The year was 1923. A war veteran by the name of Adolph Hitler had a plan and if everything went well, he would finally be able to lead his people, the Nazi Party, to rise to power. His plan was a risky one, and if it went wrong, it could cost him everything. His plan? Seize control of Bavarian ruled Munich.
At the time, Germany was under a state of severe disrepair. World War I had ended in disaster for the Germans and those who were loyal to Germany could not believe the fact that the German government had surrendered at the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler, like many other nationalists, believed that Germany was a superior force and the idea of surrender caused his blood to boil in anger. He had fought in a war for supremacy, the mere fact that his people were now being forced to deal with the costly reparations and embarrassment of the first war did not rest well with him.
A member of the military, he had been quietly sent to infiltrate an organization known as the German Workers Party. These were dangerous nationalists who posed a threat to the Bavarian government at the time due to their ideals. Yet for Hitler, he quickly discovered that he agreed with all of their beliefs. His rise to a position of authority and power within the party didn’t take long at all.
He had a goal, a desire to see change in the world and reunify Germany. Hatred for what had happened to his beloved government was deep in his heart and his love of the German people led him to concoct a plan that if successful, would put his Nazi Party in control of what was known as the Weimar Republic. His goals were to ultimately march on Berlin, but his party wasn’t nearly as organized or strong enough for such a task. But he had a plan. His political rival, Gustav von Kahr, had the power of dictatorship over the Bavarian controlled Munich. Kahr was a problem, constantly threatening Hitler’s plans, but he also held a great degree of political clout.
Hitler’s plan was a bold one. He would organize his workers to arm up and march on a meeting where Kahr and other members of the ruling triumvirate were present and force them at gunpoint to support a coup. It would be forceful, daring and courageous. If everything went according to plan, Hitler would soon find himself with a stronger level of influence and the whole world would tremble before the National Socialist Party.
It was on November 8th, 1923 that Hitler and his people arrived at the Beer Hall, where Kahr was giving a speech. There was a tenseness in the air as they arrived and prepared to do their mission. Hitler brought 600 men whose job was to follow after his directions. He would seize control quickly and violently if necessary. Glancing at one another, the workers were ready for action. This was it. Other members of Hitler’s party were moving elsewhere to take out communications centers. All they needed to do was take control of this beer hall.
The beer hall was symbolic of German culture, it was a place for debate, argument and meetings to occur. This historic event would be known as the Beer Hall Putsch, with the word Putsch being German for revolution. Many a beer hall was the home of debate and political thoughts; today was no different. Kahr stood before 3,000 individuals who were listening to him speak. The three ruling members of the Bavarian government were present; they were known collectively as a triumvirate. If Hitler played his cards right, he could force them all to agree to a march against Berlin.
The doors burst open as Hitler and his men rushed in, weapons drawn. Chaos ensued as the thousands of individuals began to rabble in surprise at this sudden presence of armed workers. Hitler leapt atop a table and fired a pistol in the air, silencing the crowd. “This hall,” he shouted as he glanced around, “is surrounded by six hundred men. The Revolution has begun! No one here can leave.” This caused a nervous tension to rise within the crowd. Who was this man and why was he here?
Hitler then aimed his gun on the leaders of the triumvirate, Kahr included. He quickly suggested that he have a private meeting with them in a side room. The triumvirate complied, perhaps due to the fact that he had boldly claimed that the Nazi party had already seized control of the police barracks and the army. This was, of course, a lie but everyone seemed to believe it. It was this lie that kept the hostages calm, either that or it was just been because Hitler had a heavy machine gun deployed inside of the beer hall. The triumvirate were quickly ushered into a side room where Hitler could have a more private discussion with them.
He was excited at this point; they had stormed the entire place quickly and without a hitch. Now all he had to do was convince these three rulers, Kahr, Lossow and Seisser, to support him. With pistol in hand, he made a proposition to them. “I have enough bullets for all four of us,” he told them as he waved it around. “Three for you and one for me, if I fail. If I am not victorious by tomorrow, then I am a dead man!” He alternated between aiming the gun at each of them and even to make his own point, he placed the pistol to his own head, showing that he was serious. Maybe he was showing them he was crazy, but Kahr didn’t seem terribly bothered by it. “You may shoot me now or have someone shoot me, but it doesn’t matter.” Kahr said. The other two, however, were rather quick to agree to support Hitler in his coup. They agreed to support Hitler’s forces and would speak on his behalf to rally up more forces to fight against the oppressive Bavarian government. Eventually Kahr agreed as well. Hitler, caught up in his own grand vision, didn’t consider that perhaps these men’s alliance was mere lip service. He was a visionary caught up in his grand scheme to consider that friendship under compulsion wasn’t friendship at all.
