The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Nazi Conspiracy & Aggression
Individual Responsibility Of Defendants

Franz Von Papen

(Part 7 of 15)

[Page 926]

(4) Von Papen not only participated in the seizure by the cabinet of supreme power for the Nazis, but as a member of the cabinet participated in the systematic elimination of all potential enemies of the Nazi conspiracy. The Reichstag fire and the ensuing suppression of civil liberties marked the beginning of the destruction of all rival political parties. The immediate elimination of the legally elected Communist members from the Reichstag was merely the forerunner of the rapid and complete liquidation of all political parties other than the National Socialists (2403- PS; 1396-PS; 2058-PS; 1388-PS). By these measures the suppression of all democratic opposition became complete, within one year of the time when von Papen was warning his countrymen of the dangers of authoritarianism.

Having substituted the autocracy of the Hitler cabinet for the democratic force of the Reichstag, the cabinet proceeded immediately to enact a series of laws abolishing the states and coordinating them with the Reich (2004-PS; 2005-PS; 2006- PS). The enactment of these laws, which had been clearly indicated by point 25 of the Party program, removed all possible retarding influences which the German federal State might have exerted against the overwhelming centralization of power in Hitler' Reich Cabinet.

The importance of this step, as well as the role played by Papen, is reflected in an exchange of letters between Reichs President Hindenburg, von Papen in his capacity as Reichskommissar for Prussia, and Reichs Minister Goering. The exchange occurred in connection with the recall of the Reichskommissar and the appointment of Goering to the post of Minister President of Prussia. In tendering his resignation, on 7 April 1933, von Papen wrote to Hitler:

"With the draft of the law for the coordination of the states with the Reich, passed today by the Reich Chancellor, legislative work has begun which will be of historical significance for the political development of the German state. The step taken by the Reich Government, which I headed at the time, is now crowned by this new inter-locking of the Reich. You, Herr Reich Chancellor, will now, as once Bismarck, be able to coordinate in all points the policy of the greatest of German states with that of the Reich. Now that the new law enables you to appoint a Prussian Prime Minister I ask you to inform the Reich President that I return to his hands my post of Reichs Commissar for Prussia."

In transmitting this resignation request to President Hindenburg, Hitler stated:

"Vice-Chancellor von Papen has sent a letter to me which I enclose for your information. Herr von Papen already informed me within the last few days that he agreed with Minister Goering to resign on his own volition, as soon as the unified conduct of the governmental affairs in the Reich and in Prussia would be assured by the new law on coordination of policy in the Reich and the states [Laender].

"On the eve of the day when the new law on the institution of Reich governors [Reich-Statthalter] was adopted, Herr von Papen considered this aim as having been attained and he requested of me to undertake the appointment of the Prussian Prime Minister, when at the same time he would offer his full time services in the Reich

"Herr von Papen, in accepting the commission for the Government of Prussia in these difficult times since 30 January, has rendered a very meritorious service to the realization of the idea of coordinating the policy in the Reich and the States. His collaboration in the Reich cabinet, for which he now offers all his strength, is infinitely valuable; my relationship to him is such a heartily friendly one, that I sincerely rejoice at the great help I shall thus receive.

"For profound reverence,
"A.H." (357-PS)

The enactment of this legislation followed repeated declarations in which Papen had warned his countrymen of the dangers of the exaggerated degree of centralized authority which would result from abolition of the federal system. These warnings began before Hitler's accession to power and continued by implica-

[Page 928]

tion in the reassurances which Papen gave in February 1933 to Bavarian political leaders who expressed their fears of Nazi centralized authority (Cuno Horkenbach, Das Deutsche Reich von 1918 bis Heute. (The German Reich from 1918 until today) (Berlin 1933), p. 44). As late as 3 March 1933, in an election speech at Stuttgart, von Papen warned that:

"Federalism saves us from centralism, that organizational form which concentrically draws all the vital forces of a people to one point, as a mirror will do with the rays of the sun. No people is less suited for being governed centralistically than the German people."

Less than one month after its seizure of the legislative power, the cabinet of which von Papen was a member enacted the first of a series of laws aimed at establishing firm Nazi control over the entire civil service and judiciary (2012-PS; 1400-PS; 1398-PS). Having been a public servant himself, von Papen was aware of the far-reaching effect of these first legislative and administrative steps in attaining full totalitarian control over the entire governmental machinery of Germany.

The cabinet of which von Papen was a member embarked upon a state policy of persecution of the Jews. The first organized act in this program was the boycott of Jewish enterprises on 1 April 1933, which was approved by the entire cabinet. This was followed by a series of laws beginning the systematic elimination of the- Jews from public and professional life in Germany. (See Section 7 of Chapter VII on the Program for Persecution of Jews.)

All these suppressive measures were in line with long- standing basic objectives of the NSDAP to which von Papen had agreed in his January conference with Hitler and von Schroeder.

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