Peace Palace Library Lecture by Dr. Peter van den Dungen

Peace Palace Library Lecture – 9th June 2018


101 Friends of Bertha von Suttner*


It is a great pleasure and honour to give this Peace Palace Library Lecture; I am most grateful to the director of the library, Jeroen Vervliet, for hosting it in this historic reading room. I am grateful to you all for being here and wanting to pay tribute to Bertha von Suttner on the 175th anniversary of her birth.

Birthday anniversaries are occasions when family and friends come together to congratulate and celebrate. Bertha von Suttner was born in Prague, and lived most of her life in Vienna, but even more important to her was The Hague. Thus, there are good reasons to remember her and celebrate her birthday here in The Hague.

This is what she wrote in Vienna on 15th May 1899 at the very start of her diary, before travelling to The Hague: ‘To the city, where peace will be born! This is the most beautiful destination that fate could offer to my many long years of longing and hoping.  Three days later, now in The Hague, on the opening day of the conference on 18th May, she wrote: ‘The eighteenth of May, 1899! This is an epoch-making date in the history of the world. As I write it down I am deeply impressed with this conviction. It is the first time, since history began to be written, that the representatives of the governments come together to find a means for “securing a permanent, genuine peace” for the world. Whether or not this means will be found in the Conference that is to be opened to-day has nothing to do with the magnitude of the event. In the endeavour lies the new direction!’

We come together because we admire Bertha von Suttner as an outstanding peace activist, peace educator, peace journalist, and peace lobbyist, and because no other woman did more to attempt to prevent the First World War. Furthermore, our admiration and gratitude for who she was and what she did is not the whole story.  There are other, compelling reasons to keep her memory alive: firstly, the inspiration and encouragement that her Life for Peace (Ein Leben fuer den Frieden, in the sub-title of Brigitte Hamann’s biography) provides for today’s ‘friends of peace’. Secondly, and even more importantly, the continuing relevance of her message – Die Waffen nieder!/Lay Down Your Arms!  How much more vital and urgent this message has become since the world entered the nuclear age! The precariousness of today’s world, the great peril it is in, is suggested by the famous Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists who earlier this year put the time at two minutes to midnight, i.e., oblivion.  We are still here because of luck, not wisdom. If Bertha von Suttner had written her novel today, she would have titled it Lay Down Your Nuclear Arms!. Already before World War I, she had warned about The Barbarization of the Sky (Die Barbarisierung der Luft),

and condemned the grossly excessive spending on armaments (Ruestung und Ueberruestung, ‘Armaments and Over-armaments’).

So we want to and must remember Bertha von Suttner because her concerns must be ours. And it is very appropriate to honour and remember her here, in this city, and in this building, which meant the world to her – a new world of peace and justice in the making.


Friendships are especially intense, and lasting, when they are forged around issues of life and death, eliciting strong convictions and deep passions. That was the case for the ‘friends of peace’ who gathered around Bertha von Suttner when she founded the Oesterreichische Gesellschaft der Friedensfreunde (Austrian Society of the Friends of Peace) in Vienna in September 1891. Its most prominent member was Alfred Nobel.

He occupies a unique place among her friends as is well known and documented in her memoirs and also in biographies of von Suttner and Nobel. (I am delighted that Anne Simensen’s book detailing the relationship between the two, published in Norwegian in 2012, has just been published in English translation).

Not only Alfred Nobel, but also his nephew Emanuel Nobel, was a friend of Bertha von Suttner. It was his insistence that his uncle’s will was sacrosanct that ensured that the peace prize was not removed from Alfred Nobel’s testament, as the Swedish king had demanded in an audience to which the nephew – who was the oldest member of the Nobel family – had been called. Emanuel Nobel informed von Suttner about the event when he visited her in von Suttner’s castle in Harmannsdorf in October 1900. She recorded in her diary that he had many traits of resemblance to his uncle but was more likable. He joined the Austrian Peace Society like his uncle and made a donation. Later he paid her travel expenses to the US when she participated in the peace congress in Boston in 1904, and he also contributed towards the cost of her second, six-month long visit to the country in 1912. Von Suttner had a special reason to be grateful to Emanuel Nobel for letting the Norwegian Nobel Committee know how much Alfred Nobel had her in mind when he established the peace prize, and how much the award to her was overdue.

