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Contemporary newspaper article links (courtesy of the Austrian National Library)
As John Heineman reports, by early November 1923, the political and economic conditions in Bavaria – and much of Germany – was chaotic. In Munich, Minister-President Kahr – endowed with dictatorial powers – had declared a state of emergency and suspended the elected Bavarian Parliament. He began negotiations with a number of anti-Republican groups but seemed prepared to wait for the right moment to declare Bavarian independence and restore the monarchy.
Having fired the enthusiasm and expectations of his followers up to fever pitch in the days after the German Day in Coburg, Hitler could not wait because he suspected the economic crisis would not last forever. With the appointment of [new Secretary of Treasury] Schacht there were signs that the national government in Berlin was getting ready to move on the hyper-inflation. Once conditions returned to normal, Hitler knew he may have lost his opportunity forever. He decided, therefore, to manipulate the situation so that Kahr and his co-conspirators, General von Lossow (Reichswehr commander of the Bavarian District) and Colonel von Seisser (head of the Bavarian Landespolizei [paramilitary State Police]) would be forced to join him. For the evening of 8 November, these three leaders had scheduled a public meeting in the Bürgerbräukeller, a big Munich beer cellar, in order to protest the growth of Bolshevism in Germany and, perhaps, start their own takeover. Kahr was to speak and all the leading citizens of Munich were to be present. Hitler secretly surrounded the hall with some six hundred armed SA men, bursting in and interrupting Kahr’s speech, to announce “the beginning of a national revolution. Exiled Nazi Otto Strasser described the beginnings of the failed Beer Hall Putsch in “Hitler and I”, first published in 1940:
The conspirators [Hitler, Goering, Röhm, Gregor Strasser, Hess, Streicher, Frick and possibly Himmler], met every evening in the private rooms of the Bürgerbräu [Bürgerbräukeller], a Munich brasserie and restaurant, which also had a big hall for public meetings.
Hitler therefore decided to force their hand. The date of the putsch was originally fixed for the 10th and 11th of November, . But at the last moment, learning that von Kahr was holding a meeting at the Bürgerbräukeller at which he was to make a speech on the programme of the Bavarian Monarchists, Hitler altered the date. November 8 was solemnly fixed as the historic date of the German Revolution.
Hitler’s instinct ought to have told him that it would have been better to have left these aged servants of a decrepit regime out of it. Both Kahr, Lossow and Seisser had served under the Kaiser. In spite of incessant discussions, which dragged on for week after week, no serious steps had yet been taken by Hermann Goering. But Hitler wanted action, and with a handful of followers proposed taking the risk of compromising the great German national revolution forever.
Hitler had six hundred men. Gregor Strasser, warned late, assembled three hundred and fifty stormtroopers at Landshut and led them to Munich. General Ludendorff, who had not been kept informed of what was going on, was at Ludwigshöhe, where a motorcar was hurriedly sent to fetch him.
On the fatal day Adolf wore a frock-coat, on which he pinned his Iron Cross. He proposed bursting into the hall at the head of his men while paramilitary detachments surrounded the building, whereupon von Kahr, before even beginning his speech, would be forced to surrender to the insistence of the heavily armed putschists. ‘He cannot help joining us,’ Hitler said to Scheubner-Richter, whose mission it was to fetch General Ludendorff to Munich. ‘Once Kahr is persuaded the others will follow.’
Strong in this conviction, Adolf gravely got into the car that took him to the Bürgerbräukeller. At the entrance the young fanatic with the Iron Cross kept asking to speak to Governor Kahr, but the dense crowd refused to let him pass. He was pale and trembling, and looked like a madman. Inside the hall the meeting had already begun and von Kahr had started his speech.
Hitler hesitated, but it was too late to go back. He listened, and could hear the steps of his faithful shock-troops. ‘Clear the vestibule!’ he ordered the policeman on duty at the entrance. Impressed by the Iron Cross, the policeman obeyed. A few minutes later the stormtroopers marched in. Adolf waited for them with his eyes closed and his hands in his pockets, where there was a revolver. He felt the eyes of his young men upon him, but he had not yet decided what to do if his coup failed and the triumvirate refused to march with him.
Like a maniac he burst into the hall, where three thousand Bavarians, seated before their beer-mugs, were listening to the unctuous oratory of von Kahr. Adolf jumped on to a chair, fired his revolver at the ceiling, and shouted, his hoarse voice half-quenched with excitement:
‘The National Revolution has begun!’http://www.georgelser.info/burgerbraukeller/4593470131
Karl Alexander von Müller, a contemporary Munich historian, was present, and wrote later:
Herr von Kahr had spoken for half an hour. Then there was movement at the entrance as if people were wanting to push their way in. Despite several warnings, the disturbance did not die
Eventually, steel helmets came into sight. From this moment on, the view from my seat was rather obscured. People stood on chairs so that I didn’t see Hitler until he had come fairly near along the main gangway; just before he turned to the platform, I saw him emerge between two armed soldiers in steel helmets who carried pistols next to their heads, pointing at the ceiling. They turned towards the platform, Hitler climbed on to a chair on my left. The hall was still restless, and then Hitler made a sign to the man on his right, who fired a shot at the ceiling. Thereupon Hitler called out (I cannot recollect the exact order of his words): “The national revolution has broken out. The hall is surrounded.” Maybe he mentioned the exact number, I am not sure. He asked the gentlemen Kahr, Lossow, Seisser to come out and guaranteed their personal freedom. The gentlemen did not move. The General State Commissioner [Kahr] had stepped back and stood opposite Hitler, looking at him calmly. Then Hitler went towards the platform. What happened I could not see exactly; I heard him talk to the gentlemen and I heard the words: Everything would be over in ten minutes if the gentlemen would go out with him. To my surprise the three gentlemen went out with him immediately….https://www2.bc.edu/john-heineman/Weimar.html
The official Bavarian Political Police Report on the Events of 8 November 1923 then described the happenings as follows:
After the three gentlemen had entered the room, Adolf Hitler called out: “No one leaves the room alive without my permission.” At the door a member of the bodyguard walked up and down continually, holding a pistol. Then Hitler turned to Excellency von Kahr with the statement: “The [new] Reich Government has been formed, the Bavarian Government has been overthrown. Bavaria is the springboard for the Reich Government. There must be a Reich governor in Bavaria. Pöhner [the Police chief of Munich and sympathetic to the Nazis] is to become Minister-President with dictatorial powers. You will be Reich Governor. Reich Government—Hitler; national army—Ludendorff; Lossow—army minister; Seisser—police minister.
