Humanitarian Action and Translation” project seeks Second World War survivors for interviews on "Holidaying Children"

Switzerland’s reputation as a global leader in humanitarian action and its famous multilingualism is the subject of a two-year project by researchers at the Transius Centre. Dr Elisabeth MÖCKLI, a Translation Studies scholar, and Dr Chelsea SAMBELLS, a Modern European historian, have combined their expertise to explore the strategic connection between Switzerland’s language practices and policies, and its humanitarianism, within a large Second World War child evacuation. They were awarded funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation in February 2020. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, they have visited various cantonal and state archives and, more recently, are asking the public for help to gather more information.

Their project explores a major child evacuation that relocated 60,000 French, Belgian and Serbian children for short, three-month ‘holidays’ in Switzerland. The goal was to rebuild the health and resilience of foreign, war-stricken children. The Swiss public’s support for these humanitarian measures was substantial, raising millions of Swiss francs, and thousands of families opened their homes to these foreign children. Although Switzerland closed its borders to nearly all evacuees, refugees and migrants in August 1942, they were reopened again in the summer of 1944. Another 100,000 ‘holidaying children’ from across Europe were hosted in Switzerland until 1949.

Dr MÖCKLI and Dr SAMBELLS are finalising the project by conducting interviews with former children (now elderly) and their descendants who might remember their experiences, as well as speaking with former Swiss families who hosted the children. They hope to learn more about their general experiences and how language was used between children and their hosts. To help with this endeavour, they are joined by Dr Wine Tesseur, a Translation Studies scholar, and Dr Dora Jandrić, a researcher in Sociology. If you, or anyone you know, remembers these evacuations, these researchers would like to speak with you. Please email or visit the project website.