A Fateful Date November 9 Marks Highs and Lows in German History

Broken windows of a Jewish shop on the morning after a Nazi pogrom on Nov 9, 1938.
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Broken windows of a Jewish shop on the morning after a Nazi pogrom on Nov 9, 1938.

By Christopher Lawton

Part 3: Adolf Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch -- 1923


Many in Germany were never particularly taken with the post-World War I system of democracy known as the Weimar Republic. Furthermore, the Treaty of Versailles, which imposed massive war reparations obligations on the infant state, provided fodder to all manner of radical groups claiming that the Weimar Republic was nothing less than a treasonous regime installed by the war victors.

Adolf Hitler's Nazi party was one of those groups. The party got its start in 1919 in Munich and, once Hitler joined, grew quickly to provide a political home for Bavaria's myriad disillusioned nationalists. In addition to virulent anti-Semitism, Hitler's message -- proclaimed at dozens of meetings in beer halls in the early 1920s -- included a withering critique of the Treaty of Versailles and, by extension, of the Weimar Republic.

By the fall of 1923, revolution was in the air in Bavaria and Hitler was feeling strong. By early November, he was actively seeking to unite all Bavarian right wing groups under his leadership, but was concerned that he was being outflanked. He got wind of a Nov. 8 speech to be held by Gustav Ritter von Kahr, the state commissioner of Bavaria at the Bürgerbräu beer hall -- and he immediately jumped to the conclusion that von Kahr was planning on starting a revolution of his own.

Quickly, Hitler made plans to pre-empt the presumed revolution, and on the evening of Nov. 8, had the beer hall surrounded with hundreds of armed SA men. Hitler stormed into the packed beer hall, fired his revolver into the roof and proclaimed a putsch against the Weimar Republic, ultimately planning to march on Berlin and overthrow the government.

But it didn't work. Hitler had been banking on the Bavarian military immediately throwing its support behind him. Instead, when his henchmen Ernst Röhm and Hermann Esser began storming army barracks in the city concurrently with Hitler's storming of the beer hall, they encountered armed resistance. The putsch rapidly lost momentum until Hitler, having spent the night in the beer hall, elected to go for broke on the morning of Nov. 9. He and 2,000 followers straggled out of the hall and began marching through the city, swastika flags flying.

They didn't get far. Just north of the city center, the marching Nazis encountered a police barricade and shots were fired. In the ensuing shootout, 14 Nazis lost their lives with two others killed elsewhere in the city. Hitler, injured while throwing himself to the ground to avoid the bullets, escaped, but was arrested just days later. He was ultimately tried and convicted for his role in the putsch attempt, but received an astoundingly lenient sentence as was out of jail just a year later.

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