Nansen International Office for Refugees

Nobel Lecture

Nobel Address*, December 10, 1938

The Nansen International Office for Refugees

On behalf of the Nansen International Office for Refugees, I have the honor to convey our greetings to the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Parliament and our thanks for the honor and pleasure bestowed on the Office by their decision to award us the Peace Prize for 1938.

At a meeting held on November 25, the Council of the Nansen Office unanimously adopted a resolution stating that it regards the high distinction conferred by the Nobel Committee’s decision, as vindication of the principle of international assistance to refugees, a principle founded on the very concept of peace and in itself one of the noblest expressions of international cooperation. The Council considers the tribute implicit in the award of the Peace Prize to be directed primarily to the great work done, under the authority of the League of Nations, by Fridtjof Nansen and later by all those who have continued his work, including, too, all the states that have lent their valuable support. The Council naturally greatly appreciates the material benefits that the Nobel Prize will bring to the refugees under the care of the Nansen Office, but it rejoices above all in the moral effect that the Nobel Committee’s decision cannot fail to exert on world opinion by emphasizing the enormous importance of the refugee problem. The Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Parliament has, the Council states in the conclusion of its resolution, testified resoundingly to the enduring worth of the ideal on which human solidarity is built. The Council has also asked me to express once again its profound gratitude to the Nobel Committee

It was in 1930 after the death of Fridtjof Nansen1 during that same year that the League of Nations decided to establish the Nansen Office. I have on numerous occasions spoken publicly of the great achievements of Fridtjof Nansen’s work for prisoners of war and refugees. But much still remained to be done when he died. It was estimated then that there were still 1.100.000 homeless. For the most part these were Russians who had fled their country after the Revolution of 1917 and the so-called White generals’ revolt against the Soviets, but there were also several hundred thousand Armenians. As everyone knows, the Armenian people had lost home and country as a result of the deportations and massacres which they suffered both during and after the war2. In addition, the work of the Nansen Office has embraced a certain number of Assyrians, Assyro-Chaldeans, and Turks, and since 1935 some thousands of Saarlanders who had to leave their native land after the plebiscites3 of that year.

The Nansen Office was established as an autonomous institution, with humanitarian aims, under the auspices of the League of Nations and was to offer the refugees all the material support that its funds would permit. Political and legal protection, on the other hand, according to the decision of the League of Nations Assembly, was to be vested in the League’s Secretariat. In actual fact, however, this function also passed to the Nansen Office, for the Secretariat did not possess the administrative machinery it would have needed in the various countries and localities to give the practical daily assistance in legal and political matters that has proved to be so essential. The League of Nations Secretariat has of course played a leading part in elaborating the different international agreements that have gradually been concluded for the assistance and protection of the refugees, but otherwise it has found it expedient to leave the refugee work almost entirely to the Nansen Office.

The funds at the disposal of the Nansen Office at the time of its creation were insignificant, but they were substantially augmented, partly by a contribution from the British government and partly by a donation of 250.000 Norwegian kroner from Nansen’s estate. This amount no doubt represented the balance, with interest and compound interest, of the Peace Prize that Nansen himself had received and of the equivalent sum given to him by Christian Erichsen4. The remainder had been used by Nansen to set up a model farm in Russia after the famine5.

However, the need was so great and the demands for aid to the crippled, the old, the sick, and all those who had to be rehabilitated, so extensive, that the resources of the Nansen Office dwindled rapidly. The situation was helped by the intergovernmental agreement of 1926 which stipulated that the document commonly called the Nansen Passports6 – actually for most refugees the identity card required in many countries – be subject to a levy of five gold francs for each issue or renewal. One by one many countries adopted this system, and the fee has now become the most important source of revenue for the Nansen Office, especially since its introduction in France, which harbours such a large number of Russian and Armenian refugees, along with most of those from the Saar. In other words, it is the refugees themselves who cover the greater part of the cost of the humanitarian work done by the Nansen Office. It is important to bear this in mind. Meanwhile the sale of stamps issued by both the Norwegian and French governments in aid of the refugees has produced gratifying results. The response in Norway has been particularly substantial when measured in proportion to this country’s small population: the income of the Nansen Office from the Norwegian stamps has so far reached a good 150.000 Norwegian kroner. Voluntary gifts have also played their part.

