Tuesday, January 17, 2017

8. Big Words for a Coward

The next chapter of Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer, is "The Beer Hall Putsch." My reviews of the first eight chapters were:
1. On November 8-9, 1923, Hitler finally rode the wave of his rhetoric to its necessary destination. He gathered about 3000 discontent and made a bid to make Germany great again by throwing out its current leaders. He of course had given his word more than once that he would not make a “putsch,” a coup to overthrown the legitimate government. But he would later claim that a putsch was always the plan.

At first the plan was to install the Crown Prince Rupprecht as king. If not for WW1, he would already be king of Bavaria. Those in control were largely monarchists anyway. Kahr, the current leader of Bavaria, was one. Hitler knew he would have the support of the resident war hero, Ludendorff, even if they did not speak beforehand.

But on the day the Crown Prince was to speak, he was too well guarded. The plan had been to go up to him and inform him that he was being restored as king and it was expected that the others would go along, since so many favored that result anyway. Hitler’s co-conspirators—Rosenberg from Russia and Max Richter—believed that taking control of the state’s police power was the first step toward national revolution. Restoring the king was seen as a way to that end.

2. The next opportunity was a night when Kahr was giving a speech at the Bürgerbräu Keller, one of the larger beer halls in Munich. Hitler first gained the support of the Munich police. Ernst Pöhner had always protected him, and Pöhner put a sympathetic official named Frick in charge the night of November 8.

So while Kahr was giving his speech, six hundred storm troops surrounded the beer hall. The police were told not to interfere. Hitler stood on a chair and shot his gun in the air. A machine gun was set up in the entrance. He was later said to have the expression of a madman, not calm and in control of himself, perhaps when all is said and done, quite afraid.

He bluffed out lies. “The national revolution has begun.” He said that the Reichswehr army and the police were marching throughout the city under the swastika banner, which was not true. He claimed that Ludendorff was in on the plan when he had no knowledge of these events. Of course he was game once he was brought to the scene.

3. The leaders of the city played along after Ludendorff arrived. Kahr was willing to be shot before then. Others to whom Hitler had promised never to putsch went along too—Lossow and Seisser. They all played along—or perhaps more likely, for a moment they were truly tempted to go along. A great number of the three thousand in attendance were enthusiastic about returning the monarchy to Bavaria and creating a national government.

Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser were allowed to leave, but now they hear from Berlin, from their superiors. Berlin has met. The broader army of the Reichswehr will not let this putsch stand. And Lossow had let this nobody civilian, a former corporal, Hitler, point a gun at him, a general, and call him a coward.

Now comes the reversal. Hitler had left to settle some resistance at one of the barracks, which opened the space in which Kahr and Lossow left. When he returns to the Bürgerbräu, they are gone. The minutes go by. He increasingly feels like things have gone amiss.

He begins to cower. He tries to send word to the Crown Prince asking for pardon of himself at Ludendorff. The emissary can’t find a car. By the time it arrives all is over.

4. Ludendorff is no coward. They will march on the city. Rudolf Hess flees with two of the lesser ministers in a car. He drives around, threatening to shoot them at the side of the road until he learns all is lost. Then he walks across the mountain into Austria. Hermann Göring seems keen on shooting hostages. He tells the police he will bash all their heads in if they shoot on them. He intersperses them among the troops.

But Hitler dismisses them at one point. He says later that he wanted no martyrs. He seems to be losing his resolve the longer into the affair it goes. Maybe he didn’t want to be shot.

They are on an ally coming into Odeonsplatz. Someone hears Hitler shout, “Surrender, surrender!” Someone tries to say not to shoot because His Excellency Ludendorff is coming. Who knows, if he had left off the “His Excellency” part they might not have fired.

But fire they did. Of the front row, only Richter was dead. His arm interlocked with Hitler may have pulled him to the ground. Most of the leaders dropped out of fear. Only Ludendorff and one other kept walking forward through the police line. The fourteen who died were almost all nobodies behind the leaders. Hitler scrambled off to a get-away car—the first to run away.

The putsch was a failure.

5. The economic and political conditions of Germany very quickly got better, and Hitler’s moment for revolution was over. France changed government and withdrew from the Ruhr. England, France, and Germany reached an agreement on the limits of reparations. The German currency was stabilized.

Meanwhile, those who judged the participants in the putsch were sympathetic to Hitler’s cause. Ludendorff was completely let off the hook. Hitler only ended up spending eight months in prison, during which time he wrote Mein Kampf. His trial actually gave him a platform in the media from which to give his agenda and to place himself as someone who could lead that glorious, nationalist future. What was he other than a destroyer of Marxism?

He was a great man, and what could great men do but be great?

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