* war and social upheaval: World War I biographies -- Paul von Hindenburg

World War I: Biographies--Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934)

Figure 1.--Here we see Paul in 1865 wearing I assume a cadet uniform. He would have been about 17 years old. (He looks a little younger.) The next year he participated in the Astro-Prussian War (1866)

Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg was the most famous German commander to emerge from World War I. Along with Ludendorff, he oversaw the brilliant German successes on the Eastern Front in 1914. The Russian offensive forced the Germans to transfer forces from the attack on France. This saved Paris, but the victories at Tannenberg and the Pripet Marshes shattered whole Russian armies. It was the beginning of the demise of Tsarist Russia, although the Russians fought on until 1917. Hindeburg and Ludendorff oversaw the final German offensive in the West that failed in Spring 1918. He defeated Hitler in the Presidential election of 1932, but turned the country over to the NAZIs when he appointed Hitler Chancellor (1933). Hindenburg actually disliked Hitler, but did like the NAZI-promoted myth that the German Army was not defeated in 1918, but betrayed by politicians. Elected to preserve the Weimar Republic, he played akey role in helping Hitler establish the NAZI dictatorship.


Paul was born into an aristocratic German family. His father was Robert von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg (1816�1902), a Prussian officer of old Junker (aristocratic) stock and the family owned land in East Prussia. Paul was extremely proud of his father's family. His paternal grandparents were Otto Ludwig von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg (1778�1855). He was a direct descendant of Martin Luther and wife Katharina von Bora through their daughter Margareta Luther. His mother, Luise Schwickart (1825�1893), was of middle-class origins. Her father was a medical doctor Karl Ludwig Schwickart and her mother was Julie Moennich, a cousin of Vincent Couling. From a young age he emphasized his family's aristicratic origins, family�a fact he preferred to ignore.She is barely mentioned in his memoirs.


Paul was born in Poznan / Posen (1847). Poznan is now in Poland, but was at the time part of Prussia. His proper name was a rather amazing Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Hindenburg und Beneckendorff. Paul was the eldest of three children were: Otto (1849), Ida (1851), and Bernhard (1859).


Hindenburg began preparing as a Prussian Cadet at 11 years of age (1858). He was educated at the cadet schools at first Wahlstatt and then Berlin.

Military Career

Hindenburg participated as a young officer in the Austro-Prussian War (1866). He was commissioned into a guards regiment He fought in the key battle of Koniggratz. He next fought in the Franco-Prussian War (1870�71). Hindenburg was decorated for bravery. As a result of these two wars, Germany was unified and the German Empire under Prussian leadership founded. Hindenburg represented his regiment at the declaration of the German Empire (January 1871). His performance and abilities gained him an appointed to the Army's general staff (1878). He was promoted to the rank of general (1903). He retired from the Army (1911). It looked as if his military career was over. At the time he was virtually unknown outside of military circles.


Hindenburg was careful to marry an aristocrat--Gertrud von Sperling (1860�1921) while stationed at Strettin (1879). They had three children, a boy and two girls: Irmengard Pauline (1880) and Annemaria (1891) and one son, Oskar (1883). We know nothing about his family life. Oskar followed his father in a military career, but did not get very far. His superiors were not impressed with his intelligence. He began to receive promotions only after his father gained prominance in World War I. Major Oskar von Hindenburg became an important political influenceimar after his aging father was elected president. As secretary and chief of staff, he controlled access to his father. He was influenced by Fritz von Papen and apparently played a major role in convincing his father to appoint Hitler chancellor (January 1933). He later promoted a 'Yes' vote in the plebecite after his father's death to merge the office of chancelor amd president making Hither the F�hrer (August 1934). [Shirer] The son subsequently received further promotions as well as additional land, but lost all political influence after the NAZIs solidified their grip on Germany.

