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Episodes & Studies Volume 2

Escapers in Switzerland

page 26

Escapers in Switzerland

When the hospitality of the Italian people had become strained and Fascist activity more menacing, many men were encouraged by their proximity to its frontiers to escape to Switzerland. The last part of this journey, usually through mountainous country to avoid the more closely guarded portions of the frontier, was the worst. Most people arrived in rags and tatters and physically exhausted. Some narrowly escaped death in alpine glaciers.

In Switzerland a curious new phase of prisoner-of-war life began. Swiss neutrality was rigidly enforced. The escapers were obliged to remain, but they were no longer in the fullest sense prisoners. They enjoyed some freedom of movement, and they could work or study as they pleased. They lived in camps of about 200, well found but not luxurious. At a typical working camp, Bornhausen, the men were engaged during eight and a half or nine hours a day (with a five-and-a-half-day week) on a land-clearing and drainage contract whose efficient execution rebutted the accusation made by some Swiss that the British ‘would not work’. Some spent their time taking university courses, others in training for trades. Many of them took advantage of the special winter sports' camps opened for them to see some of the most beautiful of Swiss pleasure resorts. Nearly all enjoyed the hospitality of Swiss families and learned to know and love a country in many respects like their own. After the liberation of France ninety-odd New Zealanders in Switzerland went home by way of Marseilles and the Middle East.