April 8, 2016
By Joel R Kolander
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Luger Collectors, history is a funny thing. As hard as we humans try to document it, the facts of the matter only occasionally prevail, rarely survive, and are often up to interpretation. Much like human memory itself, we often serve as storytellers, making our own omissions and exaggerations instead of acting as stern and fact-obsessed archivists. Each camp has its own validity. The “archivists” often state that history speaks for itself and needs no embellishment, while the “storytellers” often excuse their inaccuracies by saying it makes history approachable, relatable, and easier to imagine those fantastic moments that stitch together the tapestry of our past.
Knowing what we do about human memory, and our suspect ability to accurately document history, it should come as no surprise that history is often told selectively. Things are attributed to more famous names in history, while lesser-known names lie in their wake, largely forgotten. This is an article about two of those lesser-known names and a brilliant Luger pistol that passed between them.
The Luger itself is a Mauser-manufactured pistol that began its life rather uneventfully. According to accompanying documents written by Dr. Rolf Gminder, a consultant to the Mauser-Werkes factory who had personally viewed the pistol, it was originally one of any number of Lugers in the existing stock of police guns. However, this gun was selected for something more. It began with the highest quality engraving Germany had to offer. The typical “oak leaf and acorn” pattern takes on a distinct variation with more flowing vinous scroll work and geometric shapes than typically seen on the more deep relief engraved German lugers, Walther PP and PPK pistols that often served as Nazi presentation pistols.
The dark walnut grips have also been carved with the oak and acorn pattern, but while the right grip shows fine checkering in its center, the left grip bears a presentation plaque that reads,
Herrn Botshafter Franz von Papen
in tiefster Verehrung
am 11ten November 1940
überreicht von Joachim von Ribbentrop
des Deutchen Reiches
That translates to:
the Honorable Ambassador Franz von Papen
in deepest dedication
on 11th November 1940
given by Joachim von Ribbentrop
Foreign Minister of the German Reich
Many presentation arms leave a mystery about who presented the gun and who received it. Sometimes they are decorated with no inscription at all, while others only bear the cryptic monogram of their recipient. This pistol leaves no such riddles and instead offers us an excellent starting point to explore who these men were, what they did, and the background of this extravagant Luger.
Thankfully, Franz von Papen is not one of those names lost to time or a German military man of whom little information remains. That said, his deeds place him far from a spot of honor in history. In the simplest terms, Papen was a politician. Born in 1879 to a wealthy family, he entered the military early on, and by the Great War was already a military attaché in Washington. However, at the behest of the U.S. Government he was recalled in 1915 after being implicated as a spy and saboteur. After serving the rest of the war for Germany, he entered politics and found his true calling. He served in the Prussian Parliament for 11 years, before being surprisingly appointed Chancellor in 1932 by President Paul von Hindenburg, who had been undeniably influenced by General Kurt von Schleicher, an old friend of Papen’s who had great influence with the German president.
Once in a position of power, Papen achieved some impressive feats considering the near-complete lack of support he had within the Reichstag. Instead he achieved his changes through authoritarian rule. In an effort to gain the support of the Nazi party, he repealed the ban on their paramilitary Sturmabteilung(SA). He also had Germany’s debt under the Treaty of Versailles essentially erased. In this trend of removing previous laws, Papen also staged a coup and deposed the Social Democratic government of Prussia using police, and declared himself its leader. These authoritarian measures are marked by many as setting the stage for the rise of the Third Reich, a charge echoed in his Nuremberg trial.
After the coup, he called for a national election and was surprised when he still had no support from the Reichstag. Instead, the Nazis seized the moment and gained 123 seats, giving them a majority in the governing body. Papen planned to dissolve the democracy, and even had advance permission from Hindenburg. However, the Nazis had other ideas. Rolling with the tide, Papen then tried to work with the Nazis, but found them unbending and so resigned as chancellor after the November 1932 elections. After some major politicking and maneuvering between President Hindenburg, Gen. Schleicher, and Papen, with no one able to firm up support from the Nazis and the Social Democrats, Papen worked relentlessly to undermine his former friend Schleicher to give Adolf Hitler the chancellorship while he served as vice chancellor. It would not take long for Hitler and new Reichstag President Herman Göring to marginalize Papen and his office, eventually executing “The Night of Long Knives,” a purging of opposing political and military ideologies that threatened Hitler’s new found power. Papen would survive the event, later serving as an ambassador to Austria and Turkey before being captured by the Allies in April of 1945. He was prosecuted at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial, found not guilty of the charges of “conspiracy to prepare aggressive war” and “conspiracy to commit crimes against peace,” served eight years hard labor by a West German court, and was finally released & fined in 1949 on appeal. His memoirs were published in 1952 and he died in 1969.
Largely due to his Nuremberg Trial, Papen is often remembered as paving the way for Nazi power, facilitating the annexation of Austria, and being well aware of Nazi ideology as he did so.
