Meissner, Otto

(1880-1953)
   bureaucrat; served as State Secretary in the President's office from 1923 to 1945. Born in the town of Bischweiler (near Strassburg) to a German father and an Alsatian mother, he studied law before taking a civil-service* post in 1908 with the Alsatian railroad. During World War I he rose to captain and commanded a regiment in Rumania. Assigned in early 1918 to the Foreign Office, he was sent to Germany's legation in the Ukraine. In January 1919 he became charge d'affaires in Kiev. When his su-perior, Rudolf Nadolny, was recalled in April to become Friedrich Ebert's* secretary, Meissner, esteemed by Nadolny, became his assistant. Nadolny then went to Angora in 1920 as German Ambassador.
   The next quarter-century of Meissner's life is intriguing largely because he was Staatssekretär to Ebert, Hindenburg,* and Hitler.* He was a consummate pragmatist, and his ability to survive and wield influence at the highest levels— John Wheeler-Bennett cast him as a "shadow-figure" or "eminence grise"— was exceptional in the 1920s and 1930s. After serving briefly on Ebert's lecture committee, he assumed Nadolny's role in April 1920. In 1923 he was reclas-sified as Staatssekretar des Reichspräsidenten. Lacking profound convictions (he did join the DDP in 1919), he helped interpret and define the presidency's constitutional powers. Twice, in 1925 and in 1934, his dismissal as an agent of Weimar's hated system" seemed imminent; he survived as the ideal bureau-crat, possessed of vast knowledge and experience. Although Wheeler-Bennett's characterization of Meissner as Hindenburg's second Erich Ludendorff* is inflated, the old President certainly found him a valuable advisor and a pleasing companion (Meissner's family lived in the Presidential Palace during 1920-1939). Meissner, in turn, was determined to ease the old Field Marshal's burden and protect his rights.
   Hindenburg's toleration of Gustav Stresemann's* foreign policy* rested largely on Meissner's counsel. But the latter's positive impact was offset by his damaging admonitions. By the end of Hermann Müller's* second term as Chan-cellor (1928-1930) and throughout the Brüning* era (1930-1932), he employed an antidemocratic leverage on an increasingly feeble President. Acting as a con-duit to Hindenburg, he also provided legal advice in support of Franz von Pa-pen's* coup against the Prussian government of Otto Braun.*
   Despite Meissner's early aversion to Hitler, his role in urging the latter's appointment in January 1933 was important. He then secured his position when, during 1933-1934, he ensured that Hindenburg was not privy to many of Hit-ler's abuses. Although he adapted to the new circumstances (as he had in 1919), he never joined the NSDAP. By his own testimony, he thwarted many of the Nazis' more heinous measures and was unaware of the mass murder of the Jews.* It is certain that his influence declined as the years progressed. Arrested by the Allies, he was acquitted of any crimes in 1949. While he was incarcer-ated, he wrote Staatssekretar unter Ebert, Hindenburg, Hitler; primarily a self-justification, it was published in 1950.
   REFERENCES:Bosl, Franz, and Hofmann, Biographisches Worterbuch; Bracher, Auflo-sung; Dorpalen, Hindenburg; NDB, vol. 16; Wheeler-Bennett, Hindenburg.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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