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Hans Litten vs Hitler

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Soviet cogitations: 4779
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 12 May 2010, 07:43
Ideology: Other Leftist
Post 20 Aug 2011, 20:14
Saw this on the BBC and thought I'd share it:

Hans Litten: The man who annoyed Adolf Hitler
By Jon Kelly
BBC News Magazine

A new drama tells the story of a Jewish lawyer who confronted Hitler 80 years ago - earning the dictator's life-long hatred. So who was Hans Litten?

In the Berlin courtroom, Adolf Hitler's face burned a deep, furious red.

The future dictator was not accustomed to this kind of scrutiny.

But here he was, being interrogated about the violence of his paramilitary thugs by a young man who represented everything he despised - a radical, principled, fiercely intelligent Jewish lawyer called Hans Litten.

The Nazi leader was floundering in the witness stand. And when Litten asked why his party published an incitement to overthrow the state, Hitler lost his composure altogether.

"That is a statement that can be proved by nothing!" he shouted.

Litten's demolition of Hitler's argument that the Nazis were a peaceful, democratic movement earned the lawyer years of brutal persecution.

He was among the first of the fuehrer's political opponents to be rounded up after the Nazis assumed power. And even long afterwards, Hitler could not bear to hear his one-time tormentor's name spoken.

But although he was among the first to confront Hitler, Litten remains a little-known figure.

Now a drama and an accompanying documentary tell the story of a cantankerous, flawed but ultimately heroic man.

Litten was, long before he confronted the dictator, a staunch anti-Nazi. Although his father, a law professor, had converted from Judaism to Christianity and played down his background to further his career, the young Litten went in the opposite direction, joining a Jewish youth group and learning Hebrew out of a mixture of adolescent rebellion and sympathy for the dispossessed.

As a lawyer, he specialised in defending workers and rank-and-file members of the German Communist Party (KPD). However, he was no Stalinist, clashing with the KPD leadership for following Moscow's orders. "Two people are too many for my party," he would say.

Indeed, his hard-line adherence to his principles meant Litten was not always regarded as sympathetic character.

"He was a saint. But I have a feeling that, if I sat down to have a beer with him, I wouldn't like him," says Benjamin Carter Hett, author of Crossing Hitler: The Man Who Put the Nazis on the Witness Stand, a biography of Litten.

"He was in many ways a difficult man to deal with. He was doctrinaire in his politics. Even his closest friends said he wasn't good with people."

However, it was Litten's belligerence, as well as his forensic intelligence, that made his interrogation of Hitler so effective.

In 1931, Litten sought to have criminal charges brought against four members of the Nazi party's Sturmabteilung (SA) paramilitary group after they attacked a dance hall frequented by communists, killing three people.

Litten called Hitler as a witness, hoping to expose the Nazi party's deliberate strategy of overthrowing democracy by bringing terror to the streets. Hitler had previously assured middle-class voters that the SA was an organisation dedicated to "intellectual enlightenment".

Over three hours in May 1931, this claim was dismantled by Litten's precise, detailed questioning.

At first, Hitler insisted to Litten that he was committed to "100% legality". But his composure began to crack when Litten asked him why he had been accompanied by armed men. "That is complete lunacy," the Nazi leader barked.

But the decisive blow came when Hitler was asked why the Nazi party had published a pamphlet by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's chief propagandist, which promised the movement would "make revolution" and "chase parliament to the devil" using "German fists".

Asked by Litten how Goebbels's rise up the Nazi hierarchy could be squared with a commitment to legality, Hitler began to stammer and "search convulsively for an answer", according to one contemporary newspaper report of the trial.

According to World War II historian Laurence Rees, writer and director of the television series Nazis: A Warning from History, it was not Litten's focus on the Nazis' violent methods that enraged Hitler the most. By 1931, most Germans could not fail to have noticed that the SA were brutal streetfighters, he says. And Hitler himself was accustomed to - and indeed thrived on - the venomous abuse directed at him from opponents.

But, he says, Litten's meticulous, carefully reasoned questioning was guaranteed to enrage him.

"What drove Hitler berserk is that here is someone taking him coolly and calmly through the evidence," says Rees.

"He hates that kind of intellectual argument - he prefers either haranguing or sulking. It's not just Litten's Jewishness. If you were going to come up with a person that Hitler would loathe, it would be him."

The trial was widely publicised and marked out Litten as a hate figure in the Nazi press, which called for him to be physically attacked.

As Hitler edged closer to power, friends urged Litten to flee Germany. But he refused. "The millions of workers can't get out," he said. "So I must stay here as well."

