Monthly Fragebogen: Adolf Hitler and the Beer Hall Putsch

Nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon describes his brushes with Adolf Hitler, the Munich national-revolutionary scene, and the ‘November Putsch’ of 1923 HitlerPutsch_Commemorative_Postcard

This month’s excerpt from Ernst von Salomon’s bestselling memoir Der Fragebogen covers the intersection of the author’s life with that of Adolf Hitler. The actual meeting between Hitler and von Salomon, which took place shortly after the murder of Foreign Minister Rathenau in mid-1922, was very brief. Following Rathenau’s assassination, which von Salomon had been involved in organizing, the young author (then only 19) fled to Bavaria, at that time an “order cell” of nationalist politics within the body of the German Republic. von Salomon was seeking safety from the police forces hunting him, and he found it in Munich amidst the ferment of squabbling, competing nationalist groups, aided in his flight by Captain Hermann Ehrhardt (“the Kapitän”). Ehrhardt had been the leader of the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt Freikorps to which von Salomon had belonged, and was now the guiding light behind the ‘Organisation Consul’ (OC) terror group in which von Salomon and his comrades had plotted the deaths of high officials. “The Kapitän” figures prominently within the subsequent account; Ehrhardt’s presence provided von Salomon with his brief introduction to Hitler, and the man was undoubtedly also the source of much of the ‘insider information’ which the author here conveys to the reader. Ehrhardt at the time was in the thick of things, a prominent player among the many nationalist parties and paramilitaries in Bavaria, seeking to use his influence and large retinue of loyal followers to guide developments in his preferred direction. As a result his path inevitably crossed with Hitler’s; Ehrhardt hoped to use Hitler’s propagandistic skills for his own purposes, which meant providing troop training for the SA in return, as well as cooperation with the NSDAP-dominated ‘Working Group of Patriotic Combat Associations’ (rendered in this translation as the ‘Workers’ Union of the Fatherland Block’). Ehrhardt came to regret these actions. von Salomon depicts his attitude towards Hitler as scathing, with Ehrhardt describing the future Führer as fundamentally dishonest, an “idiot”, a megalomaniac whose desperate play for power (the ‘Beer Hall Putsch’) threw a massive wrench into the army’s intricate, developing plans to seize power legally. Whether accurate or not, Ehrhardt’s claims and von Salomon’s description of the Munich nationalist scene are useful – they provide a firsthand account of the chaotic web of intersecting loyalties, animosities, plots, schemes, and rivalries which were the defining feature of nationalist and military politics within the Munich of the early ’20s. 

After the assassination of Rathenau I hurried to Munich to see the Kapitän. It was not an easy matter to establish personal contact with him, and the only address we had was that of his adjutant. When I told the latter why I had come, he immediately informed me that the Kapitän was in a towering rage on our account.

We had no idea what the Kapitän was actually doing in Munich. He lived there, under a false name, and posed as a clerk in an optical goods firm. His adjutant informed me that it was the Kapitän’s intention to unite everything that was on the side of bourgeois society: all the ‘Patriotic Formations’ and associations and groups, which sprang up like mushrooms after the defeat and which together constituted the ‘National Movement,’ from the Bavarian Monarchist League, through the Freikorps successor organisations and the para-military formations, the war veterans’ leagues and the local defence force run by Forestry Commissioner Escherich, to the Oberland League which had sprung from the youth movement, all these groups and splinter groups were to be welded together into one great organisation, the so-called ‘Fatherland Block.’ And this block was in agreement with the Bavarian Minister-President of the time, Count Lerchenfeld, who came originally from the Bavarian People’s Party, and with his ministry. Together they planned to create a Bavarian ‘cell of order,’ a neat and socially united state to act as a counter-weight to the other unstable provinces of a Germany torn asunder by party strife. And this was the moment we chose to commit our act of madness! The Kapitän would have to disown us, said the adjutant, if he were to avoid “sabotaging his own policy.”