Another peace friend was the Scottish-American steel magnate and extraordinary philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie,


the benefactor of the Peace Palace and its library, who financially supported both Bertha von Suttner and Alfred H. Fried, her closest collaborator. Unlike most of today’s philanthropists, Carnegie was passionate about the abolition of war and determined to do everything possible to hasten the removal what he called ‘the foulest blot on civilisation’. Philanthropists such as Nobel and Carnegie represent one category of von Suttner’s friends. This category also includes Prince Albert I of Monaco and other, less well-known personalities who generously supported her such as Eduard de Neufville who financed her expensive, 11-week stay in The Hague during the Second Hague Peace Conference (1907). He was a leading figure in the German and European peace movement of the time (noted for his strong support for Anglo-German cooperation), but his name is, surprisingly, absent from von Suttner’s memoirs and also from Hamann’s biography. The same is true of Alexander Fischel, a prosperous manufacturer of furniture from Bohemia. Although a good friend of von Suttner and active member and generous sponsor of the Austrian Peace Society (and its secretary for some time), his name, too, is absent from her memoirs and Hamann’s biography. Von Suttner invited Fischel to join her at The Hague during the First Hague Peace Conference (1899), no doubt also in the expectation that he would finance her stay there. The friendship between them is revealed in the more than 60 letters and postcards that she sent him between 1891 and 1903. They have only come to light in the last ten years.  It is remarkable that no letters from either de Neufville or Fischel are to be found in the extensive collection of letters from the more than 1,000 correspondents of Bertha von Suttner in her papers preserved in the archives of the League of Nations in the UN Library in Geneva (Fried/Suttner Papers).


In the decades around 1900 peace societies had been created in various countries in Europe and in the USA and their leaders were among von Suttner’s closest friends. They met at least once a year at the annual conferences of the peace societies and Bertha von Suttner participated in many of them, starting with the third conference in Rome in 1891. As she was a board member and vice president of the International Peace Bureau in Bern, [which had been created at the wrong conference] its board meetings provided another opportunity for meeting and making friends. Several of these peace movement leaders would become laureates of the Nobel Peace Prize which was first awarded in December 1901. Von Suttner nominated candidates for the Prize in most years from the beginning until 1914. In her first letter of nomination, for the inaugural prize, she nominated Frederic Passy, but also mentioned as deserving of the honour Fredrik Bajer, Randal Cremer, Elie Ducommun and Hodgson Pratt

In the next few years, they would become Nobel laureates, except for Pratt. In later years she also successfully nominated Baron d’Estournelles de Constant and Alfred H. Fried, while her nominations of Sir Thomas Barclay, Chevalier Descamps and Otto Umfried were unsuccessful. She mentioned as being deserving of the prize Frederic de Martens and Henri LaFontaine; the latter would be the last Nobel peace laureate before World War I.  All those von Suttner nominated or mentioned as being deserving candidates for the prize were her friends. It is only natural that she was closer to some than to others, and in her writings and letters she often commented on the origin and nature of these friendships.

