FROM NIL TO NAZI: How the DNVP aided the rise of the Nazi Party

At the turn of the decade from World War I, the Nazi Party was doomed to relative obscurity in the German political scene. Germany was plagued with issues from World War I; their once rich and now debt-riddled economy from war reparations and the imposition of pacification measures through strict demilitarisation was to be the pivot of the next three decades of political contention.

For a most part, forgotten by history, the rise of the Nazi Party would not be so without the support of the DNVP – the German National People’s Party. Led by career politician and media mogul, Alfred Hugenberg in its latter period and ultimate downfall, the DNVP stood for areturn to a great Empire, unhindered by debt and subjugation from the Allied nations.

However, the DNVP was marred by a schism between their hard-right empiricism and the moderates who believed that cooperation with the new republican government was necessary. United under the ragtag title of conservatism, maintaining support amongst their industrialists and agrarians was always their utmost priority in order to prop up the German economy in opposition to policies such as the Treaty of Versailles and its successors. It was due to this schism in support over such plans that Hugenberg needed to garner popular support to ensure the continued existence of his party.

With industry at a halt and unemployment at a high, acceptance of the ‘war guilt’ clause of the Treaty of Versailles would stimulate the economy and provide employment to the citizen body as the Allied nations would invest in German capital and industry, although at a massive pacification cost through disarmament. The DNVP votership base remained thoroughly embedded within industrialists and white-collar producers.Acceptance would indicate profit, but also contravene the nationalist qualities of the DNVP in maintaining a Greater Germany.

When the Dawes Plan was found to be unsustainable for the longer term, support for the Young Plan proved controversial. Although it reduced the amount required to be repaid by the Republic, the Young Plan maintained the inclusion of the ‘war guilt’ clause.

Continued rejection of the ‘war guilt’ clause by the DNVP divided the industrialists, and its already minimal working class to the point where the DNVP suffered a crippling 6.3% swing in its 1928 election results. In order to restore the damage from this loss, Hugenbergrequired a campaign which sought popular albeit nationalist support to establish a referendum for the freedom from ‘enslavement’ of the German people. The only party which bore support from the working class with a controllable leader was the Nazi Party with Adolf Hitler.

In the grand scheme of German politics, Hitler was seen to be nothing more than a political nuisance – a failed revolutionary and a generally unsuccessful agitator. Hitler was a gifted orator, which became an asset to Hugenberg’s referendum campaign as his passion captivated the largely disempowered; the unemployed, veterans and working classes. Following the events of Beer Hall Putsch, in which Hitler failed to overthrow Munich and inspire a nationalist revolution amongst the people, he was tried and incarcerated for high treason. Not only was Hitler and the Nazi Party banned from Bavaria, but Hitler himself was banned from public oratory until 1927. With a ruined reputation, and emergence into a Germany that no longer required revolution, Hitler was made almost redundant.

For much of the 1920s, Hugenberg had ignored Hitler. Young and tenacious, Hitler bore popularity amongst the working class, which would compensate for the loss of the industrialist support. Thus, Hugenberg sought to re-establish Hitler.

Hitler bore few qualities which Hugenberg required, although those which he did have proved useful as he provided what Hugenberg could not. Hitler had earned an Iron Cross for his contributions in World War I. In a highly authoritarian nation, this elevated his capability of operating within a centralised government. Hugenberg was a career politician and one of Germany’s wealthiest. His incapability to bond with the general population was often ridiculed by his political opponents. In addition, his oratory was said to be ‘droning’, and far removed from interesting. Hitler’s oratory and youth appealed to the wider population. Having suffered unemployment and hardship in his youth Hitler could empathise with the population, and share in their woes. He inspired hope and a Greater Germany to a disempowered people. Finally, in restoring credibility, Hugenberg’s control over almost 150 newspapers in the Republic gave him ample ability to find credibility in Hitler. By allowing coverage, Hitler and his Nazi cause became a household name, and one endorsed by the already popular and trustworthy DNVP.

However, it was also these things which Hugenberg endorsed of Hitler which caused the fall of the DNVP. The Young Plan was eventually passed due to the ill turn out of the population to vote. Although the issue proved popular, it was not enough to represent a majority of the German population. Both parties blamed each other for the failure, causing a severance between their relations. Seen as more representative of the general population and having forged financial relations with leading industrialists and agrarians, the Nazi Party had found its support base. DNVP supporters had abandoned their party and claimed the Nazi Party as their own.

– Beck, Hermann. The Fateful Alliance. New York: Berghahn -Books, 2008.
– Bendersky, Joseph W. A Concise History of the Weimar Republic. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007.
– Walker, D. C. “The German Nationalist People’s Party: The Conservative Dilemma in the Weimar Republic.”Journal of Contemporary History, 1979: 637-640.
– Weitz, Eric D. The Weimar Republic. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.


4 comments on “FROM NIL TO NAZI: How the DNVP aided the rise of the Nazi Party

  1. patsin1 says:

    Many factors contributed to the rise of the Nazis and it’s interesting to look at those who aided and embedded the process. The DNVP and the Nazis were fundamentally different, however needed each other for certain attributes. You did a good job in comparing and contrasting Hugenberg and Hitler as well as identifying what each was to gain through the alliance. Today, the DNVP are considered just a pawn in the Nazis rise to power. Do you think DNVP support was so crucial, that the Nazis would never have been in a position to seize power? Overall a very well thought out piece.

    • Hi Patrick, thanks for the feedback! I don’t think the DNVP was the sole cause for the rise of the Nazi Party, but I do believe it was a necessary catalyst amongst the perfect political environment in the Republic. Elections, anti-Semitism, hyperinflation and the communist threat were all essential too! The DNVP did certainly help in making the Nazi Party and indeed Hitler household name though.

  2. ratsoftobruk says:

    I really like the topic; I’ve been delving into Nazi politics myself this semester. You’ve drawn some great portraits of Hugenberg and Hitler as they were then. The amount of times I’ve seen Hitler described as the warlord he would one day become, the anachronisms just make me shudder.
    I’m interested in your characterisation of Weimar Germany as a centralised and authoritarian country. I had always thought of it, much like the Second Reich before it, to be a much more federated and devolved political system than its Western centralised neighbours. For example, Hitler’s being banned from Bavarian politics (with some of the characters there arguing for Bavarian independence no less) did not immediately preclude him from the national arena. Could you give your thoughts on the matter?

    • Hi Daniel – thanks so much for the feedback! It is very much appreciated.
      I must agree with you – many of Hitler’s traits were not ideal of our idea of a ‘leader’. He had a vicious temper, and was lazy and never owned up for his misgivings or mistakes.
      I did have to give a lot of thought as to how the Weimar Republic was like in its democratic qualities. You are correct in saying the ban from Bavaria did not necessarily preclude Hitler from the national political sphere. However, I would approach the Weimar Republic cautiously when saying it is ‘much more federated and devolved’. Prior to World War I, the boundaries of Germany often shifted and changed, and thus, there was a requirement to maintain localised governments. However, when these boundaries did change, they had to act in accordance to their central/national authority. These regions (ie. Alsace-Lorraine and Rhineland) were hotly disputed, and thus strict connection was always maintained upon the national level. Thus in relation to your example of Hitler’s ban in Bavaria, many things precluded him from national politics (ie. lack of media coverage). It should be remembered that the Weimar Republic was still adjusting to the concept of Republicanism and its operative function so it would be unwise to describe this transition period as being identical to its Western neighbours. It very is unique in its form.

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