When Stalin was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize

By Asle Sveen
A letter to the Nobel Committee
On November 27 1944 former foreign minister of Norway, Halvdan Koht, sent a letter to the Nobel Committee in Oslo. The letter was sent from Washington D.C. where Koht lived in exile after he had to step down from the position as foreign minister in the Norwegian London-based exile government in the autumn of 1940.
How was it possible for Koht in 1944 to write a letter to the Nobel Committee in German occupied Norway? The reason was that the Nobel Institute in Oslo was Swedish property - and the Germans respected the institute as a part of neutral Sweden. A majority of the members of the Nobel Committee had fled the country, but the secretary, Ragnvald Moe, was present and received Koht´s letter.
Two matters were on Koht´s mind. Firstly he still considered himself a member of the Nobel Committee since the Norwegian Storting (parliament) was prevented from appointing a new member in his place. Koht had temporarily resigned form the committee in connection with the Peace Prize to Carl von Ossietzky in 1936, apparently to send a signal to Hitler that the Norwegian government was not responsible for this award. In the aftermath of this the Storting decided that members of the executive could no longer be members of the Nobel Committee. Secondly, in 1944 Koht was not a member of the government, and thus he held the opinion that as a member of the Nobel Committee he had the right to nominate candidates for the Peace Prize because " in the year 1945 hopefully it will be possible for the committee to resume it´s work and award the Peace Prize." (1)
The Germans respected the Nobel Institute in Oslo as neutral Swedish ground. Photo: James Mason-Hudson. Wikimedia Commons.
Koht´s list of candidates
In his letter Koht presented eight candidates to the Peace Prize. He wrote that he would not "give any of them a priority, but my mission is to suggest candidates and thus the committee will not be prevented from awarding a peace prize because no nominations have been put forward in due time." (2)
Nevertheless Koht presented a clear priority in his letter. The first of his nominees was U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull - and he was the only one on Koht´s list who got a short and very positive report. Hull had worked for a lasting peace after the war " especially in connection with the Moscow agreement in October 1943." (3)
Here the Soviet Union agreed to the creation of a new world organization, and it was Hull who had drafted programs for peace which made president Roosevelt label him "the father of the United Nations."(4)
Next to Hull Koht nominated the following without any explanatory remarks: 2) President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 3) Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill, 4) Foreign Minister Anthony Eden, 5) Head of Government Josef Stalin, 6) Former Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinoff, 7) President Eduard Benes, 8) The South-African Statesman Jan Struts.

When he was Foreign Minister Halvdan Koht got to know Secretary of State Cordell Hull well. Here from a meeting between them in 1937. Koht stands to the left. Photo: Harris &Ewing. Library of Congress. Wikimedia Commons.
Why was Stalin among the nominees?
Halvdan Koht was a strong admirer of the USA. He viewed the country as his second homeland. It was therefore not a surprise that two Americans were on top of his list. And with a Norwegian exile government in Great Britain and with a close Norwegian- British military cooperation it was also natural to have two Brits next in line. As foreign minister Koht had always been of the opinion that it was essential for Norway to have a good relationship with the Soviet Union, despite ideological differences. When Koht wrote his nomination letter, Norway had for several years been an ally to the Soviet Union against Hitler-Germany. The Red Army had just liberated the eastern part of Northern Norway from German occupation, and everybody knew that the war effort of the Soviet Union was decisive for the defeat of Nazi-Germany. After the Soviet Union entered WWII Stalin was positively portrayed in mass media in the allied countries - in strong contrast to how he was spoken about both before and after the war. For instance the U.S. Office of War Information portrayed Stalin as a benign "Uncle Joe" whose goal was freedom and justice. (5) Shortly before he wrote the nomination letter Koht lectured about international cooperation for Norwegian sailors in New York. There he claimed that there was a positive development and that the Soviet Union developed towards more and more democracy. (6)
Maxim Litvinoff was Stalin´s ambassador to the USA till 1943, and played an important role in negotiating a Lend and Lease treaty that provided military support from the USA to the Soviet Union. In reality Koht nominated leading politicians from "The Winning Team" - with Cordell Hull as his preferred candidate. Koht viewed him as the key person for the creation of a new world organization that would replace the failed League of Nations where the U.S. had not participated.
The main characters of "The Winning Team": Josef Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill at the Teheran conference in 1943. After Hull they were first on Koht´s nomination list. Photo: U.S. Signal Corps. Wikimedia Commons.
The two last nominees
The nominations of Eduard Benes and Jan Smuts can also easily be explained. Due to pressure from Hitler Benes stepped down as president of Czechoslovakia after the Munich agreement in 1938 - where the Western powers gave Czech Sudetenland to Germany to secure peace. Benes fled to Great Britain where he organized an exile government with himself as president during the war. He came to good terms with Stalin, and in 1943 he signed a cooperation agreement with the Soviet Union apparently to secure a political comeback after the war, both for himself and Czechoslovakia. This was entirely in Koht´s spirit when it came to having a rational relationship with the Soviet Union.
Neither was the nomination of Jan Smuts a mystery. In 1944 he was prime minister of South Africa and a member of Winston Churchill´s war cabinet. He opposed an apartheid system in his homeland and he was one of the most important organiser of the League of Nations in 1919. In 1944 Smuts was strongly involved in the creation of the United Nations. In addition he was a friend of Norwegian president of the Storting and member of the Nobel Committee, Carl Joachim Hambro.

