Paul von Hindenburg

Prussian-German field marshal of the German Empire, statesman and president of Weimar Germany and Nazi Germany (1847–1934)

Paul von Hindenburg (2 October 1847 - 2 August 1934) was a Prussian-German field marshal, statesman, and politician. He was the second and final president of the Weimar Republic.

A man who has seen three wars never will wish another war. He must be a friend of peace.



Supreme Commander of All German Forces in the East

I am not a pacifist. That is not my attitude. But all my impressions of war are so bad that I could be for it only under the sternest necessity
  • You cannot wage war with sentimentality. The more ruthlessly war is conducted, the more merciful is it in fact, for it finishes the war the sooner.
    • Remark (November 1914), Paul Dehn, Hindenburg, als Erzieher (1918), p. 12, quoted in W. W. Coole (ed.), Thus Spake Germany (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1941), p. 74
  • Fundamentally, Britain is responsible for the war. She was jealous. British business men wanted this war. It is a British business war. ... We have no dislike for France, nor Russia. We think highly of the French. But Britain! We hate Britain!
    • Interview with Senator Beveridge (March 1915), Paul Dehn, Hindenburg, als Erzieher (1918), p. 43, quoted in W. W. Coole (ed.), Thus Spake Germany (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1941), p. 174

Chief of the German General Staff

  • I need them for the manoeuvring of my left wing in the next war.
    • Recommending the annexation of the Baltic Provinces at the Crown Council at Kreuznach (18 December 1917), quoted in John W. Wheeler-Bennett, The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945 (London: Macmillan, 1964), p. 511, n. 2
  • 1866 was a duel between two gentlemen; in 1870-71 we were obliged to chastise an impudent street arab; but to-day we must knock down a scoundrel.
    • Paul Dehn, Hindenburg, als Erzieher (1918), p. 42, quoted in W. W. Coole (ed.), Thus Spake Germany (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1941), p. 217
  • In consequence of the disaster on the Macedonian front, with its attendant weakening of the reserves of the West front, and in consequence of the impossibility of replacing the great losses sustained in the recent encounters, there is now, humanly speaking, no longer any possibility of our being able to impose peace on the enemy. Our opponents are constantly receiving reinforcements; the old elements of our Army still hold together, and may still offer some resistance to renewed attacks of the enemy, but our situation is becoming very precarious, and may at any moment place the Army Command under the necessity of taking a comprehensive decision. In these circumstances, it is imperative to cease the struggle in order to save the German people and our allies from unnecessary sacrifices. Every day's loss in this respect costs the lives of thousands of German soldiers.
    • Letter (30 October 1918), quoted in The Times (31 March 1919), p. 12
  • If I address the following lines to you, I do so because I am credibly informed that you, like myself, as a true German, love your fatherland before everything, putting aside personal opinions and wishes, as I have had to do in order to help my country in its hour of need. In this spirit I have joined forces with you to rescue our people from a threatening collapse. ... The fate of the German people has been laid in your hands. Upon your determination it will depend whether the German Reich acquires a new impetus. I am ready, and behind me stand the whole Army, to support you unreservedly. We all know that after this lamentable upshot of the war, the reconstruction of the realm can only be effected upon new foundations and in new forms.
    • Letter to Friedrich Ebert (8 December 1918), quoted in John W. Wheeler-Bennett, The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945 (London: Macmillan, 1964), p. 29
  • In case of a resumption of hostilities we are militarily in a position to reconquer, in the east, the province of Posen and to defend our frontier. In the west, we cannot, in view of the numerical superiority of the Entente and its ability to surround us on both flanks, count on repelling successfully a determined attack of our enemies. A favorable outcome of our operations is therefore very doubtful, but as a soldier I would rather perish in honor than sign a humiliating peace.
    • Letter to Friedrich Ebert after the Treaty of Versailles was presented to Germany (17 June 1919), quoted in Andreas Dorpalen, Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic (Princeton University Press, 1964), p. 39 and John W. Wheeler-Bennett, The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945 (London: Macmillan, 1964), p. 52


