Adolf Hitler, without a doubt, is one of the most notorious and disturbing figures of the twentieth century. A German politician and the leader of Nazi Germany from 1933-1945, Hitler’s antisemitic rhetoric and hatred ultimately led to millions of Jews being slaughtered during the Holocaust. So it may come as a surprise to many people that in 1939 Hitler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. But did Hitler actually get this prestigious award?
The short answer is no. While Hitler’s name was put forward for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1939, he was never actually presented with the award. That year the Norwegian Nobel Committee received a nomination from German politician (and Hitler’s ally) Leon Degrelle. Despite this nomination, the committee never seriously considered Hitler for the award.
According to Professor Peter Ahrensdorf of Davidson College, there is a ‘wealth of evidence’ which suggests the Nobel Committee were not seriously considering Hitler for the award. In letters written by committee members at the time, they expressed their incredulity that Hitler could even be nominated. The committee also made the very wise decision to strip Degrelle of his nomination rights, in order to prevent any further incidents of this nature.
But why was Hitler nominated in the first place? According to some experts, it was because Degrelle felt Hitler had saved Europe from the Second World War. Degrelle praised Hitler for signing the non-aggression pact with Stalin’s Russia, and considered this to be a positive thing that deserved recognition.
However, most historians now recognize that the pact was nothing more than a way for Hitler to gain more time to prepare for war. This is why Professor Ahrensdorf and other experts believe the Nobel Committee were right to reject the nomination. As he puts it; ‘Hitler’s nomination of the Nobel peace prize was misguided and reprehensible’.
One of the reasons Hitler’s nomination remains a controversial issue today is that some people believe the Nobel Committee should have taken the nomination more seriously. Despite many people’s initial shock, some argued that Hitler did deserve the award if you looked at his actions in a certain light. For instance, one could point to the Munich Agreement, which prevented a war between Britain and Germany, as a moment of peace. Or one could suggest that Hitler’s decision to sign the pact with Stalin’s Russia was an attempt to avoid war, and therefore should be rewarded.
This debate provoked a flurry of responses from historians and scholars around the world. Many agreed with Professor Ahrensdorf that Hitler should never have been considered for the award. Others, however, felt it was wrong to ignore the nomination completely and that Hitler should have been given a more rigorous consideration.
With hindsight, it is clear that the Nobel Committee made the best decision in 1939 by rejecting Hitler’s nomination. But it is also important to remember that this controversy has sparked an important debate about the nature of war, peace and justice that is still relevant today. In this sense, it has helped to shape our understanding of the world and our perception of war, peace and violence.
As Professor Ahrensdorf puts it; ‘What we now know to have been an act of extraordinary moral blindness has become, through the years, an opportunity to think through the complex and difficult relationship between power, peace and justice’.
The consequences of Hitler’s nomination are still being felt today. The mere thought of Adolf Hitler being associated with the Nobel Peace Prize is still enough to trigger shock and outrage for many people. This has only been intensified by the fact that, since 1939, the Nobel Committee has taken a much tougher stance on any potential nominations for controversial figures.
In the words of Volker Heyd, who writes for the Journal of Contemporary History; ‘The failure of the Nomination of Hitler for the Nobel Peace Prize remains a strong reminder of the importance of making informed and thoughtful decisions in a world where war and peace have become increasingly entangled’.
The Significance of History
The importance of history in helping us to make better decisions is an important lesson which we should take from Hitler’s nomination. It is a reminder that we should always remain vigilant and that we should be willing to challenge and question any nomination. As Professor Ahrensdorf puts it; ‘It is a cautionary tale that reminds us not to accept any nomination at face value’.
In the aftermath of Hitler’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, some scholars have been keen to contextualize the decision. By studying the events of the day, it has become clear how and why Hitler’s nomination was even considered. For instance, historians have pointed out how the pre-war international political environment was characterized by a high level of cooperation and collaboration between countries. This meant that some people were willing to overlook Hitler’s questionable politics and see him as a legitimate contender for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The legacy of Hitler’s nomination has been to help reinforce the need for transparency and accountability when it comes to awarding prizes and honors. As Professor Ahrensdorf notes; ‘The consequences of the nomination offer a particularly potent lesson in the importance of accountability and transparency in the awarding of honours’.
The other consequence is the reminder about the dangers of complacency when it comes to our understanding of violence and conflict. By speaking out against Hitler’s nomination, Professor Ahrensdorf and other scholars have shown us how to be more mindful and aware of potential threats to peace and justice. As he puts it; ‘It is our responsibility to remain vigilant in challenging any and all forms of injustice’.