Paul von Hindenburg | The Myth of Tannenberg (Biography)

Paul von Hindenburg | The Myth of Tannenberg (Biography)


During his youth, he fought in the Austro-German
and Franco-German wars. After a succesful, but not exceptional military
career, he returned from his retirement to lead the German army to victories at the Eastern
front when World War One broke out, only to install a quasi-military dictatorship with
Erich Ludendorff, as the war progressed. He died in harness, after serving as the president
of the Weimar Republic for nine years but not before appointing Adolf Hitler as German
Chancellor. This sure is going to be a complex story. Oh and an air-ship was named after him. That did not end well. -intro- On the 2nd of October 1847, Paul Ludwig Hans
Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg was born as the eldest son of the Prussian
officer and landowner Robert von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg and Luise Schickwart. He was born in Posen, a province in Eastern
Prussia.His parents, Robert and Luise married in eighteen-forty-five with Luise bearing
four children. Paul being the eldest, Otto, Ida and Bernhard. The family had to move often as Robert was
stationed throughout Germany. Three years after Paul’s birth, Robert was
promoted to captain and led a company of men for the next couple of years. As you can see, militarism was a part of Paul
von Hindenburg’s life from early on. From eighteen-fifty-nine, at the age of eleven,
he went to the Wahlstatt Cadet Corps School Hindenburg reminisces in his memoirs: “Being
a soldier was an inevitable for me (…). The service for the king and the land was tradition
in my family.” During his education at the military school,
the general way of life was a Spartan one. There was barely any free time, or time to
leave the school to return to family. Food was rationed and the physical exercise
drained Hindenburg, though it also began molding him into a real Prussian soldier, known for
their iron discipline. Two years after Paul arrived, his brother
Otto was sent to the Cadet School as well. When his father was stationed near Berlin
a few years later, Hindenburg was sixteen by now, he started attending the Military
School in Berlin. It proved to be a new world for him, he was
in awe of the military parades on the Opernplatz. At the age of eighteen, Hindenburg had the
privilege of being appointed as the page of Queen Elisabeth of Bavaria, the window of
King Frederick William the Fourth. A year later, Hindenburg graduated from the
Berlin Military School and became a second lieutenant in the Prussian army. As for his personal life, in eighteen-seventy-nine
he married Gertrud von Sperling. The couple had one son, Oskar, who would play
an important role later in Hindenburg’s life, furthermore, he had two daughters, Irmengard-Pauline
and Annemarie. Hindenburgs political views were that of someone
representative of the Prussian aristocracy. He was very conservative, a proponent of the
monarchy (his last words are rumoured to be about the German Kaiser), more focused on
Prussia than on Germany, and a strong nationalist conviction. Though, and this is interesting about Germany
before the unification in eighteen-seventy-one, a sense of nationalism within the German Länder,
provinces, tended to be stronger than an overarching German nationalism. At any rate, Hindenburg was a man of the army,
indifferent what art and literature are concerned and convinced that solely the aristocracy
could claim roles in the military and government. Military career Hindenburg had an honourable military career
in the Prussian, and later the German, army. In 1866, when due to Bismarck’s foreign
policy and attempt to unify Germany the German-Austrian war erupted, Hindenburg fought in the battle
of Königgrätz. Four years later, in 1870, again as a result
of Bismarck’s attempt to unify Germany, Hindenburg, under von Moltke, saw battle at
Sedan against the French army. After these wars and the unification, Germany
saw a period of relative peace. During this period, and this period was a
good while – we’re talking over fourty years here (from eighteen seventy one to nineteen-fourteen),
Hindenburg attempted to distinguish himself in the military. Eventually however, he went through the ranks
at a normal pace and in 1911, as general and military governor of Hannover, he decided
to retire. Decorated with the Order of the Black Eagle,
the highest order of chivalry in the Kingdom of Prussia and after over 45 years of service,
he left. Hindenburg reminisced: “War was not in flux,
