Fridtjof Nansen, father of Odd Nansen, polar explorer, statesman, humanitarian, died eighty-eight years ago today, age 68. I have written previously about Fridtjof Nansen (here). I also recently wrote about my forthcoming lecture at the 23rd annual Raoul Wallenberg memorial dinner at the Nordic Museum in Seattle on June 7 (here).
In preparing for my talk, I have been studying up on Wallenberg’s life. Recently, while reading Alex Kershaw’s account of Wallenberg’s actions, The Envoy: The Epic Rescue of the Last Jews of Europe in the Desperate Closing Months of World War II, I came across this passage:
“According to [Wallenberg’s half-sister] Nina, he had two main heroes as a young man: Elsa Brandstrom and Fridtjof Nansen, whose acts of courage during World War I had left a lasting impression. Brandstrom had been a courageous, self-taught nurse who had helped save thousands of lives in Siberia in 1915. Nansen was a polar explorer, but he also worked for the League of Nations, returning half a million refugees from Germany and Austria-Hungary to their countries after the conflict.”
In my Introduction to Odd Nansen’s diary I mention that Fridtjof Nansen often quoted Henrik Ibsen (one of his favorite writers) to the effect that “man is strongest who stands most alone.”
Certainly Odd Nansen and Raoul Wallenberg took that advice to heart. Following in Fridtjof’s footsteps, and following his advice, they both stood very much alone, against Nazi injustice, and showed how even one person can make a positive difference, and change the world for the better.
Quite a legacy, don’t you think?