Carl von Ossietzky

Carl von Ossietzky

Part 2 of: Drawing Balance (Rechenschaft)

I can judge the correctness of my decision by comparison with the behaviour of Walter Kreiser, who was convicted with me, since our conviction. I have so far not spoken about this, against the urgent advice of all those in the know, but I must now say what has happened.

Kreiser left for Paris, where he later started a campaign in the Echo de Paris against the German military policy, using the rather incomplete trial evidence in his possession, a week after the publication of the judgement. None of us knew anything about Kreiser‘s flight. It was a most unpleasant surprise for us. In a letter from Paris, Kreiser promised me and Dr. Apfel that he would not publish anything without my agreement. He did not keep this promise. He just justified himself by declaring in his first article in Paris, on 9th April, that I was unaware of the publication. „Enfin, je dois ajouter que j’ai sollicité la publication de cet exposé sans le concours et à l’insu de M. von Ossietzky et de ses avocats, qui, pour des motifs juridiques, auraient pu ne pas l’approuver.“ But Kreiser is mistaken, they were not just legal motives. His course of action is not just politically damaging, it is madness in any unpolitical sense. He has done the red robes of Leipzig the outrageous favour of retrospectively justifying their verdict.

I fully understand that the verdict caused resentment among those it affected, but that calls for common sense, not desperate action. Kreiser has prevented us from being able to follow a plan. He didn’t feel the need to speak to our lawyers about future tactics. He slipped away and started his own war, under the patronage of M. Pironneau, a notoriously chauvinist French military writer. By doing this, Kreiser has paralyzed us all. We were not yet able to be clear about our future strategy a few days after the trial. We had to wait for the reaction of the press and from abroad. The only thing about which we had not the slightest doubt was that we were not just going to take it. We wanted our legal rehabilitation. Our distant aim, initially shining only vaguely through the fog of the future, was retrial, but that became unlikely as soon as one of the two convicted went missing.

The case started off as Kreiser–Ossietzky, but now it has no name any more. There was a common cause to defend: the right to criticise the use of public funds, even if it infringes unjustified military particular interests. Kreiser‘s article ‚Hot Air from German Aviation‘ meant only one thing to all reasonable people: it enjoined to a fair budget and the thrifty use of tax revenues. It was the interpretation of the Imperial Court which chose to bend the exercise of the most normal civil right into a crime. That should have been our point of attack, but there is no common Kreiser–Ossietzky case any more. Since Kreiser‘s private declaration of war on German militarism, I have kept my mouth shut because what had until then had been a respectable, straightforward matter, started to throw a fatally crooked shadow. The Weltbühne was dangerously, but entirely honourably, committed by Kreiser‘s article, and we wanted to consolidate this position, but Kreiser has destroyed it. From now on I have only my personal integrity to defend, not a case. From now on I rely literally on people’s faith that I am not capable of doing anything disgraceful. This faith has generally been granted, but it is not really a firm basis for a political struggle. While Kreiser is publishing like mad in Paris, I sit here in Germany as a sort of hostage for what he does next. I grant Kreiser that he believes that he is only serving the cause of truth with his articles in the Echo de Paris, and considers himself to be the instrument of a higher moral order. However, with the insensitivity of the true moralist, to whom the only thing that matters is to serve justice, he made no allowance for the fact that he could harm, or at least cast a dubious light on, others. I don’t reproach him for that, it probably never even occurred to him.

The Echo de Paris is a highly capitalist medium, with close connections to the armaments industry. It’s leader, M. Henri de Kérillis, was the campaign manager of the right-wing in the recent French election. Its entire domestic and foreign policy stance corresponds exactly to that of the Berliner Börsenzeitung, which attacks Kreiser’s articles as regularly as clockwork. It doesn’t dare to accuse me openly of complicity in them, but it does detect the ‚same attitude‘, which it extends to the whole of German pacifism, to end with a powerful appeal to Groener[1] to finally get a grip on the whole society. Shouldn’t this Berlin echo not make Kreiser aware of what he has done? The way in which he confronts the character of the medium which provides his platform is shocking: “Mais si dans la presse française j’ai choisi l’Echo de Paris, c’est que ce journal m’est apparu comme un des plus francs, et qu’il a toujours voulu que l’on définisse exactement les buts de la politique internationale, avant de fixer les bases d’une entente. La position de l’Echo de Paris en matière de politique m’est indifférente.“

