The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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NEW YORK—Not long ago I was visited by a Norwegian professor from the University of Chicago, Odd Tidemann Andersen, who came to tell me an interesting story about an organization in which he was most interested, The Society for the Preservation of Norwegian Culture, Inc. This group's president is Mr. Irving Highland. (cq)

Professor Andersen had a deep interest and was most concerned about making the American people conscious of their great Scandinavian heritage. Norway was his native land and he loved it, but he did not want forgotten the influx of Norwegians into this country in our period of great immigration which had settled certain parts of our country.

Some of these Norwegian immigrants who had been successful here had established Norwegian colleges—as others who came from other Scandinavian countries had established small colleges with the hope of perpetuating the cultural background of their countries in their adopted homeland. In Norway and Denmark during World War II the universities became symbols of freedom, resistance, and courage. And because of the importance of the intellectual life in these countries a university professor is perhaps looked upon as a much more important person by the ordinary citizen than he might be in the U.S.

It may well be that today there are almost more descendants of Norway in the U.S. than there are citizens in Norway itself. This is perhaps also true to a lesser extent in regard to Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland.

We should not lose any of our ties, particularly to the smaller countries from which we drew so much strength in the early years of the building of our country. We waste a great heritage when we do not ask the descendants of our original settlers from the Scandinavian countries to preserve their languages and to insist that our universities have professorships to teach Scandinavian languages and literature.

Today we are giving more opportunity to our young people to study Russian and Chinese, which historically is quite understandable because we must attempt to understand our adversaries. But I think it also important that we increase the unity of the Western countries of Europe. And this can only be done if we value the cultural ties between our country and theirs and see to it that as the young people of Scandinavian descent become more and more American they do not throw away the valuable heritage of their past.

Many of us have come to know Ibsen and Strindberg through translations, just as we know Dante's "Divine Comedy." But we know also that unless we can come to know the great literary masterpieces of other countries in the languages in which they were written we will always miss some of the flavor and beauty which adds so much to the real appreciation of any work of art.

I think if we could establish in our great universities chairs for the teaching of these languages—which represent these small countries and also enlist the cooperation of these countries in doing so—we might find that eventually we could bring together a strong institute covering all Scandinavian languages.

Just at present because of our realization of the loss of United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold, the minds of Americans generally are stirred and turned quite naturally toward the Scandinavian ties. And in the memorial which will be undertaken in his memory there is no question that Americans will be drawn closer not only to Sweden but to the Scandinavian countries as a whole. These little countries, through their great men, have from time to time had tremendous impact on the individual people of other countries.

I remember, for instance, one story that was told me of an incident in a concentration camp in Germany during World War II. A Norwegian medical doctor, one of the prisoners, had treated a Ukranian farmer who knew no foreign language, not even the word for "thank you" in German. But he did know the name of a great Norwegian, and grasping the hands of the Norwegian doctor he said over and over, "Nansen, Nansen, Nansen." This name represented to him everything good and noble, and if he could say "thank you" in no other way he would do it by recalling the name of one of the great men from his benefactor's country.

We should not in this country allow cultural ties to grow less with the Scandinavian democracies, which exemplify in the world today that it is possible to have different types of democracy and still preserve the same fundamental values and beliefs we are now struggling to impart to the world.

I hope many people will suggest ways that may be worked out to establish in our universities a greater recognition of the languages and the cultures of small countries which have made such great contributions to our nation and which we should not allow to be forgotten in the rush and turmoil of preoccupation primarily with our adversaries instead of in the strengthening of our ties with our friends.


(Copyright, 1962, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, June 27, 1962

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.