If Papen paved the way for the Nazi party to take power in Germany, then Joachim von Ribbentrop turned that paved highway into the Autobahn. He too served in the Great War, as a hussar on the Eastern front, but afterward he resumed the relatively normal life of a sparkling wine (Sekt) salesman until he became independently wealthy by marriage. He met Hitler in 1932 as a businessman thanks to an introduction from a fellow former hussar, and shortly thereafter he and his wife joined the NSDAP (Nazi Party). He entered the political arena by offering to serve as a representative between Hitler and his old battle buddy, Papen. Ribbentrop was not liked by many Nazis: he was a flatterer, a yes man, had no political experience, married into his fortune, and even the nobility of his name (the “von”) had come from an aunt that Ribbentrop had convinced to formally adopt him for that purpose alone. Despite his lack of the “proper” credentials in the eyes of many Nazis, Ribbentrop would serve as Hitler’s chief adviser on foreign affairs, and would soon prove his worth.In short, Ribbentrop would put into play numerous policies that placated the world and gave Nazi Germany numerous advantages in the years leading up to World War II. Here is a brief list of his diplomatic agreements and similar achievements.
Despite being hated by his fellow Nazis and nearly every foreign diplomat he ever met, Ribbentrop
almost single-handedly managed to stall the entire world from acting against Germany as they prepared to conquer Europe. This is quite an accomplishment considering that the ink on the Versailles Treaty had only dried 20 years prior and the memory of the Great War still hung fresh in the mind of every nation it touched. After the war, Ribbertrop also was a defendant at the Nuremberg Trials, but unlike Papen, he was convicted on four counts and sentenced to death. He had been charged with crimes against peace, deliberately planning a war of aggression, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Because Göring had committed suicide before he could be hung, Ribbentrop was the first of the defendants to have his death sentence carried out.
One aspect of the relationship between these two comrades in arms remains for a dedicated collector or historian to investigate. This pistol is dated on the grip as presented on the November 11, 1940. However, there is a documented squabble between the two men that took place sometime in, or just after, April 1939, when Papen was the newly appointed Ambassador to Turkey. It turns out that Papen, the former Chancellor, felt he should be able to take his communications directly to Hitler instead of through Ribbentrop, something he was accustomed to when he served as Ambassador to Austria. It has been written that this spat ended the friendship that extended back nearly two decades.
Had the two men reconciled by 1940, even if only out of political necessity? Was their falling out misrepresented as more serious than it was? It is possible, though not entirely plausible, that the pistol was already in the works when Papen was Ambassador to Austria. After all, even though he was dismissed as the Austrian Ambassador on February 4, 1938, he had arranged the February 12 meeting at Berchtesgaden between Hitler and Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg that eventually led to the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Germany, which was signed into law on March 13. This event pleased Hitler greatly.
However, from just prior to the 1938 Anschluss until the 1940 presentation seems like an exceptionally long turnaround time for a standard police pistol that had only to be embellished. It is perhaps more likely that the pistol was ordered to commemorate Papen’s new position as the Ambassador to Turkey which he assumed on April 29, 1939. This makes much more sense since it is also known that Ribbentrop had been lobbying for Papen to receive that position since losing the Austrian ambassadorship. Given the dates between Papen’s new position and timeframe of the fight, he could not have held the position long prior to their rift. Six months is a much more plausible timeframe for a finely embellished, presentation Luger.
Despite being two men rarely heard of outside of German history or World War II educational settings, they had quite a profound impact on their country and the world. One paved the way for the Nazis to come to power, while the other pacified country after country in the name of peace, all the while preparing for war. The fact that these two men were brothers in arms who went on to be high ranking Nazis is fascinating enough. When you consider that these same individuals played huge roles in amplifying the power of Nazi Germany, and are both listed on the same classic German pistol, a true treasure of history exists. Their names may not be as infamous, but their significance cannot be discounted.
This historic well-preserved golden Luger is just one of the dozens of incredible German lugers and other military pieces in our April Premiere Firearms Auction. From the incredible rarities, prototypes, and high condition arms from The Robert “The Bear” Bretherton Collection (please see below video), to the incredibly well preserved uniforms and helmets in the Putnam Green/Sycamore Collection, this auction will have it all. Other highlights include a Krieghoff Second model FG42 machine gun, an extremely rare M.Kb.42(H) assault rifle – a predecessor to the StG44, a cased presentation copy of Mein Kampf covered completely in Amber tile and silver furniture, an authentic, original uniform from the Fallschirm-Panzer “Herman Göring” Division, a Nazi Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross (with oak leaves) war medal, the entire evolution of the Walther P38, and a presentation Walther PP given to SSUntersturmfuhrer Maximilian Grabner. It’s a fantastic time to be a collector!
Bloch, Michael. Ribbentrop. New York: Crown, 1992. Print.
German Lugers from the Bretherton Firearms Collection
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