and I recognized it as a duty to open the way for the younger generation, and in 1911
I begged for my absence.” An interesting detail is that Hindenburg was
mentored by Alfred Graf von Schlieffen whose name may sound familiar: he designed the Von-Schlieffenplan
that was supposed to, in case of war with France, defeat the latter in record tempo. And.. this Von Schlieffen taught Hindenburg
that “defending is feminine, attacking is manly”. Hindenburg would apply this strategy religiously
and actually defeat the Russian army at the Eastern Front during the first world war…
three years after his retirement. But we’ll get to that. On the 1st of January, eighteen-eighty-seven,
as required by the German military tradition, his immediate superior, the head of the department
of the General Staff, Colonel von Schlieffen wrote a report on Hindenburg: “The commander
von Hindenburg is a magnificent major that stands out due to a keen interest in servitude,
mobile activity and therefore he encourages young officers, who are serious and energetic
with an accurate perspective.” The German army had fond memories of Hindenburg
as a capable military commander that always kept his head cool. This would come in very handy when the biggest
war mankind had seen up to that date would break out. World War I (1914-1918) After the events in nineteen-fourteen resulted
in First World War, Germany attempted to instigate the aforementioned von Schlieffenplan. This failed miserably, and in november that
same year the war was reduced to stagnant trench warfare. On the eastern front, Maximilian von Prittwitz
commanded the German Eighth Army. and this Eighth Army was supposed to defend East Prussia
from Russian attacks, but abandoned said territory under Prittwitz’ command. Exactly the opposite of what they were supposed
to do. The German general staff strongly disapproved
and this led to Von Prittwitz being dismissed by von Moltke (the younger). Paul von Hindenburg was sixty-six years old,
and had been retired for 3 years – but he was asked, by the German high command, to
command the Eighth Army. On the twenty-third of August nineteen-fourteen,
von Hindenburg became the commander of the German Eight Army on the eastern front. Erich Ludendorff became von Hindenburg’s
chief of staff, the duo complimented each other very well and within a week they attained
their first major victory. Ludendorff was an excellent organizer and
planner, whereas Hindenburg was the almost… fatherly figure that kept his head cool in
the face of battle. The battle of Tannenberg, one of the most
famous battles of World War I on the Eastern front, waged from the twenty-sixth to the
thirty-first of August. The German Eight Army annihilated the larger
Russian army and pushed the Russians further back into Russia. Over seventy-five thousand Russians were killed
or wounded and over ninety-thousand were taken as Prisoner of War, whereas the Germans lost
under fifteen-thousand men. The Russian General, Alexander Samsonov, committed
suicide as a result of this defeat. These events have been colorfully captured
in the novel “august nineteen fourteen” by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Shortly after, from the 6th to the 15th of
September, the First battle of the Masurian Lakes saw another colossal victory for the
Germans and… these victories resulted in the myth of General Von Hindenburg being cemented
in German propaganda, and a cult of personality developed around him and would last until
the end of his life. Though Germany was in arms against foreign
powers, at the home front, especially within the military high command, there were conflicts
as well. From 1914 to 1916 there was an internal struggle
among the German military high command. Erich von Falkenhayn, the commander in chief
of the entire German army and commanding troops on the Western front, wanted to establish
peace with Russia in order to concentrate German troops on the Western front whereas
Hindenburg and Ludendorff were convinced they had to keep fighting against the Russians. They were convinced that the russians were
beaten, but they were not defeated. Several well known German offensives that
failed resulted in Falkenhayn losing prestige: he was responsible for the battle of Verdun
in February 1916, which was disastrous for the Germans. In June at the Battle of the Somme over one-hundred-sixty-thousand
Germans lost their lives. On August 27th 1916 Romania entered the war
on the allied side, whereas Falkenhayn predicted Romania would remain neutral – all in all,
the German front was in a dreadful state with over a million lives lost already. Von Falkenhayn was dismissed due to these
