Adolf Hitler himself tells the story better than anyone has told it since.
He read Drexler’s little pamphlet. Still, curiosity rather than anything as yet quite like decision, led his steps once more in the direction of the Sterneckerbräu, or perhaps it was to the "Alte Lilienbad" in the Herrnstrasse, where the queer folk he had unearthed there a few nights previously, seemed wont to forgather on a Wednesday evening... There was certainly a good lot in what that chap Feder had been saying…
Hitler says: "I crossed the badly-lighted common room where no one at all was to be seen, and sought the door leading to a room at the back... There in the glimmer of a semi-broken gas-lamp four young men were sitting at a table, among whom was the author of the little brochure" (previously given him to read, mark and digest), "who at once came forward and greeted me in the most friendly manner and bade me welcome as a new member of the German Workers’ Party."
Hitler was a trifle nonplussed. However, he meant to see the evening through, and bit by bit got hold of the names of those present. They read the minutes of the last meeting, and then went into Party finances – a matter of some 7.50 marks – and read letters from absent members.
"Fürchterlich, fürchterlich. Das war ja eine Vereinsmeierei Allerärgster Art und Weise. In diesen Klub also sollte ich eintreten?" ("Dreadful, dreadful! This was a wretched little group of the feeblest sort and kind. Was I going to enrol myself in a Club like this?")
Yes, indeed. So it fell out, for want of an alternative. Hitler was not the founder of this party. Those poor ineffectuals in the "Alte Lilienbad" at Munich gave him his opportunity. But it seemed all too negligible and hopeless. How, in God’s name, Hitler asked himself, was anything to be made of such a beginning? How was a miserable little knot of pale people like this (he was the only soldier among them) to be welded into any decent sort of a going concern – club, or whatever it liked to call itself? How was any kick to be got into it? How was such a club to be carried any farther, brought to the semblance of some sort of a society? How was this society to become a significant movement? How would such a movement proceed to the uplifting of a prostrate, demoralised, humiliated country? For that and no less an aim from the first was in Hitler’s mind as he stumbled through the dark of the empty guest room in the "Alte Lilienbad."
The new associate was dutiful enough to attend the next little meeting of the "Deutsche Abeiter-Partei," and the next and the next. Nothing happened. Number; did not increase. The all-devouring question still hammered in the brain that would not despair. Hitler discovered three radical reasons why this little association should be so feeble.
First of all it had no faith in itself, its purpose, or the possibility of its ever amounting to anything Secondly, no remotest likelihood seemed to exist of any increase of its membership. Various efforts to this end including a hand to hand distribution of hand-written invitations to its meetings, met with no sort of response Thirdly, it was possessed of no funds. It could not afford the cheapest sort of leaflet publicity.
Hitler felt at once that much was needed here if the "Deutsche Arbeiter-Partei" was to constitute any some of a starting-point for the energetic political campaign he had in view. Instead of the mere little weekly committee meetings, it must embark on frequent public assemblies, whence it might he hoped (and the event amply justified the aspiration) that money for propaganda might be forthcoming. Also the nucleus demanded fresh young energetic blood! "During the long years of my military life," he says, "I had come across a lot of sterling comrades, many of whom through my persuasion began now to join the group... They were sound energetic young fellows, well disciplined, and schooled through army life to the axiom that nothing is impossible, everything is attainable by the man of strong will."
The first few of the new series of meetings thus inaugurated were not particularly successful, but at last Hitler’s driving and energetic power made itself felt.
"Our audiences," he says, "mounted very, very slowly in number. From eleven hearers we went on to thirteen: presently to sixteen, three and twenty – perhaps even to four and thirty!"
Something more, obviously, had to be done about it.
Enough marks were scraped together to insert a small advertisement in a Munich newspaper of an amibitious meeting proposed to be held in the Münchener Hof-bräukeller, a smallish room capable of seating some hundred and thirty people. This was to be the sort of meeting which, it was hoped, would really attract some public attention. All depended upon Adolf Hitler himself. As he went down to the hall that night his heart was in his mouth. He scarcely dared hope the place would be more than a third, or at very most, half-full...
