When Paul von Hindenburg, President of Germany, died yesterday the harassed Jews of the Nazi-ridden Reich lost the only remaining person high in the nation’s councils who had made any semblance of friendship toward them.
Whether his death will mean the beginning of a new and more intensive reign of terror remains for the future to reveal. During his last months Hindenburg appeared able to exercise little restraint on the mad Hitler hordes in their anti-Semitic outbursts, although there were a few isolated occasions when the old soldier gave evidence that his sympathies were still aligned against race hatred.
A review of his career shows that he spent virtually his entire life in the service of his Fatherland and that more than once he gave the Jews reason to believe that his personal attitude toward them was entirely friendly.
ENTERED ARMY EARLY
Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg was born on October 2, 1847, in Posen. At the age of nineteen he became a sub-lieutenant in the Third Guards Regiments. By the time he was twenty-five he was a full-fledged lieutenant.
From 1873 to 1876 he studied at the War Academy, becoming attached to the general staff of the army in the year following his graduation. With monotonous regularity he rose through the ranks of the German army, until in 1914, when the World War began, he became General Field Marshal and Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Army.
He led the forces of the Central Powers throughout the war and following the armistice took charge of the demobilization of the German armies, from 1918 to 1919, when he retired from active army service.
ELECTED TO PRESIDENCY
The final phase of his career began in April, 1925, when he was elected president of the Reich for a seven-year period, polling 14,600,000 votes as against 13,700,000 for his Republican opponent, Dr. Marx.
He again went before the polls in 1932, when he sought reelection, again for a seven-year term. This time his chief opponent was a ranting, rabid, anti-Semitic National Socialist, named Adolf Hitler, whom the aged soldier decisively defeated.
At this stage in his career the gulf between Hindenburg and Hitler seemed unbridgeable. The Reich president appeared to be adamant in his determination to keep Hitler and his Nazi cohorts from gaining control of the government.
HITLER SPURNS POST
Once, in what obviously was an effort to relegate Hitler to a position in which he could do little harm, Hindenburg offered him the vice-chancellorship, but the Nazi leader spurned the post, refusing to accept anything less than the Chancellorship.
Again, in November, 1932, the President offered Hitler a conditional opportunity to become Chancellor, asking him first to “establish whether and under what conditions he could form a government with a positive working majority in the Reichstag and with a unified program.”
Hindenburg finally refused, on November 19, 1932, to name the Nazi Chancellor when it became apparent that Hitler would be unable to obtain the cooperation of other parties, and sought permission instead to head a cabinet independent of the Reichstag.
On December 2, 1932, General Kurt von Schleicher, who, with his wife, was slain several weeks ago in the Nazi “blood purge,” was appointed Chancellor, an office which he held slightly less than two months.
HINDENBURG GIVES WAY
Hindenburg, planted like a solid and unyielding bulwark in the path of the ambitious Hitler and his terrorist lieutenants, finally was forced to give way to them on January 30, 1933, when he announced that the anti-Semite would be entrusted with the Chancellorship and formation of the new government.
Despite this official move, however, Jews of Germany still found comfort in the fact that Hindenburg had on several occasions assured them that he would tolerate no infringement of their rights.
On August 13, 1932, von Hindenburg sent to the Central Union of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith a message in which he expressed disapproval of the limitation of Jewish rights and also of all anti-Jewish attacks. His message was in reply to a white book submitted to him by the Central Union setting out the facts regarding Nazi terroristic methods practiced against the Jews.
The Hitlerites, as well as General von Ludendorf protested von Hindenburg’s statement and later Nazi deputies in the Reichstag unleashed a vicious attack on “Der Alte,” denouncing him and describing him as “the Jewish candidate.” In their campaign against him they even went so far as to allege that he was of Jewish origin.
During the last presidential elections, in 1932, all the Jewish organizations in Germany supported the candidacy of von Hindenburg.
When the Hitler Government came into power, the Jewish organizations publicly re-affirmed their faith in the aged president of the Reich.
Taking this promise at its face value, Jewish leaders expressed the opinion that Hitler would not have free rein at the helm of the Reich, but that he would be held in close check by Hindenburg and his conservative protege, Franz von Papen, who was named Vice Chancellor.