World War I (1914-18)

Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg was the most famous German commander to emerge from World War I. With the outbreak of war, Hindenburg was brought back from retirement and placed in command of German forces in East Prussia where the Russians to support the French mounted a massive offensive. Along with Ludendorff, he oversaw the brilliant German successes on the Eastern Front in 1914. Many authors credit Ludendorff, who was his chief of staff, more than Hindenburg for the victories. The Russian offensive forced the Germans to transfer forces from the attack on France. This saved Paris, but the victories at Tannenberg (August 1914) and the Primtkin Marshes shattered whole Russian armies. It was the beginning of the demise of Tsarist Russia, although the Russians fought on until 1917. Further operations by Hindenburg and Ludendorff succeeded in seizing Poland and the Baltic provinces from the Russians (1914-15). The successes in the East compared to the stagnant Western Front brought great prestige in Germany to both Hindenburg and Ludendorff. Hindenburg was appointed commander of Germany's Eastern Armies (September 1914). Hindenburg was promoted to Field Marshal and replaced General Falkenhayn as commander of all German and Central Powers armies after the costly and ultimately failed attack on Verdun. Hindenburg made Ludendorff quartermaster general. Hindenburg as military commander with Ludendorff at his side became in essence dictators of Germany, over shawdowing the Kaiser. They intervened intensively in civilian affairs. They controlled both industry and labor in an effort to mobilize Germany for total war. They did not, however, take steps to maintain agricultural production or to effectively ration food supplies, a filure which was to cause great suffering on the home front and the breaking of civilian morale. They had some military successes. They stopped Allied ooffenses and strengthened the Hindenburg Line, pulling back to a line from Lens through Saint-Quentin to Reims. They defeated the Romanian Army and forced Russia to make peace, accepting crushing terms (1917). Hindenburg and Ludendorff with the forces freed from the Eastern Front launced the final German offensive tht failed in Spring 1918. The French Army nearly broke, but bolstered by newly arrived American troops, the Allied lines held. German losses in the offensive weakened their position. The French Army after Verdun and other battles was no longer capable of offensive operations, however, the Americans and British launched an offensive which cracked the Hindenburg Line (September 1918). Ludendorff had to resign, but Hindenburg retained his command of the army. When the Allies refused to negotiate with the German military, Hindenburg turned control over to civilian politicans who negotiated the Armistace (November 1918). He managed to get his defeated army out of Belgium and France and restore order in the major cities where revolts had broken out.

Versailles Peace Treaty (1919)

The Versailles Peace Treaty ending World War I was signed on June 28, 1919, about 7 months after the Armistice stopping the fighting on November 11, 1918. It was one of the most important treaties of the 20th century. It had a huge impact on the international status of Germany, impacting the country territorially, militarily, and economically. Germany was made a pariah country and largely blamed for the start of the War. Of major significance, the Germany being published was the Germany of the Weimar Republic and not Imperial Germany as the Kaiser had abdicated. As a result, the domestic German opposition to the changes, including the territorial changes, came to be directed at the Weimar Republic and not the Imperial Government that had conducted the War. The NAZIs and other right-wing groups were to saddle democratic politicians with the "shame of Versailles".

Weimar Republic (1918-34)

Hinbenburg informed Kaiser Wihelm II that the Army could no longer protect him. Wilhelm was forced to abdigate and fled across the border to the neighboring Netherlands. The military turned over the government to civilian politicians who founded the Wimar Republic. (The government was founded in Weimar because the political situation in Bdrlin was so unstable.) Hindenburg although a monarchist along with the rest of the army swore an oath of allegiance to the new German republic. The Army throughout the Weimar era continued to be a center of monarchist sentiment. It is interesting that after World war II that Wehrmacht officers claimed that their oath of loyalty to Hitler compeled them to follow orders. Notably the oath they had swore to the Republic did not bother them when they deserted the Republic and swore an oath to the F�hrer (1934) The Allies after World War I wanted to try both the Kaiser and Hindenburg as war criminals. The Dutch Government refused to turn over the Kaiser. A special German court established at Leipzig refused to indite him. President Freidrich Ebert died in 1925. Conservative groups (naionalists, the Army Prussian Junkers, and others) convined Hindenburg to run for president. The presideny in the Weimar Republic had limited power, but was a post of great pestige. Most historians view him as an ineffectual politican and was used as a figurehead by the reactionary Junkers. It was during his presidency that Hitler and the NAZIs became a major power in Germany. Hitler challenged him for the presidency, but lost (1932). Some thought that this was the beginning of Hitler and the NAZI's political decline. Chancellor Heinrich Br�ning and the Socialists strongly supported him to defeat Hitler.