losses and his faulty prediction that Romania would remain neutral, and.. Von Hindenburg and Ludendorff took over the
German High Command, or Oberste Heeresleitung. The war, as a result, entered an even more
radical phase due to these two men. One of the first things Hindenburg did was
instigate the so-called Hindenburg-Programme. The entire German economy was to be mobilized
for the war effort, a so-called ‘war-economy’. The aim was to double the output of the German
industry in order to cover the lack of certain materials such as ammunition and guns. Germany became a quasi-military dictatorship
where Von Hindenburg and Ludendorff could not push their military-oriented laws through
parliament, but the opposition could not do anything without their consent either. Slowly Von Hindenburg and Ludendorff attained
more political power and eventually they managed to ensure that Germany mobilized its entire
economy for the war effort. In April nineteen-seventeen the United States
joined the war on the allied side and shortly after, the Russian Tsar was overthrown by
the Bolshevists. In nineteen-eighteen the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
was signed between Germany and the Soviet-Union, ending the war on the Eastern Front. Emperor Wilhelm the second granted von Hindenburg
the Hindenburg-star for his victory at Tannenberg, perhaps in an attempt to up the morale of
the battered German army. The Russian defeat and the impulsive new decoration
given by Wilhelm II did not force any miraculous breakthrough however. On the 29th of September nineteen-eighteen,
Hindenburg and Ludendorff informed the Kaiser that the war was lost and one month later
Ludendorff resigned, but von Hindenburg stayed on. Germany was defeated however, the losses had
been tremendous and on a scale never seen before in the history of mankind. Eventually, in nineteen-nineteen, he too resigned
as chief of staff of the army. Due to the domestic political opposition by
‘socialist’ politicians, Hindenburg, Ludendorff, and with them many military commanders, believed
that Germany had lost the first world war not due to the military defeats, but due to
internal opposition and sabotage. The so-called stab-in-the-back myth. Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic After World War I the Weimar Republic was
established. It was an extremely turbulent time for Germany
with the Spartakist Uprising, the Kapp Putsch and Hitler’s Bierkeller Putsch – the period
nineteen-eighteen to nineteen-twenty-three is covered in my videos about the Weimar Republic. We’ll skip ahead to nineteen-twenty-five. The president of the Weimar Republic, Friedrich
Ebert passed away. Elections were held, yet no potential successor
gained an absolute majority during the first round of elections. Hesitant, Von Hindenburg put himself forward during the second round. He was elected, receiving a large majority
of the votes. Wilhelm Marx, from the Zentrum party, received
forty-five-point-three percent of the votes whereas Hindenburg received forty-eight-point-three
percent. The Communists refused to vote on a candidate
other than a Communist, but if they hadn’t, who knows what would have happened in Germany’s
history. Hindenburg, as briefly mentioned earlier in
this video, was an anti-democratic conservative monarchist. Still, he swore an oath to respect the democratic
constitution of Weimar and, perhaps surprisingly, he adhered to this constitution. Biographies have described him as an excellent
constitutional head of state. From this point onward I have to give a disclaimer:
from here on out there is a lot of historiographic debate about Von Hindenburgs intentions, both
with the Weimar republic and appointing Hitler as chancellor, we will get to that in a minute. At the end of his seven-year term, in nineteen-thirty-two,
his physical and mental strengths rapidly diminished (he was eighty-five at this point)
But, he once again put himself forward as a candidate to oppose another candidate: Adolf
Hitler, who had risen in popularity in the years previously. He decided to stand candidate, but Hindenburg
was re-elected with nearly twenty percent more votes than Hitler. However, the domestic political situation
of the Weimar republic was torn between far-left and far-right, and Hindenburg had to re-appoint
multiple Chancellors of cabinets. There were internal conflicts and struggles,
with the communists and the Nazis not just fighting each other, but fighting the democratic
institutions as well. In 1933, after his son Oskar, Franz von Papen,
