Franz von Papen

Franz von Papen

Papen, Franz von, 1879-1969, German politician. Appointed (1913) military attaché to the German embassy in Washington, he was implicated in espionage activities that led (1915) the U.S. government to request his recall. He subsequently served in Turkey during World War I and, after the war, entered politics. He was (1921-32) a member of the Catholic Center party in the Prussian parliament. Although a political unknown, he was chosen (June, 1932) by President Paul von Hindenburg to succeed Heinrich Brüning as German chancellor in the hope that he could obtain support from right and center. He was, however, expelled from his party for accepting this post, and his cabinet won support only from a minority on the right. In seeking to weaken the left, he contributed to the rise of the National Socialists (Nazis), chiefly by lifting (June) the ban on their militia. In July he suspended the Prussian government and ousted its Socialist premier. Two successive elections failed to bring Papen substantial support in the Reichstag, and when he submitted his formal resignation after the elections of Nov., 1932, it was accepted. Kurt von Schleicher succeeded him as chancellor, but Papen remained a close confidant of Hindenburg and sought to return to power through an alliance with the Nazis. He succeeded in bringing Adolf Hitler to power and was appointed vice chancellor in the new cabinet. Although Hitler soon eliminated his conservative allies from the cabinet, Papen continued to serve the Hitler regime, even after several of his close associates were murdered in the "blood purge" of June, 1934. As German minister to Vienna, he helped to prepare the German annexation of Austria (1938). From 1939 to 1944 he was ambassador to Turkey. Papen was acquitted (1946) by the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal. A sentence to eight years' hard labor imposed (1947) by a German "denazification" court was rescinded in 1949. His memoirs appeared in 1952 (tr. 1953).

(29 October 1879 2 May 1969) was a German nobleman, Catholic monarchist politician, General Staff officer, and diplomat, who served as Chancellor of Germany in 1932 and as Vice-Chancellor in 1933-1934.


Born to a wealthy and noble Roman Catholic family in Werl, Province of Westphalia, son of Friedrich von Papen zu Köningen (1839 1906) and wife Anna Laura von Steffens (1852 1939), Papen was educated as an officer, including a period as a military attendant in the Emperor's Palace, before joining the German General Staff in March 1913. He entered diplomatic service in December 1913 as a military attaché to the German ambassador in the United States. He travelled to Mexico (to which he was also accredited) in early 1914 and observed the Mexican Revolution, returning to Washington, D.C. on the outbreak of World War I in August 1914. He married Martha von Boch-Galhau (1880 1961) on 3 May 1905.

World War I

While in the U.S., Papen, acting as a spymaster, organized economic espionage against Allied war efforts in Europe by means of attempting to purchase all available explosive substances, to prevent their use against the German war effort. On 28 December 1915 he was declared persona non grata by the U.S. after his exposure and recalled to Germany. En route, his luggage was confiscated, and 126 check stubs were found showing payments to his agents. Papen went on to report on American attitudes to both General Erich von Falkenhayn and William II, German Emperor.

In April 1916, a United States federal grand jury issued an indictment against Papen for a plot to blow up Canada's Welland Canal, which connects Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, but Papen was safely on German soil; he remained under indictment until he became Chancellor of Germany, at which time the charges were dropped. During World War I, Papen served as an officer first on the western front and then from 1917 as an officer on the General Staff in the Middle East and as a major in the Ottoman army in Palestine.

Papen also served as intermediary between the Irish rebels and the German government regarding the purchase and delivery of arms to be used against the British during the Easter Rising of 1916, as well as serving as an intermediary with the Indian nationalists in the Hindu German Conspiracy. After achieving the rank of lieutenant-colonel, he returned to Germany and left the army in 1918.

The inter-war years

He entered politics and joined the Catholic Centre Party (Zentrum), in which the monarchist Papen formed part of the right wing. He was a member of the parliament of Prussia from 1921 to 1932.

In the 1925 presidential elections, he surprised his party by supporting the right-wing candidate Paul von Hindenburg over the Centre Party's Wilhelm Marx.

He was a member of the "Deutscher Herrenklub" (German Gentlemen's Club) of Arthur Moeller van den Bruck.


On 1 June 1932 he moved from relative obscurity to supreme importance when President Paul von Hindenburg appointed him Chancellor, even though this meant replacing his own party's Heinrich Brüning.

The day before, he had promised party chairman Ludwig Kaas not to accept any appointment, and Kaas accordingly branded him the "Ephialtes of the Centre Party"; Papen forestalled being expelled by leaving the party on 3 June 1932.

The French ambassador in Berlin, André François-Poncet, wrote at the time that Papen's selection by Hindenburg as chancellor "met with incredulity." Papen, the ambassador continued, "enjoyed the peculiarity of being taken seriously by neither his friends nor his enemies. He was reputed to be superficial, blundering, untrue, ambitious, vain, crafty and an intriguer.

