Marienplatz in Munich during the Munich Putsch.
Bavarian State Police
|Commanders and leaders|
| Adolf Hitler
Ludwig Maximilian Erwin von Scheubner-Richter⚔
| Otto von Lossow|
Hans Ritter von Seisser
Gustav Ritter von Kahr
|Casualties and losses|
About a dozen injured
Many captured and imprisoned
The Munich Putsch (also known as the Hitlerputsch, the Hitler-Ludendorff Putsch, the March to the Feldherrnhalle, or derogatorily as the Beer Hall Putsch) was an attempted coup that occurred between the evening of Thursday, 8 November and the early afternoon of Friday, 9 November 1923, when the National Socialist Party leader Adolf Hitler, the popular World War I General Erich Ludendorff, and other leaders of the Kampfbund, unsuccessfully tried to gain power in Munich, Bavaria, and Germany. Putsch is the German word for "coup."
16 coup supporters and four police officers were killed during a street battle, with Hitler being among the wounded. Other notable participants included Alfred Rosenberg, Dietrich Eckart, Ernst Röhm, Gregor Strasser, Hans Frank, Heinrich Himmler, Hermann Göring, Josef Dietrich, Julius Streicher, and Wilhelm Frick. Hitler was found guilty of treason and sentenced to five years in the Landsberg Prison, where he dictated "Mein Kampf" to his fellow prisoners Emil Maurice and Rudolf Hess. On 20 December 1924, having served only nine months, Hitler was released.
Beer halls were huge taverns that existed in most larger southern German cities, where hundreds or even thousands of people were able to gather during the evenings, drink beer out of large stone jugs and sing rousing drinking songs. They are also places where political rallies can be held, a tradition still alive today. One of the largest in Munich was the Bürgerbräukeller, where the Munich putsch was launched.
German power and prestige were destroyed in the aftermath of World War I. Hitler saw this as a betrayal by the central government. The former corporal and crowd-rousing speaker, who in the chaotic political atmosphere of postwar Munich had risen rapidly to head the small National Socialist party, could call on about 15,000 brown shirts representing several right-wing Bavarian political groups -- the Kampfbund. Hitler announced that starting on September 27, 1923, he would be holding 14 mass meetings. This prompted the Bavarian Prime Minister Eugen von Knilling to declare a state of emergency and named Gustav von Kahr as Bavarian Commissar, Bavarian State Police head Colonel Hans Ritter von Seisser, and Reichswehr General Otto von Lossow as dictators (they were called the "triumvirs") to keep order.
Hitler, with other leaders in the Kampfbund, searched out the triumvirs, the leaders of the conservative-nationalist-monarchist groups to convince them to march upon Berlin and seize power. In April, before the establishment of the triumvir, Hitler would call von Kahr almost every day. Each thought to use the other to propel himself into power. Von Kahr sought to restore the monarchy; Hitler wanted his party to rule.
The attempted putsch
The attempted putsch was inspired by Mussolini's successful March on Rome. Further, when Hitler realized von Kahr either sought to control him or was losing heart (history is unclear), Hitler decided to take matters into his own hands. He planned to use Munich as a base against Germany's Weimar Republic government in Berlin. Hitler, along with a large detachment of SA, marched on the Bürgerbräukeller, a Munich beer hall where von Kahr was making a speech in front of 3,000 people.
In the cold evening dark, 600 stormtroopers surrounded the beer hall and a machine gun was set up pointing at the auditorium doors. Hitler, surrounded by his associates Hermann Göring, Alfred Rosenberg, Rudolf Hess, Ernst Hanfstaengl, Ulrich Graf, Johann Aigner, Adolf Lenk, Max Amann,Scheubner-Richter, Wilhelm Adam, etc. (some twenty in all) burst through the doors at 8:30 pm, pushed their way laboriously through the crowd, fired a shot into the ceiling and jumped on a chair yelling,
- "The national revolution has broken out! The hall is filled with six hundred men. Nobody is allowed to leave. The Bavarian government and the government at Berlin are deposed. A new government will be formed at once. The barracks of the Reichswehr and those of the police are occupied. Both have rallied to the swastika."
