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Beer Hall Putsch

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The Beer Hall Putsch (German Hitlerputsch) occurred in the evening of Thursday, November 8 to early afternoon of Friday, November 9, 1923 when Adolf Hitler, the popular WWI General Erich Ludendorff, and other leaders of the Kampfbund unsuccessfully tried to gain power in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. (A putsch is what Germans call a petty rebellion or a popular uprising.)

Table of contents
1 Background
2 The "Putsch"
3 Aftermath
4 Miscellany
5 Related Topics
6 Bibliography

Background

Beer halls were huge taverns where thousands of Germans would gather during the evenings, drink beer out of stone jugs and sing rousing drinking songs. They were also places where political rallies would be held. One of the largest in Munich was the Bürgerbräu Keller where the putsch was launched.

German power and prestige were destroyed in the aftermath of WWI. Germany was suffering great social turmoil, upheaval, communist revolutions, unemployment, inflation and humiliation. Many people were starving and poverty was rampant. To this end of repairing Germany's ills, many groups were struggling to seize power in order to right the perceived wrongs.

When Reich chancellor, Gustav Stresemann replaced Wilhelm Cuno and ended the passive resistance to the French occupation of the Ruhr in August 1923, violent outbursts from Left and Right broke out across Germany. Communists seized power through rebellions in Saxony and Thuringia. Hitler was seething in anger at another betrayal of the central government and communist seizures of power. In September, he called out his 15,000 storm troopers and announced that on September 27, he would be holding 14 mass meetings. This prompted the Bavarian Prime Minister von Knilling to declare a state of emergency and named Gustav von Kahr as Bavarian Commissar, Bavarian State Police head Col. Hans von Seisser, and Reichswehr General Otto von Lossow as dictators (they were called the "triumvirs") to keep order.

Hitler with other leaders in the Kampfbund searched out the triumvirs, the leaders of the conservative-nationalist-monarchist groups to convince them to march upon Berlin and seize power. In April, before the establishment of the triumvir, Hitler would call von Kahr almost every day. Each thought to use the other to propel himself into power. Von Kahr sought to restore the monarchy; Hitler wanted to be dictator.

The "Putsch"

Influenced by Mussolini's successful March on Rome and, furthermore, when Hitler realized von Kahr sought to control him or was losing heart (history is unclear), Hitler decided to take matters into his own hands. He planned to use Munich as a base against Germany's Weimar Republic government in Berlin. Hitler, along with a large detachment of SA, marched on the Bürgerbräu Keller, a Munich beer hall where von Kahr was making a speech in front of 3,000 people. In the darkness, 600 storm troopers surrounded the beer hall and a machine gun was set up pointing at the front door. Adolf Hitler, surrounded by his cronies Hermann Göring, Alfred Rosenberg, Rudolf Hess, and Ulrich Graf, busted through the front door at 20:30, fired a shot into the ceiling and jumped on a chair yelling,

"The national revolution has broken out! The hall is filled with six hundred men. Nobody is allowed to leave. The Bavarian government and the government at Berlin are deposed. A new government will be formed at once. The barracks of the Reichswehr and those of the police are occupied. Both have rallied to the swastika."

At gunpoint, Hitler forced Von Kahr, Von Seisser, and Von Lossow, into a room and told them to support his march on Berlin, or they would be shot. Hitler thought that he would get an immediate response of affirmation from them. When that did not occur, things began to unravel and Hitler and Ernst Pöhner began to entreat and badger their captives. During this stalemate, speeches were held, no one was allowed to leave and others of Hitler's entourage collected Prime Minister von Knilling and his cabinet as hostages from the audience (which would later include a prominent Jewish banker, Mr. Ludwig Wassermann).

In the meantime, two men who were assigned to pick up Field Marshal Ludendorff, whose personal prestige was being harnessed to give the Nazis credibility, delivered him as planned around 20:40. Once Ludendorff arrived at the beer hall, Hitler phoned Ernst Röhm, who was waiting with the bulk of the SA in the nearby Loewenbräukeller, another beer hall, and ordered him to seize key buildings throughout the city. At the same time, co-conspirators mobilized the students of a nearby Officers Infantry school to seize other objectives.

Upon arrival, Luddendorf was ushered into a side room where the intransigent triumvirs were being kept, joining Hitler and others to persuade the triumvirs to change their minds. Between the chanting in the beer hall and pressure from Luddendorf, one by one the triumvirs submitted. They moved back into the hall, gave speeches, shook hands, and then the people were allowed to leave. In a tactical mistake, Hitler decided to leave the Bürgerbräu Keller shortly thereafter to deal with a crisis elsewhere. Around 22:30, Luddendorf released Von Kahr and his associates.

