1891-1914 History of Italy 1918-1930

Switzerland during World War I : 1914-1918

Switzerland's International Position and Relations

World War I broke out in August 1914. Switzerland again proclaimed Neutrality, which had been it's foreign policy and internationally recognized at the Vienna Congress of 1815. Nonetheless, the German Schlieffen-Plan foresaw German armies to circumvent the French defensive positions along the Franco-German border by marching either through Belgium/Luxemburg or through Switzerland, necessarily violating the neutrality of either country. The Germans opted for Belgium; Swiss neutrality had been preserved by the Swiss mountains.
Among the Swiss population, the sympathies were divided, widely among the lines of the language communities, the German-speaking Swiss sympathizing with the Germans, the French-speaking Swiss with the French. In Switzerland a number of Prisoner-of-War-Camps were established, in the organization of which the Red Cross was involved.
Switzerland provided asylum for a number of political refugees, among them Vladimir Ulyanov, called Lenin. Early in 1917, the German government secretly negotiated with him, granting him passage through Germany to Sweden incognito and giving him a credit of 40 million Gold Marks, thus triggering the second phase of the Russian Revolution. Switzerland had played a crucial, albeit passive role in these events.
The Nobel Peace Prize of 1917 was awarded to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), founded in 1915, in that year established an International Executive Committee which chose Geneva in Switzerland as her seat. Representatives visited various governments of belligerent and non-belligerent countries, but their attempt to bring about an end to hostilities as well as peace negotiations failed. In Switzerland in 1915, Ignacy Paderewski and Henryk Sienkiewicz founded the General Committee for Aid of Polish Victims of the War.

Domestic Policy

The policy of Armed Neutrality required a significant effort; the numerous refugees were an additional burden on the mountain republic.

The Economy

Italy's entry into the war in 1915 meant that Switzerland was encircled by belligerent nations. The country depended heavily on imports and exports, especially on the import of food. As food was extremely scarce in the belligerent countries, this had consequences for Switzerland. Exports also suffered. The nation's revenue dropped sharply, while the expenses (Armed Neutrality, the refugees etc.) multiplied. In 1913 the budget showed only a slight deficit, in 1914 expenses had reached 4 times the nation's revenue, towards the end of the war expenses were 'only' double the revenue.

Intellectual Life

Many intellectuals and artists opposed to the war sought refuge in neutral Switzerland, among them Romain Rolland, Leonhard Frank. James Joyce and Hermann Hesse also enjoyed Swiss hospitality. Switzerland was home to a community of refugee Belgians. While in Switzerland, Rolland was awarded the 1915 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Swiss boarding schools, notably in Vaud, gained world fame; among the international students was Antoine de St. Exupery.

Swiss History : World War I, from Swiss Genealogy on the Net
Biography of Leonhard Frank, from Feuchtwanger Memorial Library
Belgian and Allied Graves and Memorials in Switzerland 1914-1918, from Belgian War Graves by Patrick de Wolf
Plan H : the French plans for the invasion of Switzerland, by Eric Mansuy
Biography of Romain Rolland, from Intstitute Rolland, from Books and Writers
Dadaism in Zürich, from Switzerland is yours
Claire Basquin, Romain Rolland et l'agence des prisonniers de Geneve (1914-1916) (Romain Rolland and the Prisoners Agency of Geneva, 1914-1916), thesis 1999, in French
Article Switzerland during the World Wars, from Wikipedia
DOCUMENTS Convention between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Switzerland providing for the Settlement by Arbitration of Certain Classes of Questions which may arise between the Two Governments (London, 10 June 1914), from Australian Treaty Series, entered into force Feb. 3rd 1915
The Women's International League For Peace and Freedom Papers, 1915-1978, from UMI Research Collections
French propaganda postcard featuring neutral Switzerland : Noblesse Oblige, 1915, from WW I Propaganda Postcards, scroll down; Artist Emil Dupuis
La Grande Guerre 1914-1918 a travers les Revues d'Epoque, posted by Olivier, in French; click "Les Revues Suisses"
REFERENCE Article : Switzerland, in : New International Year Book 1914 pp.681-683, 1916 pp.669-671, 1918 pp.630-633 [G]
Article : Switzerland, in : Statesman's Year Book 1918 pp.1305-1319 [G]
Romain Rolland, Clerambault (1917), English translation posted online by Gutenberg Library Online

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on September 13th 2008

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