Otto Wels

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Otto Wels
Wels in 1924
Chairman of the
Social Democratic Party of Germany
In office
14 June 1919 16 September 1939
Preceded by Friedrich Ebert
Philipp Scheidemann
Succeeded by Hans Vogel
Executive representative of the
Labour and Socialist International
In office
Personal details
Born15 September 1873
Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
Died16 September 1939(1939-09-16) (aged 66)
Paris, French Third Republic
Political party Social Democratic Party of Germany

Otto Wels (15 September 1873 – 16 September 1939) was the chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) from 1919 and a member of parliament from 1920 to 1933.

Social Democratic Party of Germany Social-democratic political party in Germany

The Social Democratic Party of Germany, or SPD, is a social-democratic political party in Germany.


Life and career

Born in Berlin, the son of an inn-keeper, Wels in 1891 began an apprenticeship as a paper hanger and joined the SPD. From 1895 to 1897 he served in the German Army. From 1906 he worked as a trade union official, party secretary in the Province of Brandenburg and the Vorwärts press committee. In 1912 he was elected to the Reichstag and with the support of August Bebel joined the SPD executive committee the next year.

Berlin Capital of Germany

Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,748,148 (2018) inhabitants make it the second most populous city proper of the European Union after London. The city is one of Germany's 16 federal states. It is surrounded by the state of Brandenburg, and contiguous with its capital, Potsdam. The two cities are at the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg capital region, which is, with about six million inhabitants and an area of more than 30,000 km², Germany's third-largest metropolitan region after the Rhine-Ruhr and Rhine-Main regions.

Wallpaper material used to cover and decorate interior walls

Wallpaper is a material used in interior decoration to decorate the interior walls of domestic and public buildings. It is usually sold in rolls and is applied onto a wall using wallpaper paste. Wallpapers can come plain as "lining paper", textured, with a regular repeating pattern design, or, much less commonly today, with a single non-repeating large design carried over a set of sheets. The smallest rectangle that can be tiled to form the whole pattern is known as the pattern repeat.

German Army (German Empire) 1871-1919 land warfare branch of the German military

The Imperial German Army was the unified ground and air force of the German Empire. The term Deutsches Heer is also used for the modern German Army, the land component of the Bundeswehr. The German Army was formed after the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership in 1871 and dissolved in 1919, after the defeat of the German Empire in World War I.

In the German Revolution of 9 November 1918, Wels was a member of the Berlin Workers' council (Arbeiter- und Soldatenrat) of the SPD and USPD. He was appointed military commander of the city and consequently had to deal with the occupation of the Stadtschloss by revolutionary forces including violent fights with Freikorps units. Upon the election of Friedrich Ebert as Reich President on 11 February 1919 he acted as presiding officer of the SPD and was formally elected chairman together with Hermann Müller on 14 June.

Workers council

A workers' council is a form of political and economic organization in which a single local administrative division, such as a municipality or a county, is governed by a council made up of temporary and instantly revocable delegates elected in the region's workplaces.
A variation is a soldiers' council, when the delegates are chosen amongst (mutinous) soldiers. A mix of workers and soldiers also existed.

Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany political party

The Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany was a short-lived political party in Germany during the German Empire 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 (SPD). The organization attempted to chart a centrist course between electorally oriented revisionism on the one hand and Bolshevism on the other. The organization was terminated in 1931 through merger with the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany (SAPD).

<i>Freikorps</i> German volunteer military or anti-communist paramilitary units

Freikorps were German military volunteer units that existed from the 18th to the early 20th centuries, which effectively fought as mercenary or private armies, regardless of their own nationality. In German-speaking countries, the first so-called Freikorps were formed in the 18th century from native volunteers, enemy renegades and deserters. These sometimes exotically equipped units served as infantry and cavalry, sometimes in just company strength, sometimes in formations up to several thousand strong; there were also various mixed formations or legions. The Prussian von Kleist Freikorps included infantry, jäger, dragoons and hussars. The French Volontaires de Saxe combined uhlans and dragoons.

In 1920 Wels and Carl Legien organised the general strike that helped defeat the right-wing Kapp Putsch, after which Wels enforced the resignation of his party colleague Gustav Noske as Reich Minister of Defence. He argued for the foundation of the Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold and the Iron Front paramilitary organisations against the rising extremist forces of the SA, Stahlhelm and Rotfrontkämpferbund. From 1923 Wels also became a member of the executive of the Labour and Socialist International. After the 1930 Reichstag election, Wels advocated the toleration of the cabinet of Chancellor Heinrich Brüning, who had lost the support of the DNVP deputies. Even after the Preußenschlag of July 1932 against 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.

Carl Legien German politician

Carl Legien was a German unionist, moderate Social Democratic politician and first President of the International Federation of Trade Unions.