A large proportion of the Office’s funds is used in the form of loans to encourage self-help, and although the refugees are naturally not always able to repay the loans, the annual payments on account have been an important factor in the humanitarian budget of the Nansen Office. During recent years, the Office has been able to disburse about 400,000 kroner a year for aid to the refugees, either as loans or as direct grants. The direct grant is naturally used first of all for the ill, the old, and the infirm, but it is used also for the refugee organizations. In a number of countries, it has been found that these organizations have been able to apply these subsidies in such a way as to double or even treble the sums originally received.

One of the most striking features of work like that undertaken by the Nansen Office is the enormous amount of good that can be achieved by the most modest contribution. Many a refugee has been saved by just a single 100-kroner note, not to mention the countless instances in which a loan or grant of about 200 kroner has enabled the head of a family to take up a trade or start a small business, or else save his livelihood at a critical moment. What meager resources these people can live on when necessity demands, how great is human endurance in desperate circumstances – these are wonders which no one who has not witnessed them for himself can comprehend!

It is sometimes said that the Nansen Office has done too much for the refugees, that they will become spoiled. People who say this reveal a total ignorance of the poverty, the need, and the depth of misery that still exist on a wide scale, even among the refugees who have now struggled for nearly twenty years against the harshness of fate and lack of human understanding. The Nansen Office would indeed have wished to have more substantial resources at its disposal, but it has also rejoiced in the knowledge that over the years it has kindled new hope in hundreds of thousands of homes by alleviating suffering among the refugees and giving them the opportunity to make a new start in life.

The other side of the Nansen Office operation – that is, the protection of the homeless – has been no less important; perhaps the very reverse. It has become more and more obvious, to me at least, that the permanent insecurity in which the refugees live, their constant fear of being driven away once again from the humble abodes they have created, is perhaps the worst aspect of their plight. They have lost their homes, their country, their possessions. They have been deprived of their nationality and forced to seek asylum in a foreign country. And even when they are allowed to settle, it is by mere charity, charity which can be withdrawn at any time. Political upheavals, economic difficulties, crimes to which some refugees may be driven in their wretchedness, not to mention political assassination committed in the insanity of desperation – any of these can put the welfare of all in jeopardy. “Away with the refugees!” soon becomes the cry, one that the authorities frequently seem only too anxious to hear. And even when there is no such public outcry, we see the refugees hounded from country to country, for those who stand outside the law have not acquired the firm right either to live in a foreign country or to benefit from diplomatic or consular protection.

The expulsion of the refugees is probably the most sordid chapter in their story. For the most part guilty of no crime other than that of lacking the money to establish a fixed abode – and that mainly because they are not allowed to look for work and are therefore regarded as vagrants in the eyes of the law – they are driven out of one country like infested animals only to be thrown back again from another in which they had perforce to seek refuge. They are arrested once more, and this time for a more heinous crime – the violation of the expulsion order! The hard hand of the law is laid upon them. In some countries, mercifully, the ancient principle of justice still prevails: no one shall be required to do the impossible. But other countries hold to the relentless letter of the law and condemn to prison those whom the neighbouring state has forcibly pushed back across the frontier. And so the game can go on inexorably year after year, the helpless pawns being condemned to increasingly severe prison sentences until, overcome by despair, they choose the road to eternal peace.

The central office in Geneva and its representatives in other countries act in many respects in lieu of consuls to whom people in need would normally turn. In this role, they have saved thousands of refugees, and often entire families, from being driven out to continue their endless wandering. The most important of the international agreements concerning refugees, the Convention of 1933, has contributed in considerable measure to restricting these brutal expulsions. Although the agreement has been ratified by only eight nations, including Norway7, it is in practice respected by many others. According to its terms, the signatory states agree not to expel refugees possessing residence permits except in cases where national security or public order is at stake, and even then in principle they may not deport them unless another country is willing to accept them.

