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Franz von Papen
Chancellor of Germany

In office
1 June – 17 November 1932
President Paul von Hindenburg
Preceded by Heinrich Brüning
Succeeded by Kurt von Schleicher
Vice-Chancellor of Germany

In office
30 January 1933 – 7 August 1934
Chancellor Adolf Hitler
Preceded by Hermann R. Dietrich
Succeeded by Vacant
Franz Blücher (1949)
Minister President of Prussia

In office
20 July – 3 December 1932
Preceded by Otto Braun
Succeeded by Kurt von Schleicher

In office
30 January – 10 April 1933
Preceded by Kurt von Schleicher
Succeeded by Hermann Göring
Personal details
Born Franz Joseph Hermann Michael Maria von Papen zu Köningen
(1879-10-29)29 October 1879
Werl, German Empire
Died 2 May 1969(1969-05-02) (aged 89)
Obersasbach, West Germany
Political party Centre Party (left in 1932)
Independent (after 1932)
Spouse(s) Martha von Boch-Galhu
Children Friedrich
Occupation Officer, diplomat, politician
Religion Roman Catholicism
Military service
Allegiance German Empire (to 1918)

Lieutenant-Colonel Franz Joseph Hermann Michael Maria von Papen zu Köningen (About this sound listen ) (29 October 1879 – 2 May 1969) was a German nobleman, General Staff officer and politician. He served as Chancellor of Germany in 1932 and as Vice-Chancellor under Adolf Hitler in 1933–1934. He belonged to the group of close advisers to president Paul von Hindenburg in the late Weimar Republic. It was largely Papen, believing that Hitler could be controlled once he was in the government, who persuaded Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Chancellor in a cabinet not under Nazi Party domination. However, Papen and his allies were quickly marginalised by Hitler and he left the government after the Night of the Long Knives, during which some of his confidantes were killed by the Nazis.


Born to a wealthy and noble Catholic family[1] in Werl, Province of Westphalia, son of Friedrich von Papen zu Köningen (1839 – 1906) and his wife Anna Laura von Steffens (1852 – 1939), Papen was educated as an officer, including a period as a military attendant in the Kaiser'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

Papen was expelled from the United States during World War I for alleged complicity in the planning of sabotage such as blowing up U.S. rail lines.[2] On 28 December 1915, he was declared persona non grata after his exposure and recalled to Germany.[3] En route, his luggage was confiscated, and 126 cheque stubs were found showing payments to his agents. Papen went on to report on American attitudes, to both General Erich von Falkenhayn and Wilhelm 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 then safely home; he remained under indictment until he became Chancellor of Germany, at which time the charges were dropped.[3] Later in World War I, Papen served as an officer first on the Western Front, 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 Volunteers 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. Promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, he returned to Germany and left the army at the war's end in 1918.

Inter-war years

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

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

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


Chancellor Papen (left) with his eventual successor, Minister of Defense Kurt von Schleicher

On 1 June 1932 he moved from relative obscurity to supreme importance when president Paul von Hindenburg appointed him , 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. After he broke his pledge, Kaas 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 was "...'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."[4]

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"[5] 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.

Papen ruled in an authoritarian manner by launching a coup against the center-left coalition 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. Riots resulted on the streets of Berlin, as 461 battles between Communists and the SA took place, leading to 82 deaths on both sides. Berlin was put on military shutdown and Papen sent men to arrest the Prussian authorities, whom he suspected of being in league with the Communists. Hereafter, Papen declared himself commander of the Prussian region, further weakening the democracy of the Weimar Republic.

Soon afterward, Papen called a national election for July 1932, in the hope of securing a majority in the Reichstag. However, he didn't even come close, and the Nazis gained 123 seats, becoming the largest party. When the new Reichstag first assembled, Papen obtained in advance from Hindenburg a decree to dissolve it. He did not take this with him to the first session, having received a promise that there would be an immediate objection to an expected motion of no confidence. However, when no one objected, Papen ordered one of his messengers to fetch the dissolution decree. He demanded the floor in order to read it, but the newly elected Reichstag president Hermann Göring pretended not to see him; the Nazis had decided to support the Communist motion. The no confidence vote passed overwhelmingly, forcing another election.

Papen's cabinet

June to November 1932

Chancellor von Papen making an address to American radio

  • Franz von Papen – Chancellor
  • Konstantin Freiherr von NeurathMinister of Foreign Affairs
  • Wilhelm Freiherr von Gayl (DNVP) – Minister of the Interior
  • Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk – Minister of Finance
  • Hermann WarmboldMinister of Economics
  • Hugo SchäfferMinister of Labour
  • Franz Gürtner (DNVP) – Minister of Justice
  • Kurt von SchleicherMinister of Defence
  • Paul Freiherr Eltz von RübenachMinister of Posts and Transport
  • Magnus Freiherr von Braun – Minister of Agriculture

29 October 1932 changes

  • Franz Bracht and Johannes Popitz enter the Cabinet as Ministers without Portfolio.

