This Day in World History
February 26, 1924
Adolf Hitler’s Treason Trial Begins in Munich
On February 26, 1924, Adolf Hitler and nine associates stood trial in a Munich courtroom. The charge was treason — they were accused of trying to overthrow the German republic. That day, Hitler turned the tables to accuse the German leaders who had surrendered in 1918, ending World War I, and created the republican government he so despised: “There is no such thing as high treason against the traitors of 1918,” he proclaimed.
Germany in the early 1920s was deeply divided. Right-wing nationalists like Hitler bitterly opposed both the republican government and the leftists and Communists who struggled with them for power. These nationalists were also inspired by the example of fascist Benito Mussolini, who had seized power in Italy. Perhaps, they thought, they too could gain power with forceful action.
Hitler’s hopes to launch a national revolt were buttressed by the apparent support of three Bavarian officials. Hoping to force them to join his cause, he staged a putsch, or coup, at a political meeting in a Munich beer garden. Declaring “The revolution has begun,” he had armed thugs from his National Socialist (Nazi) party use the threat of force to convince the three to join him. The next day, however, the three had police fire on a Nazi march, and had Hitler and others arrested.
The trial received coverage across Germany, which Hitler used to his advantage. He denounced the republican government. He denounced the three Bavarian leaders for cowardice. He remained defiant down to the guilty verdict. In his closing speech, Hitler offered a prophetic call: “The man who is born to be a dictator is not compelled: he wills it.”
Sympathetic judges gave Hitler a sentence of only five years. He served only eight months of it. He spent his time in prison writing the first half of Mein Kampf¸ his political manifesto, which detailed his anger at “the traitors of 1918” and set forth his extreme racial views. He also used his time in prison to plan a second — and more successful — takeover of Germany’s government.