  • An English general has said, with justice: ‘The German Army was stabbed in the back.’ No blame is to be attached to the sound core of the Army. Its performances call, like that of the officer corps, for our equal admiration. It is perfectly plain on whom the blame rests. If any further proof were necessary to show it, it is to be found in the statement made by the British general and in the utter amazement of our enemies at their victory.
    • Remarks to the National Assembly's committee of inquiry into the responsibility for the First World War (18 November 1919), quoted in Andreas Dorpalen, Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic (Princeton University Press, 1964), p. 51
  • I was never able to understand how it was that here and there the welfare of the Fatherland had to be sacrificed to mere petty party interests, and from the point of view of political conviction felt myself most at home in the shade of that tree which was firmly rooted in the ethico-political soil of the epoch of our great and venerable Emperor. That epoch, with what I regarded as its wonderful glories, seemed to have become part of me, and I adhered firmly to its ideals and principles. The course of events in the present war have hardly been of a kind to make me particularly enthusiastic about the developments of later times. A powerful, self-contained State in Bismarck's sense was the world in which I preferred my thoughts to move. Discipline and hard work within the Fatherland seemed to me better than cosmopolitan imaginings. Moreover, I fail to see that any citizen has rights on whom equal duties are not imposed.
    • Out of My Life (London: Cassell, 1920), pp. 236-237


  • You are all young men and you have played to me the “March of Entry into Paris” well. But I hope that one day you will be playing this military march where you should, at the same spot where I was in 1870.
    • Address to the Stahlhelm of Gross-Schwülper, Correspondance de Genève (19 September 1927), quoted in W. W. Coole (ed.), Thus Spake Germany (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1941), p. 332
  • Prosperity can come through peace alone. The German people are in favor of all possible means to make war impossible. I have seen three wars. A man who has seen three wars never will wish another war. He must be a friend of peace.
    But I am not a pacifist. All my impressions of war are so bad that I could be for it only under the sternest necessity — the necessity of fighting Bolshevism or of defending one's country.
  • Interview of 1929, as quoted in "Nations are greatly concerned over death of German President" in Berkeley Daily Gazette (1 August 1934)
    • Variant translation:
    • I am not a pacifist. That is not my attitude. But all my impressions of war are so bad that I could be for it only under the sternest necessity — the necessity of fighting Bolshevism or of defending one's country.
  • I have always been a Monarchist. In sentiment I still am. Now it is too late for me to change. But it is not for me to say that the new way is not the better way, the right way. So it may prove to be.
    • As quoted in TIME magazine (13 January 1930)
  • Recently, a whole series of cases has been reported to me in which judges, lawyers, and officials of the Judiciary who are disabled war veterans and whose record in office is flawless, have been forcibly sent on leave, and are later to be dismissed for the sole reason that they are of Jewish descent.
    It is quite intolerable for me personally…that Jewish officials who were disabled in the war should suffer such treatment, [especially] as, with the express approval of the government, I addressed a Proclamation to the German people on the day of the national uprising, March 21st, in which I bowed in reverence before the dead of the war and remembered in gratitude the bereaved families of the war dead, the disabled, and my old comrades at the front.
    I am certain, Mr. Chancellor, that you share this human feeling, and request you, most cordially and urgently, to look into this matter yourself, and to see to it that there is some uniform arrangement for all branches of the public service in Germany.
    As far as my own feelings are concerned, officials, judges, teachers and lawyers who are war invalids, fought at the front, are sons of war dead, or themselves lost sons in the war should remain in their positions unless an individual case gives reason for different treatment. If they were worthy of fighting for Germany and bleeding for Germany, then they must also be considered worthy of continuing to serve the Fatherland in their professions.
  • I thank Providence for allowing me, in the evening of my life, to see the hour of recuperation. I thank all those who, with selfless patriotism, have collaborated in Germany’s resurgence. My Chancellor Adolf Hitler and his movement have made a decisive step towards the great goal of bringing the German people together to an inner unity above all differences of rank and class. I know that much remains to be done and I wish with all my heart that, behind the act of national resurgence and national coalescence, there should be an act of conciliation comprising the entire German Fatherland. ... I say farewell to my German people in the firm hope that that for which I longed in the year 1919 and which by a slow maturing process led to 30 January 1933, will mature to the complete fulfilment and consummation of the historic mission of our people. In this firm faith in the future of the Fatherland I am content to close my eyes!
    • Testament (11 May 1934), quoted in W. W. Coole (ed.), Thus Spake Germany (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1941), p. 116


  • In the middle of August I did not consider that the time had come for us to despair of a successful conclusion of the war. In spite of certain distressing but isolated occurrences in the last battle, I certainly hoped that the Army would be in a position to continue to hold out. I fully realised what the homeland had already borne in the way of sacrifices and privations and what they would possibly still have to bear.
    • As quoted in The Great War: Sources and Evidence (1995) by David Stewart, James Fitzgerald and Alf Pickard, p. 269
  • In the Great War ledger, the page on which the Russian losses were written has been torn out. No one knows the figure. Five or eight Million?
    • As quoted in With Snow on Their Boots : The Tragic Odyssey of the Russian Expeditionary Force in France During World War I (1999) by Jamie H. Cockfield, p. 28
  • All we know is that, sometimes, in our battles with the Russians, we had to remove the mounds of enemy corpses from before our trenches, in order to get a clear field of fire against fresh assaulting waves.
    • The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War (2013) by Peter Hart, p. 242

