Cohn, Oskar

(1869-1934)
   jurist and politician; while he was serving on the Committee of Investigation into Germany s defeat, his unlucky queries helped propagate the Dolchstosslegende.* Born in Guttentag, he earned a doc-torate in jurisprudence and thereafter practiced law in Berlin.* Elected to the SPD's Reichstag* faction in 1912, he migrated to the USPD during the Novem-ber Revolution.*
   After election to the National Assembly,* Cohn was placed on the constitu-tional committee (fearful that someone less democratic than Friedrich Ebert* might hold the office, he warned against awarding the President too much au-thority). In August 1919 he joined the committee investigating Germany s de-feat. But Cohn was soon politically impaired when Adolf Joffe, the first Soviet emissary to Germany, publicly claimed that Cohn had received Russian funds with which to organize the November Revolution (Joffe had been deported in November 1918). When Cohn asked Karl Helfferich* to recount for the com-mittee the army s decision favoring unrestricted submarine warfare, the former Imperial State Secretary refused—"If I were sitting here before a court I would object to Dr. Cohn as judge, and would have the right to do so under the criminal law —yet he used the opening to accuse Cohn of helping initiate the events that had stabbed the army in the back. Arising on 15 November 1919, the indictment helped disseminate the Dolchstosslegende. It proved so alluring that Paul von Hindenburg* repeated it in testimony three days later.
   Helfferich s charge, inspired by Joffe s careless remark, was technically ac-curate. But Cohn s basic conservatism was also well documented. On 19 De-cember 1918 he had sponsored the crucial motion at the Congress* of Workers and Soldiers Councils that endorsed election of a National Assembly: "We Social Democrats must take at last a most decisive and persistent stand against the way in which our clean, clear, good Socialist ideology is constantly being sabotaged and discredited by Bolshevist perverseness —hardly the words of someone manipulated by Moscow.
   Remaining in Prussia s Landtag, Cohn retired from political life in 1924. He worked as a private Berlin attorney until he emigrated in 1933 to Palestine. He soon returned to Switzerland and died in Geneva.
   REFERENCES:Bonn, Wandering Scholar; Eyck, History ofthe Weimar Republic, vol. 1; Hilger and Meyer, Incompatible Allies; Max Schwarz, MdR.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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