“I know this step is a difficult one for you, gentlemen, but the step must be taken, it must be made easier for the other gentlemen to make the leap. Everybody must take up the post which he is allotted. If he does not, then he has no right to exist. You must fight with me, achieve victory with me, or die with me. If things go wrong, I have four bullets in my pistol, three for my colleagues if they desert me, the last bullet for myself.” While saying this, he put the pistol which he had been holding all the time to his head. While he was speaking to Excellency von Kahr, he noticed Major Hunglinger [General Seisser’s aide] in the room and motioned with his hand for him to leave.
Kahr declared to Herr Hitler: “You can arrest me, you can have me shot, you can shoot me yourself. Whether I live or die is unimportant.” Whereupon Hitler turned to Colonel von Seisser who accused him of not keeping his promise [not to attempt a putsch.] Hitler replied: “Yes, that’s true, but I did it in the interests of the fatherland. Forgive me.”
Herr von Lossow tried to say something to the other two gentlemen. But this was prevented by a shout: “You gentlemen are not allowed to talk to one another.” Lossow then stepped back to the window, disgusted with the proceedings. While looking out between the curtains, he noticed in front of every window a group of armed men, some of whom looked into the room with their guns at the ready. Hitler, who clearly saw the unpleasant impression this made, waved them away with his hand. Excellency von Lossow asked: “What is Ludendorff’s attitude to the affair?” Hitler replied: “Ludendorff is ready and will soon be fetched.” Hitler then left the room. He got no answer during this time, either from Herr von Kahr or from the other gentlemen….https://www2.bc.edu/john-heineman/Weimar.html
Historian von Müller continued:
The general mood—I can of course only judge from my surroundings, but I think that this represented the general feeling in the hall—was still against the whole business. One heard: “Theatrical!” “South America!” “Mexico!” That was the prevailing mood. The change came only during Hitler’s second speech when he entered about ten minutes later, went to the platform and made a short speech. It was a rhetorical masterpiece. In fact, in a few sentences it totally transformed the mood of the audience. I have rarely experienced anything like it. When he stepped on to the platform the disturbance was so great that he could not be heard, and he fired a shot. I can still see the gesture. He got the Browning out of his back pocket and I think it was on this occasion that the remark about the machine gun was made. When things did not become quiet, he shouted angrily at the audience: “If you are not quiet, I shall have a machine gun put up on the gallery.” In fact he had come in to say that his prediction of everything being over in ten minutes had not come true. But he said it in such a way that he finally went out with the permission of the audience to say to Kahr that the whole assembly would be behind him if he were to join. It was a complete reversal. One could hear it being said that the whole thing had been arranged, that it was a phoney performance. I did not share this opinion because Kahr’s attitude seemed to contradict it. Seeing him at close quarters, one got the impression of confusion, of great dismay….https://www2.bc.edu/john-heineman/Weimar.html
Then war hero Ludendorff appeared, according to the Bavarian Political Police Report of the Meeting:
Ludendorff then entered the room in a hat and coat and, without asking any questions, with obvious excitement and with a trembling voice, declared: “Gentlemen I am just as surprised as you are. But the step has been taken; it is a question of the fatherland and the great national and Völkisch cause, and I can only advise you, go with us and do the same.” … Shortly after Ludendorff, Pöhner entered the room. Hitler, Ludendorff and Weber [leader of a paramilitary group called Freikorps Oberland] now began a process of urgent persuasion. Excellency von Kahr, in particular, was besieged on all sides. Moved by the feelings previously described, Lossow at last gave Ludendorff the consent he wanted with the dry comment, “All right.” After some hesitation. Colonel von Seisser also nodded his agreement. Then Hitler, Ludendorff, and Dr Weber, with Pöhner also, worked on Excellency von Kahr with coaxing and pleading. Lossow and Seisser were asked to take part in the coaxing, but neither replied. … Hitler could no longer go back, whatever the position of Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser might prove to be. Hitler kept bringing this out with statements like: “The deed has been done, there is no going back. It has already passed into history.”
