The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Nazi Conspiracy & Aggression
Individual Responsibility Of Defendants

Franz Von Papen

(Part 6 of 15)

[Page 924]


(1) In the first critical year and a half of Nazi consolidation of control over Germany, von Papen was second only to Hitler in the Cabinet which established the legal basis for furtherance of the Nazi program. As Vice- Chancellor, van Papen was the only member of the government empowered to act for the Fuehrer in his absence.

(2) Von Papen actively participated in the general abolition of civil liberties by promoting legislation which paved the way for the Nazi police state. At the first meeting of Hitler's Cabinet, there was intensive discussion concerning the possibility of securing passage of an Enabling Law which in practical effect would liquidate the Reichstag and make the Nazi Cabinet the supreme law-making power of the Reich. The conspirators, including von Papen, at this meeting clearly indicated that they did not at the time hold sufficient power to achieve this measure by normal constitutional methods (351-PS).

Seizing the Reichstag fire as a pretext, the Cabinet forthwith arranged for the suspension of those fundamental civil liberties (including freedom of speech, press, assembly and association) which would protect citizens who dared to oppose the plans of the conspirators. The suspension of civil liberties was accomplished by issuance of a Presidential decree, which presumably, according to German usage, was proposed to the Reich President by the Cabinet and-countersigned by those Ministers whose departments were involved (1390-PS;

This basic law was only the first of a series which placed the individual dissenter at the mercy of the Nazi state. As if to underscore explicitly the basic policy behind this legislation, von Papen personally signed the decree which implemented this legislation by creating Special Courts to enforce its provisions. This decree abolished rights, including the right of appeal, which had previously characterized the administration of justice by the German judicial system. It thus constituted also the first legislative measure for the Nazification of the German judiciary (2076-PS).

The subsequent creation of the dreaded Volksgericht and the wholesale Nazification of the German system of criminal law was merely the logical development of these earlier steps. This too was achieved by decree of the Cabinet in which von Papen was Vice-Chancellor

(3) Von Papen actively participated in substitution of the Nazi Cabinet for the Reichstag as Germany's supreme law- giving authority, notwithstanding his doubts as to the advisability of giving Hitler such extensive power. Von Papen actively participated in the Cabinet deliberations concerning the proposed so-called Enabling Act, and concerning the means by which it might be made law (351-PS; 2962-PS; 2963-PS).

The enactment of this law deprived the Reichstag of its legislative functions, so that legislative as well as executive powers were concentrated in Hitler and his Cabinet (2001-PS). Enactment of the law was made possible only by the application of Nazi pressure and terror against the potential opponents of this legislation, and by taking advantage of the Presidential decree of 28 February 1933, suspending constitutional guarantees of freedom. (See section 2 of Chapter VII on the Acquisition of Totalitarian Political Control.)

As if to indorse the methods by which this legislation was enacted, von Papen personally signed the Amnesty Decree of 21

[Page 926]

March 1933, liberating all persons who had committed murder between 30 January 1933 and 21 March 1933 against anti-Nazi politicians, writers, and Reichstag Deputies (2059-PS).

Von Papen participated in this program notwithstanding the fact that he foresaw at that time the implications of granting to Hitler the complete powers conferred by the Enabling Act. He has so testified (in an interrogation at Nurnberg, 3 September 1945):

"Q. After Hitler became Chancellor, when for the first time did you have any doubts about the wisdom of having allowed him to become Chancellor?

"A. Well, that's difficult to say. I mean the first doubt certainly I had when the Reichstag gave in to his request for the law, to enable him to rule the country without parliament."

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