Just three weeks after the suicide of his beloved niece, Adolf Hitler
met the 84-year-old President of Germany, Paul von Hindenburg,
for the first time.
Hitler pulled himself out of the severe depression he fell into after
her death. Twice before he had sunk into the abyss of despair, only to
emerge stronger – in 1918, lying in a hospital, blinded by poison gas,
after hearing news of the Germany's defeat ending World War I – and in
1924, in prison after the failed Beer Hall Putsch.
In October 1931, the former Austrian Corporal was presented to the former
Field Marshal. Hitler was a bit unnerved by the Old Gentleman and rambled
on at length trying to impress him. Hindenburg was not impressed and later
said Hitler might be suited for Postmaster, but never for a high position
such as the Chancellorship of Germany.
October of 1931 marked the beginning of the political intrigue that
would destroy the young republic and ultimately make Hitler Führer
Constant political squabbling among the numerous political parties in
the Reichstag resulted in ineffective government.
Adding to the problem, there were now over a hundred elected Nazis in
the Reichstag. Under the leadership of Hermann Göring, they regularly
disrupted proceedings with vulgar, rowdy behavior to help undermine democracy
The German people were desperate for relief from the tremendous personal
suffering brought on by the Great Depression, now two years old. Millions
were unemployed, thousands of small businesses had failed, homelessness
and starvation were real possibilities for everyone.
Civilization itself was unraveling in Berlin where people were fighting
in the streets, killing each other in the chaos.
But from their elected leaders, the people got nothing but indecision.
In ever growing numbers they turned to the decisive man, Adolf Hitler,
and his promises of a better future.
The republic now faced another problem. In 1932, there was supposed
to be a presidential election, according to law. But Hindenburg, the glue
holding the floundering democracy together, was getting too old and said
he was not interested in running again.
Even if he could be convinced to run, he would be 92 by the time the
seven-year term ended, with Hitler looming in the background the whole
time. If he didn't live the entire term, considered likely since he was
failing, then Hitler would have his chance even sooner.
Early in 1932, Adolf Hitler received a telegram from Chancellor Bruening
inviting him to come to Berlin to discuss the possibility of extending
Hindenburg's present term. Hitler was delighted at the invitation.
"Now I have them in my pocket! They have recognized me as a partner
in their negotiations!" Hitler told Rudolf Hess.
He went to the meeting and listened to the proposal, but gave no response.
There was no reason to help the chancellor and thus help keep the republic
In February 1932, President Hindenburg reluctantly agreed to run again
and announced his candidacy for re-election. Hitler decided to oppose him and run for the presidency himself.
"Freedom and Bread," was the slogan used by Hitler to great
effect during the Nazi campaign against tired old President Hindenburg.
Joseph Goebbels waged a furious propaganda campaign on behalf of Hitler,
outdoing the previous election effort of 1930. Nazi posters were plastered
everywhere. There was a whirlwind schedule of speeches for himself and
Hitler. The Nazis held thousands of rallies each day all across Germany.
They gave out millions of pamphlets and extra copies of Nazi newspapers.
Goebbels also used new technology, making phonograph records and films
of Hitler to distribute.
President Hindenburg essentially did nothing. He was content to ride
on his reputation and counted on the votes of Germans who wanted to keep
the radicals out of power. Goebbels had high hopes that Hitler might pull
an upset and sweep into office. Hitler, however, had his doubts. He campaigned
knowing he was unlikely to unseat the Old Gentleman. But the campaign was
also an opportunity to win support for himself and his Party and extend
Many in Germany saw the Nazis as the wave of the future. After the stunning
success of the 1930 election, thousands of new members had poured into
the Party. Now, in the spring of 1932, with six million unemployed, chaos
in Berlin, starvation and ruin, the threat of Marxism, and a very uncertain
future – they turned to Hitler by the millions.
In the presidential election held on March 13, 1932, Hitler got over
eleven million votes (11,339,446) or 30% of the total. Hindenburg got 18,651,497
votes or 49%.
Hindenburg failed to get the absolute majority he needed, making a run-off
election necessary. Goebbels and many of the Nazi leaders were quite disappointed.
But Hitler immediately urged them to start a vigorous campaign for the
run-off to be held on April 10, less than a month away.
In the campaign that followed, Hitler criss-crossed Germany in an airplane,
descending from the clouds into the arms of growing numbers of fanatics,
at ever larger rallies. He gave them a positive message, promising something
for everyone, then ascended back into the clouds. "In the Third Reich
every German girl will find a husband!" Hitler once promised.
But like any politician, Hitler was subject to scandal. A newspaper
run by one of the opposition parties, the Social Democrats, somehow got
hold of letters between SA Chief Ernst Röhm and a male doctor, concerning
their mutual interest in men. Hitler knew Röhm was a homosexual
and had ignored it for years because of Röhm's usefulness to him.
The issue as far as Hitler was concerned was whether Röhm had abused any
underage males. Nazi lawyer Hans Frank investigated this and assured Hitler
he had found no evidence. Hitler was a little more at ease. Thus, Ernst
Röhm, the battle scarred, aggressive storm trooper leader would stay,
at least for now, as leader of the SA, now numbering over 400,000.
campaign for president continued with the Nazis mounting another furious
campaign effort with Hitler making several campaign stops a day. President
Hindenburg did less than before and didn't make a single speech, causing
rumors about ill health.
On a dark, rainy Sunday, April 10, 1932, the people voted. They gave
Hitler 13,418,547 or 36%, an increase of two million, and Hindenburg 19,359,983
or 53%, an increase of under a million.
The Old Gentleman, now 85, was elected by an absolute majority
to another seven-year term. But no one was at ease. Hitler and the Nazis
had shown massive popularity.
Berlin was now a swirling mess of fear, intrigue, rumors, and disorder.
Out of that mess arose a man named Kurt von Schleicher, a highly ambitious
Army officer, driven by the idea that he, not Hitler, might possibly rule
The German republic was now as unsteady as the teetering Old Gentleman
leading it and up against Schleicher and Hitler, was soon to be buried.