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 Brüning 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 Brüning 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 Brüning moved to break up the landed estates in East Prussia. As a result he dismissed Brüning. 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 Röhm 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 Führer.
Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg was the most famous German commander to emerge from World War I. He was seen as the savior of Germany. Along with Ludendorff, he came out of retirement and 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. Momuments were raised to him. All kinds of momentois of him could be pourchased. Anf he had delivered victory in the East. He and Lunndoirf became essentially twin dictators as the War continued. And through eather devu=ious steps he managed to emerge from a failed war with hus reputaion largely in tact.
The Stab in the Back myth is today largely seen as a extremist consdoracy theory popularized by Hitler and the NAZIs. This is a mistake. No none is more respomsibkle for it than Hindenerg himself. Hindeburg and Ludendorff oversaw the final German offensive in the West that failed (Spring 1918). It was the German General Staff thst played a central role in launching the disatrous War. Hinnberg was not responsible foir this, he had retired. It was Hindenberg and the General Staff with Allies breeching bthe Siegfried Line that demanded bordered that the German delegation had to sign the Armistice (November 1918). Ludendorf had beenn dismissed earlier. It wa sHindenberg thatbtold the vkaiser bthat bthe Army could no longerr protect him. Hindenberrg stayed on as Chief of Staff, helpoing to defeatbthe vSpoatrtacusn (Communist) Revolutioin. This of course was a insureaction he essentially set in motion when hev dispatched Lenin to Russia to help stage the Bolshevik Revolution (April 1917). Later when the ZAllies presented the terms of the Versailles Treaty, President Ebert asked him if there was any alternative, if Germasny could do better by resisting militarily. Hindinberg told him tht vHermny bhad to sign. Than after Ebert acceoted the Versailles Treary, Jindinberg resigned and immediately began talking about the satb in the back. [Clifford] Subseuntky, the Reivhsytag held hearings on the disaster of the War and who was responsible. When Hundenbery trstified, he refused to resoind to questions, only repearing the Stab in the Bck muth to deflct bhis own nbd the Army's resonsubility. His prestige made in mainline. Only sfter this did Hitler emedrge as the NAZI leader nd making the Stab in the Back his core isue.
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.
With the rise of the NAZIs in the late 1920s, the Reichstag became fractured along ideological lines. The Communists on the left and NAZIs and other nationalist parties on the right became increaingly important. Both were committed to destroying the Republic. This made governing Germany increasingly difficult as the moderate parties supporting the Republic became an increaingly smaller oart of the Reicstag. No party or party groupings could form stable coalitions. The situation in the Reichstag made the German President increasingly important. Hitler decided to challenge the incumbent president and revered military legend Paul von Hindenburg for the presidency. The ageing Hindenburg was now 84 years old and was showing signs of senility to those close to him. Hitler launched an active campaign, fling around the country and using the radio to create an image of an active, modern politican of the future in sharp contrast to the elderly Hindenburg. The majority of Germans still feared Hitler. Hindenburg won the 1932 election with a clear majority. The NAZI's after Hitler's April 1932 election loss to Hindenburg were still a major political party, but did not have a majority in the Reichstag.
Hitler challenged Hindeberg for the presidency and was soundly defeated. Chancellor Heinrich Brüning 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 Brüning 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 Brüning moved to break up the landed estates in East Prussia. As a result he dismissed Brüning.
President Hindenburg 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 replacemebnts (Papen and Schleicher), both who refused to stand up to the NAZIs.
It was Hindenburg who finally appointed Hitler chancellor (January 1933). He had defeated Hitler in the Presidential election (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 STabed in the Back by Sivcilist politicians and Jews. Hindenberg thus played a key role in the in the NAZI Machtergreifung (seizure of power). Hitler's "Government of National Concentration" had a minority of NAZI ministers. The two ministerial posts were carefully chosen to allay Hindenburg's concerns about Hitler radical tendencies. Göing was given no portfolio. Wilhelm Frick was given what seemed to be minor Interior Ministry, The other ministers were men who had served in the von Papen and von Schleicher governments. New appointmenrs such as Alfred Hugenberg was ffom the DNVP. All of this assured Hindenburg that Hitler could be controlled. In addition the politican that he liked best, von Papen, was appointed Vice Chancellor of the Reich and Minister-President of Prussia.
