Der Münchner Putsch – The Munich Pustch

DER MÜNCHNER PUTSCH

 
‘Und ihr habt doch gesiegt !’


The Munich Putsch, (German: Hitlerputsch or German: Hitler-Ludendorff-Putsch) was a failed attempt at revolution that occurred between the evening of 8 November and the early afternoon of 9 November 1923, when Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler, Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff, and other heads of the Kampfbund unsuccessfully tried to seize power in Munich, Bavaria and Germany.

Commanders and leaders of the Putsch

Adolf Hitler
Erich Ludendorff
Ernst Röhm
Rudolf Hess
Ludwig Maximilian Erwin von Scheubner-Richter †
Hermann Göring
Otto von Lossow
Gustav Ritter von Kahr
Eugen von Knilling
Hans Ritter von Seisser

Social Background

Bürgerbräukeller  in München
Staatliches Hofbräuhaus in München

Beer halls in the early 20th century existed in most larger southern German cities, where hundreds or even thousands of people were able to gather during the evenings, drink beer and often engage in political or social debate.

They were also places where political rallies could be held, a tradition still alive today.
One of the largest beer halls in Munich was the “Bürgerbräukeller”, where the Munich Putsch was launched.


Political Background

German power and prestige were destroyed in the aftermath of World War I.

Dolchstoßlegende

Like many other German nationalists, Hitler believed in the Dolchstoßlegende (Stab-in-the-back legend), which claimed that the army, “undefeated in the field,” had been “stabbed in the back” by civilian leaders and Jewish Marxists back on the home front, later dubbed the ‘November Criminals’.

In Munich, Hitler took part in “national thinking” courses organized by the Education and Propaganda Department of the Bavarian Reichswehr under Captain Karl Mayr.
Thereafter, Captain Mayr ordered Hitler, then an Army corporal, to infiltrate the tiny Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, abbreviated DAP (German Workers Party).
Hitler joined the DAP on 12 September 1919.
Hitler rose to its top post in the chaotic political atmosphere of postwar Munich.
By agreement, Hitler was given the political leadership of several Bavarian “patriotic associations” (revanchist) which collectively were known as the ‘Kampfbund’.
With this political base, Hitler could call on about 15,000 brawlers, mostly ex-soldiers.

On 26 September 1923, following a period of turmoil and political violence, Bavarian Prime Minister Eugen von Knilling declared a state of emergency and appointed Gustav von Kahr Staatskomissar (state commissioner) with dictatorial governing powers.
Together with Bavarian State Police head Colonel Hans Ritter von Seisser (Seißer), and Reichswehr General Otto von Lossow, Kahr formed a triumvirate.
Hitler announced that starting on 27 September 1923, he would be holding 14 mass meetings. One of Kahr’s first actions was to ban the meetings.
Hitler was under pressure to act.
The National Socialists, with other leaders in the ‘Kampfbund’, felt they had to march upon Berlin and seize power or their followers would turn to the Communists.
Hitler and Ludendorff sought the support of Kahr and his triumvirate, however, Kahr had his own plan with Seisser and Lossow to install a nationalist dictatorship without Hitler.

The Putsch

The attempted putsch was inspired by Benito Mussolini’s successful March on Rome.
Hitler and his associates planned to use Munich as a base for a big march against Germany’s Weimar Republic government, but the circumstances were different from those in Italy.
Once Hitler realized that von Kahr either sought to control him or was losing heart (history is unclear), he decided to take matters into his own hands.
Hitler, along with a large detachment of SA, marched on the Bürgerbräukeller, a Munich beer hall where von Kahr was making a speech in front of 3,000 people.

In the cold, dark evening, 600 SA surrounded the beer hall and a machine gun was set up pointing at the auditorium doors.
Hitler, surrounded by his associates Hermann Göring, Alfred Rosenberg, Rudolf Hess, Ernst Hanfstaengl, Ulrich Graf, Johann Aigner, Adolf Lenk, Max Amann, Scheubner-Richter, Wilhelm Adam, and others (some 20 in all), burst through the doors at 8:30 pm and pushed their way laboriously through the crowd.
Hitler fired a shot into the ceiling and jumped on a chair yelling:
The national revolution has broken out! The hall is filled with six hundred men. Nobody is allowed to leave. The Bavarian government and the government at Berlin are deposed. A new government will be formed at once. The barracks of the Reichswehr and those of the police are occupied [this was not in fact the case]. Both have rallied to the swastika.
Hitler, accompanied by Rudolf Hess, Adolf Lenk and Ulrich Graf, forced the triumvirate of von Kahr, von Seisser, and von Lossow into a side room (previously rented by Rudolf Hess) at gunpoint[13] and demanded that they support his putsch, or they would be shot. Hitler thought that he would get an immediate response of affirmation from them, imploring von Kahr to accept a position as Regent of Bavaria.

Gustav Ritter von Kahr

Von Kahr replied that he could not be expected to collaborate, especially as he had been taken out of the auditorium under heavy guard.

During this time, speeches were given in the main hall by Göring, among others, obtaining a temporary calm, while no one was allowed to leave, not even to go to the toilet.
Some, however, escaped via the kitchen, especially those foreign correspondents eager to file copy.

Gustav Ritter von Kahr (November 29, 1862 – June 30, 1934) was a German right-wing conservative politician, active in the state of Bavaria. He was instrumental in the failure of Adolf Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, and was subsequently put to death more than ten years later in the Night of the Long Knives.

Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff

At the same time, Heinz Pernet, Johann Aigner and Scheubner-Richter were dispatched to pick up Ludendorff, whose personal prestige was being harnessed to give the Nazis credibility.

Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff  (9 April 1865 – 20 December 1937) was a German general, victor of Liège and of the Battle of Tannenberg. From August 1916 his appointment as Quartermaster general made him joint head (with Paul von Hindenburg), and chief engineer behind the management of Germany’s effort in World War I until his resignation in October 1918. Later, Ludendorff became a prominent nationalist, and a promoter of the stab-in-the-back legend.
He took part in the unsuccessful coups d’état of Wolfgang Kapp in 1920 and the ‘Beer Hall Putsch’ of Adolf Hitler in 1923, and in 1925 he ran for president against his former colleague, Paul von Hindenburg, who he claimed had taken credit for Ludendorff’s victories against Russia.
From 1924 to 1928 he represented the ‘German Völkisch Freedom Party’ in the Reichstag.

Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff  (9 April 1865 – 20 December 1937) was a German general, victor of Liège and of the Battle of Tannenberg.
From August 1916 his appointment as Quartermaster general made him joint head (with Paul von Hindenburg), and chief engineer behind the management of Germany’s effort in World War I until his resignation in October 1918.
Later, Ludendorff became a prominent nationalist, and a promoter of the stab-in-the-back legend.
He took part in the unsuccessful coups d’état of Wolfgang Kapp in 1920 and the ‘Beer Hall Putsch’ of Adolf Hitler in 1923, and in 1925 he ran for president against his former colleague, Paul von Hindenburg, who he claimed had taken credit for Ludendorff’s victories against Russia.
From 1924 to 1928 he represented the ‘German Völkisch Freedom Party’ in the Reichstag.


A telephone call was made from the kitchen by Hermann Kriebel to Ernst Röhm, who was waiting with his Reichskriegsflagge in the Löwenbräukeller, another beer hall, and ordered him to seize key buildings throughout the city. 
At the same time, co-conspirators under Gerhard Rossbach mobilized the students of a nearby Officers Infantry school to seize other objectives.

Hitler became irritated by von Kahr and summoned Ernst Pöhner, Friedrich Weber and Hermann Kriebel to stand in for him while he returned to the auditorium to make a speech (as he had promised some fifteen minutes earlier).

Rudolf Heß

Flanked by Rudolf Heß and Adolf Lenk, Hitler returned to the auditorium to make an extemporaneous speech that changed the mood of the hall almost within seconds.

Dr. Karl Alexander von Mueller, a professor of modern history and political science at the University of Munich and a supporter of von Kahr, was an eyewitness.


Rudolf Walter Richard Heß, (26 April 1894 born in Alexandria, Egypt – 17 August 1987 Spandau Prison, Berlin), was a prominent politician in Nazi Germany. Appointed Deputy Führer to Adolf Hitler in 1933, he served in this position until 1941.


