Preceding Post: The Beer Hall Putsch
In the early afternoon of November 9, 1923, the Nazis‘ wannabe-putsch had miserably failed at the Odeonsplatz in Munich under the guns of the Bavarian police. Adolf Hitler had dislocated his left arm as he fell on the pavement. Walter Schulze, head of the Munich SA Medical Unit, led him to Max-Joseph Platz, where they mounted Hitler’s old Selve 6/20 and fled southbound.
After some errant manoeuvring, the car finally drove to Uffing at the Staffelsee Lake, to the house of the foreign press chief of the NSDAP, Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstängl. The landlord was not at home – he had not been on Odeonsplatz, but on a special mission in Munich’s Neuhausen district and was picked up by Heinrich Hoffmann, the party photographer, and brought to his apartment, whence he planned his escape to Austria.
In Uffing, the refugees were taken care of by Putzi’s wife Helene Hanfstaengl, but the idyll did not last long – on Sunday, 11 November in the afternoon, the criminal police appeared and seized Hitler. He was first taken to Weilheim, the county seat, from where the magistrate examining the case transferred him to the custody of the state prison at Landsberg am Lech, where he arrived Monday at 11 o’clock.
The trial of Ludendorff, Hitler and the other defendants began on the morning of February 26, 1924, in the Munich Central Infantry School at Blutenburgstraße. 368 witnesses were heard in total. Lots of correspondents from all over the world and hundreds of spectators crowded the hall. Two battalions of police sealed the Mars- and Blutenburgstraße off with barbed wire and Spanish riders.
During the days of the trial at the Bavarian Peoples’ Court – established in violation of the Weimar Constitution and therefore actually illegal (the Reichsgericht at Leipzig – outside of Bavaria – would have been the proper court), he was housed in the local prison at Stadelheim in Munich.
The trial of Hitler et al. lasted from February 26 to April 1, 1924.
The trial never lost the character of a horse trade. Right at the beginning, the three lay judges Leonhard Beck (born May 6, 1867 in Schwandorn), Philipp Hermann (born October 21, 1865 in Nuremberg, † January 10, 1930 in Munich) and Christian Zimmerman told the court that they would agree to possible convictions only on the condition that any sentences would be suspended. To prevent the immediate disintegration of the trial and subsequent referral to the proper court in Leipzig, the court had to accept.
Ludendorff was acquitted and Hitler, Weber, Kriebel and Pöhner sentenced to a minimum sentence of five years of “Festungshaft” imprisonment and fines of 200 gold marks. Since pre-trial detention counted towards the time of incarceration, Frick, Röhm, Wagner and Brückner were immediately released on probation.
The term “Festungshaft” meant, according to the Reich Penal Code of 1871, imprisonment without compulsory labour and was a special provision for capital crimes on the occasion of duels or political crimes, in which “honourable reasons” were assumed – in contrast to greed, jealousy or other “lower” motives.
A few days after the end of the trial, Hitler, Herrmann Kriebel and Dr Friedrich Weber returned to Landsberg prison. The only other inmate in custody was the murderer of former Bavarian minister-president Kurt Eisner, Anton Count von Arco auf Valley, but he was released on probation on April 13, 1924, and pardoned in 1927. He had already been evicted from his old cell # 7, which Hitler took over.
Hitler, Dr Weber, Kriebel, Emil Maurice and Rudolf Hess, who arrived in May, were brought to five cells that formed a separate wing of the building, where a common day room was available as well. The men met there almost every day for social gatherings.