Soon the Nazis were in control. When the new regime used the Reichstag fire in February 1933 as an excuse to suspend civil liberties, Litten was among the first to be rounded up.

Over the next five years he was held in a succession of notorious concentration camps including Sonnenburg, Dachau and Buchenwald. He was singled out for especially brutal treatment at the hands of the guards, who knew full well of the fuehrer's personal antipathy towards him.

Nonetheless, throughout his incarceration he was admired by his fellow inmates for his kindness towards them and his insistence on keeping his dignity intact. When the guards ordered prisoners to stage a performance in celebration of a Nazi anniversary, Litten read out a poem called Thoughts Are Free.

By February 1938, he could endure no more. He took his own life by hanging himself. He was 34.

After the Nazi regime was finally smashed, Litten's reputation as a staunch opponent of Hitler was revived. A plaque in Berlin was dedicated to him in 1951, the headquarters of the German bar association is at Hans Litten House and the lawyers' association of Berlin named itself itself the Hans Litten Bar Association after reunification.

Yet his name is not widely known. According to Mark Hayhurst, who wrote and directed the BBC drama and documentary about Litten, he was a victim of cold war politics - his left-wing sympathies meant he was overlooked in the West, and his attacks on the Stalinist hierarchy caused him to be neglected in the Soviet Bloc.

With these divisions now buried for a generation, Hayhurst hopes that Litten can be reclaimed as a figurehead for resisting tyranny.

"There are still Hans Littens around the world today," he says. "He's still an inspiration."


Actress Patricia Litten, 57, lives in Nuremberg, Germany

I grew up in Switzerland. My father was the only one of the three Litten sons who survived.

As a child I was aware of the absent family but my father didn't like to speak about it.

Today very, very few people know much about Hans Litten. But I think it's so important that we talk about him.

Even in this horrible system, the Third Reich, there were people who kept up the fight - Hans could have ran away, but he stayed because of his clients.

I don't know if I could have been so strong.

Out there in the world right now there are people who will do what he did - even if it will cost their lives.


Litten might not have been a revolutionary socialist fighter or a leader, but as a radical left-wing lawyer who called out the Nazis and publicly humiliated them and especially their leader, he was definitely admirable.
“Conservatism is the blind and fear-filled worship of dead radicals” - Mark Twain
Soviet cogitations: 5437
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 28 Sep 2009, 00:56
Ideology: Democratic Socialism
Post 20 Aug 2011, 21:15
I hoped someone else would mention this. They're making a dramatised series about him as well as a documentary which should both be good to watch. A man with far more courage than I.
Soviet cogitations: 5437
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 28 Sep 2009, 00:56
Ideology: Democratic Socialism
Post 21 Aug 2011, 21:04
The Man Who Crossed Hitler should be on in a few minutes. I'll let yall know if it's any good.
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Soviet cogitations: 882
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 26 Oct 2004, 02:34
Post 24 Aug 2011, 03:17
This is fascinating. I have just ordered the book on Litten's life mentioned in the article, and hope that it will be a good read.
"Unpolitisch sein heißt: politisch sein, ohne es zu merken." - Rosa Luxemburg
Soviet cogitations: 5437
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 28 Sep 2009, 00:56
Ideology: Democratic Socialism
Post 24 Aug 2011, 11:21
The dramatisation thing on the BBC was alright. Kind of depressing though. As soon as Litten starts losing the debate in the courtroom it just goes downhill from there...
Soviet cogitations: 12389
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 18 Apr 2010, 04:44
Ideology: None
Post 24 Aug 2011, 11:53
All respect to the brave Mr. Litten. Along with George Grosz and the Scholls, he's one of the most decent "civilian" Germans who lived during that dark time. I wish more people knew about this man's story. Spielberg's Schindler farce be damned.
Miss Strangelove: "You feed giants laxatives so goblins can mine their poop before the gnomes get to it."
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Soviet cogitations: 2510
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 28 Feb 2004, 20:50
Party Bureaucrat
Post 29 Aug 2011, 13:58
I read that article too. I found it very interesting as I wasn't aware of Litten before. What I find most intriguing is his decision to remain in Germany after 33. I'm not sure if that should be called heroic or just ignorant. However, I'm aware that judging in hindsight never solved anything.

What's even more astonishing is the after-war period, when his legacy was mostly forgotten because he was not too fond of Stalin. Classic sectarianism backfired again. People like him have to often been discredited because of some narrow-minded party bureaucrats worrying too much about propaganda. Apparently it only takes the BBC to correct that mistake. I really need to watch that documentary.

Ya Basta!
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