The infamous June 1934 ‘Marburg speech’ of Franz von Papen and Edgar Jung: a national-conservative critique of the excesses of National Socialism
Early 1934 was an extremely difficult time for the conservatives and bourgeois-nationalists in Germany who, only a year before, had been convinced that the ‘National Revolution’ and the emerging Third Reich were as much theirs as they were the National Socialists’. Under the process of Gleichschaltung the new government had been gradually dissolving or absorbing independent nationalist groups into the NSDAP. At the same time there appeared to be an escalating breakdown in order, with Party radicals growing increasingly disruptive and violent, often turning their frustration at the slow pace of reform upon the perceived forces of ‘Reaktion‘. In the midst of the chaos and the rumors of an impending ‘Second Revolution’ a group of Catholic conservative intellectuals, working within the offices of Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen, began plotting ways for bourgeois-nationalists to take back the state, hoping to steer it away from ideological radicalism and towards a more traditionalist authoritarianism centered on Christian spiritual renewal. The result of their handiwork was what became known as the ‘Marburg speech’, translated in full below. Written chiefly by conservative-revolutionary intellectual Edgar Jung, one of Papen’s consultants and speechwriters, the speech was anti-democratic while still being carefully disparaging of the NS regime, critiquing its violence, its militarization of public life, its monopoly on political power, its ‘coordination’ of the independent judiciary and the press, and in particular its hostile policies towards Christianity. The conspirators cleverly pushed this speech on Vice-Chancellor Papen at the last minute, while he was still on the train to deliver an address before the University League at Marburg. When an alarmed Papen read the speech and protested that it might “cost him his head” he was informed that he had no choice but to give it, since hundreds of copies had already been provided to the domestic and foreign press. Papen conceded, and rather bravely read the speech verbatim despite his misgivings. The conspirators’ hope was that this action would galvanize the nationalist, Catholic, and conservative forces within Germany into opposition behind Papen. The result instead was the final consolidation of the Hitler regime. Goebbels used every effort possible to suppress dissemination of the speech domestically, while Papen was forced to apologize and to resign from the cabinet. Hitler and Göring, now utterly convinced of the need to sweep away their remaining enemies, began setting the course for the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ not two weeks later. Papen survived the resulting ‘Blood Purge’ by the skin of his teeth with a brief period of arrest. Others would not be so lucky, with most of the conspirators ending up incarcerated or, like Edgar Jung, shot.
Speech by Vice-Chancellor von Papen
before the University League
Marburg, 17 June, 1934
On 21 February 1933, in the turbulent days when National Socialism first stepped forward to govern the German Reich, I spoke to the Berlin student body in an attempt to explain the significance of this new epoch [Zeitenwende]. I spoke, as I pointed out at the time, in a location dedicated to the exploration of truth and intellectual freedom. I do not want to confess myself an adherent to the liberal conceptions of truth and freedom. Ultimate truth lies with God alone, and the quest for it derives its ultimate meaning only from this starting-point. Today, where I am privileged once again – in this medieval jewel, this city of Saint Elisabeth – to stand on academic soil, I add to the remarks I made at that time that even though the ideal of objective truth may be undisputed, we do not want to renounce the most elementary foundation of human civilization, the duty to subjective truth, to honesty, that is demanded of us Germans. This place of scholarship, therefore, appears to me particularly suited to giving a truthful account before the German people. Because the voices that demand that I adopt a principled position on German current affairs and on German conditions are becoming ever more numerous and more urgent. It is said that by removing the Weimar Prussian regime1 and by amalgamating the National Movement I have taken on such a pivotal role in German affairs that it is my duty to monitor these developments more keenly than most other Germans. I have no intention of evading this duty. On the contrary – my inner commitment to Adolf Hitler and his work is so great, and so attached am I with my very lifeblood to the German renewal currently being carried out, that from the point-of-view of both man and statesman it would be a mortal sin not to say what must be said during this crucial stage of the German Revolution.
The events of the last year and a half have gripped the entire German Volk and stirred them deeply. That we have found our way back from the vale of sorrow, hopelessness, hatred, and division and returned to the community of the German Nation once more seems almost like a dream. The tremendous tensions which we have experienced since those August days of 1914 have been broken; from them the German soul has emerged once again, before which the glorious and yet so painful history of our Volk passes in review, from the sagas of the German heroes to the trenches of Verdun and, yes, even to the street-fights of our day.
The unknown soldier of the World War, who conquered the hearts of his countrymen [Volksgenossen, lit. ‘folk-comrades’] with contagious energy and unshakeable faith, has set this soul free. With his Field Marshal he has set himself at the head of the nation in order to turn a new page in the book of German fate and to restore spiritual unity. We have experienced this unity of spirit in the exhilaration of a thousand rallies, in the flags and festivities of a nation which has rediscovered itself. But now, as enthusiasm is leveling out and as the hard work in this process comes to the fore, it becomes apparent that a reform process of such historical proportions also produces slag [Schlacken] from which the nation must cleanse itself. Slag of this kind exists in all areas of our life, in the material and the spiritual. Foreign countries, who view us with resentment, point their fingers at this slag and construe it as evidence of a serious process of dissolution. One should not be ready to celebrate too early, because only once we have mustered the energy to free ourselves from this slag will we immediately be best able to prove how internally strong we are and how resolute we are in not letting the path of the German Revolution be tarnished. We know that the rumors and the whispering must be drawn back out of the darkness into which they have fled. Continue reading