Gustav Ritter von Kahr
Gustav von Kahr
|Minister-President of Bavaria|
16 March 1920 – 21 September 1921
|Preceded by||Johannes Hoffmann|
|Succeeded by||Graf von Lerchenfeld-Köfering|
|Minister of the Interior|
16 March 1920 – 21 September 1921
|State Commissioner of Bavaria|
26 September 1923 – 16 February 1924
29 November 1862|
Weißenburg, Kingdom of Bavaria, German Confederation
30 June 1934 (aged 71)|
Dachau, Bavaria, Nazi Germany
|Political party||Bavarian People's Party|
Gustav Ritter von Kahr (Born Gustav Kahr; 29 November 1862 – 30 June 1934) was a German right-wing politician, active in the state of Bavaria. He helped turn post world war I Bavaria into Germany's center of radical-nationalism, but was then instrumental in the collapse and suppression of Adolf Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. In revenge for the latter, he was murdered later in the 1934 Night of the Long Knives.
Born in Weißenburg in Bayern, Kahr studied law and worked as a lawyer before entering politics. He served Bavaria's House of Wittelsbach faithfully, efforts that earned him the title Ritter. Politically, he was a monarchist and had links to the Catholic Bavarian People's Party (BVP), though he was a Protestant and never joined any party.
In 1917, he became head of the provincial government of Upper Bavaria, continuing in the post even after the establishment of the People's State of Bavaria in November 1918 ended the Wittelsbach monarchy, though for pragmatic reasons: he wanted to help defend middle- and upper-class interests from further disruption. In support of this goal, Kahr proposed the creation of a civil defence force, but his suggestion did not meet with the approval of Prime Minister Johannes Hoffmann. Not long after, in April 1919, the Bavarian Soviet Republic was proclaimed. Kahr fled Munich with Hoffmann and the rest of the state government to Bamberg, where they called for volunteers to help crush the Soviet. Those who responded were organised into Freikorps.
It was after the suppression of the Soviet at the beginning of May, which saw hundreds of civilians murdered by Freikorps fighters, that Kahr delved into Bavarian paramilitary politics. Munich's leaders wanted to maintain the capabilities of the Freikorps, but without their drawbacks. In brief, the Freikorps were too violent, too small, and too independent of the Bavarian state. The Civil Guards, or Einwohnerwehr, was formed in an attempt to resolve these deficiencies.
In March 1920, Kahr succeeded Hoffmann as prime minister of Bavaria. He came into office under military influences as a secondary result of the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch of 13 March in Berlin. The most powerful party in Bavaria, the BVP, was then in a state of much anxiety as a result of the experiences of Bolshevism, chaos, and violence through which Munich had passed in the spring of 1919. The ministry presided over by the socialist Hoffmann had succeeded in quelling Bolshevism with the aid of Republican troops from Prussia and Württemberg, but the great majority of the BVP, as well as liberals of various shades, not to speak of the monarchists and reactionaries, wanted further guarantees against a recurrence of the Bolshevist terror.
The Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch in Berlin gave the signal for political action in Munich, and at a midnight sitting the Bavarian socialist ministry was somewhat unceremoniously hustled out of office — it is alleged under military pressure — and a coalition cabinet under Kahr installed. The coalition included reactionaries whose influence became more and more predominant. They were backed up by formerly liberal Bavarian journals which had been bought up by Prussian industrialists.
Kahr's administration was essential in turning Bavaria into a "Ordnungszelle" (cell of order), giving room for all kinds of right-wing groups. He also supported separatist forces that aimed at Bavarian secession from Germany, but after the German government passed a decree for the protection of the Republic against right-wing extremists, Kahr resigned on 21 September 1921.
On 26 September 1923, following a period of turmoil with assassinations and political violence, Prime Minister Eugen von Knilling declared martial law and appointed Kahr, who had returned to his provincial post, as Staatskomissar (state commissioner) with dictatorial powers. Together with Bavarian State Police head Colonel Hans Ritter von Seisser, and Reichswehr General Otto von Lossow, he formed a triumvirate.
