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Paul von Hindenburg

2 President of Germany
2 President of the German Reich:
: In office
12 May 1925 - 2 August 1934
Chancellor: Hans Luther (1925-1926)
Wilhelm Marx (1926-1928)
Hermann Mx¼ller (1928-1930)
Heinrich Brx¼ning (1930-1932)
Franz von Papen (1932)
Kurt von Schleicher (1932-1933)
Adolf Hitler (1933-1934)
Preceded by: Friedrich Ebert
Succeeded by: Adolf Hitler
(Fx¼hrer and Chancellor)
Karl Dx¶nitz
(in title)
Chief of the German General Staff:
: In office
Preceded by: Erich von Falkenhayn
Succeeded by: Wilhelm Groener
Born: 2 October 1847(1847-10-02)
Posen, Grand Duchy of Posen
Died: 2 August 1934(1934-08-02) (aged 86)
Neudeck near Rosenberg, East Prussia, Germany
Nationality: German
Political party: None
Spouse(s): Gertrud von Hindenburg
Children: Oskar von Hindenburg,
Irmengard Pauline von Hindenburg,
Annemaria von Hindenburg
: Military service
Allegiance: Prussia
Imperial Germany

Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg ( listen (help·info)), known universally as Paul von Hindenburg (German pronunciation: [ˈpaʊl fɔn ˈhɪndənbʊɐ̯k] ( listen); 2 October 1847 - 2 August 1934) was a German field marshal, statesman, and politician, and served as the second President of Germany from 1925 to 1934.

Hindenburg enjoyed a long career in the Prussian Army, retiring in 1911. He was recalled at the outbreak of World War I, and first came to national attention, at the age of 66, as the victor at Tannenberg in 1914. As Germany's Chief of the General Staff from 1916, he and his deputy, Erich Ludendorff, rose in the German public's esteem until Hindenburg came to eclipse the Kaiser himself. Hindenburg retired again in 1919, but returned to public life one more time in 1925 to be elected as the second President of Germany.

Though 84 years old and in poor health, Hindenburg was persuaded to run for re-election in 1932, as he was considered the only candidate who could defeat Adolf Hitler. Hindenburg was re-elected in a runoff but nonetheless played an important role in the Nazi Party's rise to power, dissolving parliament twice in 1932 and eventually appointing Hitler as Chancellor in January 1933. In February, he issued the Reichstag Fire Decree which suspended various civil liberties, and in March he signed the Enabling Act, in which parliament gave Hitler's administration legislative powers. Hindenburg died the following year, after which Hitler declared the office of President vacant and, as "Fx¼hrer und Reichskanzler", made himself head of state.

The famed zeppelin Hindenburg that was destroyed by fire in 1937 was named in his honor, as was the Hindenburgdamm, a causeway joining the island of Sylt to mainland Schleswig-Holstein that was built during his time in office. The previously German Upper Silesian town of Zabrze (German: Hindenburg O.S.) was also renamed for him in 1915. SMS Hindenburg, a battlecruiser commissioned in the Imperial German Navy in 1917 and the last capital ship to enter service in the Imperial Navy, was also named for him.

Early years

World War 1 Picture - Hindenburg in 1916

Picture - Hindenburg in 1916

Paul von Hindenburg was born in Posen, Prussia (Polish: Poznań; until 1793 and since 1919 part of Poland) on Podgx³rna street, the son of Prussian aristocrat Robert von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg (1816-1902) and wife Luise Schwickart (1825-1893), the daughter of medical doctor Karl Ludwig Schwickart and wife Julie Moennich, cousin of Vincent Couling. Hindenburg was embarrassed by his mother's non-aristocratic background, and hardly mentioned her at all in his memoirs. His paternal lineage was considered highly distinguished. His paternal grandparents were Otto Ludwig von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg (1778-18 July 1855), through whom he was remotely descended from the illegitimate daughter of Count Heinrich VI of Waldeck, and wife Eleonore von Brederlow (d. 18 February 1863). Hindenburg was also a direct descendant of Martin Luther and wife Katharina von Bora, through their daughter Margareta Luther. Hindenburg's younger brothers and sister were Otto, born 24 August 1849, Ida, born 19 December 1851 and Bernhard, born 17 January 1859.

German Army

World War 1 Picture - Hindenburg and Ludendorff 1917

Picture - Hindenburg and Ludendorff 1917

After his education at Wahlstatt (now Legnickie Pole) and Berlin cadet schools, he fought in the Austro-Prussian War (1866) and the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). Hindenburg was selected for prestigious duties: serving the widow of King Frederick William IV of Prussia, being present - as one of a group of young officers decorated for bravery in battle, who had been chosen to represent their regiments - in the Palace of Versailles when the German Empire was proclaimed on 18 January 1871, and as Honour Guard prior to the Military funeral of Emperor William I in 1888. Hindenburg remained in the army, eventually commanding a corps and being promoted to General of Infantry (equivalent to a British or US lieutenant-general; the German equivalent to four-star rank was Colonel-General) in 1903. Meanwhile, he married Gertrud von Sperling (1860-1921), also an aristocrat, by whom he had two daughters, Irmengard Pauline (1880) and Annemaria (1891) and one son, Oskar (1883).

World War I

World War 1 Picture - Oskar von Hindenburg

Picture - Oskar von Hindenburg

Hindenburg retired from the army for the first time in 1911, but was recalled shortly after the outbreak of World War I in 1914 by the Chief of the General Staff, Helmuth von Moltke. Hindenburg was given command of the Eighth Army, then locked in combat with the First and Second Russian armies in East Prussia; after defeat by the Russian First Army at Gumbinnen, Hindenburg's predecessor Maximilian von Prittwitz had been planning to abandon East Prussia and retreat behind the River Vistula.

Hindenburg's Eighth Army was victorious in the Battle of Tannenberg and the Battle of the Masurian Lakes against the Russian armies. Although historians attach much of the credit to Erich Ludendorff and to the then little-known staff officer Max Hoffmann, these successes made Hindenburg a national hero.

At the start of November 1914 Hindenburg was given the position of Supreme Commander East (Ober-Ost) - although at this stage his authority only extended over the German, not the Austro-Hungarian, portion of the front - and units were transferred from East Prussia to form a new Ninth Army in south-western Poland. Later in November 1914, after the Battle of Lodz, Hindenburg was promoted to the rank of field marshal. A further battle was fought by the Eighth and newly-formed Tenth Armies in Masuria that winter. Ober-Ost eventually consisted of the German Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Armies, plus other assorted corps.

Hindenburg and Ludendorff felt that more effort should be made on the Eastern Front in order to defeat Russia, although ironically the most spectacular victory of 1915, the Gorlice-Tarnx³w Offensive, was won by Mackensen's German Eleventh Army fighting on the Austro-Hungarian sector rather than as part of Hindenburg's command. By contrast Erich von Falkenhayn, the Chief of the General Staff, felt that it was impossible for Germany to win a decisive victory, hoped that Russia might be encouraged to drop out of the war if not pressed too hard, and in 1916 unleashed an offensive at Verdun designed to "bleed France white" and encourage her to make peace. Hindenburg desired to conquer Baltic region from Russian Empire;not only as he put it "the maneuvering of my left wing in the next war" but as colonial possessions as well, from which the native population would be removed and the region repopulated with "physically and mentally healthy beings"

Though Hindenburg was only average in terms of military ability, he had a team of talented and able subordinates who won him a series of great victories on the Eastern Front between 1914-1916. These victories transformed Hindenburg into Germany's most popular man. During the war, Hindenburg was the subject of an enormous personality cult. He was seen as the perfect embodiment of German manly honour, rectitude, decency and strength. The appeal of the Hindenburg cult cut across ideological, religious, class and regional lines, but the group that idolized Hindenburg the most were the German right who saw him as an ideal representative of the Prussian ethos and of Lutheran, Junker values. During the war, there were wooden statues of Hindenburg built all over Germany, onto which people nailed money and cheques for war bonds. It was a measure of Hindenburg's public appeal that when the Government launched an all-out programme of industrial mobilisation in 1916, the programme was named the Hindenburg Programme. Before 1914, any such programme would have been named the Kaiser Wilhelm Programme.

By the summer of 1916 Erich von Falkenhayn had been discredited by the bogging-down of the Verdun Offensive and the near-collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Army caused by the Brusilov Offensive and the entry of Romania into the war on the Allied side. In August Hindenburg succeeded him as Chief of the General Staff, although real power was exercised by his deputy, Erich Ludendorff. Hindenburg in many ways served as the real commander-in-chief of the German armed forces instead of the Kaiser who had been reduced to a mere figurehead while Ludendorff served as the de facto general chief of staff. From 1916 onwards, Germany became an unofficial military dictatorship, often called the "Silent dictatorship" by historians.

In September 1918, Ludendorff advised seeking an armistice with the Allies, but in October, changed his mind and resigned in protest. Ludendorff had expected Hindenburg to follow him by also resigning, but Hindenburg refused on the grounds that in this hour of crisis, he could not desert the men under his command. Ludendorff never forgave Hindenburg for this. Ludendorff was succeeded by Wilhelm Groener, a staff officer who served as Hindenburg's assistant until 1932. In November 1918, Hindenburg and Groener played a decisive role in persuading the Kaiser Wilhelm II to abdicate for the greater good of Germany.

Hindenburg, who was a firm monarchist throughout his life, always regarded this episode with considerable embarrassment, and almost from the moment the Kaiser abdicated, Hindenburg insisted that he had played no role in the abdication and assigned all of the blame to Groener. Groener, for his part, went along in order to protect Hindenburg's reputation

Aftermath of the war

At the conclusion of the war, Hindenburg retired a second time, and announced his intention to retire from public life. In 1919, Hindenburg was called before a Reichstag Commission that was investigating the responsibility for both the outbreak of war in 1914 and for the defeat in 1918.

Hindenburg had not wanted to appear before the commission, and had been subpoenaed. The appearance of Hindenburg before the commission was an eagerly awaited public event. Ludendorff, who had fallen out with Hindenburg over the decision to continue seeking the armistice in October 1918, was concerned that Hindenburg might reveal that it was he who had advised seeking an armistice in September 1918. Ludendorff wrote a letter to Hindenburg, informing him that he was writing his memoirs and threatened to expose the fact that Hindenburg did not deserve the credit that he had received for his victories. Ludendorff's letter went on to suggest that how Hindenburg testified would determine how favorably Ludendorff would present Hindenburg in his memoirs.

When Hindenburg did appear before the commission, he refused to answer any questions about the responsibility for the German defeat, and instead read out a prepared statement that had been reviewed in advance by Ludendorff's lawyer. Hindenburg testified that the German Army had been on the verge of winning the war in the autumn of 1918, and that the defeat had been precipitated by a DolchstoxŸ ("stab in the back") by disloyal elements on the home front and by unpatriotic politicians. Despite being threatened with a contempt citation for refusing to respond to questions, Hindenburg simply walked out of the hearings after reading his statement. Hindenburg's status as a war hero provided him with a political shield and he was never prosecuted.

Hindenburg's testimony was the first use of the DolchstoxŸlegende. The field marshal credited an unnamed British general for first uttering the phrase, and the term was adopted by nationalist and conservative politicians who sought to blame the socialist founders of the Weimar Republic for the loss of the war.

Afterwards, Hindenburg had his memoirs entitled Mein Leben (My Life) ghost-written in 1919-20. Mein Leben was a huge bestseller in Germany, but was dismissed by most military historians and critics as a boring apologia that skipped over the most controversial issues in Hindenburg's life. Afterwards, Hindenburg retired from most public appearances and spent most of his time with his family. A widower, Hindenburg was very close to his only son, Major Oskar von Hindenburg and his granddaughters.


1925 election

World War 1 Picture - During the 1925 election, second cycle

Picture - During the 1925 election, second cycle

In 1925, Hindenburg had no interest in running for public office. In the first round of the presidential elections held on 29 March 1925, no candidate had emerged with a majority and a run-off election had been called. The Social Democratic candidate, Prime Minister Otto Braun of Prussia, had agreed to drop out of the race and had endorsed the Catholic Centre Party's candidate, Wilhelm Marx. Since Karl Jarres, the joint candidate of the two conservative parties, the German People's Party (DVP) and the German National People's Party (DNVP), was regarded as too dull, it seemed likely that Marx would win. Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, one of the leaders of the DNVP, visited Hindenburg and urged him to run.

Hindenburg initially demurred, but under strong pressure from Tirpitz applied over several meetings, broke down and agreed to run. Though Hindenburg ran during the second round of the elections as a non-party independent, he was generally regarded as the conservative candidate. Largely because of his status as Germany's greatest war hero, Hindenburg won the election in the second round of voting held on April 26, 1925. He was aided by the support of the Bavarian People's Party (BVP), which switched its support from Marx, and the refusal of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) to withdraw its candidate, Ernst Thx¤lmann.

First term

World War 1 Picture - Crowds in front of Hindenburg's villa in Hannover on 12 May 1925

Picture - Crowds in front of Hindenburg's villa in Hannover on 12 May 1925

Hindenburg took office on 12 May 1925. For the first five years after taking office, he fulfilled his duties of office with dignity and decorum. For the most part, Hindenburg refused to allow himself to be drawn into the maelstrom of German politics in the period, and sought to play the role of a republican equivalent of a constitutional monarch. Although often referred to as the Ersatzkaiser (substitute Emperor), Hindenburg made no effort to restore the monarchy and took his oath to the Weimar Constitution seriously. In 1927 he shocked the international opinion by his statements defending Germany's actions and entry in World War I, when he declared that it entered the war as "the means of self-assertion against a world full of enemies. Pure in heart we set off to the defence of the fatherland and with clean hands the German army carried the sword."

In private, Hindenburg often complained that he missed the quiet of his retirement and bemoaned that he had allowed himself to be pressured into running for President. Hindenburg carped that politics was full of issues such as economics that he did not, and did not want to, understand. He was surrounded, however, by a coterie of advisers antipathetic to the Weimar constitution. These advisers included his son, Oskar, Otto MeixŸner, General Wilhelm Groener, and General Kurt von Schleicher. This group were known as the Kamarilla. The younger Hindenburg served as his father's aide-de-camp and controlled politicians' access to the President.

Schleicher was a close friend of Oskar and came to enjoy privileged access to Hindenburg. It was he who came up with the idea of Presidential government based on the so-called "25/48/53 formula". Under a "Presidential" government the head of government (in this case, the chancellor), is responsible to the head of state, and not a legislative body. The "25/48/53 formula" referred to the three articles of the Constitution that could make a "Presidential government" possible:

Article 25 allowed the President to dissolve the Reichstag.
Article 48 allowed the President to sign into law emergency bills without the consent of the Reichstag. However, the Reichstag could cancel any law passed by Article 48 by a simple majority within sixty days of its passage.
Article 53 allowed the President to appoint the Chancellor.

Schleicher's idea was to have Hindenburg appoint a man of Schleicher's choosing as chancellor, who would rule under the provisions of Article 48. If the Reichstag should threaten to annul any laws so passed, Hindenburg could counter with the threat of dissolution. Hindenburg was unenthusiastic about these plans, but was pressured into going along with them by his son along with MeixŸner, Groener and Schleicher.

Presidential government

World War 1 Picture - President Paul von Hindenburg

Picture - President Paul von Hindenburg

The first attempt to establish a "presidential government" had occurred in 1926-1927, but foundered for lack of political support. During the winter of 1929-1930, however, Schleicher had more success. After a series of secret meetings attended by MeixŸner, Schleicher, and Heinrich Brx¼ning, the parliamentary leader of the Catholic Center Party (Zentrum), Schleicher and MeixŸner were able to persuade Brx¼ning to go along with the scheme for "presidential government". How much Brx¼ning knew of Schleicher's ultimate objective of dispensing with democratic governance is unclear. Schleicher maneuvered to exacerbate a bitter dispute within the "Grand Coalition" government of the Social Democrats and the German People's Party over whether the unemployment insurance rate should be raised by a half percentage point or a full percentage point. The upshot of these intrigues was the fall of Mx¼ller’s government in March 1930 and Hindenburg's appointment of Brx¼ning as Chancellor.

Brx¼ning's first official act was to introduce a budget calling for steep spending cuts and steep tax increases. When the budget was defeated in July 1930, Brx¼ning arranged for Hindenburg to sign the budget into law by invoking Article 48. When the Reichstag voted to repeal the budget, Brx¼ning had Hindenburg dissolve the Reichstag, just two years into its mandate, and reapprove the budget through the Article 48 mechanism. In the September 1930 elections the Nazis achieved an electoral breakthrough, gaining 17 percent of the vote, up from 2 percent in 1928. The Communist Party of Germany also made striking gains, albeit not so great.

After the 1930 elections, Brx¼ning continued to govern largely through Article 48; his government was kept afloat by the support of the Social Democrats who voted not to cancel his Article 48 bills in order not to have another election that could only benefit the Nazis and the Communists. Hindenburg for his part grew increasingly annoyed at Brx¼ning, complaining that he was growing tired of using Article 48 all the time to pass bills. Hindenburg found the detailed notes that Brx¼ning submitted explaining the economic necessity of each of his bills to be incomprehensible. Brx¼ning continued with his policies of raising taxes and cutting spending to address the onset of the Great Depression; the only areas in which government spending increased were the military budget and the subsidies for Junkers in the so-called Osthilfe (Eastern Aid) program. Both of these spending increases reflected Hindenburg's concerns.

In October 1931, Hindenburg and Adolf Hitler had their first meeting over the German Nationalist Party's politics. Both men took an immediate dislike to each other. In private, Hindenburg disparagingly referred to Hitler as "that Austrian corporal", or "that Bohemian corporal" or sometimes just simply as "the corporal", while Hitler often disparagingly referred to Hindenburg as "that old fool" or "that old reactionary". Until January 1933, Hindenburg often stated that he would never appoint Hitler as Chancellor under any circumstances. On 26 January 1933, Hindenburg privately told a group of his friends: "Gentlemen, I hope you will not hold me capable of appointing this Austrian corporal to be Reich Chancellor".

January 1932 - January 1933: A year of decisions

World War 1 Picture - Election poster for Hindenburg in 1932 (translation:

Picture - Election poster for Hindenburg in 1932 (translation: "With him")

By January 1932, at 84-years-old, Hindenburg was now lapsing in and out of senility and wanted to leave office as soon as his seven-year presidential term was over, but he was persuaded to run for re-election in 1932 by the Kamarilla and the pro-republican parties who considered him the only candidate who could defeat Hitler. Hindenburg reluctantly agreed to stay in office, but wanted to avoid an election. The only way this was possible was for the Reichstag to vote to cancel the election with a two-thirds supermajority. Since the Nazis were the second-largest party, their co-operation was vital if this was to be done. Brx¼ning met with Hitler in January 1932 to ask if he would agree to the President's demand to forgo the election. Hitler stated he would only if Brx¼ning would fulfill a set of impossible demands.

Brx¼ning rejected Hitler's demands as totally outrageous and unreasonable. By this time, Schleicher had decided that Brx¼ning had become an obstacle to his plans and was already plotting Brx¼ning's downfall. Schleicher convinced Hindenburg that the reason why Hitler had rejected Brx¼ning's offer was because Brx¼ning had deliberately sabotaged the talks to force the elderly president into a grueling re-election battle. During the election campaign of 1932, Brx¼ning had campaigned hard for Hindenburg's re-election. As Hindenburg was in bad health and a poor speaker in any case, the task of traveling the country and delivering speeches for Hindenburg had fallen upon Brx¼ning. Hindenburg’s campaign appearances usually consisted simply of appearing before the crowd and waving to them without speaking.

In the first round of the election held in March 1932, Hindenburg emerged as the frontrunner, but failed to gain a majority. In the runoff election of April 1932, Hindenburg defeated Hitler for the Presidency. After the presidential elections had ended, Schleicher held a series of secret meetings with Hitler in May 1932, and thought that he had obtained a "gentleman's agreement" in which Hitler had agreed to support the new "presidential government" that Schleicher was building. At the same time, Schleicher, with Hindenburg's complicit consent, had set about undermining Brx¼ning's government.

World War 1 Picture - Hindenburg at a radio microphone, January 1932

Picture - Hindenburg at a radio microphone, January 1932

The first blow occurred in May 1932, when Schleicher had Hindenburg dismiss Groener as Defense Minister in a way that was designed to humiliate both Groener and Brx¼ning. On 31 May 1932, Hindenburg dismissed Brx¼ning as Chancellor and replaced him with the man that Schleicher had suggested, Franz von Papen. "The Government of Barons", as Papen's government was known, openly had as its objective the destruction of German democracy. Like Brx¼ning's government, Papen's government was a "presidential government" that governed through the use of Article 48.