The night was marked by confusion and unrest among government officials, armed forces and police units, and individuals deciding where their loyalties lay. Units of the Kampfbund were scurrying around to arm themselves from secret caches, seizing buildings. Around 3 in the morning, the first casualties of the putsch occurred when the local garrison of the Reichswehr spotted Röhm's men coming out of the beer hall. They were ambushed while trying to reach the Reichswehr barracks and had to fall back. In the meantime, the Reichswehr officers put the whole garrison on alert and called for reinforcements. In a prefigurement of things to come, a list of prominent Jews was made up and squads of SA were sent around to arrest them. Acts of great vandalism and terror were perpetrated upon these Jews. Some were taken into custody while others escaped. The foreign attaches were also seized in their hotel rooms and put under house arrest.

In the early morning, following the custom of communist revolutionaries, Hitler ordered the seizure of the Munich city council as hostages. He further sent the communications officer of the Kampfbund, Max Neunzert, to enlist the aid of Crown Prince Rupprecht to mediate between von Kahr and the putschists. Nuenzert failed in the mission.

By midmorning on the 9th, the realization hit that the putsch was going nowhere and Hitler was desperate. They didn't know what to do and were about to give up. At this moment, Luddendorf cried out, "Wir marschieren!" (We shall march!) and Röhm's force together with Hitler's (approx. 2000 men) marched out with no plan of where to go. At the spur of the moment, Luddendorf led them to the Bavarian Defense Ministry. However, at the Odeonsplatz, they met with a force of 100 soldiers blocking the way under the command of State Police Senior Lieutenant Baron Michael von Godin. The two groups exchanged fire, killing four state police officers and fourteen insurgents. Hitler and Hermann Göring were both injured, the latter managing to escape while the former was captured shortly thereafter.

Counterrevolution

Police and State police units were first notified of trouble by two police detectives stationed at the Loewenbräukeller. These reports reached Major Sigmund von Imhoff of the State police. He immediately called all his "green" police units and had them seize the central telegraph office and the telephone exchange, though his most important act was to notify Major General Jakob von Danner, the Reichswehr city commandant of Munich. As a staunch aristocrat, he loathed the little corporal and these freikorps bands of rowdies. He also didn't much like his commanding officer von Lossow, "a sorry figure of a man". He was determined to put down the putsch with or without von Lossow. General Danner set up a command post at the 19th Infantry Regiment barracks and alerted all military units.

Meanwhile, Captain Karl Wild, learning of the putsch from marchers, mobilized his command to guard von Kahr's government building, the "Commissariat", with orders to shoot.

Around 23:00, von Danner along with his fellow officers, General Adolf von Ruith and General Baron Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein compelled von Lossow to repudiate the putsch.

At the same time, one member of the cabinet that was not at the Bürgerbräu Keller, Franz Matt, the vice-premier and minister of education and culture and a staunchly conservative Catholic, was having dinner with Michael Cardinal von Faulhaber and Papal Nuncio, Monsignor Eugenio Pacelli, (who would be later Pope Pius XII) when he learned of the putsch. He immediately phoned von Kahr. When he found the man vacillitating and unsure, Matt decisively began plans to set up a rump government-in-exile in Regensburg and composed a proclamation calling upon all police, armed forces, and civil servants to remain loyal to the government.

The action of these few men spelled doom for the putchists.

Aftermath

Upon learning the success of the reactionary elements and the mystery surrounding the whereabouts of Hitler, ferocious rioting and bedlam broke out throughout Munich. On Saturday, 4000 students from Munich University rioted and marched to the Feldherrnhalle to lay wreaths. (They continued to riot through Monday until learning of Hitler's arrest.) Von Kahr and von Lossow were called "Judases" and "Traitors".

Three days after the putsch, Hitler was arrested and charged with treason. His other co-conspirators were arrested while others escaped by going to Austria. The Nazi party headquarters was raided, and its newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter ("The Peoples' Watchman") was banned.

His trial began on February 26, 1924 and Hitler, along with Hess was sentenced to five years in prison for treason. He only served a little over eight months. Due to his war service and connections, Ludendorf was acquitted. Röhm and Dr. Wilhelm Frick, though found quilty, were released.

Though Hitler failed to achieve his immediate stated goal—and in fact there seems to be no turn of events which could have caused this rather poorly organized coup not to fail—the event did give the Nazis their first exposure to national attention and a propaganda victory. While serving his prison sentence at Landsberg am Lech, he and Rudolf Hess wrote Mein Kampf. Another benefit was that it changed Hitler's outlook on violent revolution to affect change. From now on he thought, in order to win the German heart, he must do everything by the book, strictly legal. He decided to maneuver it so that the German volk would choose him as dictator. Later on, "the German people were calling him "Adolf Legalité" or "Adolf the Legal One".

The process of combination where the conservative-nationalist-monarchist group thought that they could piggyback onto and control the National Socialist movement to garner the seats of power was to dangerously repeat itself 10 years later in 1933 when Franz von Papen would "legally" ask Hitler to form a government.


Miscellany

Related Topics

Bibliography