That year, many revolutionary groups wanted to emulate Mussolini's "March on Rome" with a "March on Berlin." Among these were the wartime General Erich Ludendorff and the Nazi (NSDAP) group, led by Adolf Hitler. Hitler decided to use Ludendorff as a figurehead in an attempt to seize power in what was later known as the "Hitler Putsch" or Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler and Ludendorff sought support of Kahr and his triumvirate. However, Kahr had his own plan with Seisser (Seißer) and Lossow to install a nationalist dictatorship without Hitler.:126 Kahr warned the "patriotic associations" against independent action.:127 Despite his misgivings over Hitler's tactics, Kahr was every bit a right-wing patriot who stood against the Weimar government and believed action against those in Berlin was warranted. Akin to the later and infamous rhetoric of Hitler, Kahr remarked to an assembly of high-ranking officers on 19 October 1923 that the real matter at hand was "a great battle of two worldviews which will decide the destiny of the German people – the international Marxist-Jewish and the national Germanic." Along this line, Kahr was not unlike many conservative Germans and his identification of perceived foreign threats is a defining feature of post-1918 German ideology; against which, it was widely believed, Germans had to make a stand. Accordingly, Kahr and his right-wing compatriots wanted to challenge the seeming cowardice of the extant government of Germany and eventually seize control since he found the Weimar Constitution and its leadership decidedly un-German in disposition.
Weighing on Kahr's mind however, were injunctions from Berlin against reactionary activities. All the rage amid right-wing groups in Bavaria against the resumption of war-reparation payments did not temper the determination of the government in Berlin. The Weimar leadership's staunch warnings against revolutionary activities included military intervention if necessary. Troops under the command of General von Seeckt (who was previously identified among the right-wing circles as a possible choice for dictator) were poised and positioned for action. Stern warnings were reiterated by General von Seeckt, prompting the triumvirate of Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser to lose heart, at which point they informed the members of Kampfbund, (which was headed by Hitler) that they would determine when precipitate action would be taken. This did not sit well with Hitler.:99–102
Hitler was determined to act before the appeal of his agitation waned.:125 On 8 November 1923, Hitler and the SA stormed a public meeting of 3,000 people that had been organized by Kahr in the Bürgerbräukeller, a large beer hall in Munich. Hitler interrupted Kahr's speech and announced that the national revolution had begun, declaring the formation of a new government with Ludendorff. While waving his gun around, Hitler demanded the support of Kahr, Seisser, and Lossow.:128 Hitler's forces initially succeeded at occupying the local Reichswehr and police headquarters; however, neither the army nor the state police joined forces with Hitler.:129 Kahr, Seisser, and Lossow were briefly detained but then released. The three quickly fled to join the opposition to Hitler. During the night, and unknown to Hitler, they prepared the resistance against the coup. The following day, Hitler and his followers marched from the beer hall to the Bavarian War Ministry to overthrow the Bavarian government as a prelude to their "March on Berlin", but the police dispersed them.:130–131 Sixteen NSDAP members and four police officers were killed in the failed coup.:111–113 Kahr's involvement in the collapse of Hitler's putsch cost him the support of right-wing nationalist forces in Bavaria.
Kahr was forced to resign from his post as Staatskommissar on 16 February 1924, after Reichskanzler Wilhelm Marx had secretly met von Knilling on 18 January 1924 and convinced him to drop both von Kahr and von Lossow.
After this, Kahr served as President of the Bavarian law court for reviewing administrative acts and then, having sunk into relative obscurity, retired from public service three years later.
On 30 June 1934, during what became known as the Night of the Long Knives, Kahr was brutally murdered by the Nazis for his "treason" during the Beer Hall Putsch. He was abducted from his Munich apartment and tortured by two SS members en route to the Dachau concentration camp. After his arrival there, Kahr was shot on orders of Theodor Eicke, the camp commandant. Historian Thomas Childers reports that Kahr was taken to a nearby swamp and hacked to death with axes. Whether he was shot first is unknown, but his mutilated body was found outside the camp a few days later. The murder was likely committed by Johann Kantschuster.
- Regarding personal names: Ritter was originally a title, translated approximately as Sir (denoting a Knight). In 1919 all titles of nobility were abolished in Germany and Ritter, together with the noble particles von and zu, became part of the surname.
- Koepp 2015, p. 742.
- Koepp 2015, p. 743.
- Koepp 2015, pp. 743–4.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Kahr, August Richard von". Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). London & New York.
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- Childers 2017, p. 285.
- Koepp 2015, p. 740.
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- Fischer, Klaus. Nazi Germany: A New History. New York: Continuum, 1995.
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- Koepp, Roy G. (2015). "Gustav von Kahr and the Emergence of the Radical Right in Bavaria". The Historian. 77 (4): 740–763. doi:10.1111/hisn.12076.
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- Smith Woodruff D. The Ideological Origins of Nazi Imperialism. New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1989.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gustav von Kahr.|
- Kahr's bio at Deutsche Biographie (German)
- Picture of Gustav Ritter von Kahr at Historisches Lexikon Bayerns
- Kahr's bio at the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin (German)
| Minister-President of Bavaria
Hugo Graf von und zu Lerchenfeld