orphan’s pension. He sold some paintings and told stories about his plans to become an architect.

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