What Hitler wanted was an Enabling Act that would give him the authority to suspend the Weimar Constitution. The NAZIs were the largest party in the Reichstag, but did not command a majority, let along the two-thirds of deputies needed to pass an Enabling Act. Thus his first move as Reich Chancellor was to ask Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag and schedule new elections so that the NAZIs and allied DNVP could win the number of seats needed. Hindenburg agreed to Hitler's request.
Vive Chancellor von Papen at Hitler's urging asked Hindenburh for and received an Article 48 bill. Hitler asked von Papen to approach Hindenburg because of his close rekation with him. Once signed into law, this sharply restructed press freedom.
The Reichstag in the middle of the REichstag election campaign went up in flames (Februarry 27, 1933). Hitler was having dinner with the Goebbels. The telephone rang with an emergency alert: 'The Reichstag is on fire!' Both Hitler and Goebbels rushed to the burning Reichstag. There they found Göring screamong, "This is the beginning of the Communist revolution! We must not wait a minute. We will show no mercy. Every Communist official must be shot, where he is found. Every Communist deputy must this very day be strung up." The police arrested Marianus van der Lubbe. He was an unstable young Dutch man who when a teenager had joined the Communist Party. Lubbe confessed, but many believed he was duped into setting the fire by the NAZIs. The actual circumstances will now never be known. The Prussian government the following day announced that it had found communist documents which describing a planned revolution. "Government buildings, museums, mansions and essential plants were to be burned down... . Women and children were to be sent in front of terrorist groups.... The burning of the Reichstag was to be the signal for a bloody insurrection and civil war.... It has been ascertained that today was to have seen throughout Germany terrorist acts against individual persons, against private property, and against the life and limb of the peaceful population, and also the beginning of general civil war." Wether or not the NAZIs were involved, they certainly put the Reicstah fire to full use. Göring ordered the Berlin police force on full alert. Göring's police including SA auxileries immediately arrested about 4,000 men. The speed of the NAZI police action is one reason that some beliece the NAZIs were responsible for the fire. Most of those arrested were rousted out of their beds. They were primarily DKP leaders, but there were also a number of anti-NAZI writers, intelectuals, and others who had crossed the NAZIs. [Fest, p. 396-397.] Goebbels and the NAZIs made full use of this in the election campaign. Göring used the incident to buteress is claim that the DKP was ploting to seize control of the government. Historians still debate who was responsible. Many blamed the NAZIs, especially the SA. This is certainly a pssibility, but there is no real proof. Some historians believe that neither the NAZIs or the DKP were actually responsible. [Davidson, pp. 17-22.]
Hitler took full advantage of the situation and claimed that the fire was a Communist plot. Hitler ordered DKP leaders hanged. President Hindenburg rejected this, but was persuaded signed an emergency decrees (February 28). The first was the Law for the Protection of the People and State. Hitler justified the decree as a 'defensive measure against Communist acts of violence endangering the state'. The presidential decree suspended the constitutional guarantees pertaining to civil liberties. It read, "Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and association; and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications; and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed." A second decree, The Law Against Betrayal of the German People and Treasonous Machinations. These decrees suspended people's rights and allowed the NAZIs to arrest many Communists and other regime opponents with the full legal authority of the German state. This essentially gave Hitler dictatorial powers. One historian writes, "was the decisive legal basis for NAZI rule". [Fest, p. 398.] The NAZIs often using SA police auxilleries established by Göring arrested thousands of Communists, Social Democrats, and other individuals who had opposed their rize to power. German jails were soon over flowing with political prisoners. These decrees, signed by President Hindenburg, suspended civil liberties in Germany.