He reported:

‘I cannot remember in my entire life such a change in the attitude of a crowd in a few minutes, almost a few seconds … Hitler had turned them inside out, as one turns a glove inside out, with a few sentences. It had almost something of hocus-pocus, or magic about it.’

Hitler started quietly reminding the audience that his move was not directed against von Kahr and launched into his speech ending with:
Outside are Kahr, Lossow and Seisser. They are struggling hard to reach a decision. May I say to them that you will stand behind them ?
You can see that what motivates us is neither self-conceit or self-interest, but only a burning desire to join the battle in this grave eleventh hour for our German Fatherland … One last thing I can tell you. Either the German revolution begins tonight and the morrow will find us in Germany a true nationalist government, or it will find us dead by dawn !’

Hitler returned to the anteroom, where the triumvirs remained incarcerated, to ear-shattering acclaim which the triumvirs could not have failed to notice.
On his way back, Hitler ordered Göring and Hess to take Eugen von Knilling and seven other members of the Bavarian government into custody.
During Hitler’s speech, Pöhner, Weber, and Kriebel had been trying in a conciliatory fashion to bring the triumvirate round to their point of view.
The atmosphere in the room had become lighter but von Kahr continued to dig in his heels. Ludendorff showed up a little before 9 p.m. and, being shown into the ante-room, concentrated on von Lossow and von Seisser, appealing to their sense of duty.
Eventually the triumvirate reluctantly gave in.
Hitler, Ludendorff et al. moved back into the auditorium, where they gave speeches and shook hands; and then the crowd was allowed to leave.
In a tactical mistake, Hitler decided to leave the Bürgerbräukeller shortly thereafter to deal with a crisis elsewhere.
Around 10:30 p.m., Ludendorff released von Kahr and his associates.
The night was marked by confusion and unrest among government officials, armed forces and police units, and individuals deciding where their loyalties lay.
Units of the ‘Kampfbund’ were scurrying around to arm themselves from secret caches, seizing buildings. At around 3 am, the first casualties of the putsch occurred when the local garrison of the Reichswehr spotted Röhm’s men coming out of the beer hall.
They were ambushed while trying to reach the Reichswehr barracks and had to fall back. In the meantime, the Reichswehr officers put the whole garrison on alert and called for reinforcements.
In a prefiguration of things to come, a list of prominent Jews who might act against the Putsch was made up and squads of SA were sent around to arrest them.
Some were taken into custody while others escaped.
The foreign attachés were also seized in their hotel rooms and put under house arrest.
In the early morning, Hitler ordered the seizure of the Munich city council as hostages.
He further sent the communications officer of the ‘Kampfbund’, Max Neunzert, to enlist the aid of Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria to mediate between von Kahr and the putschists. Neunzert failed in the mission.

Himmler During the Munich Putsch

By mid-morning on the 9th, Hitler realized that the putsch was going nowhere.

The Putschists did not know what to do and were about to give up.
At this moment, Ludendorff cried out, “Wir marschieren !” (We will march!), and Röhm’s force together with Hitler’s (a total of approximately 2000 men) marched out – but with no plan of where to go.

See left – Himmler carries the Reichskriegsflagge – but played only a minor part in the Putsch, and was not even arrested.


On the spur of the moment, Ludendorff led them to the Bavarian Defence Ministry, however, at the Odeonsplatz in front of the Feldherrenhalle, they met a force of 100 soldiers blocking the way under the command of State Police Senior Lieutenant Baron Michael von Godin.

Munich Putsch
Munich Putsch

The two groups exchanged fire, killing four state police officers and 16 Nazis.

This was the origin of the ‘Blutfahne’ (blood-flag).
Hitler and Göring were both injured, the latter escaping while the former was captured shortly thereafter.
The putsch forever became a wedge between Hitler and Ludendorff.


Hermann Wilhelm Göring  (12 January 1893 – 15 October 1946), was a German politician, military leader, and leading member of the NSDAP. A veteran of World War I as an ace fighter pilot, he was a recipient of the coveted Pour le Mérite, also known as the “Blue Max”.
He was the last commander of Jagdgeschwader 1, the fighter wing once led by Manfred von Richthofen, the “Red Baron”.
A member of the NSDAP from its early days, Göring was wounded in 1923 during the failed coup known as the Beer Hall Putsch. He became permanently addicted to morphine after being treated with the drug for his injuries. 

Herman Göring

When the skirmish broke out at the Odeonsplatz and Hitler fled, Ludendorff continued to march undaunted into the hostile fire.

To irritations already felt toward Hitler, Ludendorff added a perception that Hitler was a coward. Ludendorff, from then until his death in 1937, refused to have anything positive to do with Hitler. In a description of Ludendorff’s funeral at the Feldherrenhalle in 1937, which Hitler attended, but without speaking, William L. Shirer wrote:
The World War One hero, Ludendorff, had refused to have anything to do with Hitler ever since he had fled from in front of the Feldherrnhalle after the volley of bullets during the Beer Hall Putsch.”
It should be noted however that when a consignment of papers relating to Landsberg prison, including the visitor book, were later sold at auction it was noted that Ludendorff had visited Hitler a number of times.
The case of the resurfacing papers was reported in ‘Der Spiegel’ on 23 June 2006 and somewhat contradicts Shirer’s rather sweeping statement. “

Counterattack

State Police and Police units were first notified of trouble by three police detectives stationed at the Löwenbräukeller.
These reports reached Major Sigmund von Imhoff of the State police.
He immediately called all his green police units and had them seize the central telegraph office and the telephone exchange, although his most important act was to notify Major General Jakob Ritter von Danner, the Reichswehr city commandant of Munich.
As a staunch aristocrat, he loathed the “little corporal” and those “Freikorps bands of rowdies“. He also did not much like his commanding officer, Generalleutnant Otto von Lossow, “a sorry figure of a man“.
He was determined to put down the putsch with or without von Lossow.
Ritter von Danner set up a command post at the 19th Infantry Regiment barracks and alerted all military units.
Meanwhile, Captain Karl Wild, learning of the putsch from marchers, mobilized his command to guard von Kahr’s government building, the Commissariat, with orders to shoot.
Around 11:00 p.m., Ritter von Danner, along with fellow officers General Adolf Ritter von Ruith and General Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein, compelled von Lossow to repudiate the putsch.
There was one member of the cabinet who was not at the Bürgerbräukeller: Franz Matt, the vice-premier and minister of education and culture.
A staunchly conservative Catholic, he was having dinner with the Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber, and the Nuncio to Bavaria, Archbishop Eugenio Pacelli (who would later become Pope Pius XII), when he learned of the putsch.
He immediately telephoned von Kahr.
When he found the man vacillating and unsure, Matt decisively began plans to set up a rump government-in-exile in Regensburg and composed a proclamation calling upon all police, armed forces, and civil servants to remain loyal to the government.
The action of these few men spelled doom for the putschists.
On Wednesday, 3,000 students from Munich University rioted and marched to the Feldherrnhalle to lay wreaths. (They continued to riot through Friday until learning of Hitler’s arrest.) Von Kahr and von Lossow were called Judases and traitors.

Key Supporters

Rudolf Heß  Hermann Göring, Erich Ludendorff, Hermann Kriebel, Friedrich Weber, Ernst Röhm, Max Scheubner-Richter, Ulrich Graf, Julius Streicher, Hermann Esser, Ernst Hanfstaengl, Gottfried Feder, Josef Berchtold, Ernst Pöhner, Emil Maurice, Max Amann, Heinz Pernet, Wilhelm Brückner, Lt. Robert Wagner, Adolf Hitler

Other Notable Supporters

Dietrich Eckart
Heinrich Himmler

Heinrich Himmler, Edmund Heines, Gerhard Rossbach, Hans Frank, Julius Schaub, Walter Hewel, Dietrich Eckart, Wilhelm Frick, Julius Schreck, Josef ‘Sepp’ Dietrich, Philipp Bouhler, Franz Pfeffer von Salomon, Adolf Lenk, Hans Kallenbach, Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg, Adolf Wagner, Jakob Grimminger, Heinrich Trambauer, Karl Beggel, Rudolf Jung, Rudolf Buttmann, Albrecht von Graefe, Hans Ulrich Klintzsche, Heinrich Hoffmann, Josef Gerum, Capt. Eduard Dietl, Hans Georg Hofmann, Matthaeus Hofmann, Helmut Klotz, Adolf Hühnlein, Max Neunzert, Michael Ried. Karl Fischer von Treuenfeld Theodor Oberländer

Heinrich Luitpold Himmler ( 7 October 1900 – 23 May 1945) was eventually Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel (SS), a military commander, and a leading member of the NSDAP in the Third Reich.

