The Trial of Adolf Hitler
by David King, Macmillan, £25
The casual student of history might think that we already know all we usefully can about Adolf Hitler, his rise and fall, but the book industry must know better, for here is another contribution to Führer studies. The Trial of Adolf Hitler is a detailed account of Hitler’s trial, in 1924, for high treason against the Weimar Republic.
The trial arose from the failed beer hall putsch of the previous year, when Hitler and his accomplices – in an episode combining the sinister with the farcical – had launched an attempt to overthrow the federal government from a drinking den in Munich. The trial that followed handed Hitler a wonderful platform for his views, allowing him to reach an audience much wider than the small band of disgruntled nationalists that comprised the infant Nazi party’s core support.
The trial itself was a travesty. The presiding judge, Georg Neithardt, was sympathetic to Hitler’s worldview, which cast Germany in the role of wronged victim of the vengeful French-inspired Treaty of Versailles. Hitler believed that the German government of the day had, by acquiescing to the terms of the Treaty, betrayed the nation. It was a view that found eager support in a country humiliated by military defeat and ravaged by hyperinflation.
Judge Neithardt allowed the defendants, who included Erich Ludendorff, the quartermaster-general of the German army during the First World War, free rein to declaim their political philosophy. This was faithfully reported by the world’s press gathered in Munich for the sensational trial. But the judge, and indeed the whole Bavarian state administration, was fatefully compromised because leading ministers had been in close communication with Hitler and his associates in the months leading up to the putsch. Those connections meant that, from the outset, proving “treason” against Hitler was far from straightforward. The putsch was only prevented when those same ministers had had a panicky change of heart, which ended in the police shooting dead some of Hitler’s gang.
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