Franz von Papen Edit Profile
He began his career as a Lieutenant in a feudal cavalry regiment and in 1913 became a Captain on the General Staff. During World War I he served in Mexico and Washington as military attache at the German embassy, being expelled from the United States in 1916 for sabotage activities. Briefly a battalion Commander in France, he was made head of the Operations Section of the army in Turkey and sent in 1918 to Palestine as Chief of the General Staff of the Fourth Turkish Army. Entering politics a few years after the war, von Papen became a member of the Catholic Centre Party group in the Prussian legislature from 1920 to 1932. Identified with the anti-republican right wing who sought the restoration of the Hohenzollern monarchy, von Papen became Chairman of the management committee of the Catholic Centre Party newspaper, Germania, and his marriage to the daughter of a leading Saar industrialist secured him good connections with big business circles. A member of the aristocratic Herrenklub (Gentleman's Club), von Papen’s Catholic conservatism, his pseudo-Christian nationalism and links with the Reichwehr made him an ideal front-man for the upper classes in Weimar Germany who dreamed of the restoration of an authoritarian State where their privileges would be secure. Though hitherto a political nonentity who lacked any experience of administration, von Papen became Chancellor of Germany on 1 June 1932 in succession to Heinrich Bruning, thanks largely to the support of General von Schleicher. His conservative cabinet of ‘the barons' enjoyed the support of President von Hindenburg, the Reichswehr and big business, but had no solid majority in the Reichstag.
Within two weeks of coming to power, von Papen lifted the ban on the SA and the wearing of the Hitler uniform and began sweeping away the final debris of the Weimar Republic. He dismissed republican high officials and governors of provinces, replacing them by ‘nationalists’. On 20 July 1932 he unconstitutionally deposed the Social Democratic government of Prussia under Otto Braun and appointed himself Reich Commissioner of Prussia.
This act of appeasement vis-à-vis the Nazis was not met with any determined opposition by the SPD, w hich failed to call for a general strike or to mobilize the Prussian police. Von Papen's authoritarian experiment had too narrow a class basis to succeed and neither in the Reichstag nor in the nation as a whole could he win a mandate for his reactionary policies. Increasing pressure from General von Schleicher convinced President von Hindenburg that von Papen should be dismissed on 3 December 1932. Determined to gain revenge on his successor, von Papen now began the disastrous intrigues which were to put Hitler in the saddle on 30 January 1933.
At the beginning of January 1933 he met secretly with Hitler at the house of the Cologne banker, Kurt von Schroder, to devise ways of bringing dow n the new Chancellor, von Schleicher. The immediate object of the conspirators - to induce von Hindenburg to sanction a joint Hitler-von Papen government - succeeded, but its premise that the Nazi leader could be ‘tamed' and ‘restrained- by a team of non-Nazi nationalists proved to be a wild delusion. Von Papen was appointed Vice-Chancellor on 30 January 1933, remaining at his post until 3 July 1934, thereby providing a legalistic façade of middle-class respectability while the Nazis consolidated their control.
Outmanoeuvred by Hitler, the German Nationalists, led by von Papen and Hugenberg. epitomized the bankruptcy of the conservative upper classes in their opportunist irresponsibility and their collaboration with National Socialism. On 17 June 1934. in a speech to students at the University of Marburg, von Papen voiced conservative fears by calling for an end to the threatening activities of the extreme Nazis and the SA. ‘Have we gone through an anti-Marxist revolution', he asked, ‘in order to carry out a Marxist programme?' Calling for greater freedom and a transition to a more democratic State, he alluded favourably to the Hohenzollern monarchy and advocated a renewal of national life in accordance with the principles of Christian conservatism. Hitler was enraged by the speech, contemptuously describing von Papen as a ‘worm- and a ‘ridiculous pygmy attacking the gigantic renewal of German life', while Goebbels, who had suppressed dissemination of von Papen’s remarks, returned to his venomous onslaughts on the upper classes as the enemies of National Socialism.
The Rohm purge of 30 June 1934, in which the real author of von Papen’s speech, the conservative philosopher, Edgar Jung, was murdered along with other close colleagues, indicated that the Nazis were now ready to tear off the veil of respectability and dispense with their Nationalist fellow-travellers. Von Papen narrowly escaped with his life - the SS were disposed to finish him off but Goering bailed him out - and he resigned the Vice-Chancellorship shortly afterwards. Nonetheless, by the
autumn of 1934 he was once more collaborating with the Nazis, this time as German Minister Extraordinary to Vienna (in 1936 he officially became Ambassador), helping to allay suspicions that Hitler had been involved in the assassination of the Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss. In his ambassadorial role, von Papen - who claimed in his memoirs that he had stayed on ‘only in order to prevent a general European conflict’ - took a large part in the arrangements for the Anschluss.
The high-minded aristocrat, for whom discretion was always the better part of valour, fundamentally agreed with Nazi territorial ambitions in central and eastern Europe. He continued loyally to serve Hitler, or as he preferred to put it, the ‘German Fatherland’, as Ambassador to Ankara between 1939 and 1944. Arrested by American troops at the end of the war, von Papen was tried at Nuremberg and acquitted on all counts on 1 October 1946. A German de-Nazihcation court reclassified him, however, on 1 February 1947 as a ‘Major Offender’ and sentenced him to eight years’ labour camp and forfeiture of property. Following an appeal, he was re¬leased in January 1949. In 1952 von Papen published his memoirs, Der Wahrheit eine Gasse, which appeared in English translation the following year.
They were chiefly notable for revealing his insatiable self-importance and astonishing complacency. He died in Obersasbach on 2 May 1969 at the age of eighty-nine.