Among Nobel peace laureates, US President Theodore Roosevelt

presents a special case as regards his friendship with von Suttner (at least from her perspective). During the first of her two visits to the US, in October 1904, von Suttner was received by Roosevelt in the White House. Afterwards, she often quoted approvingly what he said to her, ‘World peace is coming, it certainly is coming, but only step by step.’ In her Nobel lecture delivered eighteen months later in April 1906, she quoted him, praised his support for arbitration, and praised America as the country where ideals were turned into reality. In the same month she wrote to him, enclosing a copy of her book on the 1st Hague Peace Conference. After extolling his work for peace, she wrote, ‘Will you then permit me to inscribe your name in this volume, which I venture to offer as a token of the deep gratitude and fervent admiration with which your sentiments, backed by your actions, fill the heart of its author …’ (quoted in Brigitte Hamann, BvS. A Life for Peace, 1996, pp. 162-3). Later that year, Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1906. In June 1907, in The Hague, during the 2nd Peace Conference, von Suttner gave a talk entitled ‘Le President Roosevelt dans le mouvement de la paix.’ She said that in her opinion he played a large, indeed a foremost role but recognised that in the eyes of many radical pacifists he was seen as a chauvinist who was in favour of strengthening the navy and who subscribed to the old dictum, Si vis pacem, para bellum. Let us acknowledge, she said, that there is still a quarter of bellicosity in him, ’but let us appreciate the other three quarters which are resolutely and generously directed towards global peace’. However, only a few years later her praise and admiration would turn into criticism and scorn, and she even suggested that his Nobel prize should be taken away. The American president and fellow Nobel peace laureate represents a type of friend who has fallen into disgrace and out of friendship, something which is not unusual in human affairs. In the case of Bertha von Suttner, it seems that few friendships were affected by such vagaries.


As Bertha von Suttner’s diary of the 1st Hague Peace Conference (1899)

amply records, friendships, also with many leading politicians and diplomats, were strengthened, and many new friendships were made, in the weeks and months that she spent in the Hague during the summer of 1899, and again eight years later in 1907 during the 2nd Hague Peace Conference. It is important to realise that these two conferences were for diplomats and military experts only and that peace activists (members of civil society, in today’s terminology) were excluded from them.  At this time, matters of war and peace were decided by officialdom-diplomats and the military. Bertha von Suttner was excluded from the conferences not because she was a woman, but because she was not a diplomat or high ranking military officer.  This exclusion did not prevent a number of activists from travelling to The Hague with the aim of helping to ensure that the official discussions and negotiations would be productive and successful and realise the high expectations that peace activists harboured. There are at least three reasons why the 1899 and 1907 conferences in The Hague occupy a unique place in the formation and development of friendships, friendships not only among the activists themselves, but also between them and official delegates. First of all, there was the long duration of the conferences – the first one lasted two months, the second one twice as long. Even though many activists did not stay for the entire period (partly because of the expenses involved) still, they were together for an unprecedented length of time. This created opportunities for getting to know more people, more intimately, than had been the case previously.  Secondly, activists could meet and lobby high-ranking diplomats as never before, and during a prolonged period. The demands of the peace movement – such as the curtailment of army budgets, and the promotion of arbitration through bilateral as well as multilateral treaties, and the creation of a permanent arbitration tribunal – could, in the final analysis, only be implemented by governments. Their leading representatives were now easily accessible to peace activists who had rarely enjoyed such opportunities before. In addition, as never before, the demands of the peace movement were now on the agenda of the conference. Indeed, no less a figure than the mighty Tsar of all the Russians seemed to be on the side of the peace movement. Thirdly, these meetings between activists, and with diplomats, took on a special significance because of the high stakes of both conferences. Even though in the course of the conferences it became clear that the hopes of the activists would not be realised, they exerted themselves to ensure that the conferences would not be wholly devoid of positive results. Leading figures of the peace movement – among them Bertha von Suttner, William Thomas Stead, and Jan Bloch (the latter attending only the 1899 conference since he died in 1902) – were convinced that another great war would be an absolute catastrophe that had to be prevented at all costs. The conferences could be seen as the best, and perhaps last, hope for halting the arms race and introducing new mechanisms for the peaceful resolution of conflicts between states. This urgency infused friendships with extra emotion and energy.