The Nansen Office and its representatives have had to intervene in all aspects of life in order to help those most in need. They have assisted the refugees in obtaining identity cards or passports, visas, residence permits, work permits – for these last two do not necessarily go together – the right to social benefits in those countries which have them, and the like. They have also intervened on behalf of refugees who have suffered injustice in any form, and we all know that it is the most defenceless who are the most liable to suffer injustice, especially in localities where the higher levels of governmental administration cannot exercise effective control. Furthermore, everybody sooner or later needs some documents, either to prove his identity or to legalize his signature, in order to comply with formalities connected with marriage, birth, death, and so on. So here too the representatives of the Nansen Office have been able to help. When the Nansen Office closes its doors8, it will be able to show that, during the eight years that have passed since its foundation, it has interceded on behalf of refugees in more than 800.000 instances. But the very fact that the Nansen Office has existed under the auspices of the League of Nations has given the homeless the hope and confidence without which men are condemned to despair. I feel I must say that few institutions have worked with the direct purpose of promoting peace in men’s hearts and thus of providing social order among nations to the same extent as has the Nansen Office.

When Nansen began his great task, he believed that the refugee problem could be solved within a period of ten years. The work advanced rapidly for several years, not only because understanding was so great and pity for the refugees’ fate at first so warm, but also because several countries short of labour gladly opened their doors to them. Even the very early period after the founding of the Nansen Office was a favourable one for the refugees, thanks to the general prosperity. But then came the change: the economic crisis hit everyone. Restrictive policies were inaugurated on all sides, and every country surrounded itself with practically impenetrable barriers9. Now nobody wanted to accept refugees; on the contrary, everybody suddenly wanted them to leave, and therefore often deprived them of the right to work. The national labor force had to be protected against unemployment, the extent and importance of which have frequently been exaggerated.

Under such conditions, work for the homeless became much more difficult. Nevertheless, it has slowly but surely moved forward. Partly because of emigration overseas, partly because of naturalization, but also partly because mortality among the homeless has been high in relation to the birth-rate, especially among the Russian emigrants, the number of refugees under the care of the Nansen Office has now fallen to just under half a million. This figure is still dismal enough, but I am happy to say that many of the remaining refugees have been able to establish themselves firmly, so that they at least no longer constitute an economic burden on the Nansen Office.

The old colonies of refugees must continue to live where they are at present, and it ought to be obvious to every civilized nation that, after some twenty years of uncertain existence, these poor people should have acquired at least a moral right to live in peace and security. There must be no more talk of driving them out. They must be helped to gain a firm foothold and to become useful citizens of their country of residence, in short to become assimilated in the new relationship. This has been the main task of the Nansen Office for some years. The High Commission which will take over at the end of this year must continue this policy, a policy which has won open recognition in those countries where the number of refugees is greatest.

It was assumed when the Nansen Office was established that its activities would cease at the end of 1939. In other words, it had a period of ten years in which to fulfill its task. Because of the encouraging results of the early years, it was considered possible that the work of the Office might be completed even earlier. The executive committee of that time therefore itself proposed that its closing should be moved up to the end of 1938. No one could then have foreseen the sudden and violent changes that were to alter the situation so radically.

However, it soon became apparent to all who had eyes to see, that the turn of events made it impossible to solve the refugee problem within so short a time. It was therefore necessary to try to convince the League of Nations that the work had to continue, and it was the Norwegian government which took the initiative in 1935. At that time, a High Commission had already been in existence for two years to look after the interests of those refugees who, as a result of the new Nazi regime in Germany, had moved to other countries. The Norwegians proposed that the two organizations should be merged under the authority of the League of Nations. Such a step appeared to be administratively and politically logical and desirable, for, since there was but one League of Nations, there was scarcely any need for more than one organization for the protection of refugees.

The Norwegian proposal was not adopted in 1935, however, chiefly because it sought to widen the scope of the protection afforded by the League of Nations to embrace all political refugees without regard to their country of origin. This plan aroused quite a furor, and the time is still not ripe for its implementation. At one point it was even feared that the League of Nations would disengage itself completely from all refugee work, and it was only after a long and desperate struggle that the League Assembly reached its decision in September of this year.

In this struggle, the Norwegian government and its delegation have taken an active and honourable part. Imbued with the traditions bequeathed by Fridtjof Nansen, the Norwegian authorities believed that their country had a special obligation to champion the cause of the refugees. The name of Norway is therefore mentioned with deep gratitude among the homeless. By an unanimous decision, the League of Nations Assembly this year reached the important conclusion that the refugee work should be continued under the authority of the League of Nations for the next five years at least, and that it should be done more practically by combining the two existing organizations, the Nansen Office and the High Commission for Refugees from Germany, in a single organization under a High Commissioner based in London. This arrangement becomes operative on January 1 of next year, that is, from the moment when the mandates of both the Nansen Office and the German High Commission come to an end. Under the present exceptional circumstances, when the mass of new refugees comes from Germany, it may be a good thing that the new High Commissioner is an Englishman10.