Dietrich Eckart (23 March 1868 – 26 December 1923) was a German journalist and politician and, with Adolf Hitler, was one of the early key members of the Nazi Party (NSDAP) and a participant in the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. Eckart was described as “a strange genius,” who’s antisemitism arose from a Gnostic, Manichean mysticism, and he spent hours with Hitler discussing art and the place of the Jews in world history. He has been called the spiritual father of National Socialism


At the Front of the March

Alfred Rosenberg
Gottfried Feder

In the vanguard were four flag bearers followed by Adolf Lenk and Kurt Neubauer, Ludendorff’s servant.
Behind those two came more flag bearers, then the leadership in two rows.

Hitler was in the centre, slouch hat in hand, the collar of his trench-coat turned up against the cold.
To his left, in civilian clothes, a green felt hat, and a loose loden coat, was Ludendorff.
To Hitler’s right was Scheubner-Richter.
To his right came Alfred Rosenberg.
On either side of these men were Ulrich Graf, Hermann Kriebel, Friedrich Weber, Julius Streicher, Hermann Göring, and Wilhelm Brückner.
Behind these came the second string of Heinz Pernet, Johann Aigner (Scheubner-Richter’s servant), Gottfried Feder, Theodor von der Pfordten, Wilhelm Kolb, Rolf Reiner, Hans Streck, and Heinrich Bennecke, Brückner’s adjutant.
Behind this row marched the Stosstrupp, the SA, the Infantry School, and the Oberländer.

Alfred Ernst Rosenberg (12 January 1893 – 16 October 1946) was an early and intellectually influential member of the Nazi Party. Rosenberg was first introduced to Adolf Hitler by Dietrich Eckart; he later held several important posts in the Nazi government. He is considered one of the main authors of key Nazi ideological creeds, including its racial theory, Lebensraum, abrogation of the Treaty of Versailles, and opposition to “degenerate” modern art. He is also known for his rejection of Christianity.

Gottfried Feder (27 January 1883 – 24 September 1941) was an economist, and one of the early key members of the NSDAP. He was the party economic theoretician. Initially, it was his lecture in 1919 that drew Hitler into the party.

Trial and Prison

Ernst Hanfstaengl
Völkischer Beobachter

Two days after the putsch, Hitler was arrested and charged with high treason in the special People’s Court.

Some of his fellow conspirators were arrested while others escaped to Austria (Hermann Göring, Ernst Hanfstaengl, Rudolf Hess).
The NSDAP headquarters were raided, and its newspaper, the ‘Völkischer Beobachter’ (The People’s Observer), was banned.
This, however, was not the first time Hitler had been in trouble with the law.

The Völkischer Beobachter (“völkisch Observer”) was the newspaper of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) from 1920. It first appeared weekly, then daily from 8 February 1923. For twenty-five years it formed part of the official public face of the party.

Ernst Franz Sedgwick Hanfstaengl (February 2, 1887 – November 6, 1975) was a Harvard-educated German businessman who was an intimate of Adolf Hitler

In an incident in September 1921, he and some SA had disrupted a meeting of the Bayernbund, and the Nazis who had gone there to cause trouble were arrested as a result. Hitler had ended up serving a little over a month of a three-month jail sentence.
Presiding Judge Georg Neithardt was judge in both Hitler cases.

Hitler’s trial began on 26 February 1924 and would last until 1 April 1924.

Hitler moderated his tone for the trial, centering his defense on his selfless devotion to the good of the Volk and the need for bold action to save them, dropping his usual anti-Semitism.
He claimed the putsch had been his sole responsibility and inspiring the title Fuhrer.
Hitler and Hess were both sentenced to five years in ‘Festungshaft’ (literally fortress confinement) for treason.
‘Festungshaft’ was a type of jail that excluded forced labour, featured reasonably comfortable cells, and allowed the prisoner to receive visitors almost daily for many hours.
It was the customary sentence for people whom the judge believed to have had honourable but misguided motives.
However, Hitler used his trial as an opportunity to spread his ideas.
Every word he spoke was reported in the newspaper the next day.

Ernst Röhm

The judges were impressed (Presiding Judge Neithardt was inclined to favouritism towards the defendants prior to the trial), and as a result Hitler only served a little over eight months and was fined 500RM.

Due to his story that he was there by accident, which he had also used in the Kapp Putsch along with his war service and connections, Ludendorff was acquitted.
Both Röhm and Dr. Wilhelm Frick, though found guilty, were released.

Ernst Julius Günther Röhm (28 November 1887 – 2 July 1934) was a German officer in the Bavarian Army and later an early NSDAP leader. He was a co-founder of the Sturmabteilung (“Storm Battalion”; SA), the Party militia, and later was its commander. In 1934, as part of the Night of the Long Knives, he was executed on Adolf Hitler’s orders as a potential rival.

Göring, meanwhile, suffered bullet wounds in his leg and groin, which led him to become increasingly dependent on morphine and other painkilling drugs.
This addiction continued throughout the war.
Though Hitler failed to achieve his immediate stated goal, the event did give the National Socialists their first exposure to national attention and a propaganda victory.
While serving his prison sentence at Landsberg am Lech, he and Rudolf Hess wrote ‘Mein Kampf‘.
Also, the putsch changed Hitler’s outlook on violent revolution to effect change.
From then on he thought that, in order to win the German heart, he must do everything by the book, strictly legal.
Later on, the German people would call him Hitler Legalité or Hitler the Legal One.
The process of combination, where the conservative-nationalist-monarchist group thought that they could piggyback on to and control the National Socialist movement to garner the seats of power, was to repeat itself 10 years later in 1933 when Franz von Papen would legally ask Hitler to form a government.

Fatalities

Nazis who died in the Putsch

Felix Alfarth
Andreas Bauriedl
Theodor Casella
William Ehrlich
Martin Faust
Anton Hechenberger           
Oskar Körner
Karl Kuhn
Karl Laforce
Kurt Neubauer
Klaus von Pape
Theodor von der Pfordten
Johann Rickmers
Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter
Lorenz Ritter von Stransky
Wilhelm Wolf
Ethan Zemmin
According to Ernst Röhm in his book “Die Geschichte eines Hochverräters” (Franz Eher Verlag, Munich 1928), Martin Faust and Theodor Casella, both members of the armed militia organisation Reichskriegsflagge, were shot down accidentally in a burst of machine gun fire during the occupation of the War Ministry as the result of a misunderstanding with II/Inf.Regt 19.

Bavarian police who died in the Putsch

Friedrich Fink
Nikolaus Hollweg
Max Schobert
Rudolf Schraut



MARTYRDOM

The 16 fallen were regarded as the first “blood martyrs” of the NSDAP and were remembered by Hitler in the foreword of ‘Mein Kampf‘.

Blutfahne
Blutfahne

The swastika flag they carried, which in the course of events had been stained with blood, came to be known as the ‘Blutfahne‘ (blood flag), and was brought out for the swearing-in of new recruits in front of the Feldherrnhalle when Hitler was in power.

Shortly after he came to power, a memorial was placed at the south side of the Feldherrnhalle crowned with an eagle and swastika.
The back of the memorial read ‘Und ihr habt doch gesiegt !‘ (And you triumphed nevertheless!).



 Feldherrnhalle
 Feldherrnhalle

Behind it flowers were laid, and either policemen or the SS stood guard in between a lower plaque.

Passers-by were required to give the Hitler salute.
The putsch was also commemorated on three sets of stamps.
Mein Kampf‘ was dedicated to the fallen and, in the book ‘Ich Kämpfe’ (given to those joining the party circa 1943), they are listed first even though the book lists hundreds of other dead.
The header text in the book read “Obwohl sie tot sind für ihre Taten werden sie auf ewig leben” (Though they are dead for their acts they will live on forever.”)
The army had a division named the Feldherrnhalle regiment, and there was also an SA Feldherrnhalle division.



