May 16, 2017

1930. Hitler's Outburst at Leipzig Draws Strong Reactions and Ridicule

A "Feather-Headed Demagogue"
Adolf Hitler testifies as a witness before the Reichsgericht in Leipzig on September 25, 1930 (source)
This article is part of a series of posts on how newspapers covered the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany prior to World War II. In September 1930 Hitler testified as a witness before the German Supreme Court, the Reichsgericht, in Leipzig during the trial of three Reichswehr officers accused of treason. He used the opportunity to bring attention to his movement and promised a violent, authoritarian future for the country under Nazi leadership.

The trial occurred a week after the 1930 German federal election in which the Nazis received a surprising six million votes, coming in second to the Social Democratic Party and raising international alarm eighteen months ahead of the German presidential election of 1932.

Reactions in the United States and Britain were largely negative, but the general consensus remained that, while the Nazis posed a significant threat, they were unlikely to maintain enough popular support to take power. The six million votes were attributed to "economic and social grievances."

The Times said:
"Granted that [Hitler's] party represents a multitude of discontents rather than a single constructive aim and that its sudden access to strength is a product of temporary economic distress and juvenile impatience, the fact remains that it has just polled over 6,000,000 votes and is the second strongest party in the Reichstag."
The New York Times weighed in:
"There is an innocence almost childish about the detailed fashion in which [Hitler] set out to be blood-curdling. Almost one expected him to state the precise number of heads that would roll from the guillotine when the Fascists have taken over control of the German nation and inaugurated the day of reckoning."
Below are four contemporary articles about the incident and the reactions it generated.

From The New York Times, September 26, 1930, pp. 1, 11:
HITLER WOULD SCRAP VERSAILLES TREATY AND USE GUILLOTINE
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German Fascists' Chief Says at Leipzig Trial That He Will Set Up "Third Reich"
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TO TRY LEGAL MEANS FIRST
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If These Fail, He Testifies, "We Shall Ignore or Circumvent" Pacts "Forced" on Nation
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WARNS OF DEATH FOR MANY
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He Tells Judge He Will See Heads of Leaders of 1918 Revolution Rolling in the Sand
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By GUIDO ENDERIS

LEIPZIG, Sept. 25 — A guillotine functioning after approved historic precedent awaits the men who made the German revolution of 1918 if the National Socialist party (Fascists) ever gets hold of the government. This was solemnly predicted by Adolf Hitler today at the outset of his testimony before the criminal bench of the German Supreme Court, which is trying three Reichswehr officers for high treason in connection with alleged Fascist plotting in the German Army.

"If our movement succeeds," Herr Hitler said to the judge, "we shall erect a people's tribunal before which the November criminals of 1918 shall expiate their crime and I frankly predict you shall then see their heads rolling in the sand."

Will Combat Treaties

Responding to questions from the judge, Herr Hitler said:

"We the National Socialists refuse to recognize the treaties concluded over the heads of the German people as of permanent duration and also propose to fight the war guilt lie. We shall seek to abrogate or revise these by diplomatic negotiations, and I solemnly assert if these fail we shall proceed to ignore or circumvent them, with legal means if possible; failing that, with illegal means. The world may call that illegal, but I am solely answerable to the German people for my actions."

The judge then asked whether the National Socialists proposed to stage a physical revolution in Germany. Herr Hitler said he believed that was impossible because the party was not an outlet for a revolutionary movement, but merely aspired to bring about a gigantic moral uprising along peaceful lines.

Herr Hitler made use of the opportunity to unburden himself of a patriotic oration which ranged between a savage indictment of conditions under the republic and defense of the Fascists, the plans of whom, he stoutly asserted, would be executed only within legal channels.

Sees Bigger Election Gains

The Fascists contemplate a gigantic intellectual awakening of the German people, and the 107 Reichstag seats captured in the last election would be expanded to 250 at the next election, he declared.

He vehemently denied having encouraged attempts to promote disintegration of Reichswehr discipline. He said he was opposed to such procedure as he also was to any other violence in furthering the party's aims.

Fascists who crowded the courtroom cheered their idol and met a stern rebuke from the judge, who reminded the spectators the session was neither a theatrical performance nor a political meeting.

A crowd of several thousand had besieged the venerable Supreme Court Building since 7 A.M., and there were frequent clashes between the police and jubilant Fascists, who either sought entry to the building or an opportunity to cheer their leader. Inside, further police precautions were required to maintain the staid dignity of the court.

Fifteen minutes before the session opened a police official stepped before the barrier which separated the spectators from the bench and admonished the former to observe a becoming decorum, especially when Herr Hitler entered the chamber, because the court otherwise would be compelled to resort to measures "which might be uncomfortable for the spectators." It was observed that this was the first time such precautions had been taken in sessions of the German Supreme Court.

