Carl von Ossietzky

Carl von Ossietzky (1889 -1938) was a German pacifist and the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work in exposing the clandestine German re-armament. 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.

Despite his failure to finish High School, Ossietzky succeeded in embarking on a career in journalism. 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. During the years of the Weimar Republic, his political commentaries gained him a reputation as a fervent supporter of democracy and a pluralistic society. Ossietsky also became secretary of the German Peace Society. In 1927, he became the editor-in~chief of the periodical Die Weltbuhne.

In 1929 Walter Kreiser, one of the writers for Die Weltbiihne, published an expose of the training of a special air unit of the Reichswehr, referred to as Abteilung M (“M Battalion”), which was secretly training in Germany and in Soviet Russia, in violation of Germany’s agreements under the Treaty of Versailles. Kreiser and Ossietzky were convicted and sentenced to eighteen months in prison for “high treason and espionage,” the assertion being that they had drawn international attention to state affairs which the state had purposefully attempted to keep secret. The arrests were widely seen at the time as an effort to silence Die Weltbiihne which had been a vocal critic of the Reichswehr’s policies and secret expansion. Kreiser fled Germany but Ossietzky remained and was imprisoned, being released at the end of 1932.

Ossietzky continued to be a constant Warning voice against militarism and Nazism 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. He was detained afterwards at the concentration camp KZ Esterwegen near Oldenburg, among other camps.
Ossietzky’s international rise to fame began in 1936 when, already suffering from serious tuberculosis that was not being treated, he was awarded the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize. The govermnent 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). Ossietzky’s Nobel Prize was not allowed to be mentioned in the German press, and a government decree forbade German citizens from accepting future Nobel Prizes.

In May 1936 he was sent to the Westend hospital in Berlin-Charlottenburg because of his tuberculosis, but under Gestapo surveillance. He died in the Nordend hospital in Berlin-Pankow, still in police custody, on 4 May l938, of tuberculosis and from the after-effects of the abuse he suffered in the concentration camps.

Supporters of convicted Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu and Nobel prize winning Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo have compared them to Ossietzky. The International League for Human Rights (ILHR) awards an annual Carl von Ossietzky Medal “to honor citizens or initiatives that promote basic human rights.”

June 2013