After long urging, Kahr declared: “I am ready to take over the destiny of Bavaria as the representative of the monarchy.” Hitler insisted that this statement should be made in the hall. Herr von Kahr replied that after the way in which he had been led out of the hall he refused to go back into the hall. He wanted to avoid any public fraternizing. But Hitler insisted with the words: “You will be carried shoulder-high. You will see what jubilation will greet you: the people will kneel before you.” Kahr replied: “I can do without that.” They then went into the hall.BAVARIAN POLITICAL POLICE REPORT
Karl Alexander von Müller reported further:
An hour after Hitler’s first appearance the three gentlemen came back into the hall with Hitler and Ludendorff. They were enthusiastically received. On the platform Kahr began to speak first without being requested to and gave the speech which was printed word for word in the papers. Ludendorff too, in my opinion, spoke without being requested to, whereas Lossow and Seisser only spoke after repeated requests—I can’t remember the words, but only the gestures—on Hitler’s part. If I am to depict the impression made by the gentlemen on the platform, I would say that Kahr was completely unmoved. His face was like a mask all evening. He was not pale or agitated; he was very serious, but spoke very composedly. I got the impression that there was a melancholy look about his eyes. But that is perhaps being subjective. Hitler on the other hand, during this scene was radiant with joy. One had the feeling that he was delighted to have succeeded in persuading Kahr to collaborate. There was in his demeanor, I would say, a kind of childlike joy, a very frank expression which I shall never forget. Excellency Ludendorff by comparison was extremely grave; when he came in he was pale with suppressed emotion. His appearance as well as his words were those of a man who knew it was a matter of life and death, probably death rather than life. I shall never forget his expression. It was such that when I heard in town on the following day the rumor that he had been killed, I said to myself: That’s what he looked like last night. Lossow’s expression was very different; there was something detached, relaxed about his whole attitude. I don’t want to make a party point but, if I am to describe it, it struck me that he made a slightly ironical fox face. A certain impenetrable smile never left his features. Seisser was pale and upset. He was the only one who gave the impression of personal agitation, of external agitation. His words were merely a variant of Lossow’s. The report in the papers of the words of these two gentlemen was not correct: it was somewhat touched up.https://www2.bc.edu/john-heineman/Weimar.html
Yet, momentarily unbeknownst to the present public, the endeavour was already collapsing; Hitler’s triumph was premature. A few hours earlier, Ernst Röhm, the head of the Munich SA, had occupied Army headquarters in Munich where he was received with sympathy by the junior officers. But the Reichswehr’s senior officers remained loyal to the Republic, and when General Lossow returned to his headquarters following his release, he immediately ordered military reinforcements to the Bavarian capital, where they surrounded the building which Röhm had occupied. Upon his release, Kahr too revoked his agreement with Hitler, saying he had been forced to make it at gunpoint. A little after midnight, it was clear to all in the Bürgerbräukeller that there would be no March on Berlin. Would a march on Munich suffice instead?
As it is perhaps a tradition of dramatic events and last acts, a leaden dawn had greeted the day of the coup; it was cold, and scattered snowflakes fell on the sidewalks. The morning light barely had the strength to pierce the depths of the Bürgerbräukeller, in which the prospective putschists had a breakfast of stale bread and cheese, the remains of last night’s buffet.
The morning hours had brought no better plan than to march into the city centre and to appeal to the support of the masses. The clock of the church struck twelve noon, when the sun, like a milky disc, began to break through the layers of morning mist and illuminated the hesitant gathering of troops. They had lost the brass music for lack of payment and a touch of finality surrounded the meeting.
Finally, the marching order was given. The vanguard formed a wedge; somewhat hesitantly, consisting of veterans and the standard-bearers of the party’s swastika banner and the black and white colours of the Empire. In the second group marched the lead: Hitler was flanked on the left by Ludendorff and on the right by Scheubner-Richter. At their sides walked Hermann Kriebel, Ulrich Graf (Hitler’s personal bodyguard), and Hermann Göring, who contributed the fashion highlight of the procession: he wore a helmet painted with a large white swastika and a black leather coat, under which the strong contrast of his blue and gold glowing Pour Le Mérite could not be overlooked. Hitler rejected Göring’s proposal to take some of the arrested city councillors as hostages; to create martyrs for the opposition was not his intention.
Behind the point guard, three groups, four-abreast, marched side by side. On the left side, the elite, a hundred of Hitler’s bodyguards in military outfits with guns and hand grenades; the Munich SA regiment, winner of many beer halls fights in the middle, and to their right the Bund Oberland, Colonel Kriebel’s men.
Behind these paramilitary outfits, a slightly incongruous collection of men attempted to form a semblance of anti-republican unity: whether these men wore old uniforms or not, whether they brandished weapons or not or whether they were trained or not, they presented a swastika band on left arm as their unifying feature. A few infantry cadets, following the motley crowd and bringing up the rear, marched, easily distinguishable, with much more aplomb than the civilians. A short roll call revealed about two thousand men, who slowly closed their ranks and moved toward the Ludwig Bridge to cross the Isar River on their way downtown.
It was only half a mile to the river and ten minutes after they had started, the revolutionary assembly faced a platoon of State Police on the banks of the bridge. The vanguard approached slowly when the police chief in a loud voice – not to be ignored – ordered his men to load live ammunition. He had barely finished the command when a surprise attack of the SA involved both the police and the rebels in a brief struggle; the next minute saw the police line overrun and the rebels moved on north-westward towards the city centre.
