Kettingstraat 16, 2511 AN, The Hague
Apart from the building, no trace is left of the former Oranje-Nassau Hypotheekbank; also the life of its managing director Johan Gerard Daniel Wateler (1857-1927) remains a mystery, except for the fact that he founded the second oldest continuous peace prize after Alfred Nobel.
“The world is over-armed and peace is underfunded”
– UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
At the height of the First World War, when the award of the Nobel Peace Prize was largely suspended, the Dutch banker Johan Wateler followed the example of the Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel. In 1916 he stipulated in his will that his fortune had to be used as an annual award, sponsoring “private persons or institutions who have notably furthered the cause of peace by word or deed.”
We know hardly anything about Wateler’s life, his career and ideals. The scarce evidence suggests that he was a self-made businessman and a financial wizard. Born in 1857 in a working class district in Amsterdam, Wateler suddenly appeared as managing director of new financial institutions in The Hague: the Zuid-Hollandsche Landbouwcrediet (farm credits) in the 1890’s and the Oranje Nassau Hypotheekbank (mortgage bank) ca. 1900, together with board members from Dutch aristocratic families.
He was a man of many talents, who as a playwright translated romantic poets like Alfred Musset for theatre performances of the Toynbee Society in The Hague (1895). The educational ideals of the Toynbee movement that aimed at social peace between workers and employers, may offer a clue to Wateler’s motives to finance a new peace award.
Wateler had devised a public peace prize to be administered by the Dutch State. However, after his death in 1927, the Dutch government refused to accept this legacy, referring to its official policy of strict neutrality. As a second option, Wateler had indicated that the prize should be entrusted to the Carnegie Foundation, as the owner and manager of the Peace Palace, where the award ceremony has always taken place. The Wateler Peace Prize was first awarded in 1931 to Sir Eric Drummond, Secretary-General of the League of Nations, precursor of the United Nations. From 2004 it was renamed Carnegie-Wateler Peace Prize and given every second year. In 2012 the prize went to War Child, an organization supporting children and young people affected by war.
Contrary to Andrew Carnegie and Alfred Nobel, Johan Wateler has been almost forgotten. Since the centenary celebration of the Peace Palace in 2013, a travelling exhibition of the International Network of Museums for Peace is reviving his memory as the Dutch pioneer of peace philanthropy.