Wilhelm Sollmann

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Right: Statue of Wilhelm Sollmann at the city hall tower of Cologne, Germany

Friedrich Wilhelm Sollmann (1 April 1881, Oberlind, Saxe-Meiningen - 6 January 1951) was a German journalist, politician, and interior minister of the Weimar Republic. In 1919 he was a member of the German delegation to the Treaty of Versailles. In 1933 he was beaten by Nazi stormtroopers and later emigrated to the United States where he became an advocate for the peaceful resolution of conflicts.


Wilhelm was born on April 1, 1881 in Oberlind, Saxe-Meiningen (today a part of Sonneberg, Thuringia) and grew up in Coburg, Germany. His father was in the brewery business, and his mother ran an inn. In 1897, at the age of 16, his family moved to Kalk, a suburb of Cologne. There, he began work as a business apprentice. From 1901 until 1903 he attended, as a night student, lectures at the Cologne College of Business Administration. Later in life Sollmann would play a major role, along with Konrad Adenauer, mayor of Cologne, in transforming this school (in 1919) into the University of Cologne.

He became involved in the German temperance movement, becoming a member of the International Order of Good Templars in 1903 and of the Workers' Abstinence Union ("Arbeiter Abstinentenbund") in 1906. His political career began in 1906, when he joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). In 1911, at the age of 30, he abandoned his business career and became city editor of the Rheinische Zeitung. By 1920 he was chief editor of that newspaper, a position first held by Karl Marx. He bid to become a member of the German parliament in 1914, when he was the SPD candidate for the Cologne district, but failed. In 1918 Sollmann was one of the first members of the SPD ever elected to the Cologne municipal government, and remained chairman of that fraction until 1924.


During the German Revolution of 1918 he became chairman of the newly formed Workers and Soldiers council of Cologne. This council then successfully exercised authority over the fortress of Cologne, which had tens of thousands of retreating, demoralized soldiers. In this role Sollmann helped keep control of the city out of the hands of radical elements. Violence did not occur in Cologne, as it would in Kiel, Munich, and Berlin. In 1919 he was elected a member of the National Assembly in Weimar, and was a staff member of the German delegation to the peace negotiations in Versailles, where he served as an expert on problems of the Rheinland occupation. In 1920 he was elected to the German parliament, representing the district of Cologne and Aachen. Sollman was one of the organizers in 1923 of the passive resistance to the French occupation of the Saarland. In that same year he served as Minister of the Interior in two cabinets of Gustav Stresemann.

In parliament he served as a member of the Committee for Foreign Affairs, and as an expert on disarmament and adult education. Within the SPD, he founded and was director of the Social Democratic Press Service, the party's parliamentary press service. He also served on the executive board of the SPD.


Sollmann remained a member of parliament until 1933, when he was forced to flee Germany. In January of that year the Nazis seized power (the "Machtergreifung"), and on March 9 Sollmann became the first member of parliament to be attacked by the SS. He was beaten and taken to Nazi party headquarters in Cologne, where he was confined with Hugo Efferoth, a fellow editor of the "Rheinische Zeitung". There, both were tortured and threatened with death, and Effenroth was stabbed and nearly killed. Two days later Sollmann was able to flee to Luxembourg from a prison hospital with the help of a doctor. Soon after he moved to the Saarland, under the jurisdiction of the League of Nations, and became editor-in-chief of the anti-Nazi daily "Deutsche Freiheit". This ended in 1935 when a plebiscite returned the Saarland to Germany, and Sollmann fled again, travelling throughout Europe and contributing to various newspapers. At the end of 1936 he resided at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, a Quaker center near Birmingham, England, and in 1937 he emigrated to the United States. There, he became a member of the faculty at the Pendle Hill Quaker Center for Study and Contemplation, another Quaker study center located in Wallingford, Pennsylvania.


In the next years Sollmann travelled through most of the United States, giving lectures on world affairs. He became a visiting professor of international affairs at Haverford, Bard, and Reed Colleges. In 1943 he was naturalized and changed his name to William Frederick Sollmann. At the request of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization, Sollmann visited occupied Germany in 1948, where he held speeches and radio addresses. In a trip the following year he served as visiting professor at the University of Cologne. On a final trip in 1950 he started work for a new German Civil Liberties Union, but had to return to the States due to the onset of illness. On January 6, 1951. Sollmann died in Mount Carmel, Connecticut.

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