Many of us would doubtless stick our hands up and say the name, “Adolf Hitler” right away.

Hitler was appointed German Chancellor, ninety years ago on January 30, 1933. Hitler is directly responsible for more human deaths than almost anyone else except perhaps Stalin, Mao Zedong and Genghis Kham. It is not a proud record.

But how did Hitler rise to become the leader of Germany in the first place? He was, in fact, not born in Germany at all but in Branau am Inn in Austria-Hungary, a nation which no longer exists. Nothing about his childhood seems to have been particularly unusual. He was born in 1889. His father was a customs office official, a minor civil servant who died when Adolf was 13. He seems to have had a temper on him and beat Adolf periodically, but again, this would not have been particularly unusual. Hitler dreamed of becoming an artist and moved to Vienna in 1907. His mother died soon afterwards.

At this point, his life started going off track. He was twice rejected by the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. In many ways, it is a shame he was not a better artist. If this had been so and he had pursued a successful career in art rather than in politics, then the history of the world would be very different.

Instead, his money started to run out. He became a virtual down-and-out, living in hostels and homeless shelters. It was in Vienna that he was exposed to racist, anti-Semitic ideas for the first time. interestingly, Hitler’s future rival, Stalin also lived in Vienna when Hitler was there. There is no evidence the two young men ever met though they may have passed each other in the street.

The First World War saved Hitler. By 1914, he was living in Munich in Germany. A large picture depicting the city celebrating the outbreak of war happens to feature the then unknown 25-year-old future dictator looking cheerful in the background. He enlisted in the German Army and served as a dispatch rider. He was promoted to corporal and won the Iron Cross (having been recommended for it by his superior officer, who happened to be Jewish). He was, in truth, quite a good soldier and served at Ypres, the Somme, Arras and Passchendaele. Many of his colleagues thought him an odd character, however.

In October 1918, he was temporarily blinded by poison gas. He was still recovering when he learned of Germany’s surrender in November 1918 and the Versailles Treaty of 1919. This included the notorious War Guilt Clause which apportioned all blame for the war on Germany and wrecked Germany’s prospects for post-war economic recovery by insisting the nation pay a massive reparations bill for all costs incurred during the war. These terms were humiliating for Germany generally and for Hitler personally.

On returning to Germany, Hitler threw himself into politics and as leader of the new Nazi Party, began his rise to power. In 1923, against a background of hyperinflation and mounting political chaos, he launched his famous Beer Hall Putsch and attempted to seize power. The putsch proved a lamentable failure. Hitler was jailed: he spent his time inside dictating his book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle) which laid bare his fiercely racist views and military ambitions.

Within a decade, through clever manipulation of popular concern about Germany’s economic future and fear about communism and Jews, Hitler had achieved a degree of electoral success which enabled him to achieve some degree of power within Germany. From this position, Hitler was able to create a dictatorship and thereafter establish the most evil regime which has ever existed in the history of the world.