The Holocaust Historiography Project


Rebel Patriot

  • REBEL PATRIOT: A BIOGRAPHY OF FRANZ VON PAPEN, by Henry M. and Robin K. Adams. Santa Barbara, CA: McNally and Loftin, 1987, 513 pages, $29.95, ISBN 0-87461-065-6.

Reviewed by Georg Franz-Willing

Professor Henry M. Adams (University of California, Santa Barbara), born in 1907, first met Franz von Papen while a student in Berlin in 1931. Adams had befriended Franz von Papen’s son, who bears the same name as his father, during the previous years, when both were studying at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

In 1957 Adams contacted his friend from his university years once again, with the intent of writing a biography of his father, the former German chancellor. The elder von Papen agreed to cooperate, but pointed out that his private papers had been lost when his home at Wallerfangen (Saarland) was destroyed at the end of 1944. Adams had himself taken part in the fighting in Saarland as an American officer. He visited von Papen in 1958, and the two corresponded throughout the following decade, during which Adams was a frequent guest of Papen's.

Professor Adams is thoroughly conversant with modern German history. His Prussian-American Relations 1775-1870 (Western Reserve University Press) appeared in 1960, and was later published in Germany by Holzner Verlag under the title Die Beziehungen zwischen Preussen und den Vereinigten Staaten 1775-1870. Four years later the same publisher released his Recht in Dienste der Menschenwürde [Law in the Service of Human Dignity]. Professor Adams contributed the chapter “World War II Revisionist” to the massive festschrift Harry Elmer Barnes: Learned Crusader (Ralph Miles, Publisher, Inc.), and has written numerous articles for historical journals.

With the active assistance of his wife, Robin Adams, Professor Adams has spent decades researching the extensive source material in both German and American archives, including the records of the postwar Nuremberg trials, the denazification hearings, and other proceedings. Adams also consulted Papen’s personal notes and those of his wife, as well as his voluminous correspondence, for this biography. He has not neglected the published archives or the pertinent historiographical literature, while making good use of newspapers, in particular American ones, which are a valuable contemporary source for the period 1914-1917 and the years following the Second World War.

Adams' guiding principle as historian and biographer is the dictum of Leopold von Ranke: “to show how it really was.” As Adams wrote in a letter to Papen at the beginning of his researches, an objective and plausible treatment of Papen the man would be impossible without sympathy and understanding. The entire generation which has elapsed between 1957 and the 1987 publication of this lengthy biography is an indication of the care and effort which Professor Adams and his wife have devoted to Rebel Patriot.

The long and eventful life (1879-1969) of Franz von Papen, whose personal destiny was closely linked by his political activity with that of the German nation and people, can be easily divided into the following periods: the Imperial era and the First World War, the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich and the Second World War, and the postwar decades.

Papen sprang from an old Westphalian family which had its estate at Werl Opting for a military career, he became an officer of the General Staff before the First World War. In 1914 he began his political career as a military attache in the United States and Mexico. His work in this capacity affords an informative insight into Britain’s brutal policy of refusing to observe American neutrality, as well as into the animosity, first covert but increasingly undisguised, of the American government led by President Wilson and Secretary of State Lansing. American hostility to Germany grew under the influence of the powerful propaganda campaign against the Central Powers waged by the British, whose increasingly numerous chicaneries included frequent violations of international law.

The growing pressure exerted by the British, coupled with the rising enmity of the American government, forced Berlin to recall Papen, its military attaché, and Boy-Ed, Germany’s naval attaché, at the end of 1915. The neutral ship on which Papen returned was searched in the British port of Falmouth. In a crude violation of international law, Papen was forced to disrobe for a body search and all his papers were confiscated.

From February 1916 until May 1917 von Papen served as a battalion commander on the Western front He was then transferred to the Turkish front in Palestine, where he was chief of staff to the Fourth Turkish Army at the war’s end.

In 1919 Papen returned home, where he took an active part in politics. His interest in agrarian policy led him to join the Catholic Center Party. Elected a deputy to the Prussian Diet, Papen also became influential at Germania, the chief organ of the Center Party. On June 1, 1932, he succeeded Brüning as Reich chancellor, at a time when the parliamentary system had already collapsed. The failure of Germany’s political parties had already forced Reich President Hindenburg to shift to an authoritarian regime with the Brüning government The grave economic crisis, with its massive unemployment, and conditions which verged on civil war confronted Papen with problems which could no longer be solved by normal consifftutional means. Therefore, he was ousted at the end of November 1932 by the “Chancellor Maker,” General Schleicher, the gray eminence of the last years of the Weimar Republic.