The march led through the eastern neighbourhoods of the town, where they were welcomed with applause by many citizens and visitors, who had been mobilized by the rumours that spread like wildfire. The centipede continued to grow when idle spectators joined the train and children ran around the standard-bearers as if a circus were in town. The men made good for the loss of the brass band by singing their favourite hymns; perhaps not perfect, but with a lot of heart and perhaps a little fear.
The troops passed the Isartor, the old eastern town gate, and entered the “Valley”, the thoroughfare that led to the Marienplatz at the city centre. The Valley is always one of Munich’s most frequented streets and this day was no exception. The size of the lindworm had grown considerably and when the train reached Marienplatz, the heart of the city, it was densely populated with supporters and spectators. The crowds chanted patriotic songs and the trams of line 6 were hopelessly stuck. Julius Streicher, editor of the infamous Nazi paper “Der Stürmer“, was at the centre of the square and gave a speech.
Suddenly the centipede hesitated; as if there was confusion about which way to turn. Colonel Kriebel, who had tactical command, was not sure what to do, but indecision ended when Ludendorff turned right into Weinstraße, which led to Odeonsplatz and Feldherrnhalle; to the same place where Heinrich Hoffmann had captured – on August 2, 1914 – a snapshot of the cheering crowd with Hitler at its centre, that celebrated the declaration of war.
Everybody followed the general. Kriebel later said he never thought about it twice: “If Ludendorff marches there, we go with him.” (18) Ludendorff himself could not remember a conscious decision: ” Sometimes you act in life just instinctively and do not know why…. “(19) It is less than half a mile (700 meters) from Marienplatz to Odeonsplatz. Access to the square was sealed off by police. The next sixty seconds ran in slow motion.
Who exactly then stood facing each other, on that noon of November 9, 1923, on the Odeonsplatz Square in Munich? The numbers can be found in Harold Gordon‘s “Hitler and the Beer Hall Putsch”, Princeton University Press 1972, ISBN 0-691-10000-4, pages 270-272:
The rebels could count on a very considerable number of men from Munich and were reinforced by delegations from many parts of southern Bavaria. They also enjoyed the advantage of the support of the city’s population. However, many of the members of their organizations and trailers were hardly of direct military value. In terms of actually-present troop strengths were approximately as follows:
- SA Regiment Munich – 1500 officers and men
- Stoßtrupp Hitler – about 125 officers and men
- SA units from southern Bavaria – about 250 – 300 men
- Three weak battalions – maybe 2,000 officers and men
- 2 infantry departments, 1 machine gun department and 1 artillery battery – about 200 officers and enlisted
- about 2 infantry companies – about 150 officers and men
All together approximately 4000 men, but dispersed over town.
They faced the following government forces:
(A) Bavarian Police
- Blue Police – regular town police – about 250 officers and men
- State Police Munich with:
- the Personnel of the Bureau and Staff of the Police headquartered at the Army Museum
- Central Office of the Munich Police headquarters in the Ettstrasse
- First Battalion (First Section) – about 400 officers and men (quartered in the former Royal residence)
- Second Battalion (Second Section) – about 400 officers and men (headquartered in the Max II Barracks, at the corner Leonrodstraße and Dachauerstraße)
- Third Battalion (Third Section) – about 400 officers and men (Maximilianeum and Türkenkaserne)
- About 1 motorized division (Automotive Detachment) – about 75 officers and men (Türkenkaserne)
- 1 tanks group with 12 obsolete tanks – about 75 officers and enlisted men (Türkenkaserne)
- 1 Communication Technical battalion (Türkenkaserne)
- 1 Battalion National Police München Country – about 400 officers and men (Max II barracks)
- 1 mounted reconnaissance squadron (Fight Season) – about 50 officers and men (Max II barracks)
- Except for these units in the city itself, about two more regiments were available, one battalion at the police preschool Eichstätt and various smaller units scattered across the state
(B) Reichstruppen (Federal troops)
At the headquarters of Wehrkreis VII and Seventh Infantry Division (Ludwig and Schönfeld Roads):
- First Battalion, Nineteenth Infantry Regiment – 300 men (Oberwiesenfeld)
- Headquarters Infantry Leader VII and artillery leader VII (Ludwig and Schönfeld roads) – perhaps 100 men
- Seventh Engineer Battalion – about 225 officers and men (Oberwiesenfeld, Pioneer Casern I and II)
- Seventh Signal Battalion – about 150 officers and men (Oberwiesenfeld)
- Seventh Motor Transport Battalion, Headquarters and First Company – about 100 officers and men
- Seventh Transportation Battalion (Mounted), Headquarters and First and Second Company – about 125 officers and men
- Seventh Medical Battalion
- Fifth Battery of the Seventh Artillery Regiment – about 90 officers and enlisted men (Oberwiesenfeld)
- Stadtkommandantur Headquarters (Army Museum) – approx. 50 men
- Infantry School – about 350 officers, cadets and men (Blutenburgstraße on Mars Square) (The rest of the Seventh Division and the Seventeenth Cavalry Regiment under the command of General von Lossow would be available within 24 hours for the operation against the rebels if the trains continued to work).
From these figures, we can draw the following conclusion: by the sheer numbers, the putschists were superior, the more so since many of the army soldiers were on unarmed commands; hence of the perhaps 1500 men theoretically available against some 4,000 rebels, perhaps only 800 were ready. The infantry and pioneer schools were not even under Bavarian command but answered to Berlin.
Rebels and police, just maybe twenty feet apart, stood facing each other now.
