Central European History


Franz von Papen, the German Center Party, and the Failure of Catholic Conservatism in the Weimar Republic

Larry Eugene Jonesa1

a1 Canisius College

No one stood more directly in the eye of the storm that descended upon Germany in 1933 than Franz von Papen. Not only did Papen play a crucial role in overcoming Reich President Paul von Hindenburg's resistance to Adolf Hitler's appointment as chancellor, but his presence in the newly formed Hitler cabinet provided it with an aura of conservative legitimacy that helped mollify the fears that many Germans might otherwise have felt about the so-called Hitler solution. To complicate matters further, Papen proved utterly incapable of containing the dynamism of the Nazi movement and watched ineffectually from the sidelines as the Nazis unleashed a veritable revolution in the spring of 1933 that either swept Germany's conservative institutions aside or, what proved more likely, forcibly coordinated them into the organizational structure of the Third Reich. Nowhere, however, was Papen's ineffectiveness—or, for that matter, his lack of civil courage—more apparent than in the summer of 1934, when the Nazis ruthlessly murdered two of his closest associates, along with several other prominent conservatives, in a two-pronged strike against both the more militant elements within the Nazi movement and a clique of anti-Nazi conspirators within Papen's own vicechancery.