Carl von Ossietzky worked in this house as editor of the weekly Die Weltbühne. As a pacifist journalist and publicist he warned of militarism and nationalism in the Weimar Republic and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1936.
Carl von Ossietzky (*1889 †1938), writer and figurehead of resistance against the National Socialist regime, was an accurate observer and keen analyst of the political situation in the Weimar Republic. He gave an early warning of the danger of an approaching war, campaigned for the democratisation of the German Empire and fought against militarism, armament and warmongering.
In 1911, Carl von Ossietzky published his first article in the newspaper Das freie Volk (The Free People). In the year 1914, he was charged with ‘Insulting the Military Jurisdiction’ for the first time. His experience of the First World War, where he witnessed the Battle of Verdun, had a lasting effect on him. He returned as a confirmed pacifist and from then on wrote articles against the romanticising of war and its continuation. Together with other activists, he founded the initiative Nie wieder Krieg (Never Again War) in 1919.
“We cannot appeal to the conscience of the world when our own conscience is asleep.”
– Carl von Ossietzky
From 1926 onwards, he initially wrote in, and then edited the weekly newspaper Die Weltbühne (The World Stage). During the Weimar Republic this was the most important forum of the civil democratic left and shaped public political opinion.
In 1932, following the publication of an article on the covert armament of the ‘Reichswehr’ (armed forces of the Weimar Republic), which as editor he was answerable for, Carl von Ossietzky was arrested for treason and sentenced to eighteen months in jail, but was freed on amnesty. After the National Socialists seized power, he declined to emigrate and shortly afterwards was re-arrested, tortured and interned in a concentration camp.
In 1936 he received the Nobel Peace Prize in retrospect for the year 1935, but the Gestapo refused him permission to travel to the prize giving ceremony in Oslo. He died in May 1938 while in custody. Posterity has not honoured the Nobel Peace Prize winner to any great extent. In West Germany, the anti-communism feeling that prevailed during the post-war period prevented a clearer perspective of his merits, while the GDR attempted to relativise his unconditional pacifism. Today Carl von Ossietzky is an important reference in the struggle against war and for freedom of expression.
Food for thought: How is freedom of expression related to the matter of peace today?