German civil servant, journalist, newspaper editor, and pacifist. Ossietzky was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1935 for his devotion to the cause of pacifism and his dogged determination in the face of intimidation and in spite of ill health.
Friends and colleagues worldwide campaigned for his candidacy for the peace prize in 1935. The German press was forbidden to comment on his award and the government issued a decree that no German was to accept any Nobel Prize in the future. The German government demanded that he decline the honour but, ill and in a concentration camp, he refused to do this. The German propaganda ministry then declared him free to travel to Norway to accept the prize, but secret police documents indicate that he was refused a passport. He was allowed to go to a civilian hospital but was kept under surveillance until his death of tuberculosis in 1938.
Born in Hamburg, Germany, Ossietzky's political attitudes were influenced by his stepfather, Gustav Walther. He left school at 17 to work as an administrative civil servant in Hamburg. He soon found his métier in journalism however and his first piece appeared in the weekly organ of the Democratic Union, Das Frele Volk/The Free People. His articles soon began to attract the attention of the Prussian war ministry and he was called to court in 1914 on charges of ‘insult to the common good’. His wife secretly arranged to pay the fine.
In spite of his poor health, Ossietzky was called up for military service with the Bavarian Pioneer Regiment in 1916. His war experiences deepened his democratic principles and he became an active pacifist. On his return to Hamburg he made speeches which raised the people's consciousness on the peace issue and he became president of the local branch of the German Peace Society. Moving to Berlin to take up the secretaryship of the Society, he founded several papers and contributed to others, eventually taking the post of foreign editor on the Berliner Volkzeitung/Berlin People's Paper. Ossietzky and the entire staff of the paper founded the Republican Party in 1923, but were defeated at the Reichstag elections in 1924. On the death of his friend Siegfried Jacobsohn, Ossietzky became editor in chief of the outspoken Die Weltbuhne/The World Stage. In March 1927 he was tried for libel and jailed for a month for publishing a critical article on the Reischwer. Undeterred he continued publishing and later spent seven months in Spandau Prison for betrayal of military secrets. Ossietzky saw the gravity of the political situation in 1933 but refused to leave the country. He was picked up in February 1933 and taken first to prison then to concentration camps. He was treated badly and forced into heavy labour although he had already suffered a heart attack.