8 November – Today In German History / 8. November – Heute in der deutschen Geschichte

1895

Physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, 1845-1923, becomes the first person to observe X-rays, a significant scientific advancement that would ultimately benefit a variety of fields, most of all medicine, by making the invisible visible.

1923

Adolf Hitler made his first attempt at seizing power in Germany with a failed coup in Munich that came to be known as the Beer Hall Putsch.

1939

An assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler failed.

1942

During World War II, Operation Torch began as U.S. and British forces landed in French North Africa.

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8 November 1923 – Beer Hall Putsch

Adolf Hitler, Fuhrer of the Nazi Party, launches the Beer Hall Putsch, his first attempt at seizing control of the German government.

After World War I, the victorious allies demanded billions of dollars in war reparations from Germany. Efforts by Germany’s democratic government to comply hurt the country’s economy and led to severe inflation. The German mark, which at the beginning of 1921 was valued at five marks per dollar, fell to a disastrous four billion marks per dollar in 1923. Meanwhile, the ranks of the nationalist Nazi Party swelled with resentful Germans who sympathized with the party’s bitter hatred of the democratic government, leftist politics, and German Jews. In early November 1923, the government resumed war-reparation payments, and the Nazis decided to strike.

Hitler planned a coup against the state government of Bavaria, which he hoped would spread to the dissatisfied German army, which in turn would bring down the central, democratic government in Berlin. On the evening of November 8, Nazi forces under Hermann Goering surrounded the Munich beer hall where Bavarian government officials were meeting with local business leaders. A moment later, Hitler burst in with a group of Nazi storm troopers, discharged his pistol into the air, and declared that “the national revolution has begun.” Threatened at gunpoint, the Bavarian leaders reluctantly agreed to support Hitler’s new regime.

In the early morning of November 9, however, the Bavarian leaders repudiated their coerced support of Hitler and ordered a rapid suppression of the Nazis. At dawn, government troops surrounded the main Nazi force occupying the War Ministry building. A desperate Hitler responded by leading a march toward the center of Munich in a last-ditch effort to rally support. Near the War Ministry building, 3,000 Nazi marchers came face to face with 100 armed policemen. Shots were exchanged, and 16 Nazis and three policemen were killed. Hermann Goering was shot in the groin, and Hitler suffered a dislocated elbow but managed to escape.

Three days later, Hitler was arrested. Convicted of treason, he was given the minimum sentence of five years in prison. He was imprisoned in the Landsberg fortress and spent his time writing his autobiography, Mein Kampf, and working on his oratorical skills. Political pressure from the Nazis forced the Bavarian government to commute Hitler’s sentence, and he was released after serving only nine months. In the late 1920s, Hitler reorganized the Nazi Party as a fanatical mass movement that was able to gain a majority in the Reichstag in 1932. By 1934, Hitler was the sole master of the nation.

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8 November 1939 – Hitler Survives Assassination Attempt

On November 8, 1939, on the 16th anniversary of Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch, a bomb explodes just after Hitler finished giving a speech. He was unharmed.

Hitler had made an annual ritual on the anniversary of his infamous 1923 coup attempt of regaling his followers with his vision of the Fatherland’s future. Hitler’s first grab at power that ended in his arrest and the virtual annihilation of his National Socialist party. On this day, he had been addressing the Old Guard party members, those disciples, and soldiers who had been loyal to Hitler and his fascist party since the earliest days of its inception. Just twelve minutes after Hitler had left the hall, along with important Nazi leaders who had accompanied him, a bomb exploded, which had was located in a pillar behind the speaker’s platform. Seven people were killed and 63 were wounded.

The next day, the Nazi Party official paper, the Voelkischer Beobachter, squarely placed the blame on British secret agents and even implicating Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain himself. This work of propaganda was an attempt to stir up hatred for the British and whip the German people into a frenzy for war. But the inner-Nazi Party members knew better, they knew the assassination attempt was most probably the work of a German anti-Nazi military conspiracy.

In an ingenious scheme to shift blame while getting closer to the actual conspirators, Heinrich Himmler the Gestapo chief sent a subordinate by the name of Walter Schellenberg to Holland to make contact with British intelligence agents. The pretext of the meeting was to secure assurances from the British that in the event of an anti-Nazi coup, the British would support the new regime. The British agents were eager to gain whatever inside information they could about the rumored anti-Hitler movement within the German military. Schellenberg, posing as Major Schaemmel, was after any information British intelligence may have had on such a conspiracy within the German military ranks.

But Himmler wanted more than talk, he wanted the British agents themselves. On November 9, SS agents in Holland kidnapped with Schellenberg’s help two British agents, Payne Best and R.H. Stevens, stuffing them into a Buick and driving them across the border into Germany. Himmler now proudly announced to the German public that he had captured the British conspirators. The man who actually planted the bomb at their behest was declared to be Georg Elser, a German communist who made his living as a carpenter.

While it seems certain that Elser did plant the bomb, the instigators were either German military or British intelligence remains unclear to this day. All three official conspirators spent the war in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Elser was executed by the Gestapo on April 16, 1945, so he could never tell his story.

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