Commissioner for Relief In Russia Soviet Famine
of 1921-1923, Visited Ukraine In 1923 Nobel Prize
Winner For Heading Up Relief Programs Took
Photographs of the Famine of 1921-1923
Man Of Many Facets
By Linn Ryne
"Fridtjof Nansen; just the name. No eulogies
adorn the simple grave in the quiet garden outside Oslo. No
dates are inscribed upon it. Somehow this is fitting. For
there is a timelessness about great men: and in Norway, and
indeed the world, Nansen was among the greatest."
"The sheer range of his accomplishments
was astonishing. He was explorer, author, athlete, oceanographer,
statesman, and laureate of the Noble Peace Prize. In addition,
he saved the lives of countless thousands thought his humanitarian
work after the first world war..."
"World War I aroused in Fridtjof Nansen
an abhorrence for the senseless slaughter of warfare. When
the League of Nations began to take shape after the war he
worked tirelessly for its success, and was for many years
Norway's delegate at its assemblies. In the negotiations prior
to its establishment, the small, neutral nations has been
virtually forgotten. The major nations dictated the terms.
The small ones
The High Commissioner
F. Nansen is watching unloading of the train with grain for
the students of Saratov University.
Near him is M. L. Webster, who manages the whole operation
for the Save The Children Fund in Saratov Region.
|looked on. Nevertheless, Nansen
saw in the League a new hope for mankind and he persuaded not
only Norway, but also the other Scandinavian countries to apply
for membership as soon as this was permitted; and Norway duly
"His work in this field completed, Nansen planned
to devote the rest of his life to his chosen vocation, science.
He had been a reluctant statesman and diplomat. He was entitled
to retire from the international field with a clear conscience."
"But the new League of Nations thought otherwise.
Suffering in prison camps in Europe and Asia were half a million
forgotten men, prisoners of war, who had fought for Germany and
its allies. Locked in the grip of the Revolution, the Russians were
largely indifferent to their fate. Many of the prisoners no longer
had a homeland. They knew nothing of their families and little of
what had occurred, and they were dying in thousands in cold and
"The League of Nations faced the enormous
task of repatriating these men or giving them a new homeland. Obviously
the work must be led by a man of special caliber, one who could
act quickly and resolutely, and who commanded the trust and respect
of the international community. The choice fell on Fridtjof Nansen."
"Though Nansen at first said "no" to the request,
the repeated persuasions of the League soon had their effect. In
April 1920 he left Christiania to start his difficult mission. The
Soviet government would not recognize the League of Nations, and
there were virtually no funds available for the task of feeding,
clothing, and transporting the men from the camps."
"Though Nansen's great wish was to continue
his scientific work, he saw in the task not facing him great possibilities.
He could help prove that the League of Nations was a practical tool
for improving the lot of mankind, and not just an idealistic vision.
Also he could help the men whose sufferings touched him profoundly."
"Such was the stature of Fridtjof Nansen that
the Soviet authorities agreed to negotiate with him personally.
Funds were somehow raised, and the gigantic task put in hand. By
September of 1922 Nansen was able to tell the League of Nations
that the mission has been accomplished. The Nansen Relief organization
had succeeded. Well over 400,000 prisoners of war had been repatriated,
not only quickly, but at amazingly low cost.
Help For The Starving
"By now more than 60 years old, Nansen still
yearned most of all to return to Norway to pursue his scientific
interests and spend time with his family. But his talents were needed
by the world. Even before the last of the prisoners of war had been
repatriated or relocated to new homelands, another crisis had struck.
A failure of the crops in the Russian grain growing areas brought
famine to 20 million people. Epidemics followed in its wake. The
International Committee of the Red Cross appealed to Nansen to lead
a project to help the people of the famine- stricken areas. Once
again he put his own interests aside to come to the aid of others.
He made an agreement with the Soviets authorizing him to open in
Moscow an office of the International Russian Relief Executive.
But his appeals to the League of Nations for funds to finance the
work met deaf ears. The League was unwilling to aid a Communist
"Through fund-raising tours Nansen succeeded
in raising some finances, though not sufficient to save all of the
starving people, and thousands of them died. This partial defeat
affected him deeply. Nansen was a stranger to failure, at least
in most of his quests, and the adamant refusal of the League of
Nations was a blow to his vision of its potential. However, he was
able to bring help to many people, particularly in the Ukraine and
the Volga districts.
Parallel to the famine project Nansen also
organized and led another major one; that of aiding the 2 million
hapless Russians who had fled both revolution, and counter-revolution
and were being shuttled from country to country like cattle. So
many countries close to the USSR were involved that a central leader
was needed who would and could negotiate with many different governments.
The League asked Nansen to act as High Commissioner for Refugees,
with the task of coordinating all the relief organizations."
"The prime task was to provide the refugees
with an accepted means of identification. This would not only give
them status, but the possibility of procuring a passport. Nansen
proposed that certificates be issued giving the most..."
"Many governments agreed to recognize the
"Nansen passports" and thousands of stateless people were enabled
to travel and to settle in other countries. He himself approached
the governments and managed to persuade them to accept quotas of
"The greatest single achievement in Nansen's
refugee work was probably the resettlement of several hundred thousand
Greeks and Turks who fled to Greece in 1922 from eastern Thrace
and Asia Minor following the defeat of the Greek Army by the Turks.
Poverty-stricken Greece was unable to receive them. Nansen devised
an unprecedented scheme. An exchange of populations would be effected
between Greece and Turkey. Half a million Turks would be returned
from Greece to Asia Minor, receiving full compensation for their
financial losses. Further, a League of Nations loan would enable
the Greek government to provide new villages and industries for
the homecoming Greeks, who would take the place of the Turks. The
ambitious plan took eight years to complete, but is worked perfectly.
"In recognition of his work for refugees and
the famine-stricken, the Nobel Committee in Christiania decided
to honor Fridtjof Nansen with the 1922 Nobel Prize for Peace. He
was only the second Norwegian to gain this distinction. Typically,
he donated the money to international relief efforts..."
"The clarity of Nansen's vision, and his ability
to cut through petty detail to arrive at a lofty goal were precious
qualities in trouble times. The world needed Nansen then. It needs
a Nansen now."
(Produced for the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs by Nytt
fra Norge. The author is responsible for the contents of the article.
Reproduction permitted. http://mnc.net/norway/Frit-nan.htm