and his secretary Meisner, among others, insisted on appointing Hitler as chancellor, convinced
they would be able to keep him under control. Hindenburg gave in and appointed the “loathed
Bohemian corporal”, as he referred to Hitler. At another occasion, after a fight with Hitler,
he is documented as saying: “That man for a Chancellor? I’ll make him a postmaster, and he can lick
the stamps with my head on them”. Though, it is commonly acknowledged that Von
Papen and others thought they would be able to control Hitler once he was appointed chancellor. A.. misjudgment to put it mildly. At the end of his life, von Hindenburg probably
suffered from dementia, occasionally not being aware of what was happening around him, though
some sources, such as Von Papen, contradict this. Confused as he was, he could not exercise
real power and Hitler took this opportunity to consolidate his. On the 2nd of August nineteen-thirty-four,
at the age of eighty-six, Hindenburg passed away, not recognizing anyone, not even his
family. Historiographic debate after his death After Hindenburg passed away, Hitler appointed
himself President, next to his post as chancellor, and became the dictator of Nazi-Germany. Eventually, due to his aggressive foreign
policy, the Second World War would erupt. There is debate among historians whether Hindenburg
consciously appointed Hitler as Chancellor, giving him a stepping stone to becoming a
dictator. Some historians claim he wanted to reinstate
the German monarchy which fell after the first world war when Wilhelm the second fled to
the Netherlands. Hindenburg had a lot of contempt for Hitler,
a corporal from Austria. He referred to the NSDAP and the SA as thugs
that missed the discipline of the army. But: other renowned historians, among them
Wolfram Pyta, point out that von Hindenburg approved of Hitler’s ideas of the volksgemeinschaft. While Hitler was a lower class corporal, Hindenburg
was convinced of the superiority of the German nation and realized that Hitler could bring
cohesion among not just the German far-right, but perhaps the German nation as well. At any rate, his imposing figure, his broad
face and the recognizable mustache, his calmth in public, his reputation as an eager to learn
family man, his military past as a patriot and soldier made Hindenburg a symbol of power
and stability inviting Germans to trust him, despite the economic, social and political
crises that shook the country. This image has been used and maintained with
the aim of achieving political objectives, first by the Kaiser, then by Hitler and the
Nazis, but also by industrialists with financial motives, supported by the emerging activity
of advertising mass media (many trinkets and products carried the image, a drawing or the
name of Hindenburg). After his death, streets, buildings and public
places, boats, such as the SMS Hindenburg and a prestigious airship (the LZ 129 Hindenburg,
the largest ever built) were named after him. This has contributed to the shaping of a “myth
of Hindenburg” that seems to have permeated society in all its forms and in all its lessons
and remained after his death in a part of the German spirit. I mentioned this beforehand, but there is
a video available on my channel about the Weimar Republic from the weeks after the First
World War until nineteen-twenty three. It covers the Spartakist Uprising and Kapp
putsch, among other things. Thank you for watching this video! What is an event or a person with regard to
German history that you would like to know more about, and perhaps see a video of? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. If you enjoyed the video, consider subscribing
to this channel. See you next time!

14 thoughts on “Paul von Hindenburg | The Myth of Tannenberg (Biography)

  1. Isn’t it weird how Nazi Germany tried to imitate all the Prussian military style such as the goose step? It just seems that the Nazis were a sequel to the grand “Kaiserzeit” the failed in a storm of fire.

  2. Nah…the imperial german army was superior to hitlers wehrmacht. Their use of resource, movement, tactics and combat were second to none.

  3. Erich Ludendorff planner of the Hindenburg Line and Operation Michael part of Spring Offensive, or Kaiserschlacht ("Kaiser's Battle")

  4. History cannot be burned….
    One came from Corsica, the other came from Georgia, and the third came from Austria, and all three men did the same, they also did it for the same … and we serve the same …. and soon the whole world will be the same, A Hell Hole …..

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