Quotes about Hindenburg

  • The name Hindenburg is the terror of our enemies and electrifies our army and our people, who have boundless faith in him.
    • Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg to Baron Grünau (23 June 1916), quoted in Gerhard Ritter, The Sword and the Sceptre: The Problem of Militarism in Germany, Volume III: The Tragedy of Statesmanship—Bethman Hollweg as War Chancellor (1914–1917) (1972), p. 188
  • Criticism of Hindenburg, Papen, and Schleicher cannot, therefore, be justly based on the accusation that they intentionally brought Hitler to total power, but it must be limited to the charge that their dilettante methods resulted in bringing about precisely what they had wanted to avoid. It is not evil intent but political folly that they may be reproached for—the imprudence of political dilettantes let loose on Germany at Germany’s expense, combined with breach of the Constitution, with weakness of character in critical situations, and with a more than average self-confidence, in Papen’s case based on a strange mixture of piety and personal vanity.
  • The real surprise was not Hindenburg’s victory, which in view of the lack of pro-democratic majorities was quite logical, in case the Communists abstained. The real surprise came later. It was the unexpected fact that Hindenburg subjected himself quite loyally to the Weimar Constitution and maintained this attitude unhesitantly during his first term in office. Both sides had expected his support for right-wing attempts to restore the monarchy, to abolish the colors of the democratic republic in favor of the former black-white-red, to reduce the rights of the working classes, to reintroduce more patriarchal conditions. The great surprise—disappointment on the one side, relief on the other—was that he did not do any of this. During the election campaign he said that now he had read the Constitution for the first time and had found it quite good. “If duty requires that I act as President on the basis of the Constitution, without regard to party, person, or origin, I shall not fail.” Campaign promises are often mere sedatives; no one trusts them. But the Field Marshall kept his for seven years. He swore an oath to the Constitution before the Reichstag. He had the black-red-gold standard fly above his palace and on his car and made no attempt to show the black-white-red colors instead. He made no step toward a monarchistic restoration. He performed his presidential functions conscientiously in the manner prescribed by the Constitution. During the first five years, he did not even once make use of the President’s emergency power under article 48, as Ebert, much to Hindenburg’s annoyance, had done repeatedly, and then did so only at Chancellor Brüning’s request. For seven years he dismissed and appointed chancellors in strict accordance with the Constitution without regard to his personal preferences; the Social Democrat Hermann Müller was chancellor under him for two years (1928–1930). He signed all acts passed by the Reichstag, whether or not he liked them, even the first extension of the Act for the Protection of the Republic in 1927, though with a little grumble about the paragraph on the further exile of former royal families, the “Kaiser-Paragraph.”
  • Four points about the election of Hindenburg are worth stressing. First, there was a close correlation between the electorate which voted for Hindenburg in 1925 and those who supported the National Socialists in September 1930 and July 1932. Second, both the election and Hindenburg Day took on counter-symbolic importance, underlining the fact that the ‘Reds’ were no longer masters of the streets, but could be challenged and defeated, not least by the Stahlhelm, with its sizable following of workers. Third, rightist activism had no consolidated political home, since the conservative nationalists and right liberals could not co-operate with each other, their leaders – Stresemann and Hindenburg – being personally antagonistic. And finally, although Hindenburg promised to uphold the constitution, his election meant a return to influence, often exercised through backstairs channels, of the armed forces and major landowners, for the new President was very much one of their own. Germany’s anti-democratic elites were back in business.
  • The victors imposed upon the Germans all the long-sought ideals of the liberal nations of the West. They were relieved from the burden of compulsory military service and from the need of keeping up heavy armaments. The enormous American loans were presently pressed upon them, though they had no credit. A democratic constitution, in accordance with all the latest improvements, was established at Weimar. Emperors having been driven out, nonentities were elected. Beneath this flimsy fabric raged the passions of the mighty, defeated, but substantially uninjured German nation. The prejudice of the Americans against monarchy, which Mr. Lloyd George made no attempt to counteract, had made it clear to the beaten Empire that it would have better treatment from the Allies as a republic than as a monarchy. Wise policy would have crowned and fortified the Weimar Republic with a constitutional sovereign in the person of an infant grandson of the Kaiser, under a council of regency. Instead, a gaping void was opened in the national life of the German people. All the strong elements, military and feudal, which might have rallied to a constitutional monarchy and for its sake respected and sustained the new democratic and parliamentary processes, were for the time being unhinged. The Weimar Republic, with all its liberal trappings and blessings, was regarded as an imposition of the enemy. It could not hold the loyalties or the imagination of the German people. For a spell they sought to cling as in desperation to the aged Marshal Hindenburg. Thereafter mighty forces were adrift; the void was open, and into that void after a pause there strode a maniac of ferocious genius, the repository and expression of the most virulent hatreds that have ever corroded the human breast – Corporal Hitler.