President Hindenburg and the NAZI Takeover

President Paul von Hindenburg was Germany's most estemed World War I hero. He had been elected president after President Freidrich Ebert died (1925). He had been supported by the conservatives (naionalists, the Army Prussian Junkers, and others) and defeated the SDP and center parties. The German presidency was aelatively weak office. The Government was run by the Reich Chancrellor supported by a majority coalition in the Reichstag. With the rise of the NAZIs, however, the Reichstag became deadlocked. This thus increased the importance of the presidency and Hindenburg himself gave the post great prestige. Hitler challenged Hindeberg for the presidency and was soundly defeated. Chancellor Heinrich Br�ning and the Socialists who took a strong stance against the NAZIs, banning the SA, supported him to this time to defeat Hitler. Itvlooked at first that it was a begginning of the NAZI decline. Hindenburg despite the support of Br�ning and the SPD did not like the Chancellor. Hindenburg was a conservative and opposed to many Socialist reforms and high taxes on landed estates. The ageing President was strongly influenced by his World War I comrads and Junker friends who were outraged when Br�ning moved to break up the landed estates in East Prussia. As a result he dismissed Br�ning. He at first, however, to appoint Hitler chancellor, depite the NAZI strength in the Reichstag. In effect it was the end of the Republic. He tried two replacements (Papen and Schleicher), both who refused to stand up to the NAZIs. It was Hindenburg who finally appointed Hitler chancellor (January 1933). He thus was instrumental in the NAZI Machtergreifung (seizure of power). Hitler quicklu moved to created a police state. Hindenburg played a major role in this, approving emergency measures after the Reichstag fire to give Hitler special powers. Hindenburg with one exception did not object to the various steps taken by Hitler to create a dictatorship. The only challenge to the NAZIs on Hindenburg's part was when Ernst R�hm threatened to turn the SA into a people's army. The result was the Night of the Long Knives (June 1934). Hitler supressed the SA. President Hindenburg died 2 months later. The officers and men of the new Wehrmacht swore a personal oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler as the new German F�hrer.

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)

Hitler throughout Hindenburg's presidency used the Brown Shirts (SA) to commit continual acts of political violence. This helped destabalize the German political sitution and tarnish the image of the Weimar Republic and democracy amomg Germans. The Communists persued the same course, refusing to form an alliance with the Socialists and other moderate political parties. With the onset of the Depression (1929), the NAZIs became the single most important political party in Germany, although still a minority party. Hitler aimed at displacing Hidenburg as president (1932). He conducted one of the first modern political campaigns. He effecitively used the radio and criss-crossed Germany by air--giving the image of a youthful, dynamic leader attempting to lead Germany out of its economic and political crisis. Of course the political crisis was largely created by the NAZI Brown shirts. Hindenburg who despised the Socialists after the election dismissed Br�ning. His advisers convinced him that the way to deal with the political violence in Germany was to appoint Hitler as chancellor, believing that he could be controlled. Here von Papen played a key role in covincing Hindenburg. As a result, the aging president appointed Hitler Chancellor (January 1933). Hindenburg although he disliked Hitler, did like the NAZI-promoted fiction that the German Army was not defeated in 1918, but betrayed by politicians. Hindenburg by this time was sick with diminishing faculties. After his death (1934). Hitler made a pact with the Army and seized absolute control of Germany.


Dorpalen, A. Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic (1964).

Shirer, William. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

Wheeler-Bennett, J.W. The Wooden Titan (1936).


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Created: 6:59 PM 7/14/2005
Last updated: 10:04 PM 3/30/2011