A meeting place had been arranged in the Marien Platz, at the corner of the Wein Strasse. I almost failed to recognise the Kapitän, for I had only seen pictures of him in uniform. Now he was wearing civilian clothes, with a straw hat, and he had shaved off his nautical beard. I endured a few frightful minutes.

He ‘blew me up,’ he really gave me a piece of his mind – and I could only keep stammering, “Yes, Herr Kapitän!” and suggesting that he shoot me. Finally, standing there at the corner of the Marien Platz and the Wein Strasse, he roared at me in his rage:

“And don’t keep calling me ‘Herr Kapitän!’ Call me ‘Herr Konsul,’ or ‘Herr Professor’!”

I clicked my heels and said:

“Right, Herr Kapitän!”

He said, angrily:

“Oh, come along,” and almost collided with a cyclist. Continue reading

Visions of National Socialist Democracy, Part III: Hitler

Adolf Hitler’s statements on representative government in a future National Socialist state

Nobody would describe Adolf Hitler as a ‘democrat.’ Like most National Socialists, Hitler was contemptuous of parliamentarism and the ‘majority principle’, but he took things a step or two further. Before Hitler, the National Socialist movement in Central Europe was, despite its ideological opposition to liberal-democracy, largely democratic. The various National Socialist parties were organized on the basis of internal democracy, with elected leaders and policies decided through majority vote, and they were all committed to a policy of reformism – working to achieve a National Socialist state via piecemeal reform through the machinery of parliament. Hitler’s accession to the leadership of the trans-national NS movement ushered in radical changes in this area, gradually eroding internal party democracy in favor of Führerprinzip and leading, for a time, to a strictly anti-parliamentary, anti-democratic tactical line. Hitler, with his veneration of strict discipline and strong, centralized leadership, was undoubtedly on the more authoritarian end of the National Socialist political spectrum. Nonetheless, elements of democratic idealism still appear within his speeches and writings. Reproduced below are a number of extracts from several sources which demonstrate that Hitler, despite his authoritarian inclinations, still saw a place for parliaments and voting in a future National Socialist state.    

Mein Kampf

Hitler’s Mein Kampf provides us with one of the only comprehensive descriptions of his personal view of a future National Socialist state structure. It clearly represents a more ‘dictatorial’ vision of National Socialism than those of Jung or Feder, in that under its provisions elected representatives would have no  voting powers but would instead serve solely in an advisory capacity to the national Führer. What makes these excerpts especially interesting are their corporatist aspects – clearly at this early date (Mein Kampf was published in 1925) Hitler was still influenced by the strong corporatist inclinations within the National Socialist movement. Later he was to largely abandon corporatist ideas, making the system described in the following two chapter extracts somewhat obsolete. Nonetheless, the text below is revealing in how it demonstrates Hitler’s beliefs on the ideal balance between authoritarian and democratic tendencies in politics, beliefs which would remain largely unchanged throughout his life. –Bogumil  

Vol. II, Ch. 4: Personality and the Conception of the Völkisch State

…The best state constitution and state form is that which, with the most unquestioned certainty, raises the best minds in the national community to leading position and leading influence.

But, as in economic life, the able men cannot be appointed from above, but must struggle through for themselves, and just as here the endless schooling, ranging from the smallest business to the largest enterprise, occurs spontaneously, with life alone giving the examinations, obviously political minds cannot be ‘discovered.’ Extraordinary geniuses permit of no consideration for normal mankind.

From the smallest community cell to the highest leadership of the entire Reich, the state must have the personality principle anchored in its organisation.

There must be no majority decisions, but only responsible persons, and the word ‘council’ must be restored to its original meaning. Surely every man will have advisers by his side, but the decision will be made by one man.

The principle which made the Prussian army in its time into the most wonderful instrument of the German people must some day, in a transferred sense, become the principle of the construction of our whole state conception: authority of every leader downward and responsibility upward. Continue reading