From turn-of-the-century pacifist activism to groundbreaking scientific discoveries whose impact can still be felt today, here’s a brief look at the five Czech Nobel Prize laureates in history.
Bertha von Suttner – Nobel Peace Prize (1905)
Born in Prague in 1843 a member of the prestigious artistocratic house of Kinsky, Bertha von Suttner was a Bohemian-Austrian activist and writer who, in 1905, became the second woman in history to receive a Nobel Prize (after Marie Curie two years before) and the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Although dreaming to make a career as an opera singer, Suttner started publishing her first short fiction works in the 1860’s. She spent most of her childhood and early adulthood travelling with her mother and a dedicated guardian in an aristocratic milieu marked by distinctive militaristic traditions. Aged 30, she moved to Vienna to take up a position as a teacher-companion, then briefly became the private secretary in Paris of Alfred Nobel – with whom she maintained a close relationship during their entire life.
She then spent nine years in the Caucasus region with her husband, Baron Arthur Gundaccar von Suttner whom she had met in Vienna, before returning to Austria. During all that time, she continued publishing and became increasingly active in pacifist circles – these two aspects of her life becoming increasingly intertwined over the years, as exemplified by her famous 1889 anti-militarist novel Lay Down Your Arms. She was also the editor of the pacifist journal Die Waffen Nieder, initiated and chaired the Austrian Peace Society and took part to the founding of many other such institutions throughout Europe
By the time she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905, Bertha von Suttner was widely recognized as one of the most prominent voices of the pacifist movement in Europe. In an ominous turn of events, she died in June 1914, just a week before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and two months before the outbreak of the war she had so actively warned against. Today, the Bertha von Suttner Peace Institute in the Hague continues to promote the ideals and values that guided her life.
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