Here a line of city police blocked the way. But the Putschists surged forward, singing, “0 Deutschland Hoch in Ehren” [‘Oh Germany high in honours’]. Looking down from her hotel room, Frau Winifred Wagner was amazed to see her idol, Hitler, marching down the narrow Residenzstrasse next to Ludendorff. Just ahead in the Odeonsplatz small groups of green-uniformed men were scrambling into a blocking position. There was only room enough in the street for eight abreast.
Hitler locked arms with Scheubner-Richter in preparation for trouble but Ludendorff touched no one, still supremely confident that no one would fire on him. Directly ahead was a cordon of state police under First Lieutenant Michael Freiherr von Godin. Faced with an oncoming mob, Godin called out, “Second Company, double-time, march!” The state police jogged forward but the Putschists did not break, standing off the enemy with levelled bayonets and pistols. Godin used his rifle to parry two bayonet thrusts, “overturning the men behind them with the rifle at high port.” All at once a shot exploded. Godin heard it zing past his head; it killed a sergeant. “For a fraction of a second, my company stood frozen. Then, before I could give an order, my people opened fire, with the effect of a salvo.”
The Putschists returned the fire and panic broke out as marchers and bystanders scrambled for safety. One of the first to fall was Scheubner¬Richter, shot in the lungs. Another was Graf, who had leapt in front of Hitler to take the half dozen bullets meant for him. In falling, the personal bodyguard clutched Hitler, yanking him down so sharply that his left arm was dislocated. On the other side, Scheubner-Richter also helped drag Hitler to the pavement. Ludendorff’s faithful servant, who had been ordered to go home, was bleeding on the asphalt. His friend Aigner, the servant of the dying Scheubner¬Richter, crawled to him. He was dead. Someone stepped over Aigner. It was General Ludendorff marching erectly, left hand in coat pocket, into the line of fire. [FN1]
[FN1] Most accounts picture Ludendorff as courageous for staying on his feet and Hitler as ignoble for dropping to the street even though Hitler’s arm dislocation indicates he was dragged down. Undoubtedly Hitler would have hit the ground on his own, since he was a seasoned front-line soldier. Robert Murphy testified that “both Ludendorff and Hitler behaved in identical manners, like the battle-hardened soldiers they were. Both fell flat to escape the hail of bullets.” Another eyewitness, a watchman, also saw Ludendorff throw himself to the ground and then find cover “behind a corpse or wounded man.” A second watchman corroborated the fact that no one was standing after the volley. (21)
As Hitler sprawled on the ground thinking he had been shot in the left side, comrades tried to shield him. Eighteen men lay dead in the streets: fourteen followers of Hitler and four state police, all, incidentally, more
or less sympathetic with National Socialism. Those in the front of the marching column alone knew what had happened. The crows jammed up behind only heard firecracker explosions ahead, then a rumour that both Hitler and Ludendorff were killed. The Putschists scrambled to the rear.
Ludendorff marched through the police cordon and into the arms of a lieutenant who placed him under arrest and escorted him to the Residenz [the former town palace of the Wittelsbachers] … Hitler painfully struggled to his feet, cradling his injured arm. He was in agony as he slowly moved away from the battleground, face pale, hair falling over his face. He was accompanied by Dr Walter Schultze, chief of the Munich SA medical corps, a towering young man. They came upon a small boy lying at the curb, bleeding profusely. Hitler wanted to carry him off but Schulze called to his wife’s cousin (a botany student named Schuster) to take the boy.
At Max Joseph Platz they finally reached Hitler’s old grey Selve 6-20, which had been loaded with medical supplies. An elderly first-aid man named Frankel got in the front seat with the driver while Hitler and the doctor got into the rear seat. Schuster stood on the running board holding the wounded boy. Hitler told the driver to head for the Bürgerbräukeller, so he could find out what was going on. But at the Marienplatz, they came under heavy machine-gun fire and had to change directions several times. They found the Ludwig Bridge blocked and turned back.
By this time the boy had regained consciousness and Schuster dismounted, so he could take the youngster home. The car continued toward the Sendlinger Torplatz. Here they encountered another burst of -fire near the old southern cemetery. Since it was impossible to get back to the beer hall, there was nothing to do but keep driving south towards Salzburg.
Göring’s display of his Pour Le Mérite decoration had not saved him, and he lay on the pavement with a bullet in his upper thigh. Frau Ilse Ballin, who had rushed from her home to help the wounded, found him bleeding profusely. With the help of her sister, she dragged the heavy burden indoors. The sisters dressed Göring’s wound and were about to summon an ambulance when he weakly asked them to help him get to a private clinic. He could not bear the indignity of the arrest. Frau Ballin, the wife of a Jewish merchant, had pity on him, and thus he escaped prison. (20)
There are, however, reasons to doubt some details of the account above, in particular, the story of the wounded boy. In the years after 1933, party hagiography had Hitler carry the boy out of danger in his own arms; an act that would certainly qualify as a miracle given his dislocated shoulder. Nobody ever offered trustworthy corroboration, and, alas, the boy was never found. Moreover, the story of the getaway by car through hails of machine-gun bullets may appeal mostly to the credulous.
The official police report also blamed the Putschists for opening fire:
The column of National Socialists about 2,000 strong, nearly all armed, moved on through the Zweibrückenstraße, across the Marienplatz towards the Theatinerstraße. Here it split up, the majority going down the Perusastraße to the Residenz, the rest going on along the Theatinerstraße.
