Four-week trial presaged Hitler’s rise to power
Facing a lengthy prison sentence and being deported from Germany, 34-year-old Adolf Hitler turned his trial for high treason into an opportunity. Speaking to the largest audience he ever had, Hitler “transforms his image from this buffoon, this clown who led his followers into disaster into this kind of national hero … and a martyr to the far right,” author David King says. The Trial of Adolf Hitler chronicles a four-week trial in 1924 that led to the rise of Nazi Germany and its Fuhrer. The trial begins Hitler’s transformation into a leader of the movement by providing him with a stage from which to speak. “He feeds off the crowd,” says King, a Woodford County native. “The crowd is clearly on his side in the courtroom.” The best-selling author of Death in the City of Light and Vienna 1814 could not believe his good fortune when he discovered – while doing research on the beer hall putsch – that no one had ever written a book about the trial of Adolf Hitler. He and nine others were charged with high treason for their involvement in a failed national revolution (putsch) resulting in the deaths of 16 of Hitler’s followers and four policemen. There were 3,000 witnesses to the beer hall putsch. During this trial, Hitler bragged about what he did (firing a pistol in the air and proclaiming a revolution) and blamed the government for causing Germany’s defeat in World War I. “He could play to their emotions, play to their fears very effectively,” says King. The Austrian-born Hitler argued that he did not commit high treason, and therefore should not be deported from Germany. Relying on “an incredible amount of sources,” including an unpublished memoir written by the trial’s deputy prosecutor, King was able to shed light on why a judge allowed Hitler to speak so freely during a sensational four-week trial covered by newspapers in Germany and around the world. A 3,000-page trial transcript was a detailed official record for King, but he said newspaper accounts allowed him as an author to include vivid descriptions of events unfolding in the courtroom. A vast amount of additional source material, including police interviews, allowed him to interject dialogue into The Trial of Adolf Hitler: The Beer Hall Putsch and the Rise of Nazi Germany. “If there’s a source out there,” says King of his self-described obsessive research methods, “I want to try to find it … I hate to miss something.” He’ll look anywhere, and often comes to many dead ends in his search for the truth, while writing a nonfiction work of popular history that he hopes will grab the attention of the reader. “If I can’t make it dramatic, I’m not being true to the story,” says King, 46. The 1988 graduate of Woodford County High School says what has always excited him about history was “you don’t know what’s going to happen” and how one event such as a trial can change the course of history. Instead of being locked away in prison (he served less than nine months of a five-year sentence) or being deported from Germany when the Great Depression began, Hitler rose to power in Nazi Germany. A four-week trial in 1924 Munich was a moment in history “that makes that rise possible,” King says. Another book focused on this period of German history – specifically the beer hall putsch – was published in 2016, but King says he wasn’t tempted to rush the finish of his story “because it wouldn’t have been as good a book.” He did read 1924: The Year That Made Hitler (the day it was published) and was relieved to discover that its author, Peter Ross Range, only wrote two chapters about the trial. The authors met when King was in Washington, D.C., for a book talk, and had a conversation, with Range describing The Trial of Adolf Hitler as the definitive account of the trial. “I was just blown away” by his positive response, King says. With four books published and research underway for a fifth, King shared his thoughts about how he chooses a story to tell. “I get this feeling inside when I get the right story. This is it.” He has also come across really good stories to tell that don’t have the necessary sources for him to write a true account of what happened in history. Throughout the writing process, King relies on vital feedback coming from his wife of 20 years, Sara. “She has great judgment. If it’s not working, she’d be happy to tell me,” he says with a laugh. King, a former University of Kentucky history professor and Fulbright Scholar, lives in Lexington with his wife and their children, Julia and Max. Yet, he still loves coming home to Versailles because “It’s a good feeling” knowing he’s back in the community where he always felt supported. The Trial of Adolf Hitler: The Beer Hall Putsch and the Rise of Nazi Germany, published by W. W. Norton & Company, may be purchased online from Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington.