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Paul von Hindenburg

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Paul von Hindenburg

Paul von Hindenburg was a well-respected politician and soldier who was deeply loved by the German people. However, he is more remembered today as the man who allowed Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party to rise to power. In this article, we will look at his Presidential terms, and then his relationship with Adolf Hitler. We will then look at his death before discussing his achievements and legacy.

Paul von Hindenburg Timeline

The table below presents Paul von Hindenburg's presidency.

Date:Event:
28 February 1925

Friedrich Ebert, the first president of the Weimar Republic died at the age of 54, a few months before his term as president was due to expire.

12 May 1925Paul Von Hindenburg was sworn into office as the second president of the Weimar Republic.
29 October 1929'Black Tuesday', the day when the Wall Street Stock Market crashed, beginning the Great Depression. Germany was hit very hard and support for extremist parties grows.
April 1932Hindenburg was elected President of Germany for a second time, defeating Adolf Hitler.
31 July 1932The National Socialist German Workers' Party became the largest party in the Reichstag, winning 230 seats and 37% of the popular vote.
30 January 1933Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.
2 August 1934Hindenburg died of lung cancer at the age of 86. Adolf Hitler merges the roles of Chancellor and President to create the title of 'Fuhrer', which he would hold until 1945.

Paul von Hindenburg World War One

Paul von Hindenburg was from a Prussian noble family. He joined the army when he was young and became a career soldier. He earned fame and respect during World War One for his service. In particular, his defeat of the Russians at the Battle of Tannenberg in 1914 made him a virtual celebrity in the eyes of the German people.

paul von hindenburg nazi germany politics studysmarterPhotograph of Paul von Hindenburg. Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

He was so popular a 12-meter tall statue of him was built in Berlin to commemorate the first anniversary of the battle. His personality as a war hero made him a popular figure in a Germany that was divided after defeat in World War One.

Hindenburg and Ludendorff Military Dictatorship

In 1916, Hindenburg and his fellow General Erich von Ludendorff were appointed as Chiefs of the General Staff. This was a very significant position - the General Staff dictated all German military operations. They gradually gained more and more power, being able to influence all areas of government policy, not just the military. The power that Ludendorff and Hindenburg held has been called a 'silent dictatorship' since they had a large degree of control over most areas of government.

Paul von Hindenburg Erich Ludendorff StudySmarterPhotograph of the German General, Erich Ludendorff in 1915, from the German federal archives. Creative Commons License. Source: Emiya1980 at Wikimedia Commons. CC-BY-SA-3.0

They did not face much opposition from the people; in fact, due to the support for the military amongst the German people, they became quite popular.

However, towards the end of the war, the German Parliament began to gain more power, and Ludendorff and Hindenburg were left out of key processes like the Reichstag's plan for peace and the appointment of a new chancellor. This growth of Parliament's power meant that the Ludendorff-Hindenburg dictatorship could not survive the end of the First World War. Instead, democracy reigned and the Weimar Republic was created, contrary to Hindenburg's ideology and wishes.

Did you know? Hindenburg was also responsible for perpetrating the 'stab-in-the-back' myth. This myth claimed that Germany could have won the war but had been betrayed by the politicians of the Weimar Republic who agreed to defeat in exchange for power.

President Hindenburg

The first president of the Weimar Republic, Fredrich Ebert, died at the age of 54 on the 28 February 1925, a few months before his term as President was due to expire. The political right in Germany sought a candidate with the strongest popular appeal and Paul Von Hindenburg stepped up to the plate.

Hindenburg became the second President of the Weimar Republic on 12 May 1925. The election of Hindenburg gave the new Republic a badly needed seal of respectability. In particular, he was very appealing to the German people who preferred a military leader than a civil servant.

Paul von Hindenburg Hindenburg Stamp StudySmarterStamp issued in 1928 of President von Hindenburg. The "Deutsche Reich' you can see on the sides translate to "German Empire" or "German Realm". Notice how the 'Weimar Republic' is not mentioned anywhere on this stamp. Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Hindenburg was a German World War I military commander who had risen to the high-ranking position of Field Marshal in November 1914. He was a national hero who had taken credit for driving Russian forces from East Prussia and eventually usurped the Kaiser in popularity and notoriety. For the German people, who had felt humiliated by the end of World War One and betrayed by the civilian politicians of the Weimar Government, Hindenburg represented the old power and dignity of Germany that they longed to see again.

President Hindenburg and Adolf Hitler

Hindenburg's Presidency was marked by the Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party's rise to power. Initially, Hindenburg, like a lot of German politicians, did not take Hitler or the Nazi party that seriously. They did not think he had a chance of gaining any real power.

However, by 1932 it was clear that was not the case. In the election of July 1932, the Nazi party won 37% of the vote, making them the largest party in the Reichstag (the German Parliament). Hindenburg, who by this time had been elected for his second term as President, soon realised that he would have to deal with Hitler.

hindenburg hitler nazi germany studysmarterPhotograph of Hitler on the left, shaking Hindenburg's hand, c.1933. Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Though Hindenburg was an ultra-conservative on the right, he did not agree with Hitler's methods. He sympathised with Hitler's desire to restore Germany's greatness but did not approve of much of his fiery rhetoric. Nevertheless, as leader of the largest party in the Reichstag, Hitler had a lot of influence and could not be easily ignored.

Eventually, he came to the decision, heavily influenced by other politicians, that it would be safer to have Hitler inside the government where they could more easily control him. It was felt that keeping him out of the main part of the government would provoke him to more radical action and gain him more support amongst the people.

Hindenburg made Hitler Chancellor on 30 January 1930. The plan to control him from the inside failed. Hitler and the Nazi party became more popular than ever and Hitler's influence in the government grew. Hitler's used fears of Communist revolution to pass decrees like the Reichstag Fire Decree.

What was the Reichstag Fire Decree?

When fire broke out in the Reichstag (the German Parliament) in 1933, paranoia spread of a Communist plot to overthrow the government. Hitler and the Nazi party whipped up fears that the Russian Revolution of 1917 would be coming to Germany. To this day, it is unclear who was behind the fire.

In response to fears of a Communist revolution, Hindenburg passed the Reichstag Fire Decree. The decree suspended the Weimar Constitution and the civil and political rights it gave to Germans. The Decree gave Hitler power to arrest and detain any suspected Communist sympathisers.

Hitler no longer needed Hindenburg's approval to pass laws. The 1933 Decree was important in Hitler's rise to power as a dictator.

Hindenburg would never see the most horrifying consequences of his decision to make Hitler Chancellor of Germany. After a short battle with lung cancer, Hindenburg died on 2 August 1934, after which Hitler combined the offices of Chancellor and President to create the title of Fuhrer.

Fuhrer

Hitler's title for supreme leader of Germany, though in German it simply means "leader". Hitler believed that all power should be concentrated in the hands of the Fuhrer.

Paul von Hindenburg Quotes

Here are some quotations from Hindenburg. What do these quotes tell us about his attitude to war? How might he have reacted if he'd lived to see the beginning of the Second World War? Would he have agreed with it or tried to stop it?

I have always been a monarchist. In sentiment I still am. Now it is too late for me to change. But it is not for me to say that the new way is not the better way, the right way. So it may prove to be. "

- Hindenburg in Time Magazine, January 1930 1

Even during his time as President, we can see Hindenburg's reluctance to approve the Weimar Republic. This reluctance would have severe consequences. It meant that though Hindenburg was appointed to bolster the Republic's stability, he in actual fact never truly supported it.

That man for a Chancellor? I'll make him a postmaster and he can lick the stamps with my head on them."

- Hindenburg describing Adolf Hitler in 19322

In many ways, Hitler was seen as a joker by the political elites in Germany. Despite Hindenburg's dismissive attitude, he would appoint Hitler as Chancellor just a year later.

I am not a pacifist. All my impressions of war are so bad that I could be for it only under the sternest necessity - the necessity of fighting Bolshevism or of defending one's country."

- Hindenburg in Time Magazine, January 19303

Hindenburg's aversion to Communism would prove fatal. It gave him common interest with Hitler and made authoritarian measures - like the Reichstag Fire Decree - seem justified in his eyes.

Did you know? Bolshevism was a specifically Russian strand of Communism. It was named after the Bolshevik party founded by Lenin. The Bolsheviks seized power during the horrors of World War One in 1917, much to the horror of conservative leaders across Europe.

Paul von Hindenburg Death

Paul Von Hindenburg died on 2 August 1934 from lung cancer at the age of 86. With Hindenburg's death, the last legal obstacle to Hitler's complete takeover of power was removed. The death of the First World War hero also allowed Hitler to ditch the last vestiges of the Weimar Republic and within weeks, many state symbols had been replaced with Nazi ones.

paul von hindenburg nazi germany politics studysmarterHindenburg's grave at the Tannenberg Memorial. Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Hindenburg had requested his wish to be buried in Hanover but was instead laid to rest at the Tannenberg Memorial. This was because of his role in the epic World War I battle where he had been instrumental in Russia's defeat.

Paul von Hindenburg Achievements

We know that Hindenburg was a popular figure in his day, but do his actions stand up to the test of time? With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that he paved the way for Hitler's rise to power, enabling fascism and the Holocaust.

In an exam, you may be asked about Hindenburg's influence on Germany's stability. Here are some factors you may want to consider, for the years 1924 to 1935:

StableUnstable
As a popular and well-respected figure, his presidency helped bring credibility and support to the Weimar Republic. Even critics of the Weimar government, such as conservatives and others on the right-wing in Germany, were able to rally behind Hindenburg as a leader. This reduced the opposition Weimar faced and gave it more support and credibility. Hindenburg was strongly conservative and nationalist. This gave fuel to the right wing in Germany. Hindenburg's support of an ideology that went directly against the values of the Republic he was in charge of was contradictory and destabilising.
Hindenburg did not like Adolf Hitler or his extreme ideals, and was very keen to keep him out of the German government. Even when the Nazis became the largest party in the Reichstag, Hindenburg still tried to control Hitler whilst also keeping to the rules of the Republic by making him Chancellor.In line with his conservative views, Hindenburg had always supported the monarchy and opposed full democracy. His presidency put a contradiction at the heart of the Weimar Republic from the start.
Despite his distaste for Hitler, Hindenburg didn't do much to curb Hitler's ascent to power once he was made Chancellor. For example, he allowed the Enabling Act (1933) to be passed, which gave Hitler the same dictatorial powers as Hindenburg. Equally, he allowed the Reichstag Fire Decree (1933) to be passed, which allowed people to be arrested and imprisoned without trial. This strengthened the Nazi's regime and helped destabilise the Republic.

Paul von Hindenburg Legacy

The historian Menge had a fairly positive view of Hindenburg. Her opinion assessed Hindenburg's popularity with the German people and how his image helped unify all sides of the political spectrum in Germany, making the Weimar Republic more stable during his Presidency.

Although promoted first and foremost by German nationalists, especially in Weimar's early years, some elements of the Hindenburg myth had considerable cross-party appeal. That his initiation as a mythical figure rested on national defence and a battle fought against the arch-enemy of German Social Democracy, Tsarist Russia, had endeared him to many on the moderate left from 1914 onwards."

- Historian Anna Menge, 20084

The historian Clark took a very different view:

As a military commander and later as Germany's head of state, Hindenburg broke virtually every bond he entered into. He was not the man of dogged, faithful service, but the man of image, manipulation and betrayal."

- Historian Christopher Clark, 20075

Clark was critical of Hindenburg's personality, expressing the view that he was not the faithful, steadfast hero that the German people saw him as, but rather that he was concerned too much with his image and power. He argued that Hindenburg as a manipulative man who did not do his job of upholding the Republic's values, resulting in him destabilising the Weimar Republic by allowing far-right extremism to flourish.

Paul Von Hindenburg Key Takeaways

  • After the First World War, Hindenburg entered politics. As a conservative member of the nobility he did not like the Weimar Republic. However, he took on the mantle of President in 1925, as the German people remembered him and his legacy as a soldier.
  • He was elected in 1932 for a second term as President. By this time, the Nazi party was very popular and Hindenburg was forced to deal with Adolf Hitler.
  • He made Hitler Chancellor in January 1933, with the idea that he could be controlled more easily. This would prove disastrous.
  • Hindenburg died on 2nd August 1934. Hitler took over the offices of President and Chancellor and named himself the Fuhrer of Germany.

References

  1. Time Magazine, 'People', 13 January 1930. Source: https://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,789073,00.html
  2. J.W. Wheeler-Bennett 'Hindenburg: the Wooden Titan' (1936)
  3. Time Magazine, 'People', 13 January 1930. Source: https://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,789073,00.html
  4. Anna Menge 'The Iron Hindenburg: A Popular Icon of Weimar Germany.' German History 26(3), pp.357-382 (2008)
  5. Christopher Clark 'The Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947' (2007)

Frequently Asked Questions about Paul von Hindenburg

Paul von Hindenburg was a German military commander and politician who served as the second President of the Weimar Republic, from 1925 until his death in 1934. He was succeeded by Adolf Hitler.

Paul von Hindenburg played an important role during the First World War as a military commander. After the war, he became the President of the Weimar Republic in 1925 until his death in 1934.

Paul von Hindeburg died on 2nd August 1934 from lung cancer.

Paul von Hindenburg was not a part of any mainstream political party in Germany. Instead, he ran for the Presidency as an independent candidate.

Hindenburg never served as Chancellor in the Weimar Republic. He served only as President, from 1925-1934.

Final Paul von Hindenburg Quiz

Question

Who was the first President of the Weimar Republic?

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Answer

Freidrich Ebert was the first President of the Weimar Republic. He served from 1919 until his death in office in 1925. 

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