At gunpoint, Hitler, accompanied by Rudolf Hess, Adolf Lenk and Ulrich Graf forced the triumvirate of von Kahr, von Seisser, and von Lossow into a side room (previously hired by Rudolf Hess) and demanded their support for his putsch, or they would be shot. Hitler thought that he would get an immediate response of affirmation from them, imploring von Kahr to accept the position as Regent of Bavaria. Von Kahr reasonably pointed out that he could not be expected to collaborate especially as he had been taken out of the auditorium under heavy guard.
During this time, speeches were held in the main hall by Goering, amongst others, obtaining a temporary calm, whilst no one was allowed to leave, not even to go to the bathroom. Some, however, managed to escape via the kitchen, especially those foreign correspondents eager to file copy. At the same time, Heinz Pernet, Johann Aigner and Scheubner-Richter were dispatched to pick up General Ludendorff, whose personal prestige was being harnessed to give the group credibility. A phone call was made from the kitchen by Kriebel to Ernst Röhm, who was waiting with his Reichskriegflagge in the Löwenbräukeller, another beer hall, and ordered him to seize key buildings throughout the city. At the same time, co-conspirators under Gerhard Rossbach mobilized the students of a nearby Officers Infantry school to seize other objectives.
Hitler became irritated by von Kahr and summoned Ernst Poehner, Friedrich Weber and Hermann Kriebel to stand in for him whilst he returned to the auditorium to make a speech (as he had promised some fifteen minutes earlier). Flanked by Rudolf Hess and Adolf Lenk, Hitler returned to the auditorium to make an extempore speech that changed the mood of the hall almost within seconds. Dr. Karl Alexander von Mueller, a professor of modern history and political science at the University of Munich, a supporter of von Kahr, was an eyewitness. He reported: "I cannot remember in my entire life such a change in the attitude of a crowd in a few minutes, almost a few seconds ... Hitler had turned them inside out, as one turns a glove inside out, with a few sentences. It had almost something of hocus-pocus, or magic about it."
Hitler started quietly reminding the audience that his move was not directed against von Kahr and launched into his speech ending with:
- "Outside are Kahr, Lossow and Seisser. They are struggling hard to reach a decision. May I say to them that you will stand behind them?"
The audience roared its approval. He finished triumphantly:
- "You can see that what motivates us is neither self-conceit or self-interest, but only a burning desire to join the battle in this grave eleventh hour for our German Fatherland ... One last thing I can tell you. Either the German revolution begins tonight and the morrow will find us in Germany a true nationalist government, or it will find us dead by dawn!"
To the historian Karl Alexander von Mueller, the histrionics and melodrama were painful. He could not make up his mind whether Hitler was a man consumed, a brilliant showman or another Machiavelli. Hitler carried all three traits to extremes. Hitler returned to the ante-room, where the triumvirs remained incarcerated, to ear-shattering acclaim which the triumvirs cannot have failed to notice. On his way back, Hitler ordered Goering and Hess to take von Knilling and seven other members of the Bavarian government into custody.
During Hitler's speech, Poehner, Weber and Kriebel had been trying in a conciliatory fashion to bring the triumvirate round to their point of view. The atmosphere in the room had become lighter but von Kahr continued to dig in his heels. Ludendorff showed up a little before 9 p.m. and, being shown into the ante-room, concentrated on von Lossow and von Seisser appealing to their 'sense of duty'. Eventually the triumvirate reluctantly gave in.
Hitler, Ludendorff et al moved back into the auditorium, where they gave speeches, shook hands, and then the crowd was allowed to leave. In a tactical mistake, Hitler decided to leave the Bürgerbräu Keller shortly thereafter to deal with a crisis elsewhere. Around 10:30 p.m., Ludendorff released von Kahr and his associates.
