Otto Wels

Otto Wels

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Otto Wels was the chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Germany
Social Democratic Party of Germany
The Social Democratic Party of Germany is a social-democratic political party in Germany...

 (SPD) from 1919 and a member of parliament from 1920 to 1933.

Born in Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

 the son of an inn-keeper, Wels in 1891 began an apprenticeship as a paper hanger
Wallpaper
Wallpaper is a kind of material used to cover and decorate the interior walls of homes, offices, and other buildings; it is one aspect of interior decoration. It is usually sold in rolls and is put onto a wall using wallpaper paste...

 and joined the SPD. From 1895 to 1897 he served in the German Army
German Army (German Empire)
The German Army was the name given the combined land forces of the German Empire, also known as the National Army , Imperial Army or Imperial German Army. The term "Deutsches Heer" is also used for the modern German Army, the land component of the German Bundeswehr...

. From 1906 he worked as a trade union
Free Trade Unions (Germany)
The Free Trade Unions comprised the socialist trade union movement in Germany from 1890 to 1933. The term distinguished them from the liberal and Christian labor unions in Germany...

 official, party secretary
Party secretary
In politics, a party secretary is a senior official within a political party with responsibility for the organizational and daily political work. In most parties, the party secretary is second in rank to the party leader ....

 in the Province of Brandenburg
Province of Brandenburg
The Province of Brandenburg was a province of the Kingdom of Prussia and the Free State of Prussia from 1815 to 1946.-History:The first people who are known to have inhabited Brandenburg were the Suevi. They were succeeded by the Slavonians, whom Henry II conquered and converted to Christianity in...

 and the Vorwärts
Vorwärts
Vorwärts was the central organ of the Social Democratic Party of Germany published daily in Berlin from 1891 to 1933 by decision of the party's Halle Congress, as the successor of Berliner Volksblatt, founded in 1884....

press committee. In 1912 he achieved a mandate for the Reichstag
Reichstag (German Empire)
The Reichstag was the parliament of the North German Confederation , and of the German Reich ....

 parliament and by the agency of August Bebel
August Bebel
Ferdinand August Bebel was a German Marxist politician, writer, and orator. He is best remembered as one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party of Germany.-Early years:...

 joined the SPD executive committee the next year.

In the German Revolution of 9 November 1918, Wels was a member of the Berlin Workers' council
Workers' council
A workers' council, or revolutionary councils, is the phenomenon where a single place of work or enterprise, such as a factory, school, or farm, is controlled collectively by the workers of that workplace, through the core principle of temporary and instantly revocable delegates.In a system with...

 (Arbeiter- und Soldatenrat) of SPD and USPD
Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany
The Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany was a short-lived political party in Germany during the Second Reich and the Weimar Republic. The organization was established in 1917 as the result of a split of left wing members of the Social Democratic Party of Germany...

 and appointed military commander of the city, whereby he had to deal with the occupation of the Stadtschloss by revolutionary forces including violent fights with Freikorps
Freikorps
Freikorps are German volunteer military or paramilitary units. The term was originally applied to voluntary armies formed in German lands from the middle of the 18th century onwards. Between World War I and World War II the term was also used for the paramilitary organizations that arose during...

 units. Upon the election of Friedrich Ebert
Friedrich Ebert
Friedrich Ebert was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany .When Ebert was elected as the leader of the SPD after the death of August Bebel, the party members of the SPD were deeply divided because of the party's support for World War I. Ebert supported the Burgfrieden and...

 as Reich President on 11 February 1919 he acted as presiding officer of the SPD and was formally elected chairman together with Hermann Müller
Hermann Müller (politician)
' , born in Mannheim, was a German Social Democratic politician who served as Foreign Minister , and twice as Chancellor of Germany under the Weimar Republic...

 on June 14th.

In 1920 Wels and Carl Legien
Carl Legien
Carl Legien was a German unionist, moderate Social Democratic politician and first President of the International Federation of Trade Unions.- Biography :...

 organised the general strike
General strike
A general strike is a strike action by a critical mass of the labour force in a city, region, or country. While a general strike can be for political goals, economic goals, or both, it tends to gain its momentum from the ideological or class sympathies of the participants...

 defeating the right-wing Kapp Putsch
Kapp Putsch
The Kapp Putsch — or more accurately the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch — was a 1920 coup attempt during the German Revolution of 1918–1919 aimed at overthrowing the Weimar Republic...

, whereafter Wels enforced the demission of his party fellow Gustav Noske
Gustav Noske
Gustav Noske was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany . He served as the first Minister of Defence of Germany between 1919 and 1920.-Biography:...

 as Reich Minister of Defence. He urged for the foundation of the Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold
Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold
The Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold was a Social Democratic paramilitary force formed during the Weimar Republic in 1924....

 and the Iron Front
Iron Front
The Iron Front was an anti-Nazi, anti-monarchist, and anti-Stalinist paramilitary organization formed in Germany on 16 December 1931 by the Social Democratic Party with the Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, the Reichsbanner and workers' sport clubs originally to counter the right-wing...

 paramilitary oganisations against the rising extremist forces of SA
Sturmabteilung
The Sturmabteilung functioned as a paramilitary organization of the National Socialist German Workers' Party . It played a key role in Adolf Hitler's rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s...