It is perhaps not out of place to emphasize that the existing High Commission and its successor, which is to take care of both the German and the Nansen Office refugees, should not be confused with the Intergovernmental Committee created by thirty governments following the conferences which were held in Evian and London last summer at the suggestion of President Roosevelt11.

This committee is entirely independent of the League of Nations, but is intended to collaborate with the League’s High Commission in their common field of interest; namely, the movement of refugees to overseas countries. The first task of the Intergovernmental Committee should be to open negotiations with the German authorities to secure for German refugees the right to take with them a certain part of their assets, and in general to establish some sort of cooperation in helping these unfortunate people to emigrate to other countries.

The idea underlying the formation of this committee was the conciliatory one – which will, I am convinced, one day prevail – that it ought to be possible to come to an arrangement that seems so eminently reasonable and that will in any case clearly benefit a country wishing to be rid of so many of its subjects. In the long run, Germany can have no interest in obstructing the emigration it has itself planned or in imposing such great burdens on its neighbours.

And how heavy these burdens are! Dr. Goebbels12 said recently that about 180,000 Germans, mainly Jews, have left Germany during the last few years but that the new Germany, with its population of eighty million, still has about 700.000 Jews who must get out.

But this is not all. Animosity toward the Jews is spreading like a plague over many countries, especially in southern and Eastern Europe.

In Poland, where about ten percent of the population of some thirty-five million are of Jewish origin, the problem has long been a burning one. A Polish minister has stated in so many words that three million Jews are slowly dying from starvation in his country. It is not surprising that Poland, with its annual excess of births of more than 400.000, has on several occasions asked, both in the League of Nations Assembly and in the International Labor Office, for concerted action on a large-scale to secure admission of the Jews into other countries which have room for them.

All in all, we can estimate that the Jewish problem in Europe now includes about five million people. It becomes more and more apparent that they themselves wish to seek an entirely new way of life, but how are they to do it? Palestine is by no means large enough, and in any case there are numerous reasons for questioning whether the emigration of Jews to that country should continue at all to any considerable degree. For some of the Jewish leaders the idea of a return to Palestine remains a sacred one, but many others have come to the conclusion that it would be better for them to try to settle elsewhere. They are therefore seeking a country which they can look upon as their home and which can, after a time, receive a mass immigration of Jews from Europe; whether this be in America, Africa, or Australia does not really matter as long as they can be together on their own, for they wish to avoid creating new Jewish problems. This, I think, would be the ideal solution, and I hope that all European states will eventually join in bringing it about. Perhaps the day will come when it is all just a question of organization and finance. It will take time, but the world has space enough for everyone. Certainly we can be sure that the problem will thrust itself on mankind more and more insistently.

It is often said that the Jews are not suited to agricultural work and that their transfer to other parts of the world would be difficult because the countries considered most likely to receive them are the very ones that need farmers. I do not believe in the truth of this argument. We have seen how successful the ten thousand Jewish immigrants in Palestine have been in different branches of agriculture, an occupation entirely new to them.

Nor should we lose sight of the reason why so comparatively few Jews have taken up agriculture; namely, that many countries have for centuries forbidden them to own land, just as they frequently prevented them from taking up a craft. The Christians themselves have in effect systematically driven them into the field of business and finance. Perhaps the time has come to consider the question of guilt to be shared by Christians and Jews. And how the Jews have suffered! What persecution and humiliation they have been forced to endure for so many centuries, as the result of the most sinister religious fanaticism! If they have acquired some faults and if they often seem uncongenial, it is not surprising. But it is nothing less than revolting nowadays to hear people, and especially those whose own records would not bear close examination, assert that the Jews are now paying for their wrongdoings of the past. One is tempted to ask: When will the Christians have to pay for theirs ? In any case, ought we not try to make amends for the consequences of these mistakes?