The night was marked by confusion and unrest among government officials, armed forces and police units, and individuals deciding where their loyalties lay. Units of the Kampfbund were scurrying around to arm themselves from secret caches, seizing buildings. Around 3 in the morning, the first casualties of the putsch occurred when the local garrison of the Reichswehr spotted Röhm's men coming out of the beer hall. They were ambushed while trying to reach the Reichswehr barracks and had to fall back. In the meantime, the Reichswehr officers put the whole garrison on alert and called for reinforcements. In a prefiguration of things to come, a list of prominent Jews was made up and squads of SA were sent around to arrest them. Some were taken into custody while others escaped. The foreign attachés were also seized in their hotel rooms and put under house arrest.
In the early morning, Hitler ordered the seizure of the Munich city council as hostages. He further sent the communications officer of the Kampfbund, Max Neunzert, to enlist the aid of Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria to mediate between von Kahr and the putschists. Neunzert failed in the mission.
By midmorning on the 9th, the realization hit that the putsch was going nowhere and Hitler was desperate. They didn't know what to do and were about to give up. At this moment, Ludendorff cried out "Wir marschieren!" (We will march!) and Röhm's force together with Hitler's (a total of approx. 2000 men) marched out with no plan of where to go. At the spur of the moment, Ludendorff led them to the Bavarian Defense Ministry. However, at the Odeonsplatz in front of the Feldherrnhalle ("Field Marshall's Hall"), they met with a force of 100 soldiers blocking the way under the command of State Police Senior Lieutenant Baron Michael von Godin. The two groups exchanged fire, killing four state police officers and sixteen party members. It was here that the Blutfahne came to be. Hitler and Hermann Göring were both injured, the latter managing to escape while the former was captured shortly thereafter.
Police and State Police units were first notified of trouble by two police detectives stationed at the Löwenbräukeller. These reports reached Major Sigmund von Imhoff of the State police. He immediately called all his "green" police units and had them seize the central telegraph office and the telephone exchange, though his most important act was to notify Major General Jakob Ritter von Danner, the Reichswehr city commandant of Munich. As a staunch aristocrat, he loathed the "little corporal" and those "freikorps bands of rowdies." He also didn't much like his commanding officer, Generalleutnant Otto von Lossow, "a sorry figure of a man." He was determined to put down the putsch with or without von Lossow. General Ritter von Danner set up a command post at the 19th Infantry Regiment barracks and alerted all military units.
Meanwhile Captain Karl Wild, learning of the putsch from marchers, mobilized his command to guard von Kahr's government building, the "Commissariat", with orders to shoot.
There was one member of the cabinet who was not at the Bürgerbräu Keller: Franz Matt, the vice-premier and minister of education and culture. A staunchly conservative Catholic, he was having dinner with Michael Cardinal von Faulhaber and the Papal Nuncio, Monsignor Eugenio Pacelli (who would later become Pope Pius XII), when he learned of the putsch. He immediately phoned von Kahr. When he found the man vacillitating and unsure, Matt decisively began plans to set up a rump government-in-exile in Regensburg and composed a proclamation calling upon all police, armed forces, and civil servants to remain loyal to the government.
The action of these few men spelled doom for the Putschists.
On Saturday, 4,000 students from Munich University rioted and marched to the Feldherrnhalle to lay wreaths (they continued to riot through Monday until learning of Hitler's arrest). Von Kahr and von Lossow were called "Judases" and "Traitors."
Trial and Prison
Three days after the putsch, Hitler was arrested and charged with treason. Some of his co-conspirators were arrested while others escaped to Austria. The NSDAP Party headquarters were raided, and its newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter ("The People's Observer") was banned.
This, however, was not the first time Hitler had been in trouble with the law. In an incident in September 1921, he and some SA had disrupted a meeting of the Bayernbund, and the Germans who had gone there to cause trouble were arrested as a result. Hitler ended up serving a little over a month of a three-month jail sentence. Presiding Judge Georg Neithardt was the same judge in both Hitler cases.
