Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Centre Party (Germany)
Founded in 1870 to protect Catholic minority rights in the new Germany, the party gained strength in the 1870s in reaction against Bismarck's Kulturkampf, or "cultural struggle" against the Catholic Church. In addition to supporting Church interests, the Centre Party generally supported representative government and minority rights. The party was notable for the mixture of class interests it represented, ranging from Catholic workers to aristocrats.
The Centre Party attracted national odium in capitulating in 1921 to Allied demands for financial reparations . Following this its leader Matthias Erzberger , who had also signed the Armistice was assasinated to public acclaim .
After the end of the Kulturkampf, the Centre Party made its peace with the government and frequently formed a part of the coalitions which gave the various German governments a majority in the Reichstag. Although the party supported the government upon the outbreak of World War I, many of the leaders of its left wing, particularly Matthias Erzberger, came to support a negotiated settlement, and Erzberger was key in the passage of the Reichstag Peace Resolution of 1917.
The Centre Party, whose pragmatic principles generally left it open to supporting either a monarchical or republican form of government, proved one of the mainstays of the Weimar Republic participating in every Weimar government between 1919 and 1932, despite the defection of its Bavarian wing in 1919 to form the Bavarian People's Party.
1928 under Wilhelm Marx, Heinrich Bruning
In 1925 Wilhelm Marx, the Party leader and former Chancellor was selected as candidate for the Presidential elections and was accpted as such by all the Parties of the Centre and the left except the Communists . Hindenburg won these elections .
The Cabinet crisis of the Luther resignation in 1928 produced a deadlock whereby the extreme Nationalists under the leadership of Alfred Huguenburg would not enter a cabinet with the Centre, whom they accused of being agents of the Vatican.Until then the Centre had favoured a minority government , relying on the neutrality of the Left, whilst not in principle agaainst an alliance with the Nationalists .However Hindenburg imposed his wish in an Order of the Day of January 20 , 1928 as Chief of State to Wilhelm Marx as Chancellor and on Hindenburg's basis that his ordered coalition of the Right and the Centre parties would ,in the absence of the Left, safeguard the 'interests of the working classes'(Op Cit Wheeler Bennett Hindenburg The Wooden Titan pp309-310, Macmillan , 1936.)
The Centre Party supported Hitler regularly from May 1932 and in November the Party urged Hindenburg to accept Hitler as Chancellor . Hindenberg was tiring of the deadlock at the Reichstag , saying " I am ready to leave anytime " to the chairman of the Centre Party who was urging him to drop Papen .The Military through General von Schleicher 's intrigue had previously picked the lightweight Centre Party figure of Franz von Papen , a charming Catholic nobleman Cavalry Captain , as nominee to succeed the able Centre economist Chancellor Heinrich von Bruning .These two figures formed Cabinets which they led under the presidential decree of article 48 of the Constitution. It was von Schleicher's intention that by replacing one Centre Chancellor by another that he would split the Party and destroy it as a political factor . Papen of all the previous Chancellors( Muller, Marx and Bruning )obtained close relations with Hindenburg because the latter appreciated Papen's attempt since his first election in 1925 to break the connection of the Centre Party with the Left and to build up a Catholic Conservative movement .Papen was never accepted as leader by the Centre Party and functioned as Chancellor under Decree rule .
After the July 1932 elections to the Reichstag brought nearly 14 million Nazi votes out of a total of 37 million , the left-wing of the Nazi party sought to form a coalition with the Centre. The Centre Party voted support for the istallation of Hermann Goering as president of the Reichstag in the opening session .Within a week though ,Hitler had ordered his delegates to make no objections to a Communist vote of no confidence in the Papen Government which was defeated by 512 to 42, with the support of the Centre Party .The Reichstag was dissolved by von Papen to prevent such a formation of an opposition majority composed of the National Socialists and the Centre Party (op Cit, Arthur Rosenburg -a History of the German Republic 1936,Methuen).
It is first alleged by a foreign observer that the Centre Party was being influenced by the Catholic Church from May 1932 (Op Cit Edgar Ansel Mowrer: Triumph & Turmoil p 209, 1968) to support and ally with Hitler against the Communist Party .
The Catholic Bloc (the Centre Party and the Bavarian People's Party ) rose by 10 votes in the Reichstag from 87 to 97 largely as a result of Catholic indignation at the way von Scleicher, the minister of Defence , had forced Prussia under the rule of a Reich Commissioner (von Papen) and generally de-stabilised the remaining ad interim Cabinet of previously the dismissed von Bruning in the Reichstag, and then von Braun, the Prime Minister of Prussia ( Op Cit Wheeler Bennett The Nemesis of Power pp252-254 1953 ).
At von Schleicher's intrigue Germany now had a Hindenburg nominated [[Cabinet of Barons]] and civil servants formed under von Papen .Papen's Government was never popular in the country and persisted with the previous Bruning direction and the Centre Party remained a force on the political scene both in the Reichstag deputies and in Prussia .
