Alfred Hugenberg

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Alfred Hugenberg
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2005-0621-500, Reichsminister Alfred Hugenberg.jpg
As Reich Minister, 1933
Born Alfred Ernst Christian Alexander Hugenberg
(1865-06-19)19 June 1865
Hanover, Kingdom of Hanover
Died 12 March 1951(1951-03-12) (aged 85)
Kükenbruch, West Germany
Nationality German
Education Doctorate in economics
Alma mater Göttingen, Heidelberg, Berlin, Strassburg
Employer Krupp
Known for Politician, media tycoon
Title Minister of Economics and Agriculture
Term January 1933 – 29 June 1933
Predecessor Hermann Warmbold (Economics), Magnus von Braun (Agriculture)
Successor Kurt Schmitt (Economics), Richard Walther Darré (Agriculture)
Political party German National People's Party
Spouse(s) Gertrud Adickes

Alfred Ernst Christian Alexander Hugenberg (19 June 1865 – 12 March 1951) was an influential German businessman and politician. A leading figure in nationalist politics in Germany for the first few decades of the twentieth century, he became the country's leading media proprietor during the inter-war period. As leader of the German National People's Party he was instrumental in helping Adolf Hitler become Chancellor of Germany and served in his first cabinet in 1933, hoping to control Hitler and use him as his "tool."[1] Those plans backfired, and by the end of 1933 Hugenberg had been pushed to the sidelines, where he served as a "guest" member of the Reichstag until 1945, wielding no political influence.

Early years

Born in Hanover to Carl Hugenberg, a royal Hanoverian official who in 1867 entered the Prussian Landtag as a member of the National Liberal Party, he studied law in Göttingen, Heidelberg, and Berlin, as well as economics in Strassburg.[2] In 1891, Hugenberg co-founded, along with Karl Peters, the ultra-nationalist General German League and in 1894 its successor movement the Pan-German League (Alldeutscher Verband).[2] In 1900 Hugenberg married his second cousin, Gertrud Adickes (1868 - 1960).[3] At the same time he was also involved in a scheme in the Province of Posen where the Prussian Settlement Commission bought up land from Poles in order to settle ethnic Germans there.[4] Earlier in 1899 Hugenberg had called for "annihilation of Polish population".[5]

Hugenberg initially took a role organising agricultural societies before entering the civil service in the Prussian Ministry of Finance in 1903.[4] He left the public sector to pursue a career in business and in 1909 he was appointed chairman of the supervisory board of Krupp Steel and built up a close personal and political relationship with Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach.[6] As well as administering Krupps finance (with considerable success) Hugenberg also set about developing personal business interests from 1916 onwards, including a controlling interest in the national newsmagazine Die Gartenlaube[4] He remained at Krupp until 1918 when he set out to build his own business and during the Great Depression he was able to buy up dozens of local newspapers. These became the basis of his publishing firm Scherl House and, after he added controlling interests in Universum Film AG, Ala-Anzeiger AG, Vera Verlag and the Telegraphen Union, he had a near monopoly on the media which he used to agitate against the Weimar Republic amongst Germany's middle classes.[7]

Nationalist leader

Hugenberg Papen poster.

Hugenberg was one of a number of Pan Germans to become involved in the National Liberal Party in the run up to the First World War.[8] During the war, his views shifted sharply to the right. Accordingly, he switched his allegiance to the Fatherland Party and became one of its leading members, emphasising territorial expansion and anti-Semitism as his two main political issues.[9] In 1919 Hugenberg followed most of the Fatherland Party into the German National People's Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, DNVP), which he represented in the National Assembly (that produced the 1919 constitution of the Weimar Republic). He was elected to the Reichstag in the 1920 elections to the new body.[10] The DNVP suffered heavy losses in the 1928 election, leading to the appointment of Hugenberg as sole chairman on 21 October that same year.[10]

Hugenberg moved the party in a far more radical direction than it had taken under its previous leader, Kuno Graf von Westarp. He hoped to use radical nationalism to restore the party's fortunes, and eventually, to overthrow the Weimar constitution and install an authoritarian form of government.[2] Up to this point right-wing politics outside of the far right was going through a process of reconciliation to the Weimar Republic but this ended under Hugenberg, who renewed earlier DNVP calls for its immediate destruction.[11] Under his direction a new DNVP manifesto appeared in 1931, demonstrating the shift to the right. Amongst its demands were immediate restoration of the Hohenzollern monarchy, a reversal of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, compulsory military conscription, repossession of the German colonial empire, a concerted effort to build up closer links with German people outside Germany (especially in Austria), a dilution of the role of the Reichstag to that of supervisory body to a newly established professional house of appointees reminiscent of Benito Mussolini's corporative state and reduction in the perceived over-representation of Jews in German public life.[12]