November 8, Hitler Addressing the ‘Alte Kämpfer

“Die Neunte Elfte” (the “Ninth of the Eleventh”) became one of the most important dates on the Nazi calendar, especially following the seizure of power in 1933.

Annually until the fall of Nazi Germany, the putsch would be commemorated nationwide, with the major events taking place in Munich.
On the night of November 8, Hitler would address the ‘Alte Kämpfer’ (Old Fighters) in the Burgerbraukeller (after 1939, the Löwenbräu, in 1944, the Circus Krone Building), followed the next day by a re-enactment of the march through the streets of Munich.

Alte Kämpfer

The event would climax with a ceremony recalling the 16 dead marchers on the Konigsplatz.

The anniversary could be a time of tension in Nazi Germany.
The ceremony was cancelled in 1934, coming as it did after the so-called ‘Night of the Long Knives’.
In 1938, it coincided with the ‘Kristallnacht’, and in 1939 with the attempted assassination of Hitler by Georg Elser.
With the outbreak of war in 1939, security concerns caused the re-enactment of the march to be “temporarily” suspended, however, Hitler continued to deliver his November 8 speech through 1943.
Every Gau (administrative region of Germany) was also expected to hold a small remembrance ceremony.

Ehrentempel  – Königplatz
Ehrentempel  – Königplatz

As material given to propagandists said, the 16 fallen were the first losses and the ceremony was an occasion to commemorate everyone who had died for the movement.

On 9 November 1935, the dead were taken from their graves and to the Feldherrnhalle.
The SA and SS carried them down to the Königplatz, where two Ehrentempel (Honour Temples) had been constructed.

Ehrentempel  – Königplatz

In each of the structures eight of the martyrs were interred in a sarcophagus bearing their name.


The Königsplatz in Munich, was planned in 1931-32 by Hitler and his architect Paul Ludwig Troost, whom Speer says Hitler regarded as the greatest German architect since Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Troost, who like his successor, Speer, aimed to revive an early classical or Doric architecture, could not have found a more encouraging context for his endeavours than the neo-classical architectural setting of Königsplatz, however the Ehrentempel he designed was not uninfluenced by modernist tendencies, in no respect were his temples conventionally Doric.

Adolf Hitler and Ludwig Troost
Paul Ludwig Troost

Koenigsplatz was labeled the “Forum of the Movement” in reference to the birthplace of the Nazi Party.
Priority was given to the erection of two “martyrs” temples of identical shape named the ‘Ehrentempel’, placed just to either side of the square’s long axis.
In 1935, Hitler said the martyrs’ bodies were not to be buried out of sight in crypts, but should be placed in the open air, to act as eternal sentinels for the German nation.

Ehrentempel  – Königplatz

Troost’s temples in Königsplatz were thus regarded as guard posts, a notion reinforced by the presence of SS sentinels who stood guard at the entrance of each temple. A year earlier Hitler had said that the blood of the martyrs was to be the ‘Taufwasser’ (baptismal water) of the Third Reich.

Paul Ludwig Troost (17 August 1878 – 21 January 1934), born in Elberfeld, was a German architect. An extremely tall, spare-looking, reserved Westphalian with a close-shaven head, Troost belonged to a school of architects, Peter Behrens and Walter Gropius who, even before 1914, reacted sharply against the highly ornamental Jugendstil and advocated a restrained, lean architectural approach, almost devoid of ornament. Troost graduated to a style that combined Spartan traditionalism with elements of modernity.


‘Obwohl sie tot sind für ihre Taten werden sie auf ewig leben’


 Feldherrnhalle

The Nürnberg Reichsparteitag – The Nuremberg Rallies

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

click on images and open in a new tab to enlarge

The Nürnberg Reichsparteitag, meaning Reich Party Day was the annual rally of the National Socialist Workers Party in Germany, held from 1923 to 1938.

They were large propaganda events, especially after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933.
These events were held at the NSDAP rally grounds in Nürnberg from 1933 to 1938 and are usually referred to in English as the Nürnberg Rallies.
Many films were made to commemorate them, the most famous of which is ‘Triumph of the Will’.
History and Purpose
The first Party rallies took place in 1923 in Munich and in 1926 in Weimar. From 1927 on, they were held exclusively in Nürnberg.
Nürnberg was selected for pragmatic reasons: It was situated in the center of the German Reich and the local Luitpoldhain was well suited as a venue.
In addition, the Party were able to rely on the well organized local branch of the party in Franconia, then led by Gauleiter Julius Streicher.
The Nürnberg police were sympathetic to the event.
Later, the location was justified by putting it into the tradition of the Imperial Diet (German Reichstag) of the Holy Roman Empire, considered to be the First Reich.
After 1933, the rallies were held near the time of the Autumn equinox, under the title of “National Congress of the Party of the German People” (Reichsparteitage des deutschen Volkes), which was intended to symbolize the solidarity between the German people and the Party.
This point was further emphasized by the yearly growing number of participants, which finally reached over half a million from all sections of the party, the army and the state.

Each rally was given a programmatic title, which related to recent national events:

1923 – The First Party Congress was held in Munich on January 27, 1923.
1923 – The “German day rally” was held in Nuremberg on September 1, 1923.
1926 – The 2nd Party Congress (“Refounding Congress”) was held in Weimar on July 4, 1926.
1927 – The 3rd Party Congress (“Day of Awakening”) was held on August 20, 1927. The propaganda film Eine Symphonie des Kampfwillens was made at this rally.
1929 – The 4th Party Congress, known as the “Day of Composure”, was held on August 2, 1929. The propaganda film Der Nürnberger Parteitag der NSDAP was made at this rally.
1933 – The 5th Party Congress was held in Nuremberg, August 30 – September 3, 1933. It was called the “Rally of Victory” (Reichsparteitag des Sieges). The term “victory” relates to the Nazi seizure of power and the victory over the Weimar Republic. The Leni Riefenstahl film Der Sieg des Glaubens was made at this rally.
1934 – The 6th Party Congress was held in Nuremberg, September 5-10, 1934. Initially it did not have a theme. Later it was labeled the “Rally of Unity and Strength” (Reichsparteitag der Einheit und Stärke), “Rally of Power” (Reichsparteitag der Macht), or “Rally of Will” (Reichsparteitag des Willens). The Leni Riefenstahl film Triumph des Willens was made at this rally.
1935 – The 7th Party Congress was held in Nuremberg, September 10-16, 1935. It was called the “Rally of Freedom” (Reichsparteitag der Freiheit). “Freedom” referred to the reintroduced compulsory military service and thus the German “liberation” from the Treaty of Versailles. The Leni Riefenstahl film Tag der Freiheit: Unsere Wehrmacht was made at this rally, and the Nuremberg Laws were introduced.
1936 – The 8th Party Congress was known as the “Rally of Honour” (Reichsparteitag der Ehre). The remilitarization of the demilitarized Rhinelandin March 1936 constituted the restoration of German honour in the eyes of many Germans. The film Festliches Nürnberg incorporated footage shot at this rally, as well as the rally of 1937.
1937 – The 9th Party Congress was called the “Rally of Labour” (Reichsparteitag der Arbeit). It celebrated the reduction of unemployment in Germany since the Nazi rise to power. This rally was particularly notable due to Albert Speer’s Cathedral of light: 152 searchlights that cast vertical beams into the sky around the Zeppelin Field to symbolise the walls of a building and the attendance of Prince Chichibu, a brother of theEmperor of Japan, who had a personal meeting with Adolf Hitler to boost relations between Japan and Germany. Festliches Nürnberg incorporated footage made at this rally.
1938 – The 10th Party Congress was named the “Rally of Greater Germany” (Reichsparteitag Großdeutschland). This was due to the annexationof Austria to Germany that had taken place earlier in the year.
1939 – The 11th Party Congress was given the name “Rally of Peace” (Reichsparteitag des Friedens). It was meant to reiterate the German desire for peace, both to the German population and to other countries. It was cancelled on short notice, as one day before the planned date on September 1, Germany began its offensive against Poland (which ignited World War II).

