Switzerland during the First World War

GEORG KREIS “Insel der unsicheren Geborgenheit. Die Schweiz in den Kriegsjahren 1914–1918”; Verlag NZZ-Libro, Zurich 2013, 304 pages with numerous illustrations; CHF 44; www.nzz-libro.ch

While our nation was not directly involved in the First World War with millions of dead and wounded, the events that took place between 1914 and 1918 – also referred to as the seminal catastrophe of the 20th century – nevertheless left deep scars behind. In the recently published book entitled “Insel der unsicheren Geborgenheit” (Island of Uncertain Security), Georg Kreis, an historian from Basel, traces developments during this period. “The black cloud that floated menacingly for years in the political skies” has released a deluge, wrote the Federal Council in a dispatch on 2 August 1914. In a response to the outbreak of war, two days later Switzerland declared to the warring powers that it would not shift from its position of complete neutrality under any circumstances. At the same time, the contentious, German-friendly Ulrich Wille was appointed general and 220,000 men were mobilised to defend the borders. Divisions opened up within the nation itself – the German-speaking Swiss sympathised with the Central Powers led by the German Reich, while the French-speaking Swiss leaned towards the Entente led by France and Great Britain. The war being waged around the country drove inflation up, supply problems emerged, the people lost confidence and a real test of society took place: between 250,000 and 400,000 workers took part in the general strike. The army was deployed against them. However, Georg Kreis’ book, engagingly written as usual, does not just focus on these largely familiar events. He also presents the results of more recent research. For example, the reasons behind the “complete neutrality” which – in view of the significant level of economic interdependence even then - was actually impossible. Kreis also examines the ethically dubious but lucrative trade with the warring nations and reveals how xenophobic the mood was within national borders. This book is an insightful overview of the war years in Switzerland that is well worth reading.  

Barbara Engel

Comments (0)

Write new comment

Comments are approved within one to three days. The editorial team reserves the right not to publish discriminatory, racist, defamatory or inflammatory comments. Our detailed comment rules are available here.

The referendum with probably the most far-reaching consequences of the past two decades is currently keeping Swiss politicians very busy – the Yes...

Read more

The panther

Federal Councillor Alain Berset of the Social Democratic Party (SP) has set himself an ambitious goal – he is planning to reform the old-age pension...

Read more

World full of verve

What were the years 1900 to 1914 like? And is it possible to imagine this epoch of excitement about technology and progress as though the First World...

Read more

Ottmar Hitzfeld will make his last major appearance at football’s World Cup in Brazil. The manager of the Swiss national team is one of the most...

Read more

Switzerland as a Protecting Power

At the start of 2014, Didier Burkhalter, President of the Swiss Confederation, met US Secretary of State John Kerry in Davos and Vice President Joe...

Read more

Auslandschweizer Organisation
Alpenstrasse 26
3006 Bern, Schweiz

tel +41 31 356 61 10
fax +41 31 356 61 01