In the case of Bertha von Suttner, her contacts and friendship with Henry Dunant


intensified although he was not present in The Hague. Their first and it seems only meeting took place in 1896 when she travelled to Heiden shortly after Georg Baumberger, a journalist from Sankt Gallen, had discovered that the founder of the Red Cross was still alive, news of which went around the world. Dunant has the rare distinction (among the friends of von Suttner) of being mentioned in Die Waffen nieder! (1889); he read the novel a few years later and was pleased with the favourable comments on him and his work. In September 1895 Dunant wrote to von Suttner and this was the beginning of a long correspondence. She was pleased to discover that he was ‘one of us’, i.e., that he was an opponent of war and militarism, who saw the mitigation of the evils of war as only the first step in a more ambitious and radical programme. Dunant joined von Suttner’s Austrian Peace Society and sent her several articles that she was happy to publish in her journal, Die Waffen nieder! Following the publication of the Tsar’s manifesto in August 1898 (which was to lead to the 1st Hague Peace Conference the following year), their correspondence increased notably. Dunant advised her of the strategy she, and the peace movement, should adopt, drawing parallels with the way in which the Geneva Convention of 1864 had come about (in which process he had played a leading part). She should aim for only one objective, viz., that the conference in The Hague should adopt a resolution instituting a permanent diplomatic commission on mediation. The Dutch government should be urged to play a central role in the workings of the commission that he hoped the conference would establish, just as the Swiss Federal Council had played a central role for the Geneva Convention.  [When Dunant received the first Nobel peace prize (shared with Frederic Passy) in 1901, von Suttner was less than enthusiastic and urged Dunant to reiterate his pacifist credentials which he was happy to do.]

It is only right that Dunant is honoured in the Peace Palace with a bust. It took one hundred years after the Palace opened its doors before his friend Bertha von Suttner was likewise honoured. Her bust, the first of a woman, was unveiled in August 2013 during the centenary celebrations of the Peace Palace. Another friend of hers – unlike Dunant, still largely and unjustly forgotten today – should also be remembered here (both in the Peace Palace, and in the city). Jan Bloch,   


the king of Polish railways, and peace researcher avant la lettre, was regarded at the time in St. Petersburg as the ‘spiritual father’ of the First Hague Peace Conference. His stupendous six-volume work on The War of the Future/The Future of War was first published in St. Petersburg in 1898 at the same time that the peace manifesto of Tsar Nicholas II was issued. A major factor (among others) which influenced the Tsar to call a conference was undoubtedly his intimate familiarity with Bloch and his great work. Bloch predicted that the next great war would resemble (as he wrote in the introduction to the first volume of the German edition, Der Krieg, 1899, p. XV) ‘a Rendez-vous with death’, resulting in unprecedented destruction of human life, economic devastation, and social upheaval – including revolution. He saw more clearly than anyone else the nature of a future great war and came to The Hague to persuade the assembled diplomats and military experts of the absolute need to prevent it and to elaborate mechanisms for the peaceful resolution of conflicts between states. Bloch became known in the West only following the publication and translation of his work, and because of rumours about his meetings with the Tsar. Bertha von Suttner, as she says herself, ‘had buried [her]self in Bloch’s great work’ and wrote to him about it. Not long afterwards, they met for the first time in The Hague in May and June 1899. She assisted him in the organisation of the four public evening lectures that Bloch gave in the Diligentia Theatre in June. These lantern-slide lectures – the power-point of the day – were attended by many conference delegates and made a great impression. The Diligentia Theatre is a most important locale in the history of war prevention, and it is a matter of regret that during the present four years of commemoration of the First World War, plans for a memorial plaque honouring Bloch have not (yet) been realised. I would like to thank the Polish embassy for hosting several meetings on Jan Bloch in the past few years. In order to reach a wide public, Bloch conceived and financed the world’s first anti-war and peace museum, the International Museum of War and Peace in Lucerne, Switzerland which Bertha von Suttner was invited to open in June 1902 (together with Frederic Passy). The founder, exhausted by his restless campaigning, had succumbed to a heart attack in Warsaw in January of the same year. Bertha von Suttner mourned the passing of ‘a mighty fellow-combatant’.

That description also applies to another close friend of hers who played a pivotal role in The Hague during both conferences. W. T. (William Thomas) Stead

is often regarded as the pioneer of modern journalism. He is credited, among other innovations, with having invented the interview. A social reformer, peace advocate and Russophile, Stead launched a ‘peace crusade’ in England in support of Nicholas II’s initiative and also secured two interviews with him in St. Petersburg in October 1898.  Ten years before, Stead had already had an audience with Nicholas’s father, Tsar Alexander III in St. Petersburg. Stead was the only person to ever have interviewed a Russian tsar.

