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The woman behind a Nobel prize

May 12, 2011

135 years ago the following want ad appeared in a Viennese newspaper: “A very wealthy, cultured, elderly gentleman, living in Paris, desires to find a lady also of mature years, familiar with languages, as  secretary and manager of his household.” Countess Bertha von Kinsky, fluent in German, French and Italian, but without means and possibility to marry the person she loves, answers the ad. Alfred Nobel Swedish dynamite millionaire and one of the wealthiest persons of his time, who puts an ad, likes Bertha’s letter and offers her a job. Soon after her arrival to Paris, Bertha changes her mind and returns to Vienna, where she secretly marries her beloved ones. Later she starts a successful writing career, but remains friend with Nobel for the rest of his life.

1889 Bertha, after getting involved in the peace movement, writes anti-war novel Die Waffen nieder! (Ground Arms). The book immediately becomes a bestseller. She travels around Europe, lectures and takes a leading role in the peace movement. Their extensive correspondence keeps her friend Alfred up to date. Under the influence of her ideas in one of the letters he writes back, “Perhaps my factories will put an end to war even sooner than your Congresses; on the day when two army corps will be able to annihilate each other in a second, all civilised nations will recoil with horror and disband their troops.”

In November 1895, Nobel revises his testament and provides that the income of most of his estate is to be used to establish the peace prize and four others for scientific and literary attainments. Nobel expects his friend would receive the first of his peace awards, but this does not happen. In 1905 Bertha von Suttner, as the first woman, finally gets the prize for her achievements in the piece movement. She dies in 1914, just before the Second World War.

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