Koht´s destiny in the Nobel Committee
And it was to Hambro Koht wrote a letter about the Nobel Committee on May 20 1945, only a couple of weeks after the liberation of Norway. Koht still was in Washington. He wrote that it was important that the Nobel Committee resumed it´s work as soon as possible - either by the Nobel Foundation in Sweden recognizing the last elected members as "legally functional till a new election could take place - or the Storting must at once see to the election of new members and deputies. The last ought to be preferred."(7) Koht wondered if the Nobel Committee had received nominations before the February 1 limit and pointed to the fact that he had nominated eight candidates in due time and that he had received a receipt on that from secretary Moe.
Koht ended his letter by telling that he had received news that the old Storting would be assembled after the return of the King from Britain and that "I hope they then will deal with this matter." (8) Obviously Koht thought that he could continue as a member of the Nobel Committee when he returned to Norway. But he was to be greatly disappointed.
Already in June 1945 the Storting appointed a new Nobel Committee consisting of all the old members except Halvdan Koht. (9) Koht belonged to the Labour party and when the Storting unanimously appointed the new committee, the new leadership of the Labour party replaced Koht with Halvard Lange. Halvard Lange was the son of Koht´s old friend Christian Lous Lange, former Nobel Committee secretary, former member of the committee and Peace Prize winner in 1921. It must have been a bitter pill to swallow for Koht to be turned down by his own party; he who had been an adviser for the Nobel Committee since 1904 and member of the committee since 1919.
When Koht returned to Norway by the end of August 1945, he was immediately confronted with severe criticism of his actions as foreign minister during the German attack and occupation of Norway in April 1940. Koht spent the rest of the autumn defending his actions both in articles and in meetings with a Storting-appointed investigation committee. (10)
Despite severe criticism Koht was not persecuted in a Riksrett (impeachment) because of his actions in 1940 - and he also got a small victory. When the Nobel Committee members elected a new Peace Prize winner in November 1945, they chose Cordell Hull as laureate - despite some doubts expressed by the leader Gunnar Jahn. (11)
The new leadership of the Labour Party replaced Koht with Halvard Lange as a member of the Nobel Committee in June 1945. He had, however, to leave the committee the next year because he was appointed Foreign Minister of Norway. Photo: Leif Overland. Oslo Museum. Wikimedia Commons.
1) The Nobel Institute archive. Nominations 1945. Letter from Halvdan Koht to the Norwegian Nobel Committee 27 November, 1944.
2) Ibid.
3) Ibid.
4) Ibid.
5) http://www.polishgreatness.com/winstonfranklinunclejoe.html
6) Åsmund Svendsen: Halvdan Koht. Veien mot framtiden (the road towards the future) page 363-364. Cappelen Damm AS 2013.
7) The Nobel Institute archive: Nominations 1945. Koht in a letter to Hambro. Dated: Place. N.W. Washington 8 D.C. 20 May, 1945.
8) Ibid.
9) The Nobel Institute. The Nobel Committee protocol. Report from the meeting 30 June, 1945. Hambro acted as chairman at this meeting as Gunnar Jahn became member of an interim government as Minister of Finance and Customs between June 25 and November 4. As a member of the executive he could not be an active member of the Nobel Committee. The decision of the Storting was made 22 June, 1945.
10) Åsmund Svendsen page 370-78.
11) The Nobel Institute: Gunnar Jahn´s diary. Notes from a meeting in the Nobel Committee 12 November, 1945. Originally it was only Hambro (Conservative) and Braadland (Farmers party) who voted for Hull. Lange (Labour) supported them, while Tranmæl (Labour) was totally against. Jahn (Liberal) finally reluctantly agreed to Hull after a speech in favour of him by Hambro.