Adolf Hitler and the NSDAP

From the Lecture series: A History of Hitler's Empire, 2nd Edition

By Thomas Childers, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

In 1923, Adolf Hitler had enlisted the NSDAP in a conspiracy—kampfbund—thinking the time was right to overthrow the German government. However, the Beer Hall Putsch was a failure and Hitler and other conspirators were arrested. A trial was to be held in Munich in February and March 1924. What was the aftermath of this trial?

Image shows Hitler sitting with other conspirators in the Landsberg prison.
Hitler was convicted for high treason and sent to Landsberg Prison, where members of the NSDAP would visit him. (Image: Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz/Public domain)

The Munich Trial

Hitler, General Erich Ludendorff, and a number of others were tried for high treason, attempting to overthrow the government. All the others basically plead not guilty; Ludendorff was let off altogether. But, Hitler used the trial to demonstrate his oratory (even the state prosecutor praised his nationalist motives and the NSDAP):

If overthrowing this government of November criminals who stabbed the German army in the back is high treason, I’m guilty. If wanting to restore the majesty of the German Reich is high treason, I’m guilty. If wanting to restore the honor of the German army is high treason, I’m guilty.

Hitler’s Conviction and His Sentence

The sentencing in Munich was a remarkable thing. Hitler was convicted; he had not plead not guilty. He was given five years in prison for a conviction for high treason, for attempting to overthrow the legitimate government of the country.

The court expressly held out the probability of early pardon. Hitler was sent to what we would now call a minimum-security facility in Landsberg, west of Munich, where in his cell he was allowed visitors.

In fact, he finally had to protest to the jailers; he said, “Don’t let anybody else in.” The sycophants of the party would come to see him. He dictated Mein Kampf, his political autobiography and political agenda, while in prison. And it was in his years in prison that people in the party began to notice him.

This is a transcript from the video series A History of Hitler’s Empire, 2nd Edition. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

Hitler: The Mystical Leader in the Making

A photograph of Gregor Strasser.
Gregor Strasser had noticed a change in Hitler when the latter was released from prison in 1925. (Image: Unknown author/Public domain)

Hitler emerged from prison at the end of 1924. His term of five years had been reduced to less than a year. He now began to assume a distance; he was now not simply the boss, der chef, the chief. He now wanted to be called der Führer, the leader. Gregor Strasser, who was really the second in command of the party, noticed this change in Hitler.

The party had been banned in 1924 for attempting to overthrow the state. Under a different name, it had participated in the elections of May and not done very well at all. There was a lot of factionalism within the party.

There were a lot of different chiefs in the NSDAP, and they all clamored to go to Hitler in Lundsberg and say, “What is your position on this?” and Hitler would always sort of agree with the last person he saw. It would be typical of his behavior later on as ruler of the Third Reich, but it cemented his position as the ultimate authority within the party.

Learn more about the rise of the Nazi Party.

Hitler’s New Plan

In 1925, Hitler re-established the party. Less than a year after the party had been banned for attempting to overthrow the state, it now re-established itself with the same name.

All it had attempted to do was to destroy the democratic government of Germany. And Hitler was interested in two things above all: organization and propaganda. First of all, he wanted to remain above ideological conflicts. He didn’t want to have to decide whether this position was the ideological mainline or that.

He was perfectly willing to let his lieutenants battle it out. What he was really interested in was cementing his position as Führer—his recognition as Führer of the party unquestioned.

The Propaganda Network of Hitler

Hitler argued that the party had attempted to overthrow the government by force and it didn’t work. Now the party had to follow what he called the path of legality to power.

“We want to enter the Parliament,” he said, “not because we’ve become Democrats and we believe in parliamentary government. We want to enter the Parliament in order to destroy it.”

The main emphasis of the party ought to be recruiting members in order to carry out propaganda, and to attract voters. The point wasn’t to have a working parliamentary delegation; it was to use this as a propaganda machine.

Hitler had a vision, largely borrowed from the Communists, of establishing a network of propaganda cells all over Germany. His plan was to know what the common German was thinking and talking about.

The Dissatisfied German Populace

There was a lot of dissatisfaction in Germany in this period. Although inflation had been stabilized in late 1923, the government had simply cut off credit, quadrupled interest rates, laid off about 150,000 permanent civil servants. There was a move for rationalization of industry.

In the midst of this dissatisfaction, the party attempted to create a national network of propaganda cells. It wanted to go out and discover opinions so it could then package an appeal.

The Relative Recovery of German economy

The symbol of the Communists.
Hitler wanted to establish a network of propaganda cells as the Communists had done. (Image: Sudowoodo/Shutterstock)

The period from 1924 to 1928 in economic terms was one of relative tranquility and relative recovery.

The Germans had accepted a financial plan whereby the Americans would invest a huge amount of money in Germany, allowing Germany then to put its economic house in order and then to begin to pay its reparations obligations to France, Belgium, and England. The United States demanded that England and France, in particular, pay their war debts to the United States.

Germany was readmitted to the League of Nations. It had signed a number of international agreements from 1924 to 1928, not to show that the Treaty of Versailles worked, but to show that it wouldn’t. Germany was going to make a good-faith effort to pay and then by doing that, would show the allies how impossible it was to pay off the reparations.

Learn more about Hitler, the man behind the Nazi movement.

The Roaring Twenties in the USA

It was a period of the Roaring Twenties in the United States. But there were problems just beneath the surface. A German political figure named Gustav Stresemann, who was a foreign minister of Germany in this period said, “If anything happens and these American short-term loans are withdrawn, pulled back, we’re in deep, deep, deep trouble.”

He was proved right as the Great Depression engulfed the whole world in 1929. It was during this period that the NSDAP emerged as the second largest party in Germany in the elections of 1930.

Common Questions about Adolf Hitler and the NSDAP

Q: When was Adolf Hitler released from the prison?

Adolf Hitler was released from the prison in 1925.

Q: What was Adolf Hitler’s idea behind creating a network of propaganda cells?

Hitler wanted to create a network of propaganda cells all over Germany because he wanted to know what the people were thinking about the government’s policies.

Q: Why was the NSDAP banned in 1924?

The NSDAP was banned in in Germany 1924 for attempting to overthrow the state.

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