What do Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Adolf Hitler have in common? They have all been—once or several times—Nobel Peace Prize nominees.
That is right, Adolf Hitler, the genocidal mastermind of the Shoah, was recommended to the Nobel committee in 1939, just three short months before he led Germany to invade Poland and start World War II. The recommendation came from Erik Gottfrid Christian Brandt, a social democratic member of the Swedish parliament. (Members of national assemblies are among the many people who can nominate candidates for the Peace Prize.)
At the time, the suggestion generated protests and outrage, with Brandt accused of being a fascist and reportedly banned from lecturing at several associations.
In his letter to the committee, Brandt calls the führer “a God-given fighter for peace” and “the Prince of Peace on earth.” He calls Mein Kampf “the best and most popular piece of literature in the world,” and expresses confidence that the dictator could “pacify Europe, and possibly the whole world.”
If it sounds like he had to be kidding—that’s because he was.
Brandt was an anti-fascist, and had meant the letter to be ironic. As he reportedly said in an interview with the Swedish newspaper Svenska Morgonposten, he had meant it as a commentary on the nomination of Neville Chamberlain, then prime minister of Great Britain, which he thought was undeserved, and also sought to provoke Hitler and the Nazis. Later in 1939, after the war had broken out, he wrote that he had meant the letter’s sarcasm to “nail [Hitler] to the wall of shame as enemy number one of peace in the world.”
Though there’s no indication Hitler came anywhere close to winning the Nobel, he would have had to break his own order to accept it. Angered by the prestigious prize being awarded to his outspoken critic Carl von Ossietzky in 1935, he had banned all Germans from accepting the award.
Here’s the text of Brandt’s letter, obtained by the site nobeliana.com from the Nobel Institute Archive:
To the Norwegian Nobel Committee
I hereby humbly suggest that the Peace Prize for 1939 is awarded the German Chancellor and Führer Adolf Hitler, a man, who in the opinion of millions of people, is a man who more than anyone in the world has deserved this highly respected reward.
Authentic documents reveal that in September 1938 world peace was in great danger; it was only a matter of hours before a new European war could break out. The man who during this dangerous time saved our part of the world from this terrible catastrophe was without no doubt the great leader of the German people. In the critical moment he voluntarily did not let weapons speak although he had the power to start a world war.
By his glowing love for peace, earlier documented in his famous book Mein Kampf – next to the Bible perhaps the best and most popular piece of literature in the world – together with his peaceful achievement – the annexation of Austria – Adolf Hitler has avoided the use of force by freeing his countrymen in Sudetenland and making his fatherland big and powerful. Probably Hitler will, if unmolested and left in peace by war mongers, pacify Europe and possibly the whole world.
Sadly there still are a great number of people who fail to see the greatness in Adolf Hitler’s struggle for peace. Based on this fact I would not have found the time right to nominate Hitler as a candidate to the Nobel Peace Prize had it not been for a number of Swedish parliamentarians who have nominated another candidate, namely the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. This nomination seems to be poorly thought. Although it is true that Chamberlain through his generous understanding of Hitler’s struggle for pacification has contributed to the saving of world peace, the last decision was Hitler´s and not Chamberlains! Hitler and no one else is first and foremost to be thanked for the peace which still prevails in the greater part of Europe; and this man is also the hope for peace in the future. As Chamberlain obviously can claim his share of the peace making, he could possibly have a smaller part of the Peace Prize. But the most correct thing to do is not to put another name beside the name of Adolf Hitler and thereby throwing a shadow on him. Adolf Hitler is by all means the authentic God-given fighter for peace, and millions of people all over the world put their hopes in him as the Prince of Peace on earth.
Stockholm, January 27 1939