Beerhall Putsch

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Hitler and cronies' annual re-enactment of Beerhall Putsch march, November 1938:
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crowds supporting Hitler gather in the Marienplatz, November 9, 1923During the November 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler tried but failed to take control of the conservative Bavarian state government and the Weimar government in Berlin. He was already head of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, with 70,000 members the most powerful political party in Bavaria. He and many other Germans viewed the freely elected government of the Weimar Republic as an abomination that the victorious Allies had imposed after the German defeat in World War I. Moreover, Germany was in the throes of catastrophic hyperinflation, and French troops had just occupied the Ruhr. Hitler wrongly believed that the social upheaval these two calamities were causing would assure success for the putschists.

The Bavarian government’s leaders were scornful of the Berlin government, and were themselves plotting the formation of a new nationalist dictatorship in Berlin. Three men controlled the government of Bavaria: Otto von Lossow, head of the Bavarian army; Gustav Ritter von Kahr, General State Commissar; and Hans Ritter von Seisser, the Bavarian police chief. These men sympathized with many of Hitler’s views but did not like some of his radical ideas.

On the evening of November 8, 1923, the Putsch began at the Bürgerbräukeller, where a large group of prominent Bavarians had gathered, among them Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser, as well as Hitler and Erich Ludendorff. The former army general quartermaster, Ludendorff was the man who was mainly responsible for Germany's military policy and strategy in the latter years of World War I.

For half an hour, Kahr had been reading a prepared speech to the crowd of 3,000 packed into the Burgerbräukeller, when Hitler made his grand entrance. A clutch of men in steel helmets, Hitler’s storm troopers, appeared, and pushed in a heavy machine gun. Hitler materialized, accompanied by two armed bodyguards brandishing pistols. Hitler stood on a chair, and, drowned out by the tumult, he pulled out his Browning automatic pistol and fired a shot through the ceiling.

Hitler announced that the revolution had broken out and six hundred armed men surrounded the hall. The Bavarian government was deposed, he shouted, and he would form a provisional Reich government. He requested Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser to follow him into an adjoining room. Reluctantly they complied.
Pandemonium reigned, but Hermann Göring, a former World War I flying ace and Hitler’s ally, urged everyone to be calm. “You’ve got your beer,” he said (Kershaw, 1998).

Waving his pistol in the next room, Hitler shouted that no one would leave without his permission. He proclaimed the formation of a new government, himself at the head. Ludendorff, Lossow, Seisser, and Kahr all agreed to be important members. If things did not work out, Hitler declared that he had bullets in his pistol for his collaborators and himself.

Things definitely did not work out. Lossow, Seisser, and Kahr, tepid revolutionaries from the outset, left the hall and proceeded to inform state authorities that they repudiated the putsch.

Meanwhile, Ernst Röhm led another group of Hitler loyalists in the Löwenbräukeller across town. Röhm managed to capture the Bavarian War Ministry but bungled by not taking over the telephone switchboard. Lossow was thus able to bring loyalist forces to Munich from nearby towns. Army troops and state police were soon besieging Röhm and his followers.

The next morning, a bitterly cold one, with the putsch rapidly crumbling, Hitler and Ludendorff decided on a demonstration march to Röhm’s rescue through the city. Hitler believed that a march would engender overwhelming support. Ludendorff thought that the army would never fire at him, a revered military leader, and that if he were in the front ranks, the soldiers would back down.
The march began at noon. A cordon of men carrying banners preceded Hitler, Ludendorff, Göring, and Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter, another party leader. At the Ludwigsbrücke, the putschists confronted and overwhelmed a small group of policemen. Throngs of shouting, waving supporters greeted the marchers on Zweibrückenstrasse.

Storm troops at the Feldherrnhalle, mid 1930'sFrom the Marienplatz, the marchers turned right into Weinstrasse, right again to Perusastrase, left into Residenzstrasse, and in a few minutes arrived at the Feldherrnhalle. Here the police had established a line blocking Residenzstrasse, and there were more police on the Odeonsplatz. A putschist fired a shot, the police hesitated, then fired back, more shooting occurred, and the putschists and the crowd of onlookers scattered in all directions. Fourteen putschists and four policemen died. Hitler was wrenched to the ground, and suffered a dislocated shoulder. A bullet killed Scheubner-Richter. Göring was shot in the leg.

Ludendorff, who had an iron nerve under fire, emerged unscathed. Oblivious to the bullets whizzing past his head, he marched straight into the arms of waiting police and was immediately taken into custody.

Ehrentempel, designer Paul Ludwig TroostWhen he came to power, Hitler built a Temple of Honor, with iron sarcophagi on stone pedestals for the “martyrs” of the Putsch. He told Albert Speer that he wanted his own sarcophagus here. Every November, Hitler and his cronies re-enacted the abortive 1923 march, pausing to contemplate the inscription at the Feldherrnhalle honoring the fallen: Und ihr habt doch gesiegt -- And you were still victorious. (Note the use of the familiar form of address, rather than the polite Und Sie haben doch gesiegt. Hitler almost never employed the familiar form in ordinary conversation with his minions.)

The victorious Allies dynamited The Temple of Honor in 1947, destroyed the sarcophagi, and discarded the putschists’ corpses. But the stone pedestals remain. Sometimes Nazi veterans gather around them. Historic preservation officials want to save them as “thought-stones of history.”

Changing of guard at Temple of Honor, sarcophagi of fallen putschistists (1938):
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