In Prussia the April 24 1932 Diet Elections had left a Centre Party -Nazi coalition as the only possible outcome , and this Reichstag Cabinet of Barons ,with President HIndenburg's assent, staged a successful Coup of the Right under Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution instituting Martial Law in Prussia (soon repealed under general protest).This was achieved by von Schleicher presenting evidence/trumped up charges of Prussian Police conspiracy with the Communists .The Military Dictatorship template was thus first tried unsuccessfully under the Papen administration , and only repealed following strong protest from the Prime Minister of the state of Bavaria, Dr. Held.
November 6th Elections and the Putsch
During this short period within the Weimar Republic , constitutional dictatorship( six successive Chancellors acting under Presidential decree) the Centre Party opposition can be seen as non-existent .The fact is that following the November 6 elections , the Nazi Party could no longer achieve a simple majority with the support of the Centre Party alone . This raised fears of a triple alliance with the Conservatives under Huguenberg , the Centre party and the Nazis .
Such a situation caused consternation in the Army , the Civil service and the Judiciary( ie all german civil society) .Schleicher himself took over the Chancellorship under these fears before von Papen ousted him in favour of Adolf Hitler with Papen as now only Vice-Chancellor. The Centre Party vote had reduced from 97 seats in July to 70 in November. An attempt by the leaders of the Centre Party under Ludwig Kaas to form a coalition wuth Hitler failed .
Von Schleicher had himself previously undermined von Papen by threatening Army inability to restrain the insurrection (by the Left or the Nazis or both) , and had been thereupon persuaded by the Cabinet to install himself, Schleicher as guarantor for the safety of the State.
Schleicher soon found that von Papen had been reversing the situation and was intriguing with the Centre , with Hitler and with the Westpahalian Industrial Magnates . The Nazi popular vote had dropped from 13,732,413 in July to 11,700,000 in November and the Nazi Party had built up huge debts which were now guaranteed by the magnates and thus repaired the waning fortunes of the Nazis - who were close to dividing under the strain .
Hitler had found some strength on December 9th when by 402 votes to 127 with the Centre Party vote he had changed Article 51 of the Constitution devolving the vacancy ,upon death of the President ,upon the President of the Supreme Court rather than upon the acting Chancellor , thus pressurising the ageing and constitutionally minded Hindenberg .
Hitler was also actually blackmailing Hindenberg with the release of incriminating documents concerning corrupt land deals of Hindenberg's ,and now von Papen engineered a putsch, purportedly to protect Hindenberg but effectively to install himself as Vice-Chancellor under Hitler .This happened through the feverish night of 29 January with neither Papen nor Hitler nor Hindenberg nor Schleicher clear as to the outcome until the last, which was actually Hitler's swearing in as Chancellor .
Hindenberg was given comfort by the previous swearing in of a new minister of defence, General von Blomberg into an as yet non-existent Cabinet . On the morning of January 30 1933 von Papen assembled Huguenberg and Hitler to Hindenberg's presence, assuaging the enraged Huguenberg by assurances that he , Papen ,would consult with the Centre Party(and of course its offshoot the Bavarian People's Party-see above )to ensure the widest possible basis for parliamentary majority . Papen had come to install the Nazis , who everyone dreaded , as a way of controlling them and of forestalling the trumpeted threat of a separate Military Putsch by von Streicher and the Abwehr , saying "If the new government isn't formed by eleven o'clock , the army is going to march " and claiming as his informant Hindenberg's son Oskar .
1933, The Enabling Act and Monsignor Ludwig Kaas
The relationship between the Centre Party leader through this period of years ,Monsignor Ludwig Kaas , and the Nazi Party leader is shrouded in 'private' meetings at which agreement was evident and followed by widespread german Catholic Hierarchy compliance , as well as resultant increased voter acceptance amongst the Centre Party electoral base .
Cardinal Faulhaber exorted the catholic voters " to profess anew their loyalty to people and to fatherland and their agreement to forceful efforts by the Fuhrer to spare the people the terrors of war and the horrors of Bolshevism..." and for them to support Hitler's plebiscite on withdrawal from the League of Nations, as they did , with 95.1 per cent backing Hitler's foreign policy .
Hitler's first demands for an Enabling Act to exceed previous chancellery powers had surfaced at the moment of the Putsch but Papen managed to gloss them over with Hindenberg by assuring him that these would indeed be the last elections .
Their vote being again required , even with those of the Huguenberg Conservatives , now the Centre Party proved crucial in this further and complete Nazi takeover . Among factors German catholics were concerned to prove their nationalist credentials after the era of the the Armistice and Erzberger(see above) and the Centre Party moved consistently towards the right under Papen's earlier right wing and now Kaas' co-operation with the Nazis . [[Prelate Ludwig Kaas]] is described as being as instrumental as was von Papen in both the negotiations preceding the traitorousEnabling Act and in the subsequent Concordat with Rome (Op Cit Klemens von Klemperer German Resistance Against Hitler,1992 p 38).
Hitler, immediately following the putsch ,began pressuring the Centre Party who had submitted a a list of questions and demands , by countering with the comment that, since his negotiations had failed with the Centre Party , then fresh elections were therefore required (Op cit John Toland Adolf Hitler p 294).