A rather interesting point of view was first published on December 19, 2015, in an article by Sven Felix Kellerhoff, Chief Editor of the Department of History of the German newspaper “Die Welt“. Prisoners of the “Festungshaft” category had the privilege of self-sufficiency (at their own expense) and hence the judicial guard Franz Hemmrich, who was responsible for their orders, noted in the second half of 1924:
“Notable was his consumption of butter (34 kilograms), sugar (45 kilograms), eggs (515 pieces), potatoes (50 kilograms) and lemons (88 pieces). Otherwise, Hitler also ordered noodles (black and white vermicelli, spaghetti, macaroni), peas (one kilogram), onions (2.5 kilograms), rice (3.5 kilograms), salad oil, vinegar essence, soup cubes, coffee beans (5 pounds), condensed milk (one can), vanilla and cinnamon (50 grams). “
Other purchases, however, shattered the image of the teetotaller, that Hitler claimed all his life in public:
“More interesting, however, is what Hitler ordered in addition: beer. 62 bottles in July, 47 in August, 60 in September and 47 were delivered in October. For November, there are hardly any entries while 34 bottles accrued in December until one week before Christmas. These were half-litre bottles; thus, Hitler drank an average of just under a litre a day. That the beer was actually intended for him, can be concluded from the fact that Hemmrich noted specifically, if occasionally one of the then three daily bottles was intended for Hitler’s friend Emil Maurice, later SS-member No. 2.“
It may, therefore, be concluded that a circle of merry men knew how to spend the days of their imprisonment in a rather liberal fashion. Of Hitler’s literary work on his book “Four and a half years of a fight against falsehood, stupidity and cowardice” – whose bulky title he later renamed “Mein Kampf” on the advice of a publisher – party legend claimed later, that the author dictated the text to Rudolf Hess freewheelingly in the style of an ingenious rhetorician, but recent findings indicate that he probably typed the text himself on the old portable typewriter which can be clearly seen in cell picture # 2.
The treatment given to Hitler and his fellow prisoners regarding visits was, however, truly extraordinary. The director, senior government councillor Otto Leybold, described the men as “nationally-minded men” and for that reason authorized the admission of visitors far beyond the normal level. Until his release, Hitler received no fewer than 330 visits. The Historical Lexicon of Bavaria relates:
In addition to lawyer Lorenz Roder, the most frequent visitors were Berlin piano manufacturers Edwin Bechstein(1859-1934) and his wife Helene, Erich Ludendorff, Max Amann (Hitler’s war sergeant, 1891-1957), and Hermione Hoffmann.
Since the beginning of April, Kriebel and Dr Weber enjoyed the privilege of “receiving visits of their closest relatives without surveillance,” which extended to members of their sprawling families. From his own family environment, Hitler was visited only by his half-sister Angela Franziska Raubal from Vienna and her minor children Leo (1906-1977) and Angela Maria, called “Geli” (1908-1931). They were allowed to speak to their half-brother and/or uncle on 17 June and 14 July 1924 for a period of just under three and four hours, respectively, without supervision. In addition, Leybold had approved that Hitler was allowed to conduct confidential discussions with political friends regularly without the presence of a prison guard.
One probably will not err in characterizing the conditions of detention as rather mimicking a men’s pension than a prison. The inmates reckoned with their release on probation after serving the minimum detention period of nine months, estimating their release approximately on October 1, 1924. To their detriment, the Munich prosecutor found out that the prisoners had established smuggling of their correspondence, which torpedoed the earliest release date. Director Leybold was then asked for a written recommendation, which turned out quite surprisingly positive (here the German PDF of the document from a transcript in the Bavarian State Archives). After this hymn of praise – which allows us a few insights into the thoughts of the good Mr Leybold – their release on probation on 20 December 1924 was only a matter of form.
Many relevant documents relating to Hitler’s detention were considered lost for years until they were offered for sale in July 2010; an action prevented, however, by the State of Bavaria, by seizure.
As it was to be expected, after 1933 the Nazis made Hitler’s cell and prison a national shrine – with much fanfare and millions of postcards; a “place of pilgrimage to the German youth” – in the words of Reich Youth Leader Baldur von Schirach – where the hard time of the leader was to be honoured and kept in awe. [PDF in German by Manfred Deiler with pics] The city of Landsberg eventually crowned the adulation; in 1937 she declared the room the “National Sanctuary Hitler Cell”.
Obviously, the US military government after 1945 wanted to erase the whole haunting affair as quickly as possible – and to make it clear to everyone where the madness had ultimately led, executed between 248 and 308 war criminals there (depending on the source), including Oswald Pohl, Head of the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt, Otto Ohlendorf, commander of Einsatzgruppe D and Paul Blobel, the butcher of Babi Yar.
(© John Vincent Palatine 2019 – The pictures from Landsberg were provided, if not in the public domain, by the European Holocaust Memorial Landsberg, Foundation e.V. [English version] and especially from the archive of Manfred Deilers. Thank you very much!)