1936 newspaper articles a reminder of the always controversial nature of the Nobel Peace Prize

Sunday, October 11, 2009

For a little historical perspective after yesterday's awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama, let's take a look at two articles from 1936 written the day after Ossietzky was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his opposition to Nazi Germany, which at the time was a long ways away from starting World War II. In fact, 24 November 1936 was a scant few months after the Olympics in Berlin. Here's the Ames Daily Tribune on the award (image on the right; click to see it in a legible size), showing what a controversial move it was at the time.


A Nobel prize for Saavedra Lamas was to be expected, in keeping with the tradition which has brought the prize for such statesmen as Woodrow Wilson, father of the league of nations, and Frank B. Kellogg and Aristide Briand, co-authors of the Briand-Kellogg anti-war pact.

But Ossietzky was honored only a few weeks after he had completed three years in nazi concentration camps.

The award was interpreted widely as likely to be regarded by nazi Germany as a direct affront, as a frank criticism of its policies.

This was believed to be responsible for the recent decision of Halvdan Koht, Norwegian foreign minister, and Johann Mowinckel, former Norwegian premier and foreign minister, to resign from the Nobel peace committee.

May Refuse

So serious was the incident regarded that it has been suggested that the committee received word that Ossietzky was likely to refuse the award.

Ossietzky is 47, and a war veteran. After the World war he made a scant living by maintaining a small newspaper clipping bureau. His wife, Audrey, and Englishwoman, taught languages.

Then Ossietzky began to acquire an international reputation for his militant pacifist articles. In 1928 he was made chief editor of the German weekly Weltbuehne. Twice he was arraigned in court for articles which appeared in the publication, tho he did not write them.

In 1931 Ossietzky was sentenced to 18 months in prison on a charge of treason, result of an article charging that Germany was secretly building up its air force. In a second trial he was charged with slandering the German army but was acquitted.


Fearless, Ossietzky served his sentence and went back to his desk.

In March, 1933, immediately after the still mysterious reichstag fire in Berlin, Ossietzky was arrested. He went from one prison camp to another. The nazi department of propaganda and public enlightenment announced last summer that he had been released and sent to a hospital for treatment. But he is reported broken.

Hitherto the Nobel peace prize has been given to men who worked and spoke for peace in the high places of the world. In honoring Ossietzky, the Nobel committee at risk of angering nazi Germany honored a man who has suffered for it in prisons and, it is reported, would still be in prison were his condition not such that his death was feared.

Another article from the same day from AP shows that somebody else considered the prize to be a partisan slap from a group with a politicized agenda.


BERLIN (AP) - Reichsfuehrer Adolf Hitler personally interested himself Tuesday in the selection of Carl von Ossietzky, German recently released from nazi custody, as the winner of the Nobel peace prize for 1936.

Hitler summoned officials from the foreign office and ministries of justice and propaganda to a conference at noon.

A communique was under consideration, informed sources said, protesting the award and branding it a "misuse of a humanitarian institution for partisan political purposes." It was expected to be issued officially later.


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