Unlike Brx¼ning, Papen ingratiated himself to Hindenburg and his son through flattery. Much to Schleicher's annoyance, Papen quickly replaced him as Hindenburg's favorite advisor. The French Ambassador André Franx§ois-Poncet reported to his superiors in Paris that "It's he [Papen] who is the preferred one, the favorite of the Marshal; he diverts the old man through his vivacity, his playfulness; he flatters him by showing him respect and devotion; he beguiles him with his daring; he is in [Hindenburg's] eyes the perfect gentleman."

In accordance with Schleicher's "gentleman's agreement", Hindenburg dissolved the Reichstag and set new elections for July 1932. Schleicher and Papen both believed that the Nazis would win the majority of the seats and would support Papen's government. Hitler staged an electoral comeback, with his Nazi party winning a solid plurality of seats in the Reichstag. Following the Nazi electoral triumph in the Reichstag elections held on 31 July 1932, there were widespread expectations that Hitler would soon be appointed Chancellor. Moreover, Hitler repudiated the "gentleman's agreement" and declared that he wanted the Chancellorship for himself. In a meeting between Hindenburg and Hitler held on 13 August 1932, in Berlin, Hindenburg firmly rejected Hitler's demands for the Chancellorship.

The minutes of the meeting were kept by Otto MeixŸner, the Chief of the Presidential Chancellery. According to the minutes:

The Reich President in reply said firmly that he must answer this demand with a clear, unyielding "No". He could not justify before God, before his conscience, or before the Fatherland the transfer of the whole authority of government to a single party, especially to a party that was biased against people who had different views from their own. There were a number of other reasons against it, upon which he did not wish to enlarge in detail, such as fear of increased unrest, the effect on foreign countries, etc.

Herr Hitler repeated that any other solution was unacceptable to him.

To this the Reich President replied: "So you will go into opposition?"

Hitler: "I have now no alternative".

After refusing Hitler’s demands for the Chancellorship, Hindenburg had a press release issued of his meeting with Hitler that implied that Hitler had demanded absolute power and had his knuckles rapped by the President for making such a demand. Hitler was enraged by this press release. However, given Hitler’s determination to take power legally, Hindenburg’s refusal to appoint him Chancellor was an impassable quandary for Hitler.

When the Reichstag convened in September 1932, its first and only act was to pass a massive vote of no-confidence in Papen’s government. In response, Papen had Hindenburg dissolve the Reichstag for elections in November 1932. The second Reichstag elections saw the Nazi vote drop from 37 percent to 32 percent, though the Nazis once again remained the largest party in the Reichstag. After the November elections, there ensued another round of fruitless talks between Hindenburg, Papen, Schleicher on the one hand and Hitler and the other Nazi leaders on the other.

The President and the Chancellor wanted Nazi support for the "Government of the President's Friends"; at most they were prepared to offer Hitler the meaningless office of Vice-Chancellor. On 24 November 1932, during the course of another Hitler-Hindenburg meeting, Hindenburg stated his fears that " ... a presidential cabinet led by Hitler would necessarily develop into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extreme aggravation of the conflicts within the German people".

Hitler for his part, remained adamant that Hindenburg give him the Chancellorship and nothing else. These demands were incompatible and unacceptable to both sides and the stalemate continued. To break the political stalemate, Papen proposed that Hindenburg declare martial law and do away with democracy via a presidential coup. Papen won over Oskar Hindenburg with this idea and the two persuaded Hindenburg for once to forgo his oath to the Constitution and go along with this plan. Schleicher, who had come to see Papen as a threat, blocked the martial law move by unveiling the results of a war games exercise that showed if martial law was declared, the Nazi SA and the Communist Red Front Fighters would rise up, the Poles would invade and the Reichswehr would be unable to cope.

Whether this was the honest result of a war games exercise or just a fabrication by Schleicher to force Papen out of office is a matter of some historical debate. The opinion of most leans towards the latter, for in January 1933 Schleicher would tell Hindenburg that new war games had shown the Reichswehr would crush both the SA and Red Front Fighters and defend the eastern borders from a Polish invasion. The results of the war games forced Papen to resign in December 1932 in favor of Schleicher. Hindenburg was most upset at losing his favorite Chancellor, and suspecting that the war games were faked to force Papen out, came to bear a grudge against Schleicher.

