The Latest Hitler Counterfactual: What If Hindenburg’s Last Will and Testament Had Come to Light?

As reported by the British media, newly declassified MI5 documents reveal that German Reich President Paul von Hindenburg made clear in his will that he was committed to posthumously preventing Hitler from consolidating power and destroying German democracy.

Information about the will was found in the papers of the German diplomat, Baron Fritz Günther von Tschirschky und Boegendorff, who helped Hindenburg write the will (and who later fled to England, where he was kept in a detention camp for the war’s duration).  Unfortunately, the will never came to the attention of the German public, raising a major “what if?”

As The Daily Mail explains:

“Within hours of Hindenburg's death on August 2 1934, Hitler announced the offices of Chancellor and President would merge under his rule as supreme Fuhrer.

A vote was called to let the German people express their view of Hitler's unprecedented move to become head of government and head of state.

But as soon as he heard about the will, Hitler reportedly ordered his henchmen 'to ensure that this document comes into my possession as soon as possible'.
Colonel Oskar von Hindenburg, son of the late President but a loyal Nazi, duly handed it over. It was never seen again.

Instead, just before the vote, the Nazis published Hindenburg's 'political testament' - a glowing endorsement of Hitler and his political goals. Many historians believe it was a forgery.

Four days later, 38 million voters supported Hitlars coup. Five million people rejected it.

Baron Tschirschky insisted: 'Hitler would never have come into power, and there would have been no war, if the wishes of Hindenburg had been known to the German people.'”

This story makes for a great “what if?”, but it is probably wishful thinking.  Already in late June 1934, two months prior to Hindenburg’s death in August, Hitler had consolidated his power by launching what historian Norbert Frei called a "double coup."  He purged the SA, thereby neutralizing the threat of a revolution from below by radical "beefsteak" Nazis; and he averted a monarchist coup from above, led by ex-Chancellor, Franz von Papen, and disgruntled German elites in the army.  

Hindenburg's death was merely the last formal barrier between Hitler and total power, which he proceeded to consolidate by merging the positions of Reich Chancellor and President in accordance with the Führerprinzip.  

Perhaps the will really existed (all the known copies are destroyed), but it certainly raises suspicions of being part of an apologetic Hindenburg rehabilitation campaign.  If Hindenburg had really been so committed to opposing Hitler, he should have acted while he was alive instead of throwing a “Hail Mary” pass from the grave that was destined to fall incomplete.