OPINION LOSES GROUND
Soon after the Nazi regime began, however, this opinion began to lose ground, and the fear was voiced that Hindenburg and his close associates might agree to concessions in their stand on protection of the Jews’ rights, in order to secure Hitler’s cooperation in the interests of the country and the neutralization of the opposition of his party.
While Hindenburg might prevent discrimination against the Jews from being authorized by Parliamentary action, he might still permit Nazi ministers and officials to conduct a campaign of provocation and persecution against Jewish individual and Jewish groups, commentators thought.
Speculations of this nature, in those first weeks of Hitler rule, soon were dispelled by a dramatic turn of events, when in March, 1933, the Reichstag building went up in flames.
This coup, generally accredited to Goering, although the Nazis blamed Communists, gave Hitler an excuse to liquidate his opposition, turn the Reichstag into a puppet organization and carry on his policies of race hate and fanaticism without fear of being balked.
From this time on Hindenburg became an ineffectual and at times even an equivocal figure as regards the Jews, although on isolated occasions he still exhibited his personal freedom from anti-Semitic prejudice.
How large a part he played in restraining the mad-dog Nazis from abandoning themselves to even worse excesses against the Jews only the future will tell, because it is generally agreed that with his death the last important figure making any pretense toward befriending the Semitic cause has vanished from the German scene.
In the spring of 1933 he received a letter from representatives of German Jewry, including leaders of the Berlin Jewish community, pleading with him to intervene on behalf of the Jews of Germany.
“Owing to the mistakes of a few for whom we are not responsible,” the letter said, “we German Jews, who are bound up with every fibre of our hearts to the German Fatherland, are doomed to economic destruction.”
Pointing out that the Jews had sacrificed themselves unstintingly for the Reich, the letter recalled that no less than 12,000 Jews had died in the German cause during the World War.
No overt action was taken on this message.
GETS INCOMPLETE DATA
His hand was seen, however, in a decree which he and the Chancellor signed, shortly after Hitler came into power, providing for fine and imprisonment for abuse of recognized religions or violence against members of religious communities. How well he was kept informed as to Nazi abuse of this pledge is questionable. There is evidence that recently he had received only such communications as Hitler was willing to have reach him.
In well informed circles it was understood that the President’s son, Oscar, was in collusion with the Nazi clique in its determination to keep from Hindenburg any news which might “disturb” him. Thus, when von Papen, who of all Hitler’s cabinet, was closest to the old soldier, tried to see him after the slayings of June 30 the Vice-Chancellor was unable to get near him.
Gradually Hindenburg was forced to accede more and more to Nazi demands for which he had indicated profound distaste before Hitler became solidly intrenched.
BARS JEWS FROM ARMY
In March, 1934, he signed a decree ordering application of the “Aryan” clause to the Reichswehr, the regular German army. The decree barred Jews from serving in the Reichswehr either as officers or in the ranks.
Then, as if to prove that there were still a few gasps of anti-prejudice and independence left in his aging frame, he signed an order providing that no “Aryan” restriction should prevail in the awarding of the Honor Cross. This order, which pertained to all soldiers who fought at the front, all participants in the World War, their widows and their parents, was made effective in mid-July, 1934.
How futile were his efforts at quelling Nazi hatred was made apparent a few days later, when Hitler’s mouthpieces in the German press began a new campaign urging the support of 100 per cent “Aryanism” in all Reich activities. The entire Berlin press gave vent to a “pro-Aryan” outcry, as though by special order.
In November, 1933, on the eve of the referendum conducted by Hitler in which the Chancellor “asked” endorsement of his policies by the German people, Hindenburg came out with a strong plea for a one hundred per cent vote in support of the Nazi chieftain.
Early in July, 1934, when apprised of the “blood purge,” the President sent the following message to Der Fuehrer:
THANKS FOR KILLINGS
“Reports submitted to me show that by your resolute energy and courageous personal action you have crushed in the bud all traitorous machinations. Thereby you have rescued the German people from a great danger. For this I express to you my deepest thanks and my sincere appreciation.”
How truly the aforementioned incidents expressed the innermost feelings of the octogenarian soldier may never be known. He had lived through a succession of eras, and by the time the Nazi flood, with its lure for hare-brained youth, came along, he was an old man, little able to stem the engulfing tide and perhaps content to nurture the secret hope that it would soon dash iteslf to ineffectuality against the rocks of its own madness.
In recent months he had retired to his estate in Neudeck, East Prussia, where death overlook him.