Odd Nansen and Fridtjof Nansen. Men who saved lives and change our world.
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Well, he would come and visit various Norwegians in the hospital, and that’s how we met. He was writing a diary in the camp — I, of course, didn’t know about it at the time; I found out after the war. So he came by, talked to a lot of people, and then when he found that I was there and that I’ve come from Auschwitz, he befriended me and came and visited almost every week, or maybe even more often, and would bring me cookies and try to make sure that I was all right, and brought me — as a matter of fact, brought me paper and a pencil to draw. And what I, of course, didn’t know was that he wrote down a lot of things about my experiences at the time.
He’s a wonderful man who had — really a great humanitarian, very much in the tradition of his father, who was Fridtjof Nansen, the High Commissioner for Refugees during the League of Nations time, after whom the Nansen Passport is named. But he helped me immensely: I think he saved my life. He was then shipped out of the camp shortly before the end of the war, when Count Bernadotte was able to get the Norwegians and Danes out of the camp and get them to Sweden. At that point, we didn’t see each other again.
And after the war, when having survived, I tried to find him. Couldn’t remember his name, only knew that he had a very famous Norwegian name, but wanted to find him and wanted to thank him. I didn’t find him until about 1947 or ’48, when my mother read in the newspaper that a book had been published. It was a diary of the concentration camp that, among other things, dealt with Sachsenhausen; and that it was a Norwegian who had published it. At that point we wrote to him asking whether he knew that — who that Norwegian might be who helped me in that camp. And of course, it was he.
It was a great story to this, because mail of course was very slow in those days after the war. Food was very scarce. We didn’t hear from him for — we didn’t receive an answer to the letter for about four or six weeks. And one day, there’s a knock at the door in the house where we lived in Germany in Göttingen, and up pulled a Norwegian military truck. And a soldier came out and asked whether this was our home and we said yes, and he said that he had a little package for us. So we said, “Well, give it to us.” And he said, “No, no, we need to carry it.” And they — then a group or Norwegian soldiers jumped out of the car and brought this tremendous crate, wooden crate of food that had been collected by Norwegian children, with a letter from him.
And shortly thereafter, he came and actually took me to Norway for a few weeks. And because he had thought that I had died in the camp — and the book, in fact, that he had published about the camp, the diary, was dedicated to me, among other people, on the assumption that I hadn’t survived the camp. So, it was a wonderful reunion when we finally got together.
|Born||10 October 1861
Store Frøen, Christiania (now called Oslo), Norway
|Died||13 May 1930 (aged 68)
Polhøgda, Lysaker, Norway
|Education||The Royal Frederick University|
|Occupation||Scientist, explorer, humanitarian|
|Spouse(s)||Eva Sars (died 1 December 1907)
|Children||2 daughters, 3 sons|
|Parent(s)||Baldur Nansen and Adelaide (née Wedel-Jarlsberg) Nansen|
|Awards||Nobel Peace Prize (1922)
Kongelige Norske St. Olavs Orden
Order of the Dannebrog
National Order of the Legion of Honor
Order of St. Stanislaus
Cullum Geographical Medal (1897)
Vega Medal (1889)
Fridtjof Nansen (/ˈfrɪd.tjɒf ˈnænsən/ FRID-choff NAN-sən; 10 October 1861 – 13 May 1930) was a Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. In his youth a champion skier and ice skater, he led the team that made the first crossing of the Greenland interior in 1888, cross-country skiing on the island, and won international fame after reaching a record northern latitude of 86°14′ during his North Pole expedition of 1893–96. Although he retired from exploration after his return to Norway, his techniques of polar travel and his innovations in equipment and clothing influenced a generation of subsequent Arctic and Antarctic expeditions.
Nansen studied zoology at the Royal Frederick University in Christiania (renamed Oslo in 1925), and later worked as a curator at the Bergen Museum where his research on the central nervous system of lower marine creatures earned him a doctorate and helped establish modern theories of neurology. After 1896 his main scientific interest switched to oceanography; in the course of his research he made many scientific cruises, mainly in the North Atlantic, and contributed to the development of modern oceanographic equipment. As one of his country’s leading citizens, in 1905 Nansen spoke out for the ending of Norway’s union with Sweden, and was instrumental in persuading Prince Carl of Denmark to accept the throne of the newly independent Norway. Between 1906 and 1908 he served as the Norwegian representative in London, where he helped negotiate the Integrity Treaty that guaranteed Norway’s independent status.
In the final decade of his life, Nansen devoted himself primarily to the League of Nations, following his appointment in 1921 as the League’s High Commissioner for Refugees. In 1922 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of the displaced victims of the First World War and related conflicts. Among the initiatives he introduced was the “Nansen passport” for stateless persons, a certificate recognised by more than 50 countries. He worked on behalf of refugees until his sudden death in 1930, after which the League established the Nansen International Office for Refugees to ensure that his work continued. This office received the Nobel Peace Prize for 1938. Nansen was honoured by many nations, and his name is commemorated in numerous geographical features, particularly in the polar regions.