Hugenberg also sought to eliminate internal party democracy and instill a führerprinzip within the DNVP, leading to some members breaking away to establish the Conservative People's Party (KVP) in late 1929.[12] More were to follow in June 1930, appalled by Hugenberg's extreme opposition to the cabinet of Heinrich Brüning, a moderate whom some within the DNVP wanted to support.[13]

Under Hugenberg's leadership, the DNVP toned down and later abandoned the monarchism which had characterized the party in its earlier years.[citation needed] Despite Hugenberg's background in industry that constituency gradually deserted the DNVP under his leadership, largely due to a general feeling amongst industrialists that Hugenberg was too inflexible, and soon the party became the main voice of agrarian interest in the Reichstag.[10]

Relationship with Hitler

Hugenberg was vehemently opposed to the Young Plan and he set up a "Reich Committee for the German People's Petition" to oppose it, featuring the likes of Franz Seldte, Heinrich Class, Theodor Duesterberg and Fritz Thyssen.[14] However he recognised that the DNVP and their elite band of allies did not have enough popular support to carry any rejection of the scheme through. As such Hugenberg felt that he needed a nationalist with support amongst the working classes whom he could use to whip up popular sentiment against the Plan. Adolf Hitler was the only realistic candidate and Hugenberg decided that he would use the Nazi Party leader to get his way.[15] As a result the Nazi Party soon became the recipients of Hugenberg's largesse, both in terms of monetary donations and of favourable coverage from the Hugenberg-owned press, which had previously largely ignored Hitler or denounced him as a socialist.[15] Joseph Goebbels, who had a deep hatred of Hugenberg, initially spoke privately of breaking away from Hitler over the alliance but he changed his mind when Hugenberg agreed that Goebbels should handle the propaganda for the campaign, giving the Nazi Party access to Hugenberg's media empire.[16] Hitler was able to use Hugenberg to push himself into the political mainstream and once the Young Plan was passed by referendum Hitler promptly ended his links with Hugenberg.[17] Hitler publicly blamed Hugenberg for the failure of the campaign but he retained the links with big business that the Committee had allowed him to cultivate and this began a process of the magnates deserting the DNVP for the Nazis.[18] Hitler's handling of the affair was marred only by one thing and that was premature announcement in the Nazi press of his repudiation of the alliance by the Strasser brothers, whose left-wing economics were incompatible with Hugenberg's arch-capitalism.[19]

Hugenberg in Bad Harzburg, 1931, with Prince Eitel Friedrich

Despite this episode in February 1931 Hugenberg joined the Nazi Party in leading the DNVP out of the Reichstag altogether as a protest against the Brüning government. By then the two parties were in a very loose federation known as the 'National Opposition'.[20] This was followed in July of the same year by the release of a joint statement with Hitler guaranteeing that the pair would co-operate for the overthrow of the Weimar 'system'.[21] The two presented a united front at Bad Harzburg on 21 October 1931 as part of a wider right-wing rally leading to suggestions that a Harzburg Front involving the two parties and the veterans movement Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten had emerged.[22] The two leaders soon clashed however and Hugenberg's refusal to endorse Hitler in the German presidential election, 1932 widened the gap.[22] Indeed the rift between the two opened further when Hugenberg, fearing that Hitler might win the Presidency, persuaded Theodor Duesterberg to run as a junker candidate. Although he was eliminated on the first vote, due largely to Nazi allegations regarding his Jewish parentage, Hitler nonetheless failed to secure the Presidency.[23]

Hugenberg's party had experienced a growth in support at the November 1932 election at the expense of the Nazis leading to a secret meeting between the two in which a reconciliation of sorts was agreed. Hugenberg hoped to harness the Nazis for his own ends once again and as such he dropped his attacks on them for the campaign for the March 1933 election.[22]

Hitler's rise to power

In early January 1933 Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher had developed plans for an expanded coalition government to include not only Hugenberg but also dissident Nazi Gregor Strasser and Centre Party politician Adam Stegerwald. Although Hugenberg had designs on a return to government his hatred of trade union activity meant that he had no intention of working with Stegerwald, the head of the Catholic Trade Union movement. When von Schleicher refused to exclude Stegerwald from his plans, Hugenberg broke off negotiations.[24]

