Paul von Hindenburg

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Paul von Hindenburg

Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg, known universally as Paul von Hindenburg (b. 2 October 1847 in Posen; d. 2 August 1934 on Estate Neudeck, West Prussia), was a German officer of the Prussian Army and the Imperial German Army, at last Generalfeldmarschall and from 12 May 1925 until his death Reichspräsident of Germany.


Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg, 1917
Reichspräsident Paul von Hindenburg

Hindenburg enjoyed a long if undistinguished career in the Prussian army, eventually retiring in 1911. He was recalled at the outbreak of the First World War, and first came to national attention, at the age of sixty-six, as the victor at Tannenberg in 1914. As Germany's supreme commander from 1916, he and his chief of staff, Erich Ludendorff, rose in the German publics 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 obliged to run for re-election in 1932 as the only candidate who could defeat Adolf Hitler, which he did in a runoff. In his second term as President, he did what he could to oppose the NSDAP rise to power, but was eventually obliged to appoint Hitler as Chancellor in January 1933. In March he signed the Enabling Act of 1933 which gave special powers to Hitler's government. Hindenburg died the next year, after which Hitler declared the office of President vacant and made himself Head of State.

The famed zeppelin Hindenburg that was destroyed by fire in 1937 had been named in his honour, as is the causeway joining the island of Sylt to mainland Schleswig-Holstein, the Hindenburgdamm, built during his time in office.


Early Years and WWI

Awards, decorations and honors (in German); among them the Iron Cross (1870), 2nd Class, the Jubilee Oak Leaves 1895, the Black Eagle Order in March 1911, Iron Cross, 1st Class 1914, Pour le Mérite (military) on 2 September 1914, the Oak Leaves on 23 February 1915, the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross on 9 December 1916 and the Golden Star (Hindenburgstern) on 25 March 1918. He was honorary citizen of 3,824 German cities and municipalities. He also had honorary degrees from all German and most Austrian universities.

Hindenburg was born in Posen, Prussia (since 1919 Poznań, Poland) on Podgorna street, the son of Prussian aristocrat Robert von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg (1816 – 1902), and his wife, Luise Schwickart (1807 – 1893), the daughter of a medical doctor, Karl Ludwig Schwickart, and his wife Julie Moennich. His younger brothers and sister were Otto, born in 24 August 1849, Ida, born in Dec 19 1851, and Bernhard, born on 17 January 1859.

His paternal grandparents were Eleonore von Brederlow (d. 18 February 1863) and her husband Otto Ludwig von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg (1778 – 18 July 1855), by whom he was still a remote descendant from the illegitimate daughter of Heinrich VI, Count of Waldeck. He was also a descendant of Martin Luther.

After his education at the Kadettenkorps Wahlstatt and Berlin cadet schools, he entered the military as a Sekondeleutnant (3. Garde-Regiment zu Fuß in Berlin), fought in the Austro-Prussian War (1866) and the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871). Hindenburg remained in the army, eventually being promoted to general in 1903. Meanwhile, he married Gertrud von Sperling, also an aristocrat, by whom he two daughters, Irmengard Pauline (1880) and Annemaria (1891), and one son, Oskar (1883).

He retired from the army for the first time on 18 March 1911, although put at disposal of the Generalstab, but was recalled on the outbreak of World War I on 22 August 1914 by the Chief of the General Staff, Helmuth von Moltke. Hindenburg was given command of the Eighth Army (8. Armee), then locked in combat with two Russian armies in East Prussia on the Eastern Front.

Hindenburg 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 the then little-known staff officer Max Hoffmann, these successes made Hindenburg a national. On 18 September 1914 he took over the Ninth Army, on 1 November 1914 he was given the position of Supreme Commander East (Ober-Ost), on 27 November 1914 he was promoted to the rank of field marshal.

Hindenburg succeeded Erich von Falkenhayn on 29 August 1916 as Chief of the General Staff, although real power was exercised by his deputy, Erich Ludendorff. 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. On 30 June 1919 he was definitely retired.

Hindenburg, who was a firm monarchist throughout his life, always regarded this episode of his life 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 loyally went along with this in order to protect the reputation of his chief.

Promotions (day, month, year)

  • 7.4.1866 Sekonde-Lieutenant
  • 13.4.1872 Premier-Lieutenant
  • 18.4.1878 Hauptmann
  • 12.11.1885 Major
  • 14.2.1891 Oberst-Lieutenant
  • 17.3.1894 Oberst
  • 22.3.1897 Generalmajor
  • 9.7.1900 General-Lieutenant
  • 22.6.1905 General der Infanterie
  • 26.8.1914 Generaloberst
  • 27.11.1914 Generalfeldmarschall

See also

External links