26 February 1924: On this day in history, the Beer Hall Putsch trial began in Munich.
On the 8th of November 1923 at approximately 8:30 pm, Adolf Hitler jumped on a Munich beer hall table, fired a pistol in the air, and screamed “The National Revolution has begun!” But less than 16 hours later, it would meet a bloody end, and within the week most of the conspirators would be in jail awaiting trial.
The trial against the putschists began on the 26th of February in Munich. Constitutionally as a treason trial, it should have been held at the federal high court in Leipzig, however, Bavarian politicians stepped in and ensured it would be held in Bavaria, fearing discovery of their high-level connections to the Nazi movement and the plot. The location was to benefit Hitler. ‘The king of Munich,’ as he was known, did not lack for sympathetic ears in the courtroom. Lead judge Georg Neithardt was one such admirer, allowing Hitler to make speeches and cross-examine the prosecutions’ witnesses.
The trial gave Hitler something that he desperately craved – a national platform. After each of the trial’s 25 days, national newspapers carried reports of the trial, and with it, Hitler’s message all throughout Germany. In grandiose language, he took full responsibility for the putsch but claimed that there could be no treason against a government that had signed the Treaty of Versailles. Further, he claimed that he could not be judged by the proceedings, and instead history “will one day laughingly tear up the charges of the Prosecution.”
When handing the sentence down, Judge Neithardt praised the defendant’s “purely patriotic spirit and noblest will,” yet there was no denying they had committed the crime. He found all except Erich Ludendorff guilty of treason. It was in putschists’ sentences where the judge could find room for leniency. They ranged from a minimum of probation to a maximum of five years jail and a fine for Hitler and three others. Furthermore, Hitler was saved from mandatory exile to Austria. At the pronouncement of the sentence, the audience in the courtroom burst out in loud cheers. Due to ‘good behaviour’, Hitler would serve less than 9 months of the sentence.
These sentences were lenient not only when viewed in the context of history, but also contemporary events. The Hamburg communist uprising which took place a few weeks before the Beer Hall Putsch was ruthlessly prosecuted by the state. A special court tried 443 revolutionaries and executed most of the ring leaders. If the Weimar Republic had protected itself from its right flank in the same way as the left, it may have been able to save itself from the Third Reich.
This edition of On This Day in History was written by BBS member Campbell Bews.
It’s one of four events he chose to remember in February. See our blog to find out what else made the cut.