Paul von Hindenburg
Born in Posen, Prussia (present-day Poznan, Poland), Paul von Hindenburg’s family traced its German roots to the era of the Teutonic Knights. Von Hindenburg entered the Prussian cadet corps in 1858 and fought as a lieutenant at the important Battle of Sadowa against Austria in 1866.
He won the Iron Cross for bravery in the Franco- Prussian War and represented his regiment at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles (1871).Elevated to the Prussian general staff in 1878, von Hindenburg served with merit. In 1903 he was promoted to lieutenant general. Von Hindenburg retired from the army in 1911 and went to Hanover.
When World War I began in 1914, Von Hindenburg asked for and received an impor¬ tant field command, defending East Prussia against the invasion of two Russian armies. Von Hindenburg teamed up with Erich von Ludendorff, his chief of staff.
The two were a remarkable military duo. Von Hindenburg was cautious and methodical; Ludendorff was lightning-quick and sometimes rash. The two men masterminded brilliant victories over the Russians at her and the Masurian Lakes.
By 1915, von Hindenburg was a field mar¬ shal and commander-in-chief on the German eastern front. He won another impressive vic¬ tory at Lodz, and in August 1916, he replaced Erich von Falkenhayn as chief of the Prussian General Staff.
Von Hindenburg and Ludendorff joined forces again and took over the war effort. Kaiser Wilhelm II became something of a figurehead as the two military men masterminded Germany’s moves from 1916 to 1918.
The two soldiers made at least one clear blunder, their decision to use unrestricted submarine warfare caused the United States to join the Allies against Germany.
When the tide went against Germany in 1918, Ludendorff resigned, leaving von Hindenburg in authority. The field marshal presided quiet¬ ly over the end of the war in 1919 and retired to his estate, still highly regarded by the German people.
In 1925, he accepted an effort to draft his services and ran for president of the Weimar Republic. He was elected and served as a moderate and judicious head of state from 1926 to 1934.
Von Hindenburg met the final challenge of his life —Adolf Hitler — when he was too old to shape events. The Nazi leader ran against von Hindenburg in the 1932 presi¬ dential elections. Even though von Hindenburg won, he had to accept Hitler as chancellor of the Reich in January 1933.
Hitler ran the nation during the last year of von Hindenburg’s life. He used von Hindenburg’s name and reputation to lend credence to the Nazi movement, acting as if the old Prussian values espoused by men such as von Hindenburg stood behind the Nazi regime. In fact they did not, but von Hindenburg was unable to demonstrate this prior to his death in 1934.