Hugenberg's main confidante Reinhold Quaatz had, despite being half-Jewish, pushed for Hugenberg to follow a more völkisch path and work with the Nazi Party and after the collapse of the von Schleicher talks this was the path he followed.[25] Hugenberg and Hitler met on 17 January 1933 and Hugenberg suggested that they both enter the cabinet of Kurt von Schleicher, a proposal rejected by Hitler who would not move from his demands for the Chancellorship. Hitler did agree in principle to allow von Schleicher to serve under him as Defence Minister, although Hugenberg warned the Nazi leader that as long as Paul von Hindenburg was president Hitler would never be Chancellor.[26] A further meeting between the two threatened to derail any alliance after Hugenberg rejected Hitler's demands for Nazi control over the interior ministries of Germany and Prussia but by this time Franz von Papen had come round to the idea of Hitler as Chancellor and he worked hard to persuade the two leaders to come together.[27]

During the negotiations between Franz von Papen and president Paul von Hindenburg, Hindenburg had insisted that Hugenberg be given the ministries of Economics and Agriculture both at national level and in Prussia as a condition of Hitler becoming Chancellor, something of a surprise given the President's well publicised dislike of Hugenberg.[28] Hugenberg, eager for a share of power, agreed to the plan and continued to believe that he could use Hitler for his own ends, telling the Stahlhelm leader Theodor Duesterberg that "we'll box Hitler in".[29] He initially rejected HItler's plans to immediately call a fresh election, fearing that damage such a vote might inflict on his own party but, after being informed by Otto Meißner that the plan had Hindenburg's endorsement and by von Papen that von Schleicher was preparing to launch a military coup, he conceded to Hitler's wishes.[30] Hugenberg vigorously campaigned for the NSDAP–DNVP alliance, although other leading members within his party expressed fears over socialist elements to Nazi rhetoric and instead appealed for a nonparty dictatorship, pleas ignored by Hitler.[31]

Hugenberg made no effort to stop Hitler's ambition of becoming a dictator; as previously mentioned he himself was authoritarian by inclination. For instance, he and the other DNVP members of the cabinet voted for the Reichstag Fire Decree, which effectively wiped out civil liberties.

Removal from politics

In the elections Hugenberg's DNVP captured 52 seats in the Reichstag, although any hope that these seats could ensure influence for the party evaporated with the passing of the Enabling Act of 1933 (which the DNVP supported) soon after the vote.[32] Nevertheless Hugenberg was Minister of Economy in the new government and was also appointed Minister of Agriculture in the Nazi cabinet, largely due to the support his party enjoyed amongst the north German landowners. As Minister Hugenberg declared a temporary moratorium on foreclosures, cancelled some debts and placed tariffs on some widely produced agricultural goods in order to stimulate the sector. As a move to protect dairy farming he also placed limits on margarine production, although this move saw a rapid increase in the price of butter and margarine and made Hugenberg an unpopular figure outside of the farming community, hastening the inevitable departure of this non-Nazi from the cabinet.[33] Meanwhile in June 1933, Hitler was forced to disavow Hugenberg who while attending the London World Economic Conference put forth a programme of German colonial expansion in both Africa and Eastern Europe as the best way of ending the Great Depression, which created a major storm abroad.[34] Hugenberg's fate was sealed when State Secretary Fritz Reinhardt, ostensibly a subordinate to Hugenberg as Minister of Economy, presented a work-creation plan to the cabinet. The policy was supported by every member except Hugenberg, who was strongly opposed to the levels of government intervention in the economy that the scheme required.[35]

An increasingly isolated figure, Hugenberg was finally forced to resign from the cabinet after a campaign of harassment and arrest was launched by Hitler against his DNVP coalition partners.[36] The Sturmabteilung were also turned against the DNVP, with youth movements loyal to Hugenberg becoming the focus of attacks.[4] He announced his formal resignation on 29 June 1933 and he was replaced by Kurt Schmitt in the Economy Ministry and Richard Walther Darré in the Agriculture Ministry.[37] A 'Friendship Agreement' was signed between the Nazis and the DNVP immediately afterwards, the terms of which effectively dissolved the Nationalists with a few members whose loyalty could be guaranteed absorbed into the Nazi Party.[38] Indeed the German National Front, as the DNVP had officially been called since May 1933, had officially dissolved on 27 June.[39]

Although driven from his cabinet post Hugenberg was, along with von Papen and other former DNVP and Zentrum members, included on the Nazi list of candidates for the November 1933 election as a concession to middle class voters.[40] However his stock with the Nazis had fallen so much that in December 1933 the Telegraph Union, the news agency owned by Hugenberg, was taken over by the Propaganda Ministry and merged into a new German News Office.[41] Hugenberg was allowed to remain in the Reichstag until 1945 as one of 22 so-called "guest" members, who were officially designated as non-party representatives. Given that they shared the assembly with 639 Nazi deputies they had no influence.[42]

