Saturday, 31 October 2009

Historical Fiction: The Old Man's Dilemma

The Old Man's Dilemma

Paul sat upright in his chair, as rigid and motionless as a statue, but inside his head thoughts spiralled endlessly around without reaching any conclusion. In the past he had always had confidence in his judgements; it had been one of his strengths; but not now. Was he doing the right thing? Was it too late to change? How was he to know? He had always done his duty, and had never doubted that his function was to command, but he had never pretended to great intelligence. Throughout his long career others had always done the detailed and difficult work for him: his function had been to provide stability and dignity and to calm down those brainy chaps when they got over-excited, as they often did. And he had been respected, and generally successful. But now here he was: alone. The brainy chaps had gone. He should have gone too; he realised that. More than once he had retired and then allowed himself to be called back. He should have resisted that last call; in his heart he had known it all along. It had been the only time in his life that he had ever acted weakly. Surely at the age of over eighty he should have been allowed to live in peace! It had brought him nothing but uncertainty, with every course of action seeming distasteful.
Now there was this man he had to meet: a man young enough to be his grandson. Not that he would have wished any grandson of his to turn out like that! He had already met him more than once, and had disliked him intensely. The fellow as common beyond belief, obviously risen from the gutter, ill-mannered, disrespectful, dishonest and consumed with violent ambition. Paul's oldest friends had warned him against having anything to do with this person. Where were the friends now that he needed them? Gone, all gone. For the first time in his life, Paul felt helpless; a mere cork drifting on the tide of events.
The door opened to admit the unwelcome visitor. Paul rose ponderously to his feet, and maintaining dignity to the last stood as ramrod-straight as if still on the parade ground. The other man was plainly ill-at-ease. He had taken the trouble to dress formally for the occasion, which only served to make him look more ridiculous than ever. The two exchanged a few stilted and unmeaning compliments, scarcely bothering to disguise the contempt they felt for each other. But the formalities had to be gone through; so the older man and the younger shook hands, and Field-Marshal-President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany.

(This seems from the sources to be a likely description of Hindenburg's feelings on that momentous day in January 1933)

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