“Be ready for dinner at 7:00,” my new German friend told me. “Where are we going?” “Hofbrauhaus,” I was told. A huge beer hall where I could get Wiener Schnitzel and drink pitchers of Paulaner. Sounded good to me. I went to my room to get ready but found myself wondering. There I was in Munich for the first time, a beautiful city in the Bavarian hills of Germany. Maybe this was the place where Hitler first tried to take over Germany in 1923. His famous Beer Hall Putsch. Was this that beer hall? I got online to find out.
It turned out that the place where Hitler barred the doors, stood on a chair, and fired his pistol into the air, where he demanded they march on the city hall of Munich to begin the inevitable reign of Nazism, was a different place. It was the Bürgerbräukeller, another massive beer hall, but it had long ago been torn down and now was the spot where the Hilton hotel stood.
Dang. I would have loved to see where Hitler’s Putsch started. Of course, that Putsch was in 1923 and was a complete failure. Hitler got his march, but he also got more than he expected when he reached city hall: opposition by the police and national guard. They shot the Nazis down, and sixteen died. Hitler was later captured and put in prison, where he dictated Mein Kampf and waited for his next opportunity.
Most interesting to me was the fact that several of the other Nazis were shot and fell on the Nazi flag during the 1923 Putsch, their blood blending with the red of the flag in the high-quality cotton material. Someone took that flag from the bloody street and hid it until Hitler reemerged as a power. They returned it to him and he named it die Blutfahne, The Blood Flag, the flag that held the blood of the first Nazi martyrs.
The Blood Flag became Hitler’s talisman. He used it to commission German divisions, to touch his flag to theirs to convey its magical powers. He assigned an SS colonel to guard the flag for the entire war. It was his only job. The flag can be seen prominently in the famous German propaganda film Triumph of the Will, made by Leni Riefenstahl and still considered the greatest propaganda film ever made. It was filmed at the Nazi party rally in Nuremberg in 1934.
All very interesting. But then I learned the really intriguing part. The flag was last seen in 1944 at the commissioning of the Volkssturm, the desperate attempt by Hitler to draft boys and old men into a last-ditch army, armed with whatever they could find to carry to battle, to defend against the coming invasion of their homeland. But die Blutfahne has never been seen since. No one knows where it went.
I was captivated. I stared at the screen as I searched online for The Blood Flag. It had disappeared. It was missing. No one knew where it was. Most think it is still out there, waiting for the right time to reappear. Waiting for the rise of the next Nazi movement, to carry on Hitler’s traditions and usher in the Fourth Reich.
I went to the Hofbrauhaus that night. I had Wiener Schnitzel and Paulaner, but all I could think about was The Blood Flag.
James W. Huston is the author of The Blood Flag: A Novel, forthcoming in November 2015 from Blackstone Publishing. Huston is the New York Times bestselling author of eight novels. A graduate of TOPGUN, he served as a Naval Flight Officer in F-14s with the Jolly Rogers and later as a Reserve Naval Intelligence Officer. He attended the University of Virginia Law School and is currently a partner in a large international firm where he specializes in high-profile litigation and trials. He lives in San Diego, California. Visit his website at www.jameswhuston.com.