Carl von Ossietzky

Carl von Ossietzky in concentration camp in Esterwegen (1934).
Photograph of Carl von Ossietzky taken in 1915.

Carl von Ossietzky (3 October 1889 – 4 May 1938) was a radical German pacifist. He was convicted of high treason and espionage in 1931 after publishing details of Germany's alleged violation of the Treaty of Versailles by rebuilding an Air force, the predecessor of the Luftwaffe and training pilots in the Soviet Union. In 1990 his daughter, Rosalinde von Ossietzky-Palm, called for a resumption of proceedings, but the verdict was upheld by the Federal Court of Justice in 1992 in a decision that is final. Ossietzky was controversially[1] awarded the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize.


[edit] Biography

Ossietzky was born in Hamburg, the son of Carl Ignatius von Ossietzky (1848–1891), a Protestant from Upper Silesia, and Rosalie ne Pratzka, a devout Catholic who wished for Carl to become a monk. His father worked as a stenographer in the office of a lawyer and senator, but died when Carl was two years old. Carl was baptized in the Catholic church Kleine Michel in Hamburg on 10 November 1889, and confirmed in the Lutheran Hauptkirche St. Michaelis on 23 March 1904.

Despite his failure to finish the Realschule, a German secondary school, Ossietzky succeeded in embarking on a career in journalism, with the topics of his articles ranging from theatre criticism to feminism and the problems of early motorization. He later said that his opposition to German militarism during the final years of the German Empire under William II led him, as early as 1913, to become a pacifist. That year he married Maud Lichfield-Wood, a Mancunian suffragette, born as a British colonial officer's daughter and great grand-daughter of an Indian princess in Hyderabad. They had one daughter, Rosalinde. During the years of the Weimar Republic (1918 – 1933), his political commentaries gained him a reputation as a fervent supporter of democracy and a pluralistic society. Also, he became secretary of the German Peace Society (Deutsche Friedensgesellschaft). In 1927 he became the successor to Kurt Tucholsky as editor-in-chief of the periodical Die Weltbhne. In 1932 he supported Ernst Thlmann's candidacy for the German presidency, still a critic of the actual policy of the German Communist Party and the Soviet Union.

Ossietzky had been a constant warning voice for many years when, in January 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor and the Nazi dictatorship began. Even then, Ossietzky was one of a very small group of public figures who continued to speak out against the Nazi Party. On 28 February 1933, after the Reichstag fire, he was arrested and held in so-called protective custody in Spandau prison. Wilhelm von Sternburg, one of Ossietzky's biographers, surmises that if Ossietzky had had a few more days, he would surely have joined the vast majority of writers who fled the country. In short, Ossietzky underestimated the speed with which the Nazis would go about ridding the country of unwanted political opponents. He was detained afterwards at the concentration camp KZ Esterwegen near Oldenburg, among other camps.

Carl von Ossietzky Memorial in the Berlin district Pankow

Ossietzky's international rise to fame began in 1936 when, already suffering from a serious tuberculosis which was not being treated, he was awarded the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize. The government had been unable to prevent this, but they now refused to release him so that he could travel to Oslo to receive the prize. In an act of civil disobedience, Ossietzky issued a note from the hospital saying that he disagreed with the authorities who had stated that by accepting the prize he would cast himself outside the deutsche Volksgemeinschaft (community of German people):

After much consideration, I have made the decision to accept the Nobel Peace Prize which has fallen to me. I cannot share the view put forward to me by the representatives of the Secret State Police that in doing so I exclude myself from German society. The Nobel Peace Prize is not a sign of an internal political struggle, but of understanding between peoples. As a recipient of the prize, I will do my best to encourage this understanding and as a German I will always bear in mind Germany's justifiable interests in Europe.

The award was extremely controversial, prompting two members of the prize committee to resign. The King of Norway (King Haakon VII of Norway), who has been present at all other award ceremonies, boycotted the ceremony. The award divided public debate, and was generally condemned by conservative forces. Leading conservative Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten argued in an editorial that Ossietzky was a criminal who had attacked his country "with the use of methods that violated the law long before Hitler came into power" and that "lasting peace between peoples and nations can only be achieved by respecting the existing laws".[2]

In May 1936 he was sent to the Westend hospital in Berlin-Charlottenburg because of his serious tuberculosis, but resting under Gestapo surveillance. He died in the Nordend hospital in Berlin-Pankow, still in police custody, on 4 May 1938, of tuberculosis and from the after-effects of the abuse he suffered in the concentration camps.

In 1991, the University of Oldenburg was renamed Carl von Ossietzky Universitt Oldenburg in his honor. This was seen as a political statement, as Ossietzky's case was decided upon by the German courts at the time. The following year his conviction was finally upheld.

Ossietzky has in modern times, since the 1980s, often been compared to convicted Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, particularly by Vanunu's supporters[3].

[edit] References

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[edit] Further reading

  • Burger, Felix: Carl von Ossietzky (Zrich, 1937)
  • Singer, Kurt: Carl von Ossietzky: Fredshelten i Koncentrationslejren (1937) (online text, in Danish)
  • Sternburg, Wilhelm von: "Es ist eine unheimliche Stimmung in Deutschland." Carl von Ossietzky und seine Zeit (Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 1996).

[edit] External links

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