By Dave Graham
25 July 2008
BERLIN (Reuters) - How could a German court find a man guilty
of high treason yet impose such a mild sentence that he later
seized power and laid waste to Europe? A new German film seeks
to find out.
vor Gericht" (Hitler
on Trial) explores the 1924 trial of Adolf
in Munich for his part in an abortive coup d'etat
that could have earned him the death penalty.
Instead, he served just nine months in prison and was able
to rebuild the shattered Nazi party soon after his release.
been given a long sentence, the history of Europe might have
been very different, said Ian Kershaw from the University
of Sheffield in England.
cult would have had no opportunity to expand," Kershaw,
a leading biographer of Adolf
, told Reuters on Friday. "The radical right
would have remained fragmented. Adolf
dictatorship would, therefore, probably not have
At a time when anger over Germany's defeat and treatment after
World War One was widespread, reactionary politicians held
key positions of power in Bavaria, helping to shield Adolf
from the German court with jurisdiction for high
treason in Leipzig.
The presence of right-wing sympathizers on the judges' bench
meant the Austrian-born Adolf
was not expelled from Germany.
The astonishing thing is the degree of understanding the court
showed him," said Bernd Fischerauer, who is directing
the film for Bavarian broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR).
"He was able to use the court hearings to deliver his
party manifesto." The television film, which producers
say is the first to focus exclusively on the trial, is due
to be premiered on the 85th anniversary of Adolf
sentencing in April next year.
LACK OF AWARENESS
Despite extensive schooling about the Third Reich, Germans
know too little about the trial that resulted from the 1923
Munich beer hall putsch in which 20 died, the filmmakers said.
"Time and again people thought we were making some fictional
film about Adolf
like what would have happened if he had been caught
and put on trial like Saddam Hussein," said Martin Choroba,
head of the production firm behind the film.
"There is a lack of awareness about this trial.
Shooting is now underway in Munich on the documentary-style
drama, which sticks closely to the original court transcripts
of the trial, of which there is no known footage.
The judges handed down a five-year jail term to Adolf
, but deemed him eligible for early parole in spite
of the fact he was already on probation for an earlier offence.
"It was the lightest sentence the court could have given
him," said Werner Reuss, head of educational programming
The whole thing was a farce. There was applause whenever Adolf
spoke. It was like a theatre. Yet this trial was
the germ for the biggest disaster of the 20th Century."
Germany now has extreme right parties in three of its 16 state
parliaments, and Reuss said the film was intended to have
an element of "political education" in it.
"It's important that we show there are limits to tolerating
those who would undermine democracy," Reuss said.
Austrian-born director Fischerauer said the fact 200,000 people
turned out on Thursday evening to hear an address from U.S.
Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama in Berlin showed
strong leaders still held an attraction for Germans.
"It was almost like a German election rally," he
said. "When did (Chancellor Angela) Merkel last draw
Other: WWII News
(Editing by Paul Casciato)
Copyright © Dave Graham.
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