With its delegates voting for Hitler's Enabling Act in March of 1933 together with the discredited Conservatives , the Centre Party lifted Hitler's 41 % voting strength to the necessary two thirds required to legally institute a self-governing , evolving Dictatorship . The vote was cast en bloc by its leader Monsignor Ludwig Kaas in the 23 March Act .
Kaas as Party Leader negotiated at the final stage before the vote a letter of assurance from the Nazi party on top of Hitlers apparently reasonable and conciliatory broadcast on 1 Febuary and his joining with ceremonial to Hindenberg on the opening session of the Reichstag .This was held in the Potsdam Garrison Church following the alleged burning of the Reichstag by a Communist . This promised letter accompanied assurances to the Centre Party , but at the fateful moment Kaas was told that it was still being typed-up ,but that it was really coming. The vote was cast amidst turbulent scenes and surrounded by intimidating crowds without . Von Bruning refused to counsel voting for the Enabling Act , but the Centre Party majority decided to vote in favour and Kaas submitted the vote .(Op Cit Alan Bullock Hitler and Stalin 1991 p352)
Hitler had engineered the previous election solely to achieve the passing of an Enabling Act but was now deflected into a wholescale attack upon the Marxists and the Communist party which provided the Centre Party with no cause for complaint .Hitlers effort towards the Enabling Act involved Papen's persuasion of President Hindenberg who controlled the Chancellor under decree of article 49 of the Constitution (the Reichstag could only pass a vote of no confidence in the Chancellor who otherwise ruled under Hindenberg's decree).
The history records that following the Enabling Act , the Centre Party was weakened by defections to the Nazi Party and by accomodations made by it towards the Nazis and it is said that the decisive blow was provided by Hitler's willingness , and that of the Holy See , to sign a Concordat between the State of Germany and the vatican's Holy See (ibid p355). Hindenberg also did write to the Centre Party requesting it to wholeheartedly support the Chancellor (Hitler).
Kaas resignation and the Concordat
The movements and meetings of the Centre Party's leader Monsignor Kaas are reported by the Simon Wiesenthal Foundation Holocaust Timeline in conjunction with movements of von Papen. Kaas relinquished the leadership of the Centre party on April 3 but his prior negotiations with Hitler and the importance of his immediately subsequent vist to Rome are relevant to the actions of the Centre Party in its voting in the Enabling Act.
On April 8 von Papen secretly(from the press) joined Kaas in Munich , claiming he was taking a holiday in Rome (he returns before Kaas) . On arrival , April 9,it is only Kaas who is received first by his longstanding friend and mentor Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli , later Pope Pius XII . April 10 von Papen and Kaas meet Pacelli twice , the second time accompanied by Hermann Goering representing the Nazi Party . They meet with the elderly Pope Pius XI who expresses pleasure that Germany has found a 'strong man' ,(ie to counter the Communists).
The Italian press then reveal the secret Papen visit. On April 15 Papen and Kaas meet with Cardinal Pacelli and Kaas, still Leader of the Centre Party is given the great honour of drafting the terms of the future Concordat . This Kaas rapidly drafts and the result is perused at length on April 18 by Pope Pius XI and Cardinal Pacelli .
On April 20 Kaas is still in Rome and assures Adolf Hitler of unflinching co-operation. A papal telegram is also sent to Hitler congratulating him on his birthday and which is widely published in the German press, The Bavarian Ambassador, von Ritter, on April 24 reveals that Kaas' friend , Cardinal Pacelli , approves sincere co-operation by the Catholic Church to benefit and lead Nazism within a Christian Weltanschauung.
The Centre Party dissolved itself on 5 July, thereby not embarrassing Hitler with the necessity to remove it, with the corollary bad publicity .This is a vital facet and reveals the extra-ordinary capacity of Adolf Hitler to out-manouevre legally the parties and factions of his time .At all times it must be remembered that what was done in dismantling the Weimar Republic was legal .
Kaas left Germany forever to take up a position as lifelong Keeper of the Fabric of St Peter's on 6 July. The Nazi Party accepted the Concordat on Jul 14 .
Monsignor Kaas announced after his audience with the Pope "Hitler knows how to guide the ship. Even before he became Chancellor I met him frequently and was greatly impressed by his clear thinking , by his way of facing realities while upholding his ideals ,which are noble .... It matters little who rules so long as order is maintained " (Op |Cit John Toland Adolf Hitler Doubleday 1976).
Monsignor Ludwig Kaas whilst leader of the centre Party negotiated an abdication of Democracy by itself and supplied the crucial swinging vote by his own hand .
The Centre Party should not be seen as exclusively responsible for Hitler's accession to power . Other parties held as much or more responsibility . The reader is strongly advised to read actual books such as the ones reference to see that the Centre party was never more than a minority part of the electorate, and only the Enabling Act caused the Centre to influence the events of the period . Meanwhile the Catholic Church denies any involvement and does not release documents for the 32-33 period and all such relationships as herein described are subject to dispute . Appeasement as evidenced in part here is a constantly arguable part of history and all sides carry strong opinions to this day . The interest surrounding the Centre Party in 1932 -1933 lies more in its relationships to the world around it than in its core principles .
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