Papen for his part, was determined to get back into office and on 4 January 1933, Papen met with Hitler to discuss how they could bring down Schleicher’s government, though the talks were inconclusive largely because Papen and Hitler each coveted the Chancellorship for himself. However, Papen and Hitler agreed to keep talking. Ultimately, Papen came to believe that he could control Hitler from behind the scenes and decided to support him for Chancellor. Papen then persuaded MeixŸner and the younger Hindenburg of the merits of his plan, and the three then spent the second half of January pressuring Hindenburg into naming Hitler as Chancellor. Hindenburg was most loath to consider Hitler as Chancellor and preferred that Papen hold that office instead.

However, the pressure from MeixŸner, Papen and the younger Hindenburg was relentless and by the end of January, the President had decided to appoint Hitler Chancellor. On the morning of 30 January 1933, Hindenburg swore Hitler in as Chancellor at the Presidential Palace.

The Machtergreifung

World War 1 Picture - German stamps of Hindenburg with the overprint

Picture - German stamps of Hindenburg with the overprint "ElsaxŸ" (Alsace) produced in 1940

Hindenburg played a supporting but key role in the Nazi Machtergreifung (Seizure of Power) in 1933. In the "Government of National Concentration" headed by Hitler, the Nazis were in the minority. Besides Hitler, the only other Nazi ministers were Hermann Gx¶ring and Wilhelm Frick. Frick held the then-powerless Interior Ministry, while Gx¶ring was given no portfolio. Most of the other ministers were hold-overs from the Papen and Schleicher governments, and the ones who were not, such as Alfred Hugenberg of the DNVP, were not Nazis. This had the effect of assuring Hindenburg that the room for radical moves on the part of the Nazis was limited. Moreover, Hindenburg's favorite politician, Papen, was Vice Chancellor of the Reich and Minister-President of Prussia.

Hitler's first act as Chancellor was to ask Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag so that the Nazis and DNVP could increase their number of seats and pass the Enabling Act. Hindenburg agreed to this request. In early February 1933, Papen asked for and received an Article 48 bill signed into law that sharply limited freedom of the press. After the Reichstag fire, Hindenburg, at Hitler's urging, signed into law the Reichstag Fire Decree. This decree suspended all civil liberties in Germany.

At the opening of the new Reichstag on 21 March 1933, at the Kroll Opera House, the Nazis staged an elaborate ceremony, in which Hindenburg played the leading part, appearing alongside Hitler during the event, that was meant to mark the continuity between the old Prussian-German tradition and the new Nazi state. The ceremony at the Kroll Opera House had the effect of reassuring many Germans, especially conservative Germans, that life would be fine under the new regime. On 23 March 1933, Hindenburg signed the Enabling Act of 1933 into law, which gave decrees issued by the cabinet (in effect, Hitler) the force of law.

Though Hindenburg was in increasingly bad health, the Nazis made sure that whenever Hindenburg did appear in public it was in Hitler’s company. During these appearances, Hitler always made a point of showing the utmost respect and reverence for the President. In private, Hitler continued to detest Hindenburg, and expressed the hope that "the old reactionary" would die as soon as possible, so that Hitler could merge the offices of Chancellor and President into one.

During 1933 and 1934, Hitler was very aware of the fact that President Hindenburg was his only superior as well as the Supreme Commander-In-Chief of the German armed forces, and given that Hindenburg was a revered figure in the German Army, that if the President decided to remove Hitler as Chancellor, there was little doubt that the Reichswehr would side with Hindenburg. Thus, as long as Hindenburg was alive, Hitler was always very careful to avoid offending him.

The only time Hindenburg ever objected to a Nazi bill occurred in early April 1933 when the Reichstag had passed a Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service that called for the immediate dismissal of all Jewish civil servants at the Reich, Land, and municipal levels. Hindenburg refused to sign this bill into law until it had been amended to exclude all Jewish veterans of World War I, Jewish civil servants who served in the civil service during the war and those Jewish civil servants whose fathers were veterans. Hitler amended the bill to meet Hindenburg’s objections, and was later to be surprised at the number of Jews whose jobs were protected by the amendments.

