Hindenburg: Power, Myth, and the Rise of the Nazis (Oxford Historical Monographs)
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Hindenburg reveals how a previously little-known general, whose career to normal retirement age had provided no real foretaste of his heroic status, became a national icon and living myth in Germany after the First World War, capturing the imagination of millions. In a period characterized by rupture and fragmentation, the legend surrounding Paul von Hindenburg brought together a broad coalition of Germans and became one of the most potent forces in Weimar politics.
Charting the origins of the myth, from Hindenburg's decisive victory at the Battle of Tannenberg in 1914 to his death in Nazi Germany and beyond, Anna von der Goltz explains why the presence of Hindenburg's name on the ballot mesmerized an overwhelming number of voters in the presidential elections of 1925. His myth, an ever-evolving phenomenon, increasingly transcended the dividing lines of interwar politics, which helped him secure re-election by left-wing and moderate voters. Indeed, the only two times in German history that the people could elect their head of state directly and secretly, they chose this national icon. Hindenburg even managed to defeat Adolf Hitler in 1932, making him the Nazi leader's final arbiter; it was he who made the final and fateful decision to appoint Hitler as Chancellor in January 1933.
before a large shop window in Hamburg, which contained ﬁgures of the most prominent contemporary Germans in various sizes, which were graduated so as to indicate their relative positions in popular esteem. 34 the ‘victor of tannenberg’ In the centre stood Hindenburg alone, commanding, dominating, wrapped in his military cloak. In front of him stood the Kaiser, about a quarter of the size of the popular general . . . In ordinary times the shopkeeper would probably have incurred prosecution for
46. electing ‘the saviour’ 97 Hindenburg on the second ballot.⁷⁰ But Catholic support for Hindenburg did not come solely from Bavaria. Analyses of the presidential election results in some Catholic districts of the Rhineland compared to the results of the 1924 Reichstag elections suggest that a considerable number of Centre voters also opted for Hindenburg in 1925. As many as 400,000 Centre voters defected on the second ballot—a relatively large number bearing in mind that Marx was the
been in 1925. 5 Buying the icon∗ n 1929, four years after Hindenburg’s election, Der Eiserne Hindenburg in Krieg und Frieden (The Iron Hindenburg in War and Peace), a silent non-ﬁctional ﬁlm, opened in German cinemas. Its title was reminiscent of the ‘Iron Chancellor’, Bismarck, who served as a mythical role model for Hindenburg, and of the ‘Iron Hindenburg’ nailing statue erected in central Berlin in 1915. The producers wanted to educate their audience about how ‘deeply intertwined the German
‘decency clause’ according to which advertising should not breach moral standards.⁷⁷ Hence, if sparkling wine producer Linstow gave the impression that his brand had Hindenburg’s exclusive endorsement and no such speciﬁc backing had been given, his adverts buying the icon 119 could be legally pursued on the basis of breaching proper manners (‘die guten Sitten’).⁷⁸ German companies were surprisingly creative when it came to securing Hindenburg’s endorsement for their products. The particular
idea—probably with the ‘Bismarck Donation’ of 1885 in mind as a role model—but Meissner quickly made the plan his own and used it to reject other offers of ‘expensive and raucous celebrations, which can easily take on a political character’.⁵⁸ The funding drive was a perfect opportunity to portray the President as a charitable and modest head of state, who was not keen on standing in the limelight. Oskar Karstedt, in charge of the donation, ensured that different political parties issued their