The police stationed in the Residenz tried to cordon it off as well as the Theatinerstraße by the Preysingstraße. Numerous civilians hurried on ahead of the actual column in Residenzstraße and pushed aside the police barricade. The ceaseless shouts of “Stop! Don’t go on!” by the state police were not obeyed. Since there was the danger of a break-through here, a police section, originally in the Theatinerstraße, hurried round the Feldherrenhalle [War Memorial] to give support. They were received with fixed bayonets, guns with the safety catches off, and raised pistols. Several police officers were spat upon, and pistols with the safety catches off were stuck in their chests. The police used rubber truncheons and rifle butts and tried to push back the crowd with rifles held horizontally. Their barricade had already been broken several times. Suddenly, a National Socialist fired a pistol at a police officer from close quarters. The shot went past his head and killed Sergeant Hollweg standing behind him. Even before it was possible to give an order, the comrades of the sergeant who had been shot opened fire as the Hitler lot did, and a short gun battle ensued during which the police were also shot at from the Preysingpalais and from the house which contains the Café Rottenhofer. After no more than thirty seconds the Hitler lot fled, some back to the Maximilianstraße, some to the Odeonsplatz. General Ludendorff apparently went on towards the Odeonsplatz. There he was seen in the company of a Hitler officer by a police officer barring the Briennerstraße, who went up to General Ludendorff and said to him: ‘Excellency, I must take you into custody.’ General Ludendorff replied: ‘You have your orders. I’ll come with you.’ Both gentlemen were then accompanied into the Residenz.https://www2.bc.edu/john-heineman/Weimar.html
Yet the consequences of Hitler’s mistakes in challenging the power of the state were immediately clear: in less than a minute, in the blink of an eye, the revolution had turned into an exodus and the proposed national campaign had collapsed – in a single volley of bullets. Nullified were four years of dreams, conspiracies and agitation. The two thousand men of the Putschist column had all but evaporated after the salvo; the flower of the rebellion sought salvation in escape.
Mopping up took the police the better part of the remaining day; they found Putschists hiding in places as peculiar as under the flour sacks of a bakery, public toilets on cemeteries, and about a dozen in the closets of a young ladies’ academy. By evening, over a hundred arrests were counted. The rear echelons of the movement, which had preferred the safety of the beer hall to the vagaries of the street, had no desire to link their fortunes to a lost cause: they meekly stacked their rifles on the floor, left the cellar, and vanished in the crowd. Röhm was informed, by one of Lossow’s aides that Hitler was dead and Ludendorff arrested. Further resistance was futile, he realized and gave up.
What had happened, in the meantime, to the other detachments of the coup, those on special missions?
Between the Bürgerbräukeller and the city centre, Gregor Strasser’s SA unit still held the bridge over the Isar; still exchanging hostile stares with the police. The news of the fiasco on the Odeonsplatz reached them soon, informing them that Ludendorff was dead and Hitler wounded and captured. Gregor Strasser now showed some of the experience he had gained in the war. Having no ambition to become a martyr of a failed cause, he shepherded his men into a tactical retreat nimble enough that the police found no gap to attack. The column marched into the direction of the Eastern railway station, when, passing a stretch of woodland, they met a Munich SA detachment busy smashing their rifles against the trees, a pastime Strasser immediately ordered them to cease. The guns, he said, will find their use another day. When the station came into sight, they closed ranks, seized a train, and vanished.
Another absconding SA company, the one that had arrested the city councillors, had already reached the highway leading in south-easterly direction from Munich to Salzburg and the Austrian border. About halfway, at a forest close to Rosenheim, the cavalcade halted, and the prisoners were led into the woods. They must have assumed the worst, and thus were almost ecstatically grateful when they were asked to surrender their clothes rather than their lives. The Putschists climbed into the Excellencies’ festive suits and disappeared quickly, leaving the honourable city fathers to their own resources. The police eventually found them and restored them to their offices.
The situation at the Tegernsee Lake, whither the platoon of Rudolf Hess had taken Minister President von Knilling and the other hostages taken at the Bürgerbräukeller, proved disastrous. Hess had stowed the distinguished servants of the public good into a lakeside villa, which, however, lacked a telephone. Hess left to find one, to report his success back to Munich and ask for further instructions, but when he arrived back at the building he found it deserted: the hostages had persuaded their guards to take them back to Munich. Thus, Hess not only lost his hostages but the truck as well, and found himself stuck forty miles south-east of Munich.
At the Odeonsplatz, the Red Cross had meanwhile taken over and loaded the numerous wounded into ambulances. Scheubner-Richter’s faithful servant Aigner established the deaths of his employer and of his best friend, Ludendorff’s valet, and took it upon himself to inform the families. He later recalled:
“Sick in my soul and totally shattered I returned to our residence in the Widenmayerstrasse.” Frau Scheubner-Richter asked where her husband was. Aigner lied but she insisted on the truth. “I can still remember her
words, ‘That’s terrible but that is why one is an officer’s wife.'” (23)
The only man momentarily not in the picture was Putzi Hanfstängl. Just before the revolutionary column had left the beer hall, he had been dispatched to another intelligence mission: to observe and report on the tactical dispositions of police and Reichswehr around the city centre.
