German National People's Party (DNVP)

The German National People's Party (DNVP) was formed in 1918 and mainly funded by the wealthy industrialist, Hugo Stinnes. This right-wing party opposed the Versailles Treaty, supported the restoration of the monarchy and was critical of the power of the trade unions. Led by the wealthy newspaper magnate, Alfred Hugenberg, the DNVP won 66 seats in the Reichstag in the 1920 General Election. (1)

With the support of the Social Democratic Party, the DNVP leader, Gustav Stresemann became chancellor of Germany in 1923. He managed to bring an end to the passive resistance in the Ruhr and resumed payment of reparations. He also tackled the problem of inflation by establishing the Rentenbank. The DNVP also campaigned against the Locarno Treaty and the Young Plan. (2)

Ernst Oberfohren was one of those elected to Parliament and in the 1924 election the DNVP won 103 seats. In 1929 he was appointed parliamentary leader but by 1930 election the Nazi Party became the main right-wing movement in Germany. (3)

Ernst Oberfohren
Ernst Oberfohren

In the General Election of November 1932, the DNVP only won 52 seats but the Nazi Party increased its representation to 196. However, when Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor, in January 1933, the Nazis only had a third of the seats in Parliament and needed to do deals with other political parties such as DNVP. (4)

In March 1933, Ernst Oberfohren resigned from the Reichstag. It is claimed that Oberfohren was against doing a deal with Hitler. (5) Soon after letters written by Oberfohren, that were critical of Alfred Hugenberg, the leader of the DNVP, appeared in pro-Nazi newspapers. (6)

Political Parties in the Reichstag

















Communist Party (KPD)









Social Democratic Party (SDP)









Catholic Centre Party (BVP)









Nationalist Party (DNVP)









Nazi Party (NSDAP)









Other Parties









Oberfohren disagreed with Hugenberg about the future of the party. He told one journalist, that he pleaded with Hugenberg not to do a deal with Hitler, "but Hugenberg deluded himself that the Nazis could be taught better". He went on to tell the journalist about the "embarrassing police raids on his homes in Kiel and Berlin, the interrogations and the countless threats he had received" and he "prophesied the complete victory of bestiality". (7)

Hugenberg became Minister of Agriculture and Economics. On 23rd March, 1933, all members of the DNVP in the Reichstag voted for the Enabling Bill. This banned the German Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party from taking part in future election campaigns. This was followed by Nazi officials being put in charge of all local government in the provinces (7th April), trades unions being abolished, their funds taken and their leaders put in prison (2nd May), and a law passed making the Nazi Party the only legal political party in Germany (14th July). (8)

Ernst Oberfohren was found dead on 7th May, 1933. One newspaper reported: "On Sunday, the fifty-three-year-old former German Nationalist Deputy, Dr Oberfohren, shot himself in his own home. We learn that Oberfohren took his life at about twelve o'clock, before lunch, when his wife was not at home. The cause seems to be a conflict with his Party." (9) In June, 1933, Hitler dissolved the DNVP and Hugenberg, was from the government. (10)

Primary Sources


(1) Fritz Tobias, The Reichstag Fire: Legend and Truth (1963)

At the end of March 1933, the news that Oberfohren had resigned his seat caused a great deal of public speculation. The Nazi press reported the matter with suspicious brevity. A number of reasons were put forward for his resignation. One historian has said that he differed with Hugenberg over the Party's relationship to the National Socialists; a newspaper article claimed that there was disagreement within the German Nationalist Party on the monarchist issue, while another paper said Oberfohren's reasons were purely personal.

(2) Völkischer Beobachter (12th April, 1933)

Hugenberg said he felt compelled to disclose a number of unpleasant facts to the caucus. The Prussian authorities had, without his knowledge, raided the house of Dr Oberfohren's Berlin secretary, who had made a formal declaration to the effect that two of the circulars which were found by the police and which attacked the Party Chairman Hugenberg had been composed by Dr Oberfohren and sent out on his orders. Dr Hugenberg was informed of this declaration, and made the contents of the circular known to the Parliamentary Party... Immediately afterwards, Dr Oberfohren resigned his seat without any explanation.

(3) Ernst Oberfohren, letter to Alfred Hugenberg (12th April, 1933)

I have been told that despite all the trouble between us you could still speak up for me at a caucus meeting. This forces me to admit quite freely how wrongly I have acted. I sincerely regret the great damage my actions have done the Party. I can only add that it is my firm conviction that the [circular] letters were badly misused. I myself have suffered almost superhuman agonies during the last few weeks. Even before then, the course of political events almost overwhelmed me. My nerves are completely frayed, and I cannot bear the thought of further disputes. I beg you to forget the whole business, if only for the sake of our common struggles in the past.

(4) Statement published by the German National People's Party (9th May 1933)

The death of Dr Oberfohren, which has shocked everyone who had worked with him in the German Nationalist Party, has led a section of the press to publish speculations which are quite incorrect, inasmuch as they associate Dr Oberfohren's death with the treatment meted out to him by the German Nationalist Party.

(5) Neuer Vorwärts (29th October, 1933)

Oberfohren was quite alone, for he wanted to keep his wife out of all the scandal.

"Everything is hopeless," Oberfohren cried whenever I mentioned the possibility of his standing up to the dictatorship.

He was, in fact, a completely broken man.

"Everything is hopeless," he repeated.

He had pleaded with Hugenberg, he told me, but Hugenberg deluded himself that the Nazis could be taught better.

Then he told me about the embarrassing police raids on his homes in Kiel and Berlin, the interrogations and the countless threats he had received. He prophesied the complete victory of bestiality.

"If it were not for my wife, I should have killed myself long ago. Because... we shan't see happy days again. What is happening now is merely the overture. Things are bound to get much worse."

Three days later, Oberfohren was dead.

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(1) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 177

(2) James Taylor and Warren Shaw, Dictionary of the Third Reich (1987) page 144

(3) Franz Menges, Ernst Oberfohren (1999)

(4) Simon Taylor, Revolution, Counter-Revolution and the Rise of Hitler (1983) page 111

(5) Benjamin Carter Hett, Burning the Reichstag: An Investigation into the Third Reich's Enduring Mystery (2014) page 134

(6) Hermann Beck, The Fateful Alliance: German Conservatives and Nazis (2009) pages 224-225

(7) Neuer Vorwärts (29th October, 1933)

(8) James Taylor and Warren Shaw, Dictionary of the Third Reich (1987) pages 88-89

(9) Hannoverscher Anzeiger (8th May 1933)

(10) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 177