History meme [4/10]: four presidents

President I: Paul von Hindenburg

Hindenburg enjoyed a long career in the Prussian Army, retiring in 1911. He was recalled at the outbreak of World War I, and first came to national attention, at the age of 66, as the victor at Tannenberg in 1914. As Germany’s Chief of the General Staff from 1916, he and his deputy, Erich Ludendorff, rose in the German public’s esteem until Hindenburg gradually gained more influence in Germany than the Kaiser himself. Hindenburg retired again in 1919, but returned to public life in 1925 to be elected as the second President of Germany.

Hindenburg, as German President, appointed Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany. Hindenburg personally despised Hitler, condescendingly referring to Hitler as that “Bohemian corporal” mistaking (deliberately or not) Hitler’s birth town of Braunau (Austria) with that of Braunau in Bohemia. Hitler repeatedly and forcefully pressured Hindenburg to appoint him as Chancellor, Hindenburg repeatedly refused Hitler’s demand. Though 84 years old and in poor health, Hindenburg was persuaded to run for re-election in 1932, as he was considered the only candidate who could defeat Adolf Hitler. Hindenburg was re-elected in a runoff. Although he was opposing Hitler, the deteriorating political stability of the Weimar Republic let him play an important role in the Nazi Party’s rise to power. He dissolved the parliament twice in 1932 and eventually appointed Hitler as Chancellor in January 1933. In February, he issued the Reichstag Fire Decree which suspended various civil liberties, and in March he signed the Enabling Act, in which the parliament gave Hitler’s administration legislative powers. Hindenburg died the following year, after which Hitler declared the office of President vacant and, as “F├╝hrer und Reichskanzler”, made himself head of state.

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