General strike strike action in which a substantial proportion of the total labour force in a city, region, or country participates

A general strike is a strike action in which a substantial proportion of the total labour force in a city, region, or country participates. General strikes are characterised by the participation of workers in a multitude of workplaces, and tend to involve entire communities. General strikes first occurred in the mid-19th century, and have characterised many historically important strikes.

Kapp Putsch 1920 attempted coup in the Weimar Republic

The Kapp Putsch, also known as the Kapp–Lüttwitz Putsch after its leaders Wolfgang Kapp and Walther von Lüttwitz, was an attempted coup on 13 March 1920 which aimed to undo the German Revolution of 1918–1919, overthrow the Weimar Republic and establish an autocratic government in its place. It was supported by parts of the Reichswehr (Military) and nationalist and monarchist factions.

On 23 March 1933 Wels was the only member of the Reichstag to speak against Adolf Hitler's Enabling Act (the "Law for Removing the Distress of People and Reich"). The vote took place during the last session of the multi-party Reichstag, on 23 March 1933. Because the Reichstag building itself had suffered heavy fire damage in February, the March session was held in Berlin's Kroll Opera House. Despite the incipient persecution of opposition politicians and the presence of the SA, he made a courageous [1] [2] speech opposing the Enabling Act, which gave the Reich cabinet the right to pass laws without the consent of the Reichstag for a period of four years. The Social Democrats were inventive and resistant, but were in the end overpowered by the Nazis. [3]

Reichstag (Weimar Republic) legislative body of Weimar Germany

The Reichstag was the Lower house of the Weimar Republic's Legislature. It originated in the creation of the Weimar Constitution in 1919. After the end of the Weimar Republic in 1933, the Reichstag continued to operate, albeit sporadically, as the nominal Legislature of Nazi Germany.

Adolf Hitler Leader of Germany from 1934 to 1945

Adolf Hitler was a German politician and leader of the Nazi Party. He rose to power as Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and later Führer in 1934. During his dictatorship from 1933 to 1945, he initiated World War II in Europe by invading Poland in September 1939. He was closely involved in military operations throughout the war and was central to the perpetration of the Holocaust.

Enabling Act of 1933 Transfer of the Reichstags power to the government under Hitler

The Enabling Act of 1933, formally titled Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich, was an amendment passed on 23 March 1933 to the Weimar Constitution that gave the German Cabinet — in effect, Chancellor Adolf Hitler — the power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag. The Enabling Act gave Hitler plenary powers and followed on the heels of the Reichstag Fire Decree, which had abolished most civil liberties and transferred state powers to the Reich government. The combined effect of the two laws was to transform Hitler's government into a legal dictatorship.

He stated:

"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].

Speaking directly to Hitler, Wels proclaimed,

"You can take our lives and our freedom, but you cannot take our honour. We are defenseless but not honourless."

All 94 SPD members of parliament who were present voted against the act. Using the powers of the Reichstag Fire Decree, the Nazis had detained several SPD deputies, while others had already fled into exile. The Communists had been banned and therefore could not vote. The rest of the Reichstag voted in favour. However, Nazi intimidation had worked so well that even if all 107 SPD deputies had been present, the Enabling Act would have still passed with the required two-thirds majority for a constitutional amendment.

Reichstag Fire Decree Decree in Nazi Germany that abolished key civil liberties for citizens

The Reichstag Fire Decree is the common name of the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State issued by German President Paul von Hindenburg on the advice of Chancellor Adolf Hitler on 28 February 1933 in immediate response to the Reichstag fire. The decree nullified many of the key civil liberties of German citizens. With Nazis in powerful positions in the German government, the decree was used as the legal basis for the imprisonment of anyone considered to be opponents of the Nazis, and to suppress publications not considered "friendly" to the Nazi cause. The decree is considered by historians as one of the key steps in the establishment of a one-party Nazi state in Germany.

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 to avoid persecution, making the Nazi Party the only legal political party in Germany.

In June 1933, Wels went into exile in the Territory of the Saar Basin, which at the time was under League of Nations control; in August 1933, he was deprived of his citizenship. He then worked to build the expatriate SPD, first in Prague, then in Paris, where he died in 1939.

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  1. Holborn, Hajo (1982). A History of Modern Germany: 1840-1945, Volume 3. Princeton University Press. p. 729. ISBN   978-0691007977 . Retrieved 6 November 2013.
  2. Kershaw, Ian (25 Oct 2001). Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris (New ed.). London: Penguin Publishing. p. 468. ISBN   978-0140133639.
  3. Smaldone, William (December 16, 2008). Confronting Hitler: German Social Democrats in Defense of the Weimar Republic, 1929-1933. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books. p. 250. ISBN   9780739132111.