Beer Hall Putsch Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Adolf Hitler, a disaffected German nationalist and disgruntled ideologue, attempted a local uprising but ended up under arrest. Although his effort to seize power failed and he was convicted of treason, he emerged as a national hero, and the event became a celebrated moment in the history of the Nazi Party.

Summary of Event

Inspired by Benito Mussolini’s fascist March on Rome of October 28, 1922, which resulted in Mussolini’s appointment as Italy’s prime minister, Adolf Hitler and his followers believed that they too could stage a putsch (the sudden overthrow of a government) and establish rule by a führer, the German equivalent of duce, the Italian term for the leader of the Fascist Party. Mussolini had been able to take charge of Italian cities using paramilitary groups: The threat of force intimidated the Italian king and the country’s governing class, which capitulated to the fascists and acceded to Mussolini’s assumption of one-man rule. Collaborating with Ernst Röhm, Hitler began organizing a group of approximately eight hundred men. Hitler saw this group as the core of a larger force that would be loyal to him alone and would provide the momentum he needed to overthrow the weakening Weimar government that had been established in the wake of Germany’s defeat in World War I. Beer Hall Putsch (1923) Nazi Party;Beer Hall Putsch [kw]Beer Hall Putsch (Nov. 8, 1923) [kw]Putsch, Beer Hall (Nov. 8, 1923) Beer Hall Putsch (1923) Nazi Party;Beer Hall Putsch [g]Germany;Nov. 8, 1923: Beer Hall Putsch[05890] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Nov. 8, 1923: Beer Hall Putsch[05890] [c]Government and politics;Nov. 8, 1923: Beer Hall Putsch[05890] Hitler, Adolf [p]Hitler, Adolf;Beer Hall Putsch Hess, Rudolf Röhm, Ernst Göring, Hermann Ludendorff, Erich Kahr, Gustav Ritter von Streicher, Julius

Like other right-wing German groups, Hitler’s Nazis attacked the Weimar government’s inability to deal with the aftermath of World War I, especially with France’s demand that Germany pay reparations for the destruction caused by invading German armies. Hitler’s speeches denounced the Weimar government’s failure to repudiate the very idea of reparations, and like other extremist groups on the left and the right, the Nazis believed that the Weimar government would soon be pushed from power. The only question was who would have the will and the support to engineer a successful putsch.

Röhm, acting independently of Hitler, organized his paramilitary groups in Bavaria in preparation for a sudden seizure of power. Meanwhile, Hermann Göring used discipline to shape the Sturm Abteilung Sturm Abteilung (SA) into a militant cadre. Hitler, suspecting that he would lose control of his own movement if he did not act quickly, set November 9 as the putsch’s date; he chose the anniversary of William II’s 1918 deposition as the German emperor in the belief that his cohort would rally around the anniversary.

On the evening of November 8, Hitler, escorted by his faithful aide Rudolf Hess and Nazi storm troopers, disrupted a meeting of about three thousand people held by Gustav Ritter von Kahr, head of the Bavarian government. Firing a shot into the ceiling, Hitler took charge of the meeting room, a large beer hall just outside Munich’s center. Announcing that his men had surrounded the building, Hitler declared that Kahr’s Bavarian government had been deposed.

Leaving Göring in charge of the crowded room, Hitler informed the shaken but recalcitrant Kahr that he was about to march on Berlin and form a new national government. Not until General Erich Ludendorff arrived at his side, however, was Hitler able to force Kahr to announce to the meeting that he recognized the new government. “The national revolution has begun!” Hitler shouted. Ludendorff seconded the claim by calling the putsch a watershed event, and Rudolf Hess took Kahr and his entourage into custody.

At the same time, Röhm captured the German army’s headquarters in Munich, and other fascist paramilitaries took over the police headquarters. Nevertheless, Hitler had not secured all elements of the army and police, and he had no plans to extend his power. Julius Streicher urged Hitler to capitalize on his initiative by organizing a mass rally, but Hitler began to sense that he was not in control of events, and, according to Hitler biographer Joachim C. Fest, the Nazi leader suffered a nervous collapse.

With other reports suggesting that the public favored the putsch, Hitler momentarily revived and began planning several large rallies. He was stymied, however, by the fact that he had prepared for use of force but not for an actual violent revolution. Since his followers had not secured the support of the police and army, Hitler was not in a position to mount an attack against significant resistance. General Ludendorff made matters worse by releasing Kahr from custody, and Kahr and his associates immediately regrouped. By the time Hitler and his cohort marched toward the Ministry of War in Munich, armed police were there to meet them. Shots were fired: Göring was hit in the leg, and Hitler was shoved to the ground and dislocated his shoulder. Ludendorff, Streicher, Hitler, and others were arrested. Göring managed to escape, but the Nazi bid for power had become a debacle.

Significance

Even though the Beer Hall Putsch was a failure, the event itself made Hitler a national figure. His trial became political theater: Hitler attacked the Weimar government and portrayed himself as a patriot who hoped to revive Germany’s spirits and its sense of greatness. His efforts were bolstered by the knowledge that elements of the Bavarian government had colluded with his attempted takeover, and so it would be difficult to treat him harshly. The sentence for treason was life imprisonment, but Hitler received only a five-year prison term in rather comfortable surroundings in Landsberg am Lech, an ancient fortress west of Munich, where he served only part of his sentence and began writing Mein Kampf (1925-1926; English translation, 1939). Mein Kampf (Hitler)

Ultranationalists considered Hitler a hero because he took complete responsibility for the putsch. His self-confidence buoyed his followers, and by shielding figures such as Ludendorff, Hitler actually enhanced his role as the leader of a movement dedicated to Germany’s rebirth. Concealing the facts of his own vacillation during the putsch, Hitler played the decisive leader, and he treated his failure to overthrow a despised government as just the first step in his rightful path to power. Although German law dictated that, as an Austrian, Hitler should have been deported, the court ruled that Hitler could serve his sentence in Germany, a decision that delighted the trial’s audience.

The failed putsch convinced Hitler that he would have to acquire power by legal means: He needed to use the very institutions of the state to subvert the state. The putsch also became part of Nazi ideology, and it was remembered as the moment in history when Nazis were martyred for a cause (sixteen Nazis were killed in confrontations with the police on November 9). The event was commemorated each year in a celebration that Hitler called the “real birthday” of his party. Beer Hall Putsch (1923) Nazi Party;Beer Hall Putsch

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Burleigh, Michael. The Third Reich: A New History. New York: Hill & Wang, 2000. Informative, but not as accessible to the general reader as the other three works cited here. Addresses the Beer Hall Putsch only briefly, but thoroughly examines this event’s role in the rise of Nazism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich. New York: Penguin Books, 2004. A work of impressive and engaging scholarship. Includes a perceptive chapter on the Beer Hall Putsch.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fest, Joachim C. Hitler. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973. One of the best single-volume biographies of Hitler available. Includes a detailed chapter on the Beer Hall Putsch.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. 30th anniversary ed. New York: Ballantine, 1991. Classic work is still one of the most readable and informative histories of the Third Reich. Although Shirer’s research has been superseded in some respects, this remains one of the best introductions to the Nazi era. Chapter on the Beer Hall Putsch presents lively details that amount to one of the most thorough explanations of the role this event played in Hitler’s biography and in the rise of Nazism.

Weimar Constitution

Mein Kampf Outlines Nazi Thought

Hitler Comes to Power in Germany

Reichstag Fire

Enabling Act of 1933

Great Blood Purge

Kristallnacht

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