Childhood & Early Life
Franz von Papen was born Franz Joseph Hermann Michael Maria von Papen, Erbsälzer zu Werl und Neuwerk, on October 29, 1879, in Werl, Westphalia, Prussia, to Friedrich von Papen-Koningen and Anna Laura von Steffens. He was raised in a wealthy Roman Catholic family, with two older siblings.
He joined the cadet school in Bensberg at the age of 11 and went on to complete his military training at the ‘Prussian Main Military Academy’ in Lichterfelde.
Papen served as a military attendant in the Kaiser’s palace and joined his father’s regiment as a second lieutenant. He became a member of the ‘German General Staff’ as a captain in 1913.
He was an excellent horseman and a dashing young man who believed in the superiority of the aristocrats over commoners. He spoke fluent French and English and traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East, and North America during his youth.
Continue Reading Below
Papen was appointed as a military attaché to the German ambassador to the United States in December 1913. He was also the German military attaché to Mexico, where he was involved in selling arms to the forces of General Huerta, in a bid to bring Mexico under the influence of Germany.
He tried to purchase arms for Germany from the U.S. during the World War I but was prevented by the British shipping blockade. He was involved in the sabotage of allied assets in the U.S. and the planning of an invasion of Canada.
He was involved in the Hindu–German Conspiracy of 1914 and arranged weapons for anti-British Indian nationalists in California.
As a result, he was expelled by the United States and had to return to Germany, where he was awarded the ‘Iron Cross.’ He continued clandestine activities and acted as an intermediary to supply arms to Irish volunteers against the British in the Easter Rising of 1916.
Papen commanded the ‘2nd Reserve Battalion’ of the ‘93rd Regiment’ of the ‘4th Guards Infantry Division’ in Flanders during World War I. He fought in the Battle of the Somme and at Vimy Ridge and was awarded the ‘Iron Cross, 1st Class’ in 1917.
He was then transferred to the Middle East and served in the ‘General Staff’ with the Ottoman Empire in Palestine. Papen was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel by the end of the war. He refused to obey orders during the armistice with the ‘Allies’ and left the army after charges of insubordination were made against him.
In April 1920, he took charge of a ‘Freikorps’ unit against the Communist uprising in the Ruhr. He entered politics and joined the monarchist, anti-Semitic wing of the ‘Centre Party’ that rejected democracy. He became a member of the Landtag of Prussia and welcomed the presidential government. However, he advocated complete dictatorship.
In June 1932, Papen was appointed as the chancellor by President Hindenburg, at the behest of Schleicher. He met Adolf Hitler and grew close to the ‘Nazi Party.’ He broke away from the ‘Centre Party’ to declare himself the commissioner of Prussia and brought in laws that limited the right to appeal.
In November 1932, he violated the ‘Treaty of Versailles’ by expanding the ‘German Navy’ to control the North Sea and the Baltic. However, he lost support of the party and was replaced by Schleicher as the chancellor.
Continue Reading Below
Papen plotted against Schleicher and in a secret deal with Hindenburg in January 1933, gave support to Hitler. They wanted Hitler to be made the chancellor. Papen became the vice chancellor and the minister-president of Prussia in return.
Hitler and his allies marginalized Papen and put power into the hands of the ‘Nazis.’ Papen had no option but to endorse Hitler’s plans to destroy the ‘Zentrum’ by severing the ‘Catholic Church.’ He traveled throughout Europe and visited Rome to negotiate with the ‘Roman Catholic Church.’
Papen constantly clashed with Hitler and was ultimately put under protective custody in the purge known as the “Night of the Long Knives” in June 1934. He was removed from the post of vice chancellor and was made the ambassador to Austria.
There, he was instrumental in negotiating the Austro-German agreement of 1936, through which Austria aligned itself with Germany.
After his success in Austria, he was made the German ambassador to Turkey from 1939 to 1944. During World War II, he was instrumental in preventing Turkey from joining the ‘Allies’ against Germany by applying economic pressure. He was awarded the ‘Knight’s Cross of the War Merit Cross’ by Hitler on his return to Germany.
Papen was arrested after the war and was made one of the defendants in the Nuremberg Trial. However, he was later acquitted of all the charges made against him. Following this, he was sentenced to 8 years of hard labor by a West German de-Nazification court. He was released in 1949 but forbidden from publishing in Germany till 1954.
His attempt to re-enter politics failed. Thus, he went on to write a number of books and articles to defend his actions, till he died in May 1969, at the age of 89.
Family, Personal Life & Legacy
Franz belonged to a wealthy Roman Catholic aristocratic family of Werl, Westphalian. He married Martha von Boch-Galhau in May 1905. She was the daughter of a rich industrialist. The dowry from his wife’s family added to his wealth, making him an extremely rich man.
He was greatly influenced by the writings of General Friedrich von Bernhardi and believed in the importance of a strong military for a nation to survive.
He was a key figure who influenced global affairs during the two World Wars. He has been portrayed in many films and TV series about the period, such as ‘The Eagle’s Eye’ (1918), ‘Hitler: The Rise of Evil’ (2003), and ‘Nuremberg: Nazis on Trial’ (2006).
He served as the chief of staff of the ‘Fourth Turkish Army’ in Palestine during the end of World War I.
Papen’s appointment as the chancellor came as a surprise, as he did not have much political backing at that time.
In order to appease the ‘Nazis,’ he lifted the ban on their paramilitary, the ‘Sturmabteilung,’ and deposed the ‘Social Democratic’ government in Prussia.
He owned a major stake in the leading newspaper known as ‘Germania,’ which he used to spread his right-wing views.
He was made a Papal chamberlain by Pope John XXIII in 1959.