History,  Human Rights

Historical echoes

Clearly, awarding the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia to imprisoned Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo has touched a nerve with China’s regime.

Now let’s grasp that nerve and squeeze by recalling a previous Peace Prize winner who was barred by his government from attending his award ceremony.

Carl von Ossietzky in a concentration camp in Esterwegen

The Daily Telegraph reports:

The absence of Liu Xiaobo from this year’s Nobel prize ceremony has raised the ghost of Carl von Ossietzky, the German pacifist who was not allowed to collect his Nobel prize in 1936.
Mr Ossietzky, a German journalist and pacifist who spoke out against Hitler’s rise to power, was convicted of high treason and espionage in 1931 after publishing an article about Germany’s efforts to rebuild its air force, in contravention of the Treaty of Versailles.

He was tortured in Spandau prison in 1933, after the Reichstag fire, and was interned in the KZ Esterwegen concentration camp near Oldenburg when he was awarded the prize in 1936.

The Nazi regime put enormous pressure on the Nobel committee not to award him the Peace prize, to the extent that the 1935 Peace prize, which he had been nominated for, was not awarded at all.

It took the Nobel committee a year to work up the courage, and two members withdrew, before it finally announced the 1935 prize to Mr Ossietzky on the same day as awarding the 1936 prize to Carlos Saavedra Lamas, who brokered a truce between Paraguay and Bolivia. Mr Ossietzky’s prize was described by newspapers at the time as “a slap in the face of fascism”.

King Haakon VII of Norway stayed away from the ceremony, while the award was generally condemned by conservatives. Aftenposten, the Norwegian newspaper, argued that Mr Ossietzky was a criminal who had attacked his country “with the use of methods that violated the law long before Hitler came into power”.

One of the German activists supporting Mr Ossietzky in Norway was Herbert Frahm, a 21-year-old exile who took the name Willy Brandt and would eventually become chancellor of West Germany and win the Peace prize himself.

Germany reacted with fury, and an unnamed official called the award “preposterous”. The Nazi government told Mr Ossietzky, by then suffering from severe tuberculosis in a hospital bed, that he had to decline the prize, a demand that he refused. A year-and-a-half later he died, at the age of 48.

Time magazine reported at the time:

The entire German Press had been thundering for days that the Nobel award to a “traitor” was an “insult” to Germany, hinted strongly that Der F├╝hrer might break off diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Haakon VII. In Oslo the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Dr. Halvdan Koht, had taken such precautions as he could. When the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, of which he was a member, appeared likely to pick Carl von Ossietzky, Dr. Koht resigned from the committee.

According to The Telegraph, “Hitler established his own alternative Peace prize and declared that no Germans were to ever accept the Nobel prize again.” Doing their best to echo the events of 74 years ago, the Chinese regime has approved the creation of a “Confucius Peace Prize” as an alternative to the Nobel.