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." Those plans backfired, and by the end of 1933 Hugenberg had been pushed to the sidelines. Although Hugenberg continued to serve as a "guest" member of the Reichstag until 1945, he wielded no political influence.
as Reich Minister of Economics in 1933
|Reich Minister of Economics|
30 January 1933 – 29 June 1933
|President||Paul von Hindenburg|
|Preceded by||Hermann Warmbold|
|Succeeded by||Kurt Schmitt|
|Reich Minister for Food and Agriculture|
30 January 1933 – 29 June 1933
|President||Paul von Hindenburg|
|Preceded by||Magnus von Braun|
|Succeeded by||Richard Walther Darré|
Alfred Ernst Christian Alexander Hugenberg
19 June 1865
Hanover, Kingdom of Hanover
|Died||12 March 1951 85) (aged|
Kükenbruch, North Rhine-Westphalia, West Germany
|Political party||German National People's Party|
|Alma mater||Göttingen, Heidelberg, Berlin, Straßburg|
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. In 1891, Hugenberg was awarded a PhD at Straßburg for his dissertation Internal Colonization in Northwest Germany. In Internal Colonization in Northwest Germany, Hugenberg set out three ideas that guided his political thought for the rest of his life:
- The necessity for statist economic policies to allow German farmers to be successful.
- Despite the necessity for the state to assist farmers, the German farmer should be encouraged to act as an entrepreneur, thereby creating a class of successful farmers/small businessmen who would act as a bulwark against the appeal of the Marxist Social Democrats, whom Hugenberg viewed as a grave threat to the status quo.
- Finally, to allow the German farmers to be successful required a policy of imperialism, as Hugenberg argued on Social Darwinist grounds that the "power and significance of the German race" could be secured if Germany colonized other nations. Hugenberg maintained that Germany's prosperity depended upon having a great empire, and argued that, in the coming 20th century, Germany would have to battle three great rivals, namely Britain, the United States and Russia for world supremacy.
Later 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). From 1894 to 1899, Hugenberg worked as a Prussian civil servant in Posen (modern Poznań, Poland). In 1900 Hugenberg married his second cousin, Gertrud Adickes (1868 - 1960) with whom he had four children. Gertrude was the daughter of Franz Burchard Adickes, Mayor of Frankfurt. At the same time, he was also involved in a scheme in the Province of Posen, in which the Prussian Settlement Commission bought up land from Poles in order to settle ethnic Germans there. In 1899, Hugenberg had called for "annihilation of Polish population". Hugenberg was strongly anti-Polish, and criticized the Prussian government for its "inadequate" Polish policies, favoring a more vigorous policy of Germanization.
Hugenberg initially took a role organising agricultural societies before entering the civil service in the Prussian Ministry of Finance in 1903. Again, Hugenberg came into conflict with his superiors, who opposed his plans to confiscate all the non-productive estates of the Junkers (landed nobility) in order to settle hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans, who would become his idealized farmer-small businessmen and "Germanize" the East. 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 Baron Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach. Krupp had been "in search of a man of really superior intelligence" to run the finance department of Krupp AG, and found that man in form of Hugenberg, with his "extraordinary" intelligence and work ethic. In 1902, Friedrich Alfred Krupp was ousted, and committed suicide or died from illness shortly after the Social Democratic newspaper Vorwarts published love letters he had written to his Italian lovers. After his death, the entire firm of Krupp AG was left to his daughter Bertha Krupp. As Krupp AG was one of the world's largest arms manufacturers, and the biggest supplier of weapons to the German state, the management of Krupp AG was of some interest to the state, and Emperor Wilhelm II did not believe that a woman was capable of running a business. To solve this perceived problem, the Kaiser had Bertha marry a career diplomat, Gustav von Bohlen und Halbach, who was regarded by the Kaiser as a safe man to run Krupp AG. Gustav Krupp, as he was renamed by Wilhelm, did not know much about running a business, and so depended very much on his board to assist him. Hugenberg's role in the management of Krupp AG was thus considerably larger than would be indicated by his title of director of finance; in many ways, he was the man who effectively ran the Krupp corporation during his ten years at the firm between 1908 and 1918.