, Stahlhelm
Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten
The Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten also known in short form as Der Stahlhelm was one of the many paramilitary organizations that arose after the defeat of World War I in the Weimar Republic...

 or Rotfrontkämpferbund
Rotfrontkämpferbund
Rotfrontkämpferbund was a paramilitary organization of the Communist Party of Germany created on 18 July 1924 during the Weimar Republic. Its first leader was Ernst Thälmann...

. From 1923 Wels also held the office as an executive representative at the Labour and Socialist International
Labour and Socialist International
The Labour and Socialist International was an international organization of socialist and labour parties, active between 1923 and 1940. The LSI was a forerunner of the present-day Socialist International....

. After the 1930 Reichstag election, Wels advocated the toleration of the cabient of Chancellor Heinrich Brüning
Heinrich Brüning
Heinrich Brüning was Chancellor of Germany from 1930 to 1932, during the Weimar Republic. He was the longest serving Chancellor of the Weimar Republic, and remains a controversial figure in German politics....

, who had lost the support of the DNVP
German National People's Party
The German National People's Party was a national conservative party in Germany during the time of the Weimar Republic. Before the rise of the NSDAP it was the main nationalist party in Weimar Germany composed of nationalists, reactionary monarchists, völkisch, and antisemitic elements, and...

 deputies. Even after the Preußenschlag
Preußenschlag
In 1932, the Preußenschlag, or "Prussian coup", was one of the major steps towards the end of the German inter-war democracy, which would later greatly facilitate the "Gleichschaltung" of Germany after Adolf Hitler's rise to power...

 of July 1932 against Otto Braun
Otto Braun
This article is about the Prime Minister of Prussia. For the German Communist and once the Comintern military adviser to the Chinese Communist revolution see Otto Braun ....

's government in the Free State of Prussia, he spoke against a general strike, however after the Reichstag election of November 1932 he rejected any negotiations with the new Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher
Kurt von Schleicher
Kurt von Schleicher was a German general and the last Chancellor of Germany during the era of the Weimar Republic. Seventeen months after his resignation, he was assassinated by order of his successor, Adolf Hitler, in the Night of the Long Knives....

.

On March 23, 1933 Wels was the only member of the Reichstag
Reichstag (Weimar Republic)
The Reichstag was the parliament of Weimar Republic .German constitution commentators consider only the Reichstag and now the Bundestag the German parliament. Another organ deals with legislation too: in 1867-1918 the Bundesrat, in 1919–1933 the Reichsrat and from 1949 on the Bundesrat...

 to speak against Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

's Enabling Act (the "Law for Removing the Distress of People and Reich"). The vote took place during the last session of a multi-party Reichstag, on March 23, 1933. Because the Reichstag building itself had suffered heavy burning damage in February, the March session was held in Berlin's Kroll Opera House. Despite the incipient persecution of leftist and oppositional politicians and the presence of the SA
Sturmabteilung
The Sturmabteilung functioned as a paramilitary organization of the National Socialist German Workers' Party . It played a key role in Adolf Hitler's rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s...

, he made a clear speech opposing the Enabling Act, which formally took the power of legislation away from the Reichstag and handed it over to the Reich cabinet for a period of four years.

He declared:
"At this historic hour, we German Social Democrats pledge ourselves to the principles of humanity and justice, of freedom and Socialism. No Enabling Law can give you the power to destroy ideas which are eternal and indestructible ... From this new persecution too German Social Democracy can draw new strength. We send greetings to the persecuted and oppressed. We greet our friends in the Reich. Their steadfastness and loyalty deserve admiration. The courage with which they maintain their convictions and their unbroken confidence guarantee a brighter future." [Noakes and Pridham, 1974].


Looking directly at Hitler, Wels proclaimed,
"You can take our lives and our freedom, but you cannot take our honour. We are defenseless but not honourless."


All 96 SPD members of parliament voted against the act; the rest of the Reichstag (besides the Communists, who were barred from voting) voted in favour. The passage of the Enabling Act marked the end of parliamentary democracy in Germany and formed the legal authority for Hitler's dictatorship. Within weeks of the passage of the Enabling Act, the Hitler government banned the SPD, while the other German political parties chose to dissolve themselves to avoid prosecution, making the Nazi
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 party the only legal political party in Germany.

In June 1933, Wels went into exile to the Territory of the Saar Basin
Saar (League of Nations)
The Territory of the Saar Basin , also referred as the Saar or Saargebiet, was a region of Germany that was occupied and governed by Britain and France from 1920 to 1935 under a League of Nations mandate, with the occupation originally being under the auspices of the Treaty of Versailles...

, which at the time was under League of Nations
League of Nations
The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first permanent international organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace...

 control; in August 1933, he was deprived of his citizenship. He then moved to build up the expatriate SPD
Sopade
Sopade was the name of the exile organization of the Social Democratic Party of Germany . It operated in Prague from 1933 to 1938, from 1938 to 1940 in Paris and until 1945 in London....

, first in Prague
Prague
Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 2.3 million...

, then in Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, where he died in 1939.

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