The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Nazi Conspiracy & Aggression
Individual Responsibility Of Defendants

Franz Von Papen

(Part 9 of 15)

[page 931]


(1) Immediately upon Nazi seizure of power within Germany, von Papen endeavored to weld German Catholicism into a powerful body of support for the Nazi state. When Naziism seized control of Germany in January 1933, its relations with the church were at a low ebb. The period of the Reichstag elections of July and November 1932 was marred by certain widely circulated anti-Nazi pronouncements of the German bishops, especially in such Catholic papers as Germania, Koelnische Volkszeitung, and the Rhein-Mainische Volkszeitung. These bishops discerned the fundamental incompatibility between the Church and the Nazis' own declarations of State policy. They accordingly publicly stigmatized the Nazi movement as anti-Christian, forbade the Catholic clergy to participate in any ceremonies (such as funerals) in which the Nazi Party was officially represented, refused the sacraments to

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Party officials, and in several pastorals expressly warned - the faithful against the danger to German Catholicism created by the Party

Immediately upon seizure of power, the main concern of the new regime was to liquidate political opposition. Achievement of this objective was predicated upon the strategy of "divide and rule" A first step in this strategy was to convince conservatives that the efforts of the government were being directed primarily against the Communists and other forces of the extreme Left, and that their own interests would remain safe in Nazi hands as long as they would consent to refrain from political activity. The result was a brief but active period of rapprochement between Church and Party. Von Papen was a leader in this strategy. The minutes of the Reich cabinet meeting of 15 March 1933 contain the following notation in connection with discussions on the Enabling Act:

"The Vice Chancellor and Reich Commissar for the State of Prussia said it-is of decisive importance to integrate into the new State the masses standing behind the Parties. He said that the question of coordination of political Catholicism into the new State is of special importance." (2962-PS)

Eight days later, speaking at the second meeting of the Reichstag of 1933, on 23 March 1933, Hitler asked for adoption of the Enabling Act. In this speech he declared:

"While the government is determined to carry through the political and moral purging of our public life, it is creating and insuring prerequisites for a truly religious life. The government sees in both Christian confessions the factors most important for the maintenance of our Folkdom. It will respect agreements concluded between them and the states. However, it expects that its work will meet with a similar appreciation. The government will treat all other denominations with equal objective justice. However, it can never condone that belonging to a certain denomination or to' a certain race might be regarded as a license to commit or tolerate crimes. The Government will devote its care to the sincere living together of Church and State." (3387-PS).

The immediate effect of this assurance was action by the conference of German bishop, meeting in Fulda on 28 March 1933. This conference lifted restrictions imposed on members of the church adhering to the Nazi movement. In a cautious statement which placed full faith and credit in the Papen- inspired Hitler assurances, the bishops declared:

"The high shepherds of the dioceses of Germany in their du-

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tiful anxiety to keep the Catholic faith pure and protect the untouchable aims and rights of the Catholic Church have adopted, for profound reasons, during the last years, an oppositional attitude toward the National Socialist movement, through prohibitions and warnings, which was to be in effect as long and as far as those reasons remained valid.

"It must now be recognized that there are official and solemn declarations issued by the highest representative of the Reich Government -- who at the same time is the authoritarian leader of that movement -- which acknowledge the inviolability of the teachings of Catholic faith and the unchangeable tasks and rights of the church, and which expressly assure the full value of the legal pacts concluded between the various German States and the Church.

"Without lifting the condemnation of certain religious and ethical errors implied in our previous measures, the Episcopate now believes it can entertain the confidence that those prescribed general prohibitions and warnings may not be regarded as necessary any more." (3389-PS)

This action opened the door for mass Party adherence by practicing Catholics. All those German Catholics who were inclined to adopt Nazi political views and had hesitated only because of the anti-Nazi attitude of the hierarchy hastened now to join the victorious party of the "National Revolution" This tendency was marked by a tremendous and sudden burst of activity by the so-called "bridge-builders," who rushed to close the gap between the Church and the Nazi State. Von Papen, who only a short time before had been willing to use armed force to suppress the Nazis, was foremost among these "bridge-builders" who not only claimed an ideological affinity between the Nazi system and the alleged anti-liberal character of Catholic politics, but affirmatively apologized for excesses of the State which even then had begun to shock the world.

Existing agencies were used for this purpose. Thus, the Union of Catholic Germans (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Katholischer Deutscher), of which von Papen was president, insisted in its program that the church, like the Nazi movement itself, was guided by the leadership principle (Cuno Horkenbach, Das Deutsche Reich von 1918 bis Heute (The German Reich from 1918 Until Today) (Berlin 1935), pp. 436, 504). The same organization, in the course of the election campaign which preceded adoption of the Enabling Act, had bitterly criticized the Catholic political opposition to Marxism and urged that Catholics "by all means vote unani-

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mously the National Socialist ticket" because "We Catholics do not wish to be denied to march in the lead in this election campaign" (Election Appeal, Voelkischer Beobachter, 23 February 1933, p. 2). Later, on the eve of the Nazis' first anti-Jewish boycott, this same organization played its part in the extensive campaign replying to foreign newspaper reports concerning atrocities committed against German Jews. On 1 April 1933 it published through the Prussian News Service, an "Appeal to all Christians" viewing "with great indignation" this "irresponsible campaign against Germany" which "continues in spite of official German declarations and corrections" This "Appeal" characterized the foreign reports as "intentional lies and falsifications" and "a reckless, crafty campaign of destruction conducted by the Jewish world alliance and moneyed powers against the right of self-determination of all peoples and against the entire Christian civilization" It called upon "the Christians of all countries, irrespective of denominations, to form a world-wide front of defense against that Jewish conspiracy disturbing the true peace" ("Appeal to All Christians" Voelkischer Beobachter (People's Observer), 30 March 1933, p. 2).

Notwithstanding the force of these activities, this Nazification by existing agencies was not deemed adequate to the task of organizing Catholic lay support. The result was the creation, in early April 1933, under the sponsorship of von Papen, of a new "Bund" of Catholic Germans called "Cross and Eagle" ("Kreuz und Adler" which made it its task "to contribute enthusiastic devotion to the upbuilding of the future Reich" (Gerd Ruehle, Das Dritte Reich (The Third Reich), p. 250).

This whole program of rapprochement between Church and Party manifests the Papen "touch" -- the same quality of handiwork which had manifested itself in Hitler's accession to power and which later was to reappear in Austria: First, gentle hints by Papen a to strategy, followed within eight days by reassurances in Hitler's Reichstag speech. Next, again following merely by days, the formal lifting of the restrictions on Nazi membership by the leaders of the Church of which von Papen was the most famous lay member. Finally, again within a few days, the open campaign by which Papen- sponsored organizations endeavored to align Church and Party. The close timing of these events was not a coincidence.

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