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1932-33 Hindenburg And Hitler In Weimar Germany’s Runoff Election:
When The Winner Named The Loser To Public Office

by Blaine Taylor

Photo: Hitler (left) and Hindenburg (right) on Aug. 23, 1933 at the Tannenberg Battle Memorial at Hohenstein, East Prussia. (Heinrich Hoffmann Albums, US National Archives, College Park, MD)


It was one of the strangest delayed election results in modern political history, different than any in the American experience in a major respect: the winner of two national elections back-to-back appointed his twice-defeated rival to his own top governmental operational office in the land just eight months later.

It is a weird but true tale, and here is what happened.

The incumbent President---first elected in 1925 as the country’s premier war hero of a lost struggle, akin somewhat to our own Vietnam experience---did not want to run for reelection because of his advanced age, but was prevailed upon to do so by the nation’s major conservative voting blocs. If he won in 1932, his new seven-year term wouldn’t expire until 1940. In his person, the President represented, in the main, the stability of tradition and law and order.

His major challenger was also an ex-Army veteran of the very same war, a right-wing ideologue fringe candidate who wasn’t even initially a citizen of the land whose top office he was seeking for the very first time. He stood for racial intolerance, radical change and ultimate personal dictatorship for his party and himself. The communist candidate likewise represented even more radical change from the left, with the nationalistic, conservative vote being split yet a third way by the fourth man in the crowded Presidential sweepstakes.

When the polls closed on March 13, 1932, the incumbent had garnered 18,651,497 votes, or 49.6% of the total cast, while the main challenger fell far shorter, with but 11,339,446 and thus 30.1%. The red candidate got 4,983,341 at 13.2% and the third nationalist received 2,557,729 for a mere 6.8%.

All four candidates were disappointed, because none had won the required absolute majority. Thus, a second national election was mandated by the Federal law of the republic, in which the candidate receiving the most votes would win. Undeterred, the losing main challenger asserted, "The first election campaign is over. The second has begun today. I shall lead it. "

He then introduced campaigning by airplane for the first time, chartering his very own aircraft, flying from one end of the country to the other, visiting four major rallies daily. Meanwhile, the losing fourth candidate withdrew from the race and threw his support to the main losing challenger.

All the remaining major national figures were split between the incumbent and the main challenger, but united in opposition to the hated communist candidate. Thus, on Apr. 10, 1932, the results of the first-ever run-off election were 19,359,983 or 53%, the main challenger got 13,418,547 or 36% and the red standard bearer polled 3,706,759 at 10.2%. With two national elections held within just 33 days, the incumbent had been reelected for a second term.

Asked for his reaction, the twice defeated main challenger pouted to the media thus: "He is 84; I am 43. I can wait. " He did, and over the course of the next eight months the reelected President’s chief executive officer and Cabinet were unable to electively govern the country, with violent revolution threatened from both the red left and the brown right. Meanwhile, the armed forces demanded that something be done to forestall these twin brewing revolts, with martial law looming on the horizon.

In the end, the incumbent reluctantly appointed as his own new CEO the very despised main challenger he’d twice bested, a man of whom he once boasted “Could lick the back of the stamps with my head on them” as the nation’s postmaster general. Nonetheless, the President named this man to his top available appointive office only because he was assured by his top personal advisors that the new upstart would be controlled in and by a coalition cabinet in which his party members would be in a distinct minority.

It all worked out quite differently, however. The incumbent’s former deputy in the late war telegraphed to him that "Coming generations will curse your name" for his having made the new posting. Within 60 days, democracy was totally dead, one-man rule virtually completed, all other parties outlawed, their leaders in jail, and the winning Presidential stalwart himself largely thus marginalized. He had been co-opted.

Upon the President’s death on Aug. 1, 1934, the formerly twice defeated challenger merged both offices into one for the next 12 years. And just who was this formerly twice vanquished main challenger? His name was Adolf Hitler, and the incumbent Reich President was German Army Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg.

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* 1932-33 Hindenburg And Hitler In Weimar Germany’s Runoff Election


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