His trial began on 26 February 26 1924 and Hitler, along with Hess was sentenced to five years in Festungshaft (literally, "fortress confinement") for treason. "Festungshaft" was a type of jail that excluded forced labor, featured reasonably comfortable cells, and allowed the prisoner to receive visitors almost daily for many hours. It was the customary sentence for people whom the judge believed to have had honourable but misguided motives.
However, Hitler used his trial as an opportunity to spread his ideas. Every word he spoke was reported in the newspaper next day. The judges were impressed (Presiding Judge Neithardt was inclined to favoritism towards the defendants prior to the trial), and as a result Hitler only served a little over eight months and was fined 500DM. Due to his war service and connections, Ludendorff was acquitted. Both Röhm and Dr. Wilhelm Frick, though found guilty, were released. Göring, meanwhile, suffered bullet wounds in his leg, which led him to become increasingly dependent on morphine and other painkilling drugs.
Though Hitler failed to achieve his immediate stated goal—and in fact there seems to be no turn of events which could have caused this rather poorly organized coup not to fail—the event did give the National Socialists their first exposure to national and international attention. (Hitler’s first mention in The New York Times was in reference to the failed coup.) It was while serving his prison sentence at Landsberg am Lech that he and Rudolf Hess wrote Mein Kampf. Also, the putsch changed Hitler's outlook on violent revolution to effect change. From then on he thought that, in order to win the German heart, he must do everything by the book, strictly legal, since Germans obviously frowned on not following the rules. He decided to manoeuvre it so that the German Volk would choose him as their leader. Later on, the German people were calling him "Adolf Legalité" or "Adolf the Legal One."
The process of combination, where the conservative-nationalist-monarchist group thought that they could piggyback onto and control the National Socialist movement to garner the seats of power, was to repeat itself ten years later in 1933 when Franz von Papen would ask Hitler to form a government.
The sixteen fallen were regarded as the first 'blood martyrs' of the NSDAP, and were remembered by Hitler in the foreword of Mein Kampf as martyrs. The swastika flag which they carried,, which in the course of events was stained with the blood, came to be known as the Blutfahne (blood flag), was bought out for the swearing in of new recruits in front of the Feldherrnhalle when Hitler was in power.
Shortly after coming to power a memorial was placed at the south side of the Feldherrnhalle crowned with a swastika. The back of the memorial read 'Und Ihr Habt Doch Gesiegt!' ("Yet victory was yours"). Behind it flowers were laid, and either policemen or the SS stood guard in between a lower plaque. Passers-by were required to give the Hitler salute. The putsch was also commemorated on three sets of stamps. Mein Kampf was dedicated to the fallen and in the book Ich Kampfe (given to those joining the party circa 1943) they are listed first even though the book lists hundreds of other dead. The header text in the book read ‘Though They Are Dead For Their Acts They Will Live On Forever’. The army had a division named the Feldherrnhalle regiment and there was also an SA Feldherrnhalle division.
Every year (even during the war up to 1942) a commeration, attended by Hitler, took place in Munich, the centrepiece of which was usually a recreation of the march, from the Burgerbraukeller to the south side of the Feldherrnhalle but also throughout every Gau was expected to hold a small remembrance ceremony. As material given to propagandists said, the sixteen fallen were the first losses and the ceremony was an occasion to commemorate everyone who had died for the movement.
The Honor Temples (German: Ehrentempel) were two structures in Munich, erected by in 1935, housing the sarcophagi of the sixteen members of the Party who had been killed in the failed Munich Putsch. At the temples visitors were required to be silent, not wear hats and keep children from running over the centre of the temples. The Ehrentempel was made of limestone except for its roof which was made of steel and concrete with etched glass mosaics. The pedestals of the temples, which are the only parts remaining, are 70 feet (21 m). The columns of the structures each extended 23 feet (7.0 m). The combined weight of the sarcophagi was over 2,900 pounds (1,300 kg). On 5 July 1945 the US-American invaders occupying army removed the bodies from the Ehrentempel and contacted their families. On 9 January 1947 the upper parts of the structures were blown up.