By Jan Oberg and Johan Galtung
He was a tall man and a great man, a visionary, pacifist, civil resister, educator and philosopher. He took life more seriously than most and he could be playful and fun like a child. His life’s guiding principle was ”Engage in your time!” and while he wrote and talked a lot he also did it. His name was Aage Bertelsen, he was born in Denmark in 1901 and died on August 15, 1980.
Bertelsen’s imprint on history is two-fold. First, with his wife Gerda he was a prime mover of one of the groups, the Lyngby Group, which organised the rescue of altogether 7.220 Danish Jews into safety in Sweden in October 1943 during the German occupation of Denmark – more here. The Lyngby Group – Lyngby is north of Copenhagen – got about 1.000 of these in safety by organising their nightly transport onboard small fisher boats over the Sound between Denmark and Sweden.
In this he deserves a place in international contemporary history for its humanity, civil courage and as an example of non-violent struggle against occupation.
Secondly, Bertelsen was an educator of and for peace. His life work educational efforts included his family and friends, his pupils over 22 years at the Aarhus Cathedral School in Aarhus, Denmark, the general public as well as national and international leaders.
He lived in pre-Internet times and very little is publicly available today about this renaissance man. From two rather different, but compatible, perspectives we’ve taken it upon us to remind the world about him – friends and colleagues of his as we happen to be.
Why now, over 30 years after his death?
October 2013 marked the 70th anniversary of the rescue operation of about 7000 Danish jews to safety in southern Sweden. It’s a piece of world history and world humanism; it is an important example of the history of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance to occupation. And summer 2014 marks the 45th year since Bertelsen retired after 22 years of service as headmaster.
– – –
This presentation of Bertelsen doesn’t pretend to be a deeply researched work. It is based on the two mentioned books, on an interview with two of his children, daughter Inger Bentsen and son Hans Peter Bertelsen conducted in 2007 and – not the least – on our own personal work and friendship with him in the 1960s and 1970s.
Naturally, our perspective is that of peace researchers and thus we focus on his life and actions for a more peaceful world in a Gandhian sense while we have not engaged in deeper studies of his life, family and relations beyond what is essential for and understanding of his life as a peace philosopher, activist and educator.