The cabinet which Papen formed, with the assistance of General Kurt von Schleicher, was known as the "cabinet of barons" or as the "cabinet of monocles" and was widely regarded with ridicule by Germans. Except from the conservative German National People's Party (DNVP), Papen had practically no support in the Reichstag — he had never been elected to the legislative body.

Papen ruled in an authoritarian manner by launching a coup against the center-left coaltion government of Prussia (the so-called Preußenschlag) and repealing his predecessor's ban on the SA as a way to appease the Nazis, whom he hoped to lure into supporting his government.

Ultimately, after two Reichstag elections only increased the Nazis' strength in the Reichstag without substantially increasing Papen's own parliamentary support, he was forced to resign as Chancellor, and was replaced on 2 December 1932 by Schleicher, who hoped to establish a broad coalition government by gaining the support of both Nazi and Social Democratic trade unionists.

As it became increasingly obvious that Schleicher would be unsuccessful in his maneuvering to maintain his chancellorship under a parliamentary majority, Papen worked to undermine Schleicher. Along with DNVP leader Alfred Hugenberg, Papen formed an agreement with Hitler under which the Nazi leader would become Chancellor of a coalition government with the Nationalists, and with Papen serving as Vice Chancellor of the Reich and prime minister of Prussia.

On 23 January 1933 Schleicher admitted to President Hindenburg that he had been unable to obtain a majority of the Reichstag, and asked the president to declare a state of emergency. By this time, the elderly Hindenburg had become irritated by the Schleicher cabinet's policies affecting wealthy landowners and industrialists.

Simultaneously, Papen had been working behind the scenes and used his personal friendship with Hindenburg to assure the President that he, Papen, could control Hitler and could thus finally form a government based on the support of the majority of the Reichstag.

Hindenburg refused to grant Schleicher the emergency powers he sought, and Schleicher resigned on 28 January. Though Papen flirted with leaving Hitler out of the cabinet and becoming chancellor, in the end the President, who had previously vowed never to allow Hitler to become chancellor, appointed Hitler to the post on 30 January 1933.

Vice Chancellorship

At the formation of Hitler's cabinet on 30 January, the Nazis had three cabinet posts to the conservatives' eight. Additionally, as part of the deal that allowed Hitler to become chancellor, Papen was granted the right to sit in on every meeting between Hitler and Hindenburg. Counting on their majority in the Cabinet and on the closeness between himself and Hindenburg, Papen had anticipated "boxing Hitler in." Papen boasted to intimates that "Within two months we will have pushed Hitler so far in the corner that he'll squeak."

However, Hitler and his allies instead quickly marginalized Papen and the rest of the cabinet. For example, Hermann Göring had been appointed interior minister of Prussia, but frequently acted without consulting his nominal superior, Papen. Neither Papen nor his conservative allies waged a fight against the Reichstag Fire Decree in late February or the Enabling Act in March.

On 8 April Papen travelled to the Vatican to offer a Reichskonkordat that defined the German state's relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. During Papen's absence, the Nazified Landtag of Prussia elected Göring as prime minister on 10 April.

Conscious of his own increasing marginalization, Papen began covert talks with other conservative forces with the aim of convincing Hindenburg to dismiss Hitler. Of special importance in these talks was the growing conflict between the German military and the paramilitary Sturmabteilung (SA), led by Ernst Röhm.

In early 1934 Röhm continued to demand that the storm troopers become the core of a new German army. Many conservatives, including Hindenburg, felt uneasy with the storm troopers' demands, their lack of discipline and their revolutionary tendencies.

Marburg Speech

With the Army command recently having hinted at the need for Hitler to control the SA, Papen delivered an address at the University of Marburg on 17 June where he called for the restoration of some freedoms, demanded an end to the calls for a "second revolution and advocated the cessation of SA terror in the streets.

In this "Marburg speech" Papen said that "The government [must be] mindful of the old maxim 'only weaklings suffer no criticism'" and that "No organization, no propaganda, however excellent, can alone maintain confidence in the long run." The speech was crafted by Papen's speech writer, Edgar Julius Jung, with the assistance of Papen's secretary Herbert von Bose and Catholic leader Erich Klausener.

The vice chancellor's bold speech incensed Hitler, and its publication was suppressed by the Propaganda Ministry. Angered by this reaction and stating that he had spoken on behalf of Hindenburg, Papen submitted to Hitler his resignation from the cabinet.

Hitler knew that accepting the resignation of Hindenburg's long-time confidant, especially during a time of tumult, would anger the ailing president.

Two weeks after the Marburg speech, Hitler responded to the armed forces' demands to suppress the ambitions of Röhm and the SA by purging the SA leadership. The purge, known as the Night of the Long Knives, took place between 30 June and 2 July 1934. In the purge, Röhm and much of the SA leadership were murdered. General von Schleicher, who as Chancellor had been scheming with some of Hitler's rivals within the party to separate them from their leader, was slain along with his wife.

