I am going to prison! (Ich muß sitzen!)

Carl von Ossietzky

Carl von Ossietzky

Part 1 of: Drawing Balance (Rechenschaft)

I will shortly be entering a Prussian prison to serve the eighteen months to which the 4th criminal court condemned me on 23rd November last year for treason and the betrayal of military secrets, so the moment in which I must relinquish my position at the Weltbühne has arrived. Such an externally imposed caesura is the right moment to account for and justify what has happened in the last few months, and at the same time to fill in the background against which the Weltbühne case arose.

The appeal for pardon made by the defence to the Imperial President on 30th December was recently rejected. “The quality of mercy is not strained,” said Portia. The quality of our mercy is surely not less than that in Venice. It is the quantity which seems to be a problem. „It falls like the mild dew from heaven,“ and it mostly falls towards the right. I would nevertheless completely understand if Herr von Hindenburg, whom I have always held to be the wrong occupant of the presidential office, and against whose re-election I wrote, should refuse his homage. So not a word against Herr von Hindenburg, should he have actually taken the decision.

But there are good reasons to doubt that the appeal of my friend Dr. Apfel, which was later supported by a special submission by the professor of jurisprudence Aisberg, was ever examined by the highest authority. The appeal for pardon seems to have already failed in the Imperial Ministry of Justice. Herr Imperial Minister of Justice Joel refused the counter-signature demanded by the constitution, which reduced the whole matter to a routine administrative procedure for the minister of state of the Imperial President. A somewhat later joint appeal by the PEN club and the German League for Human Rights that the sentence be commuted to a custodial one, was  refused in the same way. This is in itself not particularly surprising, but the applicants were very surprised that they were informed of the decision by the Imperial Minister of Justice, not, as they had expected, from the Imperial President. Many people think that Herr General Field Marshall von Hindenburg was elected on 10th April, not Herr Dr. jur. Joel.

It was recently asserted in a newspaper article that the matter was not entirely hopeless at first, until Herr Groener made it the subject of a vote of confidence. I am not sure whether it really came to that, but one doesn’t need to be a forensic expert to detect the fingerprints and Bertillon statistics[1] of the Imperial Ministry of Defence in the handling of this issue and the curt military form of its rejection.

The case for a pardon wich we presented will be documented in the Weltbühne, with supporting material, so that readers can make their own judgement, but let me assure you that we did not just appeal to feelings, we demanded justice, which was denied by a judgement against which no appeal was allowed. The Imperial Court is the first and last instance, which doesn’t encourage particular rigour, in its political chamber at least. There is no appeal, only redress by the highest instance of the German Republic.

The obligation of secrecy also robbed us of the chance to employ journalistic methods to make our cause known to the public. The 4th criminal court was rigorous in this at least, and generously combined its concern with national security with its own. We were condemned to silence. Just one example shows how seriously this is meant: our defence was obliged to return the single copy of the judgement which they were shown, to the files, after they had read it. So appeal for pardon was our only option, and, as I have said, its justification got no further than the ante-chamber. The Herr Imperial Minister of Justice stood between us and the Herr Imperial President like the wall in A Summer Night’s Dream, and not a whisper was heard on the other side of it. When there were difficult legal  problems in the presidential palace, the late President Ebert used to say, “Herr Joel will see to it!” Herr Joel has seen to it very thoroughly this time as well.

I would like to avoid any misunderstanding about one thing, and I want to emphasize it to all my friends and opponents, particularly those who are responsible for my legal and physical welfare in the next eighteen months: I am going to prison because I am most awkward as a prisoner, not for reasons of loyalty. I do not submit to the red velvet robed majesty of the Imperial Court. As the inmate of a Prussian penal institution, I am a living protest against a High Court judgement which is politically biased in the issue at hand, and is the result of an extremely biased legal process.

I owe it to all those who have taken my part even though the circumstances prevented them from knowing all the details, to keep this protest alive. I also owe it to the nameless working-class victims of the 4th criminal court, whose fate was only of interest to their party comrades, because the Weltbühne case is the first for a long time to be so blatant, and to really arouse the public. Let’s show the big spider of Leipzig[2] that it has bitten off more than it can chew. That also answers a question which has beset me since the evening of 23rd November, when I was met by a deputation of journalistic maidens of honour at Anhalter station, and since then in several hundred letters and conversations. The question is simply, „,Why don’t you leg it, man?” I don’t deny the right of a journalist to flee from the clutches of the powers that be. A right, incidentally, shared by anyone who is innocently condemned, to whom the normal process of rehabilitation is not available, or who has no faith in the objectivity of his judges. But the aim is to do that which is most effective in each individual case. That is decisive.

The Imperial Court took the trouble to brand me in the most unpleasant way. Treason and the betrayal of military secrets – that is a highly defamatory designation, with which it is not easy to live. If one left the country with that, the right-wing press would have a field day: he has fled to the enemy! And some of those who are uncommitted would shrug their shoulders and say, there must have been something in it! The voice of a member of the opposition who has left the country soon sounds hollow. An exclusively political journalist cannot permanently do without a connection to the whole for and against which he struggles, without experiencing euphoria and distortions. If one wants to fight against the contaminated spirit of a country, one must share its fate.

I don’t belong to a party, so where should I go? None of the international ones would welcome me and find me a new position. There are a lot of smart gentlemen out there who like to drink a toast to peace after they have managed to have their latest military program approved, and who detest German militarism as though it were the only militarism in the world. If the anti-militaristic German who has flown were to write against his generals and the war-mongers in their shadow, it would give his work a false accent. Because then he would, willingly or unwillingly, serve a foreign interest, he would be one of the many mouthpieces of foreign propaganda. He would have to remain silent about what he sees, to become indignant about what he has left behind, and which, with time, is lost not only to his eyes, but to his judgement as well. Political journalism is not a life assurance policy: risk is what gives it its best spur.

For many years, the Weltbühne has often used the most brusque and cutting formulations for German affairs, for which it has had to put up with accusations of betrayal from the right, and from the left of irresponsibly niggling individualistic aestheticism. The Weltbühne will continue to say what it thinks needs saying. It will remain as independent as it has been, it will be as polite or as cheeky as the subject in hand requires. In this country, which is trembling under the elephant tread of Fascism, it will also not lose the courage of its own opinion. Whoever dares to oppose in the morally darkest hour of his people will always be accused of offending national feelings . The Weltbühne has always taken a very clear and consistent position, which gives it a special relationship with, and responsibility towards, those who read and trust it. Its voice can only resonate if its editor is wholeheartedly committed, and chooses the right solution, not the easy one, when the going gets rough.

The Imperial Court must feel something similar, because nobody restricted my freedom of movement until the day before the start of my sentence. They only asked for my passport today. I could have left the country. And that is reason enough to tell me that it would have been the wrong thing to do. It’s not my job to make life easier for the Imperial Court.


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