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Paul von Hindenburg

Hindenburg, Paul von (hĭnˈdənbûrg, Ger. poul fən hĭnˈdənbŏrk) [key], 1847–1934, German field marshal and president (1925–34), b. Poznan (then in Prussia). His full name was Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Hindenburg und Beneckendorff. He fought in the Austro-Prussian War (1866) and in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) and was appointed (1878) to the general staff. Though retired after 1911, he was made commander in East Prussia early in World War I. General Ludendorff, who was his chief of staff throughout the war, was the real author of Hindenburg's victories. Victory in the battle of Tannenberg (Aug., 1914) over a much larger Russian force was followed (1914–15) by German occupation of Poland and part of the Baltic provinces. As commander in chief of the German armies in the East from Sept., 1914, Hindenburg's prestige was greatly enhanced by these victories. In 1916, Hindenburg, by then a field marshal, succeeded General Falkenhayn as commander of all German armies; Ludendorff was made quartermaster general. Subsequently, the two men became virtual dictators of Germany, intervening in civilian affairs, regulating labor, and mobilizing the rest of the economy for total warfare. In the military sphere they stemmed the Allied advance in the West and consolidated the Hindenburg Line, running roughly from Lens through Saint-Quentin to Reims. Romania was crushed, and Russia withdrew from the war (1917). From March to July, 1918, Hindenburg launched a costly offensive into France, but the Allied counteroffensive, spearheaded by fresh American troops, led to the German defeat and surrender. Although Ludendorff was forced to resign in Oct., 1918, Hindenburg remained in office. After the overthrow of the emperor (November), Hindenburg and the army swore an oath of allegiance to the republican government. Although Hindenburg was to be tried as a war criminal under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the special German court at Leipzig never even indicted him. After the death of the German president Freidrich Ebert in 1925, Hindenburg was persuaded to run for the office by a coalition of nationalists, Prussian Junkers, and other conservative groups. As president, his powers were very limited. In 1932 he was reelected with the help of his chancellor, Heinrich Brüning. Shortly after the election, at the instigation of his advisers, Hindenburg dismissed Brüning. Finally, in Jan., 1933, the nearly senile president, fearing civil war, gave in to his advisers and appointed Adolf Hitler chancellor. Hindenburg continued as a figurehead until his death.

See J. W. Wheeler-Bennett, The Wooden Titan (1936, repr. 1967), A. Dorpalen, Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic (1964).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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