Hindenburg remained in office until his death at the age of 86 from lung cancer at his home in Neudeck, East Prussia on 2 August 1934 (exactly two months short of his 87th birthday).

The day before Hindenburg's death, Hitler flew to Neudeck and visited him. Hindenburg, old and senile as well as bedridden from being very sick, thought he was meeting Kaiser Wilhelm II, and he called Hitler "Your Majesty" when Hitler first walked into the room.

World War 1 Picture - Hindenburg's image on a German postage stamp overprinted for use in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Picture - Hindenburg's image on a German postage stamp overprinted for use in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Following Hindenburg's death, Hitler merged the presidency with the office of Chancellor under the title of Leader and Chancellor (Fx¼hrer und Reichskanzler), making himself Germany's Head of State and Head of government, thereby completing the progress of Gleichschaltung. This action effectively removed the last remedy by which Hitler could be legally removed from office-and with it, all institutional checks and balances on his power.

Hitler had a plebiscite held on 19 August 1934, in which the German people were asked if they approved of Hitler merging the two offices. The Ja (Yes) vote amounted to 90% of the vote.

In taking over the president's powers for himself without calling for a new election, Hitler technically violated the provisions of the Enabling Act. While the Enabling Act allowed Hitler to pass laws that contravened the Weimar Constitution, it specifically forbade him from interfering with the powers of the president. Moreover, the Weimar Constitution had been amended in 1932 to make the president of the High Court of Justice, not the chancellor, acting president pending a new elections. However, Hitler had become law unto himself by this time, and no one dared object.

Hindenburg himself was said to be a monarchist who favored a restoration of the German monarchy. Though he hoped one of the Prussian princes would be appointed to succeed him as Head of State, he did not attempt to use his powers in favour of such a restoration, as he considered himself bound by the oath he had sworn on the Weimar Constitution.

It has been alleged that Hindenburg’s will asked for Hitler to restore the monarchy. However, the truth of this story cannot be established as Oskar von Hindenburg destroyed the portions of his father’s will relating to politics.


World War 1 Picture - Hindenburg's original 1934 burial at the Tannenberg Memorial. Hitler is speaking at the lectern.

Picture - Hindenburg's original 1934 burial at the Tannenberg Memorial. Hitler is speaking at the lectern.

Hindenburg's remains were moved no less than six times in the 12 years following his initial interrment.

Hindenburg was originally buried in the yard of the castle-like Tannenberg Memorial near Tannenberg, East Prussia (today: Stębark, Poland), on 7 August 1934 during a large state funeral, five days after his death. This was against the wishes he had expressed during his life - to be buried in his family plot in Hanover, Germany, next to his wife Gertrud who had died in 1921.

The following year, Hindenburg was temporarily disinterred, along with the 20 German unknown soldiers buried at the Tannenberg Memorial, to allow the building of his new crypt there (which required lowering the entire plaza 8 feet). Hindenburg's bronze coffin was placed in the crypt on 2 October 1935 (the anniversary of his birthday), along with the coffin bearing his wife, which was moved from the family plot.

In January 1945, as Soviet forces advanced into East Prussia, Hitler ordered both coffins to be disinterred for their safety. They were first moved to a bunker just outside Berlin, then to a salt mine at the village of Bernterode, Germany, along with the remains of both Wilhelm I, German Emperor and Frederick II of Prussia (Frederick the Great). The four coffins were hastily marked of their contents using red crayon, and interred behind a 6-foot-thick (1.8 m) masonry wall in a deep recess of the 14-mile mine complex, 1,800 feet underground. Three weeks later, on 27 April 1945, the coffins were discovered by U.S. Army Ordnance troops after tunneling through the wall. All were subsequently moved to the basement of the heavily guarded Marburg Castle in Marburg an der Lahn, Germany, a collection point for recovered Nazi plunder.

The U.S. Army, in a secret project dubbed "Operation Bodysnatch", had many difficulties in determining the final resting places for the four famous Germans. 16 months after the salt mine discovery, in August 1946, the remains of Hindenburg and his wife were finally laid to rest by the American army at St. Elizabeth's, the church of his Teutonic ancestors in Marburg, where they remain today.

German presidential election, 1925
German presidential election, 1932
German Reichsmark, coin.
List of people on the cover of Time Magazine: 1920s −22 Mar. 1926
Hindenburg light


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