Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch

Hitler's Failed Attempt to Take Over Germany in 1923

A picture of Heinrich Himmler holding a flag during the failed Beer Hall Putsch.
Heinrich Himmler, holding a flag, with a group of Nazi storm troopers during the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

Ten years before Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, he tried to take power by force during the Beer Hall Putsch. On the night of November 8, 1923, Hitler and some of his Nazi confederates stormed into a Munich beer hall and attempted to force the triumvirate, the three men that governed Bavaria, to join him in a national revolution. The men of the triumvirate initially agreed since they were being held at gunpoint, but then denounced the coup as soon as they were allowed to leave.

Hitler was arrested three days later and, after a short trial, was sentenced to five years in prison, where he wrote his infamous book, Mein Kampf.

A Little Background

In the fall of 1922, the Germans asked the Allies for a moratorium on the reparations payments that they were required to pay according to the Versailles Treaty (from World War I). The French government refused the request and then occupied the Ruhr, the integral industrial area of Germany when the Germans defaulted on their payments.

The French occupation of German land united the German people to act. So the French would not benefit from the land they occupied, German workers in the area staged a general strike. The German government supported the strike by giving workers financial support.

During this time, inflation had increased exponentially within Germany and created a growing concern over the Weimar Republic's capability to govern Germany.

In August 1923, Gustav Stresemann became Chancellor of Germany. Only a month after taking office, he ordered the end of the general strike in the Ruhr and decided to pay reparations to France. Rightfully believing that there would be anger and revolts within Germany to his announcement, Stresemann had President Ebert declare a state of emergency.

The Bavarian government was unhappy with Stresemann's capitulation and declared its own state of emergency on the same day as Stresemann's announcement, September 26. Bavaria was then ruled by a triumvirate which consisted of Generalkommissar Gustav von Kahr, General Otto von Lossow (commander of the army in Bavaria), and Colonel Hans Ritter von Seisser (commander of the state police).

Though the triumvirate had ignored and even defied several orders that were directly from Berlin, by the end of October 1923 it seemed that the triumvirate was losing heart. They had wanted to protest, but not if it were to destroy them. Adolf Hitler believed it was time to take action.

The Plan

It is still debated who actually came up with the plan to kidnap the triumvirate -- some say Alfred Rosenberg, some say Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter, while still others say Hitler himself.

The original plan was to capture the triumvirate on the German Memorial Day (Totengedenktag) on November 4, 1923. Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser would be on a stand, taking the salute from the troops during a parade.

The plan was to arrive on the street before the troops arrived, shut off the street by setting up machine guns, and then get the triumvirate to join Hitler in the "revolution." The plan was foiled when it was discovered (the day of the parade) that the parade street was well protected by police.

They needed another plan. This time, they were going to march into Munich and seize its strategic points on November 11, 1923 (the anniversary of the armistice). However, this plan was scrapped when Hitler heard about Kahr's meeting.

Kahr called a meeting of approximately three thousand government officials on November 8 at the Buergerbräukeller (a beer hall) in Munich. Since the entire triumvirate would be there, Hitler could force them at gunpoint to join him.

The Putsch

Around eight o'clock in the evening, Hitler arrived at the Buergerbräukeller in a red Mercedes-Benz accompanied by Rosenberg, Ulrich Graf (Hitler's bodyguard), and Anton Drexler. The meeting had already started and Kahr was speaking.

Sometime between 8:30 and 8:45 p.m., Hitler heard the sound of trucks. As Hitler burst into the crowded beer hall, his armed storm troopers surrounded the hall and set up a machine gun in the entrance.

To grab everyone's attention, Hitler jumped onto a table and fired one or two shots into the ceiling. With some help, Hitler then forced his way to the platform.

"The National Revolution has begun!" Hitler shouted. Hitler continued with a few exaggerations and lies stating that there were six hundred armed men surrounding the beer hall, the Bavarian and the national governments had been taken over, the barracks of the army and police were occupied, and that they were already marching under the swastika flag.

Hitler then ordered Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser to accompany him into a side private room. What exactly went on in that room is sketchy.

It is believed that Hitler waved his revolver at the triumvirate and then told each of them what their positions would be within his new government. They didn't answer him. Hitler even threatened to shoot them and then himself. To prove his point, Hitler held the revolver to his own head.

During this time, Scheubner-Richter had taken the Mercedes to fetch General Erich Ludendorff, who had not been privy to the plan.

Hitler left the private room and again took the podium. In his speech, he insinuated that Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser had already agreed to join. The crowd cheered.

By this time, Ludendorff had arrived. Though he was upset that he had not been informed and that he was not to be the leader of the new government, he went to talk to the triumvirate anyway. The triumvirate then hesitantly agreed to join because of the great esteem they held for Ludendorff.

Each one then went onto the platform and made a short speech.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly, so Hitler left the beer hall for a short time to personally deal with a clash between his armed men, leaving Ludendorff in charge.

The Downfall

When Hitler came back to the beer hall, he found that all three of the triumvirate had left. Each one was quickly denouncing the affiliation that they made at gunpoint and was working to put down the putsch. Without the support of the triumvirate, Hitler's plan had failed. He knew he did not have enough armed men to compete against an entire army.

Ludendorff came up with a plan. He and Hitler would lead a column of storm troopers into the center of Munich and thus would take control of the city. Ludendorff was confident that no one in the army would fire upon the legendary general (himself). Desperate for a solution, Hitler agreed to the plan.

Around eleven o'clock in the morning on November 9, approximately 3,000 stormtroopers followed Hitler and Ludendorff on their way to the center of Munich. They met up with a group of police who let them pass after having been given an ultimatum by Hermann Goering that if they were not allowed to pass, hostages would be shot.

Then the column arrived at the narrow Residenzstrasse. At the other end of the street, a large group of police waited. Hitler was in the front with his left arm linked with the right arm of Scheubner-Richter. Graf shouted to the police to inform them that Ludendorff was present.

Then a shot rang out.

No one is sure which side fired the first shot. Scheubner-Richter was one of the first to be hit. Mortally wounded and with his arm linked with Hitler, Hitler went down too. The fall dislocated Hitler's shoulder. Some say that Hitler thought he had been hit. The shooting lasted approximately 60 seconds.

Ludendorff kept walking. As everyone else fell to the ground or sought cover, Ludendorff defiantly marched straight ahead. He and his adjutant, Major Streck, marched right through the line of police. He was very angry that no one had followed him. He was later arrested by the police.

Goering had been wounded in the groin. After some initial first aid, he was spirited off and smuggled into Austria. Rudolf Hess also fled to Austria. Roehm surrendered.

Hitler, though not really wounded, was one of the first to leave. He crawled and then ran to an awaiting car. He was taken to the home of the Hanfstaengls where he was hysterical and depressed. He had fled while his comrades lay wounded and dying in the street. Two days later, Hitler was arrested.

According to different reports, between 14 and 16 Nazis and three policemen died during the Putsch.

Bibliography

Fest, Joachim. Hitler. New York: Vintage Books, 1974.
Payne, Robert. The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1973.
Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1990.

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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch." ThoughtCo, Apr. 7, 2017, thoughtco.com/hitlers-beer-hall-putsch-1778295. Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2017, April 7). Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hitlers-beer-hall-putsch-1778295 Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hitlers-beer-hall-putsch-1778295 (accessed November 25, 2017).