By seven o’clock a hundred and eleven people had actually turned up, and proceedings began. This was the first occasion (apart from his lectures to soldiers) upon which Hitler was to speak in public. He was allotted twenty minutes... Then it was that both he and the audience made the discovery upon which the future of the German nation was to turn. The moment this ex-service man, this energetic recruit to the flabby little group which called itself the German Workers’ Party, got upon his legs to speak was the decisive moment for the Germany we see to-day. His tiny audience was electrified – transported!
Amazed himself, Hitler perceived in an illuminating flash wherein the secret lay, – in oratory, convinced and dynamic! He had not dreamed that he possessed such a gift. He tried it out that night with staggering success. The message he had to proclaim was not that with the German Workers’ Party nothing but a new election cry had been added to the existing political babel, but that the foundation stone had been well and truly laid for the rebuilding of the shattered nation. In the American phrase, Adolf Hitler "got that message across"! The money required poured in. When all was over the hall emptied to scatter Hitlerism broadcast throughout the city.
From now on big meeting followed big meeting, with ever mounting success until early in 1920 Hitler (who had, naturally, assumed the leadership of the group) determined upon the first great mass meeting, despite the danger, by now grown to appreciable proportions, of its being suppressed by the authorities, or broken up by the opposition. It was held on February 24th, in the famous Festsaal, (not the Keller), of the Hofbräuhaus, and numbered an audience of two thousand. Hitler’s business was to lay before it nothing less than the reasoned and detailed programme of the new party.
"As the time went by," he says, "hostile interruptions gave way to acclamations. As one by one, point for point, I laid down the five and twenty planks in our platform, and submitted them to the judgment of the audience, there gradually arose an ever-swelling jubilation in response, and as my last words made their way to the very heart of the mass, the whole room surged before me unanimous in a new conviction, a new belief, and a new determination."
The "Deutsche Arbeiter-Partei" was now fully in shape to draw upon itself the implacable enmity of the constituted authority, the Communists, the Marxists and other political organisations whom its programme affronted or threatened. It had become a force in Munich. It took to itself a flag and a symbol. Hitler himself, after many attempts, designed this standard. "We National Socialists see our purpose in our flag. The red stands for our social programme, the white for our national, and in the hooked cross we symbolise the struggle for the supremacy of the Aryan race."
In 1920 it had already become dangerous to hold meetings and to flourish this flag, and the worthy Müncheners who frequented Nazi demonstrations did so at increasing risk not only of bodily injury, but to life itself. It was this state of affairs which gave rise to the so-called "Saal-Schutz."
About a year after Hitler’s first great successful mass meeting in Munich, he decided upon holding a still greater one, upon which, in fact, the whole future of the young Movement might be held to turn. Were it to prove a fiasco, the "Deutsche Arbeiter-Partei" would disappear in the welter of mushroom parties of that date: were it to succeed it would dominate in Munich and gird itself for a Reich-wide struggle.
Already the local forces of opposition were fully alive to the significance of the new political activity, and the occasion of this unprecedented effort on its part was chosen for a decisive counter-demonstration. The Reds in Munich determined once and for all to smash up the
"Deutsche Arbeiter-Partei." Hitler tells us that not only was appeal for police protection futile, but beneath the dignity of the Movement. The Movement must defend itself. Only so could it command the respect of those it would attract, or ensure the safety of its audiences.
A band of hefty and enthusiastic young supporters were specially told off by Hitler himself to keep the doors, and to act as ruthless chuckers-out at the very first sign of disorder. They were to fight with the gloves off an to show no quarter.
The event fully justified these precautions. After an enormous gathering in the Zirkus Krone in Munich, which had been an unqualified success, another meeting was held well packed with opponents only too eager to snatch the next best opportunity to wreck the whole business once and for all. Hitler was on his legs speaking on "The Future or Collapse" when the signal was given. Thereupon followed such a scene, such a smash up, such an uproar and such a blood shedding, that it actually recalled to the ex-service man moments at the Front!
