Otto Wels

September 15, 1873 - September 16, 1939
Otto Wels Otto Wels 

Otto Wels was a member of the Reichstag from 1919 on, and a firm supporter of the German Republic. As chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) he attacked the National Socialists unflinchingly in speeches and articles. Wels tried to defend the Republic and its constitutional system up to the very end. In March 1933 Hitler intended to make himself independent of parliament and demanded the right of legislation for his government. This “Enabling Act” was supposed to be limited to four years; in fact, it meant that the Reichstag was to be completely disempowered and the constitutional separation of powers abolished. Since most of the communist members of parliament were arrested and deprived of their mandates, and the Center Party and the Liberals were expected to vote with Hitler, the SPD parliamentary group in the Reichstag faced the task of rejecting Hitler’s plans alone. Otto Wels resolutely opposed the disempowerment of parliament. He professed adherence to the principles of the constitutional state, parliamentarism, humanitarianism, freedom and socialism. After his speech against the “Enabling Act”, Wels was re-elected as SPD chairman at the last SPD Reich conference on April 27, 1933. The destruction of the labor unions at the beginning of May convinced him that there could be no possibility of legal opposition to Hitler’s government. Wels emigrated to Prague and became one of the chairmen of the Social Democratic Party in Exile (SOPADE). In 1938 he fled to Paris, where he died a year later.