At the time, Krupp AG was Germany's biggest corporation, and Hugenberg's success in raising annual dividends from 8% in 1908 to 14% in 1913 won him much admiration in the world of German business. A more unwelcome appearance in the limelight occurred in the Kornwalzer affair, in which the Social Democrat MDR, Karl Liebknecht, exposed industrial espionage by Hugenberg. The management of Krupp AG did not even try to deny the allegations of bribery and industrial espionage, with Krupp arguing in a press article that any attack on the firm of Krupp AG was an attack on the ability of the German state to wage war by the socialistic-pacifistic SPD, and though several junior employees of Krupp AG were convicted of corruption, Hugenberg and the rest of the Krupp board were never indicted. In 1912, Kaiser Wilhelm II personally awarded Hugenberg the Order of the Red Eagle for his success at Krupp AG, saying that Germany needed more businessmen like Hugenberg. At the ceremony, Hugenberg praised the Kaiser in his acceptance speech, and went on to say that democracy would not improve the condition of the German working class, but only a "very much richer, very much greater and very much powerful Germany" would solve the problems of the working class. 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 In 1914, Hugenberg welcomed the war, and resumed his work with his close friend Heinrich Class of the Pan-German League. During the war, Hugenberg was an annexationist who wanted the war to end with Germany annexing much of Europe, Africa and Asia to make the Reich into the world's greatest power. In September 1914, Hugenberg and Class co-wrote a memorandum setting out the annexationist platform, which demanded that, once the war was won, Germany would annex Belgium and northern France, British sea power would end, and Russia would be reduced to the "frontiers existing at the time of Peter the Great". Beyond that, Germany was to annex all of the British, French and Belgian colonies in sub-Saharan Africa, and create an "economic union", embracing Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy, the Scandinavian nations and the nations of the Balkans, that would be dominated by the Reich. Finally, the Hugenberg-Class memo called for a policy of colonization in Eastern Europe, where the German state would settle thousands of German farmers in the land annexed from the Russian Empire.
The Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, was actually an annexationist himself, but refused to support the annexationists in public. Under the constitution of 1871, the Reichstag had limited powers, but one of those powers was the right to pass budgets. In the 1912 elections, the Social Democrats won a majority of the seats in the Reichstag. In 1914, the Social Democrats split into two factions, with the Independent Social Democrats opposing the war and the Majority Social Democrats supporting the war under the grounds that Russia was supposedly about to attack Germany. However, the Majority Social Democrats were opposed to the annexationists, and to secure their co-operation in passing budgets, Bethmann Hollweg refused to support the annexationists in public. Bethmann Hollweg's Septemberprogramm—drafted in September 1914 at a time when the fall of Paris was believed to be imminent as the German armies had almost reached the French capital and to be issued when Paris fell—was remarkably similar to the Hugenberg-Class memo. Believing that he was not one of them, Hugenberg, like the rest of the annexationists, spent the years 1914 to 1917 attacking Bethmann Hollweg as essentially a traitor. In 1915, Hugenberg published a telegram to Class in the name of the united chambers of commerce of the Ruhr, demanding that Wilhelm II dismiss Bethmann Hollweg and if the Kaiser was unwilling, that the military depose Bethmann Hollweg, stating if the Reich failed to achieve the annexationist platform once the war was won that it would cause a revolution from the right that would end the monarchy. It was Hugenberg's interest in mobilizing support for the annexationists and bringing down Bethmann Hollweg that led him into the media, as Hugenberg in 1916 started to buy newspapers and publishing houses in order to create more organs for the expression of his imperialistic views. After buying the Scherl newspaper chain in July 1916, Hugenberg announced, at the first meeting of the board under his management, that he had only bought the Scherl corporation to champion annexationist and Pan-German war aims, and that any editor opposed to his expansionistic views should resign then, before he fired them. Aside from his membership in the Pan-German League, Hugenberg had a more personal reason for being an annexationist. Together with his friends Emil Kirdorf, Hugo Stinnes and Wilhelm Beukenberg, Hugenberg in 1916-17 founded a number of corporations to exploit the occupied parts of Belgium and northern France . These companies were favored by the Army, which ruled occupied Belgium and France as both Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff—both firm annexationists—appreciated Hugenberg's willingness to spend millions of marks to mobilize public support for their cause. In 1918, after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Hugenberg founded two corporations, the Landgesellschaft Kurland m.b.H and Neuland AG that had a total budget of 37 million marks, to establish co-operative funds that would make loans to the hundreds of thousands of German farmers that he expected to be soon settled in Eastern Europe.
