A century ago this month was a turning point in world history. That day, and the previous one, the National Socialist Workers Party staged a coup attempt in Munich. About 3000 people had gone to the Bürgerbräukeller beer hall to hear the right wing state commissioner of Bavaria Gustav Ritter von Kahr. He was a member of the authoritarian triumvirate that ruled Bavaria. The other members of the trio, head of the police – Hans Ritter von Seisser, and a general, Otto von Lossow – were also there.
Hitler enlisted the support of Great War general general Erich Ludendorff. He was second-in-charge to Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg, who managed Germany’s war effort. Ludendorff and Hindenburg prolonged the war and were responsible for its loss. But thanks to some adept public relations manipulation, the people lauded them as heroes.
Nazi stormtroopers surrounded the building while von Kahr was talking. At 8:45pm on 8 November, the nascent Nazi leader threw his beer glass to the floor. Flanked by stormtroopers he marched to the stage. Chaos ensued. To try and quell it, the 34-year-old Hitler got onto a chair, fired a pistol into the air, then went to the stage.
“Sweating considerably, (looking) crazy, drunk or both” he declared: “National revolution is underway!”, that the beer hall was surrounded by 600 armed men and nobody could leave without his permission. He claimed the Bavarian government had been replaced, which was not true.
Hitler took Kahr, von Seisser, and von Lossow, into a room where he demanded they join his cause. He demanded they support him as he led a march against the government in Berlin. In return, he would be appoint them to positions in his newly formed government. His plan was to replicate Mussolini’s March on Rome the previous October.
The trio didn’t agree immediately to Hitler’s plan. Hitler returned to the beer hall where he told the crowd that was becoming increasingly agitated. He said he wanted Kahr to support him. He was acting against the Berlin government, dominated by Jews and Socialists, and the November criminals” who signed the armistice in 1918.
The speech won over the crowd. “Hitler, who had seemed insane to most of the audience only a few minutes before, suddenly mastered the situation. In a short speech … (he) completely turned the mood in the beer hall.”
He explained the triumvirate was considering his proposal. “Can I tell them that you stand behind them?” he asked. The crowd roared its approval. The leaders came back on stage and Kahr said they would support Hitler’s uprising.
Hitler left the hall to help his men seize the military barracks. But when he came back, the leaders had left after promising Hitler’s cronies they would keep their word. Hitler’s hopes of success left with the leaders. They turned on him and crushed the coup. The putsch failed because Hitler needed the support of the triumvirate.
Sixteen Nazis, four police officers, and one bystander were killed. Hitler was arrested and charged with treason.
The putsch failed to overthrow the government of Bavaria, let alone the government of Germany. But it launched Hitler’s national career because:
- The putsch and its aftermath gained global attention, elevating Hitler’s political status from local to national.
- He changed tactics to win power by peaceful and electoral means.
- The trial gave him a platform from which to promote his policies.
- He dictated Mein Kampf– an incomprehensible mix of autobiography and political manifesto. The book wasn’t Hitler’s idea but that of the Nazi party’s publisher.
Hitler served just nine months of his sentence after a farcical trial. When he was released, he rebuilt and expanded the Nazi party, but that’s a story for another time.