This ‚candid‘ medium nevertheless subjected its new writer to a most embarassing quarantine. Kreiser‘s first article was introduced by an editorial preamble written by M. Pironneau. The editor first apologizes for allowing a German to express himself. “M. Walter Kreiser nous a demandé de faire paraître l’article qu’on trouvera ci-dessous. Bien que, jusqu’à présent, nous ayons, pour des raisons sur lesquelles il est inutile d’insister, refuse l’hospitalite de nos colonnes à diverses personalités allemandes – journalistes ou hommes politiques – qui l’avaient sollicitée, nous avons cru devoir, à titre exceptionnel, satisfaire au désir de M. Kreiser.” Only then may the privileged guest take his place at the nursery table and address the readers of the Echo de Paris, who will hopefully not cancel their subscriptions because a German has written in it.

Kreiser wanted to expose German militarism. Good, but what he fails to recognize is that there is no longer anything left to expose. The world has quietly got used to regarding Germany as a special case, and to quickly return to normal business after the occasional revelation of military-political escapades. It is no longer as in the days of Poincaré[2], when every machine gun dug out of a dung heap near Stargard or Bentschen disturbed the peace of mind of the former members of the now defunct company Foe & Co. Whether or not official Germany complies with the military terms of the peace treaty no longer really interests anyone. The world is now much more interested in inofficial Germany, Fascism, which could be the only power left in the Reich tomorrow. But behind Germany, whether republican or fascist, something is waiting in the background which is bigger and more worrying than either, which gets on the nerves of the capitalist states much more, and that is Soviet Russia. That pushes Germany, whether ruled by Brüning or Hitler, into third place. Kreiser does not realize that German military questions have lost a lot of their previous sensitivity. I don’t hold him responsible for this mistake, he shares it with his fellow Württemberger Groener.

But what every German pacifist must hold against him is his choice of platform. The Echo de Paris is not an appropriate pulpit for ideas about the harmfulness of German militarism. I am sure that Kreiser believes that he is telling the whole world about an important international plan, from a forum which his person neutralizes. In fact, he spoke from Le Creusot[3], which devalues what was left of his intentions. He thought that he was contributing to the liberation of Germany from the spirit of militarism, when his hand was really led by the journalistic tools of French gun makers, whose invisible and involuntary customers are, in the final analysis, German nationalism. It is not a coincidence that among the German newspapers, the Berliner Börsenzeitung reacted most passionately. That is in accordance with the laws of motion of the bloody international. But what are French leftists supposed to think of a like-minded German who puts himself at the disposal of the newspaper which fights most vociferously for domestic political reaction and against the reconciliation with Germany which is the program of all leftist groups, in the middle of an electoral campaign?

The Frankfurter Zeitung recently remarked that I am now paying the price for misjudging Kreiser’s character, but I don’t think that it is an editor’s responsibility to be an expert judge of character, and anyway, Kreiser never gave me any reason for mistrust. Even though he did not appear very often in the Weltbühne, he belonged to the old writing staff from S.J’s time. The editor must demand convincing evidence for the assertions which an author makes. That’s all. The editor is a very busy person who does not have time to indulge in deep psychology on the side. And Kreiser‘s work fulfilled the prerequisite of substantial authenticity, triumphantly. We have been sentenced so severely precisely because the article was accurate. If it had turned out to be untrue, we would have got off much more lightly, that is the absurdity of the Imperial judicature in cases of treason. Imagine that the assertions made in the incriminating article had not been true, and the High Court had only slapped us across the wrists for spreading false information. Would Kreiser then have been a better character?

No, I don’t accept the mitigating circumstances construction that I was the victim of a bad person. I still stand by what I wrote immediately after the trial, that Kreiser behaved impeccably during the proceedings. Our lawyers would also happily confirm that. I don’t intend to abandon him in that which led to the trial, and took place during it. What happened afterwards is another story, as the poet said. Kreiser let me down badly later. He separated his issue from our common one, and allowed himself to be drawn into behaviour which can only be described as madness. But only one thing is responsible for all that: the verdict of 24th November. There is no treason in the whole affair, no betrayed military secrets. There is just this verdict.

[1] General and Minister of Defence

[3] Arms producer


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