Forced to resign

In the November 1932 election the Nazis lost seats, but Papen was still unable to get a majority. Papen then decided to try to negotiate with Hitler, but Hitler's reply contained so many conditions that Papen gave up all hope of reaching agreement. Soon afterward, under pressure from Schleicher, Papen resigned on 17 November.

Papen held out hope of being reappointed by Hindenburg, fully expecting that the aging president would find Hitler's demands unacceptable. Indeed, when Schleicher suggested on 1 December that he might be able to get support from the Nazis, Hindenburg blanched and told Papen to try to form another government. However, at a cabinet meeting the next day, Papen was informed that there was no way to maintain order against the Nazis and Communists. Realizing that Schleicher was deliberately trying to undercut him, Papen asked Hindenburg to fire Schleicher as defence minister. Instead, Hindenburg told Papen that he was appointing Schleicher as chancellor. Schleicher 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 manoeuvring 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. In the end the president, who had previously vowed never to allow Hitler ('that Austrian lance corporal', he derisively referred to him as) to become chancellor, appointed Hitler to the post on 30 January 1933, with Papen as Vice-Chancellor.


Hitler with von Papen: 1 May 1933

At the formation of Hitler's cabinet on 30 January, the Nazis had three cabinet posts—Hitler, Hermann Göring and Wilhelm Frick. The only Nazi besides Hitler to have an actual portfolio was Frick, who held the then-powerless interior ministry. The other eight posts were held by conservatives close to Papen. 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. Under the Weimar Constitution, the chancellor was a fairly weak figure, serving as little more than a chairman. Moreover, Cabinet decisions were made by majority vote. With this in mind, Papen anticipated "boxing Hitler in," believing that his conservative friends' majority in the Cabinet and his closeness to Hindenburg would keep Hitler in check. Papen boasted to intimates that "Within two months we will have pushed Hitler so far in the corner that he'll squeak." To the warning that he was placing himself in Hitler's hands, Papen replied, "You are mistaken. We've hired him."[6]

However, Hitler and his allies instead quickly marginalized Papen and the rest of the cabinet. For example, as part of the deal between Hitler and Papen, Göring had been appointed interior minister of Prussia, thus putting the largest police force in Germany under Nazi control. However, he 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 marginalisation, 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 and downfall

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 1934 where he called for the restoration of some freedoms, demanded an end to the calls for a "second revolution"[7] 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 told Hitler that he was resigning and would inform Hindenburg at once. Hitler knew that accepting the resignation of Hindenburg's long-time confidant, especially during a time of tumult, would anger the ailing president. He guessed right; not long afterward Hindenburg gave Hitler an ultimatum – unless he acted to end the state of tension in Germany, Hindenburg would throw him out of office and turn over control of the government to the army.

Night of the Long Knives

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, the former Chancellor who had been scheming with some of Hitler's rivals within the party to separate them from their leader, was gunned down along with his wife. Also Gustav von Kahr, the conservative who had thwarted the Beer Hall Putsch more than ten years earlier, was shot and thrown into a swamp.

File:Hitler, Göring, Goebbels and Hess.jpg

The architects of the purge: Hitler, Göring, Goebbels, and Hess. Only Himmler and Heydrich are missing.

Though Papen's bold speech against some of the excesses committed by the Nazis had angered Hitler, the latter was aware that he could not act directly against the Vice-Chancellor without offending Hindenburg. Instead, in the Night of the Long Knives, the Vice-Chancellery, Papen's office, was ransacked by the SS, where his associate Herbert von Bose was shot dead at his desk. Another associate, Erich Klausener, was shot dead at his desk at the Ministry of Transportation. Many more were arrested and imprisoned in concentration camps where Jung, amongst others, was shot a few days later. 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. Other sources suggest that Papen had shared a place with Schleicher on an SS "death list", and that Göring had in fact saved him from the purge by ordering his confinement, possibly unwittingly after personal disputes.[citation needed]

Reportedly Papen arrived at the Chancellery, exhausted from days in house arrest without sleep, to find the Chancellor seated with other Nazi ministers around a round table, with no place for him but a hole in the middle. He insisted on a private audience with Hitler and announced his resignation, stating; My service to the Fatherland is over! The following day, Papen's resignation as Vice-Chancellor was formally accepted and publicised, with no successor appointed. With Hindenburg's death weeks later, the last conservative obstacle to complete Nazi rule was gone.[8]

Ambassador to Austria

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

In Hitler's words, Papen's duty was to restore "normal and friendly relations" between Germany and Austria.[citation needed] Papen also contributed to achieving Hitler's goal of undermining Austrian sovereignty and bringing about the Nazis' long-dreamed-of Anschluss (annexation by 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."[9]

Ironically, one of the plots called for Papen's murder by Austrian Nazi sympathisers 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 the NKVD[10]—a bomb prematurely exploded, killing the bomber and no one else, although Papen was slightly injured.