Bertha von Suttner and Stead first met late in 1898, when Stead passed through Vienna, on his way back to London after his meetings with the Tsar Nicholas II.  She had long been acquainted with Stead’s activities; on the other hand, he first wrote about her in 1892 when The Review of Reviews, the famous monthly journal that he had founded and edited, published an article about Die Waffen nieder!, urging the Peace Society in London to translate it. During the First Hague Peace Conference, Stead wrote and produced a daily supplement, called La Chronique de la Conference de la Paix, which was published by the local newspaper, Dagblad van Zuid-Holland en ‘s Gravenhage. In June-July 1899, 45 issues appeared; they constituted a rich source of information, not only for the peace lobbyists (among whom Stead himself was a most prominent one) but also for official delegates. The Chronicle provided information about the conference, texts of conventions and of speeches by delegates, the social life surrounding the conference, etc. [One of the social highlights of the conference was the ball offered by Mme de Staal, the wife of the Russian president of the conference. This was held in Vieux Doelen, the prestigious hotel where they had their apartments. Stead wrote that he was a ‘debutant aged 50,’ since this was his first ball. But his reports do not say whether he took to the floor and waltzed with his friend from Vienna; it seems unlikely.]

Even more impressive was the Courrier de la Conference de la Paix that Stead published during the Second Hague Peace Conference. That conference lasted twice as long and had more than twice the number of delegates (largely because all the states of Latin America had been invited on the insistence of President Theodore Roosevelt). Stead’s Courrier appeared under the auspices of the Foundation for Internationalism in The Hague, and in the masthead Bertha von Suttner was mentioned as a collaborator, together with Fried, Passy and Felix Moscheles

The wealth of information, documentation, reports, photographs and cartoons contained in the 109 issues (which appeared every day, except on Mondays) make them an unsurpassed source for students of that conference. The attractively produced Courrier also provides much information about Bertha von Suttner’s activities, often in cooperation with Stead. Biographers of both von Suttner and Stead, and also historians of the peace movement, have largely ignored the Chronique and the Courrier which, however, must rank among the most significant and impressive achievements in the literature of peace and internationalism. If Stead had done nothing else, he would have earned humanity’s lasting gratitude. He would also have been a most deserving winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, for which he was nominated several times, including in 1912. In April of that year, on his way to a peace conference in New York, he perished on the Titanic. The following month, von Suttner paid a moving tribute in her regular column in Die Friedens-Warte [the successor journal to Die Waffen Nieder! ]: ‘ … Stead – our magnificent Stead among the victims! The greatest, most wonderful one! [Einer!]. What the cause of peace owed to him and has now lost these pages will honour elsewhere – I will only bend my knees in spirit … Stead, my poor, my dear friend, farewell!’ Two years later, in April 1914, von Suttner was apparently invited to come to The Hague to unveil the bust of Stead in the Peace Palace. It would be a great honour, she wrote in her diary, but it would be tiring and expensive, and she declined the invitation.

The importance of the First Hague Peace Conference in widening the circle of friends of Bertha von Suttner can also be illustrated with the example of Baron Paul Henri d’Estournelles de Constant.

He was a long-time member of the French parliament and a leading member of the French delegation at both Hague Conferences. In April 1899, a month before the opening of the first conference, she received a letter (as she later recalled in her Memoirs) ‘from one who was quite unknown to me. It was the first step of… ‘a faithful friendship and collaboration… with the author, the most successful peace worker in France.’ (Memoirs, vol. 2, pp. 237-8). In closing his letter, d’Estournelles wrote, ‘Please accept, madam, the very respectful admiration of a Frenchman who, without knowing you, is devoted to you.’ A month later, in The Hague at an evening party at de Beaufort’s (Dutch Foreign Minister and honorary president of the conference), he introduced himself to von Suttner. He then introduced her to his chief, Leon Bourgeois, the former French Prime Minister who played such an important role at both conferences and who, too, became her friend. (In 1920 he was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize).