“Where only an hour before droves of citizens had surrounded the party speakers in the inner precincts and exulted in the commotion, now the faces of the passers-by showed irresolution. The majority of the public as
well of the police, Reichswehr, and Battle League units had thought the troop and police deployments in the city centre parts of the preparations for the “March on Berlin”, but the understanding of the sad reality now
precipitated distress and a feeling of futility.
Municipal policemen tore the proclamations of the last evening, signed by Hitler, Kahr, Lossow and Seisser, off the doors and walls of the houses or replaced them with Kahr’s more recent anti-Putsch declaration. The
weather joined in the tristesse, with intermittent showers from a leaden sky. It did not look better in the offices of the Völkischer Beobachter whither I retired. The common feelings were confusion and depression, and Rosenberg characterized the prevailing mood with the words ‘The whole story is over now.’ I took this as advice to think of what might come next, and marched home. I had barely arrived when the telephone rang, and my sister Erna informed me excitedly that ‘Sauerbruch (the famous surgeon) just called, and told me that Hitler and Ludendorff, and their men, have left the Bürgerbräu and are marching over the Ludwig Bridge into the Tal.'” (24)
Hanfstängl left the house in the direction of Brienner Strasse, which would take him to the town centre, but soon met scores of men fleeing from it. He was informed that the police had fired, that Hitler, Ludendorff and Göring were dead, and that the day had brought “finis Germaniae”. (25) He turned on his heels to go back home but met, halfway, Esser, Amann, Eckart and Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler’s photographer, in an open car rushing down the road. Hanfstängl joined the posse which retired to Hoffmann’s apartment, which, they surmised, was safest from a police search. On arrival, they
began preparations to escape to Austria; each man for himself, they hoped, would be less conspicuous than a group.
Thus, it came to pass that Helene Hanfstängl did not receive a visit from her husband on that day in the family’s recently acquired dacha in Uffing, some thirty miles south of Munich, but from Hitler, her great admirer. He arrived in the escape car, having been diagnosed for the moment with a dislocated shoulder which, Dr. Schulze pointed out, was very hard to fix in a small, erratically moving car. Hitler directed the driver to Uffing.
It may be a telltale sign whither a man turns to when hurt or threatened; whither he directs his hopes of sanctuary. One might have assumed that Hitler would seek to reach Landshut or Rosenheim, places where SA units existed and where local indifference to the state police might have assisted his concealment.
But in this existential crisis he sought to find shelter with the woman he admired and respected most, and, perhaps, unattainably romanced: Helene Hanfstängl, the beautiful, intelligent and sensible socialite; a woman as far removed in personality and manners from his small bourgeois, Lower Austrian roots as could be. She was the one he had trusted with the knowledge of the personal reasons for his anti-Semitism, and he constantly showed up at the Hanfstängl’s town apartment with the flimsiest of excuses; that he was too tired to return to his apartment in the Thierschstrasse, that he had to wait for an important telephone call to reach him at Hanfstängl’s telephone or that someone was to meet him down on the street and would ring the door bell soon. For the rest of his life Helene was a persistent subject of his private conversations. An old hand once reminisced that all his life“he continued to chat about the evils of smoking, the joys of motoring, dogs, the origin of Tristan and Isolde, the beauty of Frau Hanfstängl and Jews.”
The fugitives reached a small forest on the outskirts of the little village of Uffing, where they decided to ditch the car. They proceeded per pedes to the small Hanfstängl cottage where they arrived in the late afternoon. Frau Hanfstängl betrayed no surprise over the sudden visitation and showed at once that she was a practical woman as well as a semi-
goddess. She fed the company, assisted Dr. Schulze in provisionally fixing Hitler’s shoulder, and sent the party to bed early.
The company still felt less than rested when the morning dawned; nobody had slept well, either for pain, as in Hitler’s case, or for the tension of expecting the police to show up any minute. After breakfast Hitler asked the medic to return to Munich by train, find the Bechsteins, and ask them to send their limousine, to pick up Hitler discreetly. Dr. Schulze was asked to drive the escape car back to Munich and enlist the aid of a medical acquaintance of his, an assistant of the famous Professor Dr. Sauerbruch. If possible, he should bring him to Uffing to work on Hitler’s arm.
After the departure of the two doctors Hitler tried to reassure his hostess that her husband was safe [he had no idea where he was], then fretted about what might have happened to his comrades. If he got any sleep that night it was shattered early the next morning by the deafening tintinnabulation of bells from the nearby church. It was Sunday the eleventh. Hitler did not appear until lunch. Because of the sling [around his arm], he could not wear his coat and had draped Hanfstängl’s huge dark blue terry cloth bathrobe around him. It brought a smile to his gaunt face. He felt like a pseudo-Roman senator, he said, and he told Helene the story of how his father had ridiculed him as the “toga boy.”
As the afternoon wore on Hitler grew restless and began pacing up and down the sitting room. He became increasingly impatient concerning the Bechstein car. Why the delay? It was only a matter of hours, perhaps minutes, he fretted, before he would be traced to Uffing. At dusk, he asked Helene to close the shutters and draw the curtains, then resumed his moody pacing. (26)
Eventually, the police caught up with him. Ernst Hanfstängl later described their appearance.