After Pope Pius XI died in 1939, his successor Pope Pius XII did not renew Papen's honorary title of Papal Chamberlain. As nuncio, the future Pope John XXIII, Angelo Roncalli, was acquainted with Papen in Greece and Turkey during World War II. 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.[11]

Post-war years

Benzenhofen, near Ravensburg

Papen was captured along with his son Franz Jr. by U.S. Army Lt. James E. Watson and members of the 550th Airborne battalion near the end of the war at his home. According to Watson, as he was put into the jeep for his ride into a POW camp, Papen was heard to remark (in English), "I wish this terrible war were over." At that one of his sergeants responded, "So do 11 million other guys!"[citation needed]

Papen was one of the defendants at the main Nuremberg War Crimes Trial. The court acquitted him, stating while he had committed a number of "political immoralities," these actions were not punishable under the "conspiracy to commit crimes against peace" charged in Papen's indictment. He was later sentenced to eight years hard labour by a West German denazification court, but was released on appeal in 1949.

Papen tried unsuccessfully to restart his political career in the 1950s, and lived at the Castle of Benzenhofen in Upper Swabia.

Pope John XXIII restored his title of Papal Chamberlain on 24 July 1959. Papen was also a Knight of Malta, and was awarded the Grand Cross of the Pontifical Order of Pius IX.

Papen published a number of books and memoirs, in which he defended his policies and dealt 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.[12]

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


  • 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
  • In The Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson, Crown, New York 2011

In popular culture

Franz von Papen has been portrayed by the following actors in film, television and theatre productions;[13]

  • Paul Everton in the 1918 U.S. film The Eagle's Eye
  • Curt Furburg in the 1943 U.S. film Background to Danger
  • Walter Kingsford in the 1944 U.S. film The Hitler Gang
  • John Wengraf in the 1952 U.S. film 5 Fingers
  • Peter von Zerneck in the 1973 U.S. T.V. production Portrait: A Man Whose Name Was John
  • Dennis St John in the 2000 Canadian/U.S. T.V. production Nuremberg
  • Erland Josephson in the 2003 Italian/British T.V. production The Good Pope: Pope John XXIII
  • Robert Russell in the 2003 Canadian/U.S. T.V. production Hitler: The Rise of Evil
  • Georgi Novakov in the 2006 British television docudrama Nuremberg: Nazis on Trial

See also



  • Bracher, Karl Dietrich Die Auflösung der Weimarer Republik; eine Studie zum Problem des Machtverfalls in der Demokratie Villingen: Schwarzwald,Ring-Verlag, 1971.
  • Kershaw, Ian Hitler: 1889–1936: Hubris New York: Norton, 1998.
  • 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.
  • Jones, Larry Eugene (2005). "Franz von Papen, the German Center Party, and the Failure of Catholic Conservatism in the Weimar Republic". pp. 191–217. Digital object identifier:10.1163/156916105775563670. .


  1. "Reich Chancellor Brüning's resignation" from the site Biografie Willy Brandt.
  2. Shirer, William 1960, p 164.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Current Biography 1941, pp. 651–53.
  4. François-Poncet made this observation in his book, The Fateful Years: Memoirs of a French Ambassador in Berlin, 1931 – 1938, also quoted in William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
  5. "Time Magazine, Feb. 6, 1933". 6 February 1933.,8816,745087,00.html. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  6. Kershaw, Ian. Hitler: 1889–1936: Hubris (1998) p.411
  7. Storm troopers' demands for a "socialist" revolution to complement the already fulfilled "nationalist" revolution inherent in the name of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). See,9171,754321,00.html.
  8. "GERMANY: Crux of Crisis". Time. 16 July 1934.,9171,787889,00.html. 
  9. Churchill, W. (1948) The Gathering Storm
  10. Pavel Sudoplatov, Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness—A Soviet Spymaster (Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1994), ISBN 0-316-77352-2
  11. Franz von Papen, Memoirs (London: Andre Deutsch, 1952), p. 532.
  12. Papen, pp. 586–87.
  13. "Franz von Papen (Character)". Retrieved 20 May 2008. 

External links

Quotations related to Franz von Papen at Wikiquote

Political offices
Preceded by
Heinrich Brüning
Chancellor of Germany
Succeeded by
Kurt von Schleicher
Preceded by
Otto Braun (as prime minister)
Reichskomissar of Prussia
Succeeded by
Kurt von Schleicher
Preceded by
Kurt von Schleicher (as Reichskomissar)
Prime Minister of Prussia
Succeeded by
Hermann Göring
Preceded by
Hermann R. Dietrich
Vice-Chancellor of Germany
1933 – 1934
Succeeded by
Franz Blücher (in 1949)

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