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The Nobel Peace Prize 1944
International Committee of the Red Cross

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Award Ceremony Speech

Presentation Speech by Gunnar Jahn*, Chairman of the Nobel Committee, on December 10, 1945

Six years have passed since we last awarded the Peace Prize, six years during which war has dominated the world. These war years, in which men have fought for life and freedom on a scale unprecedented in the annals of history, have offered few opportunities to speak and work for peace. In this respect they are in contrast to the years of the First World War, when the ideology of peace not only survived but even exerted an appreciable influence on many belligerent and neutral countries. Nevertheless, the Nobel Committee has found some who have been able, even during this last war, to work for the cause of mankind and for the creation of the international organization whose task will be to bring to reality the dream of preventing war. The Nobel Committee has awarded the Peace Prize for 1944 to the lnternational Committee of the Red Cross and that for 1945 to Mr. Cordell Hull of the United States.

The International Committee of the Red Cross was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on a previous occasion in the year 1917. The prize was given then while the war was still raging; this time it is given after the advent of peace; but in both cases it was earned by work done during wartime. Philip Noel-Baker put it well when he proposed that the prize be awarded to the International Committee of the Red Cross because the Committee «by its action throughout this war has held aloft the fundamental conceptions of the solidarity of the human race, and the identity of the vital interests of different nations and of the need for true understanding and reconciliation, if peace is ever to be brought about». In doing so, it has contributed to the promotion of the concept of that «fraternity among nations» referred to in Nobel's testament.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is international in its activities, but it is national in its composition, for all its members are Swiss citizens. It is not by mere coincidence that it has found its home in Switzerland whose very atmosphere must give it vitality. For this little democracy has learned by experience that it is not impossible to forge solidarity between peoples of different origin.

But, as is so often the case when institutions are established, this one, too, owes its origin to the initiative of a single man. And today, in awarding the Peace Prize to the International Committee of the Red Cross, we cannot but think back to Henri Dunant who was given no peace by the horrors of Solferino's battlefields until he had made others aware of them1. His idea can be expressed as follows: We must try to mitigate the horrors of war, to reduce as far as possible the number of its victims, and to prevent as far as possible the suffering it causes. This work must be organized in advance before war breaks out, for no one knows where or when war will come; and it must be organized on an international scale. In this way we shall also invoke and develop the spirit of brotherly love which will oppose war in the most telling manner. It is on this idea that the work of the Red Cross is founded.

Since he wrote this, many of his ideas have been realized. After its modest beginning in 1863 under the auspices of the Societe genevoise d'utilite publique [Geneva Society for Public Welfare], the organized work he mentions has been solidly established through the Red Cross, and the Geneva Convention of 1864 has made it possible to carry on the work during war2. And so, in some respects, the work has been made international, but here as in so many other fields it has been difficult to awaken the spirit of brotherly love.

I shall not elaborate here on the development of the International Committee of the Red Cross, on the more highly organized form it took through its statutes of 1921 and in subsequent years, on its function as a link between the National Red Cross Societies, or on many other aspects of it. It is on its work during the wars that I would like to concentrate. The first really great test to face the Committee came during the First World War. Its task could be said to be twofold: it had, first, to ensure that the provisions of the Geneva Convention were observed and, second, to forward information concerning prisoners of war and so on, and to give help where help was needed. We have to admit from the outset that the first task was not an easy one and that the protests from Geneva in most cases produced meager results. The second task, on the other hand, was carried out successfully during the First World War and contributed in a large degree to lessening the suffering of prisoners of war.

During the Second World War, its activity has for the most part been similar in nature, but its scope has greatly increased and has gradually been extended to new fields.

The Committee's principal mission during the last war was to serve as a comprehensive information center on prisoners of war. This has been not only an arduous but also a very extensive undertaking. With the war still fresh in our minds, we can appreciate more than ever before what it means to be able to obtain news of the fate of a father, a brother, or a friend. And even more important, what it means to have an organization that can transmit correspondence between prisoners of war and their relatives. It was first and foremost the Committee which undertook this work. Another service which was of much greater importance during this war than during the first, was the distribution of parcels to prisoners of war, both those from relatives and also the collective parcels which were paid for partly by the belligerent powers and partly by contributions collected in various other countries. I should mention here that the Committee arranged for the distribution of, in all, several hundred thousand tons of goods. Its work in this field on behalf of prisoners of war was truly immense.

But prisoners of war were not the only ones to receive aid nor were they the ones who needed it most. In greater need were the other prisoners, the civilian prisoners or the «political prisoners», as the Germans liked to call them. Their treatment and fate are so well known that I shall mention them only briefly. They were without legal rights, and there was no international agreement giving the International Committee of the Red Cross the right to intervene on their behalf. It was, moreover, difficult to achieve anything in the face of the Nazi regime in Germany. Not until the winter of 1942-1943 did Germany authorize the Committee to send parcels to political prisoners; and shipping could not be started until the fall of 1943, and then only after many difficulties. Eventually, however, it did reach proportions which made it possible to save many lives.

While this work was being successfully pursued, the Committee encountered such great difficulties in the other parts of its activities that the results fell short of its expectations. I refer particularly of course to the pro raised against infringements of international law relating to the treatment of prisoners of war. During this war, just as in the previous one, such protests rarely had any effect. In contrast, the inspection of prisoner-of-war camps, carried out by the Committee's delegations, proved to be effective although no inspection was possible of camps in Russia or Japan, or of Russian prisoner-of-war camps in Germany and the occupied countries, because neither Russia nor Japan had ratified the Prisoners of War Convention of 1929. This shows that full benefit can never be derived from a convention unless it achieves universal acceptance. Needless to say, the Committee was unable to inspect the concentration camps in Germany or in the countries under its occupation since Germany considered them an internal political matter.

Another great service accomplished during the last war concerned the exchange of prisoners. Although such exchanges were admittedly initiated by the belligerents, the value of the contribution of the International Committee of the Red Cross cannot be overstated.

Mere listing of the activities of the International Committee of the Red Cross cannot give a true picture of its significance; this lies fundamentally in the fact that human lives have been saved and in the feeling of solidarity engendered by help that has penetrated the iron walls erected by war.

On behalf of the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Parliament, I have the honor to present the Peace Prize for 1944 to the International Committee of the Red Cross for the great work it has performed during the war in behalf of humanity.


* Mr. Jahn, also at this time director of Norway's Central Statistical Bureau, delivered this speech at the Nobel Institute in Oslo on December 10, 1945. The translation is based on the Norwegian text in Les Prix Nobel en 1945. At the end of his address Mr. Jahn presented the prize for 1944 (reserved in that year) to Mr. Max Huber, who had recently retired from the active presidency of the International Committee of the Red Cross and who was present as one of the two official representatives of the Committee the other being Col. Chapuisat, who, the next day, delivered the Nobel lecture.

1. Jean Henri Dunant (1828-1910), co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1901. For his Solferino experience and the plan that grew out of it, see biography, Vol. 1, p. 6.

2. See biography of Dunant; for details and the text of the Convention, see James Avery Joyce, Red Cross International and the Strategy of Peace (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1959), pp. 247-249.

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

 

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