Hitler Runs for President

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 of Germany.

Hitler seen in the midst of tough negotiations with Chancellor Bruening about extending President Hindenburg's term. Below: After the negotiations failed - the race for the presidency is underway. Left: Nazis tack up a stark-looking Hitler poster that only shows his face and name. Right: A large handshake billboard for President Hindenburg that says "With Him."
Below: A radio broadcast by the elderly Hindenburg who limited his campaigning to a few radio speeches and select social gatherings.
Below: A speech by candidate Hitler to a large crowd in Berlin's Lustgarten in April 1932.

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 in Germany.

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 alive.

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 Nazi influence.

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.

The 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 Germany.

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.

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