Procedure

The primary aspect of the Nürnberg Rallies was to strengthen the personality cult of Adolf Hitler, portraying him as Germany’s saviour, chosen by providence.

The gathered masses listened to the Führer’s speeches, swore loyalty and marched before him.
Representing the Volksgemeinschaft as a whole, the rallies served to demonstrate the might of the German people.
The visitors of the rallies by their own free will were subordinate to the discipline and order in which they should be reborn as a new people.

Reichsparteitagsgelände

The rally grounds of the National Socialist Workers Party (NSDAP) covered about 11 square kilometres in the southeast of Nürnberg, Germany.
Six Party Rallies were held there between 1933 and 1938.
Overview

The grounds included:
The Luitpoldarena, a deployment area
the Luitpold Hall or “Old Congress Hall” (damaged during World War II, later demolished)
the Kongresshalle (Congress Hall) or Neue Kongresshalle (New Congress Hall) (unfinished)
the Zeppelin Feld (Zeppelin Field), another deployment area
the Märzfeld (March Field) (unfinished, later demolished), a deployment area for the Wehrmacht (army)
the Deutsche Stadion (German stadium) (never exceeded the state of foundation), which was to be the largest sports stadium in the world
the former Stadion der Hitlerjugend (“stadium of the Hitler Youth”, today Frankenstadion)
the Große Straße (“Great Road”), a (never used) parade road.
A “Haus der Kultur” (House of Culture) and a representative entrance portal towards the “Great Road” were planned at the northwestern end of the “Great Road”, near the (new) Congress Hall.
The grounds were planned by Hitler’s architect Albert Speer, apart from the Congress hall, which was planned by Ludwig and Franz Ruff.
On 30 August 1933 Hitler declared Nürnberg the “Stadt der Reichsparteitage (Reich Party Congresses)”.  The Reichsparteitage were a self-portrayal of the National Socialist, state and had no programmatic task. The unity of the nation was to be demonstrated.
In a propagandistic way a relation was to be drawn between the Party and the glory of the medieval emperors and the Meetings of the Imperial States which were held in Nürnberg.

Reichsparteitagsgelände – Nürnberg
The Buildings
   
Luitpoldarena
Luitpoldarena – Nürnberg

Since 1906 a parkway named “Luitpoldhain” (literally translated: “Luitpold Grove”, named after Luitpold, Prince Regent of Bavaria) existed here.

Luitpoldarena – Nürnberg
During the Weimar Republic (1919–1933) the monumental “Ehrenhalle” (Hall of Honour) was built in the parkway.
In 1933 Hitler replaced the parkway by a strictly-structured deployment area, the so-called “Luitpoldarena” with an area of 84,000 m².
Opposite the “Ehrenhalle” the crescent-shaped “Ehrentribüne” (tribune of honour) or main grandstand which measured 150 m (500 ft) long with 6 m (20 ft) gold eagles on each end was built.
This structure, built by architect Albert Speer, could seat 500 dignitaries and represented the first permanent structure built by the Third Reich in Nürnberg.
The “Ehrenhalle” and the “Ehrentribüne” were connected by a wide granite path.
Ehrenhalle
Ehrenhalle – Nürnberg

The “Ehrenhalle” was built by the city of Nürnberg according to a plan of German architect Fritz Mayer.

It was inaugurated in 1930, during the Weimar Republic.
It is an arcaded hall with an adjacent cobbled stone terrace with two rows of pedestals for fire bowls.
Originally the hall was to be a memorial site for the 9,855 soldiers from Nürnberg who were fallen in World War I.
During the Party Congress of 1929 the then unfinished “Hall of Honour” was used for the enactment of a cult of the dead by the National Socialists the first time.
During the Third Reich the site was used primarily as a commemoration for the fallen soldiers of World War I, and commemoration of the 16 dead of the “Hitlerputsch” (the so-called “Martyrs of the Movement”) (Beer Hall Putsch) which took place on 9 November 1923 in Munich.
Hitler, accompanied by SS-leader Heinrich Himmler and SA-leader Viktor Lutze, strode through the arena over the 240 meters long granite path, from the main grandstand to the terrace of the Ehrenhalle.
The ritual was the climax of the celebration.
During the party rallies, deployments of the SA and the SS with up to 150,000 people took place in this area.
The central “relic” here was the “Blutfahne” (Blood flag), which was carried by the Beer Hall Putsch rebels and was soaked with the blood of one of them.
At the “Blutfahnenweihe” (Blood flag consecration), new “Standarten” (flags) of SA- and SS-units were “consecrated” by touching their guidons with the “Blutfahne”.
Das Blutfahne
das Blutfahne

The Blutfahne (Blood flag) was a Swastika flag used in the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, Germany on 9 November 1923.

It subsequently became one of the most revered objects of the Party.
 Andreas Bauriedl 

The flag was actually that of the 5th SA Sturm that was covered in blood from members of the Party who had been shot by the Munich Police (primarily from party member Andreas Bauriedl who fell on top of the flag when he was shot and killed).

Heinrich Trambauer (the flagbearer) took the flag to a friend where he removed the flag from the staff and left with it hidden inside his jacket.
Later, Traumbauer gave the flag to a Karl Eggers, who kept the flag safe.

Heinrich Trambauer

After Adolf Hitler was released from Landsberg prison (after serving nine months of a five-year prison sentence for his part in the putsch), Eggers gave the flag to him.

It was then fitted to a new staff and finial, and just below the finial was a silver dedication sleeve which bore the names of the three dead participants of the putsch.
Bauriedl was one of the three honorees.

Blutfahne

In addition, the flag was no longer attached to the staff by its original sewn-in sleeve, but by a red-white-black intertwined cord which ran through the sleeve instead.

The flag was thereafter treated as a sacred object by the Party, and it was carried by SS Sturmbannführer Jakob Grimminger at various Nazi party ceremonies.
One of the most visible uses of the flag was by Adolf Hitler, who at the annual party rallies at Nürnberg  touched other Nazi banners with the Blutfahne, thus ‘sanctifying’ the new flags with the old.

das Blutfahne
das Braune Haus

When not in use, the Blutfahne was kept at the headquarters of the Nazi Party, ‘das Braune Haus’ (the Brown House), in Munich, with an SS guard of honor.

The flag had a small tear in it that went un-repaired for a number of years.
The tear was believed to have occurred during the putsch.

Blutfahne

The Blutfahne was last seen in public at the Induction Ceremony of the Volkssturm on 18 October 1944 (not at Gauleiter Adolf Wagner’s funeral six months earlier, as has frequently been reported).

This ceremony was conducted by Heinrich Himmler and attended by Keitel, Guderian, Lammers, Bormann, Fiehler, Schepmann and Kraus.
After this last public display, the Blutfahne vanished into history.
The Buildings – continued

Luitpoldhalle

Luitpoldhalle – Nürnberg

The Luitpold Hal (built 1906) had an outline of 180 m x 50 m (540 ft x 150 ft) featured 76 loudspeakers, 42 spotlights, the largest pipe organ in Germany and could seat 16,000 people.
Dating back to the Bavarian Exposition, the former machine hall was renovated and first used by the Party  Congress of 1934.
Its monumental neo-classical facade featured a shell limestone facing with three enormous entrance portals.

Kongresshalle

Kongresshalle – Nürnberg
Kongresshalle – Nürnberg

The Congress Hall  was planned by the Nürnberg architects Ludwig and Franz Ruff.
It was planned as a congress centre for the NSDAP with a self-supporting roof, and should have provided 50,000 seats.
It was located on the shore of and in the pond Dutzendteich, and marked the entrance of the rally grounds. The building reached a height of 39 m (129 ft) (a height of 70 m was planned) and a diameter of 250 m (843 ft).
The building is mostly built out of clinker with a facade of granite panels.
The design (especially the outer facade, among other features) is inspired by the Colosseum in Rome.
The foundation stone was laid in 1935, but the building remained unfinished and without a roof.