The "Saal-Schutz" received their baptism of fists and chair legs, but bit by bit, fighting literally like berserkers, they hurled the enemy out, slung him head foremost through the doors, drove him into a corner and pummelled him into a jelly. Hitler stood still and looked on. His threat to rip the brassard from the arm of any one of his troopers who showed the white feather in this scrum, called for no fulfilment. Within appreciable time order was restored – the speaker took up the thread of his speech, and the meeting closed to the echoing strains of a patriotic song.
We have indeed an account of it from one of the eyewitnesses still living in Munich, from an old lady called Frau Magdalena Schweyer.
When Hitler was first demobilised he would have liked to have returned to his old lodgings with Frau Popp, but since she no longer had a room to spare he took up equally modest quarters in a little street called the Thierschstrasse near the Isar.
Immediately opposite the house stood a little shop – it still stands there. One could buy everything in it from matches to a cabbage. The legend over the door ran "Spezeri-Waren, Obst und Gemüse," with the shopkeeper’s name underneath, "Magdalena Schweyer."
Frau Schweyer still stands behind the old-fashioned little counter within. She is an aged woman now, short of stature, and with grey hair. She came forward as I entered one day, glancing sharply up at me through her spectacles, and briskly smoothing down her apron with her toil-worn hands.
"I want to know something about Herr Hitler in the old days – in the beginnings of it all "
Her eyes instantly lighted up. No one in Munich to-day is more proud than little old Frau Schweyer of her friendship with the Führer from the first, of the fact that she joined the Party in 1919 when it was utterly obscure.
"How I got to know him?" she asked, and planked herself down on a little stool, happy to expand on this theme. I leant on the counter and watched her animated expressive face. Here was one of those working women who befriended Hitler through some of the thinnest times he had to experience; here was one of the people to whom he so urgently and so clearly and so simply aimed to bring his message home, here was one of the women whom he sought to place in positions of least danger at his meetings.
"Ja, ja, ganz richtig," said Frau Schweyer, "it was in November, 1919. A young man came in here to buy some little thing or other – probably some fruit. He was rather poorly dressed: he never seemed to have more than one coat. I shouldn’t have taken no more stock of him than of another, most likely, if it hadn’t been he struck me as so well spoken. He was that polite. It didn’t seem to go with the poor clothes, somehow. I watched him out of the shop, and noticed that he went into the house over the way. So that, I supposed, was where he lived.
"I didn’t notice him come in again for a bit, and thought no more about him.
"Then one day – just about the turn of the year it was – a neighbour of mine happened to tell about him. She said his name was Adolf Hitler and he had something to do with a lot called the "Deutsche Arbeiter-Partei". By all accounts he was a brilliant speaker – talked something astounding. My neighbour wanted me to go and hear him. She said the very next time there was a meeting on I had to go. She’d take me along with her.
"So we went. She came in one evening and said there was to be a meeting in the Leiberzimmer of the Sterneckerbräu.
"Well, I did go, and I got all worked up. It was wonderful, what he said and all – I could understand every word. He seemed to think there was a way to be found out of all our troubles and miseries. We were all to join his party and help. I joined then and there. They gave me a number – 90.
"I went to all Hitler’s meetings after that, and got to know him himself. It didn’t take much to find out how poor he was. I had more than half a notion that often he wouldn’t have had nothing to eat but for folks giving him a bit now and then. It gave me an idea, that did. I thought I’d be able to help by sending him across a few things now and again – a pot of jam, or a snack of sausage, or a handful of apples. But it was as plain as daylight he hated to take them. He only did it because he was so poor. He never failed once to come across to me, after I’d sent him something, to thank me for it. Often though, when I was thinking to myself that would pretty well do him till next day, one or another of his pals come in and just let on as Hitler had given every bite away to them. They were such a hungry crowd, the whole lot of them! Anyhow he must have kept something for himself once in a while or he wouldn’t be where he is today!