  • These achievements made the reputation of Hindenburg as a virtually invincible general. A cult of the hero quickly developed around him, and his massive, stolid presence seemed to provide an element of stability amid the changing fortunes of the war. But he was in fact a man of limited political vision and ability. He acted in many ways as a front for his energetic subordinate Ludendorff, whose ideas about the conduct of the war were far more radical and ruthless than his own. The pair's triumphs in the East contrasted sharply with the stalemate in the West, where within a few months of the outbreak of war, some eight million troops were facing each other along 450 miles of trenches from the North Sea to the Swiss border, unable to penetrate to a meaningful degree into the enemy lines.
  • Once in office, and influenced by his strong sense of duty, Hindenburg, to the surprise of many, stuck to the letter of the constitution; but, as his seven-year term of office wore on, and he moved into his eighties, he became ever more impatient with the complexities of political events and ever more susceptible to the influence of his inner circle of advisers, all of whom shared his instinctive belief that the monarchy was the only legitimate sovereign power in the German Reich. Persuaded by the correctness of the use of Presidential emergency powers by the example of his predecessor, Hindenburg began to feel that a conservative dictatorship exercised in his name was the only way out of the crisis into which the Republic fell at the beginning of the 1930s. Whatever influence Hindenburg's election might therefore have had in reconciling opponents of the Republic to its existence in the short run, in the long run it was an unmitigated disaster for Weimar democracy. By 1930 at the latest, it had become clear that the Presidential power was in the hands of a man who had no faith in democratic institutions and no intention of defending them from its enemies.
  • Elections in July 1932 saw the Nazi vote soar above 37 per cent. True, it fell back to 33 per cent when new elections were held in November, not least because signs of economic recovery were at last manifesting themselves, but the party's entitlement to form a government was by now hard to dispute since it was still easily the biggest grouping in the Reichstag. Ever the schemer, Papen now persuaded Hindenburg to dump Schleicher and, against the President's better judgement, to appoint Hitler to lead a coalition with the conservative German Nationalist Party - the only party except for the Communists to gain significant numbers of new votes in the November election. Hitler duly became Chancellor on January 30, 1933. Thus did German democracy wreak its own destruction. Given the paralysing enmity between the Social Democrats and the Communists, the only way to avoid the Third Reich would have been if Hindenburg himself had shut down the Reichstag and banned the Nazis, an option he does not seem to have contemplated.
    • Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (2006), p. 237-238
  • In the year 1925, General Field Marshall von Hindenburg became president of the republic. With this imperial soldier, who personified for the great masses of Volk the experience of the Great War, the democracy of Weimar garnered its first pillar of moral authority. With it also disappeared, however, the last possibility for toppling the state of Weimar illegally and by force. The only possibility left was to overpower it by legal means.
    • Walter Frank, First published in Zur Geschichte des Nationalsozialismus (Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt, 1939), 20–22.
  • He is not only a monarchist, but in the true sense of honorable old Prussianism a Royalist. The splendor of the Borusso-militaristic Hohenzollern Reich is to him the highest reason of the world's creation. Arts, sciences and politics are as far removed from him as Mount Athos from Hanover.
    • Maximilian Harden, Die Zukunft (1920), quoted in Walter H. Kaufmann, Monarchism in the Weimar Republic (1953), p. 144
  • In these hours of overwhelming concern for the existence and the future of the German nation, the venerable World War leader appealed to us men of the nationalist parties and associations to fight under him again as once we did at the front, but now loyally united for the salvation of the Reich at home. The revered President of the Reich having with such generosity joined hands with us in a common pledge, we nationalist leaders would vow before God, our conscience and our people that we shall doggedly and with determination fulfill the mission entrusted to us as the National Government. It is an appalling inheritance which we are taking over.