Hitler Cheered on Arrival

Herr Hitler arrived shortly before 9 o'clock and was vociferously cheered as he gave the Fascist salute while walking up the steps into the building. He slipped almost unobserved into one of the seats reserved for witnesses. He was soon called to the witness stand, where the judge explained the nature of his subpoena and informed him he was present only as a witness, that he was expected to make truthful assertions regarding the aims of his party and tell whether it aspired to attain them through legal, constitutional methods. The court incidentally admonished him not to indulge in a lengthy political speech or to seek to defend himself.

After announcing that he had been born at Branau am Inn in Tyrol in 1889, Hitler said he had lost his Austrian citizenship because he had fought in the German Army from 1914 to 1918, when he was gassed and forced to remain in a hospital.

"At the close of the war I clearly recognized that Germany was doomed to internal disintegration as a result of Marxism and internationalism and that even during the war democracy and pacifism had begun their work of destroying the vitality of the German people. I was convinced in 1918 that only a new national movement which would inflame a fanatic national zeal among the German people could effectively combat the Red terror of the Left parties. It was for the purpose of carrying on this work of illumination that the so-called storm divisions of the National Socialist Labor party were organized."

Herr Hitler began a length account which dealt with the expansion of his party and its subsequent part in German political activities. It carried him down to the Munich revolt in 1923 which was staged by him and in which General Ludendorff had an ignominious part.

That outbreak, he contended, was the result of events beyond his control, and the revolt, as such, was contrary to his wishes. He emphasized that the relations between the Federal Government and Bavaria had reached a state of latent war and it was only a question of whether a march on Berlin was to be undertaken under the blue and white colors of Bavaria or by other forces.

Party "Peaceful" Since 1925

Since 1925, he said, his organization had been directed into peaceful channels and sought to conduct itself as a strictly non-military political unit.

At this point in his testimony the judge intervened with an examination which resulted in more emphatic and picturesque declarations by the Fascist leader. He denied responsibility for any illegal currents in the Fascist ranks and said they had no secret aims. Replying to the court's question as to his attitude on the Reichswehr, Herr Hitler said:

"I consider the Reichswehr the most important instrument for the restoration of the German State to the people. I have never undertaken any action inimical to the Reichswehr or tending to disrupt its discipline and morale. As a former soldier, I know only too well the folly and futility of such a policy. We are not foes of the Reichswehr and consider as its enemies and as enemies of the German people all who would seek to undermine it. Such elements in my party who toy with the thought of revolution have been summarily expelled or have voluntarily left it when informed of my attitude."

The judge then reminded Herr Hitler of a statement contained in one of his publications to the effect that "heads would roll in the sand" when his party came into power. It was here that the Fascist leader made his dramatic prediction of the guillotine.

Cries of "Bravo!" echoed through the chamber but they were quickly suppressed with a warning from the bench that the chamber would be cleared if the plaudits were repeated.

Herr Hitler became more informative as he proceeded to answer the questions of the judge with respect to some of the more immediate political aims of the Fascists.

Predicts Majority in Three Years

"With ten years our movement has won a place as the second strongest political party in Germany," Herr Hitler replied. "In three years it will be the strongest party and in the future 35,000,000 of the 40,000,000 voters will support us. That Germany which today hails us into court will some day be glad that our movement was begun. National socialism will convert this defeatist and pacifist State into a nation of iron strength and will.

"To us the old imperial Germany was a State for which we were proud to fight—a State with glorious traditions. The second Reich in which we now are living is predicated on democracy and pacifism. We propose to make the third Reich one of healthy and vigorous nationalism—a State for the people, and shall put an end to the process of national disintegration. We shall accomplish this with legal and constitutional means, and shall mold our state into that form which we deem necessary for it."

Herr Hitler charged that the Reichswehr as it was now constituted did not represent the German people, that it no longer was an expression of the national spirit. The old imperial army, he said, was an exponent of the monarchical idea and urged that the Reichswehr in the new State should also feel itself responsible for the fate of the nation. He denied having sought political ingress into the ranks of the Reichswehr. He said he had prohibited the spread of his publications in the soldiers' barracks.

The judge reminded him that the Italian army made common cause with the Fascisti in October, 1922, and asked whether that would serve as a precedent for the National Socialists.

"The Italian Fascisti," replied Herr Hitler, "did not make a revolution in the sense the German Socialists did in 1918, for Mussolini proceeded in a strictly legal manner; otherwise he could not be the royal Premier today. Any force he applied was not directed against the state, but was aimed at the terror of the street mob."