Große Straße

The great road is almost 2 km (1.2 mi) long and 40 m (132 ft) wide.
It was intended to be the central axis of the site and a parade road for the Wehrmacht.
In its northwestern prolongation the road points towards Nürnberger Burg.
This was to create a relation between the role of Nürnberg during the Third Reich, and its role during medieval times.
The road reached from the Congress Hall to the Märzfeld, the construction work started in 1935 and was finished in 1939 (it has never been used as a parade road, as due to the beginning of World War II, the last rally was held in 1938).
The pavement was made of granite pavers in black and gray with edges of exactly 1.2 m (4 ft).
A representative entrance portal and two pylons were planned at the northwestern end of the Great Road. Near the entrance area of the Deutsch Stadion a grandstand with a hall of pillars was planned for the government leaders and generals who were to take the salute on Wehrmacht formations which were to march in direction of the parade ground Märzfeld.

Albert Speer

Albert Speer 
Adolf Hitler and Albert Speer 

Berthold Konrad Hermann Albert Speer (March 19, 1905 – September 1, 1981) was a German architect. Speer was Adolf Hitler’s chief architect.
Speer joined the Nazi Party in 1931.
His architectural skills made him increasingly prominent within the Party and he became a member of Hitler’s inner circle.
Hitler instructed him to design and construct a number of structures, including the Reich Chancellery and the Zeppelinfeld stadium in Nuremberg where Party rallies were held.

Paul Ludwig Troost
Zeppelinhaupttribüne – Nürnberg

When Troost, who had previously been Hitler’s main architect, died on January 21, 1934, Speer effectively replaced him as the Party’s chief architect.

Paul Ludwig Troost (17 August 1878 – 21 January 1934),[1] born in Elberfeld, was a German architect. An extremely tall, spare-looking, reserved Westphalian with a close-shaven head, Troost belonged to a school of architects, Peter Behrens and Walter Gropius who, even before 1914, reacted sharply against the highly ornamental Jugendstil and advocated a restrained, lean architectural approach, almost devoid of ornament. Troost graduated from designing steamship décor before World War I, and the fittings for showy transatlantic liners like the Europa, to a style that combined Spartan traditionalism with elements of modernity.

Hitler appointed Speer as head of the ‘Chief Office for Construction’.

Zeppelinfeldeingang – Nürnberg
Zeppelinhaupttribüne – Nürnberg

One of Speer’s first commissions after Troost’s death was the Zeppelinfeld stadium—the Nürnberg parade grounds seen in Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda masterpiece Triumph of the Will. This huge work was able to hold 340,000 people.
The tribune was influenced by the Pergamon Altar in Anatolia, but was magnified to an enormous scale.
Speer insisted that as many events as possible be held at night, both to give greater prominence to his lighting effects and to hide the individual Nazis, many of whom were overweight.

Lichtdom – The Cathedral of Light
Zeppelinfeld – Nürnberg
Lichtdom – The Cathedral of Light
Zeppelinfeld – Nürnberg

Speer surrounded the site with 130 anti-aircraft searchlights.
This created the effect of a “cathedral of light” or, as it was called by British Ambassador Sir Neville Henderson, a “cathedral of ice”.
Speer described this as his most beautiful work.

The cathedral of light [litchdom] was a main aesthetic feature of the Nuremberg Rallies that consisted of 130 anti-aircraft searchlights, at intervals of forty feet, aimed skyward to create a series of vertical bars surrounding the audience. The effect was a brilliant one, both from within the design and on the outside. The cathedral of light was documented in the Nazi Propaganda film ‘Festliches Nürnberg’, released in 1937.

Nürnberg was to be the site of many more official Nazi buildings, most of which were never built; for example, the German Stadium would have accommodated 400,000 spectators, while an even larger rally ground would have held half a million people.
While planning these structures, Speer invented the concept of “ruin value“: that major buildings should be constructed in such a way that they would leave aesthetically pleasing ruins for thousands of years into the future.
Such ruins would be a testament to the greatness of the Third Reich, just as ancient Greek or Roman ruins were symbols of the greatness of those civilizations.
Hitler enthusiastically embraced this concept, and ordered that all the Reich’s important buildings be constructed in accord with it.

Zeppelinfeld

Zeppelinfeldeingang – Nürnberg
Zeppelinhaupttribüne – Nürnberg

The Zeppelin Field is located east of the Great Road.
It consists of a large grandstand (Zeppelinhaupttribüne) with a width of 360 meters (400 yards) and a smaller stand.
It was one of Albert Speer‘s first works for the Party, and was based upon the Pergamon Altar.
The name “Zeppelinfeld” or “Zeppelinwiese” refers to the fact that in August 1909 Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin landed with one of his airships (LZ6) in this location.

Deutsches Stadion

Deutsches Stadion – Nürnberg

Along with his plans for the Welthauptstadt Germania (“world capital Germania”), Albert Speer made the plans for the world’s largest stadium which was to be located on the rally grounds.

Deutsches Stadion – Nürnberg

Derived from the Panathenaic Stadium of Athens, it would have offered 400,000 seats.
It was to get the shape of a horseshoe; planned dimensions: length: 800 m, width: 450 m, height: 100 m, building area 350,000 m².
The laying of the foundation stone was on 9 July 1937.
It was to be finished for the party congress in 1945.
In 1938, the construction began with the excavation.
It was stopped in 1939.

Märzfeld

Märzfeld – Nürnberg

The Märzfeld (March Field) was to be a representation and parade ground for the Wehrmacht.
It was located at the southern end of the “Große Straße” (Great road).
Its dimensions were 955 x 610 meters (1,061 x 677 yards) or bigger than 80 football fields.
The name of the huge deployment area was supposed to recall the recovery of military sovereignty of the German Reich in March 1935.
As in English, the German name of the month “März” derives from the Roman Warrior God Mars.
The name Märzfeld thus also alludes to the Campus Martius, in Rome.)
The construction, never completed, began in 1938 with plans calling for 24 granite towers each at 125 feet in height.
Only eleven were ever completed.
Tribunes for about 160,000 people were planned around the field.
On the central grandstand a group of colossal statures was planned: a goddess of victory and warriors.

Reichsparteitag Films
‘Der Sieg des Glaubens’
“Victory of Faith” 
‘Der Sieg des Glaubens’
“Victory of Faith”
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

Official films for the rallies began in 1927, with the establishment of the NSDAP film office.

The most famous films were made by Leni Riefenstahl for the rallies between 1933 and 1935.
Relating to the theme of the rally, she called her first film ‘Der Sieg des Glaubens’ (“Victory of Faith”).
This movie was taken out of circulation after the Röhm-Putsch.
The rally of 1934 became the setting for the award-winning ‘Triumph des Willens’ (Triumph of the Will).
Several generals in the Wehrmacht protested over the minimal army presence in the film: Hitler apparently proposed modifying the film to placate the generals, but Riefenstahl refused his suggestion.
She did agree to return to the 1935 rally and make a film exclusively about the Wehrmacht, which became ‘Tag der Freiheit: Unsere Wehrmacht’.
The rallies for 1936 and 1937 were covered in ‘Festliches Nürnberg’, which was shorter than the others, only 21 minutes.

‘Triumph des Willens’

‘Triumph des Willens’
The Triumph of the Will
Poster
Leni Riefenstahl

‘Triumph des Willens’  (The Triumph of the Will) is a 1935 film made by Leni Riefenstahl.
It chronicles the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, which was attended by more than 700,000 Nazi supporters.
The film contains excerpts from speeches given by various Nazi leaders at the Congress, including portions of speeches by Adolf Hitler, interspersed with footage of massed party members.
Hitler commissioned the film and served as an unofficial executive producer; his name appears in the opening titles.
The overriding theme of the film is the return of Germany as a great power, with Hitler as the ‘True German Leader’ who will bring glory to the nation.

‘Triumph des Willens’
The Triumph of the Will
Opening Title

‘Triumph des Willens’ was released in 1935 and rapidly became one of the best-known examples of propaganda in film history.
Riefenstahl’s techniques, such as moving cameras, the use of long focus lenses to create a distorted perspective, aerial photography, and revolutionary approach to the use of music and cinematography, have earned ‘Triumph des Willens’ recognition as one of the greatest films in history.
Riefenstahl won several awards, not only in Germany but also in the United States, France, Sweden, and other countries.
The film was popular in the Third Reich and elsewhere, and has continued to influence movies, documentaries, and commercials to this day.
Frank Capra’s seven-film series ‘Why We Fight’ is said to have been directly inspired by and America’s response to ‘Triumph des Willens’.

