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Crossing Hitler: Who Was Hans Litten?

In the Eden Dance Palace trial of 1931, in which four Nazi storm troopers stood accused of criminal assault and attempted murder, a lawyer for the prosecution requested the presence of Adolf Hitler as a witness.  Who was this fearless lawyer?  Hans Litten.  In Crossing Hitler: The Man Who Put the Nazis on the Witness Stand, Benjamin Carter Hett an Associate Professor of History at Hunter college and a former trial lawyer, tells the story of this historic confrontation, as well as the man who for a brief moment posed a serious threat to the Nazis rise to power.  In the excerpt below we learn a little about who Hans Litten was.

Who was Hans Litten?  Years later his closest friend, Max Fürst, remembered him as “more than a brother…’a part of myself,'” but also as a fanatical warrior who fought with the desperation of “one who fights the last battle.”  Countess Marion Donhoff, editor in chief of the Die Zeit (Time), believed that Litten was “one of those righteous men for whose sake the Lord did not allow the city-the country, the nation-to be entirely ruined.”  Kurt Hiller, a friend from Berlin political circles and later a cellmate in a concentration camp, called him “a true Christian by nature, and also by conviction.”  Another fellow prisoner was more sardonic: “A definite genius, but not easy to live with.”

Photographs show a serious, bespectacled young man, already growing portly and inclined to a double chin, with thinning hair combed back from a widow’s peak and worn unusually long for the time (“Only soldiers and slaves get their hair shorn,” he liked to say).  He was tall: his closest friends’ small daughter remembered him as “the big man with glasses,” and a youth movement friend described him as a “tall, pale young man.”  Beyond his height, the photos do not suggest a man who would be striking or memorable.  Yet people meeting Litten for the first time invariably gained a strong impression.  Rudolf Olden, a distinguished lawyer and journalist, remembered the first time he saw Litten.  It was in 1928 at a meeting of the League for Human Rights (Lifa für Menschenrechte), a very modern kind of political lobby group that had grown out of a left-leaning association called New Fatherland founded during the First World War by Albert Einstein and the future mayor of West Berlin, Ernst Reuter.  Litten asked a question during the discussion.  “The speaker had a striking head, a smooth face, rimless glasses over round bright eyes.  He work his shirt open at the throat, and short pants, below which the knees were bare.”  Olden took the young man for a schoolboy.  After the debate, one of Olden’s friends, smiling, told him that the “boy” was in fact the Assessor, or newly qualified lawyer, Hans Litten.  The next time Olden saw Litten was in a courtroom.  Olden was struck by the contrast between the “childlike face” with the eyes that “gazed pure and clear through the glasses,” and the calm expertise of the lawyer who refused to let anyone intimidate him…

…In her later years his still-grieving mother would remind anyone who listened that “Hitler’s first victims were Germans,” and there were many reasons why, almost from the beginning, the Nazis condemned Litten to imprisonment in a concentration camp, hard labor, prolonged interrogations, beatings, and torture.  To the Nazis Litten was half-Jewish, as he was the product of what Germans in the early twentieth century called a mixed marriage.  In politics he stood far to the left.  And he was a lawyer, a profession for which the Nazis had scant regard.

But above all it was Hitler’s personal fear and hatred that landed Litten in the concentration camps, and this fear and hatred stemmed from the handwritten summons of April 1931.  For when Hitler appeared in court in May 8, Litten subjected him to a withering cross-examination, laying bare the violence at the heart of the Nazi movement.  The Eden Dance Palace trial exposed Hitler to multiple dangers: criminal prosecution, the disintegration of his party, public exposure of the contradictions on which the Nazis’ appeal was based.  It was only through luck that Hitler survived with his political career intact..

…Litten’s resistance to the Nazis went on after the “seizure of power” of January 30, 1933.  Although he was one of the first to be arrested after Hitler was made chancellor, Litten fought back even from the concentration camps.

Recent Comments

  1. Nancy Yates

    He’s fortunate he wasn’t arrested by the Soviet NKVD and sent to Stalin’s gulag instead. He would not have been given a chance to resist from the camps in the USSR. They would have shot him on the spot. Let’s here about Bolshevism and the 400-plus Jewish commissars and administrators who helped Stalin mass murder about 40 million Slavs and other Eastern European and Mongol minorities.

  2. World history

    Thanks for flagging up this book on the life of Hans Litten. This facinating man who’s veins coursed with Jewish blood and yet was enthralled by Jesus Christ was certainly different, and feared no one. After all who else would dare to bring Adolph Hitler to the witness stand and then grill him for three hours?

    The more the world comes to learn of those of the calibre of Hans Litten, the better chance there is of stopping the next ‘Adolph’ before it’s too late and giving our children role models of the highest distinction.


  3. ALAN bixby


  4. Debutopia

    This is a fascinating story and one that I’m just growing familiar with. I was especially drawn to the small incident where Litton recited the words to “Thoughts Are Free” in front of a clueless group of SS soldiers. I blogged about it this morning: http://debutopia.blogspot.com/2011/08/thoughts-are-free.html#more

  5. Melissa Lipnutz

    Of course the movie was silent on the fact that had the Communists won control of Germany, the outcome would have been similar. Reference Stalin’s pre- and post war atrocities.

  6. frank branton

    Thanks for the info on Hans Litton Iwould like to read the transcript of the court case and also the the name of the Judge who intervened to prevent the indictment of Adolf Hitler.


  7. Kiron Reid

    It is a shame that Nancy Yates chooses to bring anti-semitism into her criticism of Stalin and Communists; promoting the racist ignorant narrative – and one that ignores the persecution of Jews by the Russian empire and the Soviet Union. Stalin and Hitler were on balance nearly as bad as each other, their regimes slaughtered millions – there is no monopoly on suffering. So to Melissa Lipnutz I think opposing the atrocities of communists does not detract from the bravery of standing up to Hitler. That is a good thing to do. Those words quoted from Litten’s mother are always worth remembering when people try to divide by nationalist, ethnicity, race or religion arguments “Hitler’s first victims were Germans”.

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