Denies Violence Since 1923

Herr Hitler then was requested by the court to deny categorically that he at any time since the Munich revolt in 1923 had sought to change the German Constitution by violent means or that he had instructed his subordinates to do so. His denial was emphatic, and that ended his testimony.

Numerous official representatives of the German States attended today's session of the trial because their governments are concerned with the further progress of the National Socialists throughout Germany.

Under-Secretary Zweigert of the Reich's Ministry of the Interior submitted an exhaustive memorial at the conclusion of Herr Hitler's examination which purports to prove that the National Socialist party since its inception has been pursuing revolutionary tactics. Dr. Zweigert testified he possessed evidence proving that Herr Hitler gave the Bavarian Government his word of honor he would not undertake any putsch (revolt) there, despite which he staged his insurrection in 1923. Dr. Zweigert demanded that the government's memorial be made part of the official evidence to offset Herr Hitler's personal testimony, which he declared was insufficient and not binding on the party as a whole.

Counsel for the three accused Reichswehr officers, Lieutenants Scheringer, Ludin and Wendt, objected on the ground that the charges were not supported by documentary evidence. Dr. Zweigert was dismissed as a witness despite the motion of the prosecuting attorney that the memorial be received as evidence. The hearing was adjourned to Friday.
The New York Times reported on reactions in the British press, particularly the view of the fascist-sympathizing owner of the Daily Mail, Lord Rothermere.

From The New York Times, September 25, 1930, p. 24:
ROTHERMERE SEES IT THROUGH

The three young officers on trial at Leipzig for conducting treasonable Fascist propaganda in the Reichswehr have been so outspoken in court that it is hard to say where they will stop. They may yet be moved to leap to their feet and point the contrast between the feeble and timid manner in which the interests of the German Fatherland are being served by President Hindenburg and the magnificent vision and courage brought to the same task by Lord Rothermere. The head of the German Republic, who used to be Commander-in-Chief of the German armies, has just let it be known that the Hitlerite "menace" should not be taken too seriously. In no part of the Reich does he consider the danger of a Fascist coup d'état to exist, and he regards the Bruening Government as fully capable of dealing with the present situation or any situation that may arise. Von Hindenburg thus passes judgment on the merits and importance of the Fascist agitation.

Far otherwise is it with the owner of The London Daily Mail. In the Fascist movement he discerns the promise of the rebirth of the German nation. Herr Hitler will begin by organizing Germany against the corruption of communism. With the nation cleansed and reinvigorated, the Fascist dictatorship will turn its attention to the map of Europe. Austria and Hungary will be brought under the aegis of a Hitlerite federation, Czechoslovakia may find herself "elbowed out of existence overnight," and other drastic revisions will be read into the peace treaties of 1919. This will achieve the double purpose of righting the wrongs of Versailles and setting up a really effective barrier against bolshevism in the heart of Europe. The scheme, of course, is not a perfect one. If the treaty-makers at Versailles, working at leisure, perpetrated so many grave errors, it is not to be expected that Lord Rothermere, writing under great pressure, possibly to catch an edition, should go scot-free. He may thus have overlooked what Hungarian fascism will have to say about being submerged in German fascism. It is only two years since Lord Rothermere took up Hungary's wrongs in a serious way and won so much favor at Budapest as to be mentioned for the vacant throne of St. Stephen. The Magyars now ask what Lord Rothermere means by giving them back their former boundaries only to bring them again under ancient Teuton subjection. And in the original home of fascism, brows may be knit against a triumphant German-Austro-Hungarian fascism that might seek to revive the questions of Tyrol and Fiume.

Yet these are minor considerations by the side of the great Rothermere objective of a new Germany under a military dictator, to save Europe from Bolshevism. What The London Daily Mail scheme overlooks is that such a new Germany cannot set up business without another European war, unavoidably necessary in order to dispose of France's veto on the new Hitlerite Reich. And that the one thing which Europe needs to avert the triumph of bolshevism is another general war must be plain to every competent thinker. Lenin's plans were so badly hurt by the events of 1914-1917 that his successor, Stalin, must be trembling at the thought of another conflagration in capitalist Europe!
Other British newspapers ridiculed the speech.

From The New York Times, September 26, 1930:
HITLER'S OUTBURST STIRS BRITISH PRESS
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German Fascist Chief is Called 'Feather-Headed Demagogue'—Hope Put in Hindenburg
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TREATY VIEWS STRESSED
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Daily News Predicts the Use of Emergency Powers if Plan for Coalition Fails

LONDON, Sept. 25 — Viscount Rothermere's enthusiasm for Adolf Hitler and his general softening of heart toward the "young builders of new Germany," which on Wednesday made the British newspaper publisher question the wisdom of insisting upon the last letter of the law as regards war debt payments, has not caught the fancy of the British public.