The polarization of internal political opposites embodied in the two antiparliamentary mass movements — the Communists and the National Socialists — had given rise to notions of a coup d'etat in Reichswehr circles. The Reichstag majority of the two radical parties, at opposite ends of the political spectrum, rendered parliamentary democracy incapable of ruling. The elderly Reich president preferred a constitutional solution to one which would violate the Weimar constitution. Thus he agreed to a proposal by Papen, a trusted advisor, to enlist National Socialist participation in the new government, several of whose ministers had served in Papen’s “government of national cooperation” in 1931.

As the strongest party, the National Socialists were entitled to the office of chancellor. In order to evade the threat of a one-party dictatorship which loomed from the revolutionary Hitler movement only two National Socialists besides Hitler were named to the cabinet: Dr. Frick as minister of the interior and Hermann Göring as minister without portfolio. The three Naffonal Socialists were “boxed in” by seven conservative cabinet members. Hindenburg and Papen saw this as sufficient insurance against revolutionary encroachments by the National Socialists.

Adams describes the dramatic events relating to the formation of the “Government of National Concentration” (out of members of the German National People’s Party and the “Stahlhelm,” a veterans party, as well as the three National Socialists) with superior expertise and objectivity.. When the conservatives, led by Hindenburg and Papen, were overwhelmed by the dynamism of the National Socialist mass movement in March 1933, Papen’s office of vice chancellor became a department for complaints against the revolutionary excesses of the National Socialists. The title of Adam’s biography, Rebel Patriot, has been well chosen in view of the vice chancellor’s protest role and his bold efforts to build a dam against the revolutionary flood waters. He was successful in only one respect by the Reichskonkordat of July 1933 he was able to secure the legal status of the Roman Catholic Church. Papen made further attempts to divert the revolutionary high tide into legal channels by his tireless efforts as vice-chancellor; in 1933 Hitler himself shared this concern.

Papen is famous for his speech of June 1934 at Marburg, in which he took a brave, public stand against the anti-Christian and anti-Jewish activities of the National Socialists. Two weeks later his civic courage nearly cost him his life. It was only through a fortunate coincidence that he escaped death during the “Night of the Long Knives,” the bloody purge of the S.A.’s leadership on June 30, 1934, which was accompanied by a similarly bloody suppression of the conservative opposition. Two of Papen’s associates were murdered. In protest, Papen resigned from the government Several weeks later, the death of the aged Reich president, Hindenburg, removed the last hindrance to the revolutionary regime.

Thereafter Papen returned to the diplomatic service, in order to serve and help his sorely tried fatherland from abroad. His first assignment was the delicate one of establishing friendly relations between the two neighboring German states. He served in Vienna until March, 1938. In the following year Papen was dispatched to Turkey where he served as Germany’s ambassador. In 1941 he succeeded in bringing about a German-Turkish friendship treaty; he was able to preserve Turkish neutrality until the summer of 1944, despite the overwhelming pressure of the Anglo-Saxon powers. When British insistence finally caused Turkey to break off diplomatic relations with Germany at the start of August 1944, Papen was accorded full diplomatic honors on his departure.

After his return to Germany, Papen played an active role in the defense of the Saarland. He was arrested by the Americans in April 1945 and forced over the next four years to run the gauntlet at Nuremberg, where the vengeful victors staged their political inquisition (the “Trial of the Major War Criminals"). Papen was acquitted of all charges, but his persecution continued at the hands of no less vengeful domestic enemies in the form of West German denazification tribunals. After withstanding the appeals process, he regained his freeedom in February 1949.

Papen was a prolific writer until the end of his life. He published his memoirs in German in 1952 (Der Wahrheit eine Gasse [A Path for the Truth]), which was published in English shortly afterward as Memoirs. Among other writings, he published a series of articles in the Spanish periodical ABC. Despite his acquittal at Nuremberg and his release from detention after being “denazified,” Papen was forced to wage additional battles in court to regain his civil rights.

The high regard in which the Vatican held Franz von Papen was expressed in audiences with Pope Pius XII and Pope John XXIII. The Turks continued to esteem him as well.

Papen published his final book, Vom Scheitern einer Demokratie [On the Failure of a Democracy], in 1968, the year before his death at almost ninety years old. Until the end he was forced to combat malicious attacks by opinion makers and “Vergangenheitsbewältiger,” those West Germans who “come to terms with the past” by slavishly adhering to the dogma of Germany’s sole and total guilt for the events of 1933-1945. Adams has done an excellent service in focusing on Papen’s efforts in this regard, and in providing an illuminating account of the venomous political atmosphere of the postwar Bundesrepublik.

Rebel Patriot offers an overview of a lengthy portion of German and European history from the nonpartisan perspective of an American history professor. In this monumental work, Dr. and Mrs. Adams have memorialized not only Papen but also the German Reich and its tragic history in this century.

All that is required to restore some respect for historical truth are favorable opportunities, a bit of luck, and a few courageous authors and publishers.

— Harry Elmer Barnes,
Blasting the Historical Blackout, 1963