Paul von Hindenburg was born in Posen in Prussia in 1847 and joined the Prussian Cadet Corps in 1858. In just eight years he was commissioned into a guards regiment and saw action fighting in both the Seven Weeks War against Austria and the Franco-Prussion War.
He was decorated for his bravery as a result of his actions, and his service and bravery were further recognised by the more senior officers in 1871 when he was asked to represent his regiment at the declaration of the German Empire.
Hindenburg retired from active military service as head of the Fourth Army Corps in 1911, but this was by no means the end to his military career. In fact, he was re-called just three years later and was asked to lead the Eight Army in Prussia. By September 1914, just one month into his new role, Hindenburg had already achieved national fame by successfully decimating the Russian Army at both Tannenburg and the Masurian Lakes - Hindenburg was now considered by many to be a national hero.
Hindenburg was promoted to Field Marshall and in November 1914 he was given command of the Eastern Front, where he achieved a number of victories over the following two years.
In August 1916, Hindenburg’s successes were celebrated once more by his appointment as Chief of the Greater German General Staff, which was a position that allowed him a significant amount of power over both military and civilian spheres.
Hindenburg soon began to exercise this power, playing a significant role in the drafting of the harsh Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Russia. However, Hindenburg also saw the weaknesses in the German Army and in 1918 he advise the government to seek an armistice, fully aware that they could not win a fight against the ever-stronger Allies and their American support.
Furthermore, Hindenburg used his influence to persuade Kaiser Wilhelm II to abdicate and move to Holland, which left him in control of the German Army until his second retirement in July 1919.
Despite resigning from his military post, Hindenburg was persuaded to return to the spotlight in 1925 when he stood in the presidential elections following the death of Friedrich Ebert. Although not an obvious choice for the role - Hindenburg was nota fan of republics as he was a monarchist at heart - he was encouraged to sell his authoritarian approach as the perfect method of building on the growth of Weimar Germany. Hindenburg went on to win the election and was also re-elected in 1931.
While still in his role as president, Hindenburg made the decision to dismiss Heinrich Brüning, who was arguably the only capable politician Weimar Germany had. However, Hindenburg was increasingly concerned that Brüning was planning economic reforms that were far too similar to communism - a concept that Hindenburg feared.
This move marked his downward spiral, and in the later years of his presidency he started to show signs of senility and was influenced by those around him, including his son. In fact, he was even persuaded to appoint Adolf Hitler as chancellor in 1933, despite disliking him due to his background and low military rank. Franz von Papen, Hindenburg’s son, had persuaded his father than Hitler could be controlled, and that he and the Nazi Party could simply be blamed for anything that went wrong under Hindenburg’s reign. Von Papen also believed Hitler would simply agree to the political agenda set by himself and his father.
However, in February 1933, the Reichstag building was burned down. Hitler informed the president that it was the work of communists and, as such, it was important that they introduce emergency powers that Hitler could carry out on Hindenburg’s behalf. Hindenburg agreed, and so marked the start of Hitler’s move into power and dictatorship.
Despite having a huge role to play in Hitler’s rise to power, Hindenburg did not live to see the start of World War Two. Instead, he did at his Prussian estate in August 1934 and was buried in Tannenburg. Hitler used the opportunity to hold a state funeral, after which he dropped the title of president and adopted the title by which he would come to be most associated - Fuhrer.
"Field Marshall von Hindenburg". HistoryLearning.com. 2023. Web.