Theater of Cruelty

When the peace prize went to a Gestapo prisoner

PEACE PRIZE: MODERN TIMES has chosen to reprint this article about the Nobel Peace Prize from ORINTERING 50 years ago. There are 351 candidates nominated this year, of which Jens Stoltenberg (with 'weapons for peace') and Volodymyr Zelenskyj have been proposed for this award. Former laureate Carl von Ossietzky was one of German militarism's most uncompromising opponents. Here we see how the Norwegian right-wing press reacted to this.



There was a time when the storm raged fiercely after a decision in the Nobel Committee.

It was in 1936 when the peace prize went to Carl von Ossietzky – a handout that is without a doubt the bravest and most challenging in the committee's history. But at the time it was the reaction that blew up, both here at home and in Europe.

Carl von Ossietzky was a prisoner of the German Nazi regime and one of the most uncompromising opponents of German militarism.

Already in 1913, aged 24, he was sentenced to his first prison term for an article which, according to the court, "violated the German uniform". He helped found the German branch of War Resisters International. He worked for a time as foreign policy editor of the Berliner Volkzeitung and then became editor of the journal Die Weltbühne.

Here he published, among other things, an article about the secret German rearmament, directed the spotlight on the National Guard and launched a scathing attack on the Germany that still lived behind the democratic facade of the Weimar Republic.

In 1928, he was sentenced to prison for the second time, but was pardoned by an amnesty provision. In 1931 he was imprisoned again, released after a couple of months, but was arrested again on the same night that the Reichstag burned, taken to the penitentiary in Sonneburg and from there to the concentration camps Papenburg-Esterwegen and Oranienburg.

A living symbol

Ossietzky had tried to wake up a lethargic and half-war-indifferent Europe. Now he sat in a Nazi concentration camp with open pulmonary tuberculosis and his teeth knocked in by his guards, who forced the sick man to carry bricks in a wheelbarrow from one end of the camp to the other.

Ossietzky had tried to wake up a lethargic and half-war-indifferent Europe. Now he was in a Nazi concentration camp with open pulmonary tuberculosis and his teeth knocked in by his guards.

For more and more people he became a living symbol, the very image of anti-fascist resistance, and from several quarters there were proposals to award him the Nobel Peace Prize for 1935.

Morgenbladet claimed that the action in favor of Ossietzky was directly contrary to Alfred Nobel's idea.

The proposal divided Norwegian public opinion into two irreconcilable camps. From the conservative side, it was met by a violent reaction. Hitler's Germany was responsible for significant parts of the Norwegian bulwark against communism, and this also played out in the battle that followed.


Most famous in this connection is Knut Hamsun's attack on Ossietzky in Aftenposten. 33 Norwegian writers – among them Johan Borgen, Olav Duun, Johan Falkberget, Nordahl Grieg, Sigurd Hoel, Helge Krog, Gunnar Reiss-Andersen, Einar Skavlan, Sigrid Undset, Nils Collet Vogt and Arnulf Øverland – then issued a joint declaration, where they "regretted that Knut Hamsun finds it appropriate to speak out against a defenseless and goal-bound prisoner in favor of an all-powerful political government, which has driven the elite of German writers, Hamsun's vocations, into exile."

"Regarding the well-intentioned signatories who have allowed themselves to be led astray by Helge Krog and his Marxist company, one should ideally apply the words of scripture: Forgive them, because they hardly know what they are doing," wrote Aftenposten.

The petition then ended up in editor Nesse's wastebasket, and NTB refused to send it out. "You cannot demonstrate good results from this man's activities", said Aftenposten: "And it would be a mockery of the very idea of ​​peace to award this award to Ossietzky – to a criminal."


The reaction now organized a joint howl chorus against Ossietzky's candidacy. For almost a year the dispute raged. Foreign Minister Koht resigned in good time from the Nobel Committee and was followed by former Minister of State and Foreign Affairs Johan Ludwig Mowinckel.

Thus the debate rose to new heights. "The foreign minister should have stood guard in the committee to prevent the Nobel Peace Prize from being used in the service of domestic Nazi hatred," wrote Aftenposten, which again emphasized that Ossietzky was a man who had let his country down.

Morgenbladet claimed that the action in favor of Ossietzky was directly contrary to Alfred Nobel's idea, and the same tone was expressed in Tidens Tegn, Nationen and Sjøfartstidende.

The decision fell

On 23 November 1936, the decision was handed down. The committee's chairman, Professor Fredrik Stang, was finally able to announce that the peace prize for 1935 had been awarded to Carl von Ossietzky.

But even then, the Nobel Committee was divided. That time too, the decision was made by three to two votes.

The Ossietzky voted for Fredrik Stang, Dr. Chr. L. Lange and editor Martin Tranmæl, while shipowner Bernhard Hanssen and chief prosecutor Axel Thallaug voted against.

Aftenposten wrote about "The Nobel Committee's humiliation".

The German reaction was not to be misunderstood. The statement, issued by the German Telegram Agency and endorsed by the Leader, concluded: "The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a notorious traitor is such an unabashed challenge and insult to the new Germany that a correspondingly clear response will be given to it."

Norwegian right-wing press

And here are some glimpses of the Norwegian conservative reaction:

"The Soviet Union will no longer face a single obstacle beyond what we ourselves can achieve in Northern Norway when the great settlement comes. That is what has been decided in this cheap and lumpy way. The tool Ossietzky will soon be forgotten [...] and our entire people will have to pay for this because the traitorous mentality in one country makes them want to send a gold-edged blessing to their family in another." It was the Nation.

Aftenposten wrote about the "Nobel Committee's humiliation" and called the award "a nod to the new Germany": "The Norwegian people have no urge to play the role of the brave

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