Leni Riefenstahl

‘Das Blaue Licht ‘(1932)
The Blue Light
Leni Riefenstahl

undefinedHelene Bertha Amalie “Leni” Riefenstahl (22 August 1902 – 8 September 2003) was a German film director, actress and dancer, widely noted for her aesthetics and innovations as a filmmaker.

Early Life

Riefenstahl was born on 22 August 1902.
She was christened Helene Bertha Amalie.
She was born into a prosperous family.
Her father owned a successful heating and ventilation company and he wanted her to follow him into the world of business, however, her mother believed that Leni’s future was in ‘show busines’.
In 1918, when she was 16, she started dance and ballet classes at the Grimm-Reiter Dance School in Berlin, where she quickly became a star pupil.

‘Der heilige Berg’  (1926)
The Holy Mountain
Leni Riefenstahl

Riefenstahl gained a reputation on Berlin’s dance circuit and she quickly moved into films.
She made a series of films for Arnold Fanck, and one of them, ‘The White Hell of Pitz Palu’ (1929), co-directed by G. W. Pabst, saw her fame spread to countries outside of Germany.
Riefenstahl produced and directed her own work called ‘Das Blaue Licht ‘(1932), co-written by Carl Mayer and Béla Balázs.
This film won the Silver Medal at the Venice Film Festival.
In the film, Riefenstahl played a peasant girl who protected a glowing mountain grotto.
The film attracted the attention of Hitler, who believed she epitomized the perfect German female.
After that, she became famous as an actress, a film director, a film producer and a film reporter.
She also became world-renowned as an actress in the films ‘Der heilige Berg’ (The Holy Mountain) (1926), ‘Der große Sprung’ (The Great Leap) (1927), ‘Die weiße Hölle vom Piz Palü’ (The White Hell of Piz Palü) (1929), ‘Stürme über dem Mont Blanc’ (Storms Over Mont Blanc) (1930), ‘Der weiße Rausch’ (The White Noise) (1931), ‘Das Blaue Licht’ (The Blue Light) (1932) and ‘SOS Eisberg’ (1933).

Her greatest success she made with the documentary film ‘Triumph des Willens’ (The Triumph of the Will) named after the Reich Party Congress 1934 in Nuremberg which got the highest awards:

‘Olympia – Fest der Schönheit’
Festival of Beauty
Leni Riefenstahl
‘Olympia – Fest der Schönheit’
Festival of Beauty
Leni Riefenstahl

The gold medal in Venice in 1935 and the gold medal at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1937, however, at the end of the war this film destroyed Leni Riefenstahl’s career, for now it had no longer been recognized as a piece of art but been condemned as a National Socialist propaganda film.
Her world-famous film about the Olympic games was equally well received.
That film included two parts, part I ‘Fest der Völker’ (Festival of the Nations) and part 2 ‘Fest der Schönheit’ , (Festival of Beauty) and did also get the highest awards: the gold medal in Paris in 1937, the first price in Venice as the world’s best film in 1938, the Olympic Award by the IOC in 1939, and in 1956 it had been classified as one of the world’s best ten films.

Leni Riefenstahl and ‘Triumph des Willens’

Around the same time she first heard Hitler speak at a Nazi rally and, by her own admission, was impressed. She later began a correspondence with him that would last for years.
Hitler, by turn, was equally impressed with ‘Das Blaue Licht’, and in 1933 asked her to direct a film about the annual Nürnberg Rally.
The National Socialist Party had only recently taken power amid a period of political instability (Hitler was the fourth Chancellor of Germany in less than a year) and were considered an unknown quantity by many Germans, to say nothing of the world.
In ‘Mein Kampf’ Hitler talks of the success of British propaganda in World War I believing people’s ignorance meant simple repetition and an appeal to feelings over reason would suffice.
Hitler chose Riefenstahl as he wanted the film as “artistically satisfying” as possible to appeal to a non-political audience, but he also believed that propaganda must admit no element of doubt.
As such, ‘Triumph of the Will’ may be seen as a continuation of the unambiguous World War I-style propaganda, though heightened by the film’s artistic or poetic nature.
Riefenstahl was initially reluctant, not because of any moral qualms, but because she wanted to continue making feature films.
Hitler persisted, and Riefenstahl eventually agreed to make a film at the 1933 Nürnberg Rally called ‘Der Sieg des Glaubens’ (Victory of Faith), however the film had numerous technical problems, including a lack of preparation (Riefenstahl reported having just a few days) and Hitler’s apparent unease at being filmed.
To make matters worse, Riefenstahl had to deal with infighting by party officials, in particular Joseph Goebbels who tried to have the film released by the Propaganda Ministry.
Though ‘Der Sieg des Glaubens’ apparently did well at the box office, it later became a serious embarrassment after SA Leader Ernst Röhm, who had a prominent role in the film, was executed during the ‘Night of the Long Knives’.
In 1934, Riefenstahl had no wish to repeat the fiasco of ‘Der Sieg des Glaubens’ and initially recommended fellow director Walter Ruttmann. Ruttmann’s film, which would have covered the rise of the Nazi Party from 1923 to 1934 and been more overtly propagandistic (the opening text of Triumph was his), did not appeal to Hitler.
He again asked Riefenstahl, who finally relented  after Hitler guaranteed his personal support, and promised to keep other Nazi organizations, specifically the Propaganda Ministry, from meddling with her film.

Production

The film follows a script similar to ‘Der Sieg des Glaubens’, which is evident when one sees both films side by side.
For example, the city of Nürnberg scenes – even to the shot of a cat included in the city driving sequence in both films.
Furthermore, Herbert Windt reused much of his musical score for that film in ‘Triumph des Willens’, which he also scored, but unlike ‘Der Sieg des Glaubens’, Riefenstahl shot Triumph with a large budget, extensive preparations, and vital help from high-ranking Nazis like Goebbels.
The Rally was planned not only as a spectacular mass meeting, but as a spectacular propaganda film.
Albert Speer, Hitler’s personal architect, designed the set in Nürnberg, and did most of the coordination for the event.

Leni Riefenstahl

Pits were dug in front of the speakers’ platform so Riefenstahl could get the camera angles she wanted, and tracks were laid so that her cameramen could get traveling shots of the crowd.
When rough cuts weren’t up to par, major party leaders and high-ranking public officials reenacted their speeches in a studio for her.
Riefenstahl also used a film crew that was extravagant by the standards of the day.
Her crew consisted of 172 people, including 10 technical staff, 36 cameramen and assistants (operating in 16 teams with 30 cameras), nine aerial photographers, 17 newsreel men, 12 newsreel crew, 17 lighting men, two photographers, 26 drivers, 37 security personnel, four labor service workers, and two office assistants.
Many of her cameramen also dressed in SA uniforms so they could blend into the crowds.
Riefenstahl had the difficult task of condensing an estimated 61 hours of film into two hours.
She labored to complete the film as fast as she could, going so far as to sleep in the editing room filled with hundreds of thousands of feet of film footage.

Themes

Nürnberg Frauenkirche

Triumph of the Will is sometimes seen as an example of Nazi political religion.
The primary religion in Germany before the Second World War was Christianity.
With the primary sects being Roman Catholic and Protestant, the Christian views in this movie are clearly meant to allow the movie to better connect with the intended audience.
Religion is a major theme in ‘Triumph’.
The film opens with Hitler descending ‘god-like’ out of the skies past twin cathedral spires.
It contains many scenes of church bells ringing, and individuals in a state of near-religious fervor.
It is probably not a coincidence that the final parade of the film was held in front of the Nürnberg Frauenkirche.

Adolf Hitler with the Blutfahne

In his final speech in the film, Hitler also directly compares the National Socialist Party to a holy order, and the consecration of new party flags by having Hitler touch them to the “blood banner” has obvious religious overtones.
Hitler himself is portrayed in a messianic manner, from the opening where he descends from the clouds in a plane, to his drive through Nuremberg, where even a cat stops what it is doing to watch him, to the many scenes where the camera films from below and looks up at him: Hitler, standing on his podium, will issue a command to hundreds of thousands of followers.
It was very important to Adolf Hitler that his propaganda messages carry a unified theme.
Unity is seen throughout this film, even in the camps where soldiers live.