In the main hall, the crowd had grown rowdy. They didn’t care for the armed men surrounding them and certainly hated the fact that a machine gun had been set up in the hall as a way to control them. The crowd grumbled and rabbled, but otherwise did nothing. Hitler appeared onstage with the three members of the triumvirate behind him. It was time for a revolution, he told them. The three behind him were in support of such an action and with it was every loyal German’s duty to serve their leaders in taking control of Munich. Hitler’s speech was well received and the triumvirate were quick to give speeches in support of the revolution. It was working! Hitler knew that his plan would go off without a hitch now. All that was left to do was secure some areas of communication so that the government would not be able to organize a counter attack successfully. He had left that up to other members of the party and knew it was only a matter of time before they would succeed.
As the night drew to a close, Hitler became too confident about his plan’s success. The response of the crowd had been positive, they had supported him so fiercely after giving such a powerful speech, that the triumvirate had to know that this would be a successful operation. The three men, Kahr, Lossow and Seisser wouldn’t disagree now. Any hesitation would be shattered by this new support, Hitler reasoned, and so he would be free to put his focus elsewhere. Turning to his loyal ally, a General from the 1st World War, Erich Ludendorff, Hitler made mention that he would be leaving the Beer Hall in order to continue organizing his force’s efforts. Ludendorff was to be in control of the situation. But there was a problem: Ludendorff had no idea that there was going to be a coup. He had been retrieved by a few members of the Nazi Party and brought to the Beer Hall after control had been seized. He had not been prepared for a coup. Even though he supported Hitler’s ambitions, it was not something that Ludendorff had properly accounted for.
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Hitler left the hall behind as he went off to handle a clash that his workers were having with the police. Ludendorff, still trying to get up to speed, was convinced by the triumvirate to allow them to go home. The triumvirate claimed that they were in lockstep with Hitler’s desire for deposing the Bavarian government and promised to rally up their own men to the cause. Ludendorff, not realizing that these men weren’t convinced at all, agreed and allowed them to leave. It was in that moment, the coup ended in miserable failure because with the ruling members now free, they were quick to contact their police forces and order the suppression of the revolution.
Hitler returned after that, incredulous to discover that Ludendorff had allowed his political rivals to leave. Hitler was an idealist and while he often had unrealistic expectations and naivety, he wasn’t that naive. He knew in an instant that the coup would fall apart without the triumvirate’s support. The massive rally that he had organized was losing its steam quickly and soon Kahr would publicly denounce Hitler’s plans and organize a counterattack on the Nazi Party.
Even though Hitler realized that this was more or less the death knell of his plan to seize control of Munich, he tried to figure something out. The revolutionaries weren’t doing anything and with each passing hour, the odds of success were growing slimmer and slimmer. With this level of pressure, Hitler and Ludendorff came up with a plan. They would march anyway. Ludendorff believed that since he was a war hero and a general of legendary status, no one would dare fire upon them. Hitler agreed with this plan and quickly organized is forces to march toward the center of Munich. This was desperate and while they didn’t have a very comprehensive plan of what to actually do once they got to the center, it didn’t matter. Hitler could feel the opportunity slipping past him and he had to act. His other operators had failed in their respective missions to secure more support and once the Bavarian government organized a sufficient armed response it would all be over.
Arm in arm, the Nazi Party marched toward the Bavarian Defense Ministry building. It was a spur of the moment decision, but at this point it didn’t really matter. They marched together in lockstep, armed and ready for violence if it should come to it. The police formed a blockade in the center of the street, armed as well. The party, well over 3,000 people, were ready to continue their march but the police were equally ready to fight back with violence.
There was tension, would Hitler’s forces be willing to fight and die here? Would the police just open fire? Ludendorff did not think that they would and demanded that they be allowed entry. The police didn’t move down from their stance. A single gunshot rang out, but it was impossible to tell who fired it. Soon both sides were firing upon one another and Hitler was wounded in the attack. Several Nazi’s were killed and the party scattered, after all they were not a professional army. As they fled in the chaos, Hitler was forced to retreat was well. His glorious attempt at revolution had ended in abject failure after he failed to properly prepare his men for what they would do after they had taken control of the Beer Hall. He was quickly captured by the government after that. He would undergo a trial and would be sentenced to prison, where he would write a book about his experiences. The name of the book? Mein Kampf.
Later on, of course, Hitler would rise to power and take control of Germany, but he learned a very valuable lesson during his attempt at a coup. The first lesson was that desire alone wasn’t enough to win him control. His tenacity and naivete had led to a series of tactical errors that cost him his chance at victory. The second lesson was that violence alone wasn’t enough to capture the hearts of men. It wasn’t just control that needed to be established, but loyalty. He made the decision to change his tone. He wouldn’t capture the hearts of the German people through force, but through capturing their hearts and minds with persuasion, control and uniting them against a common foe: the Jews.
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The Beer Hall Putsch of 1923: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/modern-world-history-1918-to-1980/weimar-germany/the-beer-hall-putsch-of-1923/
Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch: http://history1900s.about.com/cs/thirdreich/a/beerhallputsch.htm
Adolph Hitler Attempts A Coup: http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/putsch.htm
Beer Hall Putsch: http://totallyhistory.com/beer-hall-putsch/