+4 votes
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in Politics & Government ✌ by

"Freiheit und Leben kann man uns nehmen, die Ehre nicht."

"We can be deprived of life and liberty, but not of honor."

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As leader of the Social Democrats, Wels gave an impassioned speech in the Reichstag, denouncing the Enabling Act, which was up for a vote on March 23, 1933. The Enabling Act was to give Hitler absolute power in Germany. The deputies were surrounded by SS men stationed along the walls of the chamber (for "protection"). Wels was subjected to catcalls and jeers from the Nazi deputies, as he gave the last free Reichstag speech. Wels also carried an ampule of cyanide in his vest pocket, in case the Nazis made a move to arrest him.

The 94 Social Democratic deputies present voted against the Act, not nearly enough to prevent its passage by the required 2/3 majority. It was the end of democracy in Germany until after WW2 ended.

4 Answers

+4 votes
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I hadn’t heard of him

+3 votes
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I've read some about him. He really didn't need the cyanide because the Gestapo was waiting for him.

You didn't dare speak out against our glorious Fuhrer! :D

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+2

Actually, he carried the cyanide for precisely that reason. He didn't want to be taken by the Gestapo alive.

Wels went into exile in Prague after the Social Democrats were outlawed in Germany, and then went to Paris when Czechoslovakia was overrun. He died in Paris (at age 66) about two weeks after WW2 started.

+3 votes
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Good for you, Tink...my heart sings to read his story.

No, I had not heard of him...Otto Wels.

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+1

At the close of his speech, Wels said,

"The Weimar Constitution is not a socialist constitution. But we stand by the principles enshrined in [it], the principles of a state based on the rule of law, of equal rights, of social justice. In this historic hour, we German Social Democrats solemnly pledge ourselves to the principles of humanity and justice, of freedom and socialism."

And looking directly at Hitler, said, "No Enabling Act gives you the power to destroy ideas that are eternal and indestructible."

That took immense courage.

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+1

Tink, I just bookmarked this page into Favorites, so I can come back to it occasionally...and remember him...

As I get older, I feel a special kind of honor for people who stand for what they see as truth, those ideas eternal and indestructible...refusing (actually unable is probably more accurate) to cave to expediency, even when the situation is truly hopeless. As was Otto Wels' situation, with SS 'protectors' stationed along the walls, intimidating everybody into voting Hitler's way.

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+1

Wels was one of the few.

Others were intimidated into silence, or thought they could make deals with the devil.

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+1

Tink  i am going to suggest there is a 3rd option...because it was mine for so many years/decades...I believed in my country SO much, I was certain that in the USA, there was a continual unstoppable momentum of liberty and justice for all. 

All that actually changed here on SOLVED, early 2017 (I was already 72 y/o then, should have known better!). 

Then I came here to SOLVED, and was exploring the dynamics behind my eviction in Iowa... and it was specifically you and Marianne -- set me onto links that opened up a whole more realistic scenario about what is going on here in America.

So I must always wonder how many of the German people just really did believe in the infallible integrity of the Fatherland...with a very special awe and wonder for people like Otto Wehls, who not only were never deceived but also had the temerity to speak out, irregardless of consequences.

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+1

Well, the Nazis never achieved more than 35% of the vote in fair elections, so maybe about 1/3 of the population really believed in them. And there was a lot of fear that the communists would stage a revolution of the kind that had caused such horrors in the USSR. That, plus joblessness, plus the Versailles Treaty made it possible for a new political party making a lot of promises to convince many to give it a try.

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+1

Yes...with all our difficulties here, even now, I am certain the USA has never endured anything comparable to what the German people did between the two world wars.

+2 votes
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I have never heard of him.

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+1

Most people today haven't heard of him.


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+1

I watched both of these Tink...I noticed Wels received applause when he said 'but not our honor'...then I realized that was probably mostly other Social Democrats.

also, in 2017, I remember learning about the various Social Democratic Parties, because many countries have one...wondering if that might be a viable alternative for the oppressive regimes to consider...but as always, any system only works well if the people behind it have the heart of integrity. 

So (sigh) ima still looking for Cincinnatus...we still need him...

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