"Then there was a Herr Esser had pop in sometimes, one of Herr Hitler’s friends, and buy a couple of Rettiche (large white radishes) for the pair of them. That was their idea of a supper.
"Things must have gone on just like that for a twelvemonth – them just living on folks remembering that they hadn’t got nothing in their insides. But the Party presently began to grow a bit, and when everyone helped as well as they could things got a little easier for Hitler. Even when I knew he must have a bit coming in like, now, I used to send him them apples now and again. He was that fond of fruit.
"It was wonderful how the Party grew. I know because I hung on all those first hard months, and went to every meeting, and saw how they had to be held in a bigger room every time. We soon outgrew the Sterneckerbräu. We went after that to the Hof-bräukeller, then to the Eberlkeller. Then Hitler rented a little sort of office called the * Deutsches Reich.’ Things was really looking up.
"But the meeting I remember best was that big one they held one November, 1921 – the 4th to be exact – in the assembly room of the Hofbräuhaus, when they had that terrific dust up with the Communists. A real battle that was! I shan’t ever forget it as long as I live. If I hadn’t kept my head low over the table that night and folded my arms above it, like all the rest of us women was told to do, sure as fate it would have been clean knocked off my shoulders. The beer mugs were flying around that night something alarming!
"Not long before this meeting was billed to come off there’d been an attack made on one of the members of the Landtag, Herr Auer. No one seems to have witnessed it. Auer himself seemed to think his own bravery saved him. But the Party he belonged to set it about that it was the new Hitler Party what had done it. They went about all they knew to stir up the people and egg the working folk on to get a blow in at the Nazis. Everyone knew – everyone of us I mean – knew that something would be tried, that night, to bust up our meeting. We didn’t take it too serious as we were pretty well used to this sort of threats which so far hadn’t gone no further. This time, though, was to be different 1
"It was to begin sharp at eight o’clock. My neighbour came to fetch me as usual. The first thing we saw as we went in was a group of young men standing about the entrance each with a band round his arms with a hooked cross on it. They were ex-service chaps, friends of Hitler from Traunstein. I heard him come up and tell them to keep order at all costs. He spoke sharp and soldier-like; said he’d rip them bands off their arms if so much as one of them showed the white feather. No one of them was to clear out unless he cleared out dead! He smiled though, and added he knew well enough as they wouldn’t!
"The place was pretty well full. We womenfolk
were told to get well up in front: it would be safest there, far from the doors. I was too excited really to be frightened. It was plain there’d be some trouble: half the people in the place belonged to the Reds. I found a table right in front. Then they came and set another near it, and a Herr Esser got up on it to open the meeting. As soon as he jumped down again, Herr Hitler took his place. They greeted him with a few boos and yells, but after a bit he gripped even the enemy, and was speaking without interruption for quite an hour, before things began to look threatening again.
"People were drinking and attending all ears. Then I noticed that whenever more beer was called for, instead of giving up the empty mugs, fresh ones were brought, and the old ones were piled under the tables, whole batteries of beer mugs grew up under the tables.. ..
"Hitler had been speaking some time when the sign was given. Someone shouted "Freiheit,’ and a beer pot went crash! That was the signal for things to begin. Three, four, five heavy stone pots flew by within an inch of the speaker’s head, and next instant his young guards sprang forward shouting to us women to "duck down!"
"We ducked sharp enough! The row was ear-splitting. Never heard anything like it in your life! Pandemonium had broken out; it’s no use me trying to describe it. One heard nothing but yells, crashing beer mugs, stamping and struggling, the overturning of heavy oaken tables, and the smashing up of wooden chairs. A regular battle raged in the room.
