The Trial of Adolf Hitler: The Beer Hall Putsch and the Rise of Nazi Germany
By David King
W.W. Norton & Co., 2017, 455 pp.
There’s been a lot in the news this past year about the attempted insurrection in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021. There was another foiled insurrection, in interwar Europe, ninety-nine years ago.
During one of our trips to Germany to visit our grandson, his other Oma and Opa took us on a car trip to Munich (about 250 miles from their village). As we were walking the streets of the city we entered into a plaza/square with a large, foreboding-looking memorial structure at one end. I asked Opa what the significance of the place was and he had no clue. After we returned to the States, I did some research and discovered the plaza in question was the Odeonsplatz and the memorial was the Feldherrnhalle (Field Marshals’ Hall, completed in 1844). I learned that Adolf Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch on November 8-9, 1923 (an attempt to overthrow the Weimar German government) was crushed by Bavarian state police at the Odeonsplatz immediately next to the Feldherrnhalle. After Hitler was appointed chancellor in 1933, he transformed the Feldherrnhalle into a shrine to his 16 followers killed by police in the quelling of the putsch. The Odeonsplatz and Feldherrnhalle were subsequently used by Hitler and the Nazis in their rites, rituals, and ceremonies (e.g., Schutzstaffel-SS recruits were regularly sworn-in at a midnight ceremony at the site). Anyway, my curiosity was piqued regarding the Beer Hall Putsch and I finally got around to reading this excellent book about the aborted insurrection.
David King does an excellent job documenting the events leading up to the putsch (Swiss-German: “push, thrust, blow”) and describing the two-day rebellion and the subsequent arrest and trial of Hitler.
This was a fascinating read and I highly recommend it to history buffs and general readers. Some interesting information I picked up from the book:
- Foreign news correspondents at the time derided Hitler for his seemingly clownish and laughable “beer hall putsch,” which commenced at the Bürgerbräukeller beer hall, two miles from the Odeonsplatz. Actually, Munich had several large beer halls, which were very acceptable venues in München (“home of the monks”) society for all types of gatherings. The Bürgerbräukeller was one of the largest beer halls in the city, seating 3000.
- Some of the most infamous members of the subsequent Nazi regime participated in the 1923 putsch including Hermann Göring, Martin Bormann, Rudolph Hess, and Heinrich Himmler.
- Hitler led 2000 of his followers on the two-mile march from the Bürgerbräukeller to the Odeonsplatz where they were met by only 130 state police. The narrowness of the Residenzstrasse leading into the plaza rendered the Nazi marchers sitting ducks.
- The politically-conservative judges at the trial of the putsch insurrectionists were sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Hitler was sentenced to only five years in Landsberg prison (in the soft-time, celebrity section), but was released after only eight months. During that period he wrote Mein Kampf.
- Although Hitler was initially depressed by the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch, his resolve was steeled by the enthusiastic support of his followers and admirers.
Postscript: Hitler exploited the anguish of the German people. The Weimar Republic was collapsing economically under the heavy restrictions imposed by the victorious Entente/Allied powers. The German people were desperate and turned to political extremists on the Right and on the Left for deliverance. Adolf Hitler and his willing followers exemplify the sinful depravity of mankind. Hitler was raised Catholic by his “devoutly Catholic” German-Austrian mother, but was later influenced by his atheist father. Biographer, Fritz Redich, wrote, “In his childhood, Hitler was enthralled by the pomp and ritual of the Catholic Church. Allegedly, for a while he even considered becoming a priest.” Hitler lost interest in Catholicism in his teen years and had no involvement with the RCC as an adult (although he did sign a secret treaty with pope Pius XII in 1939, see here).