China's Nobel Crackdown Echoes 1936 Friday night in Oslo, the Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to the jailed Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiabo. But no one will be able to collect the award, because China has refused to allow Xiabo or his wife to travel to Norway for the ceremony. That's happened before, in the 1930s, when peace activist and journalist Carl von Ossietzky was in a concentration camp when it was announced he won the prize. For more on von Ossietzky, NPR's Guy Raz talks to Istvan Deak, a professor emeritus of history at Columbia University.

China's Nobel Crackdown Echoes 1936

China's Nobel Crackdown Echoes 1936

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Friday night in Oslo, the Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to the jailed Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiabo. But no one will be able to collect the award, because China has refused to allow Xiabo or his wife to travel to Norway for the ceremony. That's happened before, in the 1930s, when peace activist and journalist Carl von Ossietzky was in a concentration camp when it was announced he won the prize. For more on von Ossietzky, NPR's Guy Raz talks to Istvan Deak, a professor emeritus of history at Columbia University.

GUY RAZ, host:

Tomorrow night, for the first time in more than 70 years, no one will be in Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. This year's winner, pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, is in a Chinese prison. His family, his friends, anyone who could represent him is under house arrest.

China has called the selection of Liu an attempt by democratic nations to humiliate the country in front of the world. And so, along with 19 other countries, China will not send a representative to the ceremony.

The last time a winner was barred from attending the Nobel ceremony was in 1936. It was the German peace activist named Carl von Ossietzky. Ossietzky was a journalist and newspaper editor who exposed growing German militarism in the late 1920s, even before the Nazis rose to power.

Istvan Deak, a professor emeritus of history at Columbia University, wrote his dissertation on Ossietzky.

Mr. ISTVAN DEAK (Professor Emeritus of History, Columbia University): All his life he spent devoted to the prospect of, the promotion of peace. He was a real pacifist.

RAZ: In 1929, Ossietzky's newspaper, Weltbuhne, ran an expose on the rearmament of the German air force. That was a direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I. Ossietzky was convicted of giving away state secrets in 1931, and he was sentenced to 18 months in prison. He was released after seven months, and instead of leaving the country like so many other peace activists, he stayed and became a leading voice of the opposition to the surging Nazi Party.

After the Reichstag fire in 1933, the Nazis rounded up communists, intellectuals, anyone deemed a threat to the government, including Ossietzky, who was put in a concentration camp.

Mr. DEAK: He was repeatedly beaten, given almost no food. For this period, it was unheard of that a famous journalist should be treated so abominably.

RAZ: Ossietzky caught tuberculosis while in prison. It would eventually kill him. By 1934, peace activists in Norway mounted a campaign to award the Peace Prize to him. When he won in 1936, the German government said he could go if he released a statement praising the Nazi government.

Mr. DEAK: This he refused to do. He said that under no circumstances can he make such a statement because his duty as a pacifist is to serve the cause of peace at all times.

RAZ: The Germans claimed Ossietzky was free to leave, but in fact he was denied a passport and moved from hospital to hospital, where he died under close surveillance in 1938.

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