"Hitler stuck to his post. Never got off that table! He made no effort to shield himself at all. He was the target of it all: it’s a sheer miracle how he never got hit. Them murderous heavy mugs was flying at his head all the time. I know because I got a sharp look round just between whiles: there he stuck, quiet as a statue waiting for those boys of his to get the tumult under. Goodness only knows how long it went on – twenty minutes perhaps, but it seemed never ending. The Reds was five times as many as we Hitlerites. The boys with the arm-bands were enormously outnumbered. They were in a fine state I can tell you before order was restored, their jackets torn half off their backs, and their faces all patched and dabbled with blood. Anyhow, they did get the Reds outside somehow, and then, cool as a cucumber, up gets Herr Esser beside Herr Hitler and calmly announces that the meeting will go on. The speaker was to continued.
"That’s famous now. Everyone in Germany remembers them words: "Die Versammlung geht weiter"
. . . "The Speaker will proceed."
"The room was simply wrecked. There was over four hundred smashed beer mugs lying about everywhere, and piles of broken chairs.
"This, you know, was the first time them Reds got as good as they gave. This was the first time since the Revolution as anyone got up and gave them the no to their face – the first time they got roundly trounced and walloped themselves. I say it was the real beginning of our Party as a force and power.
"Ever after this Hitler’s young men what he told off to keep order were called the Storm Troops. People ought to have seen that fight and that room afterwards to know how necessary they were. We should have gone under, for good, then and there, without the "Saal- Schutz.’ Because from now on the Movement had to fight and fight and fight, and always – at first – at tremendous odds. Up to now the Reds had had it all their own way. It was always them what did the smashing up and the storming of other people: they’d done enough here in Munich 1 Now they was to meet a Party what wouldn’t take it from them lying down no more...."
Frau Schweyer had become quite excited as she retailed the story. Something of the light of battle flashed in her eyes again. They were brave women who attended Hitler’s first meetings.
"But then," she said, "you see we knew him, what sort of a man he was! I’ll tell you – -just one little thing:
"In the middle of December the year after he’d been shut up in Landsberg, we National Socialists in Munich heard that he was to be set free. Just before Christmas, too, on the 20th. We was wild with joy! We hadn’t expected that. We’d been thinking how miserable everything would be this year. Then between us we struck on a bright idea to welcome him. He would come out of the fortress just as desperately poor as he went in. So we arranged to have a bit of a collection, just in our part of the city, so as he should have a little money to put in his pocket straight away. Altogether we scraped up about fifty marks. But more than that – on the day itself we filled his old room in the house opposite my shop with flowers (although it was winter time), and covered the poor table with good things to eat, and saw that there was fruit and stuff in the cupboard. We even secured a bottle of wine for the occasion, although we knew he never touched it.
"It was December 20th, 1924, a raw, grey, miserable day. The hours dragged by; I began to be mortal afraid somehow that he wouldn’t come after all. I was always running to the door and looking up and down our street. And then, sure enough, about two o’clock in the afternoon a motor drove up to the house opposite. Hitler was in it. I saw him through the window. He got out and was just going in at the door, when he turned round and caught sight of me standing staring across the way. He just came over and shook me by the hand and said: "Grtiss Gott, Frau Schweyer,’ as though nothing had happened at all in all that long sad time since we’d seen each other last.
"His hand was icy cold and his grip was like iron. It gives me the creeps to think how cold and how hard it was, to this day. I remember the thought went through my head – how awful to incur the enmity of such a fist as that! I couldn’t say a word. My throat swelled and the tears would come. It was such a joy to see him back again.
"Well, he had come, anyway! I went back into the shop all flustered, thinking of his climbing those stairs opposite and coming into his old room, and finding the flowers and the eatables and our little preparations for his welcome. I could just imagine him sitting down in the middle of it all and starting to think of nothing but how to get the Party going again.
"An hour or two went by and then a neighbour of mine come into the shop asking for a subscription to the organ fund for St. Anne’s Church. She had a list with her. I couldn’t afford much; nor could anybody else apparently. All down the list people had only been able to give a few Pfennige each. We were only poor folks round about there. Frau Pfister agreed. We had a little talk together. She said what awful difficult work it was to get anybody to subscribe for the organ, times was that hard. And I suddenly said, Well, go over to Herr Hitler, see if he’d give you anything. I know he’s got a bit. Tell him what it’s for. He’s not the one to say no.’