Nürnberg Reichsparteitag
Nürnberg Reichsparteitag

The camp outside of Nuremberg is very uniform and clean; the tents are aligned in perfect rows, each one the same as the next.
The men there also make a point not to wear their shirts, because their shirts display their rankings and status.
Shirtless they are all equals, unified.
When they march, it is in unison and they all carry their weapons identically, one to another.
Hitler’s message to the workers also includes the notion of unity:

The concept of labor will no longer be a dividing one but a uniting one, and no longer will there be anybody in Germany who will regard manual labor any less highly than any other form of labor.

Adolf Hitler

‘Triumph’ has many scenes that blur the distinction between the Party, the German state, and the German people.
Germans in peasant farmers’ costumes and other traditional clothing greet Hitler in some scenes.
The torchlight processions would remind the viewer of the medieval Karneval celebration.
The old flag of Imperial Germany is also shown several times flying alongside the Swastika, and there is a ceremony where Hitler pays his respects to soldiers who died in World War I (as well as to President Paul von Hindenburg who had died a month before the convention).

Hitler’s Speeches

Adolf Hitler Speaking
Nürnberg Reichsparteitag
Adolf Hitler Speaking
Nürnberg Reichsparteitag

Among the themes presented, the desire for pride in Germany and the purification of the German people is well exemplified through the speeches and ideals of the Third Reich in ‘Triumph’.
In every speech given and shown in ‘Triumph’, pride is one of the major focuses.
Hitler advocates to the people that they should not be satisfied with their current state and they should not be satisfied with the descent from power and greatness Germany has endured since World War I.
The German people should believe in themselves and the movement that is occurring in Germany.
Hitler promotes pride in Germany through the unification of it.
To unify Germany, Hitler believes purification would have to take place.

Adolf Hitler Speaking
Nürnberg Reichsparteitag

Hitler preaches to the people in his speeches that they should believe in their country and themselves.
The German people are better than what they have become because of the impurities in society.
Hitler wants them to believe in him and believe what he wants to do for his people, and what he is doing is for the country’s and people’s benefit.

Hitler before his Final Speach
Nürnberg Reichsparteitag

In the closing speech of ‘Triumph of the Will’, Hitler enters the room from the back, appearing to emerge from the people.
After a one sentence introduction, he tells his faithful Nazis how the German nation has subordinated itself to the Party.

‘Triumph des Willens’
Final Scene

He promises that the new state that the Party has created will endure for thousands of years.
Hitler says that the youth will carry on after the old have weakened.
As the massed bands and choirs ring out the ‘Horst Wessel Lied’ the camera focuses on the large Swastika above Hitler and the film ends with the images of this Swastika imposed on party members marching in a columns.
His speech brought attention to the rally, and created a huge turnout in the following years.
He attracted many people in the way that he addressed the issues and his people.
He spoke to them as if it were a sermon and engaged the people.
In 1934, over a million Germans participated in the Nuremberg Rally.

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Hitler’s Speach to Political Leaders of the NSDAP
Nürnberg -1936

‘My party comrades! Men of the National Socialist movement!
We meet here for the fourth time. How this field has changed! So has our Reich! And so, we can say with even greater pride, has our people!
We have experienced in these four years the miracle of a resurrection of a defeated and demoralized and suppressed people. Today this people stands before us once more, restored in outlook and heart.
Each time we come to this city, we can look back on a year of work, but also on a year of accomplishments. Three years ago as we met the world was in motion. There may have been some who thought the wheel of history could be rolled back. A year later, two years ago, we had just taken steps necessary to preserve the strength of the movement. A year ago the dark clouds of enemy opposition hung over Germany, foreign rejection and threatening misunderstandings. Now we are here once more and all of us, you and I and the nation, know that the time of inner turmoil is as much behind us as is the time of external threats.
As we have come together here, so too today the German people has come together. As you have marched here in columns beneath your flags, my flag bearers, the German people are behind you! I have reminded the German people in my proclamation of the wonders of the past four years. We are reminded at this festival what has become of the German people.
What a spirit seized our people! How proud and manly it has once more become. It has overcome all the powers of destruction, collapse and dishonor, and has found once again the path to honor! Today we can again be proud of our people! This miracle that has renewed our people, my fighting comrades, is not a gift from heaven given to those unworthy of it.
Never has there been a movement that struggled with more fanatic, devoted, sacrificial commitment to national resurrection than we have shown in the past eighteen years!
We have fought for our people for the souls of millions, of our workers, our farmers, our citizens! We have fought as one fights only for the most priceless gift that this world has to offer. What have we given over these years in work, in sacrifice, in devotion, in fanaticism, in contempt of death! We were successful not only because I was your leader, but rather far more because you were my followers. 
We feel once more in this moment the miracle that brought us together! You heard once the voice of a man that moved your hearts, that awakened you, and you followed this voice. You followed for years without even seeing the bearer of the voice himself. You heard only the voice, and you followed.
The miracle of our coming together moves us all. Not all of you can see me, and I cannot see all of you. But I feel you, and you feel me! The belief in the greatness of our people has made us small people large, it has made us poor people rich, it has made wavering, cowardly, anxious men brave and courageous, the blind to see. It has brought us together!
You have come to this city from your small village, from your market towns, from your cities, from mines and factories, from behind the plow. You have come from your daily routine and from your labors for Germany to share this feeling: We are together, we are it and it is us, and we are now Germany!
It is splendid to know that we are gathered here as representatives of the German nation. Everyone knows: These 140,000 have but one thought and their heart, one longing, they all think the same. That is the source of our movement’s strength that has brought us through all that fate had to offer toward the goal for which we strive, and which is now in reach.
It is wonderful for me to be your Führer.
Who can be prouder of his followers than he who knows that they are moved by nothing but the purest idealism!
Who forced you to follow me? What could I offer you, what could I gave you? We together agreed on one thing: on the struggle for a great shared idea! We grew in size and strength until we were the victors.
For years I could greet you only as my fighting comrades. Today I greet you as victors. You have built a new home for our people, and have given those who dwell in that house a new spirit and new meaning. All those who may think that they can shake this state, or even bring it to collapse, should take note. They should not deceive themselves! If our old enemies and opponents should seek to attack us once more, our battle flags will fly high and they will learn respect for us! 
They will have to learn that Germany is no place for them.
We had no prayer but this during our long years of struggle: Lord, give our people peace at home and abroad! Our generation has experienced so much that it is understandable why we long for peace. We want to work, to build our Reich, to build it according to our ideas and not those of the Bolshevist Jews.
We want to work for the future of the children of our people, for a future that will not only be safe for them, but easier as well. We have so much behind us that we have only one request for a gracious and good Providence: “Spare our children that which we have gone through!”
We desire nothing but peace and quiet in which to do our work. May others have the same wish, for we have not hesitated to give up our rest when it was necessary to deal with internal troublemakers. We have not aged during our struggle. We are as young as ever. What the years added our idealism subtracted.
With and behind our flags march our new youth.
We are happy and proud to see them. A new generation of leaders is maturing. What fate’s hard process of selection graciously granted us, that we want to guarantee for the future through our own tough selection.
To be a National Socialist is to be a man, it is to be a fighter, it is to be brave and courageous and sacrificial. We will be that for all eternity!
In this fourth Reich Party Rally since the seizure of power we can look calmly to the future. We are not careless and foolish. History has given us hard lessons. But we are calm and self confident. I am so when I see you. I know that there is a unique movement behind me, a wonderful organization of men and women. I see before me endless columns of the flags of our new Reich. I make this prophecy to you:
This Reich has the first days of its youth behind it. It will grow in the coming centuries, becoming strong and powerful! These flags will be borne by ever new generations of our people. Germany is healthy once more! Our people is reborn!
I greet you, my old fighting comrades, my flag bearers, my standard bearers of a new history, and I greet you and thank you for all the loyalty and faith that you have given me over the long years.
I greet you as the hope of the present and the guarantee of our future.
And I especially greet the youth who are present. Become men like those you see before you!
Fight as they have fought! Be upright and determined, fear no one and do your duty!
If you do so, the Lord God will never leave our people.

Heil Germany !’

Adolf Hitler

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