First they closed in and searched the property of my mother, outside of the village, for a good hour; even the hay in the loft and the plumeaus on the beds were probed with bayonets. Meanwhile, my house was under
observation, and Hitler grew aware that flight would be impossible. (27)
The consequences Hitler drew from the presence of the police, were, if we believe Herrn Hanfstängl’s narrative, likely to guarantee a great if bloody finale. Here we need to digress for a minute. A long time ago, Hanfstängl’s Harvard music teacher, Professor Marshall, had invited his student to dinner at the St.-Botholph-Club in Boston, on the same evening
that a guest speaker, a Boston police agent, gave an address on the basic teachings of Jiu-Jitsu, the Japanese art of self-defence.
Chosen to be the lecturer’s object of demonstration, the detective showed me a useful trick to disarm an attacker armed with a revolver, a move that I – years later – taught my wife. … Then, on the evening of November 11, two police trucks full of green uniformed state police — the arrest commando — stopped in front of our cottage in Uffing. When my wife hastened up the stairs to the attic where Hitler hid, she met him, armed with a gun, in the tiny antechambre. “This is the end!” he screamed. “Have these pigs arrest me? I rather be dead!” Yet before he could effect his resolution, my wife applied the Boston cop’s Jiu-Jitsu trick and – in a high arc – the revolver flew into a large flour bin, where it vanished at once. (28)
In a fragment of her diary, Frau Hanfstängl described the story as follows:
“Hitler and his companions got out and hid in the forest while the driver tried to repair the car. It turned out soon, that this would require a mechanic. The three men could not afford to be seen, since the news of the events in Munich had spread in the country like wildfire as well. They hid in the forest. Hitler thought of our house and as soon as it was dark, they went on their way. On the long, arduous march, they avoided main roads and used hidden paths. Since we have a side entrance, their arrival went unnoticed. I took them into the house, locked the door and led them to the first floor. Hitler lamented the death of his friends Ludendorff and Ulrich Graf, who, as he thought, were fallen when the first shots were fired.” [The next day] … “Shortly after 5 pm, the phone rang. It was my mother-in-law, living close by, who, before being interrupted, hastily told us that the police searched her house. ‘Now everything is lost!’ cried Hitler. With one swift movement he grabbed his revolver, which he had placed on a cabinet. I reacted immediately, grabbed his arm and took the gun. ‘How can you give up at the first setback? Think of your followers! ‘ As he sank into a chair, I hid the revolver in a container of flour. Then I took paper and pen and asked him, as long as there would be time, to write instructions for his main followers – a sheet for each should suffice.”
The goddess now scolded Hitler as if he were a schoolboy; reminding him of his responsibilities — the men, the party, and the people — and offered to take quick notes if he wished to send messages to his closest followers before the police showed up. Hitler realized his duties, thanked her sincerely, and began to dictate a short message to his men. Rosenberg would become acting leader of the NSDAP with Amann as his deputy, who should also direct the business and finance matters; together with Julius Streicher and Hermann Esser, the former two were to form a quadrivirate that was to take care of party activities until further notice. He appointed the goddess’s husband to the post of principal solicitor of contributions, uninformed that the latter was on the way to Austria. After finishing the notes and hiding them in the flour bin, Frau Hanfstängl went down to answer the door bell.
The sounds of police cars, shouting, and the barking of dogs filled the air of the quiet village. A trio of constables eventually appeared on the Hanfstängl’s doorstep and were allowed to enter. Helene guided the men upstairs to the small sitting room and opened the door, unveiling Hitler, still dressed in Hanfstängl’s bathroom attire. Without much ado, the
policemen took him into custody; so happy to have found their prey at last that they forgot to search the house. They packed their captive into a truck and left immediately for Weilheim, the county centre.
It was almost ten o’clock at night when they arrived at the local court where Hitler was formally arraigned. It was decided that probable cause existed to charge him with high treason, and that the detainee was to be taken immediately to the prison at Landsberg, a small town about forty miles west of Munich. (29)
Since it was thought entirely possible that remnants of the Putschists might try to free the prisoner, the Reichswehr was asked to provide security. They sent an armed detail to Landsberg forthwith, which had, however, not yet arrived when the police column reached the prison compound. The prison of Landsberg consisted of a medium security housing unit for thieves or fraudsters and the like, and a “fortress”, a high-security section for murderers, rapists or political prisoners. Hitler was brought to cell # 7, which was the sole one that had an anteroom for visitors and guards, and which had, until this evening, housed Count Arco-Valley, the assassin of Kurt Eisner.
Since Hitler was accustomed to little space since his days in the asylum and the Männerheim in Vienna and the small rooms he had lived in for most of the last five years in Munich, he betrayed no problems in adapting to the narrowness of his new residence. In fact, his cell was bigger and better lighted than his room in the Thierschstrasse, and the window had a view of the prison garden’s shrubs and flowerbeds. From the first night onward, Hitler found himself in the care of gaoler Franz Hemmrich, who was instructed to look after him in particular and aid him as much as was permissible, and had no other duties. In the outside world, news of the Beer Hall Putsch, as it became known, dominated the newspaper headlines for a few days. For a lack of reliable witnesses, however, most of the articles had to rely on speculation.
Next Post: Prison at Landsberg and Trial
(18) (19) (20) (22)  (23) (26) (29) John Toland, Adolf Hitler, Anchor Books 1976, ISBN 1992 0-385-42053-6, pp. 169 – 176
(24) (25) (27) (28) Ernst Hanfstängl, Zwischen Weißem und Braunem Haus, Piper Verlag, München, 1970, ISBN 3-492-01833-5, pp. 5-6, 143 – 149
(Translations and © John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)