"Frau Pfister got up and crossed the street. I watched her enter the house opposite.
"In a few minutes she came flying back, radiant, and thrust the list under my nose, so that I could see for myself what an incredible lot Herr Hitler had given.
"Fifty marks! There it was, just under his name, Adolf Hitler.
"I could scarcely believe my eyes. I stared at the figure, stared at Frau Pfister, took off my glasses and looked again – "Adolf Hitler, fifty marks.’
"Well, I never!" I exclaimed, "if the Führer hasn’t gone and given the whole lot away!"
"Frau Pfister nodded, beaming.
"He was that kind,’ she said, "do listen! He
opened the door to me himself and asked what I wanted. When I told him, he made me come in and sit down. So I did and Herr Hitler catched hold of a glass and filled it with wine and gave it to me, with a cake and said I was to eat and drink. I didn’t like to. I tried to excuse myself. I said as how the things on the table was all for him. But he would have it, "Now you do as I bid,’ he said, "I don’t drink wine, but that little drop it won’t hurt you.’ Then he reaches for my paper, glances at it and scribbles something under his own name. He puts it down and goes over to a little side table, pulls out a drawer and comes back and pushes fifty marks over to me. "There you are,’ he says, "I’d give you more, but that’s all I’ve got. Some friends of mine have just dotted that up for me.’ I gaped and couldn’t for the moment find a blessed word to say, but he read my face clear as a book and laughed and added, "Believe it or not as you like, but I’m jolly glad to have it to give. It’s a good object. The priests don’t particularly love me, but that’s neither here nor there.’
" I tried to thank him, but he shut me up. He wouldn’t hear a word… ".
"He used," Frau Schweyer concluded, "to come across to the shop as long as he lived in our street, and often afterwards when he had become a very much bigger man. He didn’t forget me. When my husband died in 1929 Hitler was in Leipzig. But he sent me a lovely wreath and wrote ever such a nice letter with it.
"People needn’t wonder why we love the Führer. He was always for us small folk. He never had no time and no wish to think of himself. He was always out for everybody but himself. ..."
 German Workers’ Party.
 Hitler seldom appealed directly for funds. He appealed to the audience to support the movement.
 Nazi short for "Nazi-onal (National) Socialist", a nickname given the new movement.
 Party-body organised with the express purpose of protecting the meetings against red disturbances.
 Spices (i.e. general chandlery), Suit and vegetables.
 Name of a room reserved for the members of the Infantry Life Guards.
 Herr Herrmann Esser, today President of the Reichsfremdenverkehrsverband.
 Auer belonged to the Social Democratic Party, then strongly represented in Parliament in Munich. Dr. Gustav von Kahr had been appointed as General State Commissioner with dictatorial powers. This regime was inimical to the Republic as represented at Berlin. It favoured the dispossessed Wittelsbachs. Its members took oath to the Bavarian State, not to the Reich. It is necessary to recall these political facts in order that the reader may obtain some idea of what and who the "authorities" were, in Munich, with whom the newly constituted National Socialists (Hitler’s Party) were soon to find themselves in conflict. From what has already been written about the bitterness of party warfare in Munich it can be well understood that the danger which threatened the big meeting described by Frau Schweyer was by no means negligible. The break-up of a political gathering in Munich at that time might easily involve fatalities. It may be confusing for the reader to hear that Hitler’s Movement was opposed by the working people (that it was the Workers themselves who proposed to smash up his meetings and his party), since it was the interests of the common folk he had so supremely at heart. When it is remembered, however, that these workers were Marxists and Communists, light is at once shed on this matter. Hitler was all out against Marxism and Communism, for reasons already given in a previous chapter.
 The Marxist battle cry, "Liberty."