  • And why had the German people failed to see through Hitler before 1933? Oughtn’t so early an event as the Munich Putsch have shown them what he was? Why, instead of upholding and nurturing the German Republic, the one gratifying consequence of the First World War, had they been almost unanimous in sabotaging it, voting for Hindenburg and later for Hitler, under whom, to be sure, it became very dangerous to behave like a decent human being?
  • The mass of the [German] nation...swung round to the deepest distrust of those who had hitherto been their idols—especially of Ludendorff, whom they dissociated from Hindenburg and recognised as the man who had dominated German policy during the latter part of the War, whereas Hindenburg rather embodied the nation's patriotic spirit. In this connection it is interesting to recall a comment made by Marshal Foch, when I asked him his opinion in June 1918 about the two outstanding German military leaders. What, I said, did he think of Ludendorff? His reply was: “Un bon soldat!” And how, I continued, would he describe Hindenburg? He answered: “Un grand patriote!
  • Field Marshal von Hindenburg has forfeited the right to wear the field grey uniform of the army and to be buried in it. Herr Paul von Hindenburg has destroyed the very thing he fought for as Field Marshal.
    • Erich Ludendorff's remarks after Hindenburg signed the bills that ratified the Young Plan (c. 13 March 1930), quoted in W. M. Knight-Patterson, Germany from Defeat to Conquest, 1913–1933 (1945), p. 460
  • Thus was the German Republic born, as if by a fluke. If the Socialists themselves were not staunch republicans it could hardly be expected that the conservatives would be. But the latter had abdicated their responsibility. They and the Army leaders, Ludendorff and Hindenburg, had pushed political power into the hands of the reluctant Social Democrats. In doing so they managed also to place on the shoulders of these democratic working-class leaders apparent responsibility for signing the surrender and ultimately the peace treaty, thus laying on them the blame for Germany’s defeat and for whatever suffering a lost war and a dictated peace might bring upon the German people. This was a shabby trick, one which the merest child would be expected to see through, but in Germany it worked. It doomed the Republic from the start.
    • William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (1960), pp. 49-50
  • The political power in Germany no longer resided, as it had since the birth of the Republic, in the people and in the body which expressed the people’s will, the Reichstag. It was now concentrated in the hands of a senile, eighty-five-year-old President and in those of a few shallow ambitious men around him who shaped his weary, wandering mind. Hitler saw this very clearly, and it suited his purposes. It seemed most unlikely that he would ever win a majority in Parliament. Hindenburg’s new course offered him the only opportunity that was left of coming to power. Not at the moment, to be sure, but soon.
    • William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (1960), p. 147
  • Hindenburg represents to us timelessness, history, myth, and national faith, so that the task of national leaders can only consist in utilizing as a specific Hindenburg faith the moral strength which he represents in their own work. The quarrel about Hindenburg cannot help us. We can progress only inspired by a sincere, humble, dynamic faith in Hindenburg. And the nation is going to follow whoever, inspired by this faith in Hindenburg, will renew and reshape that Prussia and that Germany which is shiningly reflected in Hindenburg.
    • Eduard Stadtler, Bahn frei für Hugenberg (Berlin, 1930), pp. 102–105, quoted in Andreas Dorpalen, Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic (1964), p. 147
  • I hope that you will be in agreement with me when I beg you to do everything possible to prevent Hindenburg's retirement. We must under no circumstances bear the responsibility before the bar of history for having overthrown Hindenburg. I feel that even the abdication of the Kaiser would be easier to bear than the retirement of Hindenburg.
    • Gustav Stresemann, letter to the Chief of the National Liberal Party in Prussia (25 October 1918), quoted in W. M. Knight-Patterson, Germany from Defeat to Conquest, 1913-1933 (1945), p. 208, n. 2
  • To the public the savior of East Prussia was the nominal commander, Hindenburg. The elderly general dragged from retirement in his old blue uniform was transformed into a titan by the victory. The triumph in East Prussia, lauded and heralded even beyond its true proportions, fastened the Hindenburg myth upon Germany. Not even Hoffmann's sly malice could penetrate it. When, as Chief of Staff on the Eastern Front later in the war, he would take visitors over the field of Tannenberg, Hoffmann would tell them: "This is where the Field Marshal slept before the battle, this is where he slept after the battle; here is where he slept during the battle."
  • "The marshal and the corporal are standing alongside us, struggling for peace and egalitarianism".
    • From a Nazi propaganda poster showing Chancellor Hitler standing next to President Hindenburg
  • Weimar’s demise was, in the final accounting, the result of a conspiracy of a small group of powerful men around the president who conspired to place Adolf Hitler in power. There was nothing inevitable about this development. The Third Reich did not have to come into existence.
    • Eric D. Weitz, Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy (2013), p. 358
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