A Jewish lawyer called Hans Litten put rising politician Adolf Hitler in the witness box and cross-examined him for 3 hours. Litten was later arrested when the Nazis came into power and was brutally tortured for 5 years until he committed suicide
“Hans Achim Litten (June 19, 1903 – February 5, 1938) was a German lawyer who represented opponents of the Nazis at important political trials between 1929 and 1932, defending the rights of workers during the Weimar Republic. During one trial in 1931, Litten subpoenaed Adolf Hitler, to appear as a witness, where Litten then cross-examined Hitler for three hours. Hitler was so rattled by the experience that, years later, he would not allow Litten’s name to be mentioned in his presence. In retaliation, Litten was arrested on the night of the Reichstag Fire along with other progressive lawyers and leftists. Litten spent the rest of his life in one Nazi concentration camp or another, enduring torture and many interrogations. After five years and a move to Dachau, where his treatment worsened and he was cut off from all outside communication, he committed suicide. A number of memorials to him exist in Germany, but Litten was largely ignored for decades because his politics did not fit comfortably in either the west or the communist postwar propaganda. Not until 2011 was Litten finally portrayed in the mass media, when the BBC broadcast The Man Who Crossed Hitler, a television film set in Berlin in summer 1931.
Cross-examination of Hitler
In May 1931, Litten summoned Adolf Hitler to testify in the Tanzpalast Eden Trial, a court case involving two workers stabbed by four SA men. Litten cross examined Hitler for three hours, finding many points of contradiction and proving that Hitler had exhorted the SA to embark on a systematic campaign of violence against the Nazis’ enemies. This was crucial because Hitler was meanwhile trying to pose as a conventional politician to middle class voters and he was insisting that the Nazi Party was “”strictly legal””. Though a judge halted Litten’s questioning, thus saving Hitler from further damning exposure and eventual conviction, newspapers at the time reported on the trial in detail and Hitler was investigated for perjury that summer. He survived the investigation intact, but was rattled by the experience.
The Nazis seize power
By 1932, the Nazi party was in ascendancy. Litten’s mother and friends were urging him to leave Germany, but he stayed. He said, “”The millions of workers can’t leave here, so I must stay too””. Hitler’s hatred for Litten was not forgotten and in the early hours of February 28, 1933, the night of the Reichstag fire, he was rousted from his bed, arrested and taken into protective custody. Litten’s colleagues Ludwig Barbasch and Professor Felix Halle were also arrested.The “”bunker””, Dachau’s prisonLitten was first sent – without trial – to Spandau Prison. From there, he was moved from camp to camp, despite efforts to free him by his mother, jurists and prominent people from in and outside Germany, such as Clifford Allen and the “”European Conference for Rights and Freedom””, which had members from several countries. Litten was sent to Sonnenburg concentration camp, Brandenburg-Görden Prison, where he was tortured, along with anarchist Erich Mühsam. In February 1934, he was moved to the Moorlager,Esterwegen concentration camp in Emsland and a few months later, he was sent to Lichtenburg.The treatment Litten suffered was later described to his mother by an eyewitness. Very early on, he was beaten so badly that the Nazis refused to let even his fellow prisoners see him. He was tortured and forced into hard labor. He attempted suicide in 1933 in an attempt to avoid endangering his former clients, but he was revived by the Nazis so that they could interrogate him further. Litten’s suicide attempt came at Spandau Prison, after he buckled under torture administered to extract information about the Felsenecke trial (see below). After revealing some information, he was immediately accused in the press as an accomplice to the murder of an SA man. Litten then wrote a letter to the Gestapo, saying that evidence gained in such a manner was not true and that he recanted. Knowing what awaited him, he then attempted to take his life.Litten’s mother wrote about his ordeal, recounting how injuries sustained by him early on left his health permanently damaged. One eye and one leg were injured, never recovering; his jawbone fractured; inner ear damaged; and many teeth knocked out. She also related how, despite her access to many important people in Germany at that time, including Reichswehrminister Werner von Blomberg, Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, Reichsbischof Ludwig Müller, Minister of Justice Franz Gürtner and even then-State Secretary Roland Freisler, she was unable to secure her son’s release.Despite his injuries and suffering, Litten strove to maintain his spirits. At one point, in 1934, his situation improved a little bit when he was moved to Lichtenburg. Initially, it was the same, with more beatings, but then he was allowed to work in the book bindery and the library. On occasion, he was able to listen to music on the radio on Sundays. He was well liked and respected by his fellow prisoners for his knowledge, inner strength and courage. One prisoner wrote about a party (allowed by the SS) at which a number of SS men were in attendance. Unafraid of their presence, Litten recited the lyrics of a song that had meant a lot to him in his youth, “”Thoughts are free”” (in German, Die Gedanken sind frei). The prisoner said that apparently the SS men did not grasp the significance of the words
Dachau and death
In summer 1937, Litten was sent to Buchenwald concentration camp for a month, before finally being sent to Dachau. He arrived on October 16, 1937 and was put in the Jewish barracks. The Jewish prisoners were isolated from others because Jews in other countries were then spreading the grim news about Dachau. Litten’s last letter to his family, written in November 1937, spoke of the situation, adding that the Jewish prisoners were soon to be denied mail privileges until further notice. All letters from Jewish prisoners at Dachau ceased at this time.In the face of their depressing situation, the Jews at Dachau made efforts to have culture and discussion in their lives, to keep their spirits up. Litten would recite Rilke for hours and he impressed the other prisoners with his knowledge on many subjects. Underneath, however, Litten was losing hope. On February 5, 1938, after five years of interrogation and torture and a failed escape attempt, Litten was found by several friends from his barracks, hanging in the lavatory, a suicide.The day before his suicide, one of Litten’s friends, Alfred Dreifuß found a noose under Litten’s pillow. He showed it to the blockälteste, who said it wasn’t the first that had been found in Litten’s possession. At the time, Litten was under interrogation in the “”bunker”” (see photo). When he came back, he was clearly in a suicidal frame of mind, repeating several times that he “”must speak with Heinz Eschen””, a prisoner who had just died. He also had recently told his friends that he’d had enough of being imprisoned. Another of Litten’s Dachau friends, Alfred Grünebaum, said later that Litten was in constant fear of more brutal interrogations and that Litten had given up on ever being free. On the evening of February 4, 1938, it was clear what Litten had in mind, but no one kept watch. In the middle of the night, his bed was discovered empty and his friends found him hanging in the lavatory. Litten wrote a few parting words and that he had decided to take his life.”