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Law and Famous Trials

Mata Hari

What was the importance of Hitler’s beer hall putsch trial?

The 1924 trial of German chancellor and führer Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) and nine other men, charged with treason for their attempted coup (in German, putsch) of late 1923, marked the beginning of Hitler’s seemingly unstoppable rise to power.

As the leader of the Nazi Party (National Socialists German Workers’ Party), Hitler had gained enough of a following to believe that on the night of November 8, 1923, as Bavarian leader Gustav von Kahr spoke in a Munich beer hall, Hitler and his followers—all of them determined to recreate a powerful German empire and rid it of its “mongrel-like” quality—could topple the weak German government, merely by demonstrating that the Nazis, and not the official government, had gained the support of the people. But in a march through Munich the following day, the still-loyal Germany regular army and the Bavarian state police opened fire on the Nazi demonstrators and their sympathizers, killing 16 and arresting Hitler and his nine co-conspirators. Their trial began on February 26, 1924: Over the course of 25 days, aided by radio and newspaper coverage, Hitler held forth (in one case taking four hours to respond to a single question), earning him the overwhelming support of the German people. His impassioned appeals turned what ought to have been a open-and-closed case of treason against him into an indictment of the German government. His basic argument was this: “I cannot declare myself guilty. True, I confess to the deed, but I do not confess to the crime of high treason. There can be no question in an action which aims to undo the betrayal of this country in 1918.” Hitler was referring to the German surrender in World War I (1914–18).

Nevertheless, he and nine others were convicted of treason. Hitler was sentenced to five years in prison, where he wrote the first volume of his infamous work Mein Kampf (My Struggle), which revealed his frightening theories of racial supremacy and his belief in the Third Reich. Released after only nine months, Hitler walked out of prison more popular than he had been before his highly publicized trial.



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