Among von Suttner’s Russian friends were Leo Tolstoi, the painter Vassili Vereshchagin, the sociologist Jacques Novicow, and the lawyer Frederic de Martens. The friendship of each with von Suttner is exhaustively documented in the fascinating study by Valentin Belentschikow, Bertha von Suttner und Russland (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2012). This is the first country study of its kind and provides a model for future country-by-country studies about von Suttner and countries including Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the USA. [Spain is absent, so far. Only Senator Arturo de Marcoartu is a possible friend, so far]. In each of these countries she had admirers, collaborators, colleagues, and trusted friends. They represented a variety of social backgrounds and professional occupations: academics and activists, aristocrats and artists, jurists and journalists, educationalists, ministers and diplomats, members of parliament, even generals, industrialists, philanthropists. Most belonged to the upper and upper middle classes with hardly any representatives from the working class. A notable exception is (William) Randal Cremer,

the English trade unionist and later member of parliament who, with Frederic Passy, in 1889 co-founded the Interparliamentary Union (IPU) which brought together pacifist-minded members of parliament. Although not a member of parliament herself, von Suttner had stimulated the formation of an Austrian branch of the IPU and maintained strong contacts with leading members in several countries. In fact, her first visit to The Hague took place in September 1894 after she and her husband had received an invitation to attend, as special guests, the 5th IPU conference there. The invitation had been extended by Samuel van Houten, a leading Dutch politician who at the time was Minister of the Interior. Much preparatory work for the First Hague Peace Conference had taken place in preceding years in the annual conferences of the IPU, especially on the matter of arbitration.


So far it might seem that all the peace friends of von Suttner were male; this is far from being the case. Among her peace friends were not only wives of her male friends, such as Emilia Bloch and Grete Moscheles, but also leading peace campaigners such as the Americans Lucia Ames Mead and May Wright Segall. In Great Britain, there was Lady Aberdeen, Caroline Playne, and Alice Williams. In Germany, Margarete Lenore Selenka. Among her many Austrian peace friends were Countess Hedwig Poetting,  Marianne Hainisch, Marie Ebner-Eschenbach, Olga Wisinger-Florian, Ida Barber. Here in The Hague, there was Johanna Waszklewicz-van Schilfgaarde and Baroness Grovestins, about whom she wrote warmly in her diary of the 1st Hague Peace Conference. Somewhat problematical, certainly initially, was von Suttner’s relationship with Aletta Jacobs, the leader of the Dutch women’s suffrage movement. If no woman did more to prevent the First World War than von Suttner, no woman did more to halt it than Jacobs. She took the initiative for the famous International Congress of Women which was held in The Hague in April 1915. One hundred years later, for the centenary of that amazing conference which saw the founding of the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom (WILPF), its Dutch section offered a bust of Aletta Jacobs

to the Peace Palace – only the second woman who is so honoured in its corridors.


It was mentioned earlier that Alfred Nobel occupies a special place among Bertha’s peace friends.  This is also true for her husband.

Bertha Kinsky and Arthur Gundaccar von Suttner

fell in love when she was employed as a governess in Baron von Suttner’s household in Vienna.  Arthur’s parents objected; she left and briefly was Nobel’s secretary in Paris. Bertha and Arthur secretly married and then went into exile in the Caucasus for the next nine years. Their deep love and intense collaboration is well documented. There is symbolism in the fact that the two most important male friends in Bertha von Suttner’s life – her benefactor Alfred and her husband Arthur – died on 10th December, Nobel in 1896 and Arthur five years later.


To conclude: Bertha von Suttner’s dearest friends were those who shared her passion for peace, and her conviction that education would prevail over ignorance, reason over stupidity, and love over hate. Today, that same passion and conviction are as much needed as ever. In this connection, we do well to remember the precious legacy of Bertha von Suttner and her many friends on her 175th anniversary today.


*Alfred Nobel and 100 Other Peace Friends of Bertha von Suttner is a publication project of the Bertha von Suttner Peace Institute in The Hague. It has been initiated as part of the programme to celebrate her 175th anniversary.