Today, the Jews have been outlawed in many countries. This is happening more and more as governments become more unfeeling and the people more fearful and suspicious. Here is just one recent example. A group of some thirty people of the Jewish faith, including men, women, and children, had been forced to seek refuge on a little strip of no-man’s-land to which neither of the neighbouring states had established a title. There these people were left day after day without ground cover and without any kind of roof over their heads. On neither side of the frontier did the local authorities dare to allow them into their country. Nor would they let them have any food, or even water. It was cold, and two young girls of eighteen or nineteen contracted pneumonia. They lay there on the bare ground in a high fever while more days passed. Nobody dared to help these “untouchables”, to use the new European meaning of the word. In the end, some journalists happened by who, believing in the old Samaritan tradition, managed to help them through the worst of their distress. It is not known what finally became of these poor people.

In contrast to this sad little story let me recall another, one among many which I could tell to illustrate the touching gratitude shown by refugees to those who wish them well.

Nansen’s deep compassion for the Armenian people and his long fight over the years on their behalf are well known. A few years ago, I went to Syria to inspect the important work undertaken there by Nansen and, after his death, by the Nansen Office. Villages have been created in the country and houses built in the towns for some 40.000 of the poorest among the Armenian refugees. When I visited Aleppo, thirty or forty Armenian leaders invited me to a small reception at which I was asked to speak. As I mentioned Nansen’s name for the first time, the whole company rose to their feet as one man and stood for some minutes in silent prayer. I was so moved by this spontaneous show of devotion to the memory of Nansen that I had difficulty in continuing my speech. When I later mentioned this incident to one of my neighbours at the table, he said: “I will tell you something, we Armenians believe that Nansen sits at our Lord’s side watching over the destiny of the Armenian people.”

In addition to all the different groups mentioned already there are thousands of other political refugees roaming around Europe whose story cannot, for lack of time, be related here. But what will happen when the Spanish Civil War13 comes to an end?

The situation there is already frightening. The reports reaching the International Commission for Aid to Refugee Children in Spain, as well as those received by the League of Nations from the commission which it recently sent out there, indicate that, while on the Franco side the entire population sadly lacks clothing and shoes, no less than 2.400.000 people on the Government side14 are suffering from lack of food. Around 400,000 children are undernourished, and a report received some months ago told us that 100,000 of them were on the point of death from starvation. Even the shortage of soap is a source of misfortune. This is so great in many places that the people weep with joy if you give them a splinter of soap. Although fortunately it has been possible to increase supplies considerably now, we have a report that eighty-five percent of the children in a certain district are suffering from scabies and other skin diseases because they have not had a proper bath for weeks and months on end.

Such is the situation in Europe in this the twentieth century, twenty years after the Peace of Versailles15 and a few months after the Pact of Munich16. And yet things can become even worse, for if there is no armistice in Spain or a peace with amnesty for those who in one way or another are regarded as political criminals, the number of refugees who will once more flood Europe, and naturally France first, can reach one to two million.

The refugee problem has, all in all, become the greatest social problem of our time. This problem can be solved, but only by energetic cooperation with the League of Nations by governments aware of their responsibility to mankind. It will probably be necessary to arrange an international loan, as was done when Greece had to find room for some 1.300.000 refugees from Asia Minor. But financial measures alone are not enough. We must tear down the barriers which today separate nation from nation, barriers that have already destroyed untold material and intellectual wealth.

For my part, I believe that in time we will come to realize that the adoption of a liberal policy on immigration will prove profitable in the long run. It is true that the admission of refugees leads to various difficulties and costs a lot of money in the beginning. Experience has shown, however, that immigration, especially when it takes place gradually, far from harming a country, has instead after a time provided a new source of energy and wealth in many ways.

In this respect the United States offers the most striking example. Great Britain also owes its strength at least in part to its capacity to absorb foreign elements, including Jews. Our own country’s history gives similar evidence of the assets brought us by immigrant families over the centuries. It is no exaggeration to say that the remarkable development and progress that Norway has enjoyed since the beginning of the last century are in no small measure due to the immigrants, without whose talents Norway would not today stand where she does, either intellectually or economically.

