Adolf Hitler and the Beer Hall Putsch (Commentary)

This commentary is based on the classroom activity: Adolf Hitler and the Beer Hall Putsch

Q1: (a) Study source 1 and then explain whether it was painted by a supporter or an opponent of Hitler. (b) What are the disadvantages of using a painting as historical evidence?

A1: (a) The painting provides a very positive image of Adolf Hitler. He looks highly respectable and the audience appear to be listening intently to his speech. (b) The main disadvantage of using a painting as historical evidence it is one person's interpretation of an event. A photograph of the event would have been a more reliable source. When assessing a painting as evidence you need to look at who produced it. For example, we know that Hermann Otto Hoyer was a supporter of Hitler. The date is also important. It was in fact painted thirteen years after the event. Even if the artist was at the event, would he have remembered correctly what had happened. When it was painted in 1937, Hitler was dictator of Nazi Germany. It would be important to discover if the artist was living in Germany at the time. Some artists such as John Heartfield and George Grosz were highly critical of Hitler in the late 1930s. However, people like Heartfield and Grosz were forced to flee Germany otherwise they would have been murdered.

Q2: Read source 3 and explain what you understand by the following phrases: (a) "November Criminals". (b) "dictatorial powers".


(a) According to Adolf Hitler the "November Criminals" were the German government leaders who signed the Armistice on 11th November, 1918. Hitler and other senior figures in the Nazi Party blamed these politicians for betraying the German people by both surrendering to the Allies and the formation of the democratic Weimar Republic.

(b) In his speech on 8th November, 1923, Hitler said he believed Gustav von Kahr should be "invested with dictatorial powers". A dictator is a ruler who wields absolute authority. This is in direct contrast to the democratic system that existed at this time in Germany.

Q3: According to the The Manchester Guardian (source 5), what did Adolf Hitler do on the 8th November, 1923?

A3: The Manchester Guardian states that on 8th November, 1923, Hitler used 600 of his supporters to overthrow the Bavarian government.

Q4: According to Time Magazine (source 6), what did Gustav von Kahr do when he escaped from the Munich Beer Hall.

A4: Time Magazine states that Gustav von Kahr was "entirely out of sympathy" with Hitler and the Nazi Party and as soon as he escaped he decided to "suppress the revolt".

Q5: Study sources 8, 9 10 and 11. Explain how these accounts of the march to the War Ministry differ. Which account is most sympathetic to Hitler and which one is most hostile? Give reasons for your decision.

A5: The main disagreement is over Hitler's behaviour once the shooting began. Colin Cross (source 8) says that "to what extent Hitler behaved in a cowardly manner was subsequently much disputed". William L. Shirer (source 9) claims that Hitler "was the first to scamper to safety". He quotes the physician Dr Walther Schulz as saying that Hitler "was the first to get up and turn back". Shirer claims that "he was hustled into a waiting motor car and spirited off to the country home of the Hanfstaengls".

Rudolf Olden (source 10) claims that: "At first shot Hitler had flung himself to the ground. He sprained his arm, but this did not prevent him from running. He found his car and drove into the mountains. The author of source 11, describes how despite being injured Hitler carried a young man who had been shot on his shoulders. He was quoted as saying: "If I can only get him to the car, then the boy is saved." Sources 9 and 10 are the most hostile to Hitler and source 11 is the most sympathetic.