Franz Von Papen: How Loyal Was Hitler’s Vice Chancellor to the Nazi Cause?

 In E3, Germany

Key Point: Papen became effec­tive­ly trapped in a pow­er­less posi­tion under Hitler.

On May 31, 1932, Franz von Papen achieved the pin­na­cle of a long career serv­ing his coun­try when, in a sur­pris­ing move, the aging President Paul von Hindenburg named him Chancellor of Germany. The hand of fate had taken an unusu­al route in guid­ing this career diplo­mat and spy to the helm of Germany. Intent on pre­serv­ing peace while con­tend­ing with unsta­ble polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tions domes­ti­cal­ly, Papen’s six-month admin­is­tra­tion as chan­cel­lor instead was dom­i­nat­ed by con­tro­ver­sy and inter­na­tion­al intrigue. Both char­ac­ter­is­tics seemed to follow Papen through­out his career, before and after his term as chan­cel­lor.

Born October 29, 1879, in Werl, Westphalia, Franz von Papen was the son of a wealthy landown­er. Like many young men of the day, he decid­ed upon a career in the mil­i­tary. By World War I he had risen to become the mil­i­tary attaché to the German Embassy in Washington, D.C. Papen had mar­ried the niece of a French mar­quis, who taught him to speak almost per­fect French. The couple had grown quite pop­u­lar among the Washington diplo­mat­ic corps by 1915 when Papen was declared per­sona non grata by the U.S. gov­ern­ment and ordered home to Germany.

His unof­fi­cial job while in America had been that of spy­mas­ter. Charged with over­see­ing German espi­onage agents and their activ­i­ties con­cen­trat­ed on pre­vent­ing American arma­ments from reach­ing England, Papen was given a con­sid­er­able budget to fund the oper­a­tion. Dummy cor­po­ra­tions were estab­lished which then took all the orders they could for Allied arma­ments. With no inten­tion of fill­ing the orders, their cus­tomers were con­tin­u­al­ly given excus­es about the end­less delays, thus help­ing Germany’s cause.

Other fic­ti­tious firms cre­at­ed by Papen bought all the gun­pow­der avail­able in the United States under the guise that these fab­ri­cat­ed com­pa­nies were man­u­fac­tur­ing grenades and artillery shells des­tined for England. Instead, the gun­pow­der lan­guished in ware­hous­es never to see use during the war at all.

Though these two oper­a­tions were rel­a­tive­ly suc­cess­ful in assist­ing Germany’s war effort, other efforts were not, pri­mar­i­ly because of the inep­ti­tude of Papen’s sub­or­di­nates. In par­tic­u­lar was one Heinrich Albert, an attaché at the embassy who inad­ver­tent­ly left his brief­case on a train in New York. The case was prompt­ly seized by an American intel­li­gence agent. It con­tained sen­si­tive doc­u­ments, and their even­tu­al pub­li­ca­tion in American news­pa­pers caused sig­nif­i­cant embar­rass­ment to the German diplo­mat­ic corps, par­tic­u­lar­ly Papen.

Incidents such as this increased the ten­sion between Franz von Rintelen and Papen as well. Sent from Berlin to coor­di­nate sab­o­tage efforts in the United States, Rintelen was intent on blow­ing up mil­i­tary instal­la­tions and ware­hous­es. Rintelen’s approach to espi­onage vastly dif­fered from that of Papen, who pre­ferred qui­eter, more sophis­ti­cat­ed meth­ods of harass­ing Germany’s ene­mies. Papen was of the opin­ion that Rintelen’s “loose cannon” approach was not only reck­less in its own right, but it poten­tial­ly endan­gered the plans imple­ment­ed by Papen as well.

While Rintelen was busy fund­ing sab­o­tage oper­a­tions against U.S. mer­chant ves­sels and the 1917 explo­sion at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in San Francisco (in which 16 chil­dren were killed), Papen was con­sis­tent­ly cabling the Abwehr (Germany’s intel­li­gence agency) insist­ing that his more flam­boy­ant asso­ciate be recalled to Germany.

Papen got his way, and Rintelen was indeed ordered home to Germany. However, instead of being allowed to con­tin­ue assist­ing the war effort by using his own meth­ods, Papen was placed in the posi­tion made vacant by Rintelen’s depar­ture, that of super­vis­ing sab­o­tage in the United States. While he never ordered acts of overt ter­ror­ism in the United States like his pre­de­ces­sor, Papen evi­dent­ly did autho­rize such activ­i­ties in Canada.

He dis­patched men to blow up cru­cial por­tions of the Canadian Pacific Railway, thus pre­vent­ing troops from reach­ing the trans­ports des­tined to take them to England. However, Canadian author­i­ties and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were able to thwart this mis­sion. While he was coor­di­nat­ing these activ­i­ties, he also super­vised oper­a­tions prepar­ing forged iden­ti­fi­ca­tion papers for German cit­i­zens who were eager to return to Germany and fight for their home­land.

