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Hitler’s Bavarian Beer Hall Putsch of 1923.

31-03-2019

The Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923, or the Munich Putsch, was Hitler’s attempt to overthrow the Weimar government of Friedrich Ebert Friedrich Ebert face.jpg   and establish a right wing nationalistic one in its place. Friedrich Eberth died of septic shock 28-02-1925 age 54.

In September 1923, the Chancellor Gustav Stresemann

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1989-040-27, Gustav Stresemann.jpg   and President Ebert had decided that the only way Germany could proceed after hyperinflation was to agree to work with the French as opposed to against them. Both called for passive resistance to be called off in the Ruhr Valley. In this sense, Stresemann agreed that the only way forward was for Germany to pay reparations as demanded by the Treaty of Versailles. Gustav Stresemann died of a stroke on 03-10-1929 at the age of 51.

To the nationalists in Germany, this was an admittance of guilt for starting the First World War. This admittance of guilt brought with it the punishment of reparations. Therefore, the logic of the nationalists was that Ebert and Stresemann were agreeing that Germany was guilty of starting the war – something they could not tolerate.

By 1923, many right wing parties had gravitated to southern Germany and primarily Bavaria. Here there were geographically as far away from Berlin without totally isolating themselves from the German people. Their headquarters was essentially Munich.

One such group was the fledgling Nazi Party. Lead by Adolf Hitler it had about 35.000 members by 1923.  Though this figure appears low in the whole scheme of German politics (in the 1920 election the Nazis had not got one seat in the Reichstag), there were only about 40 members of the Nazi Party in 1920, so its growth rate was relatively quick. However, nationally, the Nazis Party was just one of a number of loud right-wing parties.

On November 8th and 9th 1923, Hitler used the anger felt against the Berlin government in Bavaria to attempt an overthrow of the regional government in Munich in prelude to the take-over of the national government. This incident is generally known as the Beer Hall Putsch.

The fact that Hitler had only an estimated 35,000 followers to take over Germany’s second city showed his political naivety in 1923. Hitler placed all his hopes on people in Munich following his lead having been angered by the central government’s response to the Ruhr crisis. Such support never materialized. 

On November 8th 1923, the Bavarian Prime Minister, Gustav Kahr, was addressing a meeting of around 3000 businessmen at a beer hall in Munich.  Kahr was joined by some of the most senior men in Bavarian politics including Oberst Hans Ritter von Seisser , Bavaria’s police chief, and Otto von Lossow Otto von Lossow, the local army commander, who died age 70 on 25-11-1938 in Munich. Hans von Seisser died very old age 98 on 14-04-1973.

Hitler and 600 of his Stormtroopers (the SA) went into the meeting from the back of the hall. These SA men, lead by Ernst Röhm, lined the sides of the hall in an attempt to intimidate those in the beer hall. It is said that Hitler, once on the speaker’s platform, shouted out the following: “The national revolution has broken out. The hall is surrounded.”

SA men outside of the Beer Hall

Kahr, Lossow and Seisser were taken into a side room. Here, threatened by guns, Kahr is said to have agreed to support Hitler in his attempt to take-over the government in Berlin. Hitler promised Kahr that he would get a key position in the new national government and Lossow was promised a senior post in the German Army.

However, the historian William Shirer claims that Kahr refused to listen to Hitler and refused to be intimidated. Hitler was so unnerved by his silence that, according to Shirer, he rushed back to the stage about ten minutes later. Karl von Muller Karl von Müller.jpg, who was at the meeting and was a witness at Hitler’s trial, also states that the group was absent from the stage for about ten minutes. Hitler declared to the waiting audience that Kahr had agreed to support him even though he had not. Karl von Muller was the captain of a famous German commerce raider, the light cruiser SMS Emden during the First World War.

When Hitler did return to the main hall, it was in such disarray that he fired a shot from his pistol into the ceiling and threatened to put a machine gun in a gallery if the people in the hall did not settle so that they could hear him.

Once the people in the hall had settled Hitler addressed them. Muller said the following at Hitler’s trial:

“(When he spoke) it was a rhetorical masterpiece. In fact, in a few sentences he totally transformed the mood of the audience. I have rarely experienced anything like it.”

 

Kahr and then the national war hero Erich Ludendorff addressed those in the hall after Hitler had spoken. Both stated their support for Hitler and his attempt to overthrow the government. Muller stated that Hitler was “radiant with joy”.

However, Shirer puts a different slant on this episode. He claims that Ludendorff was furious that Hitler had attempted to do what he did without his prior support.

Ludendorff had retired to Bavaria after the war and had been taken in by the early rhetoric of Hitler. But he did expect that his national status entitled him to be more involved with decisions made within the party. In this case, Hitler had not consulted the General about the putsch.

Shirer claims that Ludendorff was pale and ashen faced when he spoke to the audience about the “great national cause” and that this was because he was so angered by what Hitler had done. Ludendorff’s demeanour and facial appearance is also supported by Muller who said the same at Hitler’s trial.

Once it became clear that Ludendorff supported Hitler, it seems that Kahr then agreed to publicly declare his support for Hitler. Once this happened the meeting started to break-up and the SA allowed people to leave.

We may never know what exactly took place that evening but the end result is that Hitler gained the support he had wanted from Bavaria’s senior politicians.

What was Hitler’s assessment of the Beer Hall Putsch? In later years, he stated that it had been a success because it had not succeeded. In 1933, Hitler claimed that if they had succeeded in taking over Germany, they would have been faced with a national situation which the Nazis would not have been able to control. The Nazi Party was less than four years old and the depth of political experience was simply not there for the party to run the country.

The shootout left 14 Nazis and four police officers dead and put a final end to the coup in the city. Two other Nazis would die in other localities. Hitler had relied on the paramilitary Kampfbund, but the lack of support from the police and locally stationed military units doomed the attempt.

However, Hitler did state that its outcome was to give the party its first martyrs and these deaths were used to great success when it came to Nazi propaganda.

 

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