The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Nazi Conspiracy & Aggression
Individual Responsibility Of Defendants

Franz Von Papen

(Part 10 of 15)

[Page 934]

(2) Having achieved initial successes in consolidating Catholic support within Germany, von Papen undertook international consolidation of Nazi-Church relationships by negotiation of a Con-

[Page 935]

cordat with the Vatican. The program of rapprochement and the public declarations bridging the gap between the Church and the Nazi movement were merely advertising media by which Nazi-minded Catholics were herded into the movement, and slogans by which the conspirators might placate the Catholic hierarchy. Throughout this period there continued an undercurrent of anti-Catholic activity. A thorough job was done in purging Reich, state, and municipal administrations of officials appointed for their adherence to the Centre or Bavarian People's parties. Former leaders of those parties, including priests, joined Communists and Social Democrats in the concentration camps, and the campaign of hatred against the "black" was resumed. By April 1933 the bishops were making appeals for clemency toward former civil servants, who, they pointed out, were not able to join the celebration of national awakening because they had been dismissed from positions in which they had given their best to the community of the German people. And on 31 May 1933, a meeting of the Bavarian bishops adopted a solemn statement directed against the tendency of attributing to the State alone the right of educating, organizing, and leading ideologically the German youth (Dismissal of Catholics, Excerpts from Voelkischer Beobachter, February-March 1933; Excerpt, Voelkischer Beobachter, 19 April 1933 (Munich ed.), p. 2).

By this maintenance of a certain amount of pressure against Catholic interests, the hierarchy was reminded of the dangers of not coming to a definite agreement with the Nazi State. The stage was thus set for von Papen's negotiation of a Concordat with the Vatican.

At the time of these activities, the government of which von Papen was Vice Chancellor had already launched its program to mold the state machinery into the Nazi image. The Enabling Act had become law, and the general outlines of the Nazi State were already manifest. Notwithstanding the doubts created in his mind by Hitler's insistence upon the Enabling Act, von Papen undertook negotiations with the Vatican. In fact, he since has claimed that these fears gave rise to the negotiation of the Concordat (Interrogation at Nurnberg,

"I became alarmed, you remember, somewhere in June when I went to Rome to negotiate a concordat because I certainly feared that the particular powers of the Hitler Party would create difficulties on the religious side. So that with the consent of Hitler I went to Rome to make that concordat."

It is clear, however, that these alleged fears of the Enabling Act were not fears at all. They were merely an understanding

[Page 936]

of the threat they carried to all persons and instrumentalities antagonistic to the Nazi system. Von Papen understood the significance of these developments. What he actually feared was that the rest of the world would also understand Nazi methods and would erect barriers to the consummation of the plans of the conspirators. The situation plainly called for a neutralizing of these potential barriers to Nazi plans. One method of achieving this result at that time was the negotiation of solemn agreements whereby other powers would commit themselves to a policy of non-intervention by either armed or moral force.

When von Papen concluded the Concordat with the Vatican, the political objectives of furthering the purposes of the Nazi conspiracy were thus foremost in his mind. Even at that time, in the first half of 1933, von Papen had in mind, in concluding this Concordat, not only the consolidation of Catholicism behind the Nazi regime within Germany, but also the psychological build-up of the Austrians in preparation for Anschluss. Von Papen's own words eloquently characterize these manoeuvres (monograph entitled "Austria" written at Nurnberg,

"Although the 'Heimwehr' movement [in Austria] had brought these patriotic elements together before this, and had fought with them to free the country from strong Socialistic pressure, yet they were armed only from the standpoint of domestic politics and remained aloof from all ambitions for a greater Germany. The cause lay mostly in the Catholic nature of the country, and in the strong influence of the clergy in political leadership. The Reich was considered a bulwark of Protestantism, despite its twenty million Catholics. The anti-clerical wave, which was dominant in the Reich under the leadership of Prussia, itself led by Socialists, appeared to have verified the fears of the Austrian clergy. For in spite of Catholics at the head of the Reich -- Wirth, Marx, Bruening -- the Centre Party had always put through its cultural demands by logrolling with the Socialists. There were at least two Socialist officials, university professors or teachers for every Catholic appointee. In contrast to the obviously badly functioning Weimar Constitution, there was an effort in Austria, under clerical leadership and with the strong support of the Vatican, to develop into a corporate state.

"Those were serious obstacles on both sides. When, after the seizure of power of the NSDAP in 1933, as the first remedy against a new 'Kulturkampf', I safely concluded the

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Concordat of the New Reich with the Holy See, my thoughts at the time were not focused only of the Reich. For a peaceful evolution of the German-Austrian question it was of the greatest importance that the doubts of the clergy on the Austrian side be completely eliminated."


"It was my first purpose in the diplomatic field to deprive the Austrian problem of its European character, and to develop it gradually into an exclusively internal problem between the Reich and Austria.

"It therefore had to be my primary aim to convince the Vatican that a union could not endanger the Vatican's interests. A Concordat of the Reich with the Vatican had been my first attempt to prevent religious difficulties arising from Nazism's revolutionary doctrine; the attempt had obviously failed. Under the growing influence of his Party, Hitler sabotaged the Concordat. Rome was deeply disappointed and in the greatest excitement."

On 20 July 1933 the Reich Concordat with the Vatican was signed by von Papen as representative of the Nazi Government of Germany. This instrument was an international treaty which purported to give the church an official guarantee of all the church rights it had sought. In addition it purported to confer freedom for Catholic organizations, maintenance of parochial schools, and preservation of the general influence of the church on the education of the German Catholic youth. Among the 33 articles of the Concordat, 21 treated exclusively the rights and prerogatives accorded to the church. Reciprocation consisted only in a pledge of loyalty by the clergy to the Reich Government and a promise that Catholic religious instruction would emphasize the patriotic duties of the Christian citizen and insist on a loyal attitude toward the Fatherland. Since it had always been the practice of the Catholic church to abide by established governments and to promote patriotic convictions among the faithful, these stipulations of the Concordat were no more than legalizations of an existing custom. They were no more than a guarantee of goodwill betokening harmonious Church-State relations (2655-PS).

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