The most accurate indicator of the power of any method to uncover the truth is the fear it produces in the unscrupulous. Though it has been over 65 years since Adolf Hitler took his own life in a Berlin bunker, he remains the most monstrous, evil figure in all of history, causing the deaths of over 50 million people.
Yet, even with the rising power of the Nazi party behind him, Hitler was nervous when he was summoned to testify in a criminal trial in Berlin on May 8, 1931. The case involved a November 22, 1930 shooting of four young men in an attack by twenty or more Nazi SA storm troopers at a Berlin tavern called the Eden Dance Palace. Four of the attackers stood accused of criminal assault and attempted murder. A broader allegation also was made that this had been part of a plan of premeditated attacks and killings by the Nazi party itself.
Hitler had not yet seized total control of the government, so he was making strenuous efforts to present a much more moderate image in order to placate the German middle class. He had testified before in court cases, presenting the Nazis as committed to achieving their political goals through legal means. The Eden Palace trial would be different though, with the dogged pursuit of young lawyer Hans Litten putting Hitler on the defensive, causing him to lose control and then perjure himself.
Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels was “anxious” about the forthcoming court appearance by his boss, noting in his diary the potential for this to be “embarrassing.” His worry was well founded, as Hans Litten indeed put Hitler to rout.
Litten had been retained as private counsel by the three young men who had been shot that night, involved in the case alongside the prosecutor. Though the trial supposedly was about who shot whom, the implications went far beyond this, with an attempt to connect what happened that night with those higher ups Litten was determined to show in his cross-examination of Hitler that systematic violence was a regular part of the Nazi’s methods. Smart, cool and reserved, with a prodigious memory and knowledge of the law, Litten was just the lawyer to make this stick. While his questions always were delivered in a calm, even tone, they were noted by peers as being “penetrating,”
Hitler was confident, calm and under control when questioned by the judge. This all changed as soon as Litten took over, particularly when pressed about Nazi party support of a written statement by Goebbels advocating violence:
Q You said that no violent actions are carried out by the National Socialist Party. But didn’t Goebbels come up with the slogan “The enemy must be beaten to a pulp?”
A That is not to be taken literally! It means that one must defeat and destroy the opponent organizations, not that one attacks and murders the opponent….
Q Herr Hitler, you heard the question about appointing Herr Goebbels as Reich Propaganda Director