Papen was Charged with Tracking Down Arab Guerrillas Under the Command of T.E. Lawrence, the Now Famous “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Papen’s activ­i­ties final­ly caught up with him and caused his ejec­tion from America. Specifically, the attempts to sab­o­tage American arma­ment pro­duc­tion and a con­spir­a­cy to blow up Canada’s Welland Canal were the ulti­mate causes. These events would resur­face in the American press when Papen became German chan­cel­lor in 1932, and in his auto­bi­og­ra­phy he attempt­ed to clear up his part in the activ­i­ties. Much of the evi­dence against Papen in 1915 was sup­plied by British agents who were not com­plete­ly unwill­ing to man­u­fac­ture infor­ma­tion impli­cat­ing a German nation­al during wartime. It was under this cloud that Papen headed home to Germany, but he would not remain there very long.

Sent to Spain briefly in 1917, Papen was serv­ing again as mil­i­tary attaché when he report­ed­ly had con­tact with the ill-fated German spy, Mata Hari. In 1918, mainly because of his bungling attempts at espi­onage in the United States and a less than stel­lar per­for­mance in Spain, Papen was sent to Palestine where he was to serve as the chief of staff of the 4th Turkish Army. Leading a ring of spies for the Turks in their war against the British, he was charged with track­ing down Arab guer­ril­las under the com­mand of T.E. Lawrence, the now famous “Lawrence of Arabia.” Here too, he was unsuc­cess­ful. During this period he also imple­ment­ed clan­des­tine oper­a­tions that encour­aged rebel­lion in both India and Ireland, as well as more sab­o­tage in the United States.

With the end of World War I, the devout­ly Catholic Papen returned to Germany and embarked on a career in pol­i­tics, join­ing the Catholic Centre Party. In 1921 he was elect­ed to the Reichstag, the German par­lia­ment, set­tling into a posi­tion as an unex­cit­ing but wealthy member of his party, and ulti­mate­ly serv­ing as a party deputy. By 1932, the suave, well-man­nered Papen had attract­ed the atten­tion of party lead­ers. At the time, former German Chancellor Heinrich Bruning was lead­ing the Catholic Centre Party. President Hindenburg had been nur­tur­ing Bruning as his pro­tégé, but Bruning was dropped from this role. With Hindenburg lack­ing a favorite, Papen was offered up as replace­ment for Hindenburg’s sup­port.

It was General Kurt von Schleicher, Hindenburg’s chief advis­er, who orches­trat­ed Papen’s ascen­dance to German chan­cel­lor. In late May 1932, Schleicher posed Papen to Hindenburg as a patri­ot­ic German who would answer the call of his coun­try to serve, even at the expense of offend­ing his own party. At the president’s insis­tence, Papen accept­ed the role reluc­tant­ly.

The gov­ern­ment Papen presided over was a strict one and tol­er­ant, if not favor­able, to Nazi ambi­tions. In June 1932, he rescind­ed the ban on the Nazi Party’s para­mil­i­tary SA (Sturm Abteilung or Storm Section, also known as the Brownshirts) and deposed Prussia’s Social Democratic gov­ern­ment. One pos­i­tive accom­plish­ment of his admin­is­tra­tion was that he did manage to get Germany’s war repa­ra­tion debts can­celled, but it was not enough to val­i­date his other actions. Papen’s attempts to dis­re­gard the Weimar con­sti­tu­tion and imple­ment his author­i­tar­i­an rule had man­aged to alien­ate one of the key men who had helped place him in power, Schleicher.

General Schleicher then took mat­ters into his own hands by con­vinc­ing sev­er­al cab­i­net min­is­ters to flout Papen’s ini­tia­tives, and the chan­cel­lor resigned in December 1932, only to be replaced by Schleicher him­self at the direc­tion of President Hindenburg.

It was this series of events that led Papen, still sting­ing from his appar­ent betray­al by Schleicher just weeks prior, to seek out Adolf Hitler in January 1933 and forge an agree­ment with him. This now infa­mous arrange­ment would see the aging Hindenburg appoint Hitler as chan­cel­lor on January 30, 1933, with Papen as vice chan­cel­lor. Papen had been suc­cess­ful in per­suad­ing Hindenburg that he could pre­vent Hitler from enact­ing many of the extrem­ist Nazi pro­grams he was anx­ious to imple­ment.

In this sce­nario, Papen envi­sioned his own return to power, believ­ing that Hitler would be mal­leable to behind-the-scenes manip­u­la­tion. Vice Chancellor Papen quick­ly learned that Hitler was not so easily swayed from the aims of his Nazi agenda. Although Papen was not as extreme as Hitler in push­ing the per­se­cu­tion of German Jews, his attempts to jus­ti­fy that dis­crim­i­na­tion were appar­ent in a speech deliv­ered in Gleiwitz in 1934. “There can cer­tain­ly be no objec­tion to keep­ing the unique qual­i­ty of a people as clean as pos­si­ble,” Papen had stated, “and to awaken the sense of a people’s com­mu­ni­ty.”

Papen Narrowly Escaped Death When as Many as 400 Members of the SA Were Purged

Papen was now effec­tive­ly trapped in a pow­er­less posi­tion. As vice chan­cel­lor for almost 18 months, he was unable to sway Hitler from his extrem­ist plan, but so des­per­ate to hold on to any shred of power was Papen that the alter­na­tive of res­ig­na­tion and pos­sess­ing no power at all was even worse. If in his present sit­u­a­tion he was pow­er­less, his prox­im­i­ty to Hitler meant he was rel­a­tive­ly safe.

National Interest source|articles

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