A co-founder in 1890 of the Pan-German League, whose aggressively nationalist war-cry was ‘Deutschland wach auf ’, Hugenberg began his spectacularly successful business career as a Director of the Krupp concern - he was Chairman of the Board between 1909 and 1918 - before setting up on his own. During the inflation of the early 1920s, Hugenberg made huge profits and bought up scores of provincial newspapers. Gradually he built up a great chain of newspaper and news agencies, obtained a controlling interest in UFA (Universum Film AG) - Germany’s largest producer of feature films and newsreels - and used his near monopolistic position in the communications industry to mobilize German middle-class opinion against the Weimar Republic. Hugenberg controlled the Scherl publishing house, one of the largest newspaper, periodical and book publishing firms in Berlin; he took over Vera Verlag, which owned or managed fourteen provincial newspapers; he bought up Ala-Anzeiger AG, which gave him a dominant position in the advertising held; and he gained control of the Telegraphen Union, another publishing firm. This was the greatest concentration of power operating on German public opinion, and it was mobilized to support an ultra-nationalist programme and at the same time to declare war on pacifism, internationalism, democracy and socialism.Hugenberg was an industrialist who made a fortune by preaching conservative reaction and helped to put the Nazis in power in order to expand further his economic interests.
A Reichstag deputy of the Deutsch-Nationale Volkspurtei (German National People’s Party) from 1920, he was made its sole Chairman on 21 October 1928, a position he held until its disbandment (under intense Nazi pressure) on 28 June 1933. In 1929 Hugenberg joined forces with the Nazi movement in a massive campaign against the reparations envisaged by the Young Plan and placed his huge propaganda machine for the first time at Hitler’s disposal. Thus, at the outset of the world economic crisis, Hitler’s name became widely known to the German people, thanks to the short-sightedness of an old-fashioned, diehard conservative leader convinced that he could manipulate the Nazis for his own ends. The German Nationalists, who essentially represented the agrarian lobby in the Reichstag - the industrial backers of Hugenberg’s party were increasingly alienated by his high-handed, inflexible policies - proved, however, to be no match for the National Socialists in their tactical alliance between 1929 and 1933.
In January 1933 Hitler still needed Hugenberg's Nationalists to bring the Nazi share of the popular vote over the 50 per cent margin and to provide an aura of social respectability and Prussian tradition to his destruction of democratic institutions. Hugenberg was therefore made Minister of Economics and Agriculture in Hitler’s first cabinet on 30 January 1933. In the elections of 5 March 1933, the Nationalists, however, gained only 8 per cent of the votes cast and Hugenberg's hopes of being able to control Hitler began to fade away. The SA was used to harass Hugenberg’s supporters, his own economic ideas were attacked in the Nazi press as reactionary and his Nationalist Party was subverted from within. On 27 June 1933 he w'as virtually forced to resign and the next day his own party was dissolved. Henceforth he w'as kept out of politics until his death at the age of eighty-six, managing to outlive both Hitler and the Third Reich. Although obliged to sell off some of his huge combine to the Nazi Party as a result of economic and political pressures, Hugenberg was allowed to retain control of his newspaper and publishing business until 1943. Even then, when the Nazi-controlled Eher Verlag entered negotiations to take over his Scherl Verlag, Hugenberg drove a hard bargain, coming out with a substantial block of shares of Rhenish-Westphalian industry in his briefcase. Hugen¬berg was able to retain this property after the war and emerge scot-free, since the Detmold de-Nazification court classified him in 1949 as a ‘fellow-traveller’ and chose not to penalize him for his role as a gravedigger of Weimar democracy and an accomplice of Hitler. Hugenberg's fellow travelling was in many ways the embodiment of the complicity of the German middle classes as a whole, whose outlook he had done much to shape and condition.
He died on 12 March 1951, in Kukenbruch bei Rinteln.