Later years

Although Hugenberg had lost the Telegraph Union early on he was allowed to retain most of his media interests until 1943 when the Nazi controlled Eher Verlag took control of his Scherl House. Hugenberg did not let them go cheaply however as he negotiated a large portfolio of shares in the Rhenish-Westphalian industries in return for his co-operation.[10]

Hugenberg was initially detained after the war, but in 1949 a Denazification court at Detmold adjudged him a "Mitläufer" rather than a Nazi, meaning that he was allowed to keep his property and business interests.[10] He died on 12 March 1951 in Kükenbruch (present-day Extertal) near Detmold.


  1. Richard J. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich, Penguin Press, 2004, p. 314
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Tim Kirk, Cassell's Dictionary of Modern German History, Cassell, 2002, p. 180
  3. Günter Watermeier, Politischer Mord und Kriegskultur an der Wiege der Weimarer Republik, GRIN Verlag, 2007, p. 13
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Louis Leo Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich, Wordsworth Editions, 1998, p. 177
  5. Sebastian Conrad, Globalisation and the Nation in Imperial Germany, Cambridge University Press, p. 175
  6. Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, Penguin Books, 2006, p. 373
  7. Robert Wistrich, Who's Who in Nazi Germany, Bonanza Books, 1984, p. 157
  8. Karl Dietrich Bracher, The German Dictatorship, Penguin, 1971, p. 36
  9. Paul Bookbinder, Weimar Germany: The Republic of the Reasonable, Manchester University Press, 1996, pp. 222–223
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Wistrich, Who's Who in Nazi Germany, p. 158
  11. Ernst Nolte, Three Faces of Fascism, Mentor Books, 1965, p. 426
  12. 12.0 12.1 Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich, p. 95
  13. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich, p. 259
  14. Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1889–1936: Hubris, Penguin, 1999, p. 310
  15. 15.0 15.1 Michael Fitzgerald, Adolf Hitler: A Portrait, Spellmount, 2006, p. 81
  16. Anthony Read, The Devil's Disciples: The Lives and Times of Hitler's Inner Circle, Pimlico, 2004, p. 184
  17. Fitzgerald, Adolf Hitler: A Portrait, p. 82
  18. Read, The Devil's Disciples, p. 185
  19. Kershaw, Hitler 1889–1936: Hubris, p. 326
  20. Hans Mommsen, From Weimar to Auschwitz, Polity Press, 1991, p. 135
  21. F.L. Carsten, The Rise of Fascism, Methuen, 1970, p. 143
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Henry Ashby Turner Jr., Hitler's Thirty Days to Power, Bloomsbury, 1996, p. 69
  23. Konrad Heiden, The Fuehrer, Robinson, 1999, pp. 350–351
  24. Turner, Hitler's Thirty Days to Power, pp. 89–92
  25. Hermann Weiss & Paul Hoser (eds), Die Deutschnationalen und die Zerstörung der Weimarer Republik. Aus dem Tagebuch von Reinhold Quaatz 1928–1933 (Schriftenreihe der Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 59), Oldenbourg: Munich 1989, pp. 19–21
  26. Turner, Hitler's Thirty Days to Power, pp. 69–70
  27. Turner, Hitler's Thirty Days to Power, pp. 137–141
  28. Turner, Hitler's Thirty Days to Power, p. 146
  29. Turner, Hitler's Thirty Days to Power, pp. 147
  30. Turner, Hitler's Thirty Days to Power, pp. 154–157
  31. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich, p. 369
  32. Alfred Grosser, Germany in Our Time: A Political History of the Post-War Years, Penguin Books, 1971, p. 28
  33. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, p. 420
  34. Hildebrand, Klaus The Foreign Policy of the Third Reich London: Batsford 1973 pp. 31–32
  35. Kershaw, Hitler: Hubris, p. 449
  36. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, p. 13
  37. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, p. 27
  38. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich, pp. 373–373
  39. Kershaw, Hitler: Hubris, p. 477
  40. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, p. 109
  41. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, p. 146
  42. Read, The Devil's Disciples, p. 344

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Kuno von Westarp
Leader of the German National People's Party
Succeeded by
party dissolved
Preceded by
Magnus Freiherr von Braun
Minister of Food
Succeeded by
Richard Walther Darré