Far from being regarded now as the savior of Europe, Herr Hitler—after his wild oration in the Leipzig court today—is somewhat unceremoniously called a "feather-headed demagogue" by a section of the British press, and the discovery is made that he still stands where he did, dreaming of executions, revolutions and repudiations.

Concerning Herr Hitler's declaration that there must be two or three more Reichstag elections before his "uprising," The Daily Herald, the organ of the Labor party, suggests that Herr Hitler's ardent followers who are "panting to wade through blood and fire to the establishment of a third Reich" must be disappointed.

"It all sounds, despite the threat that then heads will roll in the sand," says The Daily Herald, "rather like Mr. Balfour pushing off tariff reform or Mr. Baldwin dodging Empire free trade. But what are the heads of the storm battalions, thirsting for the blood of the Jews, profiteers and pacifists going to think of Herr 'Don't Hityetler'?"

The London Times, editorially referring to "Hitler's indiscretion," says his references to peace treaties can hardly be disregarded abroad, and adds: "Granted that his party represents a multitude of discontents rather than a single constructive aim and that its sudden access to strength is a product of temporary economic distress and juvenile impatience, the fact remains that it has just polled over 6,000,000 votes and is the second strongest party in the Reichstag."

The newspaper has no doubt that the Hitler party would gain strength in subsequent elections if they were held soon and is not encouraged by the Leipzig trial in the hope that it will by then be fit to share the responsibility of government.

"Fortunately for Germany and Europe," the paper adds, "the last word still lies with President Hindenburg and his civil and military advisers. They know far better than Hitler and the militants that the economic prosperity and international relations of the Reich depend first and foremost on the confidence of the other nations." The Liberal Daily News and Chronicle regards the situation created by Herr Hitler's outburst as a very difficult one. If a working coalition cannot be framed it considers President Hindenburg may be forced to exercise again the emergency powers put into force last July. "But by this time the situation, if these powers are invoked, will be far graver than it was last July," says the paper.
Days after the testimony, The New York Times published its own editorial entitled "Hitler's Rhetoric."

From The New York Times, September 27, 1930:
HITLER'S RHETORIC

If it be true that a watched pot never boils, the menace of Adolf Hitler has been grossly exaggerated. His speech before the Supreme Court at Leipzig was in substance an invitation to the whole world to watch him boil over. There is an innocence almost childish about the detailed fashion in which he set out to be blood-curdling. Almost one expected him to state the precise number of heads that would roll from the guillotine when the Fascists have taken over control of the German nation and inaugurated the day of reckoning. There is something which may be innocence or mere confusion of ideas about his coupling the overthrow of the German Republic, the repudiation of the peace treaties and the mobilization of the guillotine with the legal two-thirds majority required by the Weimar Constitution. People will find it another mark of the ingrained German respect for law and order that even revolution and massacre must pause to make sure that they are not Verboten. These are not the deprecatory half-measures employed by the original practitioners of fascism in Italy or of the Communist variety of fascism in Russia. Mussolini's or Lenin's manifestos were concerned with the programs and principles and not with the dreadful things they would do to their enemies as soon as they got ready.

To dismiss the Hitlerite rhetoric, for all its naïveté, as of no consequence would be wrong. Since 1914 no one will venture to say what dire mischief may not be let loose by infantile irresponsibility. It requires no great talent to get on the nerves of the nations in the new European order and particularly in the present economic discontent. Yet, humanly speaking, the net result of the 6,000,000 votes cast for the Hitlerite platform of dictatorship and war, the net result of that flamboyant speech at Leipzig, should be to bring together the parties and elements in Germany standing for sobriety and the existing political order. These were a majority in the Reichstag election and may be expected to show a more decisive majority if it ever comes to a show-down. Many Germans who registered their economic and social grievances by voting Fascist a fortnight ago will think twice before actually inviting civil war and the return of French troops to German soil.

Wherever in Western Europe fascism has asserted itself successfully it has come as the retort to an experiment in communism, or from fear of a foreign enemy. It is still the doctrine in Italy that Mussolini's march on Rome saved the country from Red domination and from the dark designs of certain foreign powers. In Bavaria and Hungary an actual taste of communism preceded and prepared the way for the rule of the strong hand. These seemingly necessary conditions for flinging one's self into the arms of dictatorship Germany today obviously does not fulfill. She is in no danger from her domestic proletarians. And, despite the talk of Germany's enslavement by the peace treaties the signs of her servitude are fast disappearing.