Though Papen's bold speech against some of the excesses committed by Nazism had angered Hitler, Hitler was aware that he could not act directly against the vice chancellor without offending Hindenburg. But Papen's office was ransacked by the SS, his associates von Bose and Klausener were shot dead at their desks, and Jung was arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp where he was shot to death a few days later.

Several of Papen's staff members were interned in concentration camps. Papen himself was placed under house arrest at his villa with his telephone line cut, though some accounts indicate that this "protective custody" was ordered by Göring, who felt the ex-diplomat could be useful in the future. The following day, Papen's resignation as vice chancellor was accepted.

Ambassador to Austria

Despite the events of the Night of the Long Knives, Papen accepted within a month the assignment by Hitler as German ambassador in Vienna, where Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss had just been murdered in a failed Nazi coup.

In Hitler's words, Papen's duty was to restore "normal and friendly relations" between Germany and Austria. Papen also contributed to achieving Hitler's goal of undermining Austrian sovereignty and bringing about the Nazis' long-dreamed-of Anschluss (unification with Germany).

Winston Churchill reports in his book "The Gathering Storm" (1948) that Hitler appointed Papen for "the undermining or winning over of leading personalities in Austrian politics". Churchill also quotes the U.S. minister in Vienna as saying of Papen "In the boldest and most cynical manner...Papen proceeded to tell me that... he intended to use his reputation as a good Catholic to gain influence with Austrians like Cardinal Innitzer.

Ironically, one of the plots called for Papen's murder by Austrian Nazi sympathizers as a pretext for a retaliatory invasion by Germany.

Though Papen was dismissed from his mission in Austria on 4 February 1938 Hitler drafted Papen to arrange a meeting between the German dictator and Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg at Berchtesgaden.

The ultimatum that Hitler presented Schuschnigg at the meeting on 12 February 1938 led to the Austrian government's capitulation to German threats and pressure, and paved the way for the Anschluss, which was proclaimed on 13 March 1938.

World War II

Papen later served the German government as Ambassador to Turkey from 1939 to 1944. There he survived a Soviet assassination attempt on 24 February 1942 by agents from either NKVD or SMERSH—a bomb prematurely exploded, killing the bomber and no one else, although Papen was slightly injured.

During the war, the German government considered appointing Papen ambassador to the Holy See, but Pope Pius XII, after consulting Konrad von Preysing, Bishop of Berlin, rejected this proposal.

In August 1944 Papen had his last meeting with Hitler after arriving back in Germany from Turkey. Here, Hitler awarded Papen the Knight's Cross of the Military Merit Order.

Post-war years

Papen was captured by U.S. Army Lt. James E. Watson and members of the 550th Airborne battalion, indicted by the Allies and, after the war, was one of the defendants at the main Nuremberg War Crimes Trial.

The court acquitted Papen and stated that he had in the court's view committed a number of "political immoralities," but that these actions were not punishable under the "conspiracy to commit crimes against peace" charged in Papen's indictment.

He tried unsuccessfully to re-start his political career in the 1950s and lived at the Castle of Benzenhofen in Upper Swabia.

After Pius XI died in 1939, his successor Pope Pius XII did not renew his honorary title of Papal Chamberlain, probably in the light of Papen's political role for the Hitler régime. As nuncio, the future Pope John XXIII, Angelo Roncalli, was acquainted with Papen in Greece and Turkey during World War II. He restored this title on 24 July 1959. Papen was also a Knight of Malta.

He published a number of books and memoirs, defending his own policies and dealing with the years 1930 to 1933 as well as early western Cold War politics. Papen praised the Schuman Plan as "wise and statesmanlike" and believed in the economic and military unification and integration of Western Europe.

Franz von Papen died in Oberasbach, West Germany, on 2 May 1969 at the age of 89.

Papen's cabinet, June to November 1932



  • Appell an das deutsche Gewissen. Reden zur nationalen Revolution, Stalling, Oldenburg, 1933
  • Franz von Papen Memoirs, Translated by Brian Connell, Andre Deutsch, London, 1952
  • Der Wahrheit eine Gasse, Paul List Verlag, München 1952
  • Europa, was nun? Betrachtungen zur Politik der Westmächte, Göttinger Verlags-Anstalt, Göttingen 1954
  • Vom Scheitern einer Demokratie. 1930 - 1933, Hase und Koehler, Mainz 1968

Portrayal in popular culture

Franz von Papen has been portrayed by the following actors in film, television and theater productions;

See also



  • Bracher, Karl Dietrich Die Auflösung der Weimarer Republik; eine Studie zum Problem des Machtverfalls in der Demokratie Villingen: Schwarzwald,Ring-Verlag, 1971.
  • Turner, Henry Ashby Hitler's thirty days to power: January 1933, Reading, Mass. : Addison-Wesley, 1996.
  • Wheeler-Bennett, Sir John The Nemesis of Power: German Army in Politics, 1918 - 1945 New York: Palgrave Macmillan Publishing Company, 2005.

External links


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