There is much talk of the danger of mixing races, without anyone’s being able to offer a precise scientific definition of the term “race”. Still, scientific study of the human species does confirm the existence of several distinct generic types. It has found that even such a homogeneous people as the French is composed of three, and our own nation of two quite different types. When we talk of the mixing of races, we generally mean the mixing of different nationalities. Naturally, the fusion of people of different nations, or “races” – if you prefer to use the word in its usual connotation – is easier if the differences are not too great, but the fusion, the assimilation, the absorption also depend to a large degree upon the character of the nation concerned, on its intellectual intensity, on the very rhythm in which life is lived. Thus, for example, the intensity of the American way of life, both intellectual and material, transforms most immigrants into “Americans” within a relatively short period of time. Very few of the families that have emigrated to Norway have failed to become “Norwegian” within the course of one or, at the most, two generations.

I believe that governments throughout the world should examine the refugee problem from some of the standpoints I have mentioned. A start might well be made in Europe where the population problem is becoming more and more menacing as the birth-rate continues its downward trend. The cause has recently acquired a highly competent spokesman in Sir John Hope Simpson who, on behalf of the Royal Institute of International Affairs and with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, has conducted the most comprehensive investigation of the refugee problem ever made17. Among other things, he points out to the nations that most of the refugees given asylum have been adult people fully capable of working, whose youthful training has already been paid for by their mother country.

The Nansen Office has tried, to the best of its ability, to give weight to these socio-economic points of view along with the strictly humanitarian principle which must insist that, in the face of distress and misfortune, there can be no consideration of race or nationality. In such a situation, there is only one race, the human race, and those who are suffering must be helped no matter what their origin. But the Nansen Office has also attacked the problem on the international plane. It has tried to remind nations of what Fridtjof Nansen said, that if intelligent human beings are left to brood so long upon conditions so incompatible with their ambitions and capabilities that they come to regard themselves as victims of injustice, and if they are denied even the most elementary form of protection, then there is always the danger that their physical and intellectual energy, instead of being channelled into constructive work, may through sheer desperation be used in ways that will cost society infinitely more than the modest assistance which they now require in their hour of need. In order to avert the consequences of such desperation, the Nansen Office has tried to carry on the work of peace on as large a scale as possible. It has set out to disarm the minds of the refugees, if I may use the expression, by mitigating conditions for the most wretched, by helping them to find their way in their new community, and by protecting them against persecution.

That is how Fridtjof Nansen understood the situation. He saw his work as a real contribution to peace. So too did the League of Nations, and when Fridtjof Nansen was dead, the Assembly paid solemn tribute to his memory for his efforts “to unite the nations in work for the cause of peace”.

The Nansen Office, perhaps more than any other institution, has had the good fortune to be able to work for a better understanding of the League of Nations, itself founded upon the idea of peace. In the public mind, the League of Nations is something vague and remote, known today mostly, and unfortunately, for the setbacks it has recently suffered in the political arena. All the greater then should be the effort it applies to the solution of the humanitarian problems entrusted to it! The work of the Nansen Office is something that people have been able to grasp, for it is carried on in their midst before their very eyes. It has appealed both to their emotions and to their reason. In this respect, the representatives of the Office have fulfilled a mission whose value to the League is out of all proportion to that of the modest administrative budget which the League has from time to time, and not always very willingly at that, made available to them.

Although Norway has felt the burden of the refugee problem to a far lesser degree than most other countries in Europe, it has nevertheless, as I have mentioned, done much in various ways to alleviate the suffering of the homeless and disfranchised. It is also a pleasant duty for me to emphasize how much those countries which took in most of the old groups of refugees have done for them, and to call attention to the extensive and ungrudging support they have given the Nansen Office during these difficult and critical years.

In accordance with the resolution of the League of Nations, the Nansen Office is closing its door, literally, on December 31. It will take down the nameplate, it will change the name, and it will move, but it will not die. It will merge with the League’s other refugee organization to form a larger unit. Its work will be continued and, it is to be hoped, further extended. For political reasons and in spite of all our efforts to the contrary, Nansen’s name is to be relinquished, but it will obviously live on just the same; it will always be associated with the work for refugees, it will continue to be blessed in millions of homes all over the world. There was a time when the Nansen Office was compared to a sinking ship hardly worth the effort of saving. Thanks to the energetic support of both the Norwegian and many other governments, and also to the good and powerful influence of public opinion and the press in a number of countries, the ship has been brought safely into harbour, with Nansen’s flag flying proudly from the mainmast.

