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The Nobel Peace Prize 1938
Nansen International Office for Refugees

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Award Ceremony Speech

Presentation Speech by Fredrik Stang*, Chairman of the Nobel Committee, on December 10, 1938

This year, as we all know, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the Nansen Office, whose president, Mr. Michael Hansson, has come here to receive the award. We have asked him to tell us about the work of the Nansen Office, for he can certainly give a much more vivid account of this work than could any member of the Nobel Committee on the basis of written reports. The main speech of the day will therefore be made by Mr. Hansson, but first of all I should like to say a few words.

Whenever the Nansen Office is mentioned, one figure immediately springs to mind, that of Fridtjof Nansen. It is only a few years since he died, but his image grows larger with every passing year. We meet him everywhere: in science, in art, in deep and unbiased human thought, in politics. And in political life we meet him wherever new ideas and new claims are being tested. It is not as an advocate of a party nor of a single nation that he appears to us - it is as a representative of mankind itself. He stands for the rights and the dignity of man, and it is to the spirit of man that he appeals. He was the champion of a cause new to politics, the cause of brotherly love, and he performed wonders, first for the prisoners of war, and then for the political refugees. When he died, a great deal had already been accomplished, but much still remained to be done. So his work had to be carried on. It has been divided between two organizations, a High Commission in London for German refugees1 and the office in Geneva2 which now bears the name of Fridtjof Nansen and which has this year been awarded the Peace Prize.

It had been estimated that the work of these organizations would be completed within eight to ten years. It was decided at the very beginning, therefore, that they would end their activities on December 31 of this year. This period, then, will soon have elapsed. Once again, a great deal has been achieved, with much still remaining to be done. There is little doubt that the refugees in need of assistance at the time of Nansen's death have been helped to a very great extent. In the meantime, however, new disasters have occurred, once more leaving crowds of refugees in their wake, refugees who are at this very moment pouring out of their countries in perhaps even greater numbers than ever before.

The work entrusted to these two institutions must accordingly continue - it cannot cease on December 31 of this year. The institutions themselves will disappear but, fortunately, their work will go on. It will do so through the amalgamation of the two institutions that have hitherto shared it into a single High Commission situated in London where all activity will be coordinated.

The work accomplished by the Nansen Office throughout its years of operation is great. And it is easy to see that it has been influenced by the traditions of Fridtjof Nansen's time. It is marked by two characteristics that rarely go together, but which in Nansen were combined: the highest idealism and an exceptional faculty for the practical. The work has carried a message to thousands of refugees all over the world who have waited helpless and wretched or have roamed from country to country without respite. But it has borne a message not only to them. It has borne a message to those in politics, that political action has a higher goal than that of sowing discord and harvesting hate. It has borne a message to each of us, that however secure we may be within our country's frontiers, we must not forget that the world is much greater than our little corner of it and that mankind's children, wherever they may be and whatever they believe, are joined together by a common destiny and by an indissoluble and inflexible solidarity. Everything that happens affects us all; we must share not only the reward but, most assuredly, the responsibility too.

But it is not only the Nansen Office that we should remember on this its day of tribute. It was created by the League of Nations and supported by it, and at this time when many appear to be losing faith in the League, it is right and fitting to recall this fact. What we really need is an international body vested with the power which would place it above the states, a body that could maintain discipline, that could prevent war and create peace; but this we do not possess, at least not yet. Still we do possess something, something we can never give up now that it has been created: a platform for those who wish to be heard, an international meeting place, and, above all, an effective medium for extensive humanitarian work. And it may be that fate has forced us onto the right path. Perhaps it is precisely here that we should begin, with a worldwide humanitarian work that will pave the way for the more stable organization of which we have dreamed and for which we have hoped.

Mr. Hansson will speak about the work of the Nansen Office. But I wish to mention one aspect which he cannot include: the tremendous personal contribution he himself has made to it. All of us have admired not only the rare administrative ability that he has shown, but also the tinselfish devotion he has brought to the work and the warm humanity that has distinguished his mission. We are glad that he has been able to come here today as a representative of the Nansen Office so that we can deliver the insignia of the prize into his hands.


* Mr. Stang, also a former cabinet minister, delivered this speech on December 10, 1938, in the auditorium of the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo. He prefaced the speech printed here with some commemorative remarks concerning the Queen of Norway who had recently died. This translation is based on the Norwegian text published in Les Prix Nobel en 1938, which also contains a translation in French.

1. The High commission for Refugees coming from Germany was established in October, 1933, by the League of Nations and incorporated into the League in 1936

2. The Nansen International Office for Refugees was created by a League resolution in September, 1930. It replaced the League's High commission for Refugees established June 27, 1921, under the direction of Dr. Nansen who remained High Commissioner until his death.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1926-1950, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972

 

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1938
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