Hitler was finally chancellor, but he knew all to well that German chancellors come and go, some only lasting a few weeks. He also knew that the Army was not yet under his cintrol. Thus he needed a veneer of constituntionality. This soon after becoming Chancellor he decided to hold another election. This was a gambel on his part. The NAZIs had lost more thn 30 seats in the November 1932 election. He realized that the election would have to be carefully managed. And the NAZIs needed money to finally outdistance the other parties. Hermann Göring assembeled a group including many of Germany's leading industrialists in the palace of the Reichstag president (February 20). Some were already NAZI supporters. Others had been shaken by the Reichstag fire. All feared the Communists. Göring told them that the 1933 General Election would probably the last German election for some time. He explained that the NAZI Party needed money to conduct a major election campaiggn. He got donations totaling 3 million Reichmarks. NAZI Party propaganda chief Joseph Goebbelswas estatic. He penned in his diary, "Radio and press are at our disposal. Even money is not lacking this time." [Goebbels was the only one of the top NAZIs to keep a diary and is a fascinating source.] Fear of Communism gained the NAZIs additional support at the polls. German political parties had trouble competing with the NAZIs, especially the left-wing parties. Not only were they not as well financed, but The arests of their leaders and candidates made it very difficult to contest the dlection. In addition, the SA was used to break up opposition party rallies and meetings. The NAZIs killed some candidates. THe NAZIs also succeeded in closing opposition newspapers. One action the NAZIs did not take was to ban the Communist Party. Hitler reasoned that this might just result in DKP voters supporting the SD. [Fest, p. 392.] Despite all these difficulties, Hitler and the NAZIs still failed to gain a mjority in the Reichstag. The NAZIs received less than 44 percent of the vote, gaining 288 seats out of the 647 seats in the Reichstag. Much of the additional NAZI voters were gained in the Catholic rural areas where Catholics feared a Communist government. The March 1933 election results were: NAZI Party 288 seats, Social Democrats 120 seats, Communist Party 81 seats, Centre Party 73 seats, Nationalist Party 52 seats, and Others 23 seats.
The new Reichstag met in the Kroll Opera House (March 21). The NAZIs turned the opening session into an elaborate ceremony. They made sure that President Hindenburg played a prominant role. This was to give an appearance of legality and continuity. While many Germans did nit trust Hitler, they did trust OPresident Hindenburg. It was in effect the death of the Republic and Hitler's effort to establish a trabnsition from the defunct Second Reich (the German Empire) that Hindinburg had fought for in World war I and the the new Third Reich that Hitler was prepared to construct.
Hitler appeared before the Reichstag to "temporarily" delegate its authority to him so that he would have the needed power to deal with the crisis. He denouncing opponents as traitors and shouted, 'Germany will be free, but not through you!' The NAZIs still had only 288 seats, still short of a majority. But the DKP deputies had many arrested, many in Dachau. SA Stormtroopers lined the entrance to the Reichstag. The vote was fore ordained, 441 for and 84 against. This gave Hitler the required two-thirds majority to suspend the Weimar Constitution. This essential made Hitler what he had always wanted, the dictator of Germany. He now had no legislative or constitutional constraints. Thus decress from the Reich Chancellor had the force of law. The only constraint was that they needed President Hindenburg's signature.
President Hindenburg was in his 80s and in poor health. Intimates began to see signs if senility. Befcause of his health, he made few public appearances. Hitler was, howver, very careful to accompany Hindenburg when ever he did appear. It was clear that Hundenburg was in failing health and Hitler perceived that appearing with the ageing Hindenburg was creating an important oybkic image of continuity. Hitler's behavior at these joint appearance was also carefully calculated. He did not attempt to usurp the spotlight. Rather he was extremely diferential to President Hindenburg. He also dressedfor the part, often wearing a top hat and frock suit--the only time you see him dressed like that. The respect that Hindenburg gave to Hindenburg in public was in sharp contrast to his personal opinion. He despised President Hindenburg and eferred to him as the "the old reactionary". He couldn't wait for him to die so he could complete his seizure of power. He was very careful, hiowever, not to let his disdain show in his public appearances.
Another power of the German presidency was that he was the Supreme Commander-In-Chief of the German armed forces. Of course, even without the constitutional authority, Hindenburg as the great national hero of World War I would have had great influence with the Reichwwehr and other military services. This meant that Hitler had to deal very carefully with Hindenburh. The President could have dismissed Hitler as chancelor and the Reichswehr would have backed him up. As long as Hindenburg lived, Hitler's grasp on power was still tenuous. Affter supresing the political oposition abd gaining control over the judiciary, it was only Hindenburg theough the Reichswehr that stood between Hitler and absolute power.