Hugenberg 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. Hugenberg's increasing involvement in Pan-German and annexationist causes together with his interest in building a media empire, caused him to depart from Krupp, which he found to be a distraction from what really interested him. These newspapers became the basis of his publishing firm, Scherl House and, after he added controlling interests in Universum Film AG (UFA), 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.
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. 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. 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. The DNVP suffered heavy losses in the 1928 election, leading to the appointment of Hugenberg as sole chairman on 21 October that same year.
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. Up to this point, right-wing politics outside of the far right was going through a process of reconciliation with the Weimar Republic, but this ended under Hugenberg, who renewed earlier DNVP calls for its immediate destruction. 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 speaking people outside Germany (especially in Austria), a dilution of the role of the Reichstag to that of a 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.
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. 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.
Under Hugenberg's leadership, the DNVP toned down and later abandoned the monarchism which had characterized the party in its earlier years. 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 interests in the Reichstag.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 business magnates deserting the DNVP for the Nazis. Hitler's handling of the affair was marred by one thing, and that was the premature announcement in the Nazi press of his repudiation of the alliance with the Strasser brothers, whose left-wing economics were incompatible with Hugenberg's arch-capitalism.
Despite this episode, in February 1931 Hugenberg joined the Nazi Party in booting 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'. 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'. 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. The two leaders soon clashed, and Hugenberg's refusal to endorse Hitler in the 1932 German presidential election widened the gap. 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 Duesterberg was eliminated on the first vote, due largely to Nazi allegations regarding his Jewish parentage, Hitler nonetheless failed to secure the Presidency.
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 upon. 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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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". He initially rejected Hitler's plans to immediately call a fresh election, fearing the 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 acceded to Hitler's wishes. 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.
Hugenberg made no effort to stop Hitler's ambition of becoming a dictator. As mentioned above, he himself was authoritarian by inclination. Along with the other DNVP members of the cabinet, he voted for the Reichstag Fire Decree of 1933, 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. The Sturmabteilung (SA) were also turned against the DNVP, with youth movements loyal to Hugenberg becoming the focus of attacks. He announced his formal resignation on 29 June 1933 and he was replaced by others who were loyal to the Nazi Party, Kurt Schmitt in the Economy Ministry and Richard Walther Darré in the Agriculture Ministry. 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. Indeed, the German National Front, as the DNVP had officially been called since May 1933, had officially dissolved on 27 June.
Although driven from his cabinet post, Hugenberg was, along with Papen and other former DNVP and Centre Party (Zentrum) members, included on the Nazi list of candidates for the November 1933 election as a concession to middle-class voters. 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. 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, and given that the Reichstag met on an increasingly infrequent basis in any event, independents like Hugenberg had no influence.
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.
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. He died in Kükenbruch (present-day Extertal) near Detmold on 12 March 1951.
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Kuno von Westarp
| Leader of the German National People's Party
Magnus Freiherr von Braun
| Minister of Food
Richard Walther Darré