This 1922 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate led one of the most interesting lives in the 19th-20th centuries.
Fridtjof Nansen (pronounced FRID-choff NAN-sən) wore many caps during his lifetime — scientist, explorer, adventurer, trekker, zoologist, humanitarian, diplomat, a champion skiier who could ski fifty miles a day.
This 1922 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate led one of the most interesting lives in the 19th-20th centuries. He studied the polar ice caps, dabbled in oceanography, repatriated prisoners of war, rescued refugees and became the first person to explore Greenland — an island no one had ever gone to before.
Nansen was born on October 10, 1861 near Oslo. Even as a child, Nansen had a finger in several pies — swimming, skiing, the sciences and, oddly enough, drawing as well. According to the Nobel Foundation, it was his proficiency in skiing that enabled him to explore as much as he did.
He also has the honour of being one of the earliest to study the north pole. “Nansen and one companion, with thirty days’ rations for twenty-eight dogs, three sledges, two kayaks, and a hundred days’ rations for themselves, had set out in March of 1895 on a 400-mile dash to the Pole. In twenty-three days they traveled 140 miles over oceans of tumbled ice, getting closer to the Pole than anyone had previously been,” the Nobel Foundation writes.
Nansen became closely involved with humanitarian aid during the World Wars. He helped repatriate prisoners of war from WW1, helped with famine relief in Russia but most of all, gave relief to refugees from across the world — Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Assyria and more — as head of the High Commission for Refugees, set up by the League of Nations. His efforts ensured that survivors of the Armenian genocide lived. “The majority of Armenians alive today are descendants of those few that survived,” a columnist in the Burlington Free Press would go on to claim.
His efforts fetched him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1922. The Nansen International Office for Refugees also received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1938.
Nansen’s work and influence, especially his work with refugees, is starkly relevant even today. His ‘Nansen Passport’ gave recognition to hundreds of thousands of stateless refugees. The passport, which was in use till 1942, ended up being recognised by 52 countries and is said to have repatriated nearly 450,000 refugees. Several experts have even suggested the reintroduction of the passport as a solution to the ongoing refugee crisis.