Saturday, July 18, 2015

Spotlight: Fridtjof Nansen

Hello's me Jason again with another spotlight. As Sarah and I continue this project, and as I am getting better at researching, we have found many wonderful resources and good information about the people that surrounded Ella, Opa, and the Doeppner and Fraustadter family that I am excited to share with you in future spotlights of these amazing people. This spotlight is a little different because it is more a historical figure, where most others will be about personal figures.
Kenworthy with the staff of the
Berlin International Center
In the last post, Ella mentions going to the Quaker meeting. These meetings were open to all and the Berlin Yearly Meeting particularly were reaching out to people in Ella's situation. Let me give a brief history lesson to explain. The quotes below are from Leonard Kenworthy's book An American Quaker in Nazi Germany about his year there serving the Berlin Yearly Meeting because it is the most succinct and best explanation I have read thus far.

After the National Socialists seized power in Germany, they began their war against the Jews. Their definition of a 'Jew' was based on what they called 'race'...hence their dragnet was a bigger one than it would have been otherwise. Launching their attack on April 11, 1933, the Reichstag passed unanimously what have come to be called the Nuremberg Race Laws. Those statutes were revised on November 13, 1935, but the basic provisions stood throughout the years of Hitlerism. By them it decreed that Jews were not of 'German blood' and that the new laws were being promulgated to 'protect German blood and honor.'

Jews after that point lost many of their jobs that held any status in Germany. Kenworthy explains that the race laws defined Jews as this:

Nuremberg Law Chart
There were two types of people who were Jews. One was any individual who had three Jewish grandparents. The other was anyone who had two Jewish grandparents and had been a member of the Jewish religious community at a specified date preceding the enactment of the 1935 laws or was married to a Jew. There was also two categories of 'mischlinge' (a derogatory term) or persons of mixed ancestry...The 'first degree' referred to anyone with two Jewish grandparents who was not a member of the Jewish community. The 'second degree' referred to anyone who had one Jewish grandparent and was not a member of the Jewish religious group.
So, there were thousands of practicing Christians who were considered Jewish and there were also many of Jewish ancestry who had no religious affiliation - people whom the Germans called "Konfessionslos" or without confession.

I say all this because Ella was not necessarily a "Konfessionslos" because she did profess her Jewish faith, but she did not have any affiliation (that we are aware of) with any particular Jewish religious community. Because there were other organizations helping Catholics and Lutherans who were considered Jewish, the Quakers focused most of their energy on the people they felt needed help the most, the Konfessionslos and the Jewish people with no community support. By these laws, Opa was considered to be a Mischlinge of the first degree.

So the Quakers reached out to Ella and helped Opa emigrate. They continued to visit and bring words of hope to Ella, now only supported by her sister and extended family, all of whom were under the same fear and concern that Ella was.

At one of the group meetings designed for Jews in need of community support, Ella came and heard Grete Sumpf (who will get a spotlight later) speak of the life of Nansen as a model of hope and determination. It was obviously a powerful and moving speech that she probably gave multiple times. Ella heard words of hope in it and Kenworthy mentions hearing it a couple times in his book and it made a lasting impression on him. And as you read about Nansen, you will understand why.

Newspaper announcing that
Nansen is receiving the Nobel Prize
When Sarah and I looked Nansen up, I was dumbfounded how I knew nothing about him. He made lasting impressions in so many areas, won the Nobel Peace Prize in the 20's and is a Norwegian legend. I was struck with how many other amazing stories I may not even know. I think about the people we have reading this blog around the world and the fact that we may have completely different models of hope and perseverance that we all have learned growing up. I saw an interview with Daniel Day Lewis, and he spoke about taking the part of Abraham Lincoln in the recently released movie, Lincoln. He said he was reluctant, but liked the script and decided he would have to find out about this Lincoln person. He didn't even really know who he was beyond a president in America. And it hadn't really occurred to me, "why would he?" We don't learn in detail about every king or ruler of every country. And Lincoln was a pivotal President in a very national conflict.

So, particularly you Americans, let me introduce you to an amazing man who I still am not sure how he did everything he did. In fact, I am going to link you to someone else's description because it would take too long to summarize this man's life! Enjoy!

(By the way, I would be interested to hear of anyone who had heard or learned about Nansen and in what context)


  1. I've herad of him!

  2. I have also heard of him, not realizing the humanitarian part of his life. On reading of Antarctic explorers (a favorite) he is sometimes mentioned as a similar explorer to Ernest Shackleton (different poles, though). Also, I visited the Kon Tiki Museum in Oslo Norway back in the early 70's and there was reference to Nansen there (although I do not remember in what context).


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