The now throughly NAZI controled Reichstag passed a Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service (April 1933). The effect was to immediate sacking dismiss all Jewish civil servants at the Reich, Landen, and municipal government agencues. The was the only NAZI action time Hindenburg ever took issue with. He at first refused to sign the bill. His objection was not that it would affect Jews in general, but that it would affect Jewish war veterans. He insisted the bill be amended to exclude Jewish veterans and the children of veterans before he would sign it. Hitler complied, thinking that most Jews some how managed to evade service in the military. He was surprised after the law went into effect how many Jewish veterans there were and thus protected by the amnendment Hindenburg demanded. As a result, for a short period, a substantial number of Jew continued to work in the civil service. After Hindenburgs death Hitler quickly moved against them as well.
There was only one major issue on which President Hindemburg stood up to Hitler and that was the integrity of the Reichswehr. The NAZI SA commanded by Ernst Röhm totaled 4 million Stormtroopers. Röhm wanted to merge in with the Reichwehr creating a People's Army. FFiven the fact that the SA dwarfed the Reichwehr limited by the Versailles Treaty to 0.1 million soldiers, it would have meant the end of old Germany army and its Prussian traditons. This is something that President Hindenburg and the Reichswehr high command would not tolerate. The result was the Night of the Long Knives. The complete story of the action may never be known. Hitler as was often the case, vascilated. It seems he felt some loyalty toward hos old mentor
Röhm. Heydrish apparently foirged incriminating documents. Hitler achieved two goals. Fiest gaining control over the SA and beginning its reduction in size. Second, gaining control over the Wehrmacht through a oath of royalty. The murderous character of the regime was for the first time on public display.
As Hindenburg lay near death, Hitler flew to Neudeck, East Prussia where Hindenburg's country home is located. He flew in part because he did not like crossing the Polish Corridor by train. He came to Hindenburg's death bed (August 1). Hindenburg by this tome was no longer in control of his sences. Apparently he thought that Hitler was Kaiser Wilhelm II, and referred to him as "Your Majesty". President Hindenburg died still in office the next day at the age of 86 from lung cancer (August 2)
Hitler quickly 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 through 1932 had resisted appointing Hitler chancellor. Yet he dismissed Brüning, the only chancelloewilling to stand up to the NAZIs. Hindenburg choices were Papen and Schleicher, neither willing or capable of stanfing up to Hitler. Hindenburg in no uncertain terms told Hitler in 1932 that he did not appoint him chancelor because he did not think he would repect the democratic Weimar constitution. Yet after he appointed Hiller chancellor, he took no steps to protect democracy in Germany. Hitler could not take the steps he took to suspend freedom of the press and other civil liberties without Hindenbergs approval. To become law, these decrees and bills needed Hindenburg's signature as president. And the same was true of the Enabling Act which suspended the constitution. It is difficult to explains Hindenburg's concern in 1932 and inaction in 1933. Historians generally explain it as old age an senility. Yet the President had advisers around him and was capable of action such as over the Röhm SA crisis. Hindenburg certainlu looked like a strong leader. One og his most noted biographers, however, suggest that the apparent strength was a fa�ade and that he was not only weak-willed, but a man of limited intelligence. He apparently relied heavily on his advisers. [Wheeler-Bennett] The only challenge to the NAZIs on Hindenburg's part was when Ernst Röhm 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. So why did Hindenburg not interfere as Hitler step by step established the NAZI dictatorship. Perhaps the supression of the Communists appealed to him as well as the return of order in the streets. Perhaps he was just not committed to the Republic and democracy. These questions have never been fully answered by historians. Unchallenged by Hindenburg, 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 Führer.
Clifford, Alexander. Hindenburg, Ludendorff and Hitler: Germany's Generals and the Rise of the Nazis
Wheeler-Bennett, John. Hindenburg: The Wooden Titan (1936 and reprinted in 1967).
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