The work for refugees can sometimes seem overwhelming. It can often appear downright hopeless. Nevertheless, the one thing we must never do is to give it up. I feel sure that the new High Commissioner will continue this work in accordance with the traditions of the Nansen Office and in the spirit of Fridtjof Nansen.

* Michael Hansson, president of the Nansen International Office for Refugees, delivered this speech in the auditorium of the Norwegian Nobel Institute on the afternoon of December 10, 1938, following the presentation speech by Mr. Stang and the actual presentation of the prize insignia which he accepted in behalf of the Nansen Office. Mr. Hansson (1875-1944), Norwegian and international jurist, former judge of the Mixed Court of Egypt and of the Court of Appeal in Alexandria (of which he had been president 1927-1931), and member at various times of different international arbitration commissions and courts, including the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, had been president of the Nansen Office since 1936, and at this time was also the president of an International Committee for Spanish Refugees established during the Spanish Civil War. Although his speech is not categorized or labelled in Les Prix Nobel as a Nobel lecture, it is similar in nature to the Nobel lectures delivered by representatives of other prize-winning organizations. It bears no title; the one given it here is thematic. The translation is based on the Norwegian text in Les Prix Nobel en 1938, where a French translation also appears.

1. Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930), recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1922.

2. World War I (1914-1918).

3. In accordance with the Treaty of Versailles, the League of Nations conducted a plebiscite in the Saar on January 13. 1935, ninety percent of the electors favouring reunion with Germany as against union with France or administration under the League.

4. Christian Erichsen (1867-1935), Danish publisher and philanthropist.

5. The Russian famine of 1921-1922. Both Jon Sörensen (Saga of Fridtjof Nansen [New York: Norton, 1932], p. 325) and Liv Nansen Høyer (Nansen: A Family Portrait by His Daughter [New York: Longmans, Green, 1957], p.250) refer to two model farms and say that some of the money also went to the new Greek settlements in Western Thrace.

6. Nansen’s proposal for a refugee identification certificate that all nations would accept as a passport was approved at an international meeting in Geneva in 1922; these “Nansen Passports” were later recognized by fifty-two governments.

7. This Convention Relating to the International Status of Refugees was adopted in Geneva by an intergovernmental conference on October 28, 1933, and ratified by Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway, and the United Kingdom.

8. December 31, 1938, as Hansson states later.

9. During the worldwide economic depression which began in 1929 and reached its nadir in 1932, nations restricted imports of foreign goods and imposed immigration barriers.

10. The new organization was known as the Office of the High Commissioner for All Refugees under League of Nations Protection, and Sir Herbert William Emerson (1881-1962) was the new High Commissioner; after February, 1939, he was also director of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees.

11. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945), U.S president (1933-1945). The international conference attended by representatives from thirty-two nations convened in Evian in July, 1938; it drafted the constitution for the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees to be based in London. The purpose of the committee was originally to facilitate the emigration and resettlement of German and Austrian refugees; later this was broadened to include refugees from other countries as well. The committee went out of existence in 1947 when the International Refugee Organization was created.

12. Paul Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945), German National Socialist propaganda minister (1933-1945).

13. Spanish Civil War (July 18, 1936-March 28, 1939).

14. The Franco side (the “Insurgents” led by General Francisco Franco), aided by Italy and Germany, defeated the Government side (“Loyalists”) aided by Russia.

15. The Treaty of 1919 at the conclusion of World War I.

16. The Munich Pact, signed on September 29, 1938, by Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, permitted Germany to occupy the Sudeten territories in Czechoslovakia without the permission of that nation and marked the height of the appeasement policy adopted by Great Britain and France toward Germany in the hope of maintaining peace.

17. Sir John Hope Simpson (1868-1961), The Refugee Problem (London: Oxford University Press, 1939) and supplementary reports.

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


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Nobel Prizes and laureates

Eleven laureates were awarded a Nobel Prize in 2023, for achievements that have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind. Their work and discoveries range from effective mRNA vaccines and attosecond physics to fighting against the oppression of women.

See them all presented here.

Explore prizes and laureates

Look for popular awards and laureates in different fields, and discover the history of the Nobel Prize.