In contrast to the plethora of works focusing on the tragic loss of human lives during the First World War, little is known about the more hopeful realities of thousands of prisoners of war from Britain, France, Germany and Belgium who were sent to neutral Switzerland from 1916. This book explores the everyday lives of these prisoners, with particular attention to their training, leisure and relationships, as well as their impact on Swiss tourism.
Internees were warmly welcomed by local people and were given education, training and employment. Leading relatively free lives, they were also able to engage in a variety of leisure activities and develop new relationships. However, they also contributed to the country’s economy, helping to keep Swiss tourism alive at a time when businesses were struggling, many with heavy debts from pre-war investment and expansion. By providing shelter for internees, many hotels continued to have a turnover and were saved from bankruptcy. In addition, the internees’ work alleviated the labour shortage in Switzerland after Swiss men had been called-up to defend their borders and preserve the country’s neutrality.
Employing a wealth of sources, including official records, internees’ magazines